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What is Satan?

The word satan refers primarily to two things, 1. The desire to do evil, 2. The spiritual being created to incite evil. Hadrat Khalifatul-Masih IV rta explained:

This quality of going wrong or desire to do wrong, that quality is satanic, and that quality is in every man. Now there are possibilities, number one, that this is satan and that is all and there is no personification of satan as such. And there is another possibility, that like the system of angels who control goodness, there may be some evil forces created by Allah of which we don’t know directly, but which are responsible for promoting all the forces of evil within man and controlling them.

(Question Answer Session, April 20, 1985)

Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra explained this definition in several places.

Every evil inclination, the source of which is unknown, is referred to as satan in the Quran. This is because it is the result of subtle thoughts, and the root of the word shaitan indicates to such a being that creates doubts from afar. Sometimes this word is used for that evil spirit that is the initiator of the means of evil in opposition to angels.

(Tafsir-e-Kabir, vol. 3, p. 363)

Explaining the concept of the evil spirit that incites evil, Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra explained,

That satan, which has been created for the incitement of evil and is an invisible being like the angels, he does not himself come and speak with people. He does not come in bodily form and cause people suffering. People who lost the status of righteousness as a result of their actions become the reflection of satan; it is their actions that are attributed to satan. There are other incitements to evil aside from this; they are also referred to as satan. For example, the Holy Prophetsas said that my satan has become Muslim (Masnad Ahmad, narration by Ibn ‘Abbas). For this reason, satan only told the Holy Prophet sas to do good. The meaning of this Hadith is that the means that become an incitement to evil for ordinary people were a means of his sas progressing in goodness because of his sas perfect righteousness. The meaning of this Hadith is not that each person has a separate satan, and that the separate satan of the Holy Prophet sas had become Muslim. If this were the meaning, then why would the Holy Prophet sas have sought refuge with Allah from satan? The reality is that the actual satan was still existent in his original condition. However, the state in those thoughts and emotions that support satan had become Muslim for the Holy Prophet sas.

(Tafsir-e-Kabir, vol 4, p. 75)

Satan being evil does not mean that he is deserving of punishment or at fault. Only those beings who have free will and then choose evil will be punished. Those beings who have been created for evil are only fulfilling their responsibility.

The inciter of evil has been created to test man; he could only be punished if he fails to incite evil. The question can arise that why then is satan called evil? The answer is that being evil is one thing and being deserving of punishment is something else. We do not throw excrements away from our house to punish it, but because for it to remain is harmful to our health. The same is the case with the inciter of evil, satan. He is the representative of illness and sin, so he will necessarily be called evil. Despite this, he is not deserving of punishment. Under him, there are his manifestations which are from among men and from among jinn. Those evil spirits who have not been created for evil but they incite evil after having preferred it, or those humans who have not been created for evil but they incite evil after having preferred it, these people are satan and Iblis according to their stages and are deserving of punishment.

(Tafsir-e-Kabir, vol. 6, p. 14–15)

The very existence of free will demands that there be a force that draws us to good and a force that draws us to evil. However, that does not mean that the forces of good deserve reward, or that the forces of evil deserve punishment. Rather, both forces are fulfilling the purpose of their creation so that free will can exist. Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra wrote:

Neither can the angels derive pleasure from heaven, nor can satan derive pain from hell. Satan is a being of fire, can a brand of fire find pain in fire? That is its place. Thus, satan going into hell does not mean that he will be punished. Rather, he will go the place that he belongs to. If the angels go to paradise, it will not be because of any reward. In the same way, satan will not go to hell because of any punishment (Tafsir-e-Kabir, vol. 6, p. 13–14).

Some people object as to why satan will be sent to hell? The answer is that satan said, “you created me from fire.” Thus, for something that was created from fire to go into fire is no punishment. If you place coal into fire, what punishment is that for it (Tafsir-e-Kabir, vol. 3, p. 463, 464).

The creation of satan is subordinate to human beings. Regardless, whatever satans are not humans will not be deserving of punishment because they are fulfilling their obligation. As the filthy things in this world are not worthy of punishment or being questioned as to why they are filthy, similarly the satans who are not human, they are not deserving of punishment. However, those humans that are satan, they are certainly deserving of punishment (Tafsir-e-Kabir, vol. 4, p. 55).

As there are different ranks among angels, there are also different ranks among satanic beings. The evil spirits that manifest the will of satan are referred to in the Holy Quran sometimes with the terminology of jinn.

The word jinn is used in the Holy Quran to refer to many things. First, the word Jinn refers to those evil spirits that incite satanic thoughts in the same way that angels create angelic motivations. They are the helpers of that satan who is the inciter of evil. This is derived from the verse of Surah an-Nas:

Who whispers into the hearts of men, From among the Jinn and mankind (Surah an-Nas, 114:6–7).

(Tafsir-e- Kabir, vol. 4, p. 62)

The word satan refers to two main categories. One is the desire to do evil, as the Holy Prophet sas said:

Satan circulates in a person like blood.

(Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 93, Hadith 35; Sahih Muslim, Book 39, Hadith 32)

The second is the evil spirit that is the opposite of angels which draws man to evil and which is helped by spiritual beings referred to as Jinn. In ignorance, people have come to believe that satan and Jinn can directly harm them, which lead to superstition and the false idea of being possessed by satan Jinns and the need for exorcism. Satan and jinn have no power whatsoever to do any harm to man; they can only incite man to choose to harm himself. These beings were created only to allow for the concept of free will, never to interfere with the concept of free will. It is a great irony that some Muslims have understood satan and jinn as the very opposite of the purpose of their existence in Islam. They think that satan and jinn can possess a person and deprive him of his free will, whereas Islam teaches that the very purpose of their creation is to allow for the concept of free will to exist.

Updated on February 2, 2019

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