Surat al-Baqara / Tafsir

“Iblis is not an Angel…”: Tafsir of al-Baqara Verse 34


A Tafsir of al-Baqarah Verse:34

“Iblis is not an Angel…”


The noble shaykh `Ata Ibn Khalil (Allah protect him) in his monumental commentary on surat al-Baqara entitled al-Taysir fi Usul al-Tafsir[1] says: {and when We said to the Angels, prostrate to Adam; so they all prostrated except Iblis. He refused, was arrogant and became one among the disbelievers…}.[2]

After Allah created Adam (as), He commanded the Angels to prostrate before Adam and so they all did. What is clear from the verse is the following:

1]. Allah ordered the Angels to prostrate before Adam and prostrating is an act of worship specifically for Allah. {And we have not created human and jinn except for worship}.[3] Hence, the order here [to the Angels] to prostrate before Adam is a decisive request (talab jazm) by Allah, i.e. it is an obligation (fard); because if it were not an obligation [from Allah], then prostrating before Adam would have been a major sin and act of disbelief. This is therefore an indication (qarina) for the command being decisive according to the scholars of Usul [al-Fiqh]. Therefore, the command {prostrate!} is an obligation due to the aforementioned indication.

2]. Iblis – Allah’s curse be on him – refusing to prostrate was an act of disobedience against Allah’s command. This disobedience (`isyan) was actually out of [his] denial and rejection (inkaran) of the truth and validity of Allah’s command. As a result, Iblis had committed disbelief in that because the one that does not execute or carry out Allah’s command out of deliberate denial and rejection disbelieves. {He asked: ‘what prevented you from prostrating to Me when I commanded you?’ He replied: ‘I am better than him! You created me from fire and you created him from clay!’}.[4] In other words, Iblis – Allah’s curse be on him – thought that Allah’s command was not correct or valid. Thus, whoever does not implement a decisive obligation, in actuality is denying and rejecting it and so becomes a disbeliever. There is no doubt in this nor is there any disagreement.

3]. The exception here is [grammatically] that of ‘discontinuation’ (munqati`): {they all prostrated except Iblis}, i.e. the Angels prostrated but Iblis did not prostrate; so Iblis is not from among the Angels. The particle {except} in the verse here is grammatically munqati` which takes the meaning of ‘but’ (lakin). This is clear from another verse: {When we said to the Angels, ‘prostrate before Adam’, they all prostrated except Iblis. He was from among the jinn and transgressed from His Lord’s command}.[5] Therefore, Iblis is not from the Angels but the jinn.[6] [End].


  • The general legal reasoning is that if something is forbidden or unlawful and the Legislator commands the commission of that unlawful act, then it must be that the reason for which the unlawful act was permitted must itself be obligatory. The legal schema is as follows: If A is unlawful and the Legislator commands the permission to perform A for some other reason B, then it must be that B is something equally important and obligatory in nature to A.[7] Example: It is strictly forbidden to kill a Muslim (or anyone for that matter), but in the case of a person who attempts to disunite the Muslims after their election of a Khalifah by claiming political right to be khalifah, it is permissible to prevent him even it results in killing him. This must mean that it is not permissible to have to Khalifahs. It also means that the political unity of Muslims is mandatory.[8]
  • Iblis’ rejection of Allah’s command was an indication of his disputing the suitability, correctness and validity of that command. Instead of submitting to it, he questioned its truth offering his own reasoning as to its invalidity. This is the height of arrogance and defiance against Allah. > the same attitude controls many Muslim academics, scholars and intellectuals who bring forward reasons – often couched in formidable academic language – as to the unsuitability or even the invalidity of Allah’s commands – especially those related to punishments and politics. When the clear ruling of the Qur’an and Sunnah are presented, they object to its validity either because of: 1) secular moral principles, 2) lack of confidence in the ruling to solve the problem it was legislated for, 3) believing the legislation is chronologically locked in the historical past and not extendable; 4) believing Islamic rulings are no longer viable; 5) believing the rulings are actually incorrect and 6) misinterpreting the legal sources to obviate the ruling’s applicability.
  • The grammatical rule mentioned in Arabic relates to the exceptive particle “إلا” (harf al-istithna’). In traditional grammar, the exceptive sentence has two key parts: [1] the general thing from which the exception is made, i.e. the antecedent clause (that which is before إلا) known as the al-mustathna minhu; [2] then there is the consequent clause that is the excepted element (that which comes after إلا) known as the al-mustathna. The example in the verse above is that of the istithna’ munqati` (‘the discontinuous exception’) where both the antecedent and consequent clause are heterogeneous (not of the same category). > In the verse, the sentential structure is: ‘they all prostrated’ [= al-mustahna minhu], ‘except’ (harf al-istithna’) and ‘Iblis’ (al-mustathna).

And with Allah is all success.


[1] `Ata’ Ibn Khalil, al-Taysir fi Usul al-Tafsir, p.70.

[2] See Q. 2:34.

[3] See Q. 51:56.

[4] See Q. 7:12.

[5] See Q. 18:50.

[6] Other arguments put forward for the belief that Iblis was from the jinn include:

1) his property of free will, i.e. jinn have moral freedom and are accountable as a result whereas Angels have no moral freedom (Q.66:6; 21:26-27; 16:49-50).

2) he was created from fire whereas Angels were created from light (Q.7:12; 38:76; 15:27; 55:15).

3) he has offspring whereas Angels do not possess the property to reproduce (See for example, al-Tabari, Majma` al-Bayan, 1:507; Ibn Taymiyya, al-Majmu` al-Fatawa, 4:346 and Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, 6:369).

[7] Cf. for example, Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, pp.70-71.

[8] See al-Nabhani, Nizam al-Hukm, pp.92-94 (6th edn.) for details and evidences.


Why not leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s