This creation-of-Adam narrative is the 4th out of 7, and comes in Surat Al-Isra’ 17:61-5, consisting of only 5 ayat, each aya forming a section in a ring composition, with the third aya #63 in the middle.
Iblees/Satan Refuses to Prostrate but Has No Power over Allah’s Servants
The first Ayat is #61, in yellow as you can see in the graphic above. It begins with Allah the Exalted’s command to the angels to prostrate to Adam, which they all did, but Iblees, a jinn, was among them and did not prostrate. This is the same information as we found in the first aya of the creation-of-Adam narrative in Surat Al-A’raf (7) discussed earlier, except that here is added Iblees’ question, “Shall I prostrate to one You created from clay?” In previous narratives, Allah the Exalted first asked Iblees why he didn’t prostrate, followed by Iblees’ reply, but here the Quran gets to the point quickly, showing Iblees’ insolence and rude interrogation of the Almighty in the aya that follows.
Aya 61 corresponds to the last aya (also in yellow) of this narrative, #65, in that it answers Iblees’ question in aya #61: “should I prostrate to one You created from clay?” By stating that Iblees/ Satan has no power over Allah’s servants, Allah the Exalted asserts His wisdom in creating Adam from clay as a creature greater than even the angels, as well as the jinn, and of course, Satan, whose arrogance was his undoing, even preventing his descendants from access to the celestial realm after his fall. So the “original sin” was Satan’s, from which there can be no redemption, not Adam’s, who was forgiven. Implied here is yes, you should prostrate to Adam and I don’t issue mistaken commands, but after his refusal, Satan’s “prostration” will no longer be accepted as he has become permanently debased and cursed. Note that it is his personal attitude that destroyed Satan, not a “mistake” or something he was lured into doing, as in Adam’s case.
Ultimately Adam’s descendants’ voluntary devotion to Allah and His way, the way of kindness and compassion and defending justice, even though they have the choice to be self-serving and cruel, proves Satan wrong. By Allah’s plan, of course. Those then are Allah’s servants, who refuse to serve Satan or be moved by his whispering. They would have to be “believing” in the first place to resist that influence.
Those who support Satan are only proving themselves to be utter failures, the lowest of the low.
Creation of Adam Story is Allegorical
As the Quran speaks often in allegorical terms that are also absolutely true, we must not think of this in modern literal, factual, empirical terms, such as asking “does Satan have a pitchfork?” or “What exactly is this ‘creature’ called Satan?” All that is irrelevant here.
We can clearly understand what satanic influence is, and need no accompanying cartoon, since the real-life examples are all around us, from dictators and their torture-prisons punishing the innocent, to mass murderers who, with the help of more powerful supporters, have wiped whole societies off the map of their homelands. The people of unimaginable wealth, proud of their vast hoards, capable of making or breaking the lives of millions and never held accountable. These followers of Satan cannot comprehend their actual situation, the incomprehensible danger they are in. They refuse to see what they are actually doing or its consequences.
But “servants” or “worshipers” (another meaning for ‘abad) would all be beyond Satan’s influence, having seen and accepted the truth, becoming those descendants of Adam to whom Satan would have no choice but to prostrate or “yield,” out of his hands, and protected by Allah’s Almighty authority and encompassing mercy.
Ring Composition: Framed by Allah’s Grace, Danger in the Middle
The ring composition of this short narrative thus highlights, in the first and last ayat’s “frame” of Adam’s and his descendants’ ultimate success against Satan, that regardless of what happens in the “interior,” the story begins and ends with the same victory and hierarchy, where Adam is given higher status over the angels and the jinn.
The two inner ayat in pink surrounding the center highlight a great danger, that here is a mortal enemy, Satan, going for our very souls to destroy them “all but a few” in aya 62, which corresponds with aya 64 in which Allah Himself challenges Satan to do whatever he thinks he can to mislead humans. In translation it almost sounds like the Exalted is goading or egging him on, in response to Satan’s threat in aya 62.
This especially sounds ominous considering the central aya 63, where Allah the Exalted proclaims hell as the recompense for Satan and all who follow him of humankind. The warning is severe because the consequences are so great: now in this life (as with a climate catastrophe and destruction of our ability to feed human populations), and even more so in the Hereafter.
But those grateful for Allah’s bounty, who strive for Allah’s acceptance with all they have, can see that aya 64 is also mocking Satan’s arrogance as He seems to goad him on. Does Satan have horses and foot soldiers? In fact, all he can do is whisper! But he can whisper to the human heart. So who are these “horses and soldiers?” Human beings — specifically those who follow Satan’s weak whisperings to the point where they become his worshipers, his servants, and give him their wealth and their children and their horses and armies and weaponry to destroy the humans who serve God. And so they destroy their own souls while destroying their own kind. And what do they get in return?
Promises. “But Satan does not promise them except delusion.” But Allah too promises. And Allah’s promises are always true and fulfilled. For those who joined forces with Satan the accursed, they will join him in hell.
But for those who worship and follow God/ Allah, the reward is eternal fulfillment, life in the most wondrous sense imaginable.
The history of those in power and who hoard extreme wealth is the history of Satan, but it will never succeed. All their gains and success will become top-heavy and topple what they built. And now with the threat of petroleum, chemical fertilizer, and plastic polluting the world’s oceans, causing harm to the whole world in climate change, Satan will have his momentary boast: “See? Adam’s descendants are destroying even the earth You gave them!” The struggle or jihad is striving in word and deed to establish the sacred Balance and justice, the way of Allah on earth and in our lives. All we are asked to do is strive, work on it. Success is what Allah Himself brings.
So in this narrative, the ones “caught in the middle” are Satan and his followers, humans and jinn. They are surrounded by their own destruction, a “mutually assured” destruction, like nuclear war, a Hell hanging over their heads which they totally deny could possibly exist.
But in the outer frame in yellow are those who fulfilled their promise to become the faithful servants Allah created them to be, having learned to use their God-given minds and resources to establish Justice, fight oppression, and exemplify compassion. That is the way of Allah the Wise, the Truth, the Light, the Almighty, the All-Merciful. This exhilarating outcome is certainly worth all our time and devotion — making that effort will put it in the hands of the One Who keeps His promises.