Can the devil bring physical harm or hardship upon the believers?
This question has been debated by many over time and although the Quranic verdict is clear about this issue yet many are not aware of it. Many believers believe that Satan and the devils can actually bring physical harm upon the believers. However the Quran confirms that this is not possible.
Perhaps many have been inclined to this belief as a result of reading how the prophet Ayyub (Job) complained to God saying that the devil has caused him lots of harm.
"Remember our servant Ayyub (Job): he called upon his Lord, "The devil has afflicted me with hardship and pain" 38:41
It appears from Ayyub's complaint that the devil has actually caused him pain and hardship. Many will say that Ayyub was a prophet of God so he would know the truth. However, messengers of God are ordinary men who are just as fallible as anyone else. They too could misunderstand any issue or event they may experience. The case of Abraham when he totally misinterpreted the dream is a good example (see: Abraham's Sacrifice). Thus, and in the light of the Quran, we are still entitled to question: was Ayyub correct in his understanding that his pain and hardship were from the devil?
A search of this issue in the light of the Quran presents the following points:
1- When we read 15:42 and 17:65 we find God telling Satan that he does not have "sultan" on the believers. So what exactly is the meaning of the word "sultan"?
If we look up the word "sultan" in the dictionary we find that it means: power , control or authority.
It is rational to conclude that for the devil to be able to inflict physical harm, pain or hardship on the believers the devil must first have power over the believers. However, if he has no power over the believers (15:42, 17:65) then he cannot harm the believers. So what exactly is the devil able to do to the believers?
2- When we read 14:22 we see the devil saying (on Judgement Day) that he had no "sultan"(authority) over the believers, then he says that the only thing he did was "da'aawtakum"(enticed you) .... this is the only thing that the devil is able to to do to the humans "Yuwaswis" (as in 20:120) which means to entice by whispering.
The devil has no power over the believers, he cannot force them to do anything, nor can he inflict any harm on them. He can only entice and invite the human to sin.
3- When we return to 38:41 we read how Ayyub called on God saying that the devil has brought suffering upon him, but was it really the devil?
Well, let us read 2:214
"Do you expect to enter Paradise without being tested like those before you? They were tested with hardship and adversity, and were shaken up, until the messenger and those who believed with him said, "Where is God's victory?" God's victory is near" 2:214
From the above verse we learn some important points:
a- That hardship and adversity comes from God in order to test the believers (the same meaning is found in 2:155 and 29:1-2). It is not from the devil, it is from God, and it is the "Sabr" (patience) of the believers against this hardship that earns them the right to enter Heaven. The importance of "Sabr" (patience against hardship) is made clear in the Quran and is a requirement for entering Heaven:
"I have rewarded them today, in return for their "Sabr" (steadfastness), by making them the winners" 23:111
"Sabr" (patience against hardship) can only exist in the presence of hardship. If we are happy and without any hardship there would be no meaning for "sabr". All this confirms that it is God who puts us in hardship to test our belief and for God to find out the steadfast among the believers in the face of hardship and adversity.
It is part of God's plan to test us, but God does not only test the human with adversity, it is God's system that the human is also tested with various blessings like children, riches and other blessings. Many Quranic ayat indicate this truth.
b- We also learn from 2:214 that the messenger was one of the people who were inflicted with hardship and who called to God saying "Where is God's victory?".
This is not any different from Ayyub's call when he was in hardship and called on God to end his suffering. So in 2:214 God is telling us that the messengers will also be tested with hardship from God, and it is not from the devil. The devil does not test us, he only invites us to sin.
4- The Quran tells us that all bad things that happen to people happen for one of the following reasons:
a- As a consequence of something wrong they themselves did:
"Why did this happen to us?" Say, "This is a consequence of your own deeds" 3:165
b- As a punishment that God brings upon people for some sins which they have committed:
"If they turn away, then know that God wills to punish them for some of their sins. Indeed, many people are wicked" 5:49
c- Hardship and adversity could also be a test from God to test the humans "Iman" (faith) and his "Sabr" (steadfastness), this is in accordance to 29:1-2 and 2:155 and 2:214
So hardship can be a consequence of something we did, or it can also be a test from God.
Here an important point must be made: It is not the authority of Satan to punish the human nor to test the human's faith or steadfastness. This test is an exclusive right that belongs to God alone. And since hardship and adversity are consequences of one of the above, we can conclude that for that reason too the devil is not able to, nor has the authority to, harm the human.
The sole role of Satan on earth (him and his descendants the devils), is to whisper to us and invite us to commit sin, that is all they are authorised to do.
5- To confirm this truth even further, God tells us in 4:78:
"When something good happens to them, they say, "This is from God," and when something bad afflicts them, they blame you. Say, "everything comes from God" 4:78
If everything (good or bad) comes from God, then it is incorrect to think that some bad can come from Satan.
6- Finally, there are no words anywhere in the Quran that indicate or imply that hardship comes from the devil, except the words spoken by Ayoub. And since all the Quranic evidence points to the contrary, we must conclude that Ayyub was mistaken to believe that it was the devil who was afflicting the hardship and adversity on him.