Islamic view of angels
The astrophysicist Nidhal Guessoum in his book “Islam’s Quantum Question” has pointed to modern Islamic scholars, like Muhammad Asad and Ghulam Ahmed Parwez who have emphasized a metaphorical reinterpretation of the concept of angels. For example, Asad highlighted the following words in the Quran as evidence that the aid provided by angels in the Battle of Badr was not literal: “and God ordained this only as a glad tiding.”
There is no standard hierarchical organization in Islam that parallels the division into different “choirs” or spheres, as hypothesized and drafted by early medieval Christian theologians. Most[who?] Islamic scholars agree that this is an unimportant topic in Islam, simply because angels have a simple existence in obeying God already, especially since such a topic has never been directly addressed in the Quran. However, it is clear that there is a set order or hierarchy that exists between angels, defined by the assigned jobs and various tasks to which angels are commanded by God. Some scholars suggest that Islamic angels can be grouped into fourteen categories as follows, of which numbers two-five are considered archangels. Not all angels are known by Muslims however, the Quran and hadith only mentions a few by name. Due to varied methods of translation from Arabic and the fact that these angels also exist in Christian contexts and the Bible, several of their Christian and phonetic transliteral names are listed:
- Jibrail/Jibril (Judeo-Christian, Gabriel), the angel of revelation. Jibril is the archangel responsible for revealing the Quran to Muhammad, verse by verse. Jibrail is widely known as the angel who communicates with (all of) the prophets and also for coming down with God’s blessings during the night of Laylat al-Qadr (“The Night of Divine Destiny (Fate)”). Jibril is mentioned by name in the Quran.
- Israfil or Israafiyl (Judeo-Christian, Uriel), is an archangel in Islam who will blow the trumpet twice [or thrice] at the end of time. According to the hadith, Israfil is the angel responsible for signaling the coming of Qiyamah (Judgment Day) by blowing a horn. The blowing of the trumpet is described in many places in the Quran. It is said that the first blow will bring all to attention, will end all life, while the second blow will bring all human beings back to life again to meet their Lord for their final judgement. Those who say it is three blows, say the first one will cause everyone to be startled. The second: everyone will die; and the third will be that of resurrection.
- Mikail (Judeo-Christian, Michael), who provides nourishments for bodies and souls. Mikail is often depicted as the archangel of mercy who is responsible for bringing rain and thunder to Earth. He is also responsible for the rewards doled out to good people in this life.
- ‘Azrael/’Azraaiyl also known as Malak al-maut (Judeo-Christian, Azrael), the angel of death. He is responsible for parting the soul from the body. He is only referred as malak al-maut, meaning angel of death, in the Quran.
In Islam, the functions that the angels perform vary, one of the most prominent of these functions is their function as messengers. The angel Jibreel (Gabriel) is the most important (prominent) messenger angel, as in Islam, he delivers the message of God (Allah) to the Islamic prophets. Angels cannot be seen as they are heavenly beings but that can take on different forms, including human. One well known example is when God sent the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) to Maryam (Mary) in the form of a man, as God says in the Quran:
…then We sent her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects.
Similarly, angels also came to ʾIbrāhīm (Abraham) in human form, and he was not aware that they were angels until they told him so. Lūṭ (Lot) also had angels come to him to warn him of the impending doom of his people. All angels praise and glorify God and they never become tired of doing this.
They celebrate His praises night and day, nor do they ever flag or intermit.
…for in the presence of thy Lord are those who celebrate His praises by night and by day. And they never flag (nor feel themselves above it).
There are angels standing in rows, who never get tired or sit down, and others who bow or prostrate, and never raise their heads. Abu Dharr al-Ghifari is quoted as saying:
“The Messenger of Allah (Peace & Blessings of Allah be upon Him) said: ‘I see what you do not see and hear what you do not hear. The heaven makes a noise like groaning, and it has the right to (or it is no surprise), for there is no space in it the width of four fingers, but there is an angel there, placing his forehead in sujood(prostration) to Allah. By Allah, if you knew what I know, you would laugh little and weep much, you would not enjoy your relationships with women and you would go out in the street praying to Allah.'”
O ye who believe! save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who flinch not (from executing) the Commands they receive from Allah, but do (precisely) what they are commanded.
The Quran also mentions that angels have qualities that may be typified by the word wings:
Praise be to Allah, Who created (out of nothing) the heavens and the earth, Who made the angels, messengers with wings,- two, or three, or four (pairs):…
Narrated Abu Ishaq-Ash-Shaibani:
I asked Zir bin Hubaish regarding the Statement of Allah: “And was at a distance Of but two bow-lengths Or (even) nearer; So did (Allah) convey The Inspiration to His slave (Gabriel) and then he (Gabriel) Conveyed (that to Muhammad). (53.9-10) On that, Zir said, “Ibn Mas’ud informed us that the Prophet had seen Gabriel having 600 wings.”
The angels also accompanied Muhammad up to Jannah (Heaven) when he received commands from God. Instead of riding on an angel, Muhammad rode a creature called aBuraq whose stride spans from horizon to horizon.
Angels are not equal in status and consequently they have been delegated different tasks to perform. The names and roles of some angels have been mentioned to us:
- The angels of the Seven Heavens.
- Hafaza, (The Guardian Angel):
- Kiraman Katibin (Honourable Recorders), two of whom are charged to every human being; one writes down good deeds and the another one writes down evil deeds. They are both described as ‘Raqeebun ‘Ateed’ in the Qur’an.
- Mu’aqqibat (The Protectors) who keep people from death until its decreed time and who bring down blessings.
- Jundullah, those who help Muhammad in the battlefield
- The angels who violently pull out the souls of the wicked,
- Those who gently draw out the souls of the blessed,
- Those angels who distribute (provisions, rain, and other blessings) by (God’s) Command.
- Those angels who drive the clouds.
- Hamalat al-‘Arsh, those who carry the ‘Arsh (Throne of God), comparable to the Christian Seraph
- Those that give the spirit to the foetus in the womb and are charged with four commands: to write down his provision, his life-span, his actions, and whether he will be wretched or happy.
- The Angel of the Mountains
- Munkar and Nakir, who question the dead in their graves.
- Darda’il (The Journeyers), who travel in the earth searching out assemblies where people remember God’s name.
- The angels charged with each existent thing, maintaining order and warding off corruption. Their number is known only to God.
- There is the angel who is responsible for Jannah (Paradise). A weak hadeeth says his name is Ridwan so as far as we know, there is no name for sure that we know of.
- Maalik is the chief of the angels who govern Jahannam (Hell)
- Zabaniah are 19 angels who torment sinful persons in hell
These angels take no pity on punishing them as they do what the Lord has commanded them to precisely and perfectly. A verse stipulates this:
O ye who believe! save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who flinch not (from executing) the Commands they receive from Allah, but do (precisely) what they are commanded.— Quran, sura 66 (At-Tahrim), ayah 6
Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Isa, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah;
Muhammad, speaking of the magnitude of the angel Gabriel, has said that his wings spanned from the eastern to the western horizon.
— Muhammad al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 457
Verses in the Quran that directly name angels
Gabriel (Jibreel) and Michael (Meekaal) are mentioned early on the Quran in sura Al-Baqarah:
Say: Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel-for he brings down the (revelation) to thy heart by Allah’s will, a confirmation of what went before, and guidance and glad tidings for those who believe,-
Whoever is an enemy to Allah and His angels and messengers, to Gabriel and Michael,- Lo! Allah is an enemy to those who reject Faith.
Another angel, Maalik is defined in the Quran as a being who is the warden of Hell. However Maalik is not an evil angel, nor a fallen one, a notion Islam rejects, rather Maalik is merely doing what he is commanded to do by God. In Islam, Iblīs or Shayṭan (the Devil or Satan) is considered to be a jinn rather than a fallen angel, since he questioned God when He ordered the angels to prostrate themselves before Adam, an act that suggested he possesses free will. An alternative view holds that rather than “defying” God, Iblis was acting in a manner predetermined by God.
They will cry: “O Malik! would that thy Lord put an end to us!” He will say, “Nay, but ye shall abide!”
Two other angels are also mentioned directly in the Quran: Haaroot and Maaroot (Harut and Marut):
— Quran, sura 2 (Al-Baqara) ayah 102