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The Angels meet Adam, the prototypical human being. They share, albeit to a lesser degree, the defiant reaction of Iblis, who haughtily turns his head away. Painting from a manuscript of the Manṭiq al-ṭayr (The Conference of the Birds) of Farīd al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār. Iran, Shiraz, 899/1494.[1]

Iblis (Arabic: إِبْلِيسْ, romanizedIblīs),[2] alternatively known as Eblīs,[3] is the leader of the devils (shayāṭīn) in Islam. According to the Quran, Iblis was thrown out of heaven after refusing to prostrate himself before Adam. He is often compared to the Christian Satan, since both figures were cast out of heaven according to their respective religious narratives.

Islamic theology (kalām) regards Iblis as an example of attributes and actions which God punishes with hell (Nār). Regarding the origin and nature of Iblis, there are two different viewpoints.[4]: 24-26 [5]: 209-210  According to one, Iblis is an angel, and according to the other, he is the father of the jinn. Quranic exegesis (tafsīr) and the Stories of the Prophets (Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ) elaborate on Iblis' origin story in greater detail.

In the first version, before Iblis was cast down from heaven, he used to be an angel, created from fire, called ʿAzāzīl. God appointed him to obliterate the jinn who precedingly inhabited of the Earth until they became disobedient and destructive. Consequently God decided to replace them with humans.[4] When God announces to create a successor to the jinn, the angels objected to that decision. When God taught Adam and showed the superiority of Adam compared to the angels in regards of knowledge, angels were ordered to prostrate themselves. All the angels obeyed except Iblis, who claims that the command was unjust and refuses to follow order. Whereupon, he was punished by being relegated from an angel (malāk) to a devil (shayṭān) and is expelled.[4]

In the alternative account, Iblis was not one of the angels but the ancestor of the jinn. Created from the fires beneath the seventh earth, he worshipped God for thousands of years until he was elevated to the company of angels in the seventh heaven.[4]: 29-30  This account draws a distinction between Iblis and the angels by their moral abilities, arguing that angels are incapable of disobedience, but Iblis was free to choose. Thus, only Iblis, being a jinni, was able to refuse to prostrate himself when Adam was created. Doing so, he was expelled from heaven and sent to earth, where he sired the jinn and devils.[4]

In Islamic tradition, Iblis is identified with ash-Shayṭān ("the Devil"), often followed by the epithet ar-Rajim (Arabic: ٱلرَجِيم, lit.'the Accursed').[6]: 23  Shayṭān is usually applied to Iblis in order to denote his role as the tempter, while Iblīs is his proper name. Some Muslim scholars uphold a more ambivalent role for Iblis, considering him not simply a devil but also "the truest monotheist" (Tawḥīd-i Iblīs), because he would only bow before the Creator and not his creations, while preserving the term shayṭān exclusively for evil forces.[4]: 46 [7]: 65 [8]: 47  The idea that Iblis is not evil but a necessity for the world is also used in Muslim literature. Others have strongly rejected sympathies with Iblis, considering it a form of deception to lead people astray.

Naming and etymology


In Islamic traditions, Iblīs is known by many alternative names or titles, such as Abū Murrah (Arabic: أَبُو مُرَّة, "Father of Bitterness") as the name stems from the word "murr" – meaning "bitter", ‘aduww Allāh or ‘aduwallah (Arabic: عُدُوّ الله, "enemy or foe" of God)[9] and Abū Al-Harith (Arabic: أَبُو الْحَارِث, "the father of the plowmen").[10]: 149 

The designation Iblīs (Arabic: إِبْلِيس) may be an epithet referencing an attribute, deriving from the Arabic verbal root BLS ب-ل-س (with the broad meaning of "remain in grief").[11]: 274  According to Ibn Manzur this is the major opinion among Arab scholars, who maintain the tradition that the personal name of this being was ʿAzāzīl.[12]

Some Muslim teachers, such as al-Jili, relate this name to talbis meaning confusion, because God's command confused him.[13]: 123 [14]: 91 

Another possibility is that the name is derived from Ancient Greek διάβολος (diábolos) (which is also the source of the English word 'devil') via a Syriac intermediary.[15]: 133 [2] The name itself is not found in Arab literature before the Quran, suggesting it is not of pre-Islamic Arabian origin.[16]: 54 





Iblis is mentioned 11 times in the Quran by name, nine times related to his refusal against God's Command to prostrate himself before Adam. The term šayṭān is more prevalent, although Iblis is sometimes referred to as šayṭān; the terms are not interchangeable. The different fragments of Iblis's story are scattered across the Quran. In the aggregate, the story can be summarised as follows:[4]: 18 

When God created Adam, He ordered the angels to bow before the new creation. All of the angels bowed down, but Iblis refused to do so. He argued that since he was created from fire, he is superior to humans, who were made from clay-mud, and that he should not prostrate himself before Adam.[17] As punishment for his haughtiness, God banished Iblis from heaven and condemned him to hell. Later, Iblis requested the ability to attempt to mislead Adam and his descendants, whereupon God grants the request, thus depicting God as the power behind both the angels and devils.[18]

Surah al-Kahf states in reference to Iblis:

[...] except Iblis, he was one of the jinni [...] (Arabic: إِلَّاۤ إِبۡلِیسَ كَانَ مِنَ ٱلۡجِنِّ "illā iblīsa kāna mina l-jinni") (18:50)

This led to a dispute among the mufassirūn (exegetes), who disagree on whether the term is meant to be a nisbah to designate Iblis's heavenly origin (i.e. an angel) in contrast to the earthly Adam (and the jinn preceding him), or if the term is meant to set Iblis apart from the angels and that he is the progenitor of the jinn dwelling in paradise until his fall (comparable to how Adam fell when he sinned in the Garden).[18][19] [20]: 146  This dispute goes back to the formative stage of Islam. These two conflicting opinions are based on the interpretations of ibn Abbas and Hasan al-Basri respectively.[18] Muslim scholars then followed one of these two interpretations.[18]

Those scholars who regard Iblis as an angel interpret further verses of the Quran as allusions to Iblis. Surah 21:29 (al-’anbiyā) states:

Whoever of them were to say, "I am a god besides Him", they would be rewarded with Hell by Us [...]

According to multiple scholars (Tabari, Suyuti, al-Nasafi,[18] al-Māturīdī,[a] this verse was meant to be a revelation about Iblis since only he was claiming divine authority for himself, and does so by inviting to follow egoistic desires (nafs).[18] The term sijjin, mentioned in Surah 83:7, is regarded by several scholars (Tabari, Tha'labi, Nasafi) as a prison in hell for Iblis. From this place, he would send his demons to the surface.[18]


Art from an Arabic manuscript of the Annals of al-Tabari showing Iblis refusing to prostrate before the newly created Adam.
Painting from a Herat manuscript of the Persian rendition by Bal'ami of the Annals/Tarikh (universal chronicle) of al-Tabari, depicting angels honoring Adam, except Iblis, who refuses. Held at the Topkapi Palace Museum Library.

There are different opinions regarding the origin of Iblis. This dispute is closely related to doctrinal differences regarding free will. Like humans, jinn are created on earth to "worship" ('abada) God (51:56), and are capable of righteous and evil acts (11:119).[22]: 101  If angels can sin or not is disputed in Islam. Those who say that Iblis was not an angel, but a jinni, argue that only jinn (and humans), but not angels are capable of disobedience.[15]: 123  This is the generally opinion among the Qadariyah and most Mu'tazilites.[15]: 123  This view is also found to be prominent among many Salafis.[23]: 73 

On the other hand, the term for celestial beings in early Islam is usually malāk (angel).[24] Tabarsi says that if Iblis were a jinni, he could not have been one of the custodians of paradise.[15]: 103  Many of those who say that Iblis was an angel read Surah 18:50 as a nisba for the term jannāt, thus referring to Iblis' heavenly origin (this reading is preferred by – among others – Ash'ari,[25]: 109  Suyuti, and Al-Tha'labi[2]). Most mutakallimūn (theologians) do not consider angels to be infallible, al-Razi being an exception.[26]: 120 

Nontheless, if faith (ʾīmān) in God is proportional to obedience and knowledge of God,[15] theologians still need to explain the cause for Iblis' fall. The Hanābila and Ash'arites would argue that Iblis was ignorant (jahl) and did not understand God's will (irāda).[15]: 123  However, Iblis' unbelief (kufr) would be ultimately caused by God.[15]: 123  Al-Maghrībī states that, when the angels questioned the creation of Adam, God opened the angels' eyes for the characteristics of Adam, but closed the eyes of Iblis, so he would remain in resistance (iḥtijāj).[15]: 131  Therefore, Iblis would have been created as a disobedient angel and function as God's tempter.[4]: 177 

Abu Mansur al-Maturidi, the eponymous founder of Māturīdī theology, considers some sort of middle ground, arguing that angels have been put to a test in the heavens, just as humans and jinn are tested on earth. If they were not tested, the Quran would not compliment angels for obedience.[27]: 185 


Depiction of Iblis in the epic poem Shahnameh

Within Muslim thought, Iblis is generally not considered to be the originator of evil. However, there are a few exceptions among Muslim scholars.[15]: 123  The Qadariyya asserted that evil was introduced by disobedience to God, and Iblis was the first who disobeyed.[15]: 123  This view is sometimes attributed to Hasan al-Basri.[28]: 291–292  An extreme position among the Qadariyya asserts that Iblis was not even created by God, but this view is generally rejected as beliefs of the Manichaeans (majūs).[15]: 123 [29]: 123  Al-Māturīdī argued that such dualistic worldviews are irreconcilable with the Islamic doctrine of tawḥīd.[30]: 123 

Iblis' disobedience is seen as an example and warning for the thaqalān (those who are accountable for their deeds).[31] Those who say that Iblis was predestined to fall, say that he was created in such a way that God can demonstrate his entire spectrum of attributes (for example; jalal (majesty)) in his eternal speech (i.e. the Quran), and teaching the consequences of sin.[32] Three things to avoid are marked by the fall of Iblis: Transgression (ma'siyah), arrogance (istikbār), and comparison (qiyās) to another creature of God.[15]: 122 

Although not the cause of evil, Iblis is known as the progenitor of tempters, known as the "father of the devils" (Abū ash-Shayāṭīn).[33](p129) Ḥādīth literature emphasizes their evil influences over humans rather than treating them as proper personalities.[34] Muslims are advised to "seek refuge" from such influences and are recommanded to recite duʿāʾ (prayers) for protection.[35]

Satan's Monotheism (Tawḥīd-i Iblīs)

Adam honoured by Angels – Persian miniature. Iblis, black-faced and without hair (top-right of the picture). He refuses to prostrate himself with the other Angels.

The predestinarians' approach was attractive for many Muslim thinkers to avoid dualistic tendencies. Some extreme positions went as far as to consider the belief that evil derives from an individual's own responsibility without God's interference, as a form of attributing a second power to God, thus falling into širk (polytheism).[36] From this idea of absolute predeterminism, some scholars and ṣūfis developed sympathy for Iblis. They began to consider Iblis to be a "true monotheist" only bested by Muhammed, who would accept punishment and suffering over bowing before something else but God, an idea later known as "Satan's monotheism" (tawḥīd-i Iblīs).[7]

This idea is reflected in a transmission by Wahb ibn Munabbih, an eminent teller of Israʼiliyyat, stating that Iblis met Moses on the slopes of Sinai. When Moses asks Iblis why he refused God's order, he replies that the command was actually a test.[37] This story inspired people, such as Mansur al-Hallaj and Ahmad Ghazali. The latter depicted Iblis as a paragon of self-sacrifice and stated at one point: "Whoever doesn't learn monotheism from Satan is a heretic (zindīq )."[38] His student, Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, asserted that Iblis' disobedience was wanted by God, or God would be powerless and a powerless being cannot be attributed to God.[39]

Such positive depictions are, however, by no means universal among the predestinarians. Ibn Ghanim refers to the report of the meeting between Iblis and Moses, and argues that Iblis is just using predeterminism as an excuse to cover his unbelief and use a subtle deception by evoking sympathies.[40] Ruzbihan Baqli calls Iblis' apology a form of deception.[41]

Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī (1207–1273) argues that it is pointless to use predeterminism as an excuse for one's own demise.[15]: 132  He invokes the analogy between Adam and Iblis: While both were destined to fall, Iblis and his offspring blamed God, while Adam pleaded for forgiveness nontheless. He advises humans to do the same.[42][15]: 132  In this context, Rumi declares that love is more important than intelligence[15]: 132  and states: "(Cunning) intelligence is from Iblis, and love from Adam."[43]

In his Masnavi (Book 2), he refers to several attempts to excuse Iblis, when he wakens Mu'awiya for the morning prayer (ṣalāt al-fajr). Mu'awiya is sceptical towards Iblis' alleged good intentions, so he begins to question him. Iblis argues that an original angel, who was predestined to fall, could never be truly evil.[44][45] Mu'awiya realizes he cannot outsmart Iblis and seeks refuge in God instead. When Iblis sees that he cannot win Mu'awiya over, he confesses that he never had good intentions in the first place and used these arguements just to trick people. Instead, he woke him up because missing a prayer and consequent repentance (tawbah), would bring him closer to God than performing the prayer. Rumi makes clear that there is no reason to have sympathies for the fallen angel, as he is still the enemy of humans.[7]

Narrative exegesis (Qiṣaṣ)

Painting of the expulsion from "The Garden" by Al-Hakim Nishapuri. The main actors of the narration about Adam's fall are drawn: Adam, Hawwa (Eve), Iblis, the serpent, the peacock and an Angel, probably Ridwan, who guards paradise.
This painting is from a copy of the Fālnāmeh (Book of Omens) ascribed to Ja´far al-Sādiq. It shows Adam, Eve, the serpent, the peacock, and Iblis, after their expulsion from Garden Eden. Iblis characteristically depicted black-faced is bottom-left in picture above the angels.

Qiṣaṣ is a form of exegesis by Muslims focusing on establishing a coherent story from material of Islamic scripture (Quran, ḥadīṯ).[46][47]

In reference to the interpretation of the events in Surah 2:30-34, when the angels complain over mankinds' potential to shed blood and cause injustice, Islamic narrative traditions elaborate a legendary battle between the angels and jinn.[48] Tabari and al-Thaʿlabi explain that the angels feared that humanity will become as corrupt as the jinn. Before Adam was created, the jinn, offspring of al-Jānn (الجان), lived on earth. When they became infidels, God sent an army of angels called "al-Jinn" (named after paradise, not the genus) to defeat them.[48] They explain that most angels were created from light, but Iblis and his angels from nār as-samūm, and the genus of jinn from mārijin min nār (smokeless fire).[48]

Some later traditions place Iblis among the genus of the jinn instead. In one narration of the Tarikh Khamis, among the masses of infidel jinn only Iblis dedicated his life to worship of God, withdrawing to a high mountain. The angels soon notice him and elavate him to the heavens, where he becomes one like them in worship.[49]

With reference to Surah 76:1, Islamic narrative tradition considers Adam to be created step by step, beginning as an inanimate body.[50] The story is mentioned by various scholars of the Sunni tradition, including Muqatil, Tabari, Mas'udi, Kisa'i, and Tha'labi.[50] The angels passing by him were scared. Most afraid was Iblis. To overcome his anxiety, he enters Adam and moves through the body.[50] He concludes that "this is hollow clay", whereas Iblis is "fire". Since fire overcomes clay, he vows to destroy Adam like fire destroys clay:

You are nothing – because of his ringing – and you were made for nothing! If I am to rule over you, I will kill you, and if you are to rule over me, I will rebel against you.[50]

Some scholars (among them Thala'bi, Tabarsi,[51] Diyarbakri[52]) explain, with slightly variations, Iblis' entry to the Garden of Eden by the aid of a serpent and a peacock. Some traditions have the Garden of Eden being warded by an angelic guardian. Thus, Iblis persuades a peacock to get help, by promising him that, if he enters the Garden, the beauty of the peacock will never decay thanks to the fruit of immortality. The peacock, unable to carry Iblis, persuades the serpent, who decides to slip Iblis by carrying him in his mouth. From the mouth of the serpent, Iblis speaks to Adam and Ḥawwāʾ.[53]

In culture


In arts

Another painting of angels prostrating before Adam with Iblis refusing, here depicted with a headcover
Portrayal of Islamic devils in the form of wild monsters. Siyah Qalem - Hazine 2153, s.31b

Iblis is perhaps one of the most well-known individual supernatural entities in Islamic tradition and was depicted in multiple visual representations like the Quran and Manuscripts of Bal‘ami’s ‘Tarjamah-i Tarikh-i Tabari.[54] Iblis was a unique individual, described as both a pious jinni and an angel before he fell from God's grace when he refused to bow before the prophet Adam. After this incident, Iblis turned into a shaytan.[55] In visual appearance, Iblis' depiction was described in On the Monstrous in the Islamic Visual Tradition by Francesca Leoni as a being with a human-like body with flaming eyes, a tail, claws, and large horns on a grossly disproportionate large head.[56]

Illustrations of Iblis in Islamic paintings often depict him black-faced, a feature which would later symbolize any satanic figure or heretic, and with a black body, to symbolize his corrupted nature. Another common depiction of Iblis shows him in human form wearing a special head covering, clearly different from the traditional Islamic turban and long sleeves, signifying long lasting devotion to God.[1] Only in one, he wears traditional Islamic head covering.[57]

Most pictures show and describe Iblis at the moment, when the angels prostrate themselves before Adam. In the manuscripts of Bal‘ami’s ‘Tarjamah-i Tarikh-i Tabari he is usually seen beyond the outcrop, his face transformed with his wings burned, to the envious countenance of a devil.[58] In his demonic form, Iblis is portrayed similar to his cohorts (shayatin) in Turko-Persian art as Asian demons (div).[59] They are bangled creatures with flaming eyes, only covered by a short skirt. Similar to European arts depicting devils by traits of pagan deities, Islamic arts portray the devils with features often similar to that of Hindu deities.[60]

In literature


The complexity of Iblis' character from the Quranic story had lasting influence on Islamic literature. It elaborates on the necessity of evil and Iblis' disobedience in creative retelling of the exegetical tradition.[42]

Iblis and the angels feature in Hafez's poetry (1325–1390), collected in The Divān of Hafez. Hafez iterates that angels are incapable of love. They can merely praise the creator but without the passion of a human-being} When Iblis protests, either because he considers Adam's offspring unworthy or himself devoted to God alone, he is described as an imposter (mudda'ī). He claims to act for the sake of God's love, but is actually envious of mankinds' exalted position. Hafez advises his audience not to reveal the secrets of love towards God to the imposter.[61]

Vathek, first composed in French (1782) by the English novelist William Beckford, in which the protagonists travel through, what he conceives as the supernatural world of the Orient. In their travels, they meet jinn, angels, peri, and prophets. The underworld is the domain of Iblis, however, they meet him only in person at the end of the journey. Although there are similarities to Dante's Satan in the Halls of Eblis, Beckford's Satan, clearly inspired by the figure of Iblis, is that of a young man with mixed traits of pride and despair, and not that of a monstrous being.[62][63]

In Muhammad Iqbal's poetry, Iblis is critical about overstressed obedience, which caused his downfall. But Iblis is not happy about humanity's obedience towards himself either; rather he longs for humans who resist him. Before a human who resisted him, he would be willing to prostrate himself, and he could finally achieve salvation.[64]

Egyptian novelist Tawfiq al-Hakim's ash-Shahid (1953) describes the necessity of Iblis' evil for the world. As a reference to Iblis' predetermined fall, his protagonist Iblis consulsts religious authorities to embrace salvation, but is rejected each time, because the world would require him to be sinful. He consults the Pope, the Rabbi, and the Al-Azhar Mosque, each of them explain the necessity of Iblis' unbelief. Without Iblis' evil deeds, a large portion of revelation would become obsolete. Afterwards, Iblis visits the angel Gabriel, but is rejected again. Realizing that Iblis is both doomed as well as appointed by God, he descends from heaven shouting out: "I am a martyr!".[65]

See also



  1. ^ From Yüksek Lisans Tezi: TRANSLATION: (in English)
    " When one of them said, He is not God, I am! If he says that, we will punish him with hell. This is how we punish the oppressors.” (Anbiya-21/26-29) If the angels who were considered as gods had not had the possibility of making such a false claim, God would not have prohibited that. According to those who say that angels can commit sins, those who are good by nature are not praised. Since angels are praised in the verses, it is not necessary for them to do good. Mâturîdî says that angels are tested and that it is possible for them to sin and reminds that Iblis is also one of the angels." ORIGINAL: (in Turkish)
    "“…Onlardan biri, Tanrı O değil, benim! diyecek olsa, biz onu da cehennemle cezalandırırız. Zalimleri böyle cezalandırırız.” (Enbiya-21/26-29) beyanında tanrı edinilen meleklerin kendilerinin de böyle yanlış bir iddiayı ortaya koyma ihtimalleri olmasa Allah onlara yasak getirmezdi. Meleklerin günah işleme gücünün olduğuna inananlara göre fıtratları gereği iyi olanlar övülmez. Ayetlerde melekler övüldüğüne göre hayrı işlemeleri bir zorunluluk değildir."[21]: 64 )


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  3. ^ Briggs, Constance Victoria (2003). The Encyclopedia of God: An A-Z Guide to Thoughts, Ideas, and Beliefs about God. Newburyport, Massachusetts: Hampton Roads. ISBN 978-1-612-83225-8.
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