Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and the devil named al-Abyad


Waqar Akbar Cheema


Some people refer to certain quotes from Islamic exegetical literature mentioning a devil named al-Abyad. Firstly, it needs to be clarified that mention of a devil named al-Abyad is very rare in the Islamic literature of all genres. A contemporary scholar noted:

Al-Abyad does not seem ever to have become a major figure in Islamic literature – which is in any case oddly impoverished as regards demonology …[1]

 The odd narratives mentioning al-Abyad come under three verses: Qur’an 22:52, 59:16, and 81:25;

In connection with verse 22:52 though al-Sam‘ani (d. 489/1096)[2] also made a passing remark about reports suggesting al-Abyad coming to the Prophet (ﷺ) and telling him the infamous ‘Satanic Verses’, the first to give a detailed account of al-Abyad in this context was al-Razi (d. 606/1210) who records that:

قال ابن عباس رضي الله عنهما في رواية عطاء إن شيطانا يقال له الأبيض أتاه على صورة جبريل عليه السلام وألقى عليه هذه الكلمة فقرأها فلما سمع المشركون ذلك أعجبهم فجاء جبريل عليه السلام فاستعرضه فقرأها فلما بلغ إلى تلك الكلمة قال جبريل عليه السلام أنا ما جئتك بهذه قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إنه أتاني آت على صورتك فألقاها على لساني

It is reported from ‘Ata’ that Ibn ‘Abbas said: A devil called al-Abyad came to the Prophet (ﷺ) in the form of Jibril (Gabriel) and cast these words (i.e. the Satanic verses) upon him, and the Prophet recited them. When the pagans heard that it pleased them. Thereupon, Jibril came and asked him to rehears the revelation to him. When he reached those words Jibril said: I did not bring you these words. Someone came to me in your form and cast these words on my tongue.[3]

As for Qur’an 59:16 it is related as a parenthetic line in an unusually long story of an Israelite ascetic named Barsisa lured by al-Abyad as a special assignment from the chief devil Iblis. Al-Qurtubi (d. 671/1273) writes:

الأبيض، وهو صاحب الأنبياء، وهو الذي قصد النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم في صورة جبريل ليوسوس إليه على وجه الوحي، فجاء جبريل فدخل بينهما، ثم دفعه بيده حتى وقع بأقصى الهند

Al-Abyad; he was the companion of the prophets and the one who intended to reach to the Prophet (ﷺ) in the form of Jibril to whisper to him in the garb of revelation, however, Jibril intervened and pushed al-Abyad with his hand throwing him to the farthest corner of India.[4]

In commentary to verse 81:25 Muqatil b. Sulayman (d. 150/767) notes:

أن النبي- صلى الله عليه وسلم- حين بعث، قال إبليس: من لهذا النبي الذي خرج من أرض تهامة؟ فقال شيطان- واسمه الأبيض- هو صاحب الأنبياء: أنا له، فأتى النبي- صلى الله عليه وسلم- فوجده فى بيت الصفا فلما انصرف قام الأبيض في صورة جبريل- صلى الله عليه وسلم- ليوحي إليه، فنزل جبريل- عليه السلام- فقام بينه وبين النبي- صلى الله عليه وسلم- فدفعه جبريل- صلى الله عليه وسلم- بيده دفعة هينة فوقع من مكة بأقصى الهند من فرقه

When the Prophet was sent, Iblis said, “Who is for this Prophet who has emerged from the land of Tihamah? And a shaytan called al-Abyad, who was the Companion of the Prophets [sahib al-anbiya’], said: “I and for him.” So he came to the Prophet, and found him in the house of al-Safa. When he (the Prophet) turned, al-Abyad stood up in the form of Jibril (fi surat Jibril) to communicate to him (li-yuhiya ilay-hi). So Jibril came down and put his hand between him and the Prophet and pushed him (al-Abyad) gently. By this, he was thrust away from Mecca and landed in the furthest parts of India.[5]

Famous biographer of the Prophet (ﷺ), ‘Ali b. Ibrahim al-Halabi (d. 1044/1635) writes:

وقد ذكر بعض المفسرين أنه صلى الله عليه وسلم كان له عدوّ من شياطين الجن يقال له الأبيض، كان يأتيه في صورة جبريل. واعترض بأنه يلزم عليه عدم الوثوق بالوحي. وأجيب عنه بمثل ما هنا، وهو أن الله تعالى جعل في النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم علما ضروريا يميز به بين جبريل عليه السلام وبين هذا الشيطان، ولعل هذا الشيطان غير قرينه الذي أسلم.
وفي كلام ابن العماد: وشيطان الأنبياء يسمى الأبيض، والأنبياء معصومون منه، وهذا الشيطان هو الذي أغوى به برصيصا الراهب العابد

Some of the commentators have mentioned that the Prophet (ﷺ) had an enemy from among the demons of the jinn whose name was al-Abyad. And he use to appear to him in the image of Jibril. One may object that it entails distrust in the veracity of revelation. My response to him is that Allah had bestowed on the Prophet (ﷺ) the necessary knowledge by which he would discern between Jibril and this devil who was other than the devil attaché (qarīn) that had submitted (to the Prophet ﷺ and become a Muslim).
Ibn al-‘Imad said: The devil who chased the prophets was known as al-Abyad. The prophets, however, were protected from him, and this was the devil who lured the monk Barsisa.[6]

That the prophets were protected from/ immune to the lures of this devil named al-Abyad is not just a saying of Muslim scholars, infact the very accounts mentioned above underscore this by the way of mentioning Jibril thrashing him when he intended to approach Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ).

That’s all besides the fact that none of the reports mentioning al-Abyad is reliable in terms of narrative authority.


Notes & References:

[1] Ahmed, Shahab, Before Orthodoxy: The Satanic Verses in Early Islam, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2017) 217

[2] Al-Sam‘ani, Abu al-Muzaffar, Tafsir al-Qur’an, (Riyadh: Dar al-Watan, 1998) Vol.3, 449

[3] Al-Razi, Fakhar al-Din, Mafatih al-Ghaib, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1420 AH) Vol.23, 240; Al-Qurtubi, Shams al-Din, al-Jami‘ li-Ahkam al-Qur’an, (Cairo: Dar al-Kutab al-Misriyya, 1964) Vol.12, 84

[4] Al-Qurtubi, al-Jami‘ li-Ahkam al-Qur’an, Vol.18, 37

[5] Muqatil b. Suleman, al-Tafsir, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath, 1423 AH) Vol.4, 602-603 as translated in Ahmed, Shahab, Before Orthodoxy: The Satanic Verses in Early Islam, 218; See also, Al-Qurtubi, al-Jami‘ li-Ahkam al-Qur’an, Vol.19, 242

[6] Al-Halabi, Abu al-Faraj, Insan al-‘Uyun fi Sirat al-Amin al-Ma’mun, (Beirut: DKI, 1427 AH) Vol.1, 361; for the jinn attaché (qarīn) see, Muslim b. Hajjaj, al-Sahih, Hadith 2814

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