In one of his articles1, Mr Katz has pointed out a contradiction in two verses of the Qur’ān. According to 16:49-50, the Qur’ān says that the angels are not arrogant and they do what God commands them to. While according to the second of these verses (2:34), when God commanded the angels to prostrate before Adam, Iblīs (Satan) refused to do so. Mr Katz writes:
The command of Allah is given to the angels. Since Iblīs is accused of not being obedient, he has to be one of the angels.
In this article, we shall look into the above contradiction pointed out by Mr Katz.
The fact is that the above contradiction stands resolved only by recognizing that the Qur’ān has declared that Iblīs was not one of the angels, but a jinn. The Qur’ān says:
And when We said to the angels: ‘Prostrate before Adam’, they all bowed down, except Iblīs -- he was a jinn and he haughtily disobeyed his Lord. (18:50)
However, one may ask that if Iblīs was not an angel, then how could he be said to have disobeyed God, by not prostrating before Adam, especially when the Qur’ān says that the directive of prostration was addressed to the angels.
In my opinion, the answer to this question is that according to the Qur’ān, although it was primarily the angels who were directed to prostrate before Adam, it was, nevertheless, expected of the jinn who were in the court at that time to follow suit. In other words, by directing the angels to bow down before Adam, God had directed a higher cadre of His creation to submit to a command, the lower cadre creations like jinn and any others that may have been present at the time, were expected to do the same. This style of speech is used in almost all human languages. For instance, when someone says: ‘When the Chief Justice enters the hall all the parliamentarians shall pay their respects by standing up for him’, he generally implies that all those present in the hall (personnel of the press, the foreign diplomats, the media personnel and guests of the members) should stand to pay their respects to the Chief Justice. The word ‘parliamentarians’ in such a sentence is not to signify that the directive is given only to those who are members of the parliament, but is a generalization in which a higher cadre of personnel is given a directive with the implication that others are also expected to follow suit.
However, even if we assume that the directive was misconstrued by Iblīs to be limited in its implication to the angels only, it would have followed that when God asked Iblīs: ‘Why did you not bow down?’, he should logically have said that 'I did not bow down because I was not commanded to do so'. But that is not the case. The Qur’ān says:
All the angels fell down prostrate, but Iblīs did not. He refused to be among those who prostrated. Allah said: ‘O Iblīs! What is wrong with you, why are you not among those who bowed down’. He replied: ‘I shall not bow down to something that you have created from sounding clay’. (15:30-33)
At another instance, the Qur’ān explains:
Then we said to the angels: Bow down to Adam. They bowed down, except Iblīs. He was not among those who bowed down. Allah said: ‘What stopped you from bowing down, when I directed you to do so’. He said: ‘I am better than him, you created me from fire and you created him from dust’. (7:11-12)
Then again, the Qur’ān says:
So the angels bowed down, all of them. But Iblīs did it not. He showed haughtiness and became a rejecter. Allah said: O Iblīs, what stopped you from bowing down to the one whom I created with My hands. Was it your pride [that stopped you] or are you among the elevated ones? He said: ‘I am better than him. You created me from fire while him you created from dust’. (39:73-76)
The above verses clearly show that although the words of the referred directive could have been construed to be addressed to the angels only, yet there was no doubt in Iblīs’ mind that he too was commanded to prostrate before Adam. His abstinence from prostration was not because of any misunderstanding of the directive but because of his haughtiness and arrogance.