Adam opened his eyes and saw all the angels prostrating before him except one being who was standing at a distance Adam did not know what kind of creature it was that did not prostrate before him nor did he know its name. Iblis was standing with the angels so as to be included in the command given to them but he was not one of them. He was a jinn, and as such he was supposed to be inferior to the angels. What is clear is that this prostration was to show respect and did not mean that the angels were worshipping Adam. Prostrating in worship is done only for Allah.
Almighty Allah recounted the story of Iblis’s refusal to prostate before Adam:
“Remember when your Lord said to the angels, ‘I am going to create a man (Adam) from sounding clay of altered black smooth mud. So when I have fashioned him completely and breathed into him (Adam) the soul which I created for him then fall you down prostrating yourselves unto him’. So the angels prostrated themselves all of them together, except Iblis, he refused to be among the prostrators. Allah said: ‘O Iblis! What is your reason for not being among the prostrators?’ Iblis said: ‘I am not the one to prostrate myself to a human being, whom You created from sounding clay of altered black smooth mud.’ Allah said: ‘Then get out from here for verily you are Rajim (an outcast or cursed one). Verily the curse shall be upon you till
Day of Recompense (Day of Resurrection)'”. (Chapter 15:28-35, Qur’an).
In another surah Almighty Allah recounted it thus:
“Surely We created you (your father Adam) and then gave you shape (the noble shape of a human being), then We told the angels: ‘Prostrate to Adam and they prostrated except Iblis he refused to be of those who prostrate”.
Allah said: “What prevented you Iblis that you did not prostrate when I commanded you?” Iblis said: ‘I am better than him (Adam), You created me from fire and him You created from clay.’ Allah said: ‘Get down from this Paradise, it is not for you to be arrogant here. Get out, for you are of those humiliated and disgraced.’ Iblis said: ‘Allow me respite till the Day of Resurrection).’ Allah said: ‘You are of those allowed respite.'” (Chapter 7:11-15, Qur’an).
Ibn Jarir reported that Muhammad Ibn Sirin said that the first one to reach a conclusion by reasoning was Iblis and that the sun and moon were not worshiped except through this method.
This means that Iblis tried to compare himself to Adam. He believed that he was more honorable than Adam. Therefore he abstained from prostrating even though Allah had commanded him to do so, just as He had commanded the angels.
If an analogy is made we see that Iblis is vain. For indeed clay is better than fire because in it can be found the qualities of calmness, clemency, perseverance and growth; whereas in fire can be found heedlessness, insignificance, haste, and incineration.
Iblis tried in vain to justify his refusal:
“Shall I prostrate to one whom You created from clay?” Iblis said: “See? Those whom You have honored above me, if You give me respite (keep me alive) to the Day of Resurrection, I will surely seize and mislead his offspring (by sending them astray) all but a few!” (Chapter 17:62, Qur’an).
Adam was following what was happening around him and had feelings of love, awe, and astonishment. Deep love of Allah, Who had created and glorified him and Who had made His angels prostrate before him and also awe of the Creator’s wrath when He excluded Iblis from His mercy.
Adam was surprised by this creature, Iblis who abhorred him without even knowing him and who imagined himself better than Adam without having proved that he was worthier. What a strange creature Iblis was, and how strange was his excuse for not prostrating!
He imagined that fire is better than clay, but how did he get such an idea? Such knowledge is exclusive to Allah Who created fire and clay and Who knows which is the better of the two.
From the dialogue Adam realized that Iblis was a creature characterized by cunning and ingratitude. He then knew that Iblis was his eternal enemy. He was greatly astonished at Iblis’s audacity and Allah’s tolerance. Immediately after his creation Adam witnessed the large amount of freedom that Allah gives to His commissioned creatures.
Allah knew that Iblis was not going to obey Him in prostrating before Adam. Allah could have totally annihilated him or turned him into a handful of dust or stifled the refusal in his mouth. Yet, Allah gives His commissioned creatures’ absolute freedom even to the extent that they can refuse Allah the Almighty’s commands. He grants them the freedom of denial, disobedience, and even disagreement with Him. His kingdom will not diminish if the disbelievers do not believe in Him nor will it be extended if many people believe in Him. On the contrary, the disbelievers will lose, and the believers will gain but Allah is above all of that.
There were many traditions about Iblis at the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Ibn Masud, Ibn Abbas and a group of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that Iblis had been the head of the angels in the worldly heavens. Ibn Abbas said in one narration that his name had been Azazil and in another narration he said it had been Al-Harith. Ibn Abbas also said that Iblis was a jinn and that they had once been the keepers of Paradise, with Iblis the most honorable and the most learned and the most pious of them. Another tradition says that he had been one of the famous four possessors of wings (angels), before Allah transformed him into the accursed Satan.
Allah Almighty recounts Iblis’s disobedience in another surah:
“Remember when your Lord said to the angels: ‘Truly I am going to create man from clay. So when I have fashioned him and breathed into him (his) soul created by Me, then you fall down prostrate to him.’ So the angels prostrated themselves all of them; except Iblis, he was proud and was one of the disbelievers.” Allah said: “The truth is, and the truth I say, that I will fill Hell with you and those of them (mankind) that follow you together.” (Chapter 38:71-85, Qur’an).