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Evelyn De Morgan - Angel of Death.jpg
A welcoming depiction of the Archangel of Death, as usually attributed to Azrael, by Evelyn De Morgan, 1881.[1]
Angel of Death
Associated religionsIslam, Judaism, Sikhism
AttributesArchangel; psychopomp; wings; cloak
AssociationsJibrail, Mīkhā'īl, and Isrāfīl (in Islam)
Alternate spellings
  • ʿÁzarʾēl
  • ʿAzrāʾīl orʿIzrāʾīl
  • Ajrā-īl
  • Ezrā’ël
Appearance in text

Azrael (/ˈæzriəl/; Hebrew: עֲזַרְאֵל‎, romanizedʿÁzarʾēl; Arabic: عزرائيل‎, romanizedʿAzrāʾīl orʿIzrāʾīl) is the angel of death in Islam and some traditions of Judaism.[2] He is also referenced in Sikhism.[3]

Relative to similar concepts of such beings, Azrael holds a rather benevolent role as God's angel of death, wherein he acts as a psychopomp, responsible for transporting the souls of the deceased after their death.[4] Both in Islam and Judaism, he is said to hold a scroll concerning the fate of mortals, recording and erasing their names at their birth and death, respectively.[5][6]: 234 

Depending on the perspective and precepts of the various religions in which he is a figure, he may also be portrayed as a resident of the Third Heaven, a division of heaven in Judaism, Islam and Christianity.[7] In Islam, he is one of the four archangels, and is identified with the Quranic Malak al-Mawt (ملك الموت‎, 'angel of death'), which corresponds with the Hebrew-language term Mal'akh ha-Maweth (מלאך המוות‎) in Rabbinic literature. In Hebrew, Azrael translates to 'Angel of God' or 'Help from God'.[7]

Etymology in Judaism[edit]

The name Azrael indicates a Hebrew-language origin, and archeological evidence found in Jewish settlements in Mesopotamia confirm that it was indeed used in Aramaic Incantation texts from the 7th century.[8] However, as the text only lists names, it cannot be determined whether Azrael was associated with death before the advent of Islam.

After the emergence of Islam, the name Azrael becomes popular among both Jewish and Islamic literature, as well as folklore. The name spelled as Ezrā’ël appears in the Ethiopic version of Apocalypse of Peter (dating to the 16th century) as an angel of hell, who avenges those who had been wronged during life.[9]

Significance in Islam[edit]

Along with Jibrail, Mīkhā'īl, and Isrāfīl, Azrael is one of the four major archangels in Islam.[10] He is responsible for taking the souls of the deceased away from the body.[11][12] Azrael does not act independently, but is only informed by God when time is up to take a soul.[13]

According to one Muslim tradition, 40 days before the death of a person approaches, God drops a leaf from a tree below the heavenly throne, on which Azrael reads the name of the person he must take with him.[12] The "Islamic Book of Dead" describes him with 4 faces, 4000 wings, and 70,000 feet, and his whole body consists of eyes and tongues whose number corresponds to the number of men inhabiting the Earth.[5][7][14]

In Quran and exegesis[edit]

Surah 32:11 mentions an angel of death identified with Azrael.[15] When the unbelievers in hell cry out for help, an angel, also identified with Azrael, will appear on the horizon and tell them, they have to remain.[16] Other Quranic verses refer to a multitude of angels of death. According to exegesis, these verses refer to lesser angels of death, subordinative to Azrael, who aid the archangel in his duty. Tafsir al-Baydawi mentions an entire host of angels of death, subordinative to Azrael.[17]

Relationship between Azrael and Death[edit]

Islam elaborated further narratives concerning the relation between Azrael and Death. One account explains death and its relation to Azrael, representing Death and Azrael as former two separate entities, but when God created Death, God ordered the angels to look upon it and they swoon for a thousand years. After the angels regained consciousness, death recognized it must submit to Azrael.[18] According to another famous narrative, God once ordered to collect dust from earth from which Adam is supposed to be created. Only Azrael succeeded, whereupon he was destined to become the angel concerning life and death of humanity.

In folklore[edit]

Azrael kept his importance in everyday life. According to the Sufi teacher Al-Jili, Azrael appears to the soul in a form provided by its most powerful metaphors. A common belief holds that the lesser angels of death are for the common people, while saints and prophets meet the archangel of death himself.[19] Great prophets such as Moses and Muhammad are invited politely by him, but saints are also said to meet Azrael in beautiful forms. It is said that, when Rumi was about to die, he laid in his bed and met Azrael in human shape.[20] The belief that Azrael appears to saints before they actually die to prepare themselves for death, is also attested by the testament of Nasir Khusraw, in which he claims to have met Azrael during his sleep, informing him about his upcoming death.[21]

Western reception[edit]

The Islamic notion of Azrael, including some narratives such as the tale of Solomon, a hadith reaching back to Shahr Ibn Hawshab,[22] was already known in America in the 18th century as attested by Gregory Sharpe and James Harris.[22]

Some Western adaptions extended the physical description of Azrael, hence the poet Leigh Hunt depicts Azrael as wearing a black-hooded cloak. Although lacking the eminent scythe, his portrayal nevertheless resembles the Grim Reaper.[22] Henry Wadsworth Longfellow mentions Azrael in The Reaper and the Flowers as an angel of death, but he is not equated with Samael, the angel of death in Jewish lore who appears as a fallen and malevolent angel, instead.[23] Azrael also appears in G. K. Chesterton's poem "Lepanto" as one of the Islamic spirits commanded by "Mahound" (Muhammad) to resist Don John of Austria's crusade. In the Smurfs, the cat of the evil wizard Gargamel is called Azrael.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smith, Elise Lawton. 2002. Evelyn Pickering De Morgan and the Allegorical Body. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. ISBN 9780838638835. p. 153–54.
  2. ^ "Azrael". Encyclopædia Britannica. [1998] 2020.
  3. ^ Guru Arjan Dev, and Guru Nanak Dev. Sri Guru Granth Sahib. pp. 315, 721, 723, 724, 953, 1019, 1084.
  4. ^ Davidson, Gustav. 1968. "Longfellow's Angels". Prairie Schooner 42(3):235–43. JSTOR 40630837.
  5. ^ a b Hastings, James; Selbie, John A. (2003), Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 3, Kessinger Publishing, p. 617, ISBN 0-7661-3671-X
  6. ^ Hamilton, Michelle M. 2014. Beyond Faith: Belief, Morality and Memory in a Fifteenth-Century Judeo-Iberian Manuscript. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9789004282735.
  7. ^ a b c Davidson, Gustav. [1967] 1971. "A § Azrael". Pp. 64–65 in A Dictionary of Angels, Including the Fallen Angels. New York: Free Press. ISBN 9780029070505.
  8. ^ Stephen Burge Angels in Islam: Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti's al-Haba'ik fi Akhbar al-malik Routledge 2015 ISBN 978-1-136-50473-0
  9. ^ S. R. Burge (University of Edinburgh) cZR’L, The Angel of Death and the Ethiopic Apocalypse of Peter
  10. ^ Noegel, Scott B.; Wheeler, Brannon M. (2002). Historical Dictionary of Prophets in Islam and Judaism. Scarecrow. ISBN 9780810843059.
  11. ^ Çakmak, Cenap. 2017. Islam: A Worldwide Encyclopaedia, 4 vols. ABC-Clio. ISBN 9781610692175. p. 137
  12. ^ a b Houtsma, Martijn Theodoor. [1913–1936] 1987. E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936, edited by R. Arnold and C. Gibb. Leiden: Brill Publishers. ISBN 978-9-004-08265-6. p. 570.
  13. ^ Smith, Jane I., and Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad. 1981. Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 9780873955072. p. 35.
  14. ^ Shaikh Muhammad ibn Habib translated by Aisha Abd- ar Rahman at-Tarjumana Islamic Book of Dead Hadith Concerning the Fire and the Garden Diwan Press 1977 isbn 0 950444618 pp. 33-34
  15. ^ Cenap Çakmak Islam: A Worldwide Encyclopedia [4 volumes] ABC-CLIO 2017 ISBN 9781610692175 pp. 137
  16. ^ Christian Lange|Locating Hell in Islamic Traditions| BRILL | 978-90-04-30121-4 | p. 93
  17. ^ Michelle M. Hamilton Beyond Faith: Belief, Morality and Memory in a Fifteenth-Century Judeo-Iberian Manuscript BRILL, 14.11.2014 ISBN 9789004282735 p. 235
  18. ^ Jane I. Smith, Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection State University of New York Press 1981 ISBN 9780873955072 p. 34-35
  19. ^ Michelle M. Hamilton Beyond Faith: Belief, Morality and Memory in a Fifteenth-Century Judeo-Iberian Manuscript BRILL, 14.11.2014 ISBN 9789004282735 p. 235
  20. ^ Davidson, Gustav. A Dictionary of Angels, Including the Fallen Angels. New York: Free Press. Simon & Schuster. p. 255.
  21. ^ Rubanovich, Julia. 2015. Orality and Textuality in the Iranian World: Patterns of Interaction Across the Centuries. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9789004291973. p. 148.
  22. ^ a b c Al-Garrallah, Aiman Sanad. 2016. "The Islamic tale of Solomon and the Angel of Death in English Poetry: Origins, Translations, and Adaptations". Forum for World Literature Studies 8(4):528–47. ISSN 1949-8519. Issue link.
  23. ^ Davidson, Gustav (Fall 1968). "Longfellow's Angels". Prairie Schooner. 42 (3): 235–243. JSTOR 40630837.