Sa’eed bin Jubayr reported that Ibn `Abbas radhiAllahu ‘anhu said concerning Allah’s statement,
‘The whisperer (Al-Waswas) who withdraws.’ The devil who is squatting (perched) upon the heart of the son of Adam. So when he becomes absentminded and heedless he whispers. Then, when he remembers Allah he withdraws.” Mujahid and Qatadah also said this.
Al-Mu`tamir bin Sulayman reported that his father said, “It has been mentioned to me that Shaytan is Al-Waswas. He blows into the heart of the son of Adam when he is sad and when he is happy. But when he (man) remembers Allah, Shaytan withdraws.” Al-`Awfi reported from Ibn `Abbas:
‘The whisperer.’ He is Shaytan. He whispers and then when he is obeyed, he withdraws.”
The word waswas in waswas-il-khannas means the one who whispers over and over again, and waswasa means to whisper into someone’s heart an evil suggestion over and over again in such a way or ways that the one who is being inspired may not feel that the whisperer is whispering an evil suggestion into his heart.
Waswasah by itself suggests repetition just as zalzalah contains the meaning of repetitive movement. Since man is not tempted by just one attempt effort has to be made over and over again to seduce and tempt him, all such attempts are called waswasah and the tempter waswas.
As for the word khannas, it is derived from khunus, which means to hide after appearing and to retreat after coming into view. Since khannas is the intensive form, it would imply the one who behaves in such a manner quite frequently.
Since the whisperer has to approach man for whispering again and again, after whispering once he retreats and then again returns to repeat the act of whispering. In other words, when once he fails in his attempt to whisper evil, he withdraws, then he again returns to make the second and the third and the next attempt over and over again.
Ayaat 5 – 6 – Are There Devils Among Mankind too?
As for Allah’s saying,
الَّذِى يُوَسْوِسُ فِى صُدُورِ النَّاسِ
“…Who whispers [evil] into the breasts of mankind…”
A question may arise is this specific for the Children of Adam as is apparent, or is it general, including both mankind and Jinns?
There are two views concerning this. This is because they (the Jinns) are also included in the usage of the word An-Nas (the people) in most cases.
Ibn Jarir said, “The phrase Rijalun min Al-Jinn (Men from the Jinns) has been used in reference to them, so it is not strange for the word An-Nas to be applied to them also.” Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala answers this in the last Ayah,
مِنَ الْجِنَّةِ وَالنَّاسِ
“From among the Jinn and mankind.”
This explains who is it that whispers into the chests of mankind from the devils of mankind and Jinns. This is similar to Allah’s saying,
وَكَذَلِكَ جَعَلْنَا لِكُلِّ نِبِىٍّ عَدُوّاً شَيَـطِينَ الإِنْسِ وَالْجِنِّ يُوحِى بَعْضُهُمْ إِلَى بَعْضٍ زُخْرُفَ الْقَوْلِ غُرُوراً
“And so We have appointed for every Prophet enemies — Shayateen among mankind and Jinn, inspiring one another with adorned speech as a delusion.” (6:112)
Imam Ahmad recorded that Ibn `Abbas said, “A man came to the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! Sometimes I say things to myself that I would rather fall from the sky than say (aloud openly).’ The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, ‘Allah is Most Great! Allah is Most Great! All praise is due to Allah Who sent his (Shaytan’s) plot back as only a whisper.’” Abu Dawud and An-Nasa’i also recorded this Hadith.
So we learn that the whispering of evil is done by devils from among the jinns as well as by devils from among men. We have been taught this Surah as a prayer to seek refuge from the evil of both.
In the Hadith, lmam Ahmad, Nasa’i, and Ibn Hibban have related on the authority of Abu Dharr a tradition, saying: “I sat before the Prophet, who was in the Mosque. He said: Abu Dharr, have you performed the Prayer? I replied in the negative. He said: Arise and perform the Prayer. So, I performed the Prayer. The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said: O Abu Dharr, seek Allah’s refuge from the devils of men and the devils of jinn. I asked, Are there devils among men also? O Messenger of Allah! He replied: Yes.“
For information on waswasahs, read Ibn al-Qayyim book titled: Waswasah – The Whispering of Shaytan.