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Iblīs (or Eblis)[1] is the Islamic equivalent of Satan. Iblis was cast out of heaven by God after he refused to prostrate himself before Adam.

Depiction of Iblis in the epic poem Shahnameh

Namings and etymology[edit]

The term Iblis (Arabic: إِبْلِيس‎) may have derived from the Arabic verbal root BLS ب-ل-س (with the broad meaning of "remain in grief")[2] or بَلَسَ (balasa, "he despaired").[3] Furthermore, the name is related to talbis meaning confusion.[4] Another possibility is that it is derived from Ancient Greek διάβολος (diábolos), also the ultimate source of English 'devil'.[5] However, there is no consensus on the root of the term.


Although Iblis resembles the Christian notion of Satan, the correlation is not exact. One can not find any trace of the idea that Iblis tried to usurp God's throne, therefore the motivations of Iblis and Satan in their disobedience to God differ. Further, Iblis is not regarded as the adversary of God; due to the strict monotheism of Islam, a duel between God and another entity is as unthinkable to a Muslim as it is to a Jew or to a mainstream Christian.[6][7] The enmity of Iblis applies just to God's creation. Iblis owns only the power God granted him, after his request for permission to tempt humans astray from God's path, he is not the cause of evil, but takes advantage of humans' inclination to be self-centered.[8]


Angels bow before the newly created Adam, but Iblis (top right on the picture) refuses to prostrate

Iblis is mentioned 11 times in the Quran by name, nine times related to his rebellion against God's command to prostrate himself before Adam. More often occurs the term Shaitan, that is, sometimes related to Iblis. Then God created Adam, He ordered all the angels to bow before the new creation. All the angels bowed down, but Iblis refused to do so, he argued that since he himself was created from fire, he is superior to humans, made from mud, and that he should not prostrate himself before Adam.[9] For his haughtiness, he was banished from heaven and condemned to hell. Therefore, Iblis made a request for the ability to try to mislead Adam and his descendants. God grants his request but also warned that he will have no power over God's servants.[10]


Sufism rejects any concept of dualism and instead believes in the unity of existence. Therefore, some mystics hold, Iblis refused to bow to Adam because he was fully devoted to God alone and refused to bow to anyone else. Accordingly, he is regarded together with Muhammad as the two most perfect monotheists, but while Muhammad is the instrument of God's mercy, Iblis is the instrument of God's anger. Furthermore, Iblis is depicted as an example of a true lover of God, teacher of oneness despite physical separation and rather a tragically fallen angel[11] than a failed creature, since he preferred to go to hell than to prostrate himself before someone else other than the "Beloved" (here referring to God). Thus Iblis became an example for unrequited love.

However, not all Sufis are in agreement with a positive depiction of Iblis. Rumi's viewpoint on Iblis is much more in tune with Islamic orthodoxy. Rumi views Iblis as the manifestation of the great sins haughtiness and envy, he states: "(Cunning) intelligence is from Iblis, and love from Adam."[12] Iblis represents the principle of "one-eyed" intellect; he only saw the outward earthly form of Adam, but was blind to the Divine spark hidden in him, using an illicit method of comparison.[13] Hasan of Basra holds that Iblis was the first who used "analogy", comparing himself to someone else, this causing his sin. Iblis therefore also represents humans' psyche moving towards sin or shows how love can cause envy and anxiety losing a beloved one.[14]

Depictions of Iblis[edit]

Another painting of angels prostrating before Adam with Iblis refusing, here depicted with a headcover

Illustrations of Iblis in Islamic paintings often depict him black-faced, a feature which would later symbolize any Satanic figure or heretic, and with a black body, symbolizing his corrupted nature. Another common depiction shows Iblis wearing special headcovering, clearly different from the traditional Islamic turban; in one painting, however, Iblis wears a traditional Islamic headcovering.[15] The turban probably refers to a narration of Iblis's fall: there he wore a turban, then he was sent down from heaven.[16]

Oral folklore narrations often describe Iblis as able to shape-shift but remaining one-eyed. Ammar ibn Yasir related a story about a black man, who was, how Muhammad later told him, actually Iblis. Before Iblis fell from heaven, according to Ibn Abbas, he had four wings, representing one of the most high ranks among the angels according to Islamic thought.


Illustration from an Arabic manuscript of the Annals of al-Tabari showing Iblis refusing to prostrate before the newly created Adam

A question arises from the fact, Iblis, who faced God, started arguing with his Him, instead of obeying.[17] An attempt to solve this question was the explanation on free-will,[18] thus Iblis was distinguished from the Angels by his ability to choose. Therefore, the Angels always obey, but Iblis, considered to be another type of creature, preferably a Jinni, was able to sin. To support this argument, Iblis is cited as boasting of his creation from fire, an element from which the Jinn were created too. However, Angels are not generally infallible and other Angels at least doubted in God's command as well. Another explanation places Iblis as one of the Angels, who was subject to predeterminism, such that God appointed him as Satan to create the illusion of dualism. Accordingly, Angels were forbidden not prostrate themselves before some else than their creator, but God gave a contradictional order, knowing only Iblus would refuse the latter instruction.[19]

Textual arguments to determine Iblis' nature seems clearly depict Iblis as a Jinni instead of an Angel in Surah 18:50: "... they prostrated, except for Iblees. He was of the jinn ...". This verse is sometimes regarded as a contradiction in Quran by non-Islamic scholars.[20] However, it is just an apparently contradiction, since in Ancient Arabic the term "jinn", was related to any creature invisible to human eye, including Angels,[21][22][23] therefore calling Iblis a Jinni does not exclude him from being an Angel. Furthermore, scholars refer "jinn" in this verse as linguistical to Jannah (heaven), instead of using it as a generic designation, referring to all those who came from heaven.[24][25][26]Those who advocate an angelic origin of Iblis point out that Iblis would not have been included into the command addressed to the Angels, with Iblis as an exception, since the Quran states in Surah 15:28 "So the angels prostrated—all of them entirely. Except Iblīs ...".[27], Iblis must be an Angel, who did not prostrate himself. An example against this argument was made by Ibn Kathir, who asserts, although Iblis was not an angel, he was trying to imitate the angels' behavior and deeds, and therefore was included in this command.[28]

The fiery origin of Iblis is another subject for this dispute, the Quran does not distinguish the substances between different supernatural creatures, but according to a Hadith reported by ‘Ā’ishah the Angels are created from light and Jann from blaze. Therefore, scholars like Zayd ibn Ali and Hasan of Basra identified Al-Jann with Iblis and placed him as analoguous to Adam, the father of mankind, as the father of all Jinn and Demons,[29] on the other hand, according to a tradition attributed to Ibn Abbas, Angels are generally created from light, but Iblis (or his entire clan) was indeed created from fire.[30] However scholars like Tabari, Al-Baydawi and Ibshihi assert that eventually fire and light both denote a subtle matter on different levels, thus it should not be taken too precisely.[31] Accordingly, Angels, Jinn and Demons, are said to all be derived from fire, but from different parts of the flame, with the Angels from its light.

Another argument points out that Iblis has progeny but Angels do not procreate, however it remains unclear whether his progeny is a generic new species or refer symbolically to those who followed him. Additionally, Iblis first started to procreate after losing his angelic form.. Concerning Iblis' gender, Iblis appears male, hermaphrodite[32] or asexual.[33] Thus, using arguments concerning Iblis' descendants to determine his essence is unfounded.

While Iblis' angelic origin was generally accepted among classical Islamic scholars,[34] modern scholars frequently insist that Iblis was not an Angel.[35] Finally, the following four interpretations are commonly accepted among Islamic traditions:[36]

  • Before the creation of Adam, there was a tribe of Angels, created from fire and called 'Jinn', able to sin, and Iblis belongs to this tribe. After Iblis disobeyed, he and those from his tribe, who followed him, were cast out from heaven and became Demons.[37]
  • Iblis was the first Demon among the Jinn, created from fire and was the father of all the other Demons.
  • Iblis was one of the earthly Jinn, taken captive by the Angels during battle. Later he grew up among the Angels and became like one of them.
  • Due to his disobedience, Iblis turned from an Angel into a Jinn.

Notable scholars who clearly consider Iblis an Angel include Ibn Abbas, Tabari,[38] Ash'ari,[39] Al-Baydawi,[40] and Muhammad Asad.[41] Notable scholars who clearly consider Iblis a Jinn include Hasan of Basra, Ja'far al-Sadiq,[42] Ibn Kathir, Ibn Arabi, and Al-Munajjid.

Iblis in Extra-Qur'anic narratives[edit]

Iblis as an Angel[edit]

Iblis was once an Archangel and God's dearest creature, he was the teacher of the other angels, and God gave him authority over the lower heavens. When the jinn increasingly caused corruption on earth, God sent him with an army of angels to battle the jinn and they drove them into the mountains. Iblis felt superior to any other creature, especially since he was, unlike the other angels, created from fire. Then God created Adam and commanded the angels to prostrate before him, Iblis felt humiliated, and refused to accept the superiority of man, who was, according to Iblis, just another fallible entity, who would corrupt God's earth, like the jinn he just defeated before, while he would praise God's glory day and night.[43] Therefore, he was cast out of heaven, but his request, to attempt proving the unworthiness of mankind, was granted, thus although Iblis's pride lost him his position in heaven, he remained part of God's plan. After the day of judgment, it is held that Iblis may return to heaven.[44]

Iblis as a Jinn[edit]

Then the angels battled the earthen jinn and took prisoners. One of these was Iblis, who grew up among the angels in heaven, and because of his piety was elevated to their rank. When God ordered the angels to prostrate themselves before Adam, Iblis refused haughtily, considering himself superior because of his physical nature constituted of fire and not of clay.[45]

Iblis and the serpent[edit]

Painting of the expulsion from "The Garden" by Al-Hakim Nishapuri.The main actors of the narration about Adams fall are drawn: Adam, Hawwa (Eve), Iblis, the serpent, the peacock and an Angel, probably Ridwan, who guards paradise.
This painting is coming from a copy of the Fālnāmeh (Book of Omens) ascribed to Ja´far al-Sādiq. Iblis characteristically depicted black-faced is bottom-left in picture above the Angels.

Although the Serpent is not mentioned in the Qur'an, Qur'anic commentaries as well as the Stories of the Prophets added the serpent borrowed from Gnostic and Jewish oral tradition circulating in the Arabian Peninsula.[46] Iblis tries to enter the abode of Adam, but the angelic guardian keeps him away. Then Iblis invents a plan to trick the guardian, he approaches a peacock and tells him that all creatures will die and the peacock's beauty will perish. But if he gets the fruit of eternity, every creature will last forever. Therefore, the peacock contrives to slip Iblis's serpent into the Garden, by carrying him in his mouth; in the Garden, Iblis speaks through the serpent to Adam and Eve, and tricks them into eating from the forbidden tree. Modern Muslims accuse the Yazidis of devil worship for venerating the peacock. [47]

Moses and Iblis on Sinai[edit]

Ghazali told a tale about Iblis meeting Moses one the slopes of Sinai. Accordingly, Moses asks Iblis why he refused God's order. Iblis replied that the command was actually a test. Then Moses replied, obviously Iblis was punished by being turned from an angel to a devil. Iblis responds, his form is just temporary.[48][49]

Iblis' fate in Endtime[edit]

Just as there are different views on the origin of Iblis, there are different opinions regarding his lot during the Endtime:

  • Iblis and his host are the first who enter hell and will dwell there for eternity.[50]
  • After the world perished, Iblis assignment as tempter for humanity and his punishment alike are over. Therefore Iblis will be forgiven and he returns to heaven as one of God's cherished Angels.[51]
  • Still before the world perishes, Iblis will be killed in a battle by the Mahdi, an interpretation especially prevalent among Shia Muslims.[52]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Constance Victoria Briggs The Encyclopedia of God: An A-Z Guide to Thoughts, Ideas, and Beliefs about GodHampton Roads Publishing 2003 ISBN 978-1-612-83225-8
  2. ^ Ebrahim Kazim Scientific Commentary of Suratul Faateḥah Pharos Media & Publishing 2010 ISBN 978-8-172-21037-3 page 274
  3. ^ "Iblis". 
  4. ^ Nicholson Studies In Islamic Mystic Routledge 2013 (first published 1998) ISBN 978-1-136-17178-9 page 120
  5. ^ "Iblīs - BrillReference". 
  6. ^ N. Ahmadi Iranian Islam: The Concept of the Individual Springer 1998 ISBN 978-0-230-37349-5 page 80
  7. ^ Islam, Arabs, and Intelligent World of the Jinn Syracuse University Press 2009 ISBN 9780815650706 page 46
  8. ^ Charles Mathewes Understanding Religious Ethics John Wiley & Sons 2010 ISBN 978-1-405-13351-7 page 248
  9. ^ Quran 7:12
  10. ^ Quran 17:65. ""As for My servants, no authority shalt thou have over them:" Enough is thy Lord for a Disposer of affairs."
  11. ^ Islam, Arabs, and Intelligent World of the Jinn Syracuse University Press 2009 ISBN 9780815650706 page 44
  12. ^ Annemarie Schimmel The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi Annemarie Schimmel SUNY Press 1993 ISBN 978-0-791-41635-8 page 255
  13. ^ Walī Allāh al-Dihlawī Shāh Walī Allāh of Delhi's Hujjat Allāh Al-bāligha BRILL 1996 ISBN 978-9-004-10298-9 page 350
  14. ^ Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, Rumi Collected Poetical Works of Rumi (Delphi Classics) Delphi Classics 2015 story XI
  15. ^ Na'ama Brosh, Rachel Milstein, Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel (Jerusalem) Biblical stories in Islamic painting Israel Museum 1991 page 27
  16. ^ Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad Thaʻlabī, William M. Brinner ʻArāʻis al-majālis fī qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā, or: Lives of the prophets, Band 24 2002 ISBN 978-9-004-12589-6 page 69
  17. ^ Murat Sofuoglu The Manifest Destiny of Human Being University Press of America 2004 ISBN 978-0-761-82936-2 page 6
  18. ^ Amira El-Zein Islam, Arabs, and Intelligent World of the Jinn Syracuse University Press 2009 ISBN 9780815650706 page 46
  19. ^ Ludo Abicht Islam & Europe: Challenges and Opportunities Leuven University Press 2008 ISBN 978-9-058-67672-6 page 128
  20. ^ Henry Ansgar Kelly Satan: A BiographyCambridge University Press 2006 ISBN 978-0-521-84339-3 page 185
  21. ^ Hans Gerhard Kippenberg, Y. Kuiper, Andy F. Sanders Concepts of person in religion and thought Monton de Gruyter 1990 ISBN 978-0-899-25600-9 page 220
  22. ^ Amira El-Zein Islam, Arabs, and Intelligent World of the Jinn Syracuse University Press 2009 ISBN 9780815650706 page 34-37
  23. ^ https://islaambooks.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/the-commentary-on-the-quran-volume-i-tafsir-al-tabari.pdf page 139
  24. ^ https://islaambooks.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/the-commentary-on-the-quran-volume-i-tafsir-al-tabari.pdf page 139
  25. ^ Roger Allen Studying Modern Arabic Literature Edinburgh University Press 2015 ISBN 978-1-474-40349-8 Notes
  26. ^ Patrick Hughes, Thomas Patrick Hughes Dictionary of Islam Asian Educational Services 1995 ISBN 978-8-120-60672-2 page 135
  27. ^ Joseph Hell Die Religion des Islam Motilal Banarsidass Publishe 1915 page 142
  28. ^ Muhammad Saed Abdul-Rahman Tafsir Ibn Kathir Juz' 1 (Part 1): Al-Fatihah 1 to Al-Baqarah 141 2nd Edition MSA Publication Limited 2013 ISBN 978-1-861-79826-8 page 136
  29. ^ The Beginning and the End - Ibn Kathir - Volume I, also the Koranic commentary of the same author
  30. ^ Leo JungFallen Angels in Jewish, Christian, and Mohammedan LiteratureWipf and Stock Publishers 2007 ISBN 978-1-556-35416-8 page 60
  31. ^ M. Th. Houtsma E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913–1936, Band 5 BRILL 1993 ISBN 978-9-004-09791-9 page 191
  32. ^ Tobias Nünlist Dämonenglaube im Islam Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG, 2015 ISBN 978-3-110-33168-4 p.53-54 (German)
  33. ^ Abdelwahab Bouhdiba Sexuality in Islam Routledge 2013 ISBN 978-1-135-03037-7 page 59
  34. ^ Alford T. Welch Studies in Qur'an and Tafsir American Academy of Religion 1980 digitized 18. 10. 2008 Original: Indiana University page 756
  35. ^ Dan Burton, David Grandy Magic, Mystery, and Science: The Occult in Western Civilization Indiana University Press 2004 ISBN 978-0-253-21656-4 page 145
  36. ^ Patrick Hughes, Thomas Patrick Hughes Dictionary of Islam Asian Educational Services 1995 ISBN 978-8-120-60672-2 page 135
  37. ^ Stephen J. Vicchio Biblical Figures in the Islamic Faith Wipf and Stock Publishers 2008 ISBN 978-1-556-35304-8 page 183
  38. ^ Brannon M. Wheeler Prophets in the Quran: An Introduction to the Quran and Muslim Exegesis A&C Black, 18.06.2002 page 16 ISBN 978-0-826-44957-3
  39. ^ Miguel Asin Palacios Islam and the Divine Comedy Routledge 2013 ISBN 978-1-134-53643-6 page 109
  40. ^ Stephen J. Vicchio Biblical Figures in the Islamic Faith Wipf and Stock Publishers 2008 ISBN 978-1-556-35304-8 page 183
  41. ^ name="Robert Lebling ">Robert Lebling Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar I.B.Tauris 2010 ISBN 978-0-857-73063-3 Appendix B
  42. ^ Mahmoud M. Ayoub Qur'an and Its Interpreters, The, Volume 1, Band 1 SUNY Press ISBN 978-0-791-49546-9 Seite 86 (englisch)
  43. ^ James William Hampson Stobart Islam & Its Founder Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge 1876 digitized 2006 original: Oxford University page 114
  44. ^ Annemarie Schimmel Gabriel's Wing: A Study Into the Religious Ideas of Sir Muhammad Iqbal Brill Archive 1963 page 212
  45. ^ Ali Unal The Qur'an with Annotated Interpretation in Modern English Tughra Books 2008 ISBN 978-1-597-84144-3 page 29
  46. ^ Amira El-Zein Islam, Arabs, and Intelligent World of the Jinn Syracuse University Press 2009 ISBN 9780815650706 page 98-99
  47. ^ Birgül Açikyildiz The Yezidis: The History of a Community, Culture and Religion I.B.Tauris 2014 ISBN 978-0-857-72061-0 page 161
  48. ^ Richard Gramlich Der eine Gott: Grundzüge der Mystik des islamischen Monotheismus Otto Harrassowitz Verlag 1998 ISBN 978-3-447-04025-9 page 44
  49. ^ Joseph E. B. Lumbard Ahmad al-Ghazali, Remembrance, and the Metaphysics of Love SUNY Press 2016 ISBN 978-1-438-45966-0 page 111-112
  50. ^ Christian Lange Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions Cambridge University Press 2015 ISBN 978-1-316-41205-3 page 141
  51. ^ Annemarie Schimmel Gabriel's Wing: A Study Into the Religious Ideas of Sir Muhammad Iqbal Brill Archive 1963 page 212
  52. ^ Jane Idelman Smith, Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection Oxford University Press 2002 ISBN 978-0-198-03552-7 page 86