Shayṭān (Arabic: شيطان, plural: شياطين shayāṭīn) is a malevolent creature in Islamic theology and mythology. They are usually assigned to the category of jinn (spiritual entities). Apart from its generic designation, used with the definite article Al-, Shaitan refers to the head of shayateen, known as Iblis.[1]


The term Shaytan (Arabic: شَيْطَان) originates from the Hebrew שָׂטָן (Sātān), source of the English Satan. However Arabic etymology[1] relates Shaytan to the root sh-t-n (distant or one who goes astray). As an adjective, it can apply to any other being. The term "Shaytan" referring to this specific creature, may either be translated as "demon" or as "devil".[2] In Pre Islamic Arabia this term was used to designate an evil jinni. With the emergence of Islam the meaning of 'Shayatin' moved closer to the Christian concept of demons.[3]

Shayateen characteristics

Although Islam puts shayateen and jinn together when it comes to the issue of invisibility, it generally distinguishes between those two as different beings.[4] Both are said to be created from fire.[5] Zakariya al-Qazwini asserts, the shayateen are created from the smoke of fire and the jinn from its blaze.[6]

While the latter are thought to resemble humans in various ways, like the need of eating, drinking, sleeping, procreating, and although their lifespan accordingly exceeds those of humans over centuries, they finally die, while the former do not die before the Day of Resurrection. The jinn are also either male or female, while the shayatin are generally hermaphrodite, unable to marry, and reproduce by laying eggs.[7] Furthermore, the jinn and shayateen have different origins in Islamic mythology. Jinn are Pre-Adamites, which dwelled on earth before mankind, while the shayateen are the descendants of Iblis[8] or fallen angels.[9][10][11] Unlike the jinn, shayateen lack free-will; they can not choose between good and evil. A hadith emphasizes the impossibility for shayateen to access salvation in heaven: "One kind of beings will dwell in Paradise, and they are the angels; one kind will dwell in Hell, and they are the shayateen, and another kind will dwell some in Paradise and some in Hell, and those are the jinn and the humans."[12]

Additionally, while jinn possession is a common belief in Middle Eastern folklore, the shayateen do not take control of human bodies, instead taking advantage of humans emotions and inclinations towards sin, whispering to their heart and minds. According to common belief, if someone feels approached by a shaitan, he is recommended to recite a certain Du'a, Audhubasmala, Al-Nas Sura or Al-Falaq Sura[13] therefore, the shaitan vanishes. According to a hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari and Jami` at-Tirmidhi, during Ramadan, the shayateen and rebellious jinn are chained in Jahannam.[14]

Shaitan as adjective

Based on Surah 6:112 there are shayateen among "al-ins" (something in shape) and "al-jinns" (something unseen), 'shayateen' is also an adjective for both evil human and evil jinn.[15] al-Jahiz[16] used "shaitan" only as a moral connotation for rebellious jinn.


  1. 1 2 Oliver Leaman The Qur'an: An Encyclopedia Taylor & Francis 2006 ISBN 978-0-415-32639-1 page 179
  2. Mehmet Yavuz Seker Beware! Satan: Strategy of Defense Tughra Books 2008 ISBN 2008 ISBN 978-1-597-84131-3 page 3
  3. Jeffrey Burton Russell Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages Cornell University Press 1986 ISBN 978-0-801-49429-1 page 55
  4. Amira El-Zein Islam, Arabs, and Intelligent World of the Jinn Syracuse University Press 2009 ISBN 9780815650706 page 21
  5. el-Sayed El-Aswad Religion and Folk Cosmology: Scenarios of the Visible and Invisible in Rural Egypt Greenwood Publishing Group 2002 ISBN 978-0-897-89924-6 page 81
  6. Seyyed Hossein Nasr Islamic Life and Thought Routledge 2013 ISBN 978-1-134-53818-8 page 135
  7. A.G. Muhaimin The Islamic Traditions of Cirebon: Ibadat and Adat Among Javanese Muslims ANU E Press 2016 ISBN 978-1-920-94231-1 page 43-46
  8. Patrick Hughes, Thomas Patrick Hughes Dictionary of Islam Asian Educational Services 1995 ISBN 978-8-120-60672-2 page 134 ff.
  9. Gordon Melton, Martin Baumann Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices, 2nd Edition [6 volumes] ABC-CLIO 2010 ISBN 978-1-598-84204-3 page 117
  10. Robert Lebling Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar I.B.Tauris 2010 ISBN 978-0-857-73063-3 page 22
  11. Frederick M. Smith The Self Possessed: Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asian Literature and Civilization Columbia University Press 2012 ISBN 978-0-231-51065-3 page 570
  12. Amira El-Zein Islam, Arabs, and Intelligent World of the Jinn Syracuse University Press 2009 ISBN 9780815650706 page 20
  13. Rudolf Macuch "Und das Leben ist siegreich!": mandäische und samaritanische Literatur ; im Gedenken an Rudolf Macuch (1919–1993) Otto Harrassowitz Verlag 2008 ISBN 978-3-447-05178-1 page 82
  14. Tobias Nünlist Dämonenglaube im Islam Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG 2015 ISBN 978-3-110-33168-4 page 229 (german)
  15. Tobias Nünlist Dämonenglaube im Islam Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG 2015 ISBN 978-3-110-33168-4 page 56-57 (german)
  16. "Shaitan - Islamic mythology".
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