What is Evil, according to Islam? Where did all forms of evil come from, and what role does it play in the life of humankind? Fazlur Rahman answers these questions in this chapter of his book, Major Themes of the Quran, by dealing with the following topics: the creation of Satan and Adam at the same time, Evil’s master strategy in this world, and the concepts of self-destruction and choice.
Created with Adam
"When We told the angels, ‘Bow down before Adam,’ they all bowed. But not Iblis, who refused and was arrogant: he was one of the disobedient." (2:34)
It is interesting to note that in the Quran, Evil (personified as “Satan”) doesn’t come into existence until Adam comes to existence. Before Adam’s creation, there was simply a spirit (jinn) named Iblees. Once God created Adam, He asked all of the beings in heaven to bow down to this new creature made from dust. Only Iblees refused to do so, and by disobeying God’s orders he became Satan. It was at that moment that Evil was created.
So the story of Evil began with the story of humans. Evil will live along with humans, since Satan promised to try to make humans stray from God until the Day we all come back to Him. Only with the end of the human story will Evil too come to an end.
Evil’s Master Strategy
"Satan has caused to look attractive to them the [evil] deeds they had been perpetrating." (6:43)
So if Evil will always exist as long as humans exist, we need to understand how it works to protect ourselves from it. Satan, the being that represents Evil, has a very simple “master strategy.” This strategy is to make the passing, temporary things in this world look much more attractive and important than they are, and to make the truly central and productive things in our lives look less attractive, less important and feel more of a burden. If we are able to recognize that, we can overcome the evil in ourselves and in our lives.
Self-Destruction and Choice
"Eat of that which God has given you as [good] food, but do not follow the footsteps of Satan for he is clearly your enemy." (6:141)
But what’s the problem with Evil? Why do we make such a big deal about it? An act is not evil because God just decided to call it evil for fun. An act is evil because God knows that this act eventually leads to our own destruction. If we are all allowed to steal or kill, we will lead to both the destruction of our moral selves and the destruction of our civilization. There will be no way for life to go on smoothly without such acts being denounced as Evil.
If evil leads to self-destruction, though, how can Satan be free to roam around and make us do his Evil? Well, he can’t. All he can do is tempt us towards evil by using his “master strategy” – making the good look bad and bad look good. We ourselves chose whether or not to “follow in his footsteps.” That is the test we face in this lifetime: whether we will fall for Evil’s passing tricks or chose what is lasting, which eventually leads us to success and to God.