Sufi Interpretation of Satan

Unlike the traditional concepts which are part of the orthodox Muslim community’s creed, the Muslim Sufi (mystics) scholars perceived Satan in a different way. They project Satan as a tragic figure. They assert that the tragic situation of Satan was predestined and it was the eternal will of God. Further, the ceaseless and exclusive commitment of Satan to God has also been praised and lauded by them.

Why Satan refused to bow before Adam while the command was given by God himself? This is the primary question and because of this reason some Sufi scholars are of the view that Satan’s defiance of God’s decree was the wish of God. The eternal will of God is that He should be worshipped solely and nobody else should ever be associated with him. So, despite God’s explicit order, Satan refused to bow down before anyone else.

Also, some Sufi masters hold that; in the absence of Satan’s disobedience to God’s commandment, the show of life would not have been possible. In a Hadith Qudsi (sacred tradition), God says: “I was a hidden treasure; I loved to be known. Hence, I created the world so that I would be known”. Therefore, God granted Free Will to two of his creations, jinn and men and showed them the pre-requisites of entering His paradise. They are asked to do good deeds otherwise their final destination would be Hellfire.

However, the question is still there, what will be the parameter to perceive goodness and what actually shall be the meaning of good and bad? The answer is that the things are known through opposites. A protagonist cannot be appreciated without the presence of an antagonist. Similarly, the blackness of black cannot be known without white. This idea has the basis in the verse of the Quran “All praise is due for Allah alone, who created the heavens and the earth, and brought into being light and darkness” (The Quran 5:1). Therefore, God talks about two opposites, light and darkness, indicating that both are necessary for each other. God’s universe, thus, has a fundamental system and he balances it through alternate extremes. Whatsoever is created is indeed the creation of God and all have been accomplishing their designated tasks. Similar was the case of Satan when he was in Paradise playing the role of the teacher of angels and showed them virtues. Now he tempts mankind to vices in the world. For anyone to know the virtues, it is equally important to get acquainted with vices. Similarly, in order to recognize good, its counterpart, that is evil, becomes an important element. Through this context, the role of Satan becomes clear.

Annemarie Schimmel says that, the first attempt of rehabilitation of Satan was made by the Sufi master Husain bin Mansur Hallaj (d 922). Owing to his work, many writers were later inspired to express their sympathy for the plight and predicament of Satan. Hallaj highlights the terrible situation of Satan that he was in a dilemma whether he should obey the order of God or His eternal will. His situation was: “He was thrown into water, with his hands tied to his back, and God told him: “Beware lest you become wet”. Satan chose God over himself.

According to Imam Jafar Sadiq (d 765); sometimes God gives a command which He does not wish to be obeyed, and sometimes He wants that which He has forbidden. He asked Satan to prostrate before Adam, although, he did not want him to do so. For if he had willed, Satan would have done so. Later, he commanded Adam to keep away from the forbidden tree while desiring him to do so. Had he not desired, Adam would not have eaten.

Abul Majd Sanai (d 1131) another Sufi Scholar illustrates the predestined condition of Satan and shows grief over him: “God put the hidden snare into my way; Adam was the grain in the ring of this snare. He wanted to give me the mark of curse; He did what He wanted­-the earthen Adam was but an excuse.”

Farid ud Din Attar (d 1220) discusses the issue of Satan’s destiny: “My story has nothing to do with God, but the color of my destiny is black. Since no one wants my obedience, they place the burden of sin on my back. To whom else has such a thing ever happened? No one had a story like mine.”

The Sufi masters hold that both Adam and Satan had committed a sin. Adam was commanded by God: “Do not approach the tree” but he disobeyed the command of God and ate the fruit. On the other hand, God asked Satan: “Prostrate” but Satan refused. They both challenged the decree of God. However, God accepted Adam and rejected Satan. It, therefore, denotes that the matter of acceptance and rejection was not based on their actions, rather it was predestined. For Adam, God allowed repentance and issued the order of forgiveness for his sin saying: “Most certainly We had given Adam a command before, but he forgot. We found him lacking in firmness of resolution” (The Quran 20:115). Nonetheless, in case of Satan, the expulsion and failure was fated and God said: “He refused, gloried his arrogance and became one of the defiers” (The Quran 2:34). God placed a collar around the neck of Satan’s fate. It emerges that the divine orders are not to be questioned and destiny is not to be challenged.

Satan’s Love

From the Sufi point of view, love does not expect anything in return and everything is acceptable from the beloved. The biggest triumph for any lover would be his condemnation and degradation, and such curses are considered as the symbols of true love. The separation between the lover and the beloved brings him nearer to the beloved, and through the subsequent separation the lover builds his love and at the same time transcends time and space. The closeness to God, as explained by such scholars, is achieved in the state of pain and sufferings.

This idea of love is used by some Sufi scholars to define the love of Satan for God. Despite being a true lover of God, he accepted God’s wrath and curse, without question and objection. Thus, the highest act of love, according to them, was his acceptance and readiness to be rejected and dismissed from the court of God.

Ahmad Ghazali (d 1126) maintains that one who does not learn monotheism from Satan is an infidel. Mansur Hallaj says that amongst the people of the spirit, there is no one adherent of divine unity like Satan. Some Sufi Scholars believe that God possesses both grace and wrath. Prophet Muhammad is the recipient of divine grace and Satan divine wrath. Even in this case, Satan was not unhappy or distressed, instead he loved God’s wrath as well. He was happy by the word “my” as mentioned in the verse “My curse shall remain upon you till the Day of Resurrection” (The Quran 38:78) Since the curse came from God and whatever comes from Him is enthusiastically welcomed by Satan.

Jalal Uddin Rumi (d 1273) expresses in the words of Satan: “How strange! He is in love with God’s opposites to the fullest extent”. Farid ad-Din Attar repeats the same point that even if both worlds were to curse Satan; his love for God would remain unchanged.

According to Hallaj, everything was given to Satan by God, hence he did not care much whether it was good or bad, he accepted whatever he was given, as both were from his beloved. Anyone who differentiates between the two is still unripe in love. From the hand of the beloved it does not matter what comes whether it is honey or poison, sweet or sour, grace or wrath. One who exclusively loves grace is actually in love with himself, not with the beloved. When the King bestows his own special cloak and cap on the lover, nothing else matters to him. The same idea of love has been shared by Attar, as he explains: “If anybody distinguishes between a gem and a stone received from the king, he is not a true lover. If he is pleased only with the gem and not with the stone, then in reality, he is not in love with the king. The only thing that matters is that both are from God.”


A group of Sufi masters rehabilitates Satan that the role of Satan is pre-destined and he is a true lover of God. They firmly believed that everything in this world is predestined and works according to the wish of God. Nothing can go against the wish of God. Satan on his own did nothing but worked on his pre-arranged task. It is the problem of his destiny, if he is the recipient of God’s curse, and therefore, it is not his own act. He, out of his undivided love for God, defied the order of God. He is making the show of life possible because if he is not there, the world will be without any test or trial. Therefore, he is only fulfilling the wish of God Who created the world for a particular purpose.



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