Satan, the Arabic word for Satan, means “being cast down from the Divine Presence, driven away in disgrace from God’s mercy.” Satan is like one who had all the trump cards but played them against himself, or like one who lost everything while on the verge of winning.
The Jinn we know as Satan was created from fire. Before his obedience and sincerity were tested through Adam, he had been in the company of angels, acting and worshipping as they did. Unlike angels, however, who cannot rebel against God (66:6), Satan (called Iblis prior to his test) was free to choose his own path of conduct. When God tested him and the angels by commanding them to prostrate before Adam, the seeds of his self-conceit and disobedience blossomed and swallowed him. He replied in his vanity: “I am better than him. You created me from fire, whilst him you did create of clay” (38:76).
In fact, the guile of Satan is ever feeble (4:76). It is like a cobweb appearing before you—it cannot prevent you from going forward, and you do not have to attach any great importance to it. Satan only suggests or whispers, gilds sinful acts and presents them in falsely ornamented wrappers. Believers must never accept his invitations. When Satan resorts to whispering, we should realize that he is using his weakest strategy and ignore him. If we pay attention to these whisperings, we may be defeated. Like a commander whose fear causes him to hallucinate and then dispatch his soldiers to the wings, thereby leaving the center exposed, believers who listen to Satan weaken their ability to resist both him and their carnal selves. In the end, such believers are defeated.
Involuntary evil thoughts, fancies, or associations of ideas usually are the result of Satan’s whispering. Just as a battery has two poles, so do our hearts have two central points or poles. Like the two poles of a battery, there are two central points or poles in man’s heart: One receives angelic inspiration, and the other is vulnerable to Satan’s whispering.
Satan attacks those believers who are trying to deepen their belief and devotion. If they are scrupulous and delicate in feeling, he attacks them from different directions. When confronted with unbelievers, who follow him voluntarily by indulging in passing fancies and bodily pleasures, he whispers to them new and original ideas. In this way, he encourages them to increase their unbelief and learn new ways of struggling against true religion and all believers.
Satan’s attacks come from different directions.
When God cursed Satan because of his haughty disobedience, Satan asked for respite until the Day of Judgment and permission to try to seduce human beings. God granted his request, and Satan retorted: Then I shall come upon them from before them and from behind them and from their right and from their left, and you will not find most of them grateful (7:17).
Satan does everything he can to seduce us. We are very complex beings, for God manifests all of His Names on us in this world of testing. We are sent here to be trained so that we can serve as a mirror to God and earn eternal happiness. In order to do this, we must train and develop all of our God-given feelings, faculties, and potentials. If some of these are not trained (e.g., intellect, anger, greed, obstinacy, and lust) and directed to lofty goals, but abused and used for disagreeable purposes, we will place our present and future life in danger. This is also true if we do not restrict our natural desires and animal by satisfying them in acceptable ways.
Approaching us from our left, Satan uses our animal aspect’s feelings and faculties to tempt us into sin. When he approaches us from the front, he drives us to despair over our future, whispers that the Day of Judgment will never come, that whatever religions say about the Hereafter is mere fiction, and that religion belongs to the past and so is irrelevant to our present and future. When he comes upon us from behind, he tries to make us deny Prophethood, God’s Existence and Unity, Divine Scriptures, angels, and other essential matters of belief. Through such whispers and suggestions, Satan tries to sever our connections with religion and steer us toward sin.
Satan cannot seduce devout, practicing believers in these ways. Rather, he approaches from the believer’s right and encourages him to display and ostentation, to taking pride in their virtues and good deeds. He whispers that they are such good believers, until the believers’ feelings of self-conceit and desire for praise are aroused. When this point is reached, believers begin to travel the road to perdition. For example, if we pray the superrogatory late night prayer and then proclaim it so that others will praise us, and if we begin to take credit for our accomplishments and good deeds while criticizing others behind their backs, it means that we have fallen under Satan’s influence. We must do our best to resist Satan when he comes upon us from this direction.
Another of Satan’s ruses is to make unimportant things seem important and vice versa. If believers dispute with each other over a secondary matter (e.g., using a rosary when glorifying God after the daily prescribed prayers) while their children are being dragged along ways of unbelief and materialism, or are drowning in the swamp of immorality, this indicates that Satan has seduced them.
Satan suggests disagreeable thoughts and desires
If Satan fails to seduce devout believers, he whispers some disagreeable thoughts and fancies to them. For example, through the association of ideas, he pushes believers toward having some negative conceptions of the Divine Being or of thinking about unbelief or disobedience. If we dwell on such thoughts, Satan pesters us until we fall into doubt about our belief or despair of a virtuous life.
Another ruse is to cause good, devout believers to suspect the correctness or validity of their religious acts. For example: Did I pray perfectly? Did I wash my face and hands completely while making abolition’? Have I washed the specific bodily parts the required number of times? Believers pestered with such involuntary thoughts, fancies, and doubts should know that their hearts have no part in them. Just as thieves attempt to rob rich people and strong countries try to control rich countries, so does Satan make a last-ditch effort to seduce believers by troubling their hearts.
This is similar to a sick person having a high temperature. We know that antibodies formed in a patient’s blood to inhibit or destroy harmful bacteria or germs. This causes the body’s temperature to rise. Similarly, a heart troubled with Satan’s evil suggestions defends itself by fighting against them. Thus, the heart does not generate such thoughts, and neither does it approve of or adopt them. A reflection of something foul is not itself foul and cannot make us foul. In the same way, thinking about unbelief is not the same thing as actual unbelief.
We might even say that Satan’s evil suggestions actually benefit believers, for they cause us to remain alert, to struggle against our carnal selves and Satan, and to progress toward ever-higher spiritual ranks.
How to Keep Free of Satanic Suggestions
In fact, the guile of Satan is not great (4:76). It is like a cobweb that appears in your path—it cannot prevent you from progressing, and you should not attach any great importance to it. Satan only suggests or whispers, he dresses up sinful acts as something desirable, presenting them in cheap, shiny paper. Believers must never accept his invitation. When Satan resorts to whispering, we should realize that he is using his least powerful weapon and ignore him. If we pay attention to these distractions, we may be defeated. As a commander whose fear causes him to hallucinate and dispatch his soldiers to the front, leaving the flanks exposed, believers who listen to Satan weaken their ability to resist not only him, but also their carnal selves. In the end, these are the believers who are defeated.
Believers who want to avoid this trap should distance themselves from sins, all of which Satan tries to make attractive. Heedlessness and the neglect of one’s worship open the way to Satan’s “arrows”: If anyone withdraws himself (or herself) from remembrance of the All-Merciful, We assign unto him (or her) a devil as a comrade (43:36).
In order to protect ourselves from Satan’s attacks we should remember the All-Merciful, think about holy and blessed events, and try to live a pious life. If you hear Satan whispering to you, then seek refuge in God. He is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. Those who fear God and ward off (evil) when a passing notion from Satan troubles them, they remember, and behold, they see (7:200–1).
The Messenger advised: “If you become angry while standing, sit down; if you are sitting, lie down or stand up and make wudu’.” Once while returning from a military expedition, the Prophet called for a halt in a certain place. His companions were so tired that they slept through the dawn prayer. When everyone awoke, the Prophet said that they should leave immediately, for “Satan rules here”.
Satan also uses indecent thoughts and events to lead believers astray. He torments us by enticing us with illicit pleasures. On such occasions, we must remind ourselves that indulging in any such pleasure will engender remorse and may endanger both our present and future lives. We must never forget that life in this world is no more than a passing toy, a comforting illusion, and that the real or true life is that of the Hereafter.
When Satan whispers evil thoughts, believers should realize that he is at his weakest and that he can be ignored. Dwelling on such thoughts only exaggerates and aggravates our weakness and susceptibilities. We also must avoid being careless and be sure that we do not neglect any aspect of our worship; such oversights attract the attention of Satan. If we remember the All-Merciful, focus on holy and blessed events and live a pious life, then will we be able to resist Satan’s call.
Question: Although evil spirits do not interfere in the universe in any way in regard to creation, and through His mercy and favour the Almighty God takes the part of the people of truth, and the attractive beauties and virtues of truth and reality strengthen and encourage the people of truth, and the repulsive ugliness of misguidance revolts the people of misguidance, what is the reason for Satan’s party very often gaining the upper hand; what is the wisdom in it? And what is the reason for the people of truth always seeking refuge with God from Satan’s evil?
The creation of evil is not evil, the ‘acquisition’ of or desire for evil, rather, is evil. For creation and bringing into existence look to all the consequences, whereas such desire looks to a particular result, since it is a particular relation. For example, there are thousands of consequences of rain falling, and all of them are good. If through mistaken, some people receive harm from the rain, they cannot say that the creation of rain is not mercy, they cannot state that the creation of rain is evil. For it is due to their mistaken and inclination that it is evil for them. Also, there are numerous benefits in the creation of fire, and all of them are good. But if some people receive harm from fire through their misuse of it and their faulty choice, they cannot say that the creation of fire is evil; because it was not only created to burn them. Rather, they thrust their hands into the fire while cooking the food through wrong, and made that servant inimical to themselves.
Satan was, like the Jinn among whom he mostly was, also created from ‘fire’. Before he was put to the test of obedience and sincerity through Adam, he had been in the company of angels; acting and worshipping as they did. Unlike the angels who do whatever they are commanded and never rebel against God (66:6), Satan (called Iblis prior to his disobedience to God’s command to fall prostrate before Adam) has free will to choose his own path of conduct. When God tested him together with angels and commanded him to fall prostrate before Adam ‘man’ the seeds of self-conceit and disobedience in his nature burst up to swallow him, and he responded in his vanity: “I am better than him. You created me from fire, whilst him you did create of clay (38:76).“
Question: The very great complaints and massing of forces against the people of misguidance in the All Wise Book does not appear to the reason to be conformable with its equitable and apt eloquence and the congruence and moderation of its style. It is quite simply as though it is mustering armies against a single man. And it threatens him on account of one minor action as though he had committed thousands of crimes. And it affords him a position and complains about him as though he was an aggressive partner, despite his being bankrupt and having no share of the property. What is the reason for this and the wisdom in it?
Satan first casts a doubt into the heart. If the heart does not accept it, it turns from a doubt into abuse. It depicts before the imagination some unclean memories and unmannerly, ugly states, which resemble abuse, and causes the heart to declare: “Alas!” and fall into despair. The person suffering from scruples supposes that he has acted wrongfully before his Sustainer and feels a terrible agitation and anxiety. In order to be saved from it, he flees from the Divine presence and wants to plunge into heedlessness. The cure for this wound is this:
One of the most cunning of Satan’s wiles is to make those who follow him deny himself. Since at this time those, whose minds have been tainted by materialist philosophy in particular, have been hesitant in these self-evident matters, we shall say one or two things in the face of this stratagem of Satan’s. They are as follows: