The Question of Fallen Angels and the Nature of Iblīs: Was Satan an Angel or of the Jinn?

Long overdue, I am posting an excerpt on “The Question of Fallen Angels” from the Integrated Encyclopedia of the Qurʾān in response to a relatively amicable debate that occurred during a study circle on the question of the validity of the assertion that Shayṭān wasn’t necessarily an angel but possibly from the Jinn. The argument was less in favor of any particular position and more on the validity of multiple stances on the issue, as both, I argued, were accommodated by the Qurʾānic text.

Not able to recall any proofs or the names of the scholars who held divergent positions on the issue, I promised to do some research on the issue and post it later online. This lengthy entry, from which the excerpt is taken, was authored by Dr. Gibril Fouad Haddad:

“There are three famous fallen angels mentioned in the Qurʾān according to numerous authoritative scholars in Islamic tradition: Iblīs, Hārūt, and Mārūt. To quote al-Qurṭubī:

Iblīs was one of the angels according to the vast majority of scholars – including Ibn ʿAbbās, Ibn Masʿūd, Ibn Jurayj, Ibn al-Musayyab, Qatāda, and others; and it is the preferred position of the Shaykh Abū al-Ḥasan [al-Ashʿarī]. Al-Ṭabarī considered it the preponderant one, and it is the apparent meaning of the verse [And when We said unto the angels: Prostrate yourselves before Adam, they fell prostrate, all save Iblīs]. Ibn ʿAbbās said: “His name was ʿAzāzīl and he was among the nobility of the angels; he possessed four wings. Then after that he despaired (ablasa).” Tafsir, sub Q 2:34

The latter is narrated by Ibn Abī Ḥātim (d. 327/939) in his Tafsīr on the same verse. According to this explanation, the verse that states the he was of the jinn (Q 18:50) means the he was not “one of” but “among” the jinn, whom he was teaching at the time (Zamakhsarī, Kashshāf, sub Q 18:50)

Taking the opposite position, Ibn Kathīr adduces al-Ṭabarī’s narration from al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī that “Iblīs was not in the least an angel” since he himself says he was created from fire (Q 7:12, 38:76), while ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Baghdādī (d. 429/1038) considers the exceptive particle illā in the verse And when We said unto the angels: Prostrate yourselves before Adam, they fell prostrate, all except Iblīs (Q 2:34) to denote what the grammarians call a “disconnected exception” (istithnāʾ munqaṭīʿ), that is, that Iblīs was with the angels at the time they were commanded to prostrate and thus was included in the command despite his not being one of them (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:34; al-Baghdādī, Uṣūl al-dīn p. 296-297, Fī bayān jins Iblīs al-laʿīn)

Al-Bayḍāwī (d. 685/1286) resolves the contradiction with the view that Iblīs was a jinn in his deed although he had been created as an angel. As for the creation of the angels out of light, it does not preclude that some of them be created otherwise, “especially since fire and light are synonymous and identical from certain perspectives.” Another sign that Iblīs was originally an angel is that all commentaries agree that his name was originally ʿAzāzīl, the suffix –īl being typical of angels. (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:34). Al-Alūsī (1217-1270/1802-1854) further resolves the issue by making it hinge on the Divine power and foreordained Decree, in that ʿAzāzīl/Iblīs was first an infallible angel, then Allah Most High removed his angelic nature and replaced it with satanic attributes, whereupon he sinned (Rūḥ, sub Q 2:34).”

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One thought on “The Question of Fallen Angels and the Nature of Iblīs: Was Satan an Angel or of the Jinn?

  1. Tahmid Chowdhury says:

    Very interesting excerpt! Can Mufti Sahib present us his views on this subject?
    Also, this blog is lovely because of the concise and compact content.
    JZK

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