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Satan and Humanity

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Essentials of the Islamic Faith

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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).

Why Was Satan Created? Satan was created for important purposes. If Satan, who continually tries to seduce us, did not exist, our creation would be meaningless and futile. God has innumerable servants who cannot rebel and thus do whatever they are told. In fact, the existence of an absolute Divine Being Who has many beautiful Names and Attributes requires, not because of some external necessity but because of the essential nature of His Names, that His Names be manifest. He manifests all of these Names through humanity.

Since He has free will, He also gave us free will so that we could know good from evil. In addition, God gave us great potentials. Our development of these potentials and our struggle to choose between good an evil make us experience a constant battle in our inner and outer worlds. Just as God sends hawks upon sparrows so that the latter will develop their potential to escape, He created Satan and allowed him to tempt us so that our resistance to temptation will raise us spiritually and strengthen our willpower. Just as hunger stimulates human beings and animals to further exertion and discovery of new ways to be satisfied, and fear inspires new defenses, so Satan's temptations cause us to develop our potentials and guard against sin.

Angels do not rise to higher spiritual ranks because Satan cannot tempt them and cause them to deviate. Animals have fixed stations, and so cannot attain a higher or a lower station. Only human beings can change their station.

There is an infinitely long line of spiritual evolution between the ranks of the greatest Prophets and saints down to those of people like Pharaoh and Nimrod. Therefore, it cannot be claimed that the creation of Satan is evil. Although Satan is evil and serves various important purposes, God's creation involves the whole universe and should be understood in relation to the results, not only with respect to the acts themselves. Whatever God does or creates is good and beautiful in itself or in its effects. For example, rain and fire are very useful but can cause great harm when abused. Therefore, one cannot claim that the creation of water and fire is not totally good. It is the same with the creation of Satan. His main purpose is to cause us to develop our potential, strengthen our willpower by resisting his temptations, and then rise to higher spiritual ranks.

To the argument made by some that Satan leads many people to unbelief and subsequent punishment in Hell, I reply:

First, although Satan was created for many good, universal purposes, many people may be deceived by him. But Satan only whispers and suggests; he cannot force you to indulge in evil and sin. If you are so weak that his false promises deceive you, and you allow yourself to be dragged down, you earn the punishment of Hell by misusing an important God-given faculty that enables you to develop your potential and raise to the highest rank. You must use your free will, which makes you human and gives you the highest position in creation, properly and to further your intellectual and spiritual evolution. Otherwise, you must complain about being honored with free will and therefore about being human.

Second, as quality is much more important than quantity, we should consider qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, values when making our judgment. For example, 100 date seeds are worth only 100 cents if they are not planted. If only 20 out of 100 seeds grow into trees due to the other 80 being destroyed by too much water, can we argue that it is an evil to plant and water seeds? I think all of us can agree that it is wholly good to have 20 trees in exchange for 20 seeds, since 20 trees will produce 20,000 seeds.

Again, 100 peacock eggs may be worth a couple of dollars. But if only 20 eggs hatch and the rest to do not, who will say that it is wrong to risk 80 eggs being spoiled in return for 20 peacocks? On the contrary, it is wholly good to have 20 peacocks at the expense of 80 eggs, for those 20 peacocks will lay even more eggs.

It is the same with humanity. By fighting Satan and their evil-commanding selves, many "worthless" people have been lost in exchange for hundreds of thousands of Prophets, millions of saints, and billions of men and women of wisdom and knowledge, sincerity and good morals. All of these people are the sun, moon, and stars of the human world.

How Satan Tries To Seduce Humanity. Involuntay evil thoughts, fancies, and ideas are usually the result of Satan's whispering. Like a battery's two poles, the human heart (by "heart" we mean the seat or center of spiritual intellect) has two central points or poles. One receives angelic inspiration, and the other is vulnerable to Satan's whispering.

When believers deepen their belief and devotion, and if they are scrupulous and delicate in feeling, Satan attacks them from different directions. He does not tempt those who follow him voluntarily and indulge in all that is transitory, but usually seeks out sincere, devout believers trying to rise to higher spiritual ranks. He whispers new, original ideas to sinful unbelievers, in the name of unbelief, and teaches them how to struggle against true religion and its followers.

We read in Qur'an 7:17 that when God cursed Satan because of his haughty disobedience, Satan asked for a respite until the Day of Judgment so he could seduce human beings. God allowed him to do so, as was discussed above, and Satan retorted: "Then I shall came upon them from before and behind, from their right and their left, and You will not find most of them grateful."

The verse means that Satan does everything he can to seduce us. We are very complex beings, for God has manifested all of His Names on us. This world is an arena of testing, where we are trained so that we can serve as a mirror to God and earn eternal happiness. God has endowed us with innumerable feelings, faculties, and potentials to be trained and developed. If certain feelings and faculties (e.g., intellect, anger, greed, obstinacy, and lust) are not trained and directed to lofty goals but rather are misused, and if our natural desires and animal appetites are not restricted and satisfied in lawful ways, they can cause us great harm here and in the Hereafter.

Satan approaches us from the left and tries, working on our animal aspect and our feelings and faculties, to lead us into sin and evil. When he approaches us from the front, he causes us to despair about the future, whispers that the Day of Judgment will never come, and that whatever religions say about the Hereafter is mere fiction. He also suggests that religion is outdated and obsolete, and thus of no use for anyone living now or in the future. When he comes upon us from behind, he tries to make us deny Prophethood and other essentials of belief, like God's existence and Unity, Divine Scriptures and angels. Through his whispers and suggestions, Satan tries to sever completely our contact with religion and lead us into sin.

Satan can only seduce devout, practicing believers by coming upon them from their right and tempting them to ego and pride. He whispers that they are wonderful believers, and gradually causes them to fall through self-conceit and the desire to be praised for their good deeds. For example, if believers perform supererogatory late-night prayer (tahajjud) and then proclaim it so that others will praise them, and if they attribute their accomplishments and good deeds to themselves and criticize others in secret, they have fallen under Satan's influence. This is a perilous temptation for believers, and so they must be incessantly alert to this tactic.

Another of Satan's tricks is to cause unimportant things to appear important, and vice versa. If believers dispute in the mosque over a secondary matter, such as whether one can use a rosary when glorifying God after the daily prescribed prayers, while their children are being dragged into unbelief and materialism or are drowning in the swamp of immorality, Satan has seduced them.

If Satan cannot seduce devout believers, he whispers disagreeable thoughts and fancies to them. For example, by associating some ideas with others, he makes believers have some unpleasant conceptions of the Divine Being, or conceive of unbelief or disobedience. If they dwell on such ideas, Satan pesters them until they fall into doubt about their belief or despair of ever leading a virtuous life.

Another trick is to cause good, devout believers to suspect the correctness or validity of their religious acts. For example: Did I perform my prayer correctly? Did I wash hands or face completely while performing the ritual ablution? How many times did I wash the parts of my body that must be washed?

Believers who are pestered with such involuntary thoughts, fancies, and doubts should know that they are involuntary and that their hearts have no part in them. Just as pirates attack treasure ships, thieves rob rich people, and strong countries try to control rich countries, Satan uses his evil suggestions to harm them. Believers' hearts become troubled. This resembles a fever, for when the body's temperature rises, antibodies are formed in the patient's blood to inhibit or destroy harmful bacteria or germs. Similarly, those with troubled hearts begin to fight.

This shows that such thoughts and suggestions do not come from, and are not approved of or adopted by, the heart. So, just as the reflection of something foul is not foul and does not make you dirty, and just as a snake's reflection does not bite, conceiving of unbelief is not the same as unbelief, and imagining yourself cursing is not really cursing. It might even be said that Satan's evil suggestions are beneficial, for they keep believers always on ready to resist temptation and to continue their struggle against the carnal self and Satan. This causes them to make spiritual progress.

How To Resist Satan. In fact, Qur'an 4:76 tells us that the guile of Satan is ever feeble. It resembles a cobweb that appears while you are walking between two walls. It does not cause you to stop, and you should not give it any importance. He suggests or whispers and presents sinful acts in a "falsely ornamented wrapper," and so believers must never accept his "gifts." When he whispers evil thoughts, believers should know that this is his last, and weakest, strategy and treat it accordingly. If they pay attention to such whispering, they might be defeated. Like a commander who, deceived by his own fear, dispatches his army to the two wings and leaves the center exposed, believers exhaust their powers of perseverance and resolve by fighting Satan and their own carnal selves when they concentrate on such whispering. In the end, they cannot withstand the real fight.

To free yourself from such evil suggestions, remove yourself from the attractive fields of Satan and sin. Heedlessness and neglect of worship are invitations to Satan's "arrows." The Qur'an declares: Whose sight is dim to the remembrance of the All-Merciful, We assign unto him a devil who becomes his comrade (43:36). Remembrance of the All-Merciful, noble or sacred phenomena, and a devout religious life protect us from Satan's attacks. Again, the Qur'an advises: If a suggestion from Satan occurs to you, then seek refuge in God. He is All-Healing, 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).

God's Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, advised: "When you are angry, sit; if you are standing, sit down; lie down or stand up if you are sitting and perform the ritual ablution." On the way back from a military expedition, the Prophet called a halt at a certain place. They were so tired that they slept through the time for the dawn prayer. When they woke up, the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, commanded: "Leave here at once, for Satan rules this place." The Prophet also says that Satan flees the call to prayer (adhan).

Satan sometimes tries to tempt us through obscene scenes. He causes us to obsess over illicit pleasures. On such occasions, try to persuade yourself that any illicit pleasure will result in fits of remorse and may endanger your afterlife or even your mortal life. Know that the life of this world is but a passing plaything, a comforting illusion, and that the true life is that of the Hereafter. When some of his men hesitated to join the expedition to Tabuk because of the scorching summer heat, God warned them of summer: The heat of Hell is much more intense, if they would but understood (9:81).