My question is about Surah 2: 34:
And behold, we said to ANGELS: “bow down to Adam”. And they bowed down, except Iblis. He refused and was haughty.
My understanding from the holy Qura’n about the angels, is that they always obey Allah Ta`ala1 and they don’t have any free will. What I would like to understand is if Iblis was an angel, how he could have disobeyed since he did not have any free will?
Furthermore, if he was not an angel, how did he disobey since Allah Ta`ala only directed the angels to bow down?
Thank you, for helping us understand these religious issues. May Allah bless you.
The Qur’an has clearly stated that Iblees (satan) was not an angel but was a jinn. The Qur’an says:
… but Iblees did it not – he was a jinn – thus he disobeyed his Lord. (Al-Kahaf 18: 50)
In view of this statement of the Qur’an , it is obvious that Iblees was a jinn and not an angel.
This brings us to the second part of your question that if Iblees was not an angel then how can it 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 my opinion, the answer to this question is that by directing the angels to bow down before Adam, God had directed a higher cadre creation to bow down, the lower cadre creations like the jinn and any others that were present may or may not have been included in the directive. This style of speech is used in almost all human languages. For instance, when someone says: “When the chief Justice enters the room all the parliamentarians shall pay their respects by standing up for him”, he may imply that all those who are present shall stand up to pay their homage, but uses the word “parliamentarians” liberally – i.e. by addressing the dominant group that is present and actually implying all those that are present, whether they are parliamentarians or not. Or he may actually imply that it is only necessary for the parliamentarians – and no one other than the parliamentarians – to stand up, using the words “parliamentarians” literally. Thus, when God directed the angels to bow down to Adam, the directive could have been construed to be solely for those that are included among the group called “angels” (the word “angels” being used literally) or on the other hand, it could also have been construed to be a general directive for all those present which means that the word “angels” had been used liberally – i.e. by addressing the dominant group that is present and actually implying all those that are present, whether they are angels or not.
Thus, considering only the words that you have referred to (Al-Baqarah 2: 34) one person may be of the opinion that Iblees was included in the addressees, while another may construe that he was not. The same could have been the case with Iblees – he could have construed that he was included in the directive or he could have felt that it was meant solely for the angels. But to clarify this situation, the Qur’an at another instance explains:
All the angels fell down prostrate, but Iblees did it not. He refused to be among those who prostrated. God said: O Iblees 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. (Al-Hijr 15: 30 – 33)
At another instance, the Qur’an explains:
Then we said to the angels: Bow down to Adam. They bowed down, except Iblees. He was not among those who bowed down. God 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. (Al-A`raaf: 7: 11 – 12)
Then again, the Qur’an says:
So the angels bowed down, all of them. But Iblees did it not. He showed haughtiness and became a rejecter. God said: O Iblees, 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. (Sa’d 39: 73 – 76)
In all these verses, we see that Iblees was asked why did he refuse to bow down to Adam. Had Iblees construed from the words of Al-Baqarah 2: 34 that the directive was only for the angels, he would have said so in reply to the question. But as the cited reply clearly shows that the reason Iblees did not bow down to Adam was only his pride. This really means that the words of the directive, although they could have been construed as addressing only the angels, were actually meant for all those that were present and the angels were addressed liberally. Moreover the dialogue between God and Iblees also shows that there was no doubt in Iblees’s mind that he also was supposed to bow down to Adam in response to God’s directive.
24th February 1999
- God, the exalted. [↩]