Was Iblis (Satan) a "fallen angel" or was he always a jinn?
By: A. Mohamed

Traditional Muslim scholars state that Iblis was always a jinn and was never an angel. They make this claim on two grounds:

Angels do not have free will, and thus they never disobey God. Since Iblis disobeyed God's command to prostrate to Adam then, he could not have been an angel.
2- The Quran states that Iblis was a jinn (18:50).

The purpose of this article is to analyse these two points in the light of the Quran.

The claim that angels do not have free will is not found anywhere in the Quran. It is only based on the interpretation of certain Quranic verses. The full analysis of this matter is found on the following page: Do angels have free will?

The words in 18:50 are indeed interpreted by the traditional scholars to mean that Iblis was always a jinn and was never an angel. To investigate the truth of this interpretation, it is necessary to read 18:50:

18:50] When We said to the angels, "Fall prostrate before Adam," they fell prostrate except Satan. He 'kana' (became) one of the jinn, and so he rebelled against the command of His Lord. Will you then take him and his descendants as allies besides Me when they are your enemies? What a miserable alternative for the transgressors!

The Arabic word
'kana' is left un-translated for the time being as it will be fully analysed later in the article. For now, the scholars who claim that Iblis was never an angel are required to explain why the command to prostrate to Adam fell on Iblis if he was never an angel? God clearly said in 18:50 that He commanded "the angels".
The reply most scholars give is that the command fell on Iblis because, even though he was not an angel, yet he was in the company of the angels when the command of God was issued.
This explanation falls short when we read the words in 18:50.

First, we do not find evidence anywhere in the Quran to support the claim that Iblis was a jinn in the company of angels.
Second, the words in 18:50 state categorically that God commanded 'the angels' to prostrate. God never said that He commanded the angels, plus whoever was in their company!

We must accept that God knows exactly what He is saying, and that His words are always very precise. As a result, to add any additional meaning to God's words (such as: plus whoever was in their company) is to corrupt the Quranic truth.
The only rational conclusion we derive from 18:50 is that since God commanded the angels, and that they all obeyed except Iblis, then by definition, Iblis must have been one of the angels, otherwise the command would not apply to him.


It now remains to analyse
18:50 to determine what is the correct meaning of the words 'kana min al-jinn'. Do these words mean that Iblis has always been a jinn? Do these words mean that Iblis was never an angel?

The word
'kana' holds the key to the correct meaning of the issue at hand. Almost all interpreters and translators understood this to mean "he was one of the jinn".
Is this the correct meaning of this sentence?
Accepting the word "was", as the correct meaning of 'kana' in 18:50, would make the whole verse meaningless! Basically, there would be no explanation as to why the command fell on Iblis when he was a jinn and not an angel?
Could it be that the word 'kana' is used in the Quran in other meanings and not only was?
This makes it necessary for us to research the word
'kana' further.

When we research various Quranic verses where the word
'kana' is used, we find that this word is used in the Quran in three different meanings:

Kana, to mean: 'is'.
The examples are found in the numerous verses which speak about the attributes of God such as:
" ......... God 'kana' (is) Forgiver, Merciful"4:129
The word 'kana' in such verses can only mean the present is since God is Forgiver and Merciful rather then was or will be.

Kana, to mean: 'was'.
" .......... and he (Abraham) 'ma kana' (was not) of the mushrikeen"6:161
The use of the word 'kana' in 6:161 can only be speaking about the past was, since at the time the Quran was revealed, Abraham had already been dead for a very long time.

Kana, to mean: 'became'.
"Recite for them the news of the one to whom We gave Our signs, but he peeled himself away from them, and so the devil pursued him and he 'kana' (became) one of the strayers." 7:175
The one spoken of in 7:175 became one of the strayers after he fell for the whispers of the devil.
" ........... the waves surged between them and he (the son of Noah) 'kana' (became) among the drowned."11:43

The word 'kana' in 11:43 cannot mean (was) since the son of Noah did not drown till after the waves separated them, then he became among those who drowned. Equally, the meaning cannot be (is) because Noah's son was drowned a long time before the revelation of the Quran, so God would not say that the son of Noah (is) one of the drowned.

Based on the above analysis, the only correct meaning that is in harmony with all the words in
18:50 is as follows:

1- God commanded the angels to prostrate to Adam.
2- Iblis disobeyed the command, which makes it necessary that he was one of the angels who were commanded.
3- It follows that the sentence 'kana min al-jinn' can only mean that Iblis became one of the jinn as a result of disobeying God.