Azrael (Hebrew: עזראל; Arabic: عزرائيل, translit. ʿIzrāʾīl or Arabic: عزرایل, translit. ʿIzrāīl) is often identified with the Archangel of Death in Hebrew, Sikhism lore, as well as Islam. 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. 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.
In Islamic Belief
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.
In Sikh scriptures written by Guru Nanak, 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.
At the time of the Sikh Gurus many Indian faiths were at loggerheads against the belief of each other. It mainly involved two major faiths of that time in the subcontinent, namely Hinduism and Islam. Sikhism played a major role in unifying all faiths by restoring the faith in one almighty god and helping in mending differences. Hence one finds the mention of an angel of death in both Hinduism and Islam, where many times the angel of death has been addressed as Jamdoot or simply as Jamm and while giving an example from Islam's perspective he has been addressed as Azrael. This also goes on to show that the Sikh Gurus or the Guru Granth Sahib supported the truth of judgment of each individual soul after his/her death in the court of God. A famous and highly regarded Sikh Saint, Bhai Randhir Singh, has given a profound and vivid description of afterlife in his notable work Unditthi Duniya meaning 'A Mystical Invisible World' using his own spiritual experiences and quoting references from Guru Granth Sahib.
A story from Folk-lore of the Holy Land: Muslim, 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
- 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
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