The Prostration of Angels Before Adam
There is an interesting discussion in the recently published English Volume 15 of tafsir al-Mizan about the command issued by God to the angels to prostrate themselves before Adam. Below is a gist of the discussion.
The prostration of the angels was in fact directed toward all humankind as children of Adam. Adam was setup as the qiblah (direction) for their prostration much like the Ka’bah which is set as a direction in worship and is symbolic to facing God. Adam was presented to the angels on behalf of all humans. In Chapter 2, verses 30-33, the angels are commanded to prostrate before Adam because of his position as the khalifah (vicegerent) and the khilafah (vicegerency) mentioned there is not something exclusive to Adam, but common to all humankind. The Qur’an also says in many chapters that Satan demonstrated outright hostility against the progeny of Adam after his refusal to prostrate which is another proof that the prostration was directed toward all humankind.
The Qur’an says that all the angels prostrated before Adam except Iblis from the list (of angels). Iblis was one of the jinn as mentioned in verse 18.50 and therefore he was not of the same kind as the angels. This has led to some controversy among the scholars. Based on Qur’anic evidence, Iblis was at one time with the angels without any distinction between them as they were all united in the station of sanctity. The command to prostrate before Adam was directed at that station, including anyone positioned in it. Therefore, the audience of the command included Iblis because of the position he held. The reference to this station is made in verse 7:13 – “Get down from it! It is not for you to be arrogant therein”. The pronouns “it” and “therein” refer to either his position, or the celestial realm or the Garden of Adam – which all reduce to his spiritual station and position.
Based on the above, there was no distinction between Iblis and the angels before the command to prostrate before Adam but later they divided into two groups. On the one hand, there were the angels who persisted with the same station and position they had, which consisted of humble servitude before the Truth and obedience to God’s command. This defines the reality of the angels’ life and the kind of acts they perform as described in the Qur’an. On the other hand, there was Iblis who left the station that he previously held with the angels thus differentiating himself from the angels by opting such a life.
In summary, Iblis (Satan, the Devil) did not comply to humble himself before the reality and essence of humankind. This was a disobedience on his part given the station that he had. This can be deduced from God’s address to him: “It is not for you to be arrogant therein” (7:13). In other words, it was fundamentally incompatible with his station (indicated by the pronoun “therein”) to be arrogant. Hence his arrogance was tantamount to exiting that level. In conclusion, the creation of Adam split that station into two: the station of proximity to God versus the station of distance from God. Thus it resulted into two paths: the path of happiness and the path of wretchedness.
Reference: Al-Mizan English Volume 15, pp 27-29, first edition, Tawheed Institute Australia Ltd, 2018.