Qur'an Incoherence and Contradiction

Is Satan an Angel or a Jinn?

Analyzing the Quran’s Confusing Statements

Sam Shamoun

The Quran, in many citations, portrays Satan or Iblis as an angel:

And (remember) when We said to the angels: "Prostrate yourselves before Adam." And they prostrated except Iblis (Satan), he refused and was proud and was one of the disbelievers (disobedient to Allah). S. 2:34

And (remember) when your Lord said to the angels: "I am going to create a man (Adam) from sounding clay of altered black smooth mud. So, when I have fashioned him completely and breathed into him (Adam) the soul which I created for him, then fall (you) down prostrating yourselves unto him." So, the angels prostrated themselves, all of them together. Except Iblis (Satan), - he refused to be among the prostrators. S. 15:28-31

And (remember) when We said to the angels: "Prostrate yourselves to Adam." They prostrated (all) except Iblis (Satan), who refused. S. 20:116

(Remember) when your Lord said to the angels: "Truly, I am going to create man from clay". So when I have fashioned him and breathed into him (his) soul created by Me, then you fall down prostrate to him." So the angels prostrated themselves, all of them: Except Iblis (Satan) he was proud and was one of the disbelievers. S. 38:71-74

The natural reading of the above texts is to see Satan as an angel who refused to obey Allah’s order to worship Adam. The following passage brings out this point even more clearly:

And surely, We created you (your father Adam) and then gave you shape (the noble shape of a human being), then We told the angels, "Prostrate to Adam", and they prostrated, except Iblis (Satan), he refused to be of those who prostrate. (Allah) said: "What prevented you (O Iblis) that you did not prostrate, when I commanded you?" Iblis said: "I am better than him (Adam), You created me from fire, and him You created from clay." S. 7:11-12

Allah asks Iblis why he didn’t obey his instruction to the angels to prostrate to Adam, which presupposes that he was one of the angels. The text does not say that Allah commanded some other group along with the angels to worship Adam, and therefore makes no sense for Allah to hold Iblis accountable for not obeying a command that was given to them if he wasn’t an angel.

Yet the Quran introduces a discrepancy by identifying Iblis as a jinn:

And (remember) when We said to the angels; "Prostrate to Adam." So they prostrated except Iblis (Satan). He was one of the jinns; he disobeyed the Command of his Lord. Will you then take him (Iblis) and his offspring as protectors and helpers rather than Me while they are enemies to you? What an evil is the exchange for the Zalimun (polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc). S. 18:50

Thus, this either means that:

Aware of the foregoing dilemma Muslims have come up with some convenient and/or intriguing explanations. For instance, one Muslim translator distorted the text of S. 18:50 in order to make it say that Iblis became a jinn, not that he was a jinn:

We said to the angels, "Fall prostrate before Adam." They fell prostrate, except Satan. He became a jinn, for he disobeyed the order of His Lord. Will you choose him and his descendants as lords instead of Me, even though they are your enemies? What a miserable substitute! Rashad Khalifa

Khalifa’s rendering presupposes that Iblis was an angel before becoming a jinn, an understanding which, as we stated above, poses additional problems which we will see a little later. Khalifa’s followers provide the reasons why he translated the text in this manner:

The Arabic in verse 18:50 could be translated as he was a jinn or it could be translated as he became a jinn. The following translation of the Arabic verse 18:50 stating that Satan became a jinn, however, is the correct understanding for reasons stated below… It can be understood that Satan became disobedient and therefore no longer an angel through looking at other verses as well as this one rather than coming to a conclusion using only this verse. We should not take the scripture partially… First, God spoke specifically to the angels, not the angels and the jinns… Second, God issued the command to fall prostrate to the angels; and the angels fell prostrate, all of them, except Satan. Some Islamic "scholars" argue about the use of the Arabic word "illah" (except), but it is just a distraction from the fact that God is clearly speaking to and giving the command to angels… Third, There is no mistaking that Satan has fallen, God tells us Satan is in his act of rebellion, which is followed by his banishment… Lastly, the Islamic "scholars" claim that angels are made of light, but nowhere in the Quran does it say what angels are made of. Since there are no inconsistencies or contradictions in the Quran and it is perfect (16:103,18:2, 26:195), complete (6:115, 41:3), and fully detailed (6:114, 7:52, 10:37), we can conclude that the confusion is caused by the contradicting Hadith. (Source)

Still others claim that jinn are actually a class of angels created to guard paradise. Renowned Sunni exegete and historian al-Tabari wrote:

According to al-Qasim b. al-Hasan- al-Husayn b. Dawud- Hajjaj- Ibn Jurayj- Ibn `Abbas: Iblis was one of the most noblest angels and belonged to the most honored tribe among them. He was a keeper of Paradise. He had authority to rule over the lower heaven as well as earth.

According to al-Qasim- al-Husayn- Hajjaj- Ibn Jurayj- Salih, the mawla of al-Taw'amah and Sharik b. Abir Namir, either one or both of them- Ibn `Abbas: There was an angelic tribe of jinn, and Iblis belonged to it. He governed all in between the heaven and the earth.

According to Musa b. Harun al-Hamdani- `Amr b. Hammad- Asbat- al-Suddi- Abu Malik and Abu Salih- Ibn `Abbas. Also (al-Suddi)- Murrah al-Hamdani- Ibn Mas'ud and some (other) companions of the Prophet: Iblis was ruler over the lower heaven. He belonged to a tribe of angels called jinn. They were called jinn because they were keepers of Paradise (al-jannah). In addition to being ruler, Iblis was a keeper (of Paradise).

According to `Abdan al-Marwazi- al-Husayn b. al-Faraj- Dahhak b. Muzahim, commenting on God's word: "They prostrated themselves, except Iblis. He was one of the jinn": Ibn `Abbas used to say: Iblis was one of the noblest angels and belonged to their most honored tribe. He was a keeper of Paradise, and his was the rule over the lower heaven as well as the earth.

According to Ibn Humayd- Salamah- Abu al-Azhar al-Mubarak b. Mujahid- Sharik b. `Abdallah b. Abi Namir- Salih, the mawla of al-Taw'amah- Ibn `Abbas: There is an angelic tribe called jinn. Iblis belonged to them. He used to rule all in between heaven and earth. Then he became disobedient, and God therefore transformed him into a stoned Satan.

According to al-Qasim- al-Husayn- Hajjaj- Ibn Jurayj, commenting on: "And whoever among them says: I am a god besides Him": Whichever angel says: "I am a god besides Him" calls to worship of himself, and only Iblis said that. Thus, this verse was revealed with reference to Iblis. (The History of al-Tabari: General Introduction and From the Creation to the Flood, translated by Franz Rosenthal [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany 1989], Volume 1, pp. 250-251; bold emphasis ours)

One of the events that took place during the rule of the enemy of God while he was (still) obedient to God is what was mentioned to us on the authority of Ibn `Abbas in a report told us by Abu Kurayb- `Uthman b. Sa'id- Bishr b. `Umarah- Abu Rawq- al-Dahhak- Ibn `Abbas: Iblis belonged to a tribal group of angels called jinn. Among the angels it was they who were created from the fire of simoom. He continued. His name was al-Harith. He continued. He was one of the keepers of Paradise. He continued. All the angels except this tribal group were created from light. He continued. The jinn mentioned in the Qur'an were created "from a bright flame (marij) of fire"- (marij being) a tongue of fire blazing on its side(s and top). He continued. And He created man from clay. The first to dwell on earth were the jinn. They caused corruption on it and shed blood and killed each other. He continued. God sent Iblis to them with an army of angels. They were that tribal group called jinn. Iblis and those with him caused a bloodbath among them and eventually banished them to the islands in the oceans and the mountainsides. His success went to his head, and he said: I have done something nobody has ever done before. He continued. God was aware of how Iblis felt, but the angels who were with him were not. (Ibid., pp. 252-253; bold emphasis ours)

Ibn Humayd gave us about the same account again, reporting from Salamah- Ibn Ishaq- Khallad b. `Ata'- Tawus or Abu al-Hajjaj Mujahid- Ibn `Abbas, and others. However, he said: (Iblis) was an angel named Azazil. He was one of the dwellers and cultivators on earth. The dwellers on earth from among the angel used to be called jinn." (Ibid., p. 254; bold emphasis ours)

This interpretation would imply that Iblis did not become a jinn but already was one, and being one meant that he was also an angelic being.

The late Muhammad Asad agreed with this view, that jinn are angels, since he stated in his footnote to S. 18:50:

53 Denoting, in this instance, the angels (see Appendix III). (Source)

And then wrote in an appendix that:

IN ORDER to grasp the purport of the term jinn as used in the Qur’an, we must dissociate our minds from the meaning given to it in Arabian folklore, where it early came to denote all the manner of "demons" in the most popular sense of the word. This folkloristic image has somewhat obscured the original connotation of the term and its highly significant – almost self-explanatory – verbal derivation. The root-verb janna, "he [or "it"] concealed" or "covered with darkness": cf. 6 : 76, which speaks of Abraham "when the night overshadowed him with its darkness (janna ‘alayhi)". Since this verb is also used in the intransitive sense ("he [or "it"] was [or "became"] concealed," resp. "covered with darkness"), all classical philologists point out that al-jinn signifies "intense [or "confusing"] darkness" and, in a more general sense, "that which is concealed from [man’s] senses", i.e., things, beings or forces which cannot normally be perceived by man but have, nevertheless, an objective reality, whether concrete or abstract, of their own.

In the usage of the Qur’an, which is certainly different from the usage of primitive folklore, the term jinn has several distinct meanings. The most commonly encountered is that of the spiritual forces or beings which, precisely because they have no corporeal existence, are beyond the perceptions of our corporeal senses: a connotation which includes "satans" and "satanic forces" (shayatin – see note 16 on 15 : 17) as well as "angels" and "angelic forces", since all of them are "concealed from our senses" (Jawhari, Raghib). In order to make it quite evident that these invisible manifestations are not of a corporeal nature, the Qur’an states parabolically that the jinn were created out of "the fire of scorching winds" (nar as-samum, in 15 : 27) or out of "a confusing flame of fire" (marij min nar, in 55 :15) or simply "out of fire" (7 : 12 and 38 : 76, in these last two instances referring to the Fallen Angel, Iblis). Parallel with this, we have authentic ahadith to the effect that the Prophet spoke of the angels as having been "created out of light" (khuliqat min nur: Muslim, on the authority of ‘A’ishah) – light and fire being akin, and likely to manifest themselves within and through one another (cf. note 7 on verse 8 of surah 27). (The Message of the Quran translated and explained by Muhammad Asad [The Book Foundation, England 2003], Appendix III: On the Term and Concept of Jinn, p. 1135)

But this position contradicts specific Quranic statements that expressly deny that angels can ever disobey:

And to Allah prostate all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth, of the live moving creatures and the angels, and they are not proud [i.e. they worship their Lord (Allah) with humility]. They fear their Lord above them, and they do what they are commanded. S. 16:49-50

To Him belongs whosoever is in the heavens and on earth. And those who are near Him (i.e. the angels) are not too proud to worship Him, nor are they weary (of His worship). They (i.e. the angels) glorify His Praises night and day, (and) they never slacken (to do so). S. 21:19-20

O you who believe! Ward off from yourselves and your families a Fire (Hell) whose fuel is men and stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who disobey not, (from executing) the Commands they receive from Allah, but do that which they are commanded. S. 66:6

Thus, if Iblis is an angel who disobeyed then the Quran is wrong for claiming that angels always obey their Lord! In fact, Iblis is not the only angel who sinned against God since there are many among the jinn that have done and continue to do so and who will end up in hell:

And on the Day when He will gather them (all) together (and say): "O you assembly of jinns! Many did you mislead of men," and their Auliya' (friends and helpers, etc.) amongst men will say: "Our Lord! We benefited one from the other, but now we have reached our appointed term which You did appoint for us." He will say: "The Fire be your dwelling place, you will dwell therein forever, except as Allah may will. Certainly your Lord is AllWise, AllKnowing." And thus We do make the Zalimun (polytheists and wrongdoers, etc.) Auliya' (supporters and helpers) one to another (in committing crimes etc.), because of that which they used to earn. O you assembly of jinns and mankind! "Did not there come to you Messengers from amongst you, reciting unto you My Verses and warning you of the meeting of this Day of yours?" They will say: "We bear witness against ourselves." It was the life of this world that deceived them. And they will bear witness against themselves that they were disbelievers. S. 6:128-130

And surely, We have created many of the jinns and mankind for Hell. They have hearts wherewith they understand not, they have eyes wherewith they see not, and they have ears wherewith they hear not (the truth). They are like cattle, nay even more astray; those! They are the heedless ones. S. 7:179

So on that Day no question will be asked of man or jinn as to his sin, (because they have already been known from their faces either white or black). S. 55:39

But many, if not most, Muslims deny that jinn are angels on the grounds that they are created from different elements. For instance, the Quran asserts that jinn were created from fire:

And the jinn did We create aforetime of essential fire. S. 15:27

And the jinn did He create of smokeless fire. S. 55:15

Whereas angels were created from light according to certain Islamic narrations. Yet, as our quotes from al-Tabari and Muhammad Asad showed, this doesn’t conclusively prove that angels and jinn are different since it is quite reasonable to assume that the jinn were a specific group of angels that were formed from fire as opposed to the other ones who were created from light. Besides, the Quran is silent on the origin of angels, whether they were made from light or not.

But, to be fair, there is also nothing in the Quran which expressly says that jinn are angels. Whatever the case, a Muslim is still left with problems in trying to reconcile what the Quran says, i.e. how can Satan disobey if he is an angel or if he is not an angel then why was he blamed for not obeying a command given only to angels?

Another attempt of explaining away the discrepancy is to appeal to the rules of Arabic grammar, which is what this next Muslim tries to do:

2.   Arabic Rule Of Tagleeb

The English translation of the first part of the verse ‘We said to the angels bow down to Adam: they bowed down except Iblis’, gives us the impression that Iblis was an angel. The Qur’an was revealed in Arabic. In Arabic grammar there is a rule known as Tagleeb, according to which, if the majority is addressed, even the minority is included. If for example, I address a class containing 100 students of whom 99 are boys and one is a girl, and if I say in Arabic that the boys should stand up, it includes the girl as well. I need not mention her seperately.

Similarly in the Qur’an, when Allah addressed the angels, even Iblis was present, but it is not required that he be mentioned separately. Therefore according to that sentence Iblis may be an angel or may not be an angel, but we come to know from Surah Al Kahf chapter 18 verse 50 that Iblis was a Jinn. No where does the Qur’an say Iblis was an angel. Therefore there is no contradiction in the Qur’an. (Dr. Zakir Naik, Most Common Questions asked by Non-Muslims who have some knowledge of Islam; source)

To show why this ad hoc explanation is rather forced and very weak, let us take his same analogy and change it a bit. If for example, I address the same class containing 100 students of whom 99 are boys and one is a girl, and it so happens that there are parents also present with their children, and I say in Arabic that all the boys should stand up and yet none of the parents stand, I cannot legitimately hold them liable since I wasn't addressing them directly. Let us also assume that at this class, both the principal and the vice-principal were present and didn't stand up after having told the boys to rise from their seats. Could I legitimately hold them accountable for failing to comply with my orders? Of course not, since they do not fall under the category of boys, nor do they come under the category of classmates. If I wanted both the parents and school officials to stand up I would need to mention them specifically.

It is obvious that the girl in Naik's analogy falls under the same general category of classmates and children, so a reference to boys can include her since the term boys wouldn't be gender specific in this case. (But even that would have to be gleaned from the context in which the word is being used since you may have a class which is made up of entirely boys). The mention of boys in this context would be a general statement referring to a group consisting of young children and schoolmates. The term would therefore include all the persons which would fall under that category, irrespective of gender.

Hence, the only way Naik’s example could serve as a valid analogy is if we were to take for granted that Iblis belongs to the same category of angels. But arguing this way leaves us with the problem of Iblis disobeying Allah when the Quran says that angels are never disobedient.

Also, there are situations where only part of the class is supposed to stand up. Just imagine there are 30 boys and ten girls in a class. The teacher says that all the boys should stand up. Does he mean all the pupils then? Or could it be that he meant really only the boys and not the girls? E.g. because the boys should then leave the room to attend auto mechanic class to learn how to repair cars while the girls remain in the room for learning knitting, or something of that nature. Thus, it isn’t the rule, really, but the context that determines the meaning.

Now had the Quran simply said that Allah commanded the heavenly beings, or the inhabitants of heaven to worship Adam then that would have been a different story. One could argue that the reference to heavenly inhabitants would most likely include Iblis, presuming of course that he originally was a heavenly creature.

To help further drive this point home here is another illustration: Suppose in heaven there had been angels, men and animals present when Allah chose to single out one man, Adam, for special honor and blessing. Suppose Allah had commanded that all the angels should bow down before Adam, which they do, but none of the humans or animals do so. Could Allah blame them for failing to bow before Adam despite the fact that he never specifically singled any of these other groups out? The obvious answer is, of course not.

As it stands, Naik's argument is pretty weak and quite unconvincing. Dr. Naik is simply committing the fallacy of false analogy at this point.

The foregoing makes it abundantly clear that the Quran contains major discrepancies and contradictions which are not easily harmonized. In light of this, we can take the Quran’s claim of being free of any errors (S. 4:82) and change it to say:

Do they not then consider the Qur'an carefully? Had it been from Allah, they would surely have not found therein so many contradictions.

All citations taken from the Hilali-Khan version of the Quran.

Further Reading


Contradictions in the Qur'an
Incompleteness and Incoherence of the Qur'an
Answering Islam Home Page