First let's go into the slightly tumultuous start of the relationship between mankind and angels.
The verses quote Allah as saying He is going to make a man out of, essentially, mud (clay, water, a mess that can make sounds... it's translated as "sound making clay"). Physical form.
"I am going to create a deputy on the earth!" (2:30)
The angels said,
"Will You create there one who will spread disorder on the earth and cause bloodsheds while we, along with your praises, proclaim Your purity and sanctify Your name?"
One thing to note, the angels mention that not just praise was due to God (which many people do acknowledge), but also the fact He has no partners. Allah responded,
"Certainly, I know what you do not know."
Then the Qur'an goes on to say,
And He taught Adam the names, all of them; then presented them before the angels, and said, 'Tell me their names, if you are right." They said, 'To You belongs all purity! We have no knowledge except what You have given us. Surely, You alone are the all-knowing, all-wise!' He said, "0 Adam, tell them the names of all these!' When he told them their names, Allah said, "Did I not tell you' that I know the secrets of the skies and of the earth, and that I know what you disclose and what you have been concealing.
The commentary on this,
In replying to them, Allah first adopted the mode of authority, and told the angels that they knew nothing about the nature and the needs of deputation on the earth, and that Allah alone was the one to know it fully. The second answer was in the mode of wisdom - Adam had been given preference over the angels on account of his superiority in the station of knowledge, because in order to function properly as a deputy on the earth one must know the names, the properties and the characteristics of the things to be found there, and the angels had no aptitude for this kind of knowledge.
Then, Allah demonstrated the truth to them in a vivid form. He gave to Adam a kind of knowledge for which he alone had been endowed with the proper aptitude, and not the angels. That is to say, He taught him the names, the properties and qualities of all the existents, animate or inanimate. Angelic nature is not capable of such awareness - for example, an angel cannot really experience the pain of hunger and thirst, the tumult of passions, the torment from the bite of a scorpion or a snake, or the exhilaration from an intoxicant. Only Adam had the capacity to learn such things, and he was taught to know them. Then, there is no indication in the Holy Qur'an to show that he was taught in privacy, apart from the angels. It may well be that the teaching in itself was open to the angels as well as to him; his nature allowed him to receive it, and he learnt the lesson, while, they were impeded by their own proper nature, and could not. Or, it may be that the teaching did not take an external form at all, but that the Adamic nature was made to carry this particular kind of knowledge within itself without the need of a formal education, just as an infant does not have to be taught how to suck the mother's milk, or a duckling how to swim. As to the question why Allah, being omnipotent, did not change the nature of the angels and make them learn these things, we shall say that the question, in fact, boils down to this: Why did not Allah change the angels into men? For, if their nature had been altered, they would no longer have remained angels, but become men.
Since they failed to name the things which Adam could, they came to see that purity and innocence is not the criterion in choosing a deputy or viceregent but the knowledge of the things which are to be found on the earth, of the ways of using them, and of the consequences which would follow from such a use.
Even, from a human perspective since the angels didn't seem to get it, it's kind of obvious that a creature made in the way Adam was, from the earth itself, was going to be suited for that environment.
Before I continue, let me paste the footnote (added by Mufti Taqi to the commentary written by Mufti Shafi),
Some Modernists have zealously taken to the habit of interpreting these verses as implying that man as a viceregent of Allah is required to make a 'progress' in 'Science' - that is, in the empirical study of physical phenomena; a so-called 'Muslim' translator of the Holy Qur'an has even had the temerity to translate the name 'Adam' by the English word 'Man', thus denying the existence and prophethood of Adam. In order to dispel such grave errors and distortions of word and meaning, let us point out that the 'names' which Allah taught to Adam do not refer merely to the chemical or biological or psychological properties of things and men, but to their essential qualities and aptitudes - we are using the word 'essential' in the technical and metaphysical sense of the word in which it was originally used in the West too.In other words, yes, empirical (physical) knowledge is important but not more important than metaphysical (religion). The former is, in fact, a branch of the latter. That's the way science arose in the Muslim world.
We've established that angels, beings of divine or heavenly light who are "slave-willed" to Allah (and thus quite possibly the most "powerful" things Allah has created, even one could probably destroy the Earth if they were ordered) are distinct from the nature of man who's a bag of flesh and blood, an outgrowth of mud (this process is described in detail in the hadith).
Next we come to Iblis, who he was, what his nature was, what he did, and why he did what he did.
Iblis was a djinn. What is a djinn?
And We created man from a sound-giving clay made of decayed mud. And "the Ja(a)nn" (the first Jinn) We had created earlier from the fire of the hot wind. (15:27)
Djinn are created, it's related, from the smokeless and invisible tip of fire. This very obviously is referring to the convection currents you see when during a hot summer day there is shimmering above the pavement. The shimmering is from the light refracting as it passes through an altered medium, a mass of air which is not uniform in heat, and the shimmering takes the appearance of the patterns of heat dispersed in the air.
Just as our consciousness subsists in the firing of electrons, a mixture of chemical and electrical energy, within the closed system or mass of our brain, the djinn subsist on what we believe to be heat energy of an open system (not within a closed physical system). Thus their consciousness is disembodied and "floats" around, traveling on turbulent patterns of convection currents.
We don't know what their tolerance is to what temperatures but it's assumed that any amount of energy at all would do as a medium since it's assumed they (or at least some) can travel through the cold reaches of space. So it's not actually heat per say that distinguishes them from us, since energy can be converted from mechanical to chemical to heat, but the fact that "heat energy" is a more pure form of "unrestrained" energy. It's the simple movement of energy from "one body, region, set of components, or thermodynamic system to another in any way other than as work." (Wikipedia)
Whereas we must perform work (and toil, exerting great effort) to engage in manipulation of energy (i.e, transfer), the djinn's will is more directly connected to its mode of self expression which becomes comparatively effortless.
We do not know how limited the djinn is because in theory if a consciousness can subsist in that fashion it could also theoretically subsist in all manner of energy transfer, including electromagnetic or even gravitational energy. It's likely the djinn are limited to overt thermodynamic forms, however.
This is a concept that has been explored in science fiction. One hard science-fiction author, Stephen Baxter, wrote of such creatures in his works.
If you want to gain some idea of what it could possibly be like to be such a thing, here is the story of one of Baxter's characters:
In the above story, the character is a human whose consciousness has been converted into this other form. He retains the "personality" and outlook of a human, no matter how much the author tries to deduce what the motivations of such a lifeform would be. The character reflects the obsession with naturalism and materialism of the modern scientific age (being a sci-fi work after all). His humanity in this new form is what makes it an interesting story.
Now imagine something which was never human to begin with. The djinn do not care about the physical world to the same degree, they do not care about the science behind ideas of work, power, energy. They are too busy engaged in experiencing the world to study it. What we spend so much time studying through hints and shadows they directly experience and aren't impressed by. In fact, they rather find us fascinating. They cluster around the presumably fascinating patterns of energy embodied in living physical creatures, longing for vicarious experience of our simpler physical senses. The perception of a djinn, though vaster in scope, cannot be as acute as our nervous system where everything is the nervous system (and not anything else) and entire sections of this closed network are activated in a synchronous symphony of sensation.
We're trapped in our subjective worlds, cut off from the objective reality (the Unseen and to an extent, the physical world too). We can retreat into our powerful imaginations where in each person's head is an assembled simulation of a world corresponding to their experiences filtered through their physical senses. This is sometimes likened to the experience of being a "god" (lowercase g) in that all we experience is the sheer seeming power of our will to create and destroy a world of thoughts. The activity in our brain is so frenetic we often cannot even control it. A djinn would be absolutely fascinated by this, our brain, one of the most complex organizations of energy contained in physical matter in which resides a consciousness. On the other hand, our experiences are deadened in our imaginations. A djinn's experience in the real world must be something like this thus they are lusting for richer experiences. A djinn in the real world is like an adult human in his imagination while awake (it's not that great). It certainly doesn't compare to real physical experience from our nervous systems. Would you rather eat an imaginary apple or a real one? So we are quite tailored to the nature of this universe and this world in particular.
And this is not unique to Islamic culture. This is the general story of how "ghosts" or "spirits" or "demons" behave, it's almost universal in human culture. Everyone describes these creatures doing the same thing, "possessing" people to experience what they experience or even attempt to exert some form of control. The human body can become like a vessel for them, they merely need to move their disembodied consciousness into an embodied form (our minds). It's a druglike euphoric experience for them according to popular belief (not just Islamic).
Iblis, however, is not so easily impressed. Iblis was, ironically, a magnificent personality among the djinn. He was, as the Ma'riful Qur'an describes to 2:34,
Iblis had attained such a high degree in science and knowledge that he was called Ta'us al-Mala'ikah: "The Peacock Among the Angels."
Iblis behaved a little more like we did, appreciative of the physical world, but he also was among the ranks of the angels. Whereas a typical "petty" djinn would be concerned with random plants and animals on a life harboring world, Iblis probably took great enjoyment in appreciating his nature. If a human were in that form, as the above story showed, they would forget the acute physical experiences (which are old hat for us) and just enjoy the sheer freedom and seeming power of being able to go anywhere and do anything.
To quote a character from the science fiction series Battlestar Galactica, a robot (a product of human science and thus obsessed with our idea of science, being even more intricately connected to the physical world) trapped in a human body who wanted something more (and hated humans),
I don't want to be human. I want to see gamma rays, I want to hear x-rays and I want to- I want to smell dark matter. I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws... and feel the solar wind of a supernova flowing over me. ... I'm a machine... and I can know much more.
In other words, make up for the lack of acuteness of physical perception with sheer grandeur of experience which can only be appreciated by having considerable knowledge. As the Ma'ariful Qur'an said, Iblis was an expert of knowledge, of 'ilm, what can be translated as both knowledge or science.
So that was Iblis. Who thought he was Allah's seeming "favorite", who was asked to bow before an infant consciousness encased in a bag of flesh and bones and given knowledge by Allah which he had not been privy to. He had just been upstaged by man (specifically Adam (as), more specifically Muhammad (saw) who is the most beloved of mankind to Allah and mankind is more beloved to Allah than the other creation).
It was jealousy and also pride. The jealousy is obvious, we'll focus on the pride. Iblis was able to appreciate the nature of his creation as a djinn so much so that he felt it was the best form. In so doing he lost sight of what was important to Allah, which is reflected in the Divine Names or Attributes, which could be properly reflected in any mode of being if the free willed entity so chose. And mankind chose it. The djinn, unlike man, were of a mischievous disposition, prone to chaos and evil. There are good believers among them but the majority are of this former fitra (disposition). This was also tied in to the nature of their being. It's easy to become drunk on power and forget that God alone is the true agency of power when your will is so directly connected to your means of self expression. Humans, walled off from the outside world by our subjective interpretation of limited physical experience, are more predisposed to appreciating their own utter lack of agency (and indeed the skepticism of causal agency is rife in all cultures now, both Islamic and Western).
Who would be more likely to say "wa la hawla wa la quwwata illah billah" (there is no power/change/initiative/capability except through Allah)... djinnat or insaan (man)? Man (the believers) is constantly uttering this.
Iblis, through his considerable knowledge, rose above all this and took his place in Heaven among the angels.
The faith of Iblis compared to the faith of a common man is like the example of a rationalist philosopher who believes in God because of the rational need for a necessarily existent self sustaining "cause" or more aptly put, "Creator". The faith of such a man is based in his firm and unshakeable conviction in this logical piece of knowledge (he knows it as surely as he knows 1 plus 1 equals 2). The common man, however, is the one who doesn't understand much of the world but utters "wa la hawla wa la quwwata illah billah" anyway because of his own personal experiences in his immediate environment during the course of his life (one might say due to this natural inclination to accept his own inadequate capability and powerless will).
And truth be told there has been no lack of knowledgeable philosophers who believed in God in the above manner but then were led astray by their intoxication with their own brilliance. They believed their iman is superior to the common man in the second example because he lacks understanding. And while this may actually be the case, it is not necessarily so, as God is the judge.
God doesn't want you to explain to Him how His own creation works. He knows. He created it. He wants your voluntary worship. He wants you to reflect the Divine Names/Attributes. He wants you to love Him and fear Him (worship), not try to lecture the already omniscient deity. Knowledge and understanding are then great in this context only, as amplifiers allowing us to reflect His glory to a larger degree.
So, Iblis refused to prostrate to Adam. He became arrogant in his high rank and station. He succumbed to his kind's nature. This is not to mean that no djinn can overcome their nature, plenty do and will be rewarded for it, just as the case is with man (and even most of humanity will choose evil over good).
All the angels obeyed but Satan refused. In his haughtiness he claimed that he was made of fire while Adam was made of clay, and fire being superior to clay, he could not be expected to prostrate to the latter.
And thus Iblis became Shaytan. It should be noted that according to the commentaries, "Shaytan", is not his actual name. It's a title of sorts or more like the genus or species (the philosophical terms, not biological). And Iblis is of those (the highest one). They're distinct from mankind and djinnat though their ranks are filled from djinns (predominantly) and men. It is a genus one joins or becomes.
The rest of the story is well known. Let's focus on the mode of Shaytan's deception of Adam and Eve.
It's general belief from the orthodox tradition that Adam was created in Heaven via a process akin to abiogenesis. He was created destined to be Allah's vice-regent on this earth, therefore he was created from the actual material of this earth (elements gathered from around the planet). Adam is not believed to have been born to anyone by the overwhelming majority of Muslim interpretation (i.e, the story is not a metaphor). It's believed Adam and Eve likely knew they were in Paradise temporarily (their purpose was the earth) or were warned of possible banishment by Allah (as stated in the Qur'an). So they had some trepidation of having to leave Paradise.
Then the Satan instigated him. He said, "0 'Adam, shall I guide you to the tree of eternity and to an empire that does not decay?" (20:120)
Then Satan whispered to them, so that he may uncover to them what was covered of their shame; and said, 'Your Lord has not prohibited this tree for you, but to avoid your becoming angels or your becoming eternal." And he swore on oaths, "I am one of your wellwishers." So he cast them down by deception. So, when they tasted (the fruit of) the tree, their shame became apparent to them, and they began to patch together upon themselves some leaves of Paradise, and their Lord called them, "Did I not forbid you from that tree, and did I not tell you that the Satan is an open enemy for you?" (7:20-22)
According to general Abrahamic tradition the tree is sometimes identified as the Tree of Knowledge or sometimes two trees are postulated, the one of knowledge and one of life (that Shaytan refers to). More probably Shaytan referred to the Tree of Knowledge as one which would grant eternal life in Paradise instead to trick Adam.
Adam and Eve, in their preoccupation with the possibilities, ate from that tree.
And since all this has been about knowledge, what knowledge was intentionally imparted to them by Shaytan via the mechanism of this forbidden fruit? "What was covered of their shame". In other words, they were snapped out of their "newborn" innocence (their "Paradise mode") and prematurely reverted to their "Earth mode" whereby they became cognizant of their animal nature (as mammals). It would be like suddenly going through puberty in a moment while being naked next to a member of the opposite sex who was also naked. Their instincts automatically kicked in and they scrambled to cover themselves.
Shaytan wanted to shame them, to humiliate them, to make them taste the (according to him) inferiority of their pathetic physical animal (mammalian) existence. To put them in their place and remind them of what they are, no more than what he would consider lowly animals. Now Shaytan knows the true nature and potential of humanity but he is jealous that it was given to a flesh and blood vessel and not to himself, so he knew they were superior to himself but wanted to bring them down out of spite and malevolence.
We don't know the exact mode of communication between Shaytan and the two humans. It could have been speech outright if he took the form of something (popularly depicted in Western tradition as a snake). Or he can whisper to them in a manner not unlike that depicted in the aforementioned science fiction novel and the character Paul.
This raises the issue of what power djinnat hold over us. I'll cover this in a different post.
The point thus far is to elaborate a bit upon Shaytan's motivations and view of humans. This leads to the controversial views of evolution among theists.
Where did evolution come in you ask? First, let's be clear about the view of evolution among Muslims.
Now, it's been put forth by some (mostly Christians) that Darwin's theory of evolution (or rather, the theory of the evolutionary origin of man from predecessor species) is inspired by Satan himself. Sounds a little extreme, doesn't it? Easy to dismiss and I don't fault anyone for doing so.
However, one needs to simply think about it. What would make Shaytan the happiest? Tarnishing mankind and lowering their ranks. When mankind starts attributing themselves to mere animal descendants of previous generations of animals, everything Shaytan "believes in" (out of hate and spite) is vindicated. This is what he has been saying all along (not literally, as he witnessed their creation in Heaven, but in the manner that mankind is no better than inferior animals compared to himself) and now the humans are saying it themselves. He takes enjoyment in the idea that he rose to the highest ranks of creation (at the time) with his free will, knowledge and initially his love for God... while his "usurper", man, is rolling around in the mud with animals even denying his own status as vice-regent of the Creator in this world.
This current level, where a significant portion of mankind has shed any metaphysical aspirations and classifies themselves as animals, is the most Shaytan has ever had to be happy about thus far since the incident in Paradise with Adam.
Do I believe Satan somehow inspired Darwin or other evolutionary biologists? I don't. But I think this view of humanity's origins is one which makes him (in fact all of the Shayateen, whether from djinnat or man) very happy because we are inadvertently shaming ourselves worse than ever before.
(Said by Azazil (Iblis) to Adam while the latter was being created)
Iblis' name before he disbelieved was Azazil. Let me conclude with this to shed some light on what Iblis thought of Adam before he was ordered to prostrate to him,
Abu Hurairah narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: "Allah created Adam from dust after He mixed the clay and left him for some time until it became sticky mud, after which Allah shaped him. After that Allah left him till it became like potter's clay. Iblis used to go past him saying 'You have been created for a great purpose.' After that Allah breathed His spirit into him. The first thing into which the spirit passed was his eye and then his nose. He sneezed. Allah said: "May your Lord have mercy upon you, O Adam! Go to those angels and see what they would say.' So Adam went and greeted them. they replied saying: "Peace be upon you and the mercy and blessings of Allah." Allah said: "O Adam! This is your greeting and that of your offspring." (Sahih al Bukhari).Iblis would pass by (and through) the figure of Adam so closely as to buffet it and the clay would make a sound like potter's clay. It's reported by Ahmad in his Musnad that while doing this he noticed the body had cavities in it and deduced the nature of this being (that it would survive on physical sustenance, food and water) and figured out it must be important. Still, the presence of Adam's form left he and the angels who passed by in trepidation.
Adam was created from the soil of the earth (gathered from all over the planet) and the water of Paradise and it is related that he had a swarthy complexion. Biologists of our day have postulated that clay was important as a substrate for the primordial soup (or methane/sulpher bubbles, or whichever theory you prefer) from which life first began on earth.
A number of hypotheses of modes of formation have been put forward. Early cell membranes could have formed spontaneously from proteinoids, protein-like molecules that are produced when amino acid solutions are heated–when present at the correct concentration in aqueous solution, these form microspheres which are observed to behave similarly to membrane-enclosed compartments. Other possibilities include systems of chemical reactions taking place within clay substrates or on the surface of pyrite rocks. (Wikipedia)Their current problem with this hypothesis is figuring out how information stayed coherent because in experiments "mutations" in information overcome the amount of information preserved from generation to generation.
James Ferris's studies have shown that clay minerals of montmorillonite will catalyze the formation of RNA in aqueous solution, by joining activated mono RNA nucleotides to join together to form longer chains. Although these chains have random sequences, the possibility that one sequence began to non-randomly increase its frequency by increasing the speed of its catalysis is possible to "kick start" biochemical evolution. (Wikipedia)
A model for the origin of life based on clay was forwarded by A. Graham Cairns-Smith of the University of Glasgow in 1985 and explored as a plausible illustration by several scientists. Clay hypothesis postulates that complex organic molecules arose gradually on a pre-existing, non-organic replication platform—silicate crystals in solution. Complexity in companion molecules developed as a function of selection pressures on types of clay crystal is then exapted to serve the replication of organic molecules independently of their silicate "launch stage".