Shayṭān became Shayṭān because of his defiance and his unwillingness to accept he was at fault. Allāh, the Exalted, gave him a direct command to bow down and show respect to Ᾱdam (‘alayhissalām), the first human being and our father. In his arrogance and jealousy, not only could he not bring himself to do this, but when questioned why he did not obey, he attempted to rationalize his action by claiming he was superior to Ᾱdam. In effect, he claimed Allāh’s command was flawed and his action was right. *
We see the opposite behavior when the Prophet Ᾱdam (‘alayhissalām) was tricked into eating from the forbidden tree. He did so not realizing at the time that what he was doing was a violation of Allāh’s command. But more importantly, as soon as Allāh brought Ᾱdam’s attention to his error, he immediately recognized his mistake, declaring: “Our Lord, we have surely wronged our selves!” (Qur’ān, 7:23), and he begged Allāh for forgiveness. Ᾱdam (‘alayhissalām)’s response was as a slave ought to respond to his Master.
Shayṭān represents the path of arrogance, of rejecting that one made a mistake and rationalizing one’s misdeeds in the face of a clear directive from Allāh. Allāh, Who is the Creator, Master and Sovereign of all creation, is infinitely more aware of what is true and what is right. As stated in several places of the Qur’ān, Allāh knows while we do not know. (Qur’ān, 2:30; 2:216; 2:232; 3:66; 16:74; 24:19) Thus, challenging and objecting to His Divine Authority based on one’s feeble intellect is the height of foolishness, arrogance and audacity – and indeed, disbelief (kufr). Hence, because of this action of Shayṭān, the Qur’ān states that “he came to be of the disbelievers.” (2:34) As a consequence, Shayṭān was expelled and driven out of the lofty position he was once in.
Ᾱdam represents the path of humbleness, of confessing one’s shortcomings before Allāh and begging Him for forgiveness. Allāh says: “And there are others who while recognizing their sins, mix deeds that are good with others that are bad – it may well be that Allāh will turn towards them [in forgiveness].” (Qur’ān, 9:102) As a consequence of Ᾱdam (‘alayhissalām) turning to Allāh in this manner, Allāh “selected him” (20:122) to be amongst His special and elite bondsmen.
The question that we must ask ourselves is whether we are following in the path of Shayṭān, that of arrogance, or in the path of Ᾱdam, that of humbleness? If a person’s approach to Dīn is to seek out justifications for his misdeeds and to rationalize the wrongs he commits, he is following the path of Shayṭān and, ultimately, of Divine Rejection. If, on the other hand, his approach to Dīn is to accept his shortcomings, and with remorse and shame, confess his misdeeds and flaws before Allāh, he is following in the path of Ᾱdam (‘alayhissalām) and of Divine Acceptance.
Imām Abu Nu‘aym al-Aṣbahāni narrates with his chain to the great imām of the Salaf, Sufyān ibn ‘Uyaynah, that he once said:
“One whose disobedience is due to passion, have hope he will repent, since Ᾱdam (‘alayhissalām) fell into disobedience due to passion and his Lord forgave him. But when one’s disobedience is due to overwhelming arrogance, the perpetrator is accursed, as Shayṭān sinned due to arrogance, and was thus cursed.”
(Ḥilyat al-Awliyā’, 7:272)
* What made his action worse is that it was not done out of impulse. Even before the creation of Ᾱdam, Allāh had informed the angels (with Shayṭān amongst them) that He will create man and will order them to bow down before him. (Qur’ān, 15:28-9) Hence, Shayṭān’s response was premeditated and not spontaneous or impulsive.