Shayāṭīn (شياطين), singular: Shayṭān (Arabic: شيطان) are evil spirits, comparable to demons or devils, in Islamic theology and mythology. Usually, the shayatin are regarded as the offspring of Iblis, but other beings, such as evil jinn, tyrants and fallen angels are also referred to as shayatin. From an ontological perspective, the shayatin are all beings, which became a manifestation of evil and ugliness. Surah 6:112 collectively refers to the "shayatin" among Ins and jinn, whereupon some exegetes linked this expression to "evil among everything in shape" and "evil among everything invisible".
The word Šayṭān (Arabic: شَيْطَان) originates from the Hebrew שָׂטָן (Śāṭān) "accuser, adversary" (which is the source of the English Satan). However Arabic etymology relates the word to the root š-ṭ-n ("distant, astray") taking a theological connotation designating a creature distant from divine mercy. In pre-Islamic Arabia this term was used to designate an evil spirit. With the emergence of Islam the meaning of shayatin moved closer to the Christian concept of devils. The term shayatin appears in a similar way in the Book of Enoch; denoting the hosts of the devil. Taken from Islamic sources, "shaitan" may either be translated as "demon" or as "devil".
Like jinn, the shayatin share the characteristics of invisibility. Some scholars put them merely under one category of the supernatural. However the prevailing opinion among the mufassirs distinguish between the jinn and shayatin as following:
- While among the jinn, there are different types of believers (Muslims, Christians, Jewish, polytheists, etc.), the shayatin are exclusively evil.
- The jinn are mortals and die, while the shayatin only die, when their leader ceases to exist.
Since the shayatin are limited to "evil", they lack free will and are inaccessible to the "good." A hadith emphasizes the impossibility for the shayatin to access salvation: "One kind of beings will dwell in Paradise, and they are the malaikah (angels); one kind will dwell in the Hellfire, and they are the shayatin, and other kinds will dwell [such that] some are in Paradise and some in the Hellfire, and those are the jinn and the naas (mankind)." In his commentary of Abu Hanifas al-Fiqh al-absat Abu Muti writes that all angels, except with Harut and Marut, are obedient, but all demons, except Ham ibn Him Ibn Laqis Ibn Iblis, are created evil. While setting the angels against the demons, he contrasts them with jinn and humans created with their Fitra.
While the Quran remains unclear about the origin of the shayatin, most commentators identify them with Iblis' progeny by referring to hadiths. Some exegetes, such as Zakariya al-Qazwini, even elaborated a more extensive account on the shayatin, based on hadith traditions. Accordingly, the shayatin are generally hermaphrodite, unable to marry, and reproduce by laying eggs. For their creation it was suggested that the shayatin were created from the smoke of fire, while the jinn from its blaze and angels from its light.
The existence of shayatin is generally affirmed in Islam. Commonly the shayatin are just tempters inciting the mind of humans with "whisperings" (waswās). However the characteristics of the shayatin in folk Islam is far more extensive than in standard Islamic theology and although it is impossible to find unified depictions among local traditions, some characteristics given to the shayatin appear frequently, such as the cause of misfortune, saying basmala could ward off shayatin attacks and that shayatin visit filthy or desacralized places. Witchcraft is also traced back to the shayatin (compare with the Christian understanding), since the Quran states in 2:102 that it was not Solomon who practiced witchcraft but rather the shayatin, who also taught it to the people. According to Islam, it is recommended to recite a certain du'a (supplication), like "A'uzu Billahi Minesh shaitanir Rajiim" and the Suras "An-Naas" or "Al-Falaq" to protect oneself from the shayatin. Supported by hadiths from Sahih al-Bukhari and Jami` at-Tirmidhi, the shayatin can not harm the believers during the month of Ramadan, since they are chained in Jahannam (Gehenna (hellfire)).
The shayatin are further featured in Islamic imagery of hell. The Quran 37:62–68 describes the tree of hell with fruits with heads of shayatin. In the ʿKitāb al-ʿAẓama, which focuses extensively on cosmology, describes hell as inhabited by zabaniyya and shayatin. The latter dwell in the fourth layer of hell and rise from coffins to torture the sinners. In Al-Tha'alibis Qisas Al-Anbiya, the shayatin surround Iblis in the bottom of hell, from where they receive their commands.
Some Sufi writers link the works of shayatin to human psyche. Ghazali linked them to man's inner spiritual development. Accordingly, the shayatin do not reproduce but lay their eggs into the heart of human. In this regard, Ghazali links the children of Iblis, mentioned by earlier scholars, such as Tabari, to humans misdeeds, caused by the corresponding shaitan, such as Daism and Zalambur.
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