If you read the Quran, you will find the tragic story of Iblis, the first Shaytan. Iblis was one of Allah’s favorite creations, a glorious creature made of fire so pure that not even smoke could mar its beauty. When Iblis refused to bow to Adam, a mere man made of clay, Allah banished him from heaven. He plummeted to earth in despair, but he swore to take revenge on Adam and all clay-men like him—and so far, he has done an excellent job of taking his revenge.
What is a Shaytan?
A Shaytan (plural Shayatin) is a demonic creature, set loose on humanity to spread evil and misery. In some cases, the name “Shaytan” refers specifically to Iblis, a mighty overlord whose fall from grace in heaven embittered him against humanity and inspired him to rally an army of lesser Shaytans and djinn to persecute mankind.
Iblis, the lord of all Shayatin, is described as a sweeping force and a whispering voice. He is visible only to donkeys, who bray desperate warnings when they see him. However, he does sometimes appear in a man’s form to steal food or gather followers.
The demon horde that answers to Iblis is a much uglier sight. These Shayatin are small, gnarled creatures with dark skin and dangerous horns and teeth. Sometimes, djinn are numbered among these demons. Five types of djinn exist,
“a type like airborne odours and fragrances, a snake-like type, a type like scorpions, a type like insects of the earth, and a type like mankind.”
Iblis’s main goal, and by extension the main goal of other Shayatin, is to divide mankind from the creator, Allah. Mind-games are the devil’s weapon of choice. He and his minions are all crafty liars, who swarm around men when they are at their most vulnerable. They distract men just before the call to prayer, so that they forget to pray; they plague men with nightmares; they dip wrongful behavior in an attractive candy-coating. They can even spread rumors that turn friend against friend and brother against brother. In one passage of Islam’s “Satanic Verses,” the great prophet Muhammad reports that even he was once duped by Iblis!
Although cunning Iblis and his Shayatin have a powerful influence over the human mind, their powers are limited. Multiple times in the Quran, Iblis admits that he is incapable of misleading followers who are true to Allah. He can tempt and taunt, but he can never take control of a man’s mind.
Iblis and the Shayatin are also incapable of causing physical harm to any man, but don’t get too comfortable! They are very able to inspire someone else, like an evil djinn or a corrupt man, to attack you!
If Iblis or one of his demons do manage to get inside your head, you can easily reverse the damage by praying to Allah or by performing ablution, a kind of ritualistic wash with holy water.
Both the Quran and the Hadith contain many references to Iblis and his army of Shaytan. Most of these are brief warnings about the devils’ vow to mislead you and some of the tactics he and his demons use, but a few stories paint Iblis in the spotlight.
The Fall of Iblis
Iblis’ origin is not clearly understood. Some people believe that he is the last survivor from a generation of djinn who once lorded over the earth. These djinn became corrupt, and all of them except Iblis were destroyed. Iblis, who had remained faithful to Allah, was welcomed into heaven with the angels, where he would be the father of all future generations of djinn.
Readers of the Quran first meet Iblis when Allah presents his newest creation, Adam, to his friends in heaven. Allah asks the angels and Iblis to bow down to Adam, but Iblis refuses. To punish Iblis for his disobedience, Allah throws the djinn out of heaven, forcing him to live on earth in exile.
Muslims disagree about the reason Iblis refused to bow to Adam. Many Muslims claim that Iblis was too arrogant to acknowledge Adam as an equal, because the djinn was made out of a type of pure, beautiful fire, while Adam was made out of mud. Others credit Iblis with a more noble motive, believing that he was so faithful to Allah that he refused to bow to anything other than Allah. Regardless of the reason for his exile, Iblis was deeply embittered. He swore to do everything within his power to come between Allah and the new, unworthy creation: man. In his own words, he vowed to
“come to them from before them and behind them, from their right and from their left, and You will not find most of them as dutiful ones.”
With this vow, he earned his title as Shaytan, the devil of mankind.
The Fall of Adam
Twice, the Quran mentions the story of Adam and Eve, which is more fully explored in the Christian Bible. In both passages, the Quran explains that Iblis’ voice inspired Adam to seek out the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Iblis promised that the fruit would make Adam immortal, equal with the angels. Instead, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, Allah was enraged, and he banished from the paradise where they had been living. Thus, Iblis was revenged against Adam.
The Battle of Uhud
In the Hadith, a holy text to the Islamic people, Iblis appears at a battle between Muslims and pagans. The Muslims had just defeated the pagans, when Iblis, yelled out, “Oh slaves of Allah! Beware of the forces at your back!” Hearing this cry, the Muslim warriors in the front of the army became confused and began attacking the back of the army, slaughtering hundreds. The prophet Muhammad was, himself, hideously wounded in this battle.