Can angels disobey?

Can angels disobey?

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


According to the Christian missionaries:

About the angels: For NONE are arrogant (before their Lord). They ALL fear their Lord, high above them, and they do ALL they are commanded. — Sura 16:49-50

And behold, we said to the ANGELS: “Bow down to Adam”. And THEY bowed down, EXCEPT Iblis. He refused and was haughty. — Sura 2:34

The command of Allah is given to the angels. Since Iblis is accused of not being obedient, he has to be one of the angels.

Contradicting 16:50, he refused = is disobedient, and is haughty = arrogant (before his Lord).

See also 7:11, 15:28-31, 17:61, 18:50, 20:116, 38:71-74.


In the verse

And behold, We said to the angels: “Bow down to Adam” and they bowed down. Not so Iblis: he refused and was haughty: He was of those who reject Faith. [Qur’ân 2:34]

the nature of Iblîs is not mentioned, i.e., whether he was an angel or someone else. But the verse

Behold! We said to the angels, “Bow down to Adam”: They bowed down except Iblis. He was one of the Jinns, and he broke the Command of his Lord. Will ye then take him and his progeny as protectors rather than Me? And they are enemies to you! Evil would be the exchange for the wrong-doers! [Qur’ân 18:50]

clarifies who Iblîs is. He was one of Jinn not angels as wrongly claimed by the Christian missionaries.

We have used the traditional method of Qur’ânic exegesis involving Context & Internal Relationships, i.e., al-Qur’ân yufassiru bacduhu bacdan (different parts of the Qur’ân explain each other). What is given in a general way in one place is discussed in detail in some other place in the Qur’ân. What is dealt with briefly at one place is expanded in some other place.


Since the belief in the creation of Allah such as angels and jinn is fundamental to the Islamic belief, it is worthwhile to know who they are and what their nature is. Below is a complete quote from the book The Reliance Of The Traveller, which is a manual of Shâfici school of Islamic jurisprudence. This quote gives comprehensive information about who jinns and angels are from the Islamic point of view (of course, using the Qur’ân and authentic ahâdîth).

The Jinn

Belief In The Jinn

w22.1 (cAlâ’ al-Dîn cAbidin:) Our prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), who was truthful in all that he did and said, has informed us of matters that are mandatory – personally obligatory for each of us – to believe, accept, and not doubt or be sarcastic about the slightest bit of. Among the things of which he informed us is that Allah Most High has created angels that are pure spirits, neither masculine nor feminine, and created jinn, fiery beings that can assume various forms.

The good jinn are Muslims and believers, and will be with us in paradise, where we will see them but they will not see us – the opposite of this world – while the immoral and wicked of them are called devils, being of the offspring of Satan, who used to be in paradise, but disobeyed the command of his Lord, and is now

“of those reprieved till the day of a known time” (Koran 15:37-38).

The Difference Between Jinn & Angels

w22.2 (Muhammad Sacîd Burhanî:) The difference between jinn and angels is that angels are created of light, while jinn are created of fire. Angels (upon whom be peace) do not reproduce, while jinn do. Angels do not commit disobedience, while jinn include both the obedient and the disobedient, both believer and unbeliever, the rebellious of them being called devils. Jinn assume various forms, both noble and base, such as that of a snake and the like, while the angels (upon whom be peace) only assume noble forms, like that of a human being.

Angels live in the heavens and earth, while jinn live only on earth. Angels are not called to account on the Day of Judgement, but rather enter paradise, and whoever disparages one of them has committed unbelief.

Angels like circles of religious learning and dhikr, and supplicate Allah to bless our Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and us, and they ask forgiveness for those on earth. They rejoice at whoever visits the ill or seeks religious knowledge, out of pleasure with what he is doing.[1]

From the above quote, it is clear that angels can’t be jinn and vice versa. They both are distinct entities created by Allah. So, Iblîs who is a jinn can’t be a “fallen angel.” A “fallen angel” would mean that Iblîs was not a jinn and that the angels have free will. But these two concepts are clearly refuted in the Qur’ân itself, i.e., that Iblîs is a jinn (18:50) and the angels obey Allah with questioning (66:6). As a brief note, we are tempted to add that:

In Islamic literature Shaytân (Eng. Satan, devil) is a name given to disbelieving Jinns. They are created from fire according to Allâh’s statement in the Qur’ân; “The Jinns were created from the fire of a scorching wind.” (al-Hijr 15:27). They are not fallen angels… and angels can’t disobey God according to Allah’s statement in the Qur’ân, … angels stern and severe, who do not disobey Allâh in what he orders them, but do whatever they are commanded (Sura at-Tahreem 66:6).[2]

The Use Of Al-Tabarî’s Tarîkh

The Christian missionaries have used al-Tabarî’s Târîkh to show that indeed in Islamic literature there is a concept of “fallen angels.” It is always worthwhile to read the introduction to his book where al-Tabarî makes an important set of statements, that clearly state:

Let him who examines this book of mine know that I have relied, as regards everything I mention therein which I stipulate to be described by me, solely upon what has been transmitted to me by way of reports which I cite therein and traditions which I ascribe to their narrators, to the exclusion of what may be apprehended by rational argument or deduced by the human mind, except in very few cases.

This is because knowledge of the reports of men of the past and of contemporaneous views of men of the present do not reach the one who has not witnessed them nor lived in their times except through the accounts of reporters and the transmission of transmitters, to the exclusion of rational deduction and mental inference. 

Hence, if I mention in this book a report about some men of the past, which the reader of listener finds objectionable or worthy of censure because he can see no aspect of truth nor any factual substance therein, let him know that this is not to be attributed to us but to those who transmitted it to us and we have merely passed this on as it has been passed on to us.[3]

Thus, al-Tabarî faithfully displayed the accounts in the exact manner through which he received them. Can he then be held liable or attributed if any objectionable accounts should arise? To translate this into laymen’s terms, al-Tabarî has simply refused accountability by avoiding the task of historical as well as hadîth criticism.

Therefore, any spurious/objectional accounts are not to be attributed to him. He only faithfully transmitted what he received, whether authentic or spurious. To say that al-Tabarî said such-and-such about “fallen angels” and Iblîs (and claiming it to be authentic!) simply shows one inability to grasp the fundamentals of al-Tabarî’s book Tarîkh al-Tabarî: Tarîkh al-Umam wal-Mulûk.


[1] Ahmad Ibn Naqib al-Misri (translated by Nuh Ha Meem Keller), The Reliance Of The Traveller, 1997 (Revised Edition), Amana Publications, pp. 897-898.

[2] Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips (Ed.), Ibn Taymeeyah’s Essays On The Jinn, 1996, 3rd Edition, International Islamic Publishing House, pp. 1-2, See footnote 1.

[3] Abû Jacfar Muhammad bin Jarîr al-Tabarî, Târîkh al-Tabarî: Târîkh al-Umam wal-Mulûk, 1997, Volume I, Dâr al-Kutub al-cIlmiyyah, Beirut (Lebanon), pp. 13.