Qur'an Spiritual Purification With the Divine

Satan’s Seven Strategies

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gingerman/6425747869/in/photostream/Lecture by Suhaib Webb | Transcribed by Fuseina Mohamad

Surat Al-Fatiha Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIVPart XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII Part XXIV | Part XXV


Last time we talked about the protection that Surat Al-Faatiha provides us from Shaytan (Satan). We also discussed the long story in the seventh chapter of the Qur’an in which Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (exalted is He) orders the angels and Iblees (Satan) to prostrate to Adam `alayhi sallatu wa salaam (may God send His peace and blessings on him). The Devil refuses. Allah (swt) then asks Shaytan what stopped him from making the sujood (prostration) to Adam. Shaytan explains that he is better than Adam (as) because Shaytan’s essence is fire (he was a jinn) while Adam’s is clay. We then discussed the attack of Shaytan from the right, left, front and back, and Shaytan says very few people will be grateful to Allah (swt).  Next, we discussed the three doors which Shaytan uses to get to us and we explained that no one should feel secure from the plans of the Devil.

Today, we will discuss the seven habits of highly destructive individuals. These are the seven steps that Shaytan uses to get to us, and they become activated once Shaytan gets through one of three doors: anger, desire, or negligence.

Before we begin, I wanted to discuss some additional notes about negligence. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:

“And We have certainly created for Hell many of the jinn and mankind. They have hearts with which they do not understand, they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear. Those are like cattle; rather, they are more astray. It is they who are the heedless.”(Qur’an 7:179)

It can be said about the Muslim who chronically misses Fajr (pre-dawn prayer) out of negligence that he is more astray than cattle. My grandfather was a farmer from Tonkawa, Oklahoma. He used to raise and herd cattle. Allah (swt) says the negligent are more astray than cattle—what time do cattle wake up? The crack of dawn. Shortly before the rising of the sun, cows will be up mooing. Subhan’Allah  (glory be to God) we see that the cow is more guided than this Muslim, because that Muslim prays his Fajr at 8:30 a.m. whereas the cow has the ability to wake up at the crack of dawn. That’s why Allah (swt) says they are even more astray than cattle.

Allah (swt) mentioned the quality of these people who are going to be in Hellfire is negligence. If you go to many Muslim countries, when do people say they’re going to make Hajj? Tomorrow? No. They say, “When I’m 70,” or “After I retire.” This is negligence.

When Shaytan enters through one of these three doors he attempts to destroy you. That’s why in the Qur’an in many places Allah (swt) says, “O you who have believed, enter into Islam completely [and perfectly] and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.” (Qur’an 2:208)

Allah (swt) says that Shaytan has khutwaat (steps). The word is plural, showing that Shaytan has levels that he works on. Shaytan doesn’t just come with one or two strategies, but he comes with a multiplicity of ways to wipe you out, and he has your playbook. He knows how to beat you, as the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) warned us.

One day while the Prophet ﷺ was in ‘itikaaf (extended period of prayer) at the masjid he was walking his wife Saffiyyah radi Allahu `anha (may Allah be please with her) home. Someone saw them and the Prophet ﷺ said, “This is Saffiyah!” They were surprised and they said, “Ya Rasool Allah (Oh Messenger of Allah)! We would never think that you had a girlfriend or something like that.” The Prophet ﷺ responded and said, “Yes, but Shaytan travels through people like blood through the body.”

In another hadith (narration) the Prophet ﷺ said that any time the sons of Adam have a child, Shaytan has a child. This child knows you. You have a Shaytan which is specifically assigned to you and he knows your weaknesses and how to play on them. We know the famous hadith of the Prophet ﷺ when he said, “When the month of Ramadan comes the doors of Paradise are open and the doors of Hellfire are closed and the devils are chained.” According to Ibn Hajr, this is all the devils except one: the devil that is specifically assigned to you. Even in the month of Ramadan he hangs out with you. If you don’t mention Allah’s (swt) name he will hang out with you more and more. That will be discuss at the end, insha’Allah (if God wills).

According to Ibn Qayyim, Shaytan uses seven strategies to wipe you out, and they are ranked according to your ability to defend yourself. They are:

  1. To make someone a kaafir (someone who is given the message and he rejects it).
  2. To make someone commit al bid’ah (innovation).
  3. To make someone commit major sins.
  4. To make someone commit minor sins.
  5. Wasting time doing things that are permissible.
  6. To choose to do the lesser of two good deeds.
  7. An all out attack.

To make you a rejecter: The first goal of the devil is to make you a kaafir (a rejecter).

First of all, why do we say rejecter, not disbeliever? A kaafir is someone who was given the message and he rejected it. That’s why we don’t say every non-Muslim in America or in the world are kuffaar (rejecters). Only the people who have been given the message and rejected it are called kuffaar. The word kafara means to reject, to cover up. That’s why in classical Arabic a farmer is called a kaafir (don’t try this with your Arab friends though!).  Allah (swt) gives an example of the life of this world and says, “. . . like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the farmers . . .” (Qur’an 57:20). The word used for “farmers” in this verse is kuffaar, because a farmer is someone who covers things up, he buries seeds in the ground. Similarly a rejecter is someone who covers up his fitrah (natural human disposition towards virtue, knowledge, and the oneness of God) when the message is given to him, and denies/rejects the faith.

So, the goal of Shaytan is to make us commit shirk (associate partners with Allah (swt)) or to become kaafir. Why do you think the devil starts there? What does belief entail, if someone believes in Allah (swt) correctly? Their deeds will be accepted by Allah (swt) and they will go to Paradise. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an “. . . Indeed, Allah only accepts from the righteous [who fear Him],” (Qur’an 5:27). Taqwa (God consciousness) is linked with belief. Someone who doesn’t believe in Allah (swt) is losing time in this life. If someone disbelieves in Allah (swt) it’s a one way ticket to Hellfire. That’s why this is the ultimate goal of Shaytan.

One lesson we can take from this is that Shaytan prioritizes. How many of us have priorities in our life? Whenever the scholars begin a book of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) they always begin with purification, because if you’re not purified you cannot do anything. They’re trying to teach us, even by the way they organize the book itself, to prioritize.

Shaytan can attempt to make us disbelievers in a number of ways:

  1. Intellectually. Someone may become so convinced in their own intelligence that they decide, “I don’t believe in this. Islam doesn’t make any sense. This ruling doesn’t make sense.”
  2. Through doubts, as was mentioned previously.
  3. Through desires. Imam Ghazaali mentioned that if someone sins a lot they will start to justify the sin. For example, it’s your first day of college and, as one brother told me, the most difficult day to keep your iman (faith) is a hot day. You’re walking down the campus and suddenly you see something you shouldn’t see and you say, “ASTAGHFIRALLAH (I seek Allah’s (swt) forgiveness)!” Then you walk a few more blocks and you see it again and this time you say, “Hmm . . . AstaghfirAllah.” Then after you go across the entire campus you start to say, “Masha’Allah (Allah has willed it)! SubhanAllah (Glory be to Allah)!” This is because the iman (faith) is going down due to desires.

You can be safe from this attack by following the way of the Prophets, starting from Nuh (as). We don’t say that Adam (as) was a Messenger, we believe he was a Prophet. Messengers reform people, but Adam’s (as) family was born on fitrah (natural disposition to righteousness). His family was born as Muslims. The first reformer as a Messenger was Nuh (as), as is mentioned in the Qur’an. So in order to protect ourselves we should follow this line of prophetic teaching which came to us with what we call tawaatur (continuous narration). Prophet after prophet after prophet came and the message was the same. If we find someone who comes later on saying something different than what this large body of Messengers and Prophets said we should be careful of it. This is the way to make sure our belief, our understanding of life, our cognitive outlook, and our physical application in life are sound.

To commit bid’ah:

If Shaytan doesn’t succeed in making someone a disbeliever or a polytheist, he tries to make them commit al bid’ah (innovation).

We hear the word bid’ah a lot, sometimes it’s used correctly and sometimes it’s not. We can learn from the hadith of Aisha (ra). Aisha (ra) related over 2,000 ahadtih on behalf of the Prophet ﷺ. She narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever invents something new in this religion that’s not from it will have it rejected.” The ‘ulema (scholars) say that this hadith along with another hadith make up Islam in its entirety. The first hadith has to do with the interior aspects of the Muslim and this hadith from Aisha (ra) has to do with the exterior. The hadith that has to do with the interior is, “Actions are by intentions.”

The word bid’ah comes from the word ba-da-‘ah  بدع. Does anyone know one of the names of Allah (swt) that came from this same root? Al Badee’. Allah (swt) says He is Badee`ul as-samaawaati wa al ardh (Originator of the heavens and the earth). This shows that badee` is a word that can only be applied to Allah (swt). According to Einstein, matter is neither created nor destroyed. This is true in the realm of human beings, but Allah (swt) says, “Everyone on the earth will perish,” (Qur’an 55:26), so we believe that everything will be destroyed by Allah (swt). The laws of physics apply to us but not to the Creator of the laws of physics. Badee` means the One who created matter from nothing. There was no usage of elements to create something else, it was created from absolutely nothing.

If you understand the term al-Badee` then you can understand the verse, “Nor is there to Him any equivalent,” (Qur’an 112:4). There is nothing like Allah (swt) because we, as human beings, may create but it is not really creating. It is a manipulative creation. For example, now we’re cloning goats. They did not create the goat from absolutely nothing; rather they used something that already existed. But, as is mentioned in the Qur’an, “His command is only when He intends a thing that He says to it, “Be” and it is,” (Qur’an 36:82). Allah (swt) creates from nothing. That’s why we say that Allah (swt) is not like anything else.

So, the word bid`ah means someone brings something into Islam that has no basis in shariah (Islamic jurisprudence). An example of this is the dhikr beads (prayer beads). Some people say the dhikr beads are a bid`ah. But, if we go to the authentic texts of the time of the Prophet ﷺ, we find that the Companions of the Prophet ﷺ used to make tasbeeh (glorifying Allah (swt)) with stones, according to a sound narration. So, is the use of dhikr beads founded on some source in shariah? Yes, because we found proof in shariah that the Companions of the Prophet ﷺ used to use a bead-like substance to do tasbeeh. That’s why Sh. Ibn Uthaymeen from Saudi Arabia said that to use tasbeeh is supported by shariah.

Now what if I said that next week instead of having class, we will meet at the top of a tall building. Then we will jump off the building and yell, “Ya Latif (Oh, the Most Subtle),” as loudly as we can, and we’ll do this every week until we die? This has no foundation in shariah. This would be a bid`ah. It’s very easy to understand this concept, but unfortunately we split our mosques and study circles because of this issue of bid’ah.

Why is it Shaytan’s goal to cause people to commit bid’ah?  Ibn Qayyam says that this is because when somebody is committing bid’ah they are assuming that they are doing something good. So, when you approach them and say, “SubhanAllah, brother. Jumping off a building and yelling ‘Ya Latif!’ is not good.” The person will respond, “Don’t you want to worship Allah?” This is the trick of Shaytan, to cause someone to think they are doing something good, so that when they are advised they reject the advice.

It’s also important to remember that when we are giving advice, we should do so gently. We shouldn’t come to someone and yell, “This is bid’ah, brother! This is haraam (forbidden)! You’ve left the sunnah (the teachings of the Prophet ﷺ)!” Rather we should approach them gently: “I love you so much. You are my brother/sister. I’d like to talk to you about this issue.” People would be much more apt to accept such advice. I remember one time there was a brother who was praying and in his salah (prayer) he did not do some of the sunnan (practices of the Prophet ﷺ) of the salah. Now, we know that the sunnan do not negate anyone’s salah, since they are not the arkaan (necessary components) of salah, for example raising the hands from rukoo (bowing). Afterwards one brother stood up and said, “Wallahi akhi (I swear by Allah, brother), your prayer is not according to the sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ !” And the brother who was praying responded, “And your way of advising me is not from the sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ either.”  This shows that sometimes when we advise people harshly when it’s not needed we push them even further into doing something that’s incorrect.

Ibn Qayyim continues to say that when a person who is doing bid`ah thinks he is doing something right, this is a very dangerous situation. It’s like Pandora’s box. A person falls further and further into their incorrect practice and has no idea that they are making bid`ah, in the meantime rejecting any advice they receive. We can protect ourselves from this by sticking to the Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Anything that will bring you closer to Allah (swt), I have taught to you, and anything that will take you away from Allah (swt), I have warned you about.” (Tirmidhi). Unfortunately, especially overseas in some places where people are not very literate, we find the king of bid`ah minting money from the people. I remember a man who was selling lemons and he was telling the people that he was a wali (a friend of Allah (swt)). It is from our belief that we believe in the awliyaa (friends) of Allah (swt). But this man was telling people, “I am a wali, and I am selling lemons. And there is a hadith of the Prophet ﷺ where he says that whoever buys lemons will go to Paradise.”

Now you might ask him, “Where did you hear this hadith?”

He will say, “Well, you see, I was given a dream, and in that dream I was told this hadith. I’m actually the only narrator of this hadith.”

Then you might say, “Well, are you sure the Prophet ﷺ said we should buy lemons, not oranges?”

“Yes, I’m sure he said lemons.”

“And, conveniently, you happen to be selling lemons.”

“Yes. And, I should also tell you something special. If I blow on a lemon for you, I have to raise the price because I have a blessed breath.”

Unfortunately, despite all of this, people will buy from such a person. I remember one of my teachers saw such a person and recognized the man to be a former classmate of his. He approached him and asked him what he was doing. The man said, “I am minting money.” Clearly, he was admitting this was something that’s not at all found in the shariah.

Another example is the famous email of Ahmed the janitor in the Prophet’s ﷺ mosque. According to the email, one day this janitor in the Prophet’s ﷺ mosque was sweeping when suddenly the Prophet ﷺ appeared in front of him, and brother Ahmed was completely in shock. The Prophet ﷺ told our dear respected friend, the Companion of the Broom, that he’d been chosen. “Indeed,” he was told, “you are a blessed janitor. No one wears rubber gloves the way you do. So I have chosen you to be my next khalifah (caliph), and I have given you the authority to change some aspects of shariah, and you are now the leader of the Muslims. They must obey you, or they will be cursed.”

Well, Ahmed happened to have his laptop with him, as he was sweeping the Prophet ﷺ ’s masjid. And it had a satellite connection! At that moment Ahmed wrote an email. He had already memorized the email addresses of every major Muslim email group in the world, so he sent the email everywhere, with a warning at the end of it that if you don’t resend this email you will be cursed by Allah (swt). It was even said that there was one brother who had an IT job in Santa Clara. He failed to forward this email, and now he’s jobless.

Sheikh Yusef Qaradawi received this email, so he called the masjid in Madinah to investigate. He said, “I need to ask you a very important question.”

They responded, “Oh, yes, Sheikh Qaradawi! Is it about a fatwa? Do you have some important issue?”

“No, actually I wanted to know, is there a janitor that works there named Ahmed?”

“No, Sheikh there is not.”

“Can you look through the records, even going to the time of the Ottoman empire, and see if there’s ever been a janitor working there named Ahmed?”

“No, Sheikh.”

Yet, people continued to forward this email, and the issue of Ahmed became a bid`ah. People may not be praying, but they were more afraid of this email than the consequences of neglecting salah. People who have girlfriends or boyfriends, or people going to the club, were more afraid of the fabricated janitorial existence of a person named Ahmed than they were of the existence of Allah (swt). Shaytan is very deceptive, so much so that he can convince someone to contribute to this bid`ah.

The way to be safe from bid`ah, as we mentioned earlier, is to stick to the Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ. The Prophet ﷺ said, “تركت فيكم أمرين لن تضلوا ما تمسكتم بهما : كتاب الله وسنتي” “I am leaving you two things, whoever holds fast to them will never go astray: the book of Allah and my Sunnah.” This is related by Imam Maalik in his Mu’atah. Notice at the end of Surat Al-Faatiha we say, “Guide us to the straight path; The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray,” (Qur’an 1:6-7). In this hadith the Prophet ﷺ talks about going astray, and he uses the word lan. Lan in Arabic is different from “no”. It means “never, ever, ever”. The Prophet ﷺ says you will never, ever be lost or astray if you hold fast to the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

To commit major sins:

The third trick of Shaytan in trying to destroy us is to get us to commit major sins. Major sins are called al-kabaair in Arabic. There’s a book written in Arabic by Imam Al-Thahabi called, “The Major Sins.” Read that book, especially if you feel that you are about to commit haram (something unlawful). It will wake you up.

What is a major sin, and how do we differentiate a major sin from a minor sin?

A major sin is any sin which is clearly mentioned in the Qur’an as being haraam, or any sin that Allah (swt) or the Prophet ﷺ linked to a punishment, such as the hellfire, lashes or being stoned. The greatest of all sins is shirk (associating partners with Allah (swt)). Some other examples of major sins are adultery, lying, disrespect to one’s parents, not praying, not praying on time, or not fasting in Ramadan without an excuse. There’s an innumerable amount of major sins. If someone here is thinking, “Wow, I commit all of these things, what am I going to do?” remember what Allah (swt) said in a famous hadith:

“O sons of Adam, if you were to sin, and your sins were to be stacked between the heavens and the earth, and you didn’t associate partners with Me and you asked for My forgiveness, I will forgive you.”

From this hadith we can take a few lessons. First, we now understand why the first thing Shaytan tries to make us do is associate partners with Allah (swt), because look at the condition Allah (swt) places in the hadith. Secondly, why does Allah (swt) call us “O sons of Adam” not “O human beings”? Because the first person to sin then repent and be forgiven was Adam (as), so Allah (swt) wants to remind us of this. This is the beauty of the speech of Allah (swt) and the Prophet ﷺ. A person hearing this hadith should think, “SubhanAllah, Allah forgave Adam (as) so if He wills, He can forgive me also.”

In discussing major sins, we should go to the hadith of isra wal miraaj (the night journey and the ascension) where the Prophet ﷺ described some of the punishments in al-barzakh (the time between death and judgment), not in the aakhirah (the hereafter). The Prophet ﷺ said, “I was with two angels and Jibreel (as). I saw some people in a big pit of fire. They were completely naked, and the fire would blaze while their bodies were on top of it and they would be screaming. I asked Jibreel, ‘Who are these people?’ and he replied, ‘These are the people of fornication.’ Then I saw a person in the middle of a river made of blood. This person was trying to get out of the river and come to the shore. As he was coming he would be hit in the face with stones, and it was the blood coming from his head that had made this river of blood. I asked Jibreel who the man was and he said, ‘The person of ribaa (interest).’ Then I saw a person who was sitting and a large stone was dropped on his head. The stone would return and his head would come back to normal. As soon as his head returned to normal, the stone would be dropped on his head once again. I asked Jibreel who he was and he said, ‘This is the person who has the Qur’an and doesn’t pray with it in the night.’ Then I saw some people whose lips and tongues were being cut with scissors, and as soon as their lips and tongues were cut they would come back to normal. I asked who those people were, and Jibreel said, ‘They are the people who backbite.’”

We find that in this long hadith in Sahih Bukhaari many of the major sins are mentioned. The major sins are those sins which can be linked with punishment. We learn that if Shaytan cannot get us to be a kaafir (someone who denies the truth) then he attempts to get us into punishment.

About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship. Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010.


  • mashaAllah, barakallah!
    a very good reminder to me. actually today i was not in a good mood. bad tempered whenever people try to mess with me. i should be patient more, i know. i was trying to figure out where i was wrong this few days. as mention above, maybe i have been committed some minor sins which i didnt realize while doing it.astaghfirullahalazim.btw, jazakallahukhair for this remembrance.may Allah bless u…amin.

  • MashahALLAH…..i learn so much by this great article. I was really looking for something like this-which open my mind.

    JazakALLAH kHAIYR!!

  • I’m so scared of the punishments, people backbite all the time, i keep trying with my salah and quran and i keep failing. I’m crying now

  • In the worldly people satan/iblis can be recognised…
    The Four Categories Three . 1.Maloon meaning Voilent.Laieegn meaning Sexually Perverted. Regime meaning Adjoined to Power and Violence. Makruh meaning Dirty or spreading dirt…

    He keeps himself dirty and exploits clean environment .
    He has sexually perverted body./Iblis paints his thin bread black.
    He talks in conspiracy/under-words.
    He is a whisperer.
    He conspires in violence.
    He makes reservation and oppresses the weaker people.
    He adjoins with breaking the Commandments.

    may Allah keep us all safe from the Satan The Regime!

  • Jazzak Allah Khair. I was waiting for this post when the prior post, Prayer of Shaitan was released. I know how difficult it can be to write well AND use as much info with keeping the intended audience in mind at the same time… so Mashallah! I will be patiently waiting for this post to be done. Will the other steps of satan be covered in the near future?

  • Salaam,
    Shukran for the article.I need clarification on #5 from Ibn Qayyim list:
    On #5: Wasting time doing things that are permissible.,
    shouldn’t the wording be: ‘Wasting time doing things that are IMPERMISSIBLE’?
    If not, is doing what is permissible , ‘wasting time’?

  • AsSalamu Alaikum Brother,

    JazakAllah Khairan. Al Hamdulillah, Your article has so many benefit. I have one question brother, about the hadith referring below, could it please be possible to tell me in which hadith book it is mentioned?

    “”In another hadith (narration) the Prophet ﷺ said that any time the sons of Adam have a child, Shaytan has a child. This child knows you.””


  • same with this one brother, If you put the reference for me, please, as I know it is otherwise, I can correct myself if I get the reference. Thank you brother.

    ====””if we go to the authentic texts of the time of the Prophet ﷺ, we find that the Companions of the Prophet ﷺ used to make tasbeeh (glorifying Allah (swt)) with stones, according to a sound narration.””===

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