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In the Name of God بسم الله
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Bismillah Ta'la Many have come to ask me how to we make spiritual progress, as the Holy Month of Ramadan is the best time to do this. I think one of the main ways we can make spiritual progress is by understanding what is holding us back from making spiritual progress, I.e. evil. Once we understand what it is, then hopefully we can remove this barrier or impediment that stands in the way of achieving this goal. In order to not become evil ourselves we must understand what is Evil, or what is the genesis of Evil. We must also understand that if we want to become good, we must stay away from what is evil, because evil is the opposite of good and thus works to counteract good. If we want to become good, we must also understand that we have an enemy which uses our base desires in order to take us away from good and toward evil. Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) revealed the Holy Qur'an so that we would understand the reality of evil and what it is in order to avoid it and also so that we understand who are our enemies, so that we can avoid them, or fight them, and when each type of action is appropriate. If you do a quick search of youtube, there have been many lectures by many different ulema in English describing the nature of evil and how to avoid it. I will give a summary of my understanding of the main points of these lectures. The most helpful verses of the Holy Qur'an to understand this are the verses that describe the fall of Iblis (Satan). This narration is repeated 5 times in the Holy Qur'an in different contexts, 2:34, 7:11, 15:31, 17:61, 38:75 and the entire narration of Iblis not prostrating before Allah is repeated 3 separate times, in 7:11-16, 15:31-39, and 38:75-82 Some background for those who are not aware. Iblis is a Jinn who worshipped Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) for thousands of years and once held a high station with Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) so much that he was amoung the company of the angels, though he was not an angel, as some mistakenly believe. The narration that is repeated three times in the Holy Qur'an is the incident when Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) asked the Angels and Iblis to prostrate before Prophet Adam((عليه السلام)) after explaining to them that He(s.w.a) intended to create a Khalifa on Earth. The word Khalifa comes from the root خ + ل+ف kh-l-f take the place of, substitute The most common explanation for this term used in the context was that Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) intended to place a being who would stand in place of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) on the Earth in terms of his authority. So after explaining this to the Angels plus Iblis, Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) asked them to acknowledge the position of Prophet Adam((عليه السلام)) and the Prophets and Imams who will come from his lineage by doing sujud, or prostration before him. As many ulema as well as mufasireen have explained, this sujud was not a sujud of worship but a sujud of acknowledgement that they were willing to recognize the position of Prophet Adam((عليه السلام)) as Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) had commanded them to do. The angels followed the command of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) and Iblis refused this command. After Iblis refused the command, Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) asks Iblis why he refused it. Some ask why would Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) ask him 'why' he refused when Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) knows everything, so He(s.w.a) knows why he refused. The reason why is because Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) wanted to show us why Iblis refused and thus to inform us of the true nature of Iblis and of evil. The answer of Iblis was that he believed that he was superior to Adam because he was created of Fire, while Adam was created of clay. So in his supposition, fire was better than clay, therefore he was better than Adam and so he deserved this position of Khalifa and not Adam. It was this supposition, that stood in opposition to the command of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) that was the beginning of his downfall. Some look at this narration and argue why would Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) curse Iblis and send him to hell for eternity because of this one mistake. This doesn't seem just. There are several facts surrounding this 'mistake' that must be understood. First, Iblis was not like most other beings. He had been alive long enough, and had received enough mairifat (knowledge of Allah) that he knew fully and completely that Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) was Good, Just, All Knowing, etc. In fact, Iblis never argued with Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) regarding His(s.w.a) nature or His(s.w.a) knowledge. So Iblis knew that his objection to the order of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) was not because he had superior knowledge, I.e. that he knew something that Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) didn't know or had a perspective on the issue that Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) didn't have. So Iblis was fully aware that his objection was not based on a superior understanding of the issue, but his reason for objecting come from his base desires, I.e. his ego and his arrogance. Second, there are many hadith that state that if Iblis was willing to do Tauba(repent) for this mistake that he made, Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) would forgive him. At the same time, Iblis, though he has been alive for many millennium, has never attempted to repent for his 'mistake' or all the evil that has come about because of it. So the consequences of his mistake keep growing and growing. So it becomes like an inferno that is so huge, that not even all the water in the universe could extinguish it. But the main reason for his not asking for forgiveness is given to us by his name, Iblis, which comes from the root ل+ب+بس, La+Ba+Sa, 'he has given up all hope', I.e. he has given up hope that Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) will forgive him. So the nature of Iblis, and thus the nature of evil is supposition regarding the commands of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى), without knowledge, which leads to the disobedience of the clear orders of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى). The genesis of this supposition and subsequent disobedience is Hawa(desire). The most dangerous of these desires, which caused the fall of Iblis is the desire for greatness, in opposition to Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى). This is also called Kibr. It is the most dangerous because Kibr is only for Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى), and as the famous hadith says, 'The one who considers himself or herself Great will be ruined'. That is why we say 'Allah hu Akbar', I.e. only Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) is Great above everything. Then after the disobedience there is a deep pessimism regarding forgiveness from Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) which prevents us from doing Tauba (or turning, returning to Allah(s.w.a)). This is the main characteristic of Satan. As Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) tells us in the Holy Qur'an, 'O Children of Adam, don't follow in the footsteps of Iblis(Satan)'. Following in the footsteps of Satan means to repeat this pattern of evil which will lead to hell and destruction. So we should take the opportunity of this Holy Month of Ramadan to reflect on how we can avoid falling into this trap, and once we have avoided this trap, we can speed up our spiritual progress. Salam.
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