As explained in the previous post, Surat An-Nass (114), which means “people,” is one of two short Surahs (chapters) of protection, the other being Surat Al-Falaq (113), a prayer for protection from “outer” dangers, explained in the post linked above. This, the final Surah of the Quran, is a du’a or prayer/ supplication for protection from inner dangers, from that which could get to our very hearts, feeding us lies that confuse us about the truth. Once deluded, our inner compass, our intuitive sense of truth and falsehood, loses its direction and we become lost. We might even become passionately lost, inverting real ethics by refusing to listen to any truth and looking at Good itself as bad, until what is harmful to us and leads to our total destruction becomes, we insist despite obvious illogic, the true Good. The Quran, in Surat Fatir 35:8, asks the question, “Then is the one to whom the evil of his deed has been made attractive so he considers it good [like one rightly guided]?”
Protection from Inner Dangers
The destruction imposed on us by inner dangers is far worse than that of outer dangers, which destroy our lives, relationships, and our personal “world.” That itself is pretty comprehensively bad. One might well ask, “What could be worse?” But all that involves survival in this world of time, whereas the destruction of our hearts and souls causes eternal catastrophe, wherein people themselves become the allies of falsehood and delusion, of those who reject Allah the Exalted, the All-Merciful Himself, and thus, reciprocally, must also be rejected and cut off by the Almighty.
فَذُوقُوا بِمَا نَسِيتُمْ لِقَاءَ يَوْمِكُمْ هَٰذَا إِنَّا نَسِينَاكُمْ ۖ وَذُوقُوا عَذَابَ الْخُلْدِ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ
So taste [punishment] because you forgot the meeting of this, your Day; indeed, We have [accordingly] forgotten you. And taste the punishment of eternity for what you used to do.”Surat Al-Sajda 32:14
Separation from Allah means separation from His all-encompassing mercy, and is the definition of hell. So protection from that possibility is far more important, and this Surah reveals through closer study just how strong it really is — if we actually read it, mindfully, for by doing so we acknowledge our greatest vulnerability, being easily swayed by lies into our own undoing. And being aware of that, and of Allah’s power to guide us, empowers us to make sound choices, thus disempowering the “retreating whisperer”, exposed as a voiceless, envious liar with nowhere to hide.
Structure of Surah 114
The Surah in Arabic is at the top of this post for those who can read it and also for those who cannot, to compare certain aspects of its arrangement and language.
This Surah (114) is easily both distinguished from and shown its affinity with its “twin” Al-Falaq (113) by its structure. So let’s begin by presenting the Surah vertically in English followed by an explanation.
The Arabic word for “the people” is An-Nass, spelled here as it is pronounced. Compare it to the Arabic word for “sneaking whisperer”, al-waswas al-khan-nass, also spelled as it is pronounced, showing how this word “al-khannass,” which means “retreating/ hiding”, referring to Satan and his minions, ends in a sound which is also the word for people!
So it is a deception; Satan is posing as a person but he is not a person. Unable to speak with a full voice but able to go into the human heart and tell it to do evil or destructive things without the human being aware of what is happening, here in the “heart” position, aya 4, satanic influence is the ultimate danger. Thus Allah the Exalted exposes for all to see and hear exactly how and where Satan and his minions try to undermine our faith and our very souls from the inside.
As one can see above, all ayat in this Surah end in the word “people” (emphasized in bold), in Arabic An-Nass, except aya 4 which represents the “heart” of this Surah and in ourselves, which is in the suddur or “chest.” This is where thikr Allah (invoking and bringing to mind Allah the Almighty, All-Merciful) also resides, providing us the most powerful ally against deception and self-destruction. Hence this Surah of protection begins with three invocations.
These 3 invocations of Allah, using 3 different names, define the overall structure of this Surah, ayat 1-3 clearly bringing Allah to mind before revealing the sneaking whisperer working to make our lives miserable in aya 4, and in our hearts.
Each invocation is a separate aya, against one evil, whose harm derives from, essentially, Satan’s envy of Adam, envy being the final consummé of evil/ harm from Surah 113. Whereas in 113, a single invocation sufficed for four separate evils/harms, here the danger of the “sneaking whisperer” requires the power of three invocations.
The first invocation begins as in Surah 113 using the word Rabb, commonly translated as “Lord,” in this Surah 114 “of the people.” The Lord of the people refers to Allah the Exalted’s relationship to people as their guide and also “upbringer.” The second invocation, “King of the people,” refers to Allah’s ultimate authority, over the jinn (see below) as well as humankind, as they too have free will but not exactly in the same way we do—at least for Satan we know there is no forgiveness or repentance. The third aya invokes “God of the people,” showing us that humankind as well as jinn have no other God to worship, because there cannot be any actual God other than the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, the Most High, the Almighty. Since we are all worshippers by nature (worship being alliegiance and devotion from the heart), if we do not worship Allah the Exalted we will worship something else, which will obviously be vastly inferior and powerless. Prayer establishes the heart as a “place of worship” over time, hence the requirement in Islam for daily prayer and thikr.
Ayat 5 and 6 further elaborate on this danger posed by Satan (Shaytan in Arabic), telling us that he “whispers” into our hearts, and that he could be from either humans or jinn, giving us a distinct understanding of who “satan” is or can be in the plural sense: anyone who entices us to commit evil, sins or in the worst case, become an enemy of faith in the Almighty, All-Merciful. First, jinn, often translated in English non-Quranic references as “genies,” (largely from translations of the classic Arabic tale A Thousand and One Nights) are understood in the Quran to be a separate race of sentient beings created of fire (one might think of plasma or smoke in modern terms), who are capable of influencing people as described in this Surah, which is different from “possession”, a wholesale takeover of a person by a jinn (associated with exorcism or “casting our demons”).
What the Quran refers to here is not possession but rather influence, with none of the drama of strange voices and mysterious apparitions. The aim of the satanic jinn here is, without being detected, to cause human beings to lose their sense of right and wrong and commit evil and crimes and thus go to hell with him, and to use deception to accomplish this aim by fooling/ deceiving people, then ordering or enticing them to sin, earning God’s anger. “Possession” would in this case defeat the purpose, which is not to make a show but rather to change your behavior. Although we have discussed the jinn here to clarify misconceptions, it is important to note that “satans” can also be people, human beings like us, but acting under his influence, as minions or slaves of Satan.
The history in the Quran of our contact with Satan is important to understand more about who he is, for much of what’s left of the subject in Christian literature on the subject is erroneous (e,g., the cartoonish horned red guy with a sharp tail and a pitchfork). Satan in the Quranic narrative has “tribes” and “descendants” referred to as devils or “satans” in the Arabic plural form. But what created the enmity between Satan and Adam was envy: because Allah ordered Iblees, Satan’s name before he disobeyed Allah, and all the angels to prostrate to Adam, Iblees became envious of Adam, considering himself, made of fire, superior to Adam, created of mud. Allah’s preference of Adam over him (apparent in the order of prostration) made him extremely envious, and he vowed to take down all of his descendants to prove their inferiority to him.
قَالَ مَا مَنَعَكَ أَلَّا تَسْجُدَ إِذْ أَمَرْتُكَ ۖ قَالَ أَنَا خَيْرٌ مِّنْهُ خَلَقْتَنِي مِن نَّارٍ وَخَلَقْتَهُ مِن طِينٍ
[Allah] said, “What prevented you from prostrating when I commanded you?” [Satan] said, “I am better than him. You created me from fire and created him from clay.”Surat Al-‘Araf 7:12
So Allāh the Exalted expelled Satan from Paradise for his disobedience and arrogance, after which Satan asked to be reprieved until the Day of Resurrection, which request Allah the Exalted granted (law of reciprocity). Then in arrogance and envy he bragged to Allah the Exalted how he would prove he was right not to prostrate to Adam by misleading all his descendants.
قَالَ رَبِّ بِمَا أَغْوَيْتَنِي لَأُزَيِّنَنَّ لَهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَأُغْوِيَنَّهُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ
[Iblees] said, “My Lord, because You have put me in error, I will surely make [disobedience] attractive to them on earth, and I will mislead them allAl-Hijr 15:39
إِلَّا عِبَادَكَ مِنْهُمُ الْمُخْلَصِينَ
Except, among them, Your chosen servants.”Surat Al-Hijr 15:40
Thus, here Iblees (Satan) acknowledges that he can have no power over Allah’s chosen servants among human beings. And so we must strive to attain that level of faith and sincerity to become one of Allah’s “chosen servants” whom He protects against the deceptive whisperer, who even acknowledges that “immunity”.
Regarding ayat 1-3: Like the two Surahs before it, Surah 114 begins with the word “say,” which is used extensively in the Quran, often addressing the prophet Mohammad, but also potentially addressing believers (in plural, making it easy to distinguish the two), and in this case, we are all collectively called upon to recite/ read this Surah, because The All-Merciful wants to give us this great protection. “Seeking refuge”, a term used in both Surahs 113 (Al-Falaq) and 114 (An-Nass), is in Arabic the word ‘authu and is used commonly in invocations followed by a reference to God, with the sense of “may God protect us”. This is a different word than nestayeen used in Surat Al-Fatiha also translated “seek refuge” but there distinguished as referring to Al-Raheem, the All-Merciful. Here we are calling upon Allah’s power and mercy altogether, first as Lord of the people.
Emphasis on Us
Notice that by repeating “people” at the end of each aya, a strong emphasis is placed on us, humans with free will, to whom the whole Quran is directed. Importantly, by connecting the word “people” with invocations of The Exalted, we are ourselves reminded of Allah’s exaltation, and our direct connection to Him, from which we can, as people submitting to Allah alone, become who we were created to be. That is, to be one of those close to Allah to whom the angels prostrate. Or as mentioned above, His “chosen servants.” Once we sense ourselves being “influenced” to do what we know is wrong, we can understand that this is our moment to resist against that destructive whispering, and remember Allah the Exalted All-Merciful, who is closer to us than our jugular vein, and who gives us everything beautiful and fulfilling in this life and the next, whereas Satan rejoices only in our misery.
As all things in the Quran have an element of reciprocity, by invoking Allah’s names as given to us in this Surah, we are also invoking that aspect of ourselves as His chosen servants: Lord, the closest to us who cares and has mercy for us; King, the only Sovereign to whom we owe alliegiance of his power and authority; and God, the ultimate source of life, death, and resurrection. Put in simpler terms, He is our Guide, Commander, and Life-Source/ whom we worship.
As we read further regarding the nature of this danger, we find that it is our own inner gullibility and vulnerability that is under potential attack. Therefore we also, by reciting this Surah 114, implore protection from Allah to strengthen our resolve and our hearts not to submit to any sort of deception. Being made aware of the danger itself brings protection, reminding us to be vigilant and understand what the danger is.
The Quran gives us many examples of what the devils would whisper to us or what would be the likely point of attack. Among these examples are lists of crimes Satan promises to make humans commit.
وَلَأُضِلَّنَّهُمْ وَلَأُمَنِّيَنَّهُمْ وَلَآمُرَنَّهُمْ فَلَيُبَتِّكُنَّ آذَانَ الْأَنْعَامِ وَلَآمُرَنَّهُمْ فَلَيُغَيِّرُنَّ خَلْقَ اللَّهِ ۚ وَمَن يَتَّخِذِ الشَّيْطَانَ وَلِيًّا مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ فَقَدْ خَسِرَ خُسْرَانًا مُّبِينًا
And I will mislead them, and I will arouse in them [sinful] desires, and I will command them so they will slit the ears of cattle, and I will command them so they will change the creation of Allah.” And whoever takes Satan as an ally instead of Allah has certainly sustained a clear loss.Surat Al-Nisa’ 4:119
Other types of bad or destructive behavior are also encouraged.
إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ الشَّيْطَانُ أَن يُوقِعَ بَيْنَكُمُ الْعَدَاوَةَ وَالْبَغْضَاءَ فِي الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ وَيَصُدَّكُمْ عَن ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَعَنِ الصَّلَاةِ ۖ فَهَلْ أَنتُم مُّنتَهُونَ
Satan only wants to cause between you animosity and hatred through intoxicants and gambling and to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. So will you not desist?Surat Al-Ma’ida 5:91
Satan also made people aware of their private parts, of which they apparently were not aware in Paradise.
فَدَلَّاهُمَا بِغُرُورٍ ۚ فَلَمَّا ذَاقَا الشَّجَرَةَ بَدَتْ لَهُمَا سَوْآتُهُمَا وَطَفِقَا يَخْصِفَانِ عَلَيْهِمَا مِن وَرَقِ الْجَنَّةِ ۖ وَنَادَاهُمَا رَبُّهُمَا أَلَمْ أَنْهَكُمَا عَن تِلْكُمَا الشَّجَرَةِ وَأَقُل لَّكُمَا إِنَّ الشَّيْطَانَ لَكُمَا عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ
So he made them fall, through deception. And when they tasted of the tree, their private parts became apparent to them, and they began to fasten together over themselves from the leaves of Paradise. And their Lord called to them, “Did I not forbid you from that tree and tell you that Satan is to you a clear enemy?”Surat Al-‘Araf 7:22
This is another vulnerability. Now free will also extended to sexuality, and of course many crimes and forms of corruption have arisen from this one deception, which is now in a sense an inherited struggle.
يَا بَنِي آدَمَ لَا يَفْتِنَنَّكُمُ الشَّيْطَانُ كَمَا أَخْرَجَ أَبَوَيْكُم مِّنَ الْجَنَّةِ يَنزِعُ عَنْهُمَا لِبَاسَهُمَا لِيُرِيَهُمَا سَوْآتِهِمَا ۗ إِنَّهُ يَرَاكُمْ هُوَ وَقَبِيلُهُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا تَرَوْنَهُمْ ۗ إِنَّا جَعَلْنَا الشَّيَاطِينَ أَوْلِيَاءَ لِلَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ
O children of Adam, let not Satan tempt you as he removed your parents from Paradise, stripping them of their clothing to show them their private parts. Indeed, he sees you, he and his tribe, from where you do not see them. Indeed, We have made the devils allies to those who do not believe. (Emphasis mine.)Surat Al-‘Araf 7:27
In the above aya, notice the part telling us that Satan and his tribe see us from where we do not see them, as shown in aya 4, the heart position of Surah 114. Going deeper, the heart position has just two Surahs prior to this one, Surat Al-Ikhlas (112), illuminated as where Allah the Exalted also resides, when we become mindful of His Presence and actuality, and invoke His Name, in thikr Allah, remembering Him. This in turn, if we are indeed sincere, opens up our hearts to His guidance and protection.
Tips for detecting evil
We have in a sense been given eyes to see that are not limited to the eyes in our face. Indeed we do have “eyes in the back of our heads”, an intuition or fitra which has even been shown empirically in a portion of the brain which filters how we actually visualize and emotionally feel sensory input. But empiricism will not illuminate the scope of that sense, of those preternatural eyes, which can develop, just as brains develop, a “sixth sense” whereby we can recognize the “speaker” even if the sound is below whisper-range…by the content and message being delivered.
As the Quran said of those who follow the “sneaky whisperer”:
وَإِذَا فَعَلُوا فَاحِشَةً قَالُوا وَجَدْنَا عَلَيْهَا آبَاءَنَا وَاللَّهُ أَمَرَنَا بِهَا ۗ قُلْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَأْمُرُ بِالْفَحْشَاءِ ۖ أَتَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
And when they commit an immorality, they say, “We found our fathers doing it, and Allah has ordered us to do it.” Say, “Indeed, Allah does not order immorality. Do you say about Allah that which you do not know?”Surat Al-‘Araf 7:28
We can easily tell, guided by faith and the Quran, when we are tempted to commit immorality and oppression, that this is the “whispering” of Satan, who has basically one message which hasn’t changed since Adam and Eve (Hawa’): disobey Allah, follow your most destructive desires, and do as he (satan) commands you, not what Allah welcomes you to do. He praises the worst in us and encourages self-destruction, and all his promises are a delusion.
So in this final pair of Surahs we are given powerful protection and very specific du’as to call upon Allah, and they are especially effective in salat, the “formal” Islamic prayer, and whenever we bring our Lord and Creator to mind.
اتْلُ مَا أُوحِيَ إِلَيْكَ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ ۖ إِنَّ الصَّلَاةَ تَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ ۗ وَلَذِكْرُ اللَّهِ أَكْبَرُ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ مَا تَصْنَعُونَ
Recite, [O Muhammad], what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish prayer. Indeed, (salat) prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows that which you do.Surat Al-‘Ankabut 29:45
In Arabic, “remembrance of Allah” is thikr Allah. It is what your heart does with every heartbeat. It is the very heart of prayer. And it is the greatest protection and greatest security which has no equal. It is free, fulfilling, a joy, and everlasting. It is what we long for! “Indeed, only with thikr Allah are the hearts truly assured.”
الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ ۗ أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ
Those who have believed and whose hearts are assured by the remembrance (thikr) of Allah. Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured.Surat Al-R’ad 13:28
And being “assured” also strengthens the heart against satanic influence, motivating us to seek Allah’s Presence, guidance, and all-encompassing mercy. What power could mere whispers hold over us, when we realize the overwhelming power and encompassing love of our Creator and Sustainer, Allah the Exalted?