Angels in Islam

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Angel in a Turkic-Uzbek miniature, in the style of Bukhara, 16th century
'Angel Blowing a Woodwind', ink and opaque watercolor painting from Iran, c. 1500, Honolulu Academy of Arts

In Islam, angels (Arabic: ملاك٬ ملك‎, romanizedmalāk, malak; plural: ملائِكة malā'ikah)[1] are believed to be heavenly beings, created from a luminous origin by God.[2] They have different roles, including their praise of God, interacting with humans in ordinary life, defending against devils and carrying on natural phenomena. Islam acknowledges the concept of angels both as anthropomorphic creatures with wings and abstract forces advising good.[3] Belief in angels is one of the main articles of faith in Islam.[4]

The Quran is the principal source for the Islamic concept of angels, but more extensive features of angels appear in hadiths, Mi'raj literature, Islamic exegesis, theology, philosophy, and mysticism.[2][5] The angels differ from other spiritual creatures in their attitude as creatures of virtue, in contrast to devils and jinn.[2][6]

Angels play an important role in Muslim everyday life by protecting the believers from evil influences and recording the deeds of humans.

Characteristics[edit]

Angels are heavenly creatures created by God. One of the Islamic major characteristic is their lack of bodily desires; they never get tired, do not eat or drink, and have no anger.[7] As with other monotheistic religions, angels are characteristics of their purity and obedience to God.[8] In Islamic traditions, they are described as being created from incorporeal light (Nur) or fire (Nar).[9][a]

Angels are usually described in anthropomorphic forms combined with supernatural images, such as wings, being of great size, wearing heavenly clothes and great beauty.[17] Some angels are identified with specific colors, often with white, but some special angels have a distinct color, such as Gabriel being associated with the color green.[18]

The Quran says that the angels were considered to be daughters of God and worshipped in Pre-Islamic Arabia,[19] while newborn girls were often killed, which is condemned in Islam.[20] This is also mentioned concerning Al-Lat, Al-Uzza, and Manāt.[21] The notion that God created the angels as females and fathered daughters is rejected in the Quran.[22]

Nobility[edit]

Humans and angels[edit]

Scholars debated whether human or angels rank higher. The prostration of angels before Adam is often seen as evidence for humans' supremacy over angels. Nevertheless, other hold angels to be superior, as being free from material deficits, such as anger and lust, Angels are free from such inferior urges and therefore superior, a position especially found among Mu'tazilites and some Asharites.[23]

A similar opinion was asserted by Hasan of Basri, who argued that angels are superior to humans due to their infallibility, originally opposed by both Sunnis and Shias.[24] This view is based on the assumption of superiority of pure spirit against body and flesh. Contrarily argued, humans rank above angels, since for a human it is harder to be obedient and to worship God, hassling with bodily temptations, in contrast to angels, whose life is much easier and therefore their obedience is rather insignificant. Islam acknowledges a famous story about competing angels and humans in the tale of Harut and Marut, who were tested to determine, whether or not, angels would do better than humans under the same circumstances,[25] a tradition opposed by later scholars, such as ibn Taimiyya, but still accepted by earlier scholars, such as ibn Hanbal.[26]

Maturidism generally holds that angels' and prophets' superiority and obedience derive from their virtues and insights to God's action, but not as their original purity.[27]

Some Sufi traditions argue that a human generally ranks below angels, but developed to Al-Insān al-Kāmil, he ranks above angels.[28] Comparable to another major opinion, that prophets and messengers among humans rank above angels, but the ordinary human below an angel, while the messengers among angels rank higher than prophets.[23]

Impeccability[edit]

The possibility and degree of erring angels is debated in Islam.[29] In the early Islamic period, supernatural creatures were not expected to understand sin or expiate it. They only follow their nature created by God.[30] Hasan of Basra is often considered one of the first who established the doctrine of infallibility of angels by reinterpreting verses which seem to imply erring angels.[31] He was also one of the earliest scholars who rejected an angelic origin for Iblis, arguing that his fall was the result of his own free-will, not God's determination. Abu Hanifa (d. 767), on the other hand divided them into three categories. Obedient angels, like Gabriel; disobedient angels, like whose who teach sorcery and unbelieving angels, like Iblis and his host.[32]

The Quran mentions the fall of Iblis (whose angelic nature is also objected) from among the angels in several Surahs, as interpreted by various scholars, to the netherworld (Sijjin).[33] Objection to a complete infallibility of angels rests on these events in the Quran.[34] Surah 2:102 implies that a pair of angels fell to earth and introduces magic to humanity. According to Surah 2:30, angels complained about God's decision to create Adam.[35] In Shia traditions, a cherub called Futrus was cast out from heaven and fell to the earth in the form a snake.[36] According to the Isma'ilism work Umm al-Kitab, Azazil boasts about himself being superior to God until he is thrown into lower celestial spheres and ends up on earth.[37]

Al-Maturidi 853–944 CE) pointed at verses of the Quran, according to which angels are tested by God and concludes angels have free-will, but, due to their insights to God's nature, always choose to obey.[38][39] Since both the Quran and Kutub al-Sittah describe angels erring or failing to accomplish that has been ordered to them, Sunni scholars (Kalam) also explained that angels might be effected by circumstances, like smell or confusion when God created Adam.[40][41][42][43]

Al-Taftazani (1322 AD –1390 AD) accepted that angels might slip into error and become disobedient, but rejected that angels would ever consciously turn against God's command and become unbelievers.[44] Most scholars of Salafism usually reject accounts on erring angels entirely and do not investigate this matter further.[45]

Purity[edit]

Angels believed to be engaged in human affairs are closely related to Islamic purity and modesty rituals. Many hadiths, including Muwatta Imam Malik from one of the Kutub al-Sittah, talk about angels being repelled by humans' state of impurity.[46]: 323  Such angels keep a distance from humans, who polluted themselves by certain actions (such as sexual intercourse). However, angels might return to an individual as soon as the person (ritually) purified himself or herself. The absence of angels may cause several problems for the person. If driven away by ritual impurity, the Kiraman Katibin, who record people's actions,[46]: 325  and the Guardian angel,[46]: 327  will not perform their tasks assigned to the individual. Another hadith specifies, during the state of impurity, bad actions are still written down, but good actions are not. When a person tells a lie, angels nearly are separated from the person from the stench it emanates[46]: 328  Angels also depart from humans when they are naked or are having a bath out of decency, but also curse people who are nude in public.[46]: 328 

In philosophy[edit]

Inspired by Neoplatonism, Al-Farabi developed a cosmological hierarchy, governed by several Intellects. For Al-Farabi, human nature is composed of both material and spiritual qualities. The spiritual part of a human exchanges information with the angelic entities, who are defined by their nature as knowledge absorbed by the God-head.[47] A similar function is attested in the cosmology of Ibn Sina, who however never uses the term angels throughout his works. For Ibn Sina, the Intellects have probably been a necessity without any religious connotation.[48]

The chain of being, according to Muslim thinkers, includes minerals, plants, animals, human and angels. Muslim philosophers usually define angels as substances endowed with reason and immortality. Humans and animals are mortal, but only men have reason. Devils are unreasonable like animals, but immortal like angels.[49][50]

The Sufi and philosopher Al Ghazali (c. 1058 – 19 December 1111) divides human nature into four domains, each representing another type of creature: Animals, beasts, devils and angels.[51] Traits human share with bodily creatures are the animal, which exists to regulate ingestion and procreation and the beasts, used for predatory actions like hunting. The other traits humans share with the jinn[b] and root in the realm of the unseen. These faculties are of two kind: That of angels and of the devils. While the angels endow the human mind with reason, advices virtues and leads to worshipping God, the devil perverts the mind and tempts to abusing the spiritual nature by committing lies, betrayals and deceits. The angelic natures advices how to use the animalistic body properly, while the devil perverts it.[53] In this regard, the plane of a human is, unlike whose of the jinn and animals, not pre-determined. Humans are potentially both angels and devils, depending on whether the sensual soul or the rational soul develop.[54][55]

In Ibn Abbas Mi'raj narrative[edit]

Muhammad requests Maalik to show him Hell during his heavenly journey. Miniature from The David Collection.
Muhammad encounters the Angel composed of fire and ice during his Night journey. Miniature from a copy of al-Sarai's Nahj al-Faradis from The David Collection

Muhammad's encounter with several significant angels on his journey through the celestial spheres plays a major role in Ibn Abbas's version.[56][57] Many scholars such as Al-Tha`labi drew their exegesis upon this narrative, but it never led to an established angelology as known in Christianity. The principal angels of the heavens are called Malkuk, instead of Malak.[58]

First heaven Second heaven Third heaven Fourth heaven Fifth heaven Sixth heaven Seventh heaven
Habib Angel of Death Maalik Salsa'il Kalqa'il Mikha'il (Archangel) Israfil
Rooster angel Angels of death Angel with seventy heads Angels of the sun - Cherubim Bearers of the Throne
Ismail (or Riḍwan) Mika'il Arina'il - - Shamka'il Afra'il

Individual angels[edit]

Islam has no standard hierarchical organization that parallels the division into different "choirs" or spheres hypothesized and drafted by early medieval Christian theologians, but does distinguish between archangels and angels. Angels are not equal in status and consequently, they are delegated different tasks to perform.

Archangels[edit]

  • Jibrā'īl/Jibrīl/Jabrīl (English: Gabriel),[59] the angel of revelation. Jibra'il is the archangel responsible for revealing the Quran to Muhammad, verse by verse. Jibra'il is the angel who communicates with all of the prophets and also descends with the blessings of God during the night of Laylat al-Qadr ("The Night of Divine Destiny (Fate)"). Jibra'il is also acknowledged as a magnificent warrior in Islamic tradition, who led an army of angels into the Battle of Badr and fought against Iblis, when he tempted Isa.[60]
  • Mīkāl/Mīkāʾīl/Mīkhā'īl (English: Michael),[61] the archangel of mercy, is often depicted as providing nourishment for bodies and souls while also being responsible for bringing rain and thunder to Earth.[62] Some scholars pointed out that Mikail is in charge of angels who carry the laws of nature.[63]
  • Isrāfīl (frequently associated with the Jewish and Christian angel Raphael), is the archangel who blows into the trumpet in the end time, therefore also associated with music in some traditions.[64] Israfil is responsible for signaling the coming of Qiyamah (Judgment Day) by blowing a horn. On his association with Raphael, the historian Ali Olomi writes, "In esoteric circles, Israfil is the angel of the West, the Sun, and sometimes Thursday. Other times the angel of Jupiter Sarfayail is assigned to Thursday. The astrological overlap may hint at a parallel with the Jewish angel Seraphiel or Raphael."[65]
  • 'Azrā'īl/'Azrayl/Azrael, is the archangel of death. He and his subordinative angels are responsible for parting the soul from the body of the dead and will carry the believers to heaven (Illiyin) and the unbelievers to hell (Sijjin).[66][67]

Mentioned in Quran[edit]

  • Nāzi'āt and Nāshiṭāt, helpers of Azrail who take the souls of the deceased.[68]
    • Nāzi'āt: they are responsible for taking out the souls of disbelievers painfully.
    • Nāshiṭāt: they are responsible for taking out the souls of believers peacefully.
  • Hafaza, (The Guardian angel):
    • Kiraman Katibin (Honourable Recorders),[69] two of whom are charged to every human being; one writes down good deeds and another one writes down evil deeds. They are both described as 'Raqeebun 'Ateed' in the Qur'an.
    • Mu'aqqibat (The Protectors)[70] who keep people from death until its decreed time and who bring down blessings.
  • Angels of Hell:
    • Maalik, Chief of the angels who govern Jahannam (Hell).
    • Nineteen angels of hell, commanding the Zabaniyya, to torment sinful people in hell.
  • Those angels who distribute provisions, rain, and other blessings by God's Command.[71]
  • Those angels who drive the clouds.[72]
  • Cherubim, who are close to God and request forgiveness for the sinners.
  • Hamalat al-'Arsh, those who carry the 'Arsh (Throne of God),[73] comparable to the Christian Seraph.
  • Harut and Marut, often depicted as fallen angels who taught the humans in Babylon magic; mentioned in Quran (2:102).[74]

In canonical hadith collections[edit]

  • The angels of the Seven Heavens.
  • Jundullah, those who helped Muhammad in the battlefield.[75]
  • Those that give the spirit to the fetus 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.[76]
  • Malakul Jibaal (The Angel of the Mountains), met by the Prophet after his ordeal at Taif.[77]
  • Munkar and Nakir, who question the dead in their graves.[78]

Other[edit]

  • Ridwan, the keeper of Paradise.
  • Artiya'il, the angel who removes grief and depression from the children of Adam.[3]
  • Habib, an angel Muhammad met during his night journey composed of ice and fire.
  • The angels charged with each existent thing, maintaining order and warding off corruption. Their exact number is known only to God.[c][80]
  • Darda'il (The Journeyers), who travel the earth searching out assemblies where people remember God's name.[81]

Disputed[edit]

  • Dhul-Qarnayn, believed by some to be an angel or "part-angel" based on the statement of Umar bin Khattab.[82]
  • Khidr, sometimes regarded as an angel which took human form and thus able to reveal hidden knowledge exceeding those of the prophets to guide and help people or prophets.[83]
  • Azazil, in many early reports a former archangel, who was among those who were commanded to bow before Adam, but he refused to and was banished to hell.

Sufism[edit]

Angels as companions[edit]

Later Sufism angels are not merely models for the mystic but also their companions. Humans, in a state between earth and heaven, seek angels as guidance to reach the upper realms.[84] Some authors have suggested that some individual angels in the microcosmos represent specific human faculties on a macrocosmic level.[85] According to a common belief, if a Sufi can not find a sheikh to teach him, he will be taught by the angel Khidr.[86][87] The presence of an angel depends on human's obedience to divine law. Dirt, depraved morality and desecration may ward off an angel.[84]

Angels and devils[edit]

Just as in non-Sufi-related traditions, angels are thought of as created of light. Al-Jili specifies that the angels are created from the Light of Muhammad and in his attribute of guidance, light and beauty.[88] Influenced by Ibn Arabis Sufi metaphysics, Haydar Amuli identifies angels as created to represent different names/attributes of God's beauty, while the devils are created in accordance with God's attributes of Majesty, such as "The Haugthy" or "The Domineering".[89] Sufi cosmology divides the world into several realms.

According to al-Ghazali humans consist of animalistic and spiritual traits. From the spiritual realm (malakut), the plane in which symbols take on form, angels and devils advise the human hearth (Qalb).[90] However, the angels also inhabit the realm above the imaginal realm, in which the devils dwell, that is considered the realm from which reason ('aql) derives from (Alam al Jabarut).

Unlike kalām (Theology), Sufi cosmology usually makes no distinction between angels and jinn, understanding the term jinn as "everything hidden from the human senses". Ibn Arabi states: "“[when I refer to] jinn in the absolute sense of the term, [I include] those which are made of light and those which are made of fire.”[91] While most earlier Sufis (like Hasan al-Basri) advised their disciples to imitate the angels, Ibn-Arabi advised them to surpass the angels. The angels being merely a reflection of the Divine Names in accordance within the spiritual realm, humans experience the Names of God manifested both in the spiritual and in the material world.[84] Haydar Amuli specifies that angels are created from the Light of Muhammad and reflect guidance, light and beauty, while the devils God's attributes of "Majesty", "The Haughty" and "Domineering".[89]

Rejection of traditions in Salafism[edit]

Contemporary Salafism continues to regard the belief in angels as a pillar of Islam and regards the rejection of the literal belief in angels as unbelief and an innovation brought by secularism and Positivism. Modern reinterpretations, as for example suggested by Nasr Abu Zayd, are strongly disregarded. Simultaneously, many traditional materials regarding angels are rejected on the ground, they would not be authentic. The Muslim Brotherhood scholars Sayyid Qutb and Umar Sulaiman Al-Ashqar reject much established material concerning angels, such as the story of Harut and Marut or naming the Angel of Death Azrail. Sulayman Ashqar not only rejects the traditional material itself, he furthermore disapproves of scholars who use them.[92]

Islamic Modernist scholars such as Muhammad Asad and Ghulam Ahmed Parwez have suggested a metaphorical reinterpretation of the concept of angels.[93]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Differences between nur and nar have been debated in Islam. In Arabic, both terms are closely related morphologically and phonetically.[10] Al-Baydawi explains that light serves only as a proverb, but fire and light refers actually to the same substance.[11] Apart from light, other traditions also mention exceptions about angels created from fire, ice or water.[12] Tabari argued that both can be seen as the same substance, since both pass into each other but refer to the same thing on different degrees.[13] Asserting that both fire and light are actually the same but on different degrees can also be found by Qazwini and Ibishi.[14][15] Suyuti distinguishes in his work Al-Hay’a as-samya fi l-hay’a as-sunmya angels as created from "fire that eats, but does not drink" in opposition to devils created from "fire that drinks, but does not eat" which is also identified with the fire of the sun.[16]
  2. ^ here referring to unseen creatures in general[52]
  3. ^ According to Muhammad al-Bukhari, when Muhammad journeyed through the celestial spheres and met Ibrahim in Bait al-Makmur, there are 70,000 angels in that place.[79] (not a total number of angels)

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