Question: Was Iblīs (Shaitan, the Devil) the master of angels before he was cursed?
Yes, he was the master and chief of angels. Islamic scholars declare:
All angels fell prostrate towards Ādam alaihis-salām with the command of Allahu taālā. Iblis, master of angels, did not obey the command and did not fall prostrate. According to a narration transmitted by Hadrat Imām-i Salabī on the authority of Hadrat Ibni Abbas, Iblis was with angels. He was from the tribe of genies, who was created from fire. As for angels, they were created from nūr (light). The former name of Iblīs was Azāzil. He was one of the guards of Paradise. He was the chief of the angels who were in the sky which was the nearest to the Earth. He was the sultan [ruler] of the earthly sky and the earth itself. He was higher than angels in the grade of knowledge. He was administering the affairs of the part between the sky and the earth. For this reason, he became conceited. This state of his drifted him to disobedience to Allah. Allahu taālā, in turn, expelled him from His mercy. (Jāmiul Ahkām)
Hadrat Ibni Abbās declared:
(Iblīs was one of the guards of Paradise. He was administering the affairs of earthly sky.) [Bayhaqī]
Sāid bin Musayyib declared:
(Iblīs was the chief and master of the angels.) [Ibni Jarīr, Imām-i Suyūtī]
Question: It is proclaimed in the Qurān that it was angels who were ordered to fall prostrate. Although Shaitan was not given such an order, why was he punished and cursed?
It is not by any means possible for Allahu taālā to do something wrong or useless or to punish one of His innocent creature without notifying, that is, to inflict oppression. Iblis was living with angels, and he was their master. Allahu taālā ordered the community of angels, which also included Iblīs. If Iblīs had not been in that community, the order issued would not have applied to him. Since the Quranic verses say, But Iblīs did not fall prostrate, he was one of those who were ordered to make prostration. The purport of a verse is as follows:
(We said to the angels, Fall prostrate before Ādam. They all fell prostrate save Iblīs. He was one of the genies. He disobeyed the command of His Rabb. Are you now taking Iblīs and his cohorts as friends instead of Me? In fact, they are your enemies. How evil is the exchange [to give Paradise and to attain Hell instead by taking the followers of Shaitan as friends] on the part of the Zālimūn.) [Sūrat-ul-Kahf, 50]
The purport of two ahādīth reporting that Shaitān was commanded to prostrate himself is as follows:
(When son of Ādam reads the āyah [Quranic verse] of sajdah [prostration] and makes sajdah, Shaitan goes away from there crying. Then he says: Shame on me. Son of Ādam was commanded to make sajdah, and he attained Paradise as he made sajdah. I, too, was commanded to make sajdah, but I became deserving of Hell as I disobeyed it.) [Muslim]
(Beware of conceit. Conceit incited Shaitan not to make sajdah.) [I. Asākir]
Question: Why was Iblīs cursed because of his refusing to fall prostrate before Hadrat Ādam? What is the connection between Shaitans not making prostration to Hadrat Ādam and his being rebellious to Allah? Even if he is disobedient to Allah, does disobedience cause damnation and disbelief? Why did Allah give the order to fall prostrate for Hadrat Ādam instead of Himself?
Prostration was ordered not for Ādam alaihis-salām, but for Allah. That is, it was ordered that prostration be made for Allah in the direction of Hadrat Ādam. We, too, are making prostration for Allah in the direction of the Kaaba. We do not fall prostrate for the Kaaba itself. The angels and Iblīs were commanded that they fall prostrate for Allah in the direction of Ādam alaihis-salām. Shaitan, however, refused to make prostration by saying that this command was wrong. In other words, what caused his being cursed was not his not falling prostrate but his saying that the command of Allah was wrong.
Those who do not perform namāz, who do not fast cannot be called disbelievers (kāfir), though they are in acts of disobedience to Allah. But if they deem namāz or fast unnecessary, they become disbelievers.
Likewise, Shaitan deemed Allahs command inappropriate and said, I was created from fire, but he was created from soil. It is wrong for a being created from fire to accept a being created from soil as the direction for prostration. Thus, he declined to prostrate himself and became one of those who are cursed eternally.