Friday, February 5, 2016

A Worthy Adversary Part 5, Sin-prone Hallows

The title of my khutbah today is Sin-prone Hallows. This is Part 5 of A Worthy Adversary series.

The hadith body of literature is extremely vast, so I will only be exploring some of the hadith about Iblis and Satan which are in three of the most commonly accepted hadith compilations (Al-Bukari, Muslim, and Ibn Maja).

The first ahadith mentions Iblis by name, and is found in the Muslim collection Al-Jami’ as-sahih, 8:31:
“Abu Bakr Ibn Abi Shayba related that Yunus Ibn Muhammad related from Hammad Ibn Salama, from Thabit, from Anas who said that the messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace!- said, “When God formed Adam in Paradise, God bequethed him what He wished to bequeath him. Then Iblis began to walk around him to see what he was. And when Iblis perceived that Adam was hollow, he knew that he (Adam) was created as a creature who could not restrain himself.”

Iblis alone, among all the angels, is curious and intelligent enough to perceive man’s inherent weakness. Iblis uses this knowledge to his advantage, exploiting men and women and making them his slaves. From the time of birth, he initiates their entrapment by pricking them. This is why all babies cry out at birth, only two exceptions were ever made to this rule- Isa and Maryam.

From Muslim as well as Al-Bukhari:

“Abu Bakr ibn Abi Shayla related that from ‘Abd Al’A’la related from Ma’mar from Az-Zuhri, from Sa’id, from Abu Hurayra who said that the messenger of God- may God bless him and grant him peace!- said, ‘No child is born without Satan (Ash-Shaytan) pricking him. Then the child begins to cry out from the goad of Satan- except the son of Maryam and his mother.”

All three hadith collections use the same Arabic idiom to relate intimate nature of the relationship between Shaytan and human beings: “Inna ‘sh-Shaytan yajri min al-insan (or Ibn Adam) majra ‘d-dam” It is difficult to translate this into English, but the idea is that Satan is part of man’s very lifeblood (dam) . It is impossible to purge him because Satan moves along the same hollow path of arteries and veins (majra d-dam) through which human blood flows. To be alive means to know Satan in one’s very core, to kill him would entail self-destruction. Although the Quran tells us that God is closer to us than our jugular vein (50:16), hadith tell us that Ash-Shaytan moves through our veins.

When I thought about this, that humans are vulnerable because we are hollow, it reminded me of T.S. Eliot's poem, "The Hollow Men":

"We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar.

                    Shape without form, shade without colour,
               Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

   Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other kingdom
Remember us-- if at all-- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men"

Man is hollow and craves to be filled. Shaytan is more than happy to provide cheap promises which fill the gaps.

If all humans are hollow creatures which provide niches for Satan to dwell, then how much control did Satan have over the inner drives and psychic processes of Prophet Muhammad? Muhammad must also have been pricked by Satan at birth, so how did he rid himself of Satan’s taint? The hadith provide answers:

“Shayban Ibn Farrukh related that Hammad Ibn Salama related that Thabit Al-Bunani related from Anas Ibn Malik who said that the messenger of God- may God bless him and grant him peace!- was visited by Gabriel- may God bless him and grant him peace!- while he (Muhammad) was playing with some young boys. Gabriel seized him, threw him down on the ground and split open his chest. He removed his heart and removed from his heart a clot. And he said, “This is the satanic part of you.’ Then he washed it (the heart) in a gold basin with water from Zamzam. He mended it and put it back in its place…And Anas said, ‘I used to see the trace of this scar on his chest.’

In addition to the satanic taint, each and every man and woman have their own particular shaytan or jinn. Even Muhammad, whose interior was cleansed by Gabriel, had his own personal shaytan. However, with God’s help, Muhammad’s personal shaytan converted to Islam and thenceforth was a force only for good.

“Uthman Abu Shayba and Ishaq Ibn Ibrahim related that Ishaq told us that Uthman said that Jarir related from Mansur, from Salim Ibn Abi’l-ja’d, from his father, from ‘Abd Allah Ibn Mas’ud who said that the messenger of God- may God bless him and grant him peace!- said, ‘There is no one among you who does not have a jinn as his companion placed in charge of him.’ They said, ‘And you, too, O messenger of God?’ He said, ‘Even me, except that God came to my assistance and against him and he (the jinn) has become Muslim. Now he only urges me to do good.”

In traditional Muslim life, the spirit world constantly interferes in human life. Spiritual interference becomes a rational explanation for occasional irrational behavior. For example, uncontrolled rage is a direct result of satanic influences, and alleviation of this conduct is achieved by seeking refuge in God from “Ash-Shaytan ar-rajeem”, “Satan the Stoned”.

Satan also has the power to materialize in human form. By assuming this disguise, he can approach unsuspecting men and women in a non-threatening manner in order to seduce them. One of Satan’s favorite disguises is to approach a believer as a man seeking spiritual religious truth. He first asks about the origin of the heavens, the world, the creatures that live in the world, and about God’s prophets and messengers. The giveaway question is “And who created your Lord?” At this point, the good believer should recognize this as blasphemy and seek refuge in God.

Man’s confrontation with Satan in disguise occurs most often in the semi-conscious state, in the realm of dreams and sleep. In the dream world, Satan takes on much more frightening shapes. The hadith distinguish between dreams, al-hulm, and vision, ar-ru’ya. Dreams can be affected by satan, vision is only sent by God. The cure for al-hulm is straight forward; spit three times to the left, some add that one should change sleeping position. In contrast to al-hulm, a vision, ar-ru’ya, is to be cherished since it is linked with the revelation of God’s will. An ar-ru’ya often unveils things of consequence for one’s waking state.

Although Satan can take on nightmarish forms, Satan can also assume the dream form of a friend, lover, or family member- an effective method of leading a trusting believer astray. The hadith assure the community, however, that God will protect Muslims from ever seeing Satan disguised as Prophet Muhammad.

“Abu Marwan al-‘Uthmani told us and said that ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz Ibn Abi Hazim related from Al-‘Ala Ibn ‘Abd Ar-Rahman, from his father, from Abu Hurayra who said that the messenger of God-may God bless him and grant him peace!- said ‘He who sees me in sleep has truly seen me, for Satan does not take on my form.”

The hadith are very perceptive about shutting down the hysteria which may follow from spreading satanic dreams. The hadith tradition prohibits communicating frightening dreams of encounters with Satan to others. An oft-recurring hadith is about a man who dreamt that his head had been cut off and that his body was rushing after his rolling head. Muhammad calms the man by telling him that this is Satan’s way of messing with him. Additionally, the Prophet warns him that he should not advertise his dream to the community. “If Satan toys with someone of you in his dream state, do not under any circumstances tell people about it.” (Ibn Maja, Sunan, 2:1287 #3912). As refuge against continual bad dreams, believers are counseled to take refuge in God and recite the verse of the Throne (Quran 2:255).

Ash-Shaytan pervades the whole sleep process from onset of drowsiness to waking. Hadith warn people to cover their mouth when they yawn, lest Satan enter. The noise one makes as yawning is the sound of Satan’s laugh. Hadith counsel that upon waking, believers must purify their noses with water since Satan makes his home there during the night. During the night Satan ties a cord around the believer’s neck and knots it three times. If on waking, God’s name is invoked, one knot is loosed. The second knot is removed by making wudu, and the last knot is eliminated by making fajr prayers.

One last satanic influence during the night has to do with sexual intercourse.  Hadith tell believers to seek refuge in God when having intercourse, and God’s help and protection should be invoked to prevent Satan from harming the child that God may produce in the union.


Before I delve any further into the hadith literature, I feel I need to tell you that the first time I read through this section, I got very upset. Although many of these hadith were familiar to me, I had heard them from family, friends, acquaintances, and at the masjid, I didn’t like them. It was this kind of tradition that I have the most difficulty with and I reject or suspend much of it. I do not give it the kind of authority over my decision making that many within the Muslim community do.

In reviewing the hadith tradition, it is important to keep in mind what kind of things influence our decision making capacity. Are we guided by authority figures, ethical principles, lived experience, cultural values, orthodoxy, tradition, time of day, what we just ate, advertising or some combination of these factors? While I might deride a believer for being superstitious, might not that same believer deride me for being overly trusting in scientific studies? We all tend to put our faith in institutions and explanations that reinforce our ideas of authentic existence. When I take an ibuprofen for a headache, I am reinforcing my belief in the efficacy of modern medicine-  reliably reproducible studies which have been conducted on large patient populations to measure efficacy of a medication. When a Muslim says “Al-hamdu lilallah” after sneezing, he is reinforcing his belief in the efficacy of hadith- practices of the Prophet that have been handed down in a reliable transmission through generations of believing Muslims. Each of us believes in something, we choose to put our trust in different knowledge streams.

Debating who is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in a belief system is an exercise in futility because these belief systems are not necessarily derived from logic, they are primarily derived from sources that are believed to be authoritative and authentic. That is not to say these sources aren't important, but they cannot be evaluated using the tools of logic. As per Wittgenstein, "Whereof one cannot speak, one must be silent.” Instead of sinking time into debates of who holds the most authority or authenticity, let us instead examine how particular theories which explain phenomenon (hypotheses) can direct future actions. I think you can see some of this at work from the examples in the first part of this khutbah (i.e. irrational behavior as explained by spiritual interference), and I will continue to give more examples in my subsequent khutbah which will analyze the role of Ash-Shaytan in daily life through the lens of hadith literature.

As Muslims, we feel it is important to have spirituality in our daily lives. The challenge comes as how to have a healthy form of spirituality manifest itself in daily practice. We are made hollow, so what will we choose to fill these hollow spaces? The Quran reminds us of the importance of this task in 6:124;

And whomsoever God wills to guide, his bosom He opens wide with willingness towards self-surrender (unto Him) and whomsoever He wills to let go astray, his bosom He causes to be tight and constricted, as if he were climbing unto the skies; it is thus that God inflicts horror upon those who will not believe.”

In this ayah, the word for ‘tight and constricted’ is arajan, which in Arabic has the connotation of thick vegetative growth, the kind that you find in a dense forest that chokes out the light. If we fill our hollow spaces with things and practices that take us away from God (excessive drugs, alcohol, sex, pursuit of material gain), these practices in the long run have an end point- complete despair, “as if he were climbing unto the skies”. This is a terrible emotional horror, one that can be fully experienced on this earth. While the pleasures of this world may seem like short-cuts to spirituality, they are not. They do not lead to healthy growth, they do not bring one closer to God, they are dead ends. Only faith and self-surrender to God can bring us light, hope, and peace of mind.

My closing du’a is from Quran 60:4-5.  “Our Lord, on You we have placed our trust, and to You we are penitent, and to You is the eventual returning. Our Lord! Do not make us a cause for their pleasure for those who are ungrateful and forgive us. Our Lord! Truly You are the Mighty, the Wise.” 



Peter Awn “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

 T.S. Eliot The Complete Poems and Plays 1909-1950 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: New York) 1971, p 56

The Message of the Qur'an translated by Muhammad Asad (The Book Foundation: Bristol) 2003


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