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

Shayāṭīn (شَيَاطِين; devils or demons), singular: Shaiṭān (شَيْطَان) are evil spirits in Islam, inciting humans (and jinn) to sin by “whispering” (وَسْوَسَة, “waswasah”) to the heart (قَلْب qalb).[1][2] They form a separate class of invisible creatures besides the angels in Islamic tradition,[3](p21) often thought of as ugly and grotesque creatures created from hell-fire.[4][3](p21)

The Quran speaks of various ways that the devils tempt humans 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 leader. 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 Muslim philosophical writings, devils struggle against the noble angels in the realm of the imaginal (alam al mithal or alam al malakut) 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 Šaiṭān (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](p278) but they are equally hostile to God's order (sharia). They teach sorcery (2:102),[10](p278) inspire their friends to dispute with the faithful (6:121),[10](p278) make evil suggestions (23:97) [10](p278) 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](p278) According to Quran 28:36-38, God made the devils slaves for Solomon, [10](p278) God assigns a devil as a companion to an unbeliever (7:27)[10](p278) and God sends devils as enemies to misbelievers to encite them against each other (19:83).[10](p278) It is God who leads astray and puts people on the straight path. Both good and evil are caused by God.[10](p279)

A single devil (mostly thought of as Iblis)[10](p275) 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](p276) He makes people forgetful, (6:6812:52 )[10](p276) protects wicked nations, (16:63)[10](p276) encourages to murder (18:15) and rebellion (58:10)[10](p276) and betrays his followers, as seen in the Battle of Badr (8:48).[10](p276) 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](p277) But the devil only promises delusion (4:120).[10](p276) 3:175 portrays the devil as a false friend, who betrays whose who follow him.[10](p277) The devil can only act with God's permission (58:10).[10](p276) 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](p277-278) 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](p280)


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](p46) 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 as immensely 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](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](pp. 54) A devil is said to tempt humans through their veins. (Muslim 2174)[14](pp. 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](pp. 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 21, Hadith 2622)[14](p56)

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](p21) The father of the jinn is Al-Jann and the father of the devils is Iblis.[a] Engku Ansaruddin Agus states that jinn, shaitan and Iblis are three different things; Iblis is the name, given by God, to an angel (Azazil) who disobeyed. Shaitan is a title for those who join Azazil's army, trained to destroy humans.[20] Abu Mufti distinguishes 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.[3](p20)[21] Only humans and jinn are created with fitra, meaning both angels and devils lack free will and are settled in opposition.[22]

Neither the origin of the devils, nor their creation are described in the Quran.[10](p278) 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.[23][24][25] Most mufassirs agree on that the devils are the offspring of Iblis.[10](p278)[6][26] Abu Ishaq al-Tha'labi reports that God offered Iblis support by giving him offspring, which are the devils.[27] Others describe the devils as fallen spirits (sometimes heavenly jinn, sometimes 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] Qadi Baydawi argues that devils are perhaps not essentially different from angels, but differ only in their accidents and qualities.[31]

Since the term shaitan is also used as an epithet to describe malevolent jinn (and humans), it is sometimes difficult to properly distinguish between devils and evil jinn in some sources.[32](p87)[33](p3) Generally, Satan and his hosts of devils (shayatin) appear in traditions associated with Jewish and Christian narratives, while jinn represent entities of polytheistic background.[b]

Devils are linked to Muslim ritual purity. Ritual purity is important in attracting angels, while devils approach impurity and filthy or desacralized places.[34] Before reciting the Quran, Muslims should take wudu/abdest and seek refuge in God from the devils.[10](p279) Reciting specific prayers[c] is supposed to protect against influence of the devils.[35]


Islamic philosophical cosmology divides living beings into four categories: Animals, humans, angels and devils. Al-Farabi (c. 872 – 950/951) defines angels as reasonable and immortal beings, humans as reasonable and mortal beings, animals as unreasonable and mortal beings, and devils as unreasonable and immortal beings.[36] He supports his claim by the Quranic verse in which God grants Iblis respite until the day of resurrection.[37]

Likewise, al-Ghazali (c. 1058 – 19 December 1111) divides human nature into four domains, each representing another type of creature: Animals, beasts, devils and angels.[38] Traits human share with bodily creatures are animals, which exist to regulate ingestion and procreation and the beasts, used for predatory actions like hunting. The other traits humans share with the jinn[d] and root in the realm of the unseen. These faculties are of two kinds: That of angels and of the devils. While the angels endow the human mind with reason, advises virtues, and lead to worship God, the devil perverts the mind and tempts to committing lies, betrayals and deceits, thus abusing the spiritual gift. The angelic natures instructs how to use the animalistic body properly, while the devil perverts it.[40] In this regard, the plane of a human is, unlike who's of the jinn and animals, not pre-determined. Humans are potentially both angels and devils, depending on whether the sensual soul or the rational soul develop.[3](p43)[41]

The Brethren of Purity understand devils as ontological forces, manifesting in everything evil.[42]

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".[43] Ibn Arabi, to whom Haydar Amuli's cosmology is attributed to, although making a clear distinction between the devils and the angels, interpreted devils as beings of a similar function to that of angels, as sent and predescribed by God, in his Al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya.[44]

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.[45] 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.[46] 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.[47] The evil urges related to the al-nafs al-ammarah in Sufism are also termed div.[48][49]

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] The Mu'tazila, inspired by the disciples of Hasan Basri, are said to hold that not devils, but jinn, whisper to humans. Simultaneously, demonic possession, commonly associated with the jinn, is rejected.[19]
  2. ^ From T. Nünlist (2015) Dämonenglaube im Islam[33]: 286 
    TRANSLATION: (in English)
    "Simplified, it can be stated that devils and Iblis appear in reports with Jewish background. Depictions, whose actors are referred to as jinn are generally located apart from Judeo-Christian traditions."[33]: 48, 286 
    ORIGINAL: (in German)
    "Vereinfacht lässt sich festhalten, dass Satane und Iblis in Berichten mit jüdischem Hintergrund auftreten. Darstellungen, deren Akteure als jinn bezeichnet werden, sind in der Regel außerhalb der jüdischen-christlichen Überlieferung zu verorten."[33]: 48, 286 
  3. ^ like "A'uzu Billahi Minesh shaitanir Rajiim" or specific Surahs of the Quran, like "An-Naas" or "Al-Falaq"
  4. ^ here referring to unseen creatures in general[39]


  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 d e 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. ^ a b 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
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  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
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  18. ^ (turkish)
  19. ^ al-Shimmari M. (2021) The Physical Reality of Jinn Possession According to Commentaries on the Quran (2:275). In: Böttcher A., Krawietz B. (eds) Islam, Migration and Jinn. The Modern Muslim World. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
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  25. ^ 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
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  31. ^ Titel Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam: Edited on Behalf of the Royal Netherlands Academy. Fourth Impression Autoren Gibb, Kramers Verlag BRILL, 2022 ISBN 9004491570, 978-9-004-49157-1 p. 319
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    Lebling, Robert (2010). Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and genies from Arabia to Zanzibar. New York, NY & London, UK: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-0-85773-063-3.
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  34. ^ Marion Holmes Katz Body of Text: The Emergence of the Sunni Law of Ritual Purity SUNY Press, 2012 ISBN 978-0791488577 p. 13
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  40. ^ 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.
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  46. ^ 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
  48. ^ Davaran, F. (2010). Continuity in Iranian Identity: Resilience of a Cultural Heritage. Vereinigtes Königreich: Taylor & Francis. p. 207
  49. ^ 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