How Iblis Became Syaithan: Syaikh Hamza Yusuf’s Commentary on Surah al A’raf (7:11-18)

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How this all started is a really interesting story. How did we get here? This story that happened, this primal story is still going on. It’s still being played out again and again and it’s in surah al a’raf. The story is a story about two creatures, Adam and Iblis. The dominant opinion is that he was a Jinn but he was allowed in to the court of the angels (the angelic court).

وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَاكُمْ ثُمَّ صَوَّرْنَاكُمْ ثُمَّ قُلْنَا لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ اسْجُدُوا لِآدَمَ فَسَجَدُوا إِلَّا إِبْلِيسَ لَمْ يَكُن مِّنَ السَّاجِدِينَ
“And We have certainly created you, [O Mankind], and given you [human] form. Then We said to the angels, “Prostrate to Adam”; so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He was not of those who prostrated”
Now these angels were told by God to bow down to Adam. Some ulama’ said, the ‘sujood’ (on the verse) is not a prostration (of worship). It’s not actually putting your head on the ground. It was a type of bowing down (of respect) ‘ساجدين’ which was more like ‘انحناء’ (bowing).

قَالَ مَا مَنَعَكَ أَلَّا تَسْجُدَ إِذْ أَمَرْتُكَ ۖ قَالَ أَنَا خَيْرٌ مِّنْهُ خَلَقْتَنِي مِن نَّارٍ وَخَلَقْتَهُ مِن طِينٍ
“[Allah] said, “What prevented you from prostrating when I commanded you?” [Syaithan] said, “I am better than him. You created me from fire and created him from clay”
So, Iblis is told to bow down all of them did it except iblis. Allah said, “What prevented (hindered) you from prostrating when I commanded you?”. Iblis said, “I am better than him!” which is very interesting statement. Because some of the ulama say this is the first wrong action, ever. And it is a belief of superiority, a belief of superiority of another creature. And then, “خَلَقْتَنِي مِن نَّارٍ”, He gave the reason; this is his logic of why he is superior: “You created me from fire”, “وَخَلَقْتَهُ مِن طِينٍ” and you created him from earth and water”. “I am fire and air, he is earth and water. I am better than him!”

What was the superiority here? What superiority did he (iblis) see? It is material. He is looking at the actual substance of what we are made of. Now, what is unique about iblis and Adam? Both Iblis and Adam, they have this conscious soul. They have conscious knowledge of God that other creatures don’t have whether they are made of fire, earth, water whatever they’re made of.

So, Iblis was looking at the outward of the situation and he is saying, “I am better than him!” “Why are you making me bow down to somebody I’m better than?” This is his logic. And there are a lot of people that fall into that type of reasoning in the world and it causes immense problems in the world.

قَالَ فَاهْبِطْ مِنْهَا فَمَا يَكُونُ لَكَ أَن تَتَكَبَّرَ فِيهَا فَاخْرُجْ إِنَّكَ مِنَ الصَّاغِرِينَ
[Allah] said, “Descend from Paradise, for it is not for you to be arrogant therein. So get out; indeed, you are of the debased.
Allah said, “then Go down!” this is the command to him (iblis). “it is not for thee to show pride here” in other words, you are in the divine presence, this is not the place for pride. If you are aware of God, you can’t be in a state of pride.

Therefore he was cast out of this presence. Because the two cannot go together and then he says, “get out of here because you are ‘the saghir’ الصَّاغِرِينَ. “You are not better, you are worst!” You are the humiliated one (الصَّاغِرِينَ), because of your pride. Because of your pride you have put yourself under the thing you thought you were over, so the actual thinking that you were over this other creature has put you under that creature by default, so go out!”. His (iblis) kuffur is called as ‘kuffur al ishyaan’ (الكفر العصيان), “The Disbelief of Disobedience”.
قَالَ أَنظِرْنِي إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ يُبْعَثُونَ
[Syaithan] said, “Reprieve me until the Day they are resurrected.”
قَالَ إِنَّكَ مِنَ الْمُنظَرِينَ
[Allah] said, “Indeed, you are of those reprieved.”
The 14th and 15th verse show that Iblis at the first place, is asking for reprieve instead of forgiveness from Allah. This is a fatal mistake of Iblis which made him different from Adam who asked forgiveness from Allah after deceived by Iblis to eat the Khuldi.

قَالَ فَبِمَا أَغْوَيْتَنِي لَأَقْعُدَنَّ لَهُمْ صِرَاطَكَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ
[Syaithan] said, “Because You have put me in error (you led me astray), I will surely sit in wait for them on Your straight path.
This is really a key here. Iblis said, “because you led me astray”. So, he’s blaming, and he blamed Allah. This is the beauty of Iblis. Look at this foolish intellect. First, when Allah asked, why didn’t you do it? He says because I can’t do that! I’m better than him. Then he said, you made me go astray by telling me to do it in the first place. Because I couldn’t do it, you said do it! And so it’s your fault. It is not my fault it is your fault. He is blaming God for his problem.

ثُمَّ لَآتِيَنَّهُم مِّن بَيْنِ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِمْ وَعَنْ أَيْمَانِهِمْ وَعَن شَمَائِلِهِمْ ۖ وَلَا تَجِدُ أَكْثَرَهُمْ شَاكِرِينَ
Then I will come to them from before them and from behind them and on their right and on their left, and You will not find most of them grateful [to You].”
Iblis then took an oath, “I will now lurk in ambush for them (these humans). Because you told me to do this thing, so it’s both of your faults. You told me to do something that I couldn’t do. And the reason I couldn’t do it is because he wasn’t worthy of it!”
So he got two adversaries here, 1) He’s angry at god and 2) he’s angry at Adam. And then he says, “and I will come upon them from before them”, and behind them, and to their rights, and to their left, and you will not find most of them filled with gratitude”

قَالَ اخْرُجْ مِنْهَا مَذْءُومًا مَّدْحُورًا ۖ لَّمَن تَبِعَكَ مِنْهُمْ لَأَمْلَأَنَّ جَهَنَّمَ مِنكُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ
[Allah] said, “Get out of Paradise, reproached and expelled. Whoever follows you among them – I will surely fill Hell with you, all together.”

This is important too because what Iblis has set out to do now is show that they’re ingrates. That’s what he wants to do, he wants to show God that, God made a mistake. God shouldn’t have made him (Adam) the khalifah (caliph of the earth), and you’re going to see that they’re not going to be grateful for what you’ve given them in the first place. And so it’s very interesting this story because what it is telling us is that, if you place God in his right position and you place yourself in your right position which is that you see god over you and you’re under in prostration in this state of submission, Syaithan has no access.

When does Syaithan flee according to the hadith? Where you’re in Sajda! Because he cannot bare that humility before God and then Allah again he banished him (from paradise) degraded, banished.
And then Allah said, “That whoever follows you, I’m going to fill hell with them (those people who follow you), you’re their imam, and you’re headed to that place, so you’re going to take them with you. So, if you take him as an imam that is where he’s taking you”.

والله أعلم باالصواب والحمد الله رب العالمين
والصلاة والسلام عل أشرف الآنبياء والمرسلين
وعلى اله وصحبه والتا بعين لهم با حسا ن الى يوم الدٌ ين

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