Saturday, December 19, 2015

Hijra - Migration

October 14 was the beginning of a new Hijjra year, 1437.  Today is the third day of Muharram.  The Hijjra calendar started with the migration of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, from Makkah to Madinah, in year 622/623 A.D.  Early scholars said it was in the month of Rabih Al Awal (the third month of the year). 

On Monday, October 12 we also observed Columbus Day, which also has something to do with migration.  The discovery of North America by the Spanish led to the coming of European immigrants to this land to start a legacy that ended with the creation of this great nation of ours.  I have been thinking about Hijjra the whole week, and about what it means to me.

Traditionally, in Friday khutbahs  at the beginning of the Hijjra year, we talk about lessons learned from the migration of Prophet Muhammad from Makkah to Madinah.  But I have not been thinking so much about Prophet Muhammad’s hijjra, as about my own.  I too have a hijjra story, from which I have learned many lessons.  My hijjra was from Egypt to America 30 years ago.  I left the land where I grew up and had many memories of childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.  As it was hard for Prophet Muhammad to leave Makkah, it was hard for me to leave Egypt.  He had to leave, not by choice, but because of hardship, persecution, harassment, and hostility.  I too had to leave Egypt due to hardship.  I was one of many thousands of Muslim activists in Egypt who suffered after the assassination of Sadat in 1981.  Many of us were jailed, lost their jobs, and suffered harassment by state police. 

Thirty years ago America became my home, not Egypt any more.  Thirty years later, America continues to be my beloved home.  Prophet Muhammad was always grateful to the Ansar, the Arab tribes who supported him in Madinah, who welcomed him and his followers when they migrated from Makkah to Madinah.  Prophet Muhammad used to say

“If I had not emigrated from Makkah, I would have liked to be one of the Ansar.”

After the conquest of Makkah, the Ansar were afraid that Prophet Muhammad might choose to relocate back to Makkah, his homeland for 53 years.  He did not.  He told them

“If Al Ansar choose to walk a path, I will choose to walk with them on that path.”  He preferred to go back to Madinah to live the last four years of his life there, until he died.  He was also buried there, in the house where he lived in Madinah.

After the Arab tribes in Makkah were defeated by the Muslims, some other tribes surrounding Makkah decided to form an alliance to fight the new Makkan Muslims.  When the Prophet found out about this, he decided to march towards them in Al Taef.  This was the famous battle of Hunein.  The Muslims won the battle, and there were abundant spoils of war.  Prophet Muhammad decided to give most of the spoils to the Muslims of Makkah who had recently converted to Islam after his conquest of their land.  This was a gesture of generosity and to gain their allegiance.  The Ansar did not get anything, and they were upset.  He gathered them and said, “Do not be upset.  Every one of them is going to go home with something from the spoils of war, but you get to take me home with you – so take me home!”

For Prophet Muhammad, Madinah became his home.  For me, and many other millions of Muslims, America has become our home.  We all came from our countries of origin for all kinds of reasons – political persecution, like myself, better economic opportunities, escape from injustice, etc.  For me, and I am sure for many others, America has been a safe haven.  As Madinah was good for Prophet Muhammad, America has been good to me.

I visit Egypt every year, and have been for thirty years.  Although I have dual citizenship, and still carry an Egyptian passport, every time I travel to Egypt, I enter the country as an American, using my American passport.  Why?  Because I feel safer this way.  It is ironic that I feel safer in the country I adopted than in the country where I grew up.  For me, and for millions of other Muslims, America has been our Madinah.  And for me, I feel I have been surrounded by my own Ansars – my in-laws, my friends, and my colleagues in this country.  My in-laws welcomed me into their family from the first day, in spite of all the differences between me and them, in culture, language and above all faith.  They are all Christian, some of them are devout Christians, but they never stopped giving me love and support.  When my wife was pregnant with our daughter, I had a talk with my father-in-law.  The discussion led to raising children.  He, without any hesitation, said “Of course you are going to raise her as a Muslim.”  I then asked if that would bother him.  He said, “Not at all, because that is what you want her to be.  You are going to raise her as a Muslim, and a good one, just like you.”  Or my brother-in-law, who asked me to carve the turkey at my first Thanksgiving dinner with the family, saying “Since you are now one of our family, we will give you the honor.”

My Ansar were also all our friends, and not just our Muslim friends.  Our Christian, Jewish and Agnostic friends always gave me love and support over the years, although they know I am a devout Muslim.  My Ansar were also my mentors during my training, most of whom were Jewish.   They still mentor me until now, and have had a significant impact on my professional development.  Finally, my Ansar are my colleagues and co-workers, most of whom are non-Muslims.  Without their support and trust, my career would have taken a different path. 

I go back to what the Prophet said,

“If I had not emigrated from Makkah, I would have liked to be one of the Ansar.”  I understand now what he meant.  His migration to Madinah had a significant impact on him as a person, as a human being.  He meant every word he said.  He was trying to assure the Ansar that he had become one of them.  He then said something very profound,

“If the Ansar choose to walk a path, I will walk that path with them.”  When I reflect on my own hijjra, I can also say, “Where my Ansar go, I will go.”  What I mean is that my cultural identity has transformed through the past thirty years.  I truly have become an American Muslim, or a Muslim American, depending on the point of reference.  But I definitely am NOT just a Muslim in America.  This is where home is.  This is the place to which my cultural identity has evolved. 


The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 in the Plymouth Colony in New England.  The governor of the colony, William Bradford invited about 90 Native Americans (or as the Canadians call them, First Nation people) to a feast where they shared a meal together.  The new settlers, later called the Pilgrims, had a tradition of dedicating three days of prayer to thank the Lord for all his blessings.  That year, the Pilgrims had a good harvest, thanks to the Native Americans who had taught them how to farm the land and grow corn.   So the three days of festivities and prayer were dedicated to thank the Lord for the harvest.

The Pilgrims were devout Christians.  They were Puritans who had disagreed with the Puritans in England.  The Puritans wanted to reform the Church of England.  The Pilgrims, who were called separatists, did not believe the Church of England could be reformed.  They separated themselves from it and wanted to have their own church.  The group suffered persecution in England around 1600.  Some of their leaders were executed for sedition in 1593.  In the late 1500s and early 1600s the Church of England was not tolerant of any religious diversity.  In 1559 under Queen Elizabeth I, the Act of Uniformity was issued.  It made non-attendance of the official Church of England religious services illegal, and imposed a fine of a shilling for each missed service on Sunday.  Anyone who conducted an unofficial service was punished by imprisonment.  That was England around 1600, when the Pilgrims decided to emigrate, first to the Netherlands.  They settled in Leyden.  Years later they realized that it was important to retain their English identity and culture, and that they could not integrate into the Dutch culture.  Then came the idea of emigration to North America.  The first group came on the Mayflower, with the early settlers.  They were supposed to go to Virginia, but the rough sea made them land at Cape Cod in New England.  From there they established a new colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  They befriended the Native Americans who taught them how to farm the land.

As a Muslim who values the Seerah of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, I find his story similar to the Pilgrims’ story.  The Hijjra (migration from Makkah to Madinah) is a similar story – the Sahabah (his early followers) had to leave Makkah due to religious persecution by the Arab tribes in Makkah.

Before the Hijjra to Madinah, there was an earlier Hijjra.  When the early Muslims suffered persecution by the Arabs in Makkah, Prophet Muhammad advised them to emigrate to Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), where they lived for several years.  Although they settled there and enjoyed religious freedom, they could not integrate into the culture.  They all waited for the right time to go back to Arabia.  Some of them came back to Makkah way before the Hijjra, like the Prophet’s daughter Ruqayya and her husband Othman ibn Affan.  Others came back to Madinah later, after the Treaty of Hudaybiyya, like the Prophet’s cousin Jaffar ibn Abu Taleb.  They all came to Madinah, and not just befriended the Ansar (the Muslims of Madinah), but together they all formed a new community of believers.  As the Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to farm the land, Al Ansar taught Al Muhajireen (the Muslims from Makkah) how to farm in their new land.

When I reflect on the story of Thanksgiving as an American Muslim, I realize that as this holiday has become part of the American culture, it has become part of my own narrative.  Islam is new to America.  Some of the first generations of Muslims who came to America left their country of origin because they were unable to practice their faith freely.  Some of them (including myself) suffered and were persecuted because of their beliefs.  They had to leave their homeland, culture, families and friends, to come to a new land.  They all have enjoyed freedom of religion and practiced their faith with no fear or persecution.

Thanksgiving has become not just an American tradition, but an Islamic holiday.  We as American Muslims should embrace it and celebrate it as part of our own narrative.  The spirit of Thanksgiving is Islamic in nature.  On our two major holidays, Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha, we start our celebration with a prayer, a prayer to thank Allah for His blessings, the blessing of fasting the month of Ramadan, and the blessing of the Abrahamic tradition and foundation of Tawhid, monotheism.

The story of the Pilgrims, the story of the Muhajireen, is our story – the blessings of the new land and new home are the blessings of Thanksgiving. 

As Prophet Muhammad said when he came to Al Madinah,
“Ya Allah, grant Al Madinah double the blessings you granted Makkah.”

“Ya Allah, make us love Al Madinah more than we loved Makkah.”

Reflections on Prophecy

Ya banil Adama
Imma ya tiyannakum Rusulum-minkum yaqussuna alaykum
Ayati famanit-taqa wa aslaha fala khawfun
Alayhim wa la hum yahzanun.

O children of Adam!  If there come to you apostles of your own, relating My messages to you, then all who are conscious of Me and live righteously - no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.

What is that phenomenon we call prophecy?  How can we explain the mechanism through which the prophets were inspired by our Creator?  Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, was the last of the Abrahamic prophets, but the message that he and his numerous predecessors, beginning with Prophet Abraham relayed was that God is with us always and ever was and ever shall be.  And even though the kind of prophecy described in their Books – the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospels, and the Quran – ended with Prophet Muhammad, God’s presence is no less real and close for us today than it was for them.

Quran assures us that every people has had a prophet.

Innaa arsalnaka bil-haqqi Bashiranw-wa Nadhira.
Wa im-min ummatin illa khala fiha Nadhir.

Surely We have sent you with the truth as a bearer of good news and a warner; and there was never any community but a warner has lived and passed away in its midst.

The power of God’s presence is and has been throughout history, in every human community, real and tangible.  And throughout history, when people have tapped into that power, even though they be not prophets, they have found the strength to do remarkable things, and helped us all progress further along the path of God’s guidance.  I’d like to talk about a few of those people today.

When I was in Berkeley a couple of weeks ago, I gave some money to a homeless woman, one of the many who line Shaddock Avenue every day.  As I started to walk away, she said, “Don’t forget to take your paper!”  I don’t usually pay much attention to those papers, but this one turned out to be more than the usual account of the difficult lives of people who live on the streets.  It was published by the American Friends Service Committee, and contains a survey of many of the women who worked for the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage in the 19th and early twentieth centuries.   Their stories are a testament to what people can endure when they are inspired by a cause they know is right and true. 

Some of them, like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, escaped the horror of slavery, only to turn around and continue to fight it, jeopardizing the very freedom they had won.   What made Harriet Tubman return to the South again and again, risking her freedom to liberate many others through the Underground Railroad, and by working as a scout and leading raids on plantations for the Union Army?  What gave Sojourner Truth, after escaping to freedom with her baby daughter. the strength to deliver a legendary speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851?  What gave her the tenacity to try to end the segregation of street cars in Washington, D.C. by riding in cars set aside for white people, 90 years before Rosa Parks was arrested?

Other women gave up lives of privilege and security to fight against slavery and for voting rights for all.  Lucretia Mott, a Quaker minister, continued to fight slavery even after mobs destroyed the abolitionists’ Pennsylvania Hall meeting place.  What made her organize the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, the first active political organization of women, and the launching pad for the women’s rights movement?  What made her and Elizabeth Cady Stanton think they could organize the first public women’s rights meeting in the U.S., the Seneca Falls Convention in July of 1848? 

When simple organizing failed to change the status quo, other women initiated bold new strategies, including militant acts of civil disobedience.  Alice Paul led a group of suffragists called “Silent Sentinels,” who were arrested for picketing the White House.  From 1910 to 1920, Paul was the main strategist of the women’s suffrage movement, and leader of the National Women’s Party.  She opposed the US entering WWI, “protesting a battle for democracy abroad when there was so little democracy at home.”   When jailed with other suffragists in the notoriously brutal and squalid Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, she demanded that the women be treated as political prisoners and launched a prison hunger strike.  Jail authorities tried to break them with brutal force-feedings, beatings, and horrible jail conditions.  This led to media attention and public outrage and women flocked to Washington.  Her acts of civil disobedience were crucial in winning public support for the Nineteenth Amendment. 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony worked together for many decades, in the long struggle to end slavery, and for a federal amendment giving voting rights to women.  What made Anthony try to vote in the presidential election of 1872?  And after being arrested, tried and convicted for illegal voting, how did she have the strength to refuse to pay the fine, saying, “I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.”  It took another six years for Anthony and Stanton to get a bill giving women the right to vote introduced in Congress.  It took another 42 years for the Anthony Amendment to become the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, in 1920.  Many of these women and others went on to struggle for full equality for women and people of all races during the civil rights movement over the next many decades.  They wrote, marched, held sit-ins, protested, and were jailed, beaten, tortured, and sometimes killed. 

As we know, the struggle for equality is not over.  I found a very interesting quote in a book published in 1881, “History of Woman Suffrage,” edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage.  It was in my Great Aunt Bess’s library, and is inscribed by Susan B. Anthony herself.  Anthony was a Christian woman fighting for equal rights in the United States over a hundred years ago.  She says, in the introduction:

“With fierce warnings and denunciations from the pulpit, and false interpretations of Scripture, women have been intimidated and misled, and their religious feelings have been played upon for their more complete subjugation.  While the general principles of the Bible are in favor of the most enlarged freedom and equality of the race, isolated texts have been used to block the wheels of progress in all periods; thus bigots have defended capital punishment, intemperance, slavery, polygamy, and the subjugation of woman.  The creeds of all nations make obedience to man the corner-stone of her religious character.  Fortunately, however, more liberal minds are now giving us higher and purer expositions of the Scriptures.”

I found it supremely ironic that I should find this quote in a distant relative’s 100 plus year old book of history, and that it should remind me so much of what I find myself in the middle of today.  I would add another woman to the list of feminist legends and icons of resistance -  Dr. Amina Wadud, for delivering her Friday khutbah and leading men and women in prayer in a mosque in New York City.  She said it was “the continuation of her own spiritual struggle to realize Islam’s liberation of all people, an outgrowth of the African-American struggle for equality.” 

Quran says, in Surah 14:11
Qalat lahum Rusuluhum innahu illa basharum-mithlukum
Wa lakinnal-laha yamunnu ala many-yashaa u min ibadih.
Wa ma kana lanaa an-na tiyakum-bisultanin illa bi idhnil-lah.
Wa alal-lahi falyatawakkal il-mu minun.

Their apostles said to them:  We are nothing but mortals like yourselves, but Allah bestows favors on who He pleases of His servants, and it is not for us that we should bring you an authority except by Allah’s permission; and on Allah should the believers rely.

And in Surah 16:41
Wal-ladhina hajaru fil-lahi mim-ba’ di ma zulimu lanubawwi
‘annahum fid-dunya hasanatanw-wa la ajrul-Akhirati akbaru
law kanu ya ‘lamun.
And those who leave a place of evil for Allah’s sake after they are oppressed, We will most certainly give them a good abode in the world, and the reward of the hereafter is certainly much greater, did they but know.

I have focused here on those who fought in the struggle for full freedom and equality for African Americans and women in the United States.  But my larger question, the one I started with, is what makes people sacrifice their safety and their welfare, their freedom, even their bodies for a greater cause?  This question is much broader than the abolition and suffragist movements, broader even than equal rights for all human beings.  The question applies to anyone who has given up their own self-interest to a greater cause.  I have referred back to the Quran for teachings on the phenomenon of prophecy, the supreme example of people who turned themselves completely over to God’s will.  God promised them “a good abode in the world, and the reward of the hereafter,” but what does that mean?  We can easily believe that the prophets enjoy the fruits of Paradise when they die, but many of them suffered horribly for delivering their message in this world.  I think it must mean that they were granted peace and serenity in the knowledge that they were following God’s will. 

I am not claiming that anyone since Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, is like a prophet in the Quranic sense.  But it does seem to me that when we human beings are inspired by a sense of connection with God’s Truth, we get a new perspective on our lives, and the strength to do things that we would never do if we only focused on our individual comfort and security.  The prophets are the highest examples of that phenomenon.  But we all have the potential to tap into that power, and we can all recognize those exceptional people who have been able to use that power to help change their worlds for the better. 

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and not just in the context of women’s equality.  I have been thinking that in these trying times we are living through as Muslims, we are all challenged to tap in to God’s power, in one way or another.  So what does Quran tell us about prophecy and prophets, our forefathers in the struggle to follow God’s Truth?  Quran tells us that they were tested, that people did not believe them, and thought they were crazy, and tried to kill them.  But Quran assures us that God was always and would always be with them, as long as they followed their calling.  Whether we feel called to travel to Jordan to help Syrian refugees, or try to write inspiring khutbahs, or write poetry and stories, or donate our time to serve on Boards, or help the homeless, or our own aging parents, or just help our children negotiate their way between secularism, extremism, and Islamophobia – in our own small humble ways, we all need God’s guidance, and we might be surprised by where our openness to that guidance might lead us.  

Ya Allah, help us to be open to your guidance as much as we need it, and grant us the ability to tap into your power, that is everywhere and always around us when we need it, and give us the strength to follow your path for us, wherever it may lead.

Surah 22:78
And strive hard in the way of Allah, such a striving as is due to Allah, who has chosen you and has not laid on you a hardship in religion; the faith of your forefather Ibrahim;  He named you before and in this, those who have surrendered themselves to God, that the Apostle might bear witness to the truth before you, and you might bear witness to it before all humankind;  therefore keep up prayer and pay the poor rate and hold fast by Allah;  your Guardian; how excellent the Guardian and how excellent the Helper!

Fa ‘aqimus-Salata wa atuz-Zakata wa-tasimu billahi

Huwa Mawlakum fani mal-Mawla wa ni’man-Nasir.

Friday, December 11, 2015

A Worthy Adversary, Part 4 Seduced by the Promise of Power

A Worthy Adversary, Part 4
The title of my khutbah today is “Seduced by the Promise of Power”.

When Iblis is punished for not bowing down to Adam, his response is to ask God for one thing. Only one thing, and that one thing is not forgiveness. Iblis asks for respite, and God grants him this request. Iblis’ respite gives him his opportunity for revenge.  Iblis will seduce the children of Adam and make them his, Iblis’, slaves. Iblis himself has become seduced by the promise of revenge and power over his enemies.

“The story is told…that Iblis said, ‘O Lord, You have driven me from Paradise on Adam’s account, but I could not have done what I did without Your authorization.’
He(God) said, ‘Truly, you will have sway over him (Adam).’
He (Iblis) said, ‘Lord, grant me more!”
He(God) said, ‘He will not beget a child without two of the same being born to you.’
He (Iblis) cried, ‘Lord, grant me more!’
He (God) replied, ‘Their breasts will be your dwelling place, you will flow in their bloodstream.’
He (Iblis) shouted, ‘Lord, grant me more!’
He(God) said, ‘Array against them your horses and footmen. Make them become partners in riches and children. Make promises to them. But Satan promises them nothing but vanities.’” 
– Ath-Thalabi, ‘Ara’is al-majalis

In context of the Quran, the seduction of Adam and Eve is linked to the acquisition of power and human sexuality. Although other details of the tale may vary, the elements of power and sexuality are consistent.

“And: O Adam! Inhabit you and your spouse the Garden and both eat from where you have both willed, but neither of you come near this tree or you both will be of the ones who are unjust. And Satan whispered evil to them both to show them both what was kept secret from them both- their intimate parts- and he said: the Lord of both of you prohibited you from this tree so that neither of you should become angels nor become ones who will dwell forever. And he swore an oath to them both that I am one who gives advice to both of you. Then he led both of them on to delusion. Then when they had both experienced of the tree, their intimate parts were shown to themselves and they took to stitch together over themselves the leaves of the Garden. And the Lord of both of them proclaimed to them: Prohibited I not both of you from that tree and did I not say to you both; Truly Satan is a clear enemy of you both.” Quran 7:19-22

I think it is noteworthy that the tree which is associated with the acquisition of immortality is consistently linked to a conscious awareness of human sexuality- and this is long before Freud's theories on Eros and Thanatos. Even modern biology reflects the immortality inherent in sex. Sexual reproduction leads to a generations- spanning immortality of our DNA. Within each of us, within each of our cells, is a chemical record of our deepest ancestry, tracing back to our earliest ancestors in Africa and beyond. But given the embarrassment that Adam and Eve feel over their new found knowledge of immortality i.e. rushing off to stitch together clothing, sex was probably not the answer they were expecting as the key to immortality.Lesson to all- be careful what you ask for.

There are a few inconsistencies in the temptation tale that caused intellectual discomfort for some Muslim writers. The reason I am going to explore this a bit is because these explanations form part of the Islamic tradition and even though you may have never heard of these stories before, there are others in the Muslim community who have heard these explanations, or parts of them. Additionally, these authors highlight the seductive power of immortality. This power comes from a deep rooted fear of change, fear of loss, fear of death, of nothingness. And this is all long before those French existentialists started writing about it.

Probably the biggest problem for some Muslim thinkers was how could Iblis confront Adam and Eve in the garden of Paradise if he had already been driven out of it? One writer suggested that Iblis spoke to Adam and Eve through the gates, since he was barred from entry. Another person proposed that Iblis was able to somehow converse with them from his new home in exile- by telepathic powers or… a kind of Skype? Others suggested that Iblis took on the shape of an animal known to reside in Paradise (possibly a camel) and was able to evade detection by the guardians at the gate.

The mythic formulation that gained the most favor was the serpent helper theory. In this explanation, Iblis comes across his friend the snake (who before the fall had four legs) and asks her to hide him in her mouth. She does so and Iblis is able to sneak past the guards and thus gain entry into the garden with the serpent’s help. In another version, it is Tawus, a peacock, that serves as the Iblis-carrier. 

 There is not one standard text of the complete myth, just fragments. This is not that surprising, the Quran itself has a fragmented structure in many of its longer surahs. Take surah 18, which thematically is about trust in God versus trust in this world, but it skips around a lot. From the sleepers in the caves, to the parable of the two farmers, Moses encounter with the mystical Teacher, and a king (Alexander the Great?) who contains some pesky demons. And there is also a quick recap of Iblis not bowing down before Adam (18:50)! Sometimes reading the Quran can be a bit like watching someone clicking a remote control on a television. Nevertheless, Peter Awn decided to pull together a translation from three authors (Ath-Tha’labi, At-Tabari, and Ad-Diyarbakri) to create a composite story of Iblis’ entry into Paradise and his seduction of Adam and Eve. The characters of this story symbolize mankind’s struggle with freedom, good and evil.

“People say that when Iblis heard about Adam’s entry into Paradise, he became envious of him and said, ‘Cursed be he! I was worshipping God for so many thousands of years and He never escorted me into Paradise. And this creature, God Most High just created him now, then He escorted him into Paradise!’ And so he plotted stratagems for removing Adam (peace be upon him) from Paradise.

    Iblis stationed himself before the gate of Paradise where he devoted himself to God’s service for three hundred years until he became renowned for his worship. And people took cognizance of him because of it. He (Iblis) through all of this, kept his eye peeled for the departure from Paradise of someone through whom he might gain access to Adam.

     He(Iblis) remained at the gate of Paradise for three hundred years. During that time God did not permit any creature’s departure from the garden. While he was thus engaged, all of a sudden Tawus came out to him. He (Tawus) was the lord of the birds of Paradise. When Iblis caught sight of him, he cried out, ‘O noble creature, who are you? And what is your name? I have never beheld one of God’s creatures more beautiful than you!’ And he (Tawus) replied, ‘I am one of the birds of Paradise. My name is Tawus.’ Then Iblis began to weep. Tawus asked him, ‘Who are you? And from whence your crying?’ Iblis answered him, ‘I am an angel from among the Cherubim. And I have shed tears in this state of grief because your beauty will pass away as well as the perfection of your nature.’ Tawus asked him, ‘ Will all that I am slip away from me?’ He (Iblis) said, ‘Most assuredly, Truly you will pass away and die. All creatures will die except those who eat from the tree of immortality. Then they will be the immortal ones from among these creatures.’ Tawus asked, ‘Well, where is this tree?’ Iblis answered, ‘It is in the garden.’ Tawus said, ‘And who will point out its location to us?’ Iblis said, ‘I will point it out to you if you get me into Paradise.’ Tawus said, ‘How can I get you into the garden? There is no way to it except through the presence of Ridwan. No one enters or leaves the garden without his permission. But I will direct you to one of the creatures of God Most High who will bring you into it (the garden). If anyone can do it, she is the one, she and no one else. She is the attendant of God Most High’s viceregent, Adam.’ And Iblis asked, ‘Who is she?’ Tawus answered, ‘The serpent.’ Iblis said, ‘Hurry to her. And if good fortune is with us in our undertaking, perhaps she will be able to accomplish this.’

    And so Tawus came to the snake and told her of Iblis’ whereabouts and of what he had heard from him. And he (Tawus) said, ‘I saw at the gate of Paradise an angel of the Cherubim with such and such characteristics. Do you see your way clear to getting him into Paradise so that he can point out to us the tree of immortality?’

  The serpent rushed off in his direction. And when she came to him, Iblis told her roughly what he had said to Tawus. And she said, ‘How can I get you into Paradise? If Ridwan catches sight of you, you will not be able to enter.’ He answered her, ‘I will change into a wind and you can put me between your fangs.’ She said, ‘Yes’. (Note: In At-Tabari’s work, Iblis has to ask many different animals for this favor, and they all refuse until he finds the snake).

    Thereupon Iblis- may God curse him- transformed into a wind and entered the snake’s mouth. Then she brought him into Paradise. When Iblis had entered Paradise, he showed her (the snake) the tree that God had forbidden to Adam. He proceeded on until he stood before Adam and Eve- may peace be upon them both. They did not perceive that he was Iblis. He (Iblis) started to wail a lament which saddened them both and they began to cry (He was the first person who ever wailed). They asked him, ‘What is making you cry?’ He replied, ‘I am crying over you, because you will die and you will be separated from the happiness and esteem you now experience.’ This touched them both to the quick and they pondered it. Iblis shed tears and then went on his way.

     After a time Iblis came back to them for his words had made an impression on them both. He said, ‘O Adam, shall I point out to you the tree of immortality and power that does not dwindle away?’ He (Adam) said, ‘Yes!’. He (Iblis) said, ‘Eat from this tree, the tree of wheat.’ He (Adam) replied, ‘But my Lord forbade it to me.’ Iblis retorted, ‘Your Lord has forbidden you this tree only to prevent your both becoming angels or immortal ones.’

     He(Adam) refused to give in to him. So he (Iblis) swore to them both by God that he was offering sound advice. This fooled them for they could not imagine that anyone would falsely take an oath using God’s name. Eve rushed to eat of the tree. She kept telling Adam how wonderful it was until he ate of it. (Note- some people have suggested that Eve got Adam drunk on wine to get him to eat from the tree, and from this incident came the Quranic prohibitions against alcohol consumption).

     Thereupon their private parts were exposed to them both. Adam hid in the hollow of a tree. Then his Lord called him, ‘O Adam, where are you?’. He answered, ‘Here I am Lord.’ He (God) said, ‘Are you not coming out?’ He (Adam) replied, ‘I am ashamed in Your presence, O Lord.’ And he (God) said, ‘Damned be the earth from which you were created as a curse.’

     God reproved Adam and said to him, ‘Why did you eat from this tree? Did I not forbid to both of you this tree?’ He answered, ‘Eve gave me to eat.’ He (God) said to her, ‘Why did you give him to eat?’ She said, ‘the serpent directed me.’ He (God) said to the snake, ‘Why did you do this?’ She said, ‘Tawus guided me.’ He (God) said to Tawus, ‘Why did you do this?’ He (Tawus) replied, “Iblis ordered me.’ And so He punished Iblis and cursed him.” Ad-Diyarbakri then goes on to give a description of the transformation of Iblis from angel to devil because of his role in Adam and Eve’s seduction. Although this seems redundant because Iblis was already transformed when he refused to bow down, the lack of consistency may indicated the oral origins of Iblis’ mythic history. It may also indicate an overlaying of the two incidents in the popular mind into two successive aspects of the same event.

Iblis appears to have fulfilled the ousting of Adam and Eve from Paradise part of his revenge, but the relationship between Adam and Iblis is not finished. The jealousy and hatred that comprise the relationship between Iblis and Adam bind them together for eternity. They will never be rid of one another, and each one’s fate is found up with the other’s destiny.  Their conflict is repeated endlessly in the lives of their descendants.  “…Go down, some of you as an enemy to one another, and for you on the earth, a time appointed and sustenance for a while.” Quran 2:36.

The hatred of Adam’s progeny to Iblis’s tribe is commonly taken as a sign of hope, a sign of mankind’s faith in God’s Word. The enmity of Iblis’ progeny towards Adam’s children is a constant reminder of their kufr, unbelief.

    What is very striking, however, is that the Muslim tradition refuses to lay all the responsibility or blame on Iblis. Each one- Iblis and Adam- has actively taken part in his own personal downfall as well as in the downfall of the other. Neither the centuries-long worship of one or the divine spark in the other is sufficient protection from the machinations of pride and the promise of power.

“The story is told that Adam encountered Iblis in a land of waterless desert. And he (Adam) rebuked him for his deed. He said to him, ‘ O cursed one! What kind of thing is this that you caused to happen to me? You beguiled me. You dislodged me from Paradise. You did with me what you set out to do.’ Iblis wept. He said, ‘O Adam, I did with you what you say. I brought you down to this place. But who brought about the state that I am in, and settled me in this place?’


It is difficult to give an overview of Iblis in the hadith literature because the field is so huge and not systematically organized. In most hadith collections, Iblis does not have a separate section, he just crops up randomly throughout. Al-Bukhari does dedicate two sections to Iblis and his followers, so most of the hadith I will talk about are from Al-Bukhari.

It is striking that the name ‘Iblis’ is rarely mentioned in hadith, fewer than ten specific references to Iblis in Muslim, Ibn Maja, and Al-Bukhari combined. However, there are over 200 instances of the name Ash-Shaytan, of which most of those refer to Satan himself, not some lesser demon.
Is the predominance of Ash-Shaytan over Iblis simply a semantic preference or is there more at work here? Indeed, the different names suggest the Islamic devil figure can be considered in a distinct manner. The name Iblis is linked with the development of a complex personality. Iblis is ascetic, devoted worshipper, master of the heavens, guardian of Paradise, defender of the Throne, arrogant, prideful, impetuous. It is difficult to paint him in black and white or render him into some cardboard character.  There is too much ambiguity in his personality and this complexity gives him vividness and depth.

The name Ash-Shaytan, particularly as used in hadith, is a completely different character. Here we have a cardboard cut-out of malevolent, bad guy evil. There is no reflection here on what makes this character tick, instead we are faced with an evil force that systematically ruins the lives of anyone he comes across. Perhaps this is not terribly surprising because hadith are primarily concerned with human ritual praxis. The Satan of hadith is completely one-dimensional; evil, cunning, wily, delighting in leading man astray. It is only in the very few specific references to Iblis by name do we get a hint of a complex personality.

In my next khutbah, I will give a brief overview of the Iblis/Ash-Shaytan hadith material and how it touches upon human life. The four areas are;

1.Satan’s link with man’s nature and his appearance in man’s psychic life (sleep, dreams, visions)
2. Satan’s efforts to disrupt man’s prayer and meddling with eating, drinking, and other bodily functions.
3. Satan’s most effective time of day for leading people astray (twilight, night, dawn)
4. God’s assistance to men and women against Satan.

“Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption: Iblis in Sufi Psychology” in Studies in the History of Religions (supplement to NUMEN) Vol XLIV, edited by M. Heerma van Voss, EJ Sharpe and RJZ Weblowsky, (Leiden: EJ Brill Publishers) 1983

The Sublime Quran English translation by Laleh Bakhtiar