Liberation from Evil in Islamic Mysticism

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Through the words of Al Ghazali, Hallaj, Rumi and Ibn Arabi, Bausani will lead us to discover Evil in Islam, with an eye to his most iconic figure: Shaytan, the Devil

A different idea of Evil

First of all, a fundamental point must be clarified before continuing: the concept of “liberation from Evil” proper to Christianity, in Islam has no sense of existing; this is because in the Koran it is written that Adam and Eve were forgiven for their sins. From this (and from other details related to the “corporeality” of God) derives the non-recognition of the crucifixion, in fact, according to Christianity, Jesus, through his death, would have freed the world from its sins; de facto foolish thing if God forgave the two primordial sinners.

Adam and Eve

It is precisely on this small but decisive nuance that Christianity and Islam divide, giving rise to two quite different concepts of “Evil”. Taking everything with a grain of salt, one could say that: in Christianity it is a burden to be freed from during one’s life, while for Islam it is rather a test placed before the traveler who, however, starts from 0. This too, reflects Bausani, we owe Christianity’s own conception of suffering (including physical) as “atonement for one’s sins”, something present only and exclusively in Shiite Islam due to Hussain’s martyrdom.

God is beyond Good and Evil

And the mystics? Here the matter becomes a little more complex but even more interesting, in fact we have to take a further logical step and for this I find myself forced to quote the text directly:

The fable of the three children placed by Al Ghazali in the Iqtisad fi’l-i’tiqad (“The right means in believing”) is famous: God is so much beyond Good and Evil that He is not even obliged to do what is most convenient for his servants. A child, a Muslim, died in infancy; another, having reached puberty, accepted Islam and died soon after; the third, finally, died unfaithful at a mature age too.

According to those who speak of absolute Evil, and who believe that God always does what is good for his servants, an abstract “justice” would force God to condemn unfaithful puberty to eternal fire and to grant Muslim puberty in heaven a degree of glory superior to the Muslim who died as a child (if I am not mistaken, that is what even a Christian theologian would think).


If the dead child now asks God why He has placed him at a lower step, God would have to answer: “Because the other came to maturity and was so able to carry out the precepts of my law, which you could not do, being child”. However, he could object: “Yes, but it is you who made me die before reaching maturity; while it would have been more good and convenient for me, for me, that I had come of age to better serve You and obtain the same degree. of glory of the other “.

The only way out, for God, would be to answer him: “Yes, but I knew that if I had made you live longer, you would have been evil and would have done bad deeds!” But then a voice would rise from the depths of Hell, that of the third character, the unfaithful adult, who would ask God: “But if you knew that I, having reached maturity, would have been bad, because you didn’t make me die a child too. ? “. It is then evident that – admitting the principle that God can only do good – God would find himself in the most regrettable situation of not being able to answer anything anymore.

We will show that the greatest mystics of Islam had this conception of a God who is – in a certain way – beyond Good and Evil with further examples. Meanwhile, it is a fact that even mystical Islam is an ideology according to which – contrary to what the Socrates of the Platonic Euthyphron dialogue thought – good is good because God wills it, otherwise there would be two gods, Good and God.

Hallaj and the devil’s prostration

At this point Bausani leads us to reflect on Shaytan, (the Devil) personification of “Evil”, a figure whose disobedience in Islam is linked to something very specific and, for this very reason, enjoys particular attention in Islamic mysticism. In fact it was not a “generic” rebellion, but something very specific: he did not kneel before Adam when he was ordered. Let’s read what Hallaj writes about it in his “Book of Tasin”:

“Moses met Satan on the slopes of Sinai and asked him:

– Oh Satan! What prevented you from prostrating yourself?

– The preaching of a single Adorable prevented me; if I had prostrated I would have become like you. Because to you they shouted only once “Look at the mountain” and you looked; while to me it was repeated a thousand times “Prostrate”! and I did not prostrate myself, since my preaching had to maintain the intention that had made me issue it.

– Have you transgressed a divine commandment then?


– It was just a test, not a commandment!

– Would you be sinless then? Yet your figure is deformed!

– Oh Moses! What you are saying is only an allusion to the ambiguity of appearances; while the state of my consciousness, even if transformed, remains unchanged. The acquired wisdom persists as it was in the beginning even if the individual who received it is found deformed.

– Do you still remember Him now!

– Oh Moses! Pure thought does not need memory. For it I am mentioned and remembered as he is mentioned and remembered: His memory is mine and my memory is His how – by mentioning and remembering us together – could we be separated? I serve him more purely, in a more empty instant, in a more glorious memory; because I used to serve him for my joy, and, behold, now I serve him for his joy! […]

In this passage it is evident that for Hallaj (and a large part of Islamic mysticism) Shaytan is not so much an “enemy of God”, but more of man. In fact, he did not want to kneel to Adam and according to the Koran this was done out of arrogance, according to this version, however, the latter was not so much towards God, but towards our lineage. This de facto makes him effectively an enemy for humanity but, at the same time, a most faithful servant of God; this reasoning will be further explained in the following passage, also by Hallaj.

A necessary enemy

God said to him:

– Won’t you prostrate, oh abject?

He answered:

– No, lover, and the lover is abject. You say abject, but I have read in a clear book, and it is not lawful for me, oh mighty, steadfast, to prostrate myself. How could I humble myself to him, while You created me of fire and he of earth? They are against that they will never agree. And then I am in the oldest serving you, in the highest honoring, in the wisest science, in the most complete life!


God said to him: “It is up to me, not you, the choice!” He answered:

– All choices belong to You and mine too You have chosen for me, oh Most New Creator! If you prevent me from worshiping him, well, you are the one who prevents; if I sin in saying “do not abandon me”, You are the one who listens, and if I really wanted me to adore him, I would be obedient to You, and I do not know among the wise one who is wiser than You! Do not blame me, that blame is far from me, but help me, oh my Lord, for I am alone. In the promise, Your promise is truly Reality in manifesting, the manifestation of my cause is hard. Whoever wants a writing, here is my speech: read it, and know that I am a martyr!

With this text we return to the theme already addressed in the quotation from al Ghazali, that is the concept of “God beyond Good and Evil“, this time in the figure of the Devil. As much as the sinner of the previous story, also for Shaytan a very interesting discourse can be made on the power of God. According to Islam, in fact, Allah is absolute, no one is equal to Him and, above all, nothing happens that is not his desire. . Therefore, to imagine a Satan who, albeit for a brief moment, did something contrary to him, would mean diminishing the divine power, which instead is immeasurable.

The problem, returning to what was said at the beginning, is not the presence or absence of “Evil” but the idea that we have of it: Evil can exist for man, represented by the Devil, but Evil and absolute Good they do not exist, as they are both generated by God who, precisely for this reason, is beyond both.

Rumi and Ibn Arabi

The text could also be closed here, given the many examples already given; too wonderful and important, however, the last two mentioned by Bausani. First Rumi:

“At midnight Pharaoh began to cry and to say:” What an iron chain this is on my neck, O Lord! If it were not for this chain who would say: I am I? As You made Moses bright, so You made me dark; as you made his face as beautiful as the shining moon, so You have darkened the moon of my soul in the eclipse. The shouts of joy and the drums that the people beat in my honor calling me “Supreme Lord”, sound for me like the trumpets and drums that announce the eclipse. We, Moses and I, are both Your servants, yet Your ax cuts the fresh wood of the forest … “.


And finally Pharaoh cried out: “Strange thing is this! Wasn’t I all night invoking the Lord? In the secret of my becoming humble and harmonious, yet what do I not become when I see the face of Moses! Of course, heart and body! mine are under His control: now He makes me a kernel, now dry bark. All green I become when He orders me: “Be a cultivated field!”; I turn yellow when He orders me: “You ugly!” Now He makes me shining moon, now darkness! “


And after Ibn Arabi:

“I love your doing, oh God, both when I thank you and when I patiently endure your punishment. How could I love, like idolaters, what you have done? He who loves God’s doing is glorious, he who loves what God has done is an unbeliever. ”

Ibn Arabi

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