Angels in Islam

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Angel in a Mughal 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: ملك malak; plural: ملاًئِكة malā'ikah)[1] are celestial beings, created from a luminious origin by God. They have different functions, including praising God in heavens, interacting with humans ordinary life and carrying laws of nature. Islam acknowledges the concept of angels both as anthropomorphic and abstract.[2] Belief in angels is one of the six articles of faith in Islam.[3] 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 theology and Islamic philosophy.[4] The angels differ from other spiritual creatures in their attitude as creatures of virtue in contrast to impure demons and morally ambivalent jinn.[5]

Corporeal angels[edit]

Creation[edit]

Angels are another kind of creature created by God, known to mankind, commonly dwelling in the heavenly spheres. Although the Quran does not mention the time when angels were created, they are generally considered as the first creation of God. According to Tabari, the angels had been created on Wednesday,[6] while other creatures on the following days. Although not mentioned in the Quran,[7] angels are believed to be created from a luminous substance, repeatedly described as a form of light. The probably most famous hadith regarding their origin is reported in Sahih Muslim: "The Angels were created out of light and the Jann was created out of a mixture of fire and Adam was created out of what characterizes you."[8][9] Nur, the term used for the light from which the angels are created from, usually corresponds to the cold light of night or the light of the moon,[10] contrasted to nar, which corresponds to fire or the diurnal and solar light from which the angels of punishment are said to be created of.[11] Dividing angels into two groups created from different types of light is also attested by Tabari,[12] Abd al-Ghani al-Maqdisi,[13] Al-Jili[14] and Al-Suyuti.[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] Scholars also argued that there is no distinction between nur and nar at all. Although not his conclusion, 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.[17] Asserting that both fire and light are actually the same but on different degrees can also be found by Qazwini and Ibishi.[18][19] The lack of distinction between fire and light might be explained by the fact that both are closely related morphologically and phonetically.[20] Al-Baydawi argued that light serves only as a proverb, but fire and light refers actually to the same substance.[21] Apart from light, other traditions also mention expections about angels created from fire, ice or water.[22]

Characteristics[edit]

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.[23] As with other monotheistic religions, angels are characteristical for purity and their obedience to God.[24] However, their constant loyalty, towards God, emphazised by some Quranic verses such as 16:49, does not necessarily imply impeccability,[25] and the motif of erring angels is also known to Islam.[26] Some scholars on the other hand, among Hasan of Basra as one of the first,[27] extend their loyalty towards God to assume generall impeccability. Those who accept the possibility of erring angels, advocate that actually only the messengers among the angels are infallible,[28] since the Quran also describes angels as being tested.[29] Al-Baydawi argued, that angels only remain impeccable if they do not fall. Ibn Arabi stated that angels may err in opposing Adam as a vice-regent and fixing on their way of worshipping God to the exclusion of other creatures.[30][31]

Angels are usually described in anthropomorphic forms combined with supernatural images, such as wings, being of great size, wearing heavenly clothes and great beauty.[32] 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.[33]

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.[25] 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.[34] 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,[35] a tradition opposed by later scholars, such as ibn Taimiyya, but still accepted by earlier scholars, such as ibn Hanbal.[36] Some Sufi traditions argue that a human generally ranks below angels, but developed to Al-Insān al-Kāmil, he ranks above angels.[37] 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.[25] 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.[38]

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.[39] 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,[40] and the Guardian angel,[41] 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.[42] 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.

Abstract angels[edit]

Philosophy[edit]

In Islamic philosophy, angels appear frequently as incorporeal creatures. Al-Kindi and Ibn Sina both define angels as simple substances, which means, they belong to the Celestial spheres comparable to Ptolemaic astronomy, endowed with life, reason, and immortality, in contrast to sublunary entities such as humans and animals, who are endowed with life, and the former also with reason, but are mortal.[43][44] Similar Qazwini assigns the angels to heavenly spheres, distinguishing them from among the animals, although both are said to possess the attribute of life. Significantly, Al-Damiri includes in his zoological works, animals, humans, jinn and even demons, but not angels.[45] Such cosmological thought, maintained by scholars such as Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, has strong resemblance with the Neo-Platonistic emanation cosmology, identifying the different angels in Islam with intellects, dividing the cosmos into different spheres. However, Islamic scholars repeatedly insist that all heavenly spheres as a whole form a single body and are moved by God, in contrast to Aristotelian cosmology in which God only moves the outer sphere.[46] According to ibn Sina, but differing from Al-Farabi, God is not part of the scheme of emanation. God emanated things in accordance with his will. In his Theologia Aristotelis he shows that through the manifestation of God, the intellects are aware of God and their role in the universe. Further Ibn Sina seems to distinguishes between two types of angels: One completely unrelated to matter, and another one, which exists in form of a superior kind of matter. The latter ones can carry messages between the heavenly spheres and the sublanary world, appearing in visions. Therefore, the higher angels dwell in higher spheres, while their subordniatve angels appear in an intermediary realm. Ibn Sina's explanation might imply an attempt to consider revelation as part of the natural world.[23][47] Also Qazwini lists a lower type of angels; earthly angels as indwelling forces of nature, who keep the world in order and never deviate from their duty. Qazwini believed that the existence of these angels could be proved by reason and affects of this angels on their assigned object.[48]

Psychology[edit]

Islamic philosophy stressed that humans own angelic and demonic qualities and that the human soul is seen as a potential angel or potential demon.[49] Depending on whether the sensual soul or the rational soul develop, the human soul becomes an angel or a demon.[50] Angels may also give inspirations opposite to the evil suggestions, called waswās, from Satan.[51]

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, play a major role in Ibn Abbas version.[52][53] Many scholars such as Al-Tha`labi drew their exegesis upon this narrative, however it never led to an established angelology as known in Christianity.

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]

  • Jibra'il/Jibril/Jabril (Judeo-Christian: Gabriel),[54] 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 as he tempted Jesus (Isa).[55]
  • Mikail, also spelled Mīkāl or Mīkāʾīl (Judeo-Christian: Michael),[56] 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.[57] Some scholars pointed out that Mikail is in charge of angels who carry the laws of nature.[58] According to legend, he was so shocked at the sight of hell when it was created that he never laughed again.
  • Israfil or Israafiyl (Judeo-Christian: Raphael), is the archangel of music[59] often depicted with a trumpet, he will blow in the end time. Therefore, Israfil is responsible for signaling the coming of Qiyamah (Judgment Day) by blowing a horn.
  • 'Azrail/'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).[60][61]

Mentioned in Quran[edit]

In canonical hadith collections[edit]

  • The angels of the Seven Heavens.
  • Jundullah, those who helped Muhammad in the battlefield.
  • Those that give the spirit to the foetus 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.[70]
  • The Angel of the Mountains, met by the Prophet after his ordeal at Taif.[71]
  • Munkar and Nakir, who question the dead in their graves.[72]

Other[edit]

  • Ridwan, the keeper of Paradise.
  • Artiya'il, the angel who removes grief and depression from the children of Adam.[2]
  • 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 number is known only to God.[73]
  • Darda'il (The Journeyers), who travel the earth searching out assemblies where people remember God's name.[74]

Disputed[edit]

  • Dhul-Qarnayn, believed by some to be an angel or "part-angel" based on the statement of Umar bin Khattab.[75]
  • 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.[76]

Sufism[edit]

Angels play an important role in Sufism. Just as in non-Sufi-related traditions, angels are thought of as created of light. Al-Jili asserts that the angels are actually created from the Light of Muhammad and in his attribute of guidiance, light and beauty.[77] 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".[78] Sufi cosmology divids the world into several realms. The realm of Malakut is the plane in which symbols take on form. It is also the sphere in which humans may encounter angels, during their dreams.[79] Some authors have suggested that some individual angels in the microcosmos represent specific human faculties on a macrocosmi level.[80] According to a common belief, if a Sufi can not find Shaikh to teach him, he will be taught by the angel Khidr.[81][82]

Contemporary Era[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 material 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, further he disapproves scholars who used them.[83]

Islamic Modernist scholars such as Muhammad Asad and Ghulam Ahmed Parwez have suggested a metaphorical reinterpretation of the concept of angels.[84]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Webb, Gisela (2006). "Angel". In Jane Dammen McAuliffe (ed.). Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. Brill.(subscription required)
  2. ^ a b 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
  3. ^ "BBC - Religions - Islam: Basic articles of faith". Archived from the original on 13 August 2018. Retrieved 2018-08-13.
  4. ^ Stephen Burge Angels in Islam: Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti's al-Haba'ik fi akhbar al-mala'ik Routledge 2015 ISBN 978-1-136-50473-0 p. 22-23
  5. ^ Amira El-Zein Islam, Arabs, and Intelligent World of the Jinn Syracuse University Press 2009 ISBN 9780815650706 page 20
  6. ^ Tobias Nünlist Dämonenglaube im Islam Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG, 2015 ISBN 978-3-110-33168-4 p. 43 (German)
  7. ^ Jane Dammen McAuliffe Encyclopaedia of the Qurʼān Brill: VOlume 3, 2005 ISBN 9789004123564 p. 45
  8. ^ "كتاب الزهد والرقائق Book 55, Hadith 78. The Book of Zuhd and Softening of Hearts. (10) Chapter: Miscellaneous Ahadith(10) باب فِي أَحَادِيثَ مُتَفَرِّقَةٍ". sunnah.com. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  9. ^ Burge, Stephen (2015). Angels in Islam: Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti's al-Haba'ik fi akhbar al-mala'ik. Routledge. p. 100. ISBN 978-1-136-50473-0.
  10. ^ Jane Dammen McAuliffe Encyclopaedia of the Qurʼān Brill: Volume 3, 2005 ISBN 9789004123564 p. 45
  11. ^ Jane Dammen McAuliffe Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān Volume 5 Georgetown University, Washington DC p. 118
  12. ^ al-Tabari. Tafsir al-Tabiri (PDF). Islaam Books. p. 241. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  13. ^ Gibb, Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen (1995). The Encyclopaedia of Islam: NED-SAM. Brill. p. 94.
  14. ^ Awn, Peter J. (1983). Satan's Tragedy and Redemption: Iblīs in Sufi Psychology. Leiden, Germany: Brill Publishers. p. 182 ISBN 978-9004069060.
  15. ^ Burge, Stephen (2015). Angels in Islam: Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti's al-Haba'ik fi Akhbar al-malik. Routledge. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-136-50473-0.
  16. ^ ANTON M. HEINEN ISLAMIC COSMOLOGY A STUDY OF AS-SUYUTI’S al-Hay’a as-samya fi l-hay’a as-sunmya with critical edition, translation, and commentary ANTON M. HEINEN BEIRUT 1982 p. 143
  17. ^ Gauvain, Richard (2013). Salafi Ritual Purity: In the Presence of God. Abingdon, England: Routledge. p. 73. ISBN 978-0710313560 p. 302
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  19. ^ Nasr, Seyyed Hossein (2013). Islamic Life and Thought. Routledge. p. 135. ISBN 978-1-134-53818-8.
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  21. ^ Houtsma, M. Th. (1993). E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936, Band 5. BRILL. p. 191. ISBN 978-9-004-09791-9 p. 191
  22. ^ Fr. Edmund Teuma, O.F.M. Conv THE NATURE OF "IBLI$H IN THE QUR'AN AS INTERPRETED BY THE COMMENTATORS p. 16
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  24. ^ Burge, Stephen (2015). Angels in Islam: Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti's al-Haba'ik fi akhbar al-mala'ik. Routledge. p. 140. ISBN 978-1-136-50473-0.
  25. ^ a b c Houtsma, M. Th. (1993). E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936, Band 5. BRILL. p. 191. ISBN 978-9-004-09791-9.
  26. ^ Christoph Auffarth, Loren T. Stuckenbruck The Fall of the Angels BRILL 2004 ISBN 978-9-004-12668-8 page 161
  27. ^ Omar Hamdan Studien Zur Kanonisierung des Korantextes: al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrīs Beiträge Zur Geschichte des Korans Otto Harrassowitz Verlag 2006 ISBN 978-3-447-05349-5 page 292 (German)
  28. ^ Fr. Edmund Teuma THE NATURE OF "IBLI$H IN THE QUR'AN AS INTERPRETED BY THE COMMENTATORS University of Malta p. 15-16
  29. ^ http://www.dinimizislam.com/detay.asp?Aid=3563
  30. ^ Sa'diyya Shaikh Sufi Narratives of Intimacy: Ibn Arabi, Gender, and Sexuality Univ of North Carolina Press 2012 ISBN 978-0-807-83533-3 page 114
  31. ^ Christian Krokus The Theology of Louis Massignon CUA Press 2017 ISBN 978-0-813-22946-1 page 89
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  33. ^ Burge, Stephen (2015). Angels in Islam: Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti's al-Haba'ik fi akhbar al-mala'ik. Routledge. p. 113. ISBN 978-1-136-50473-0.
  34. ^ Omar Hamdan Studien Zur Kanonisierung des Korantextes: al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrīs Beiträge Zur Geschichte des Korans Otto Harrassowitz Verlag 2006 ISBN 978-3-447-05349-5 page 293 (German)
  35. ^ Patricia Crone THE BOOK OF WATCHERS IN THE QURÅN page 11
  36. ^ Reynolds, Gabriel Said, “Angels”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE, Edited by: Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, Everett Rowson. Consulted online on 16 October 2019 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1573-3912_ei3_COM_23204> Erste Online-Erscheinung: 2009 Erste Druckedition: 9789004181304, 2009, 2009-3
  37. ^ Mohamed Haj Yousef The Single Monad Model of the Cosmos: Ibn Arabi's Concept of Time and Creation ibnalarabi 2014 ISBN 978-1-499-77984-4 page 292
  38. ^ Ulrich Rudolph Al-Māturīdī und Die Sunnitische Theologie in Samarkand BRILL, 1997 ISBN 9789004100237 pp. 54-56
  39. ^ Burge, S. R. “Impurity / Danger!” Islamic Law and Society, vol. 17, no. 3-4, 2010, pp. 320–349. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/23034917.p. 323
  40. ^ Burge, S. R. “Impurity / Danger!” Islamic Law and Society, vol. 17, no. 3-4, 2010, pp. 320–349. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/23034917.p. 325
  41. ^ Burge, S. R. “Impurity / Danger!” Islamic Law and Society, vol. 17, no. 3-4, 2010, pp. 320–349. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/23034917.p. 327
  42. ^ Burge, S. R. “Impurity / Danger!” Islamic Law and Society, vol. 17, no. 3-4, 2010, pp. 320–349. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/23034917.328
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  51. ^ https://www.thoughtco.com/angels-in-islam-2004030
  52. ^ Hajjah Amina Adil (2012). "Ezra". Muhammad the Messenger of Islam: His life & prophecy. BookBaby. ISBN 978-1-618-42913-1.
  53. ^ name="State University of New York Press">Colby, Frederick S (2008). Narrating Muhammad's Night Journey: Tracing the Development of the Ibn 'Abbas Ascension Discourse. State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-0-7914-7518-8.
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  56. ^ Quran 2:98
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  62. ^ Quran 79:1-2
  63. ^ Quran 82:11
  64. ^ Quran 13:10–11
  65. ^ Quran 51:4
  66. ^ Quran 37:2
  67. ^ Quran 40:7
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  70. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 1:6:315
  71. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:54:454
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