Qur'an Contradiction:

Can Angels Disobey?

Response to Saifullah

In our Quran Contradictions section, we stated:

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.

Dr. MSM Saifullah responds to the above with the following:


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.

And Allah knows best!


Actually, the contradiction still remains since the Quran narrates the story of two angels who fell into sin:

And follow that which the devils falsely related against the kingdom of Solomon. Solomon disbelieved not; but the devils disbelieved, teaching mankind magic and that which was revealed to the two angels in Babel, Harut and Marut (alal-malakayni bi-Baabila Haaruuta wa Maaruut). Nor did they (the two angels) teach it to anyone till they had said: We are only a temptation, therefore disbelieve not (in the guidance of Allah). And from these two (angels) people learn that by which they cause division between man and wife; but they injure thereby no-one save by Allah's leave. And they learn that which harmeth them and profiteth them not. And surely they do know that he who trafficketh therein will have no (happy) portion in the Hereafter; and surely evil is the price for which they sell their souls, if they but knew. S. 2:102 Pickthall

Yusuf Ali comments:

"This verse has been interpreted variously. Who were Harut and Marut? What did they teach? Why did they teach? The view which commends itself to me is that of the Tafsir Haqqani, following Baidhawi and the Tafsir Kabir. The word 'angels' as applied to Harut and Marut is figurative. It means 'good men, of knowledge, science (or wisdom), and power'. In modern languages the word 'angel' is applied to a good and beautiful woman. The earlier tradition made angels masculine, and applied to them the attributes which I have mentioned, along with the attribute of beauty, which was implied in goodness, knowledge, wisdom and power... Among the Jewish traditions in the Midrash (Jewish Tafsirs) was a story of two angels who asked God's permission to come down to earth but succumbed to temptation and were hung by their feet at Babylon for punishment. Such stories about sinning angels who were cast down to punishment were believed by the early Christians also... There may be an allusion about sinning angels here, but much spiritualized and we are expressly warned against dabbling in magic or believeing that anything can hurt us except by God's will, and God is just and righteous." (Ali, Holy Quran, f. 104, p. 45)

The major problem with Ali's assertion is that the Quran never uses the term "angels" for human beings. The closest the Quran ever comes to calling a human being an angel is in S. 12:31, and even then it is in a metaphorical sense:

And when she heard of their sly talk, she sent to them and prepared for them a cushioned couch (to lie on at the feast) and gave to every one of them a knife and said (to Joseph): Come out unto them! And when they saw him they exalted him and cut their hands, exclaiming: Allah Blameless! This is not a human being. This is not other than some gracious angel. Pickthall (cf. 7:20)

In fact, angels are called messengers but humans are never called angels. (cf. 11:69, 77, 81; 15:57; 22:75; 35:1)

According to the oldest Islamic sources, Harut and Marut were angels that came down and fell into sin:

"Islamic commentators claim that demons wrote sorcery as they heard it from Asif's tongue (claiming that Asif b. Barkhia taught King Solomon). The demons wrote it and buried it underneath his chair. That was when Allah stripped him of his monarchy, yet he could not feel it. Others claim that the Israelites made their living by teaching sorcery when its time was ripe, yet Solomon prevented them from doing that. Apparently he took their books and hid them underneath his bed. When he died, demons brought them out and said to the Jews: 'Solomon reigned over you by the power of this. So you have to learn it.' The Jews then denied Solomon's prophethood. They claimed that Solomon seized his reign by force. Jinn and humankind were subjugated to him by virtue of sorcery. To this the Quran replied: 'Never did Solomon disbelieve.' Ibn `Abbas relates that in the days of Idris, when angels saw the malicious works done by the sons of Adam ascending to heaven, they reproached them and said: 'These are the ones you created in the earth. They disobey you!' Allah challenged: 'If I were to let you live down there on earth and had given you the same advantages, you would have followed the same course.' They answered: 'God forbid! It is not for us to disobey you.' Allah said: 'Select the best two angels you ever had, because I am going to send them down to earth.' They selected Harut and Marut who were the most righteous angels. Allah inspired them with lust, made them descend to earth, commanded them to judge justly among people, and forbade them to be idolaters or to kill unjustly or to commit adultery or drink wine.'

"So they were judging in the daytime and ascending at night. Then the most beautiful woman of Persia came to them. They were infatuated by her. Not only were they on her side in judgment but they also worhipped her idol because they were madly in love with her. When they desired to ascend up to heaven, their wings did not assist them. So, they went to Idris the prophet and asked him to intercede on their behalf. He told them they could choose between the torture of the world or the torture of the Last Day. They chose the torture of the world. So they hang from their hair in Babylon until the Last Day (see al-Qurtubi's commentary on Sura al-Baqara 2:102)" (The True Guidance [Light of Life, PO Box 13, A-9503 Villach, Austria], part 5, pp. 24-25; see also Rev. W. St Clair-Tisdall, The Sources of Islam [T. & T. Clark, 38 George Street, Edinburgh, Scotland], pp. 30-36)

Muslim Scholar Mahmoud Ayoub comments on S. 2:102:

"Commentators likewise have disagreed with regard to the meaning of the phrase 'and that which was sent down to the two angels in Babel, Harut and Marut.' Tabari relates on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas, 'The word ma means "not" [instead of its alternate meaning, "that which"]; that is to say, magic was not sent down [ma unzila] to the two angels. Thus the exegesis of the verse would be, "And they followed the magic which the satans recited concerning the reign of Solomon; yet neither did Solomon reject faith, nor did God send down magic to the two angels. Rather, satans rejected faith in that they taught people magic in Babel, that is, Harut and Marut"' (This tradition assumes that Harut and Marut were the people who learned magic from the satans in Babel; thus they were not angels. The two angels are taken to be Gabriel and Michael.) 'This is because magicians among Jews used to claim that God sent down magic to Solomon by the tongues of Gabriel and Michael. Thus God revealed their false claim, for Gabriel and Michael never brought down magic. Harut and Marut were therefore two men who learned magic from the satans' (Tabari, II, pp. 419-420). Tabari also cites Qatadah, who said, ' "Ma" means "that which," or "what." Thus Harut and Marut were two of the angels. They taught men magic, but were charged not to teach anyone until they said, "We are surely a temptation; do not, therefore, reject faith.' Magic here is of two kinds: one which the satans taught, and another which was taught by the two angels' (Tabari, II, p. 420).

"Most early commentators have agreed, however, that Harut and Marut were two angels. Their story appears very early in the history of tafsir on the authority of the first masters of science among the Companions and their Successors. The story, as related by Tabari on the authority of Ibn Mas'ud and Ibn 'Abbas, is as follows: 'When the children of Adam had increased in the earth and committed acts of disobedience, the angels, heavens, earth and mountains invoked God against them, saying, "Our Lord, would You not destroy them?" God revealed to the angels, "Were I to put lust in your hearts and give Satan authority over you, and were you to descend to earth, you would do the same." The angels thought in their hearts that if they were sent down, they would not sin. God, then revealed to them, "Choose two of the best angels among you," and they chose Harut and Marut. They were thus sent down to earth, and Venus was sent down as a beautiful Persian woman. They fell into sin [by lusting after her]. They were therefore given the choice between the punishment of this world or that of the world to come, but they chose the punishment of this world' (Tabari, II, pp. 428).

"This tradition presents the basic elements of the story, accepted by most classical commentators. Some traditions, however, related the story of the two angels to God's saying, 'Behold I am about to place a vicegerent in the earth' (see above, Q. 2:30). According to this view, God sent down Harut and Marut to demonstrate to the prostrating angels man's uniqueness as a creature endowed with special faculties which even angels could not possess without also falling into sin and disobedience (see Nisaburi, I, p. 391, who relates the story on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas). Razi, on the other hand, for reasons which are discussed below, asserts that the two angels were sent down at th time of the prophet Enoch (Idris) (Razi, III, p. 220)." (Mahmoud M. Ayoub, The Qur'an and its Interpreters [State University of New York Press, Albany 1984], pp. 130-131)

Ayoub cites al-Qurtubi as denying that Harut and Marut were angels, believing that they were satans instead. The only problem with this view is that Harut and Marut are specifically called angels in the Quran (S. 2:102). This implies that if Qurtubi is correct, then satans were at one time angels that disobeyed. If this is so then this clearly affirms that angels can disobey God and fall from their position in heaven.

Ibn Kathir also objected to Harut and Marut being angels, claiming that there was no sound chain of transmission going back to Muhammad and was a story taken from the Jews. Yet, both Tabari and Nisaburi claimed that their tradition was taken on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas, with Tabari citing Ibn Mas'ud as well. Ayoub himself states that the story of Harut and Marut being angels that sinned finds support from the earliest tafsirs of the first masters of science among the Companions of Muhammad and their followers. (For a complete discussion on the different viewpoints over this issue see Ayoub, pp. 130-136)

Finally, the Dictionary of Islam states:

"HARUT WA MARUT... Two angels mentioned in the Qur'an. They are said to be two angels who, in consequence of their compassion of the frailties of mankind, were sent down to earth to be tempted. They both sinned, and being permitted to choose whether they would be punished now or hereafter, chose the former, and are still suspended by the feet at Babel in a rocky pit, where they are great teachers of magic." (T. P. Hughes, Dictionary of Islam [Kazi Publications, Chicago Il. 1994], pp. 167-168)

In light of the preceding evidence, we ask the following questions. Does God really put lust into his creation in order that they might be tempted? If so, what does this say about the character of God as outlined in the hadiths and the Quran? Since Harut and Marut are angels who actually sinned against God, which verse should we accept? The one where it says that all angels obey God, or this one where two angels clearly broke God's commands and went on teaching mankind magic? Does God actually send angels down to teach man wickedness and magic even if it is done in the context of warning humanity about its harm? Did God not realize that man would take the knowledge given by the angels and use it for wickedness?

If the command to prostrate before Adam was given to angels why was Iblis blamed for not obeying the command seeing that he is not an angel but a Jinn? Is there any reference in the Quran where it clearly states that God's command was not limited to angels, but also included the Jinn? Finally, would not the fact that appeal must be made to the Islamic traditions in order to understand certain verses in the Quran prove that it is unintelligible since it narrates events that make little, if any, sense to today's readers? Does this not also prove that the Quran was meant for seventh century Arabs since they lived in the time of Muhammad and had the advantage of knowing the nature of these accounts?

Hopefully, the staff at Islamic Awareness will answer these questions for us.

Sam Shamoun

Further remarks on Saifullah's statement, "[Qur'ān 18:50] clarifies who Iblīs is. He was one of Jinn not angels as wrongly claimed by the Christian missionaries." No need to shoot at all Christian missionaries. I have put forward this contradiction and take sole responsibility for it. I would again like to point to the purpose of this collection. I am glad to see that Saifullah & Co. seem to have learnt a lot about responding to contradictions from the way Christians have responded to the Muslim "Bible contradictions" and that it is important to look at all available information. I hope they are willing to accept the same interpretative principles also when examining the Bible.

As Sam already observed in the above response, Saifullah ignores the obvious question why Iblis is called disobedient, a rejector of faith, if the command was only given to the angels, and he was supposedly not an angel. At least to some modern Muslims this is a problem, and it has led Rashad Khalifa to translate this verse as "We said to the angels, `Fall prostrate before Adam.' They fell prostrate, except Satan. He became a jinn, for he disobeyed the order of His Lord. ...", i.e. he was originally an angel who was turned into a Jinn because of his disobedience. Whether Khalifa gave an acceptable translation or interpretation is not for us to decide, but it shows he was aware of a problem of fairness that needs to be answered. [Jochen Katz]

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