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The Great Satan 'Eblis'

Known by many names, the Great Satan, called 'Eblis' in the Koran, is considered by many to be the enemy of God. Dr. Nurbakhsh, drawing from the writings of 'Attar, Rumi, Jami, Ebn 'Arabi and other great sufis, elucidates in this book the nature and significance of the fallen Angel in human form. This book draws together writings and stories about Satan by masters over centuries of the sufi tradition. Many of the great sufi mystics viewed Satan -- once supreme among the angels -- as a lover of God who refused to worship anyone but God.

According to Islamic tradition, when God shaped the first man from clay He commanded the angels to bow down before Adam. Satan refused, and God banished him from His court of Nearness. Whether praising or blaming Satan for his refusal, the sufis' discussion of Satan explores the dangers encountered by aspirants on the spiritual path. Their stories affirm Divine Unity, transcending the dualism of good and evil in popular imagination, and showing that in human experience, rather than a force outside ourselves, Satan symbolizes our self-deception when we heed pride or passions of the ego before truth in the heart.

Excerpt from The Great Satan 'Eblis'

Primitive man believed in a multitude of deities of virtues and vices, ascribing a god to each good or evil manifestation of nature. The religion of Zoroaster [the ancient prophet of the Persians] taught that the essence of power and knowledge and the fountain head of goodness, veracity, holiness and piety was called Ahura Mazda, while the source of evil, vileness, abomination, darkness, ignorance and cruelty was called ‘Ahriman’.

In the Semetic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) the power of Ahriman as a being independent of God was reduced, such that he was considered to be a creation of the Unique Godhead, albeit a disobedient and rebellious creation which did posses a certain amount of power. God called him ‘Eblis’.

Sufis found this representation of Eblis to be inconsistent with the school of Divine Unity and the creed of the unity of being (wahdat-e-wojud). In rejecting the Semitic representation they appeared opposed to religion, and so created problems for themselves.

In order to prove their adherence to Divine Unity, they had to address themselves to the problem of Eblis. Their consequent approach was, on the one hand, to repudiate the concept of absolute evil, positing that evil is relative, and on the other, to assert that the Unique Godhead possesses both wrath and grace, as well as beauty and majesty, and that Eblis is one of the manifestations of God’s majesty.

O you who have heard that there is no evil from him,
     the truth is that there is no such thing as a malicious being.
If the mirror of your heart is tarnished, an ugly
     person will appear as beautiful as an angel.


Both those sufi masters who sympathized with Eblis, considering him a true lover, and those who opposed him, regarding him as an impure traveler on the path, presented him as impotent and powerless. This caused them to lose interest in Eblis, and considering him to be utterly insignificant, they were free to devote themselves exclusively to the Unique Godhead, peerless and omnipotent.

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