Understanding Satan in the Quran Provides for Progressive Islam

Adam and Eve
Where was Eden, wherein Satan seduced Adam and Eve?

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

Satan or Iblis is mentioned no less than 60 times in the holy Quran. Is Satan a real physical entity or only a metaphorical construct?

The understanding of Satan by 1.6 billion Muslims is bogged down by the commentaries of these verses by numerous scholars in the last 1400 years.

I have found Jāvēd Ahmad Ghāmidī to be one of more progressive scholars in recent times and I have learnt from him on several issues, yet his description of Satan, even though modern in some ways is still elusive in other ways and self-contradictory, for his obsession with Jinn as beings created from energy, among his other ideological limitations. He is a Pakistani Muslim theologian, Quran scholar, Islamic modernist, exegete and educationist. He is also the founding President of Al-Mawrid Institute of Islamic Sciences and its sister organisation Danish Sara.[1] He became a member of the Council of Islamic Ideology (responsible for giving legal advice on Islamic issues to the Pakistani Government and the country’s Parliament) on 28 January 2006, where he remained for a couple of years.[2] He also taught Islamic studies at the Civil Services Academy for more than a decade from 1979 to 1991.[3] He was also a student of the famous Islamic scholar and exegete, Amin Ahsan Islahi. He is running an intellectual movement similar to Wastiyya in Egypt on the popular electronic media of Pakistan.[4]

Here are his videos about Satan in Urdu:

Before dwelling further on this subject that many will find controversial, let me say, read on and in the words of Sir Francis Bacon, “Read not to contradict … but to weigh and consider.”

I believe the best understanding of Satan and the best commentary of these verses is provided in light of modern psychology and biology and a short description here will clarify centuries of debate and also give us a paradigm for a progressive understanding of the holy Quran and Islam.

Study of human mind in the last two centuries in the field of psychology has not shown any evidence of thought insertion by external beings in normal and healthy human functioning.  As a physician and a student of psychology, I know, I own all my thoughts and am responsible for them.  All Knowing God can reveal Himself to the prophets and saints, He is Omnipresent and Omniscient, attributes that our conscience refuses to attribute to Satan, or we will be believing in almost two Gods, one of virtue and the other of evil, akin to a belief in Zoroastrianism.

Please find all the sixty two mentions of Satan or Iblis in the Quran, in the references below.[1]  In each instance it is easy to attribute the sin or misconduct to human failings rather than an external invisible being. I will examine just one instance here today, “And he who turns away from the remembrance of the Gracious God, We appoint for him a Satan, who becomes his companion.” (Al Quran 43:36) As someone gradually grows away from the concept of All Knowing God, who is All-Aware of our inner most thoughts and all our deeds, he becomes more and more vulnerable to sins and crime, as human psychology and daily experience suggests and we need not invoke an external Satan. Suggested reading and viewing of a National Geographic documentary: All Knowing, All Seeing God Keeps Us Away from Crime and Sin: See the Evidence.

The holy Quran describes a meeting of God, angels, Satan, Adam and Eve on several occasions.  Such a meeting never happened in a physical sense and is only a metaphor.  A metaphor that was very necessary for the first addressees of the holy Quran, the seventh century Arab desert dwellers, unless Allah was going to teach them all about human biology and evolution, with proofs and details.  A discussion which would have been very likely to transform the struggle for spiritual life into modern day debates among the creationists and evolutionists.

Homo-sapiens have evolved from chimpanzee like animals in the last 200,000 years or so.  Molecular biology has become fool proof evidence for the common ancestry of all life on the planet earth.  The debate is over as far as this aspect of evolution is concerned.  Now only the ill informed or stubborn debate this issue.

Watch the logical presentation of molecular biology in the short video below and think, would you rather agree with this or with the convoluted  description of Jāvēd Ahmad Ghāmidī above?

If our understanding of the 62 verses talking about Satan and Iblis is guided by human psychology and biology, rather than an insistence on literalism, then stage is set for reading the holy Quran with an open mind, rather than in a fixed framework of our ideology and instead of using the scripture for legalistic debates we begin to read it in the privacy of our minds for a better understanding of religion for individual spirituality, rather than making it into a dueling sport or the basis of our politics or governance.

The Eden from which Adam and Eve were expelled was not somewhere in heavens or paradise, but on this very planet earth!

Suggested reading:

Biology of Our Human Family: Who are We Related To?

Jinn: Do They Exist?

Hamza Yusuf on Jinns: Powerful Men or Demons?

Saving the Muslims From Exorcisms and Jinns

The Holy Quran and the Seventh Century Arabian Metaphors

Reading the Quran and the Bible Literally Means Demons and Jinns Will Rule Humans

Possessed by Jinns: Many Medieval Muslim Scholars Need Exorcism


  1. 2:34, 36, 168, 208, 268; 3:175; 4:76, 117, 120; 6:43, 142; 7:11, 27, 175, 200, 201; 12:5, 42; 15:17, 31, 32;  16:63, 98; 17:27, 53, 61; 18:50, 63; 19:44, 45, 68, 83; 20:116, 117, 120; 22:3, 52, 53; 24:21; 25:29, 55; 26:95;  27:24, 25; 29:38; 31:21; 35:6; 37:7; 38:41, 74, 75; 34:20; 36:60; 41:36; 43:36, 62; 47:25; 58:10, 19; 59:16; 67:5; 81:25.

We have saved the above videos in the Muslim Times as well to preserve them for the posterity:

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