Azrael is often identified with the Archangel of Death in some traditions and folklore but not in any religious texts. The name is sometimes attributed to the angel of retribution in Islamic theology and Sikhism but the name Azrael is not actually used in the Qur'an nor considered as a religious personification. The name Azrael is an English form of the Arabic name ʿIzrāʾīl (عزرائيل) or Azra'eil (عزرایل), the name traditionally attributed to the angel of death in some sects of Islam and Sikhism, as well as some Hebrew lore. The Qur'an never uses this name, rather referring to Malak al-Maut (which translates directly as angel of death). Also spelled Izrail, Azrin, Izrael, Azriel, Azrail, Ezraeil, Azraille, Azryel, Ozryel, or Azraa-eel, the Chambers English dictionary uses the spelling Azrael. The name literally means One Whom God Helps, in an adaptive form of Hebrew.
Depending on the outlook and precepts of various religions in which he is a figure, Azrael may be portrayed as residing in the Third Heaven. In one of his forms, he has four faces and four thousand wings, and his whole body consists of eyes and tongues, the number of which corresponds to the number of people inhabiting the Earth. He will be the last to die, recording and erasing constantly in a large book the names of men at birth and death, respectively.
In Jewish mysticism, he is commonly referred to as "Azriel," not "Azrael." The Zohar (a holy book of the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah), presents a positive depiction of Azriel. The Zohar says that Azriel receives the prayers of faithful people when they reach heaven, and also commands legions of heavenly angels. Accordingly, Azriel is associated with the South and is considered to be a high-ranking commander of God's angels.
There is no reference to Azrael in the Catholic Bible, and he is not considered a canonical figure within Christianity. There is, however, a story in 2 Esdras (disallowed by the Catholic and Protestant Churches, but considered canonical in Eastern Orthodox teachings) which is part of the Apocrypha. 2 Esdras has the story of a scribe and judge named Ezra, also sometimes written "Azra" in different languages. Azra was visited by the Archangel Uriel and given a list of laws and punishments he was to adhere to and enforce as judge over his people. Azra was later recorded in the Apocrypha as having entered Heaven "without tasting death's taint". Depending on various religious views, it could be taken as Ezra ascending to angelic status. This would add the suffix "el" to his name, which denotes a heavenly being (e.g. Michael, Raphael, Uriel). Hence, it would be Ezrael/Azrael. This would put him more in accordance to an angel of punishment, akin to the views of the Jean Paul Valley character (which was also named Azrael). Later books also state a scribe named Salathiel, who was quoted as saying, "I, Salathiel, who is also Ezra". Again, depending on certain views of Christian spirituality, this could be seen as angelic influence from Ezrael/Azrael on Salathiel, though this view of spirituality is neither confirmed nor denied by the Catholic Church.
While 2 Esdras is not considered canonical by most Christian views, several quotes from the book are used for the Requiem Anternam, showing that it still has some relevance to traditional Christian view points.
In some cultures and sects, Azrael (also pronounced as ʿIzrāʾīl /Azriel) is the name referring to the Angel of Death by some Arabic speakers. The name is mentioned in a few Muslim books although some Muslims argue that it has no basis of reference. Along with Jibrīl, Mīkhā'īl, Isrāfīl and other angels, the Angel of Death is believed by Muslims to be one of the archangels. The Qur'an states that the angel of death takes the soul of every person and returns it to God. However, the Qur'an makes it clear that only God knows when and where each person will be taken by death,. Several Muslim traditions recount meetings between the Angel of Death and the prophets, the most famous being a conversation between the Angel of Death and Moses. He watches over the dying, separates the soul from the body, and receives the spirits of the dead in Muslim belief. Rather than merely representing death personified, the Angel of Death is usually described in Islamic sources as subordinate to the will of God "with the most profound reverence." However, there is no reference within the Qur'an or any Islamic teachings giving the angel of death the name of Azrael.
Some have also disputed the usage of the name Azrael as it is not used in the Qur'an itself. However, the same can be said about many Prophets and angels who are also not mentioned by name in the Qur'an.
Riffian (Amazigh) men of Morocco had the custom of shaving the head but leaving a single lock of hair on either the crown, left, or right side of the head, so that the angel Azrael is able "to pull them up to heaven on the Last Day."
In Sikh scriptures written by Guru Nanak Dev Ji, God (Waheguru) sends Azrael to people who are unfaithful and unrepentant for their sins. Azrael appears on Earth in human form and hits sinful people on the head with his scythe to kill them and extract their souls from their bodies. He then brings their souls to Sheol, and makes sure that they get the punishment that Waheguru decrees once he judges them. This would portray him as more of an avenging angel, or angel of retribution, rather than just an angel of death. It is unknown which story of Azrael this view is taken from.
However, it is a poetic description to warn the people of earth that if they continue committing sins they would be punished accordingly and Waheguru would not be lenient to anyone. The Sikh Gurus or the Guru Granth Sahib does not support the existence of an angel of death. The whole universe is working in accordance to a set of rules set by him and there is no one other than him to preside over it.
A story from Folk-lore of the Holy Land: Moslem, Christian and Jewish by J. E. Hanauer tells of a soldier with a gambling addiction avoiding Azrael. Because the soldier goes to Jesus and asks for help, then later must see Jesus and repent to be allowed back in Heaven, this story can be seen as a Christian account of Azrael. However, this story does not specify whether Azrael is an angel of death, or an angel of punishment.
In Popular Culture
Azrael is featured in the video game Darksiders.
The Asrael Symphony for large orchestra in C minor (Czech: „Asrael“, Symfonie pro velký orchestr C moll), Op. 27 (1905–1906), was written by Josef Suk in memory of his father-in-law and teacher, Antonín Dvořák (died 1904), and his wife (Dvořák's daughter) Otilie Suková (née Dvořáková) (died 1905).
Azrael is a key character in the novel Azrael's Wrath by Joseph Robert Lewis. She cannot kill, but instead punishes the wicked for all the death and suffering she has seen.
Azrael is mentioned in G. K. Chesterton's poem Lepanto. Summoned by Mahound along with Aerial and Ammon.
In Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 universe, Azrael is the Supreme Grand Master of the Dark Angels chapter of Space Marines.
- Death (personification)
- Islamic view of angels
- Punishment of the Grave
- Thanatos, the personification of Death in Greek mythology
- Davidson, Gustav (1967), A Dictionary of Angels, Including The Fallen Angels, Entry: Azrael, pp. 64, 65, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 66-19757, ISBN 9780029070505
- Shri Guru Granth Sahib, Section 07 - Raag Gauree - Part 165, "Azraa-eel, the Angel of Death, shall crush them like sesame seeds in the oil-press."
- Davidson, Gustav (1967), A Dictionary of Angels, Including The Fallen Angels, Entry: Third Heaven, p. 288, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 66-19757, ISBN 9780029070505
- Hastings, James, Selbie, John A. (Editors) (2003), Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 3, Kessinger Publishing, 2003, ISBN 0-7661-3671-X
- Zohar 2:202b
- Historical Dictionary of Prophets in Islam and Judaism, Brannon M. Wheeler (2002), Azrael, Scarecrow Press, ISBN 9780810843059
- Qur'an 32:11
- Qur'an 31:34
- Hanauer, J.E. (1907), Folk-lore of the Holy Land: Muslim, Christian and Jewish, Chapter V: The Angel of Death, at sacred-texts.com
- El Maghreg: 1200 Miles' Ride Through Morocco, Hugh Edward Millington Stutfield
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