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Depiction of a Shaitan (a devil) made by Siyah Qalam between the 14th and the 15th century

Shayn (; devils or demons), singular: Shayn () are evil spirits in Islamic belief, inciting humans to sin by waswasa? (, "whispering") to the heart ( qalb).[1] By such, they always try to lead humans astray.[2] Although devils are usually spoken of in abstract terms, and more often described by their evil influences only, they are depicted as ugly and grotesque creatures of hell-fire.

Etymology and terminology

The word ?ayn (Arabic: ‎) originated from the triliteral root ?-?-n ("distant, astray") taking a theological connotation designating a creature distant from divine mercy.[3] In pre-Islamic Arabia, this term was used to designate an evil spirit, but only used by poets who were in contact with Jews and Christians.[4] With the emergence of Islam, the meaning of shayatin moved closer to the Christian concept of devils.[5] The term shayatin appears in a similar way in the Book of Enoch, denoting the hosts of Satan.[6] Taken from Islamic sources, "shaitan" may be translated as "demon" or "devil".[7] Among Muslim authors, the term can also apply to evil supernatural entities in general, such as evil jinn, fallen angels or Tawaghit.[8][9][10] In a broader sense, the term is used to designate everything from an ontological perspective that is a manifestation of evil.[11]



The angels and the devils are the most frequently mentioned supernatural entities in the Quran. In the story of Adam and Eve, Iblis tempts Adam to eat from the forbidden tree, arguing, God only prohibited its fruit, so they shall not become immortal, as narrated in Quran 7:20.[12] According to Quran 15:16-18, devils rise against heaven in attempt to steal its secrets, but are chased by meteorites; however, unlike the jinn, they may partly succeed and snapping some information.[13] 2:102 mentions the devils as the teachers of sorcery. Quran 37:62-68 describes the fruits of Zaqqum, the tree of hell, as heads of devils. Surah 6:112 mentions devils among Ins (humans) and jinn. According to some exegetes, the term is used as an epithet to describe rebellious men and jinn, but others use it to refer to devils who tempt among the jinn or those who tempt among humans.[14]


The hadith-literature depicts the devils as malevolent forces closely bound to humans and points to the presence of a Muslim's everyday life. A shaitan is assigned to every human (with Jesus as exception), and devils are said to move through the blood of human. Sahih Muslim mentions among the devils five sons of Iblis, who bring everyday calamities: Tir, "who brings about calamities, losses, and injuries; Al-A'war, who encourages debauchery; Sut, who suggests lies; Dasim, who causes hatred between man and wife; Zalambur, who presides over places of traffic."[15] Devils try to disrupt the prayer or the ablution. Further, they might appear in dreams, and terrorize people. When someone yawns, the mouth should be covered, since the devils might enter the body. The sun is said to set and rise between the horns of a devil, when prayers should cease, since this is the moment the doors of hell open.[16] Sahih al-Bukhari and Jami` at-Tirmidhi state that the devils can not harm the believers during the month of Ramadan, since they are chained in Jahannam (Gehenna (hellfire)).[17]


The devils make up one of three classes of supernatural creatures in Islamic theology. But since they are invisible, like the jinn, some scholars put them merely under one category of the supernatural. However, the prevailing opinion among the mufassirs distinguish between the jinn and devils as following:[18][19]

  • Among the jinn, there are different types of believers (Muslims, Christians, Jewish, polytheists, etc.), however the devils are exclusively evil.
  • The jinn are mortal and die, while the devils only die when their leader ceases to exist. The father of the jinn is Al-Jann and the father of the devils is Iblis.[a]


The devils are beings of hell-fire,[21][22] and although their origin is not mentioned in the Quran (similar to the angels), Islamic scholars repeatedly asserted the idea that the devils have been created from either smoke[23] or the hell-fire itself.[24] Their exact origin is also up to interpretation. Different ideas have been proposed:

  • Fallen angels; whose who have disobeyed, from the tribe of Iblis and were cast out of heaven.[25]
  • Evil jinn; who turn into devils as result of their evil deeds.[26]
  • The offspring of Iblis; after he was banished from heaven.[27] This is the view most exegetes of the Quran ascribe to.[28]

Comparable to demons or devils in Christian theology, devils are incapable of good and limited to "evil". Abu Mufti writes in his commentary of Abu Hanifa's "al-Fiqh al-absat" that all angels, except with Harut and Marut, are obedient. But all devils, except Ham ibn Him Ibn Laqis Ibn Iblis, are created evil. Only humans and jinn are created with Fitra, meaning both angels and devils lack free-will and are settled in opposition.[29]

Some Sufi-writers connect the descriptions of devils mentioned in hadith to human's psychological conditions. Based on the notion that the devils reproduce by laying eggs into the heart of humans, Ghazali linked them to inner spiritual development. Accordingly, from the eggs laid on the heart, the offspring of Iblis grew and unite with the person, causing the sin the shaitan is responsible for.[30] He further explains the difference between divine inspiration and the devilish temptations of the devils, asserting one should test the inspiration by two criteria: firstly the piety and secondly whether the suggestion is in accordance with sharia.[31] He further elaborates an esoteric cosmology, visualizing a human's heart as the capital of the body, in constant struggle between reason ('aql) and carnal desires invoked by the devils.[32] Ali Hujwiri similarly describes the devils and angels mirroring the human psychological condition, the devils and carnal desires (nafs) on one side, and the spirit (ruh) and the angels on the other.[33]


Devils are assumed to visit filthy or desacralized places.[34] They tempt humans by their whisperings into sin and to everything disapproved by society.[35] It is commonly believed among folk Islam that saying bismillah, or reciting a certain supplication (du'a), like "A'uzu Billahi Minesh shaitanir Rajiim" or the Suras "An-Naas" or "Al-Falaq",[36] could ward off attacks of devils.[37] In 2:102, it states Solomon did not practise witchcraft but rather the devils. Witchcraft is also traced back to the devils (compare with the Christian understanding). Field researches in 2001-2002, among Sunni Muslims in Syria, recorded many oral-tales about devils. Ibl?s (Satan) and his lesser devils (shayn) barely appeared in everyday stories. It seems they are primarily associated with their role within Islamic scriptures, as abstract forces tempting Muslims into everything disapproved by society.[38] This fits the general notion that the devils whisper into the heart (qalb) of humans, but do not possess them physically and have no spatial existence.[39]

See also


  1. ^ A minority of scholars, such as Hasan Basri and Muqatil ibn Sulayman, disagreed with this view, holding that Iblis is both the father of the jinn and devils and accordingly equated with Al-Jann.[20]


  1. ^ Szombathy, Zoltan, "Exorcism", in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Three, Edited by: Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, Everett Rowson. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_ei3_COM_26268, First print edition: ISBN 978-9004269637, 2014
  2. ^ R. M. Savory Introduction to Islamic CivilizationCambridge University Press, 1976 ISBN 978-0521099486 p. 42
  3. ^ Mustafa ÖZTÜRK The Tragic Story of Iblis (Satan) in the Qur'an Çukurova University,Faculty of Divinity JOURNAL OF ISLAMIC RESEARCH ?slam Ara?t?rmalar? Vol 2 No 2 December 2009 page 134
  4. ^ Amira El Zein: The Evolution of the Concept of Jinn from Pre-Islam to Islam. pp. 227-233.
  5. ^ Jeffrey Burton Russell Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages Cornell University Press 1986 ISBN 978-0-801-49429-1 page 55
  6. ^ James Windrow Sweetman Islam and Christian Theology: Preparatory historical survey of the early period. v.2. The theological position at the close of the period of Christian ascendancy in the Near East Lutterworth Press 1945 University of Michigan digitalized: 26. Juni 2009 p. 24
  7. ^ Mehmet Yavuz Seker Beware! Satan: Strategy of Defense Tughra Books 2008 ISBN 978-1-597-84131-3 page 3
  8. ^ Robert Lebling Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar I.B.Tauris 2010 ISBN 978-0-857-73063-3 page 22
  9. ^ Gordon Melton, Martin Baumann Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices, 2nd Edition [6 volumes] ABC-CLIO 2010 ISBN 978-1-598-84204-3 page 117
  10. ^ Frederick M. Smith The Self Possessed: Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asian Literature and Civilization Columbia University Press 2012 ISBN 978-0-231-51065-3 page 570
  11. ^ Seyyed Hossein Nasr Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, An SUNY Press 1993 ISBN 978-1-438-41419-5 p. 70
  12. ^ Quran 7:20
  13. ^ Eichler, Paul Arno, 1889 Die Dschinn, Teufel und Engel in Koran [microform] p. 31. (German)
  14. ^ Teuma, E. (1984). More on Qur'anic jinn. Melita Theologica, 39(1-2), 37-45.
  15. ^ Hughes, Thomas Patrick (1885). "Genii". Dictionary of Islam: Being a Cyclopædia of the Doctrines, Rites, Ceremonies. London: W.H.Allen. pp. 134-36. Retrieved 2019.
  16. ^ Awn Satan's Tragedy and Redemption: Ibl?s in Sufi Psychology. With a Foreword by A. Schimmel Brill, 2018 ISBN 978-9004378636 pp. 45-60
  17. ^ Tobias Nünlist (2015). Dämonenglaube im Islam. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. ISBN 978-3-110-33168-4. p. 229 (in German).
  19. ^ Amira El-Zein Islam, Arabs, and Intelligent World of the Jinn Syracuse University Press 2009 ISBN 978-0815650706 p. 21
  20. ^ (turkish)
  21. ^ Fahd, T. and Rippin, A., "S?h?ayn", in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_islam_COM_1054
  22. ^ Marshall G. S. Hodgson The Venture of Islam, Volume 2: The Expansion of Islam in the Middle Periods, Volume 2 University of Chicago Press, 2009 ISBN 978-0226346878 p. 449
  23. ^ Seyyed Hossein Nasr Islamic Life and Thought Routledge 2013 ISBN 978-1-134-53818-8 p. 135
  24. ^ ANTON M. HEINEN ISLAMIC COSMOLOGY A STUDY OF AS-SUYUTI'S al-Hay'a as-samya fi l-hay'a as-sunmya with critical edition, translation, and commentary ANTON M. HEINEN BEIRUT 1982 p. 143
  25. ^ Chebel, Malek. Les 100 mots du Coran. ISBN 978-2-13-073291-4.
  26. ^ Lebling, Robert (2010). Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar. I. B. Tauris. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-857-73063-3.
  27. ^ El-Zein, Amira (2009). Islam, Arabs, and Intelligent World of the Jinn. Syracuse University Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-0815650706.
  28. ^ Amira El Zein: The Evolution of the Concept of Jinn from Pre-Islam to Islam. pp. 227-233.
  29. ^ Abu l-Lait as-Samarqandi's Comentary on Abu Hanifa al-Fiqh al-absat Introduction, Text and Commentary by Hans Daiber Islamic concept of Belief in the 4th/10th Century Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa p. 243
  30. ^ Peter J. Awn Satan's Tragedy and Redemption: Iblis in Sufi Psychology, Brill, 1983 ISBN 978-9004069060 p. 58
  31. ^ Abdullahi Hassan Zaroug "AI-Ghazali's Sufism: A Critical Appraisal", Intellectual Discourse, 1997 p. 150[ISBN missing]
  32. ^ Jurnal Ilmiah ISLAM FUTURA Vol. 17. No. 2, Februari 2018, THE INTERTWINED RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE NAFS (CARNAL SOUL), AQL (REASONING) QALB (HEART) Hyder Gulam Australian National Imams Council p. 207
  34. ^ Marion Holmes Katz Body of Text: The Emergence of the Sunni Law of Ritual Purity SUNY Press, 2012 ISBN 978-0791488577 p. 13
  35. ^ Gerda Sengers Women and Demons: Cultic Healing in Islamic Egypt Brill, 2003 ISBN 978-9-004-12771-5 p. 254
  36. ^ Rudolf Macuch "Und das Leben ist siegreich!": mandäische und samaritanische Literatur ; im Gedenken an Rudolf Macuch (1919-1993) Otto Harrassowitz Verlag 2008 ISBN 978-3-447-05178-1 p. 82
  37. ^ Gerda Sengers. Women and Demons: Cultic Healing in Islamic Egypt. Brill, 2003. ISBN 978-9-004-12771-5. p. 41.
  38. ^ Gebhard, Fartacek (2002). "Begegnungen mit ?inn. Lokale Konzeptionen über Geister und Dämonen in der syrischenPeripherie". Anthropos. 97 (2): 469-486. JSTOR 40466046.
  39. ^ Szombathy, Zoltan, "Exorcism", in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE, Edited by: Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, Everett Rowson. Consulted online on 15 November 2019<> First published online: 2014 First print edition: 9789004269637, 2014, 2014-4

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