Can Angels Disobey? The Nature of Iblis And The Reason For His Fall

Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi

It is claimed by the Christian missionaries that there is a “contradiction” with regard to the Qur’anic statement that angels never disobey God. The gist of their claim is as follows:

The command of Allah is given to the angels. Since Iblis is accused of not being obedient, he has to be one of the angels.

The Qur’an clearly states that Iblis (Satan) was not an angel, but was of the jinn. The Qur’an says thus:

“… but Iblis did it not — he was a jinn — thus he disobeyed his Lord.” [18:50]

In view of this statement of the Qur’an it is obvious that Iblis was a jinn and not an angel, hence the rest of the missionary diatribe on the matter is rendered insignificant and invalid.

This brings us to the point from certain quarters, namely that since Iblis did not bow down to Adam because he was aware of the problem of shirk, association of the worship of being(s) with God, Iblis is therefore not the guilty party here. There are also claims that if Iblis was a jinn and not an angel, how can it therefore be said that he disobeyed God’s command by not bowing down in front of Adam especially when, according to the Qur’an God had directed only the angels to prostrate before Adam.

In our opinion, the answer to these questions is to first understand the basic directive of the Command of God itself. According to the Qur’an it is to be noted that although it was primarily the angels who were directed to prostrate before Adam it was, nevertheless, expected of the jinn who were in the court at that time to follow suit. In other words, by directing the angels to bow down before Adam God had directed a higher cadre of His creation to submit to a command, the lower cadre creations like the jinn and any others that may have been present at the time, were expected to do the same.

This style of speech is used in almost all human languages. For instance, when someone says:

    When the Chief Justice enters the hall all the parliamentarians shall pay their respects by standing up for him

he generally implies that all those present in the hall (personnel of the press, the foreign diplomats, the media personnel and guests of the members) should stand to pay their respects to the Chief Justice.

The word “parliamentarians” in such a sentence is not to signify that the directive is given only to those who are members of the parliament, but is a generalization in which a higher cadre of personnel is given a directive with the implication that others are also expected to follow suit.

However, even if we assume that the directive was misconstrued by Iblis to be limited in its implication to the angels only, or that Iblis believed that it was tantaumont to shirk, it would have followed that when God asked Iblis “Why did you not bow down?”, he should logically have answered that “I did not bow down because I was not commanded to do so” or that “I did not bow down because this is an act of associating worship with You.” But that is not, as the detractors assume, the case of Iblis disobedience.

The Qur’an says:

“All the angels fell down prostrate, but Iblis did it not. He refused to be among those who prostrated. Allah said: O Iblis what is wrong with you, why are you not among those who bowed down. He said: I shall not bow down to something that You have created from sounding clay.” (15:30-33)

At another instance, the Qur’an explains:

“Then we said to the angels: Bow down to Adam. They bowed down, except Iblis He was not among those who bowed down. Allah said: What stopped you from bowing down, when I directed you to do so. He said: I am better than him, You created me from fire and You created him from dust.” (7:11-12)

Then again, the Qur’an says:

“So the angels bowed down, all of them. But Iblis did it not. He showed haughtiness and became a rejecter. Allah said: O Iblis what stopped you from bowing down to the one whom I created with My hands. Was it your pride [that stopped you] or are you among the elevated ones? He said: I am better than him. You created me from fire while him You created from dust.” (39:73-76)

The above verses clearly show that although the words of the referred directive could have been construed to be addressed to the angels only, yet there was no doubt in Iblis’ mind that he too was commanded to prostrate before Adam nor did he believed that it was an act of shirk. His abstinence from prostrating before Adam was therefore not because of any misunderstanding of the directive, but because of his obvious haughtiness and arrogance.

We have used the traditional method of Qur’anic exegesis, i.e., al-Qur’an yufassiru ba’duhu ba’dan (different parts of the Qur’an explain each other). What is given in a general way in one place is discussed in detail in some other place in the Qur’an What is dealt with briefly at one place is expanded in some other place.

And only God knows best.

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