إِنَّ الَّذِينَ اتَّقَوْا إِذَا مَسَّهُمْ طَائِفٌ مِّنَ الشَّيْطَانِ تَذَكَّرُوا فَإِذَا هُم مُّبْصِرُونَ
Innal-ladhīnat-taqaw idhā massahum tā’ifun minash-shaytāni tadhakkarū fa-idhā hum mubsirūn
When those who are God conscious are touched by a visitation of shaytān they remember [Allah] and behold, they perceive.
(Sūrat al-A‘rāf , No 7, Āyat 201)
Whisperings of shaytān/Satan beset the human mind and incline it towards thoughts which lead to inappropriate words and deeds. The root of all forms of wrong speech and actions begins in the mind/heart, fuelled by the whisperings of shaytān and desires of the nafs.
The above verse conveys a vivid description of what happens when shaytān comes to a faithful believer. The word tā’ifun describes how the whisperings surround and encircle the mind, like the one doing tawāf. They keep going around trying to find a way to get through and influence the person. It is constant and persistent, this inner voice with which shaytān speaks to us. It has been compared to a virus that circulates in the air. Those with weak immune systems are more vulnerable to it while the strong and healthy can resist it. Such is the effect of shaytān’s whispers on the souls. Those who allow it to affect them become completely controlled by him. Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali ‘alayhis-salām describes such people in Nahjul Balāgha: They have made shaytān the master of their affairs, and he has taken them as partners. He has laid eggs and hatched them in their bosoms. He creeps and crawls in their laps. He sees through their eyes and speaks with their tongues. In this way he has led them to sinfulness and adorned for them foul things . . . (Sermon 7).
When a person is God conscious and lives life as an obedient servant of Allah ‘azza wajall the whisperings fail to affect. Taqwā is a fortress of protection. It keeps the person alert to invaders who enter to spoil the connection with Allah and enables recognition of the roots of the whisperings. This realization is followed by a withdrawal from the inclinations incited and a remembrance – remembrance of Allah, His expectations of us, our servitude to Him, gratitude for His blessings, apprehension at displeasing Him, etc. The believers also remember how they want to grow and progress, and these whisperings will not allow them to do that. The divine remembrance strengthens the heart, and it puts up a defence. The process is not easy but can be perfected through consistency and repetition.
Everybody, no matter what their age or level of faith etc., will be visited by the shaytān occasionally. Even great scholars have talked about their continued awareness of the dangers of Satanic whispers. The heart will occasionally experience a strong inner movement that can carry the person towards wrong. Overcoming this tide requires inner strength. The incitement is intense in certain circumstances, such as for young people, or those who are in a corrupt place surrounded by spiritual pollution. The provocation of shaytān is harder to overcome in this circumstance hence Islam emphasizes precaution on such occasions
The word ‘mubsirūn’ at the end of the verse tells of the clarity of vision achieved through the process of taqwā and dhikr. The Satanic whisperings put a curtain over the mind. The inner eyes are not able to see. They cannot distinguish truth from falsehood, friend from foe, and right from wrong. Remembering Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā is like opening the curtains to let light in. Sanity, in the form of correct perception, returns. The believer is then able to continue progress on the right path.
Let this verse remind us of what to do when we experience the whispers of the accursed shaytān. We can recognize them through the way they take us away from Allah (swt) and from the path towards perfection that we want to walk on. We need to be alert to it and use the remembrance of Allah to fight it.
Sources: Shaykh Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma’ul Bayān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh