Harut and Marut

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This folio from Walters manuscript W.659 depicts the angels Harut and Marut hanging as a punishment for being critical of Adam's fall

Harut and Marut (Arabic: هَـارُوت وَمَـارُوت‎, Hārūṫ wa-Mārūṫ) are two angels mentioned in ayah (verse) 102 of the second surah of the Quran, who were present during the reign of Sulaymân (Arabic: سُـلَـيْـمَـان‎, Solomon), and were located at Bābil (Arabic: بَـابِـل‎, Babylon).[1][2] According to some narratives, those two angels were in the time of Idrîs (Arabic: إِدْرِيْـس‎). The Quran indicates that they were a trial for the people and through them the people were tested with sorcery. The names are probably etymologically related to Haurvatat and Ameretat, two Zoroastrian archangels.[3]

Islamic interpretations[edit]

Story of Harut and Marut[edit]

The angels were astonished at the acts of disobedience committed by the human beings on earth, claiming they would do better than them. Therefore, God challenged the angels to choose two representatives among them, who would descend to earth and be endowed with bodily desires. During their stay on earth, they fell in love with a woman named Zohra (often identified with Venus). She told them she would become intimate with them if they joined her in idolatry. The angels refused and remained pious. Later they met her again and the woman this time stated she would become intimate with them if they drank alcohol. The angels thought that alcohol could not cause great harm and therefore, they accepted the condition. After they were drunk, they became intimate with her and after noticing a witness, they killed him. On the next day, Harut and Marut regretted their deeds but could not ascend to heaven anymore due to their sins, as their link to the angels was broken. Thereupon, God asked them, either their punishment shall be in this world or in the hereafter. They chose to be punished on earth and therefore were sent to Babel, teaching humans magic but not without warning them that they were just a temptation.[4]

Ibn Kathir interpretation[edit]

The 14th-century scholar Ibn Kathir interprets the story of Harut and Marut in a more modern manner of rejecting Isra'iliyyat; although regarding their story as sound in chain of narrations, but since it goes back to Ibn Abbas and not to Muhammad himself, he asserts Muslims should not follow this narrative.[5] Instead he goes into depth about what exactly the angels had taught to the people in his book, Stories of the Qur'an:

Narrated Al-`Ufi in his interpretation on the authority of Ibn `Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him) pertaining to Allah's Statement {They followed what the Shayatin (devils) gave out (falsely of the magic) in the lifetime of Sulaiman (Solomon). Sulaiman did not disbelieve, but the Shayatin (devils) disbelieved, teaching men magic and such things that came down at Babylon to the two angels, Harut and Marut but neither of these two (angels) taught anyone (such things) till they had said, "We are only for trial, so disbelieve not (by learning this magic from us).”...} When Sulaiman lost his kingdom, great numbers from among mankind and the jinn renegaded and followed their lusts. But, when Allah restored to Sulaiman his kingdom and the renegade came to follow the Straight Path once again, Sulaiman seized their holy scriptures which he buried underneath his throne. Shortly after, Sulaiman (Peace be upon him) died. In no time, the men and the Jinn uncovered the buried scriptures and said: This was a book revealed by Allah to Sulaiman who hid it from us. They took it as their religion and Allah the Almighty revealed His Saying: {And when there came to them a Messenger from Allah confirming what was with them, a party of those who were given the Scripture threw away the Book of Allah behind their backs as if they did not know!}. (Al-Baqarah, 101) and they followed what the devils gave out, i.e. all that blocks the remembrance of Allah.[6]


Some Islamic exegetes prefer to view Harut and Marut as ordinary men than actual angels, who learned magic from devils since their legend cannot be certainly attributed to Muhammed.[7] This also shall defend the impeccability of angels, as already asserted by Hasan of Basra,[8] but mostly emphasized during the Salafi-movement.[9]

According to Muslim scholar Ansar Al-'Adl, many interpretations of the verse originated from alleged Judeo-Christian sources that came to be recorded in some works of Quranic exegesis, called Tafsir. Numerous stories have been transmitted about these verses, yet all center around the same basic story. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, translator of the Qur'an into English, asserts that the source of this story may be the Jewish Midrash:

Among the Jewish traditions in the Midrash was a story of two angels who asked Allah's permission to come down to earth but succumbed to temptation, and were hung up by their feet at Babylon for punishment. Such stories about sinning angels who were cast down to punishment were believed in by the early Christians, also (see II Peter 2:4, and Epistle of Jude, verse 6).[10]

However, most recent research in the field of Islamic Studies has established that the earliest possible date for the Midrash dealing with the Harut & Marut narrative, dates from the 11th century and thus postdates the advent of Islam by more than 400 years:

Careful comparison of the developed narratives of the "Tale of Harut and Marut" and the Midrash amid the larger literary corpora within which they are embedded suggests that the Muslim Harut wa-Marut complex both chronologically and literarily precedes the articulated versions of the Jewish Midrash. What is likely the oldest Hebrew form of the story dates from approximately the eleventh century, several hundred years after the bulk of the Muslim evidence.[11]

Similarly, Patricia Crone argues, that the Midrash actually adapted the story from Muslims,[12] but the names were changed to Azael and Shemyaza, terms for fallen angels in other earlier Jewish scriptures, however, regarded as unauthentic by Rabbinic Judaism.

Shia discussion[edit]

Hasan ibn Ali ibn Muhammad, the 11th Imam of Twelver Shia, being asked about the truth of the story, refutes the belief that angels may emerge as transgressors, because, he reasons, they lack freedom to act upon their will and just rely on the Will of God. Pertaining to the Quran's statment: "To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth, and those who are near Him do not disdain to worship Him, nor do they become weary. They glorify [Him] night and day, and they do not flag"[13] he argues that if Harut and Marut performed injustice and oppression, how they could be the messengers of God or the Kalif (representative) of God on the earth.[14]

Shia Islamic scholars and philosophers such as Sadr al-Din al-Shirazi believe that angels are regarded as mujarradat who are “intrinsically intelligible” and free from the limitations of material existence. A mujarrad being, as described by Shirazi, is not necessarily something "that exists as an abstraction in the mind". It can be a concrete reality as in the case of God, the angels or the intellect.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Quran 2:102 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
  2. ^ Morris Jastrow, Ira Maurice Price, Marcus Jastrow, Louis Ginzberg, and Duncan B. MacDonald; "Babel, Tower of", Jewish Encyclopedia; Funk & Wagnalls, 1906.
  3. ^ "Harut and Marut". Britannica.
  4. ^ Hussein Abdul-Raof (2012). Theological Approaches to Qur'anic Exegesis: A Practical Comparative-Contrastive Analysis. Routledge. p. 155. ISBN 978-1-136-45991-7.
  5. ^ Hanan Jaber (November 18, 2018). Harut and Marut in The Book of Watchers and Jubilees. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. pp. 14–15.
  6. ^ Ibn Kathir. Stories Of The Quran – via IslamBasics.com.
  7. ^ Cenap Çakmak (2017). Islam: A Worldwide Encyclopedia. [4 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 578. ISBN 978-1-610-69217-5.
  8. ^ Omar Hamdan (2006). Studien zur Kanonisierung des Korantextes: al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrīs Beiträge zur Geschichte des Korans (in German). Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 292. ISBN 978-3-447-05349-5.
  9. ^ Stephen Burge (2015). Angels in Islam: Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti's al-Haba'ik fi Akhbar al-malik. Routledge. p. 13-1. ISBN 978-1-136-50473-0.
  10. ^ Ali, Abdullah Yousf (2006). The Meaning of the Holy Quran (PDF) (11th ed.). note 104, p. 45. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-03-05.
  11. ^ Reeves, John C. (2015). Some Parascriptural Dimensions of the Muslim "Tale of Harut wa-Marut". Journal of the American Oriental Society . Western scholars who have studied the "Tale of Harut and Marut" and grappled with its literary analogues have most frequently pointed to the Jewish and Christian parascriptural materials that envelop the enigmatic figure of Enoch and in particular to a curious medieval Jewish aggadic narrative known as the "Midrash of Shemhazai and 'Azael." (29) This unusual tale, extant in at least four Hebrew versions and one Aramaic rendition, (30) requires our attention at this stage, and I accordingly provide here a translation of what is arguably its earliest written registration, in the eleventh-century midrashic compilation Bereshit Rabbati of R. Moshe ha-Darshan.

    Careful comparison of the developed narratives of the "Tale of Harut and Marut" and the "Midrash of Shemhazai and cAzael" amid the larger literary corpora within which they are embedded suggests that the Muslim Harut wa-Marut complex both chronologically and literarily precedes the articulated versions of the Jewish "Midrash of Shemhazai and 'Azael," or as Bernhard Heller expressed it over a century ago, "la legende [i.e., the Jewish one] a ete calquee sur celle de Harout et Marout." (39) What is likely the oldest Hebrew form of the story dates from approximately the eleventh century, (40) several hundred years after the bulk of the Muslim evidence.
  12. ^ Patricia Crone THE BOOK OF WATCHERS IN THE QURÅN page 10-11
  13. ^ Quran 21:19-20 (Translated by ‘Ali Quli Qara’i)
  14. ^ Neshat, Gholamreza (2018). A History of the Prophets. Isfahan: Neshat. ISBN 978-600-04-9294-6.
  15. ^ Kalin, Ibrahim (2010). Knowledge in Later Islamic Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 188. ISBN 978-0-19-973524-2.

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