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Depiction of one of the shayāṭīn by Siyah Qalam, c. 14th/15th century. The art-style of Uighur or Central Asia origin, was used by Muslim Turks to depict various legendary beings.[1]

A shaitan or shaytan (Arabic: شَيْطَان, romanizedšayṭān, Hebrew: שָׂטָן, "devil", "satan", or "demon", plural: šayāṭīn (شَيَاطِين)) is an evil spirit in Islam, inciting humans and the jinn to sin by "whispering" (وَسْوَسَة, waswasa) in their hearts (قَلْب qalb).[2][3] Although invisible to humans, shayāṭīn are imagined to be ugly and grotesque creatures created from (hell-)fire.[4][5](p21)

The Quran speaks of various ways that the shayāṭīn tempt humans into sin. They may teach sorcery, float below the heavens to steal the news of the angels, or lurk near humans without being seen. Iblīs, called ash-Shayṭān ("the Devil" or "Satan"), is their leader. Ḥadīth literature holds the shayāṭīn responsible for various calamities which may affect personal life. Both the ḥādīth literature and Arab folklore usually speak of the shayāṭīn in abstract terms, describing their evil influence only. For example, according to a hadith, during Ramadan they are said to be chained in hell.

According to Muslim philosophical writings, the shayāṭīn struggle against the noble angels in the imaginal reality called 'ālam al-mithāl or 'ālam al-malakūt over the human mind, consisting of both angelic and devilish qualities. Some writers describe the shayāṭīn as expressions of God's fierce attributes and actions.

Etymology and terminology[edit]

The Arabic term Šayṭān (Arabic: شَيْطَان) originated from the triliteral root š-ṭ-n ("distant, astray") and is cognate to Satan. It has a theological connotation designating a creature distant from the divine mercy.[6] In pre-Islamic Arabia, this term was used to designate an evil spirit, but only used by poets who were in contact with Jewish and Christian tribes.[7] According to Umar Sulaiman Al-Ashqar, Shaytan in the Arabic language refers to every rebellious person.[8]

With the emergence of Islam, the meaning of shayāṭīn moved closer to the Christian concept of devils.[9] The term shayāṭīn appears similarly in the Jewish Book of Enoch, denoting the hosts of Satan.[10] The term ultimately derives from the Jewish Book of Job. Taken from Islamic literary sources, the term shayāṭīn may be translated as "demons", "satans", or "devils".[11]

In the Quran[edit]


In the Quran, shayāṭīn are mentioned as often as angels. The shayāṭīn are mentioned less frequently than Šayṭān,[12](p278) but they are equally hostile to God's order (sharīʿa). They teach sorcery to humans (2:102),[12](p278) inspire their friends to dispute with the faithful (6:121),[12](p278) make evil suggestions (23:97)[12](p278) towards both humans and jinn (6:112),[13] and secretly listen to the council of the angels (Quran 15:16–18).[14] Quran 26:95 speaks about the junud Iblīs, the (invisible) hosts of Iblīs (comparable to the junud of angels fighting along Muhammad in Quran 9:40).[15] Yet, despite the reluctant nature of the shayāṭīn, they are ultimately under God's command, working as his instruments and not forming their own party.[12](p278) According to Quran 38:36-38, God made the shayāṭīn slaves for Solomon,[12](p278) God assigns the shayāṭīn as companions to the unbelievers (7:27),[12](p278) and God sends the shayāṭīn as enemies to misbelievers to incite them against each other (19:83).[12](p278) It is God who leads astray and puts people on the straight path. Both good and evil are caused by God in Islam.[12](p279)

A single Šayṭān (the Devil, mostly thought of as Iblīs)[12](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.[12](p276) He makes people forgetful (6:6812:42),[12](p276) protects wicked nations (16:63),[12](p276) encourages to murder (28:15) and rebellion (58:10),[12](p276) and betrays his followers, as seen in the Battle of Badr (8:48).[12](p276) Quran 2:168 explicitly warns people not to follow the Šayṭān, implying that humans are free to choose between the path of God or the one of Šayṭān.[12](p277) But Šayṭān only promises delusion (4:120).[12](p276) Quran 3:175 portrays Šayṭān as a false friend, who betrays those who follow him.[12](p277) Šayṭān can only act with God's permission (58:10).[12](p276) The Quranic story of Iblīs, who represents the shayāṭīn in the primordial fall, shows that the shayāṭīn are both subordinative and created by God.[12](p277-278) Šayṭān proclaims that he fears God ('akhafu 'llah), which can mean both, that he is revering or frightened about God (the latter one the preferred translation).[12](p280)

In the ḥādīth literature[edit]

The ḥādīth narrations are more related to the practical function of the shayāṭīn in everyday life. They usually speak about šayṭān, instead of Iblīs or shayāṭīn, given the ḥādīth literature links them to their evil influences, not to them as proper personalities.[16](p46) Yet, ḥādīth narrations indicate that they are composed of a body. The shayāṭīn are said to eat with their left hand, therefore Muslims are advised to eat with their right hand. (Sahih Muslim Book 23 No. 5004)[17] Shayāṭīn, 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 šayṭān and during this moment, the doors to hell are open, thus Muslims should not pray periodically at this time.[16](pp. 45–60) (Sahih Muslim 612d Book 5, Hadith 222) The shayāṭīn are chained in hell during Ramadan (Sahih al-Bukhari 1899).[18]: 229  Shayāṭīn are sent by Iblis to cause misery among humans and return to him for report. (Muslim 8:138)[16](pp. 54) A šayṭān is said to tempt humans through their veins. (Muslim 2174)[16](pp. 74) Shayāṭīn try to interrupt ritual Muslim prayer, and if a šayṭān succeeds in confusing a Muslim, the Muslim is supposed to prostrate two times and continue. (Sahih Bukhari 4:151)[16](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 shayāṭīn. (Sahih Muslim 612d: Book 21, Hadith 2622)[16](p56)

Muslim scholarly interpretation[edit]

When it comes to the issue of invisible creatures, mufassirs usually focus on shayāṭīn 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, and the ability to reason, and thus different types of believers (Muslims, Christians, Jews, polytheists, etc.), the shayāṭīn are exclusively evil. Further, the jinn have a limited lifespan, but the shayāṭīn die only when their leader ceases to exist.[19][20](p21) The father of the jinn is Al-Jann and the father of the shayāṭīn is Iblis.[a]

In Tafsir al-Kalbi about Ibn 'Abbas, he is quoted as saying: Iblis is cursed and made his soldiers two teams, so he sent one team of them to the humans and another team to the jinn. In another account of him, the jinn are offspring of al-jann, unlike devils. The devils were born by Iblis and they perish only with him and the jinn die including the believer and the infidel (...) — Mahmud al-Alusi, "The Spirit of Meaning", Surah 6:112

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.[23] Abu Mufti distinguishes in his commentary of Abu Hanifa's "al-Fiqh al-absat" that all angels, except Harut and Marut, are obedient. But all shayāṭīn, 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 shayāṭīn will be in hell, and among the jinn and humans, some will be in paradise and some will be in hell.[5](p20)[24] Only humans and jinn are created with fitra, meaning both angels and shayāṭīn lack free will and are settled in opposition.[25]

Neither the origin of the shayāṭīn nor their creation is described in the Quran.[12](p278) Since their leader describes themselves in the Quran as being "created from fire", shayāṭīn are thought to be created from that. More precisely, sometimes considered the fires of hell in origin.[26][27][28] Most mufassirs agree that the shayāṭīn are the offspring of Iblis.[12](p278)[7][29] Abu Ishaq al-Tha'labi reports that God offered Iblis support by giving him offspring, which are the shayāṭīn.[30] Others describe the shayāṭīn as fallen spirits (sometimes heavenly jinn, sometimes fiery angels), outcast from the presence of God.[31] Ibn Barrajan argues that the angels consist of two tribes: One created from light and one from fire, the latter being the shayāṭīn.[32] Ibn Arabi describes the jinn as fire-made spiritual entities from the spiritual world. When they disobey God, they turn into shayāṭīn.[33] Qadi Baydawi argues that shayāṭīn are perhaps not essentially different from angels, but differ only in their accidents and qualities.[34]

Since the term shaitan is also used as an epithet to describe malevolent jinn (and humans), it is sometimes difficult to properly distinguish between shayāṭīn and evil jinn in some sources.[35](p87)[18](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]

Shayāṭīn are linked to Muslim ritual purity. Ritual purity is important in attracting angels, while shayāṭīn approach impurity and filthy or desacralized places.[36] Before reciting the Quran, Muslims should take wudu/abdest and seek refuge in God from the shayāṭīn.[12](p279) Reciting specific prayers[c] is supposed to protect against the influence of the shayāṭīn.[37]


Islamic philosophical cosmology asserts the belief in a singular God. In Islam, reverence is held for all the Abrahamic Prophets, including prominent figures like Moses and Jesus. Islamic tradition maintains that Prophets were sent to guide every tribe or community throughout history, with divine revelations being imparted to mankind repeatedly. However, the purity of these messages was sometimes compromised due to human tendencies such as corruption, jealousy, and heresy. Islam affirms that Muhammad was the final Prophet, and it asserts that the Quran, the holy book of Islam, remains unaltered by human hands.

It divides living beings into four categories: Animals, humans, angels, and shayāṭīn. 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 shayāṭīn as unreasonable and immortal beings.[38] He supports his claim with the Quranic verse in which God grants Iblis respite until the day of resurrection.[39]

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.[40] Traits humans 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 the shayāṭīn. While the angels endow the human mind with reason, advise virtues, and lead to worship of God, the šayṭān perverts the mind and tempts it to commit lies, betrayals, and deceits, thus abusing the spiritual gift. The angelic nature instructs how to use the animalistic body properly, while the šayṭān perverts it.[42] 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 develops.[5](p43)[43]

The Brethren of Purity understand shayāṭīn as ontological forces, manifesting in everything evil.[44]

Following the cosmology of Wahdat al-Wujud, Haydar Amuli specifies that angels reflect God's names of light and beauty, while the shayāṭīn God's attributes of "Majesty", "The Haughty" and "Domineering".[45] Ibn Arabi, to whom Haydar Amuli's cosmology is attributed to, although making a clear distinction between the devils and the angels, interpreted shayāṭīn as beings of a similar function to that of angels, as sent and predescribed by God, in his Al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya.[46]

Sufi writers connect the descriptions of shayāṭīn mentioned in hadith literature to human psychological conditions. Devilish temptations are distinguished from the angelic assertions, by that the angels suggest piety by sharia, the shayāṭīn against God's law and sinful acts.[47] 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 shayāṭīn.[48] Ali Hujwiri similarly describes the shayāṭīn and angels mirroring the human psychological condition, the shayāṭīn and carnal desires (nafs) on one side, and the spirit (ruh) and the angels on the other.[49] The evil urges related to the al-nafs al-ammarah in Sufism are also termed div.[50][51]

Popular culture[edit]

In 2008 Hasan Karacadağ published the movie Semum about one of the shayatin.[e] The devil was released from hell. Jealous of humans, the devil seeks out to harm and torment humans, and takes possession over the body of a woman.[53]

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 shayāṭīn and accordingly equated with Al-Jann.[21] The Mu'tazila, inspired by the disciples of Hasan Basri, are said to hold that not shayāṭīn, but jinn, whisper to humans. Simultaneously, demonic possession, commonly associated with the jinn, is rejected.[22]
  2. ^ From T. Nünlist (2015) Dämonenglaube im Islam[18]: 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."[18]: 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."[18]: 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[41]
  5. ^ TRANSLATION: (in English)
    "Based on a hadith, Karacadağ argued that Semum was not a Jinn and came from the same lineage as Satan." ORIGINAL: (in Turkish)
    Karacadağ, bir hadisten yola çıkarak Semum'un bir Cin olmadığını ve Şeytan ile aynı soydan geldiğini savundu.[52]


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