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Depiction of a Shaitan (a devil) made by Siyah Qalam between the 14th and the 15th century

Shayāṭīn (شياطين; devils or demons), singular: Shayṭān (شَيْطٰان) are evil spirits in Islamic belief, inciting humans (and jinn) to sin by “whispering” (وَسْوَسَة, “waswasah”) to the heart (قَلْب qalb).[1][2] They are one of three invisible creatures in Islamic tradition, besides the noble angels and jinn,[3](p 21) often thought of as ugly and grotesque creatures created from hell-fire.[4]

The Quran speaks of various ways, how the devils tempt into sin. They teach sorcery, assault heaven to steal the news of the angels and lurk on humans without being seen. Related to the devils is Iblis (Satan), who is generally considered to be their father. Hadith-literature makes them responsible for various calamities which may affect personal life. Both hadith and folklore usually speak about devils in abstract terms, describing their evil influence only. During Ramadan, the devils are chained in hell.

According to Sufi writings, devils struggle against the noble angels in the realm of the imaginal (alam al mithal) over the human mind, consisting of both angelic and devilish qualities. Some writers describe the devils as expressions of God's fierce attributes and actions.

Etymology and terminology[edit]

The word Šayṭān (Arabic: شَيْطَان‎) originated from the triliteral root š-ṭ-n ("distant, astray") taking a theological connotation designating a creature distant from divine mercy.[5] In pre-Islamic Arabia, this term was used to designate an evil spirit, but only used by poets who were in contact with Jews and Christians.[6] With the emergence of Islam, the meaning of shayatin moved closer to the Christian concept of devils.[7] The term shayatin appears in a similar way in the Book of Enoch, denoting the hosts of Satan.[8] Taken from Islamic sources, "shayatin" may be translated as "demons", satans or "devils".[9]


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 Iblis turning into a devil. Held at the Topkapi Palace Museum Library.

In the Qur'an, devils are mentioned about as often as angels. The devils are less frequently mentioned than Satan.[10](p 278) But they are equally hostile to God's order (sharia). They teach sorcery (2:102),[10](p 278) inspire their friends to dispute with the faithful (6:121),[10](p 278) make evil suggestions (23:97) [10](p 278) towards both humans and jinn (6:112)[11]and secretly listen to the council of the angels (Quran 15:16–18).[12] Quran 26:95 speaks about the junud Iblis, the (invisible) hosts of Iblis (comparable to the junud of angels fighting along Muhammad in Quran 9:40)[13]. Yet, despite the devils' reluctant nature, the devils are ultimately under God's command, working as his instruments and do not form a party on their own.[10](p 278) According to Quran 28:36-38, God made the devils slaves for Solomon, [10](p 278) God assigns a devil as a companion to an unbeliever (7:27)[10](p 278) and God sends devils as enemies to misbelievers to encite them against each other (19:83).[10](p 278) It is God who leads astray and puts people on the straight path. Both good and evil are caused by God.[10](p 279)

A single devil (mostly thought of as Iblis)[10](p 275) caused Adam to eat from the forbidden tree, arguing, God only prohibited its fruit, so they shall not become immortal, as narrated in Quran 7:20.[10](p 276) He makes people forgetful, (6:6812:52 )[10](p 276) protects wicked nations, (16:63)[10](p 276) encourages to murder (18:15) and rebellion (58:10)[10](p 276) and betrays his followers, as seen in the Battle of Badr (8:48).[10](p 276) 2:168 explicitly warns people not to follow the devil, implying that humans are free to choose between God's or the devil's path.[10](p 277) But the devil only promises delusion (4:120).[10](p 276) 3:175 portrays the devil as a false friend, who betrays whose who follow him.[10](p 277) The devil can only act with God's permission (58:10).[10](p 276) The Quranic story of Iblis, who represents the devils in the primordial fall, shows that the devils are both subordinative and made by God.[10](p 277-278) The devil proclaims that he fears God ('akhafu 'llah), which can mean both, that he is reverencing or frightened about God (the latter one the preferred translation).[10](p 280)


The hadiths are more related to the practical function of the devils in everyday life They usually speak about "the devil", instead of Iblis or devils, given the hadiths link them to their evil influences, not to them as proper personalities.[14](p 46) Yet, hadiths indicate they are composed of a body. The devils are said to eat with their left hand, therefore Muslims are advised to eat with the right hand. (Sahih Muslim Book 23 No. 5004) [15] Devils, although invisible, are depicted immense ugly. (Sahih Muslim Book 26 No. 5428) The sun is said to set and rise between the horns of a devil and during this moment, the doors to hell are open, thus Muslims should not pray during this period of time.[14](p pp. 45–60) (Sahih Muslim 612d Book 5, Hadith 222) The devils are chained in hell during Ramadan (Sahih al-Bukhari 1899)[16] Devils are sent by Iblis to cause misery among humans and return to him for report.(Muslim 8:138) [14](p pp. 54) A devil is said to tempt humans through their veins. (Muslim 2174)[14](p p. 74) Devils try to interrupt ritual prayer, and if a devil succeeds on confusing a Muslim, they are supposed to prostrate two times and continue. (Sahih Bukhari 4:151)[14](p p. 51) Satan and his minions battle the angels of mercy over the soul of a sinner, however, they are referred to as angels of punishment instead of shayatin. (Sahih Muslim 612d: Book 5, Hadith 222)[14](p 56)

Muslim scholarly interpretation[edit]

When it comes to the issue of invisible creatures, mufassirs usually focus on devils and evil jinn and although they are similar in threatening humans, they are distinguished by one another. While the jinn share many attributes with humans, like having free-will the ability to reason and thus different types of believers (Muslims, Christians, Jewish, polytheists, etc.), the devils are exclusively evil. Further, the jinn have limited lifespan, but the devils die only when their leader ceases to exist.[17][3](p 21) The father of the jinn is Al-Jann and the father of the devils is Iblis.[a] Abu Mufti writes in his commentary of Abu Hanifa's "al-Fiqh al-absat" that all angels, except with Harut and Marut, are obedient. But all devils, except Ham ibn Him Ibn Laqis Ibn Iblis, are created evil. Al-Damiri reports from ibn Abbas, that the angels will be in paradise, the devils will be in hell and among the jinn and humans, some will be in paradise and some will be in hell.[19][20] Only humans and jinn are created with fitra, meaning both angels and devils lack free-will and are settled in opposition.[21]

Neither the origin of the devils, nor their creation are described in the Quran.[10](p 278) Since their leader describes themselves in the Quran as being "created from fire", devils are thought to be created from that. More precisely, sometimes considered the fires of hell in origin.[22][23][24] Most mufassirs agree on that the devils as the offspring of Iblis.[10](p 278)[25][26] Abu Ishaq al-Tha'labi reports that God offerred Iblis support by giving him offspring, which are the devils.[27] Others describe the devils as fallen spirits (sometimes heavenly jinn, somtimes fiery angels), outcast from the presence of God.[28] Ibn Barrajan argues that the angels consist of two tribes: One created from light and one from fire, the latter being the devils.[29] Ibn Arabi describes the jinn as fire-made spiritual entities from the spiritual world. When they disobey God, they turn into devils.[30]

Devils are linked to Muslim ritual purity. Ritual purity is important and attracting angels, while devils approach impurity and filthy or desacralized places.[31] Before reciting the Quran, Muslims should take wudu/abdest and seek refuge in God from the devils.[10](p 279) Reciting specific prayers,[b] are supposed to protect against influence of the devils.[32]


Sufi-writers connect the descriptions of devils mentioned in hadith literature to human's psychological conditions. Devilish temptations are distinguished from the angelic assertions, by that the angels suggest piety in accordance with sharia, the devils against God's law and sinful acts.[33] He further elaborates an esoteric cosmology, visualizing a human's heart as the capital of the body, in constant struggle between reason ('aql) and carnal desires invoked by the devils.[34] Ali Hujwiri similarly describes the devils and angels mirroring the human psychological condition, the devils and carnal desires (nafs) on one side, and the spirit (ruh) and the angels on the other.[35]

Al Ghazali (c. 1058 – 19 December 1111) divides human nature into four domains, each representing another type of creature: Animals, beasts, devils and angels.[36] Traits human share with bodily creatures are the animal, which exists to regulate ingestion and procreation and the beasts, used for predatory actions like hunting. The other traits humans share with the jinn[c] and root in the realm of the unseen. These faculties are of two kind: That of angels and of the devils. While the angels endow the human mind with reason, advices virtues and leads to worshipping God, the devil perverts the mind and tempts to abusing the spiritual nature by committing lies, betrayals and deceits. The angelic natures advices how to use the animalistic body properly, while the devil perverts it.[38] In this regard, the plane of a human is, unlike whose of the jinn and animals, not pre-determined. Humans are potencially both angels and devils, depending on whether the sensual soul or the rational soul develop.[3](p 43)[39]

The evil urges related to the al-nafs al-ammarah in Sufism are also termed div.[40][41]

Following the cosmology of Wahdat al-Wujud, Haydar Amuli specifies that angels reflect God's names of light and beauty, while the devils God's attributes of "Majesty", "The Haughty" and "Domineering".[42]

The Brethren of Purity understand devils as ontological forces, manifestating in everything evil.[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A minority of scholars, such as Hasan Basri and Muqatil ibn Sulayman, disagreed with this view, holding that Iblis is both the father of the jinn and devils and accordingly equated with Al-Jann.[18]
  2. ^ like "A'uzu Billahi Minesh shaitanir Rajiim" or specific Surahs of the Quran, like "An-Naas" or "Al-Falaq"
  3. ^ here referring to unseen creatures in general[37]


  1. ^ R. M. Savory Introduction to Islamic CivilizationCambridge University Press, 1976 ISBN 978-0521099486 p. 42
  2. ^ Szombathy, Zoltan, “Exorcism”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Three, Edited by: Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, Everett Rowson. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_ei3_COM_26268, First print edition: ISBN 978-9004269637, 2014
  3. ^ a b c el-Zein, Amira (2009). Islam, Arabs, and Intelligent World of the Jinn. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 978-0-8156-5070-6.
  4. ^ Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies
  5. ^ Mustafa ÖZTÜRK The Tragic Story of Iblis (Satan) in the Qur’an Çukurova University,Faculty of Divinity JOURNAL OF ISLAMIC RESEARCH İslam Araştırmaları Vol 2 No 2 December 2009 page 134
  6. ^ Amira El Zein: The Evolution of the Concept of Jinn from Pre-Islam to Islam. pp. 227–233.
  7. ^ Jeffrey Burton Russell Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages Cornell University Press 1986 ISBN 978-0-801-49429-1 page 55
  8. ^ James Windrow Sweetman Islam and Christian Theology: Preparatory historical survey of the early period. v.2. The theological position at the close of the period of Christian ascendancy in the Near East Lutterworth Press 1945 University of Michigan digitalized: 26. Juni 2009 p. 24
  9. ^ Mehmet Yavuz Seker Beware! Satan: Strategy of Defense Tughra Books 2008 ISBN 978-1-597-84131-3 page 3
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x YOUNG, M. J. L. (1966). "THE TREATMENT OF THE PRINCIPLE OF EVIL IN THE QUR'ĀN". Islamic Studies. 5. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  11. ^ Teuma, E. (1984). More on Qur'anic jinn. Melita Theologica, 39(1–2), 37–45.
  12. ^ Eichler, Paul Arno, 1889 Die Dschinn, Teufel und Engel in Koran [microform] p. 31. (German)
  13. ^ THE ROLE OF AL-'aql in early Islamic Wisdom with reference to Imam Jafar al Sadiq
  14. ^ a b c d e f Awn, P. J. (1983). Satan's Tragedy and Redemption: Iblīs in Sufi Psychology. Niederlande: E.J. Brill.
  15. ^ Burning Issues in Afro-Asiatic Linguistics. (2014). Vereinigtes Königreich: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 143
  16. ^ Tobias Nünlist (2015). Dämonenglaube im Islam. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. ISBN 978-3-110-33168-4. p. 229 (in German).
  18. ^ (turkish)
  19. ^ AmiraJinn>(p 20)
  21. ^ Abu l-Lait as-Samarqandi's Comentary on Abu Hanifa al-Fiqh al-absat Introduction, Text and Commentary by Hans Daiber Islamic concept of Belief in the 4th/10th Century Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa p. 243
  22. ^ ANTON M. HEINEN ISLAMIC COSMOLOGY A STUDY OF AS-SUYUTI’S al-Hay’a as-samya fi l-hay’a as-sunmya with critical edition, translation, and commentary ANTON M. HEINEN BEIRUT 1982 p. 143
  23. ^ Fahd, T. and Rippin, A., “S̲h̲ayṭān”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_islam_COM_1054
  24. ^ Marshall G. S. Hodgson The Venture of Islam, Volume 2: The Expansion of Islam in the Middle Periods, Volume 2 University of Chicago Press, 2009 ISBN 978-0226346878 p. 449
  25. ^ Amira El Zein: The Evolution of the Concept of Jinn from Pre-Islam to Islam. pp. 227–233.
  27. ^ Awn. (2018). Satan's Tragedy and Redemption: Iblīs in Sufi Psychology. With a Foreword by A. Schimmel. Niederlande: Brill. p. 31
  28. ^ Chebel, Malek. Les 100 mots du Coran. ISBN 978-2-13-073291-4.
  31. ^ Marion Holmes Katz Body of Text: The Emergence of the Sunni Law of Ritual Purity SUNY Press, 2012 ISBN 978-0791488577 p. 13
  32. ^ Rudolf Macuch "Und das Leben ist siegreich!": mandäische und samaritanische Literatur ; im Gedenken an Rudolf Macuch (1919–1993) Otto Harrassowitz Verlag 2008 ISBN 978-3-447-05178-1 p. 82
  33. ^ Abdullahi Hassan Zaroug "AI-Ghazali's Sufism: A Critical Appraisal", Intellectual Discourse, 1997 p. 150[ISBN missing]
  34. ^ Jurnal Ilmiah ISLAM FUTURA Vol. 17. No. 2, Februari 2018, THE INTERTWINED RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE NAFS (CARNAL SOUL), AQL (REASONING) QALB (HEART) Hyder Gulam Australian National Imams Council p. 207
  36. ^ Zh. D. Dadebayev, M.T. Kozhakanova, I.K.Azimbayeva Human's Anthropological Appearance in Abai Kunanbayev's Works World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology Vol:6 2012-06-23 p. 1065
  37. ^ Teuma, E. (1984). More on Qur'anic jinn. Melita Theologica, 35(1-2), 37-45.
  38. ^ Truglia, Craig. “AL-GHAZALI AND GIOVANNI PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA ON THE QUESTION OF HUMAN FREEDOM AND THE CHAIN OF BEING.” Philosophy East and West, vol. 60, no. 2, 2010, pp. 143–166. JSTOR, Accessed 17 Aug. 2021.
  39. ^ Khaled El-Rouayheb, Sabine Schmidtke The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Philosophy Oxford University Press 2016 ISBN 978-0-199-91739-6 page 186
  40. ^ Davaran, F. (2010). Continuity in Iranian Identity: Resilience of a Cultural Heritage. Vereinigtes Königreich: Taylor & Francis. p. 207
  41. ^ Turkish Studies Language and Literature Volume 14 Issue 3, 2019, p. 1137-1158 doi:10.29228/TurkishStudies.22895 ISSN 2667-5641 Skopje/MACEDONIA-Ankara/TURKEY p. 1138
  42. ^ Ayman Shihadeh: Sufism and Theology. Hrsg.: Edinburgh University Press. 21. November 2007, ISBN 978-0-7486-3134-6, pp. 54–56.
  43. ^ Seyyed Hossein Nasr Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, An SUNY Press 1993 ISBN 978-1-438-41419-5 p. 69