Characterization of Satan in the Works of Iqbal

Dr Mohammad Iqbal (1877-1938) writes a considerable part of his poetry related to Satan in Persian language. He composed four poems on Satan in Urdu. These are Gabriel and Iblis, Fate (Taqdir), Satan to his political offspring, and Satan’s Parliament. Iqbal draws the character of Satan in accordance with the traditional (Qur’anic) point of view in the last two poems.

The Message from East is a collection of poetry. It is written in Persian. The collection incorporates five poems written on Satan. These are Conquest of Nature: Birth of Adam, Refusal of Satan, Temptation of Adam, Adam coming out of Paradise, and The Morn of Doomsday. Javid nama includes four poems related to Satan. These are Ahriman tests Zoroaster, The Song of Baal, The Wail of Satan, and Satan’s Apparition in the Firmament of Jupiter.

Iqbal has portrayed Satan as multifaceted character in his works. He occupies an important position in the works of Iqbal and ends in disgrace. Iqbal drew on the figure of Satan from diverse sources, ranging from Western to eastern philosophical thoughts. For example:

  • Satan comes out as the adversary of human being and strives to deceive man by leading him astray from God’s guidance and by making him develop hostile attitude towards God by instilling a flawed knowledge into him (The Qur’an 7:11-25).
  • Satan makes it seem as if he is the better company of human race and makes human being aware of the joys of living an unsettled and spirited life.
  • Satan upholds and praises of the concept of separation from the world of God. He considers it a great way to live away from God. He thinks it beneath him to live a life in union with God. According to Satan, abiding by the principles of God is a barren idea and it lacks charm and pleasure.
  • Iqbal depicts Satan as the enemy of God who relentlessly tries to affirm that man is not fit to be the earthly representative of God.
  • Iqbal draws Satan as a faithful admirer of God and adherent of God’s oneness.
  • Satan is presented as a great and virtuous character who is destined for downfall, suffering and defeat in spite of carrying out his assigned duties.
  • He is portrayed as the incarnation of hubris, jealousy and malice.
  • Satan is pictured as the emblem of heartless wisdom.
  • He is labelled as simply a psychological element.

Alessandro Bausani specifies five characteristics of Satan in the works of Iqbal:

  • The defiant and promethean characteristic of Satan. As mentioned in Greek mythology, Prometheus was one of the Titans. The Titans were the children of Earth goddess, Gaea and the sky god, Uranus. The Titan ruled the country until the Olympians dethroned them. Prometheus was the son of Iapetus and Themis. He was the guardian of human race and known for his scheming acumen. He unlawfully took and carried away with fire from Zeus and the gods and handed it over to the human race. Thereupon, Zeus meted out punishment to him for his offence by getting him tied to a rock while a great eagle took in his liver as food on regular basis only to have it increase in size to be consumed at another time.
  • Satan is the formation and representative of God who persistently works towards making the show of life practicable. Iqbal extracts the concept from conventional Islamic and Hebrew sources.
  • The mythical and Christian element of Satan as self-supportive and self-reliant as the positively self-sufficient and self-determining monstrous power. This idea came from ancient Persia in the form of Ahriman. Iqbal took some material from Milton, and also from New Testament.
  • An individual theory of Iqbal that there is a component of what Christianity dubs as ‘satanic’ in Hebraic-Islamic God. This concept is also implied in the works of the writers who follow Islamic mystical tradition.
  • Satan plays the role of a politician who is the rival of God and the Biblical and Islamic theism.


In the works of Dr Iqbal, Satan is a major character with some features:

  • Satan is incomparably dishonest, guileful and persistently making plans and working hard to meet his goal. The set of qualities that determine the self-hood of Satan are: great faith in own abilities, resolution, self-esteem and zeal. Self-hood is the inextricable essential inner force of human being that enables him to be familiar with the mysteries of inner being and the innate capacities. If this consciousness is held by someone, it brings about a great change in him; it also makes him aware of the deeper meaning of existence. The Quranic reference to self-hood is the reflection of God’s decision of making man his vicegerent on earth. God is the source of all infinite forces and everything is powerless in comparison to God’s powers. God created Adam and made him, like Him, the centre of prostration for angels. He made him His representative on earth and, hence, everything should be under his control. Therefore, the aim of man on earth is the conquest of nature. He should conquer all natural forces and finally reach his last stage while there is no barrier between God and man. To conquer nature, the qualities like positiveness, will power and zeal are required Khudi (Self-hood) that incorporates a number of forms and dimensions and the character Satan belongs to one of them. According to Iqbal, evil is needed for the progress of human beings. If there had not been evil, there would have not have been any dispute or endeavour or travail. Iqbal stresses in The Message from East: “Waste not your life in a world devoid of taste, which contains God but not the devil. Iqbal does not want man to be entangled into the argument of morality and immorality; virtuousness and wickedness. He advocated the theory which promotes that man should struggle for a higher destination. Life which is guided towards paradise is laden with torpidity, inactiveness, and perpetual loss of life.
  • Satan comes in confrontation with God and claims that he is no less than Him. He plays the parallel role in running the system of the world. He sets the role and activities of man in the world. Though God only created man but Satan paints his life with multiple colours and he grows and blossoms under Satan’s supervision. When man used to live in a motionless world and was unaware of the life of action, Satan was the one who introduced him to his hidden features and his power of choices:
  • Satan is the first admirer of the integrity of God. Without any hesitation, he endured the wrath of God and the disunion caused in the aftermath of disloyalty towards God when he did not prostrate before Adam. Despite the act of rebellion, he satisfied the innermost wish of God that no one should be obeyed and prostrated except God. During in the time of introduction to Satan in Iqbal’ Javid nama, the Sufi saint Mansur Hallaj (d 922), who was executed, comments: “Since Satan is the first lover, preceding all others, Adam is not familiar with his secrets. Tear off the garb of imitation, So that you may learn the lesson of monotheism (God’ unity) from him.”
  • Satan appeals to Iqbal because of his self-exaltation and contention with his arch enemy, man. Iqbal believes: “If reason remains under the command of heart, it is Godly. If it releases itself, it is Satanic”. Satan. Satan claims that he challenged God he would trap man and prove that God’s decision to make his representative on earth was wrong. Man mistakenly accepted the trust of God and he is unable to fulfil his job. When Satan challenged to misguide man, God accepted the challenge with a belief that his true servants will not be trapped by Satan. And those who would follow the footsteps of Satan will be thrown into hell-fire permanently.
  • Iqbal explains Satan’s political shrewdness. Like a political leader he mobilizes the worldly demons; he deployed tactics on the basis of which he waged a war against humankind causing their suffering and ruination. Satan in his poem Satan’s Parliament tells that he is not fearful of any collective movement in future as he is the founding father and guardian of capitalist economy. He is not afraid of communism as this concept would snatch the notion of love from the hearts of the people and ultimately the equilibrium of society will collapse. He only feels afraid of the rebirth, renaissance and reawakening of the Muslim community from their deep slumber. If they wake up with the true spirit of reformation in the light of the Qur’an and the role model of Prophet Muhammad, it will be most difficult for Satanic community to create evil and mischief in the world. Here Satan emerges as a seasoned politician who reminds other devils of their way of work and unites them for a collective cause.






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