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Shaitan and Sufism

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Subject: Shaitan and Sufism
   Wed, 13 Jun 2001 12:10:55 -0700 (PDT)
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50010613 VI! om Hail Satan!

assalam alaykum, my kin.

"Blake Ross" 
> Haramullah

I appreciate the direction of this question to me, though I wish
to be sure that it is known that I am not part of a Sufi order
and have only a bare understanding of Sufi ideas. my study of
(the) Shaitan has run across many cultural terrains, however,
and I hope to reflect some of these here.

> What is the reality of Satan or Shaitan?

to Muslim Sufis it appears to be quite clear that Shaitan is
quite real, though from a variety of perspectives: that of a
principle of human failing akin to the nafs or ego to that
of a personal being who has a variety of relationships with
Allah (anything from being opposed and warring with the
Most Compassionate to being one of Hir Special Servants).

the history of the concept of Satan through time is well-
covered at least as an anti-God or personification of evil
by authors such as Jeffrey Burton Russell (a Christian),
in his mammoth four-volume series from Cornell University.

> Is he a real person or a angel or jinn or something else and
> what do those terms mean anyway?

presuming Shaitan to be a personal name or role....

here I begin to get on more shaky ground because there are so
many different understandings of these terms and some of them
I have only bare trek with on account of their cultural origins
(as Middle-Eastern culture is foreign to me and much of the
resource available describing beings like djinn is in a
language I do not understand -- I know only English).

that said, more often than not I understand Sufis to believe
in general that shaitan are a kind of djinni, rather than a
person proper. the djinn are beings like humans which Allah
created at the beginning of all things in their proper sequence.
they dwell in the spirit world. the Shaitan are those affiliated
with the element of fire, according to some, and they have a
Ruler whose name is Iblis. sometimes Iblis is called 'the Shaitan'
as if to imply 'the Chief of the Shaitan', all of whose purpose,
many Muslims presume, is to cause the downfall or wayward
straying of human beings in a kind of filter test.

sometimes there are individual shaitans described as assigned
to each and every human being to attempt this perversion from
the Straight Path, and sometimes the Shaitan (Iblis) is said
to be powerful enough to have dealings with many humans at the
same time. some believe that the shaitans are actually different
in character or substance (as elemental) than other djinn, and
others believe that they are all spirit beings whose order and
class is only a matter important to them (in the same way that
the differences between Christian sects are important to those
interested in Christianity). some djinn are known to be devout
Muslims, though rarely have I heard this ascribed to shaitans.
I have been told by Muslims at times that Shaitan is actually
just one of the leaders of Army of Iblis, and so teachings on
this subject vary considerably.

in any case, the most important factor I have heretofore been
told amongst Sufis with regard to Shaitan is with respect to
the qalb or "heart". as I (barely) understand this essential
Sufi teaching, the heart is said to be coarse and in need
of refinement by discipline and instruction, and is influenced
by the 'whisperings of Shaitan' until and unless the believer,
turning toward the proper path, begins to take the guidance of
Allah or one of Allah's faithful over Shaitan's whispers that
lead one into sin.

typically the Muslim Sufi believes that Shaitan is intending
to do evil, to thwart the cause of Allah, and thus to be in
perpetual combat with the host of heaven. however, there are
teachings amongst Sufis which indicate that Iblis-Shaitan and
the host of shaitans are actually performing a very important
and essential task, and that to condemn them or seek to keep
them from what they do is ITSELF contrary to Allah's interests.

> Does "he" really rule hell and what is hell?

there is a teaching (conventional Muslim, if memory serves)
that Iblis was the most devout of the djinn and refused to
acknowledge the importance or worthiness of Adam as was
desired by Allah. sometimes this is described as willful
disobedience (arrogance), sometimes as pride or envy, and,
believe it or not, sometimes an over-intensification of
regard for Allah! that is, some believe that Iblis is the
most fervent lover of Allah, but due to insufficient
submission to Allah's will, Iblis was sent away from the
vicinity of the Most Compassionate (and thus suffers very
horribly by being at such a remove -- banishment from the
presence of the Beloved).

where Iblis-Shaitan was sent appears to be disputed based on
the cosmological presumptions made by the Sufi or Muslim in
question. like Christianity, with whose ideas a great deal
of the cosmology of Islam may be favourably compared, some
believe in a literal underworld of torment for the damned
and some do not. some believe that Iblis-Shaitan rules this
underworld prison and some do not. some seem to believe that
there is no specific ruler of Hell but that Iblis and the
shaitans are all destined for the Fire of Hell and are all
taking the humans they can get to stray along with them at
the Judgement to come.

> If he rules hell, how come God let him rule it when God rules
> everything according to the general collective consciousness
> about God's dominion.

this question is related to the previous and yet I have not
touched yet on the IMpersonal ideas surrounding Shaitan and
Iblis, which are imperative to clear understanding of many
*mystics* (i.e. Sufis) who see their objective as one which
is completely internal and remedied by Sufi practices.

as a personal being, if Iblis-Shaitan rules the underworld of
torment, then to the Muslim generally this is usually (but not
always! there are those who believe in the non-interference of
Allah after the Creation) a LIMITED rulership, provided for
in the Great Plan set out by the cosmic God. that is, Allah
created things as they are for a REASON, and that reason
includes the role of the Tempter, the Adversary, the Slanderer,
or Opponent of God's employ to test to see who is among the
truly faithful. one may fruitfully compare this with the story
of Job in Jewish scripture, in which 'Satan' is actually the
OFFICE of one of Jehovah's angels, a kind of prosecuting
attorney doing the God's dirty work by arguing that one of the
apparently faithful is actually false to the faith and only
a worshipper because times are good. whether Iblis-Shaitan
rules this realm on account of being forced from the start to
depart the divine presence due to disobedience or envy etc.,
or whether this rulership is on account of the innate
wickedness of the entire 'race' of shaitans is a matter of
opinion even amongst those who share the belief in the
Underworld Ruler.

more important, to me, is the IMpersonal notion of
Iblis-Shaitan, which focusses more strongly on human personal
experience and how divine and infernal forces might influence
the mystic. as an impersonal aspect of nature or of human
character and development, Shaitan is often associated with
sinful innate desires, usually in the pursuit of pleasure or
violence contrary to the Divine Law (Shariah). this is true
whether or not the adversarial force is personal. however, in
the impersonal view, these forces may be tempered and driven
from influence on an individual with the proper education,
guidance, and disciplines, sometimes extending into such
practices as salat (worship) or zhikr ('remembrance (of Allah)',
though typically some kind of ritual practice.

that is, from the impersonal view, Shaitan may also not be a
part of us which is to be cast out so much as transformed,
changed toward maturity and integrated in its proper place as
part of a saint's character. I would not be surprised if
there are some factions of the Sufi world who believe that
the greater the power of one's personal Shaitan, the more
powerful and important is a conversion to the Straight Path
(the correct or spiritually pure way of being).

hell, by these understandings, also takes on an impersonal
or nonlocational aspect. instead of being a fiery place
where the wicked are sent after death or a Final Judgement,
it is a metaphor for the *quality of experience* to which
sin leads the individual. one's life may become a 'living
hell' by virtue of poor upbringing, poor choices, and the
adherence to the 'whisperings of Shaitan in the heart', a
way of saying that the person dwells in the unrefined nafs,
or egotism, rather than seeing the wisdom of pursuit of
virtues such as love, peace, and spiritual development.

in this way there are Sufis who, for example, PRAISE Shaitan
as a very important indicator of the OPPOSITE way we should
be proceeding along our mystical development -- a kind of
negative guide in contrast to the positive guidance of one's
parents, imams, one's sheikh, or that of Allah. obviously
there is no one way that this being, force, or metaphor, is
described either by Muslims or, as I understand it, by Muslim
Sufis, whose diversity and breadth of mind surely includes a
great deal of latitude, if my experience is any indication.

corrections welcome.

peace be with you,

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