Surah Zukhruf – Ornaments of Gold: The Satan that Doesn’t Exist


This is a Meccan surah named after the gold ornaments mentioned in verse 35, and alluded to again in verse 53: in both instances God is refuting the claim of the disbelievers that a true prophet would be rich and among the worldly elite.

The nonbelievers are focused on materialism and material success in so many different ways. For example:

The nonbelievers say, ‘Why was this Qur’an not sent down to a distinguished man, from either of the two cities?’ Are they the ones who share out your Lord’s grace? We are the ones who give them their share of livelihood in this world and We have raised some of them above others in rank, so that some may take others into service: your Lord’s grace is better than anything they accumulate. (43:31-32)

A similar argument was made by Pharaoh against Moses:

Pharaoh proclaimed to his people, ‘My people, is the Kingdom of Egypt not mine? And these rivers that flow at my feet, are they not mine? Do you not see? Am I not better than this contemptible wretch who can scarcely express himself? Why has he not been given any gold bracelets? Why have no angels come to accompany him?’ In this way he moved his people to accept and they obeyed him –  they were perverse people. (43:51-54)

This surah offers our spiritual life by accepting the message of the true prophets as a clear and lasting alternative.  The emphasis on the eternal Afterlife clearly demystifies the nonbelievers obsession with materialism:

If it were not that all mankind might have become a single nation of disbelievers, We could have given all those who disbelieve in the Lord of Mercy houses with roofs of silver, sweeping staircases to ascend, massive gates, couches to sit on, and golden
ornaments. All of these are mere enjoyments of this life; your Lord reserves the next life for those who take heed of Him. (43:33-35)

A psychological phenomenon, which is very prevalent in godless societies is best described in this surah:

And he who turns away from the remembrance of the Gracious God, We appoint for him a satan, who becomes his companion. And surely they hinder them from the way of God, but they think that they are rightly guided; till, when such a one comes to Us, he says to his companion, ‘Would that between me and you were the distance of the East and the West!’ What an evil companion is he! (43:36-38)

For centuries most believers have taken these verses and the understanding of satan literally.  But, in this age of information, with our knowledge of psychology and how our brain circuits work, it is becoming increasingly known that those who don’t live a life of religious observance and slack in their prayers and participation of religious rituals, gradually drift away from the paradigm of Personal God and become increasingly agnostic or atheistic. Satan today for all intents and purposes is a metaphorical concept.

In day to day communication now we understand that there is no external satan driving us around, but a gradual drift in our thoughts based on our daily personal and social life, can play havoc with our moral and spiritual lives.

Our brain is made of neurons. It is no wonder that whatever we do or think has, in the final analysis, to do with our neurons or brain cells. They communicate with each other at the junctions that are called synapses, also called neuronal junction, the site of transmission of electric nerve impulses. The synapse, with its neurotransmitter, acts as a physiological valve, directing the conduction of nerve impulses in regular circuits and preventing random or chaotic stimulation of nerves.


At a chemical synapse each ending, or terminal, of a nerve fiber (presynaptic fiber) swells to form a knoblike structure that is separated from the fiber of an adjacent neuron, called a postsynaptic fiber, by a microscopic space called the synaptic cleft. The typical synaptic cleft is about 0.02 micron wide. The arrival of a nerve impulse at the presynaptic terminals causes the movement toward the presynaptic membrane of membrane-bound sacs, or synaptic vesicles, which fuse with the membrane and release a chemical substance called a neurotransmitter. This substance transmits the nerve impulse to the postsynaptic fiber by diffusing across the synaptic cleft and binding to receptor molecules on the postsynaptic membrane. The chemical binding action alters the shape of the receptors, initiating a series of reactions.

Once they have been released and have bound to postsynaptic receptors, neurotransmitter molecules are immediately deactivated by enzymes in the synaptic cleft; they are also taken up by receptors in the presynaptic membrane and recycled. This process causes a series of brief transmission events, each one taking place in only 0.5 to 4.0 milliseconds. If the same neurons get fired over and over again, the connections or synapses between them get facilitated and can be activated easily. This forms the basis of human memory and a lot of other mental activities.

Scientific studies of different addictions like alcohol and gambling have shown that in addicts certain brain cells get facilitated for these negative activities, and their synapses continue to get reinforced. These neurons and synapses get so facilitated that as a result, addicts cannot control themselves against these addictions, as these cells keep firing. In other words whatever neurons repeatedly fire in our brain, end up determining our daily life and destiny.

To overcome negative emotions, thoughts and action we need to replace those with positive ones.  We want to charge our brain cells and synapses with Zikr illahi or remembrance of Allah, even in our idle moments and think positive thoughts, facilitating positive synapses and neurons that will determine our fate.

No wonder it is said, “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

If we facilitate wrong synapses those become our satan and if we facilitate those with the righteous memories and actions, those become our guardian angels. Such understanding of our satans and our angels, also underscores that better understanding of neurology and psychology is absolutely necessary for the right belief, understanding and actions. These modern fields of inquiry and study can no longer be shunned by the devout in the name of religion.

The modern understanding of the concept of satan also suggests that the Quran is a subtle book and its meanings evolve over time and it should be considered more as a personal guide, to be read and preached gently, rather than forced down the throat of others in a public debate, in a legalistic manner with rhetorical tricks played by lawyers in the courts of law.

We hope and pray that our commentary can serve the readers well in the domain of religion and science. To know the God of the Abrahamic faiths, please read our commentary of Surah Fatihah: The Opening.

8 thoughts on “Surah Zukhruf – Ornaments of Gold: The Satan that Doesn’t Exist

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  • We present below the transcript of a Question and Answer session held with Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru), Khalifatul Masih IV, Fourth Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, on 18th July 1995.

    Who or What is Satan/Iblis/Al-Shaitan?

    Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru): First of all, I would remind you that the word shaitaan (Satan) has been used in two clear connotations. Two aspects, or meanings, belong to the word shaitaan. One is of there being a person of some sort of fiery nature, or whatever it is; but he is an individual; a person. And the other is that human nature has an element of shaitaan in it itself. So these two aspects of the same word shaitaan are clearly understood from the study of the Qur’an and Hadith etc. and I’ll come to that.

    When it is a person, another question arises as to is it an invisible person who runs about everywhere and simultaneously is present with every man, and woman of course? Or, is it like a system of misguiding people, and the head of that system is that one person? Like Gabriel is the head of the system of revelation and Azrael is the head of the system of taking the dead out of the living, that is, death; he commands death. And there is a system of provision of food. Whether it is related to men or other animate subjects, it is all a very well-organised, a universally well-organised and balanced system of provision of food, which is controlled by [the archangel] Michael.

    So these are all systems which are headed by One Being of a type we cannot see, and Who has different dimensions.

    So it is not that one person runs about. If Satan is to be taken personally, as a person, then he is likened unto angels, but he is not made of the same stuff, and does not posses the same habits. The clear-cut difference between the two groups, which separates satanic character from that of angelic, is that angels do whatever they are told and they never deviate from the path set for them. They always follow their path strictly because it is the Divine Word, and they cannot disobey the Divine Word.

    Satan cannot obey the Divine Word, that is his problem, but he does not do it directly; nothing can disobey the divine word. So he has taken His permission, that by nature, I don’t like obedience, so if You can permit me till the end of the world, I will continue disobeying You and also I’ll continue to mislead people.

    So there is a full system whereby, like nobody knows Junood-e-Rabbi [(the hosts of my lord)] except Allah Himself, Allah knows his Junood, how many they are; they are numberless; angels. But each angel or groups of angels, all groups of angels are controlled by specific angels, and we know only the names of the heads, not of all the angels.

    So this is how I visualise good and bad, virtue and evil, to interplay with each other, and God has given us the choice; to follow the satanic insinuations, or angelic breathing of the spirit of God into us. So it’s a daily trial through which we pass.

    So this is one understanding of Satan. That means he must have a host of other similar beings who follow his orders, who run about and deliver certain messages of evil to people who are like-minded.

    The second is that as angels are also embedded in our nature, so also satans are embedded in our nature. Our nature has a dual character; it is inclined towards good, and inclined towards bad as well. But basically, when we were given the first way in life, we were all inclined to good. That is why Kullu mawludin yuladu ‘alal-Fitrati, wa kullu mawludin yuladu ‘alal-Islam [(Every child is born according to the nature of God, and every child is born in Islam)]. ‘Fitrah’ and Islam are one and the same thing. But when they grow up Abawahu yuhawwidanihi wa yunassiranihi etc., etc. [(His parents turn him into a Jew, or a Christian.)].

    So that is the meaning of a clean start. The start is clean, but then influences begin to be unearthed and the worst in man sometimes gains the upper hand and the best is suppressed, and sometimes the opposite happens. Those forces, which are outside forces, they abet the phenomenon, or other evil forces, which abet the phenomenon of the worst in us to come up; they are the satanic forces.

    So there has to be a Satan within man, otherwise the outside-Satan would not work. It has no authority over us, unless we were provided the instrument of evil inclinations within us. That is why the Holy Qur’an, speaking on this subject, says Alhamahaa fujuraha wa taqwaha, Qad aflaha man zakkaaha wa qad khaaba man dassaaha [Ch.91:Vs.9-11]. We were provided by Allah, and we were told – all that was created was told – “This is your right path; that is the wrong path.” Fujuraha wa taqwaha – the places where we tumble down, where we falter, where we go into pits and pitfalls, that is fujuraha. Taqwaha means be wary, don’t misstep, watch your steps, watch your turns. Allah says we have imprinted on the nature We have created, whether it’s the nature of man or animals, these two things, and deep within they know what is good for them and what is bad for them.

    So Wa qad aflaha man zakkaaha, whoever promotes the good in him, and always supports the good habits, to flourish; he goes on improving in quality and progressing on a sort of path of evolution from where he never returns, and continues to go to higher goals, occupy a higher station with Allah. And those who suppress these good tendencies, they begin to lose height, lose distance and begin to sink. And that is what Satan is, and that is what Satan does to us; he removes, or tries to remove us, in spiritual distance from Allah, and that also is called ‘curse’.

    La’nah (curse) is the distance between God and His creation. When a person wilfully distances himself from Allah, he is then working under the influence of Satan, and he works on the Satan within us. So that Satan within us is natural. It’s not an evil thing in itself. It’s just a propensity, a tendency, which is more than offset by the tendency of being good. The good has been given an upper hand.

    Those who do bad things, do it against their conscience. That is why, even in the worst man, when he begins to commit crime, the conscience had warned him, and it warned him in the first time like creating even an earthquake within him, a sort of quake; “What have you done?!” But later on, as he grows, as he continues to commit sins, the voice of conscience is subdued. That is Dassaaha. It begins to sink until it is lost.

    So this is as such, as I understand as a whole, what the name Satan means, what the purposes of Satan are, how he works on human beings, and this also is the explanation to the Hadith that when the Holy Prophet(saw) said that every man has his Satan running in his bloodstream. Somebody inquired, of course, amazed, “O Rasulullah (i.e. the Holy Prophet(saw)), even you?” He said “Yes, but my Satan has become Muslim.” That means that the voice of evil was suppressed by Rasulullah(saw) (i.e. the Holy Prophet(saw)) so powerfully and strongly, and was discouraged so much that it was killed. There was no more of Satan left in him. That is a total submission. But those who begin to listen to the voice of evil and continue to listen to it, on the contrary, their conscience is killed. And the only one thing running in their bloodstream is evil.

    Such a person becomes the personification of Satan. Such a person is referred to as Iblis; a human being who has offered himself for the Satan as a playground, as an arena for him to do whatever he pleases. The one who becomes an instrument in the hands of Satan, when he becomes a personified Satan, then he’s Iblis.

    So that is how I understand, there may be some mistakes in my understanding, but I think generally this holds true, this holds good, I mean my understanding, I think, is quite right.


    There is only one thing that I don’t follow, that is regarding the person of Satan….

    I already said that there was a person, and is a person. That person I said is like Gabriel. Gabriel on the right hand and right side, and Satan on the other hand, and he also sends ‘wahi’ on the people. You see? But he’s not just a single person. He is the head of a department of evil where so many other persons like him work under his command. So the Holy Qur’an says and other verses indicate that ‘shayatin’ (satans) are plural. It doesn’t mean that this Satan is giving birth to children, and he has a wife-Satan and this and that, it doesn’t mean that. Even right from the beginning, this is how the system was devised by Allah; he [Satan] is the head of the Satanic department, and there are so many Satans working under him. When they become personified in human beings, then we refer to them as Iblis. Right?

    So these ‘shayatin’ also descend on people like angels descend on people, and they are mentioned in plurals. So just to think there’s one Satan at the time of Adam(as) is wrong. The Holy Qur’an speaks of the two categories: Hal unabbi-ukum ‘ala man tanazzalush-Shayatin. Tanazzalu ‘ala kulli affaakin atheem. Yulqun as-sam’a wa aktharuhum kaazibun. Now these verses indicate that the Satan cannot descend on anybody unless he has a platform available for him. You see, without a runway, even the planes cannot descend. So some people have runways, ready-made in their hearts for the satans. So Allah tells [us]: “Shall I tell you who they are?” What sort of runways do they have in their hearts? Kulli affaakin atheem: The one who is a habitual liar; angels will not descend on him, why should they, because they stand so far apart? And the one who is a habitual criminal, a sinful person, Satan finds haven for himself, finds peace with him, descends there and he’s well taken care of, you know, most of them say Ahlan Wa Sahlan [welcome]. So the satans, not one satan; rather satans descend on such people. But as far as Hadhrat Rasulullah(saw) (the Holy Prophet(saw)) is concerned, He says: Wa ma tanazzalat bihish-shayatin wa ma yambaghi lahum wa ma yastati’un, that is “Satans, as far as Muhammad Rasulullah(saw) is concerned, no way can they descend! Who are they?!” They are far, far below; they cannot even dare to touch him.

    So these are satans, not Satan, or one single satan, which are a host of the evil forces whose head is Satan.


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