Modern trends in theology do hardly deal with the scriptural figure of Satan. It is probably because it would cause more perplexity to our theological struggle with the problem of evil and the question of free will. Nevertheless, the Qur’anic account of Satan’s disobedience towards God and the attitude Satan assumes against human being is very enlightening if one takes this scriptural figure as a metaphorical manifestation of human darkest potentials.
The Qur’anic account of Satan’s dismissal from Divine proximity is centred around the story of the creation of Adam:
“Your Lord said to the angels, “I am creating a human being from clay. When I have formed him, and breathed into him of My spirit, fall prostrate before him.” So the angels fell prostrate, all of them. Except for Satan. He was too proud, and one of the faithless” (Q 38:71-74).
After the creation of Adam, God commands Satan as well as all angels to prostrate to his creation. Satan rejects prostrating to Adam due to the latter’s inferior nature (as he was created from clay) and becomes, therefore, the bad man of the story. The traditional interpretation of this narrative regards Satan, rejecting Divine command, as a bad role model or a vicious guide for those human beings who disobey God’s commands and reject God’s law. In the thought of certain Sufis, including ‘Ayn al-Quḍāt Hamadānī and Rūzbihān Baqlī, however, Satan is regarded highly for having an exclusive love for God. According to this interpretation, Satan did not include any other being than God as subject to veneration, at the expense of being dismissed from heaven. Satan’s disobedience in this respect is thus interpreted by those Sufis as true submission to Divine will, which actually required Satan’s disobedience. Although Sufis agree upon the fact that Satan’s love for God was of an imperfect sort as it did not recognize the manifestation of the Divine in Adam, I would like to put into question the very claim that Satan’s attitude should, by any means, be identified as love. No matter how innovative the Sufi interpretation, it overlooks the deeper understanding of the concept of love, which bears respect and recognition. The traditional interpretation, on the other hand, already neglects a very subtle point (implied in Sufi interpretation) which would bring into light an important aspect of Satan’s sin: the fact that God has breathed into human being of His spirit. I would like to suggest that a big part of Satan’s sin in this regard lies in Satan’s refusal of acknowledging the Divine spirit in man. Satan is indeed a bad role model, but not only because of refusing God’s command, but also because of rejecting the Divinity within human being; the Divinity whose recognition in Adam would be a sign of love for God himself. Now the question is if this Divine element within human beings does not really require respect from all of us towards each other? Isn’t it the case that most evil we cause to each other is actually rooted in our disrespectful disregard of the Divinity within our fellow human beings and, therefore, in our lack of love for God and for each other?
Nasrin Bani Assadi ist Doktorandin am Zentrum für Komparative Theologie und Kulturwissenschaften in Paderborn.