Islamic view of angels

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Angels (Arabic: ملائكة‎‎ malāʾikah; singular: ملاك or مَلَكْ malāk) are heavenly beings mentioned many times in the Quran and hadith literature. Unlike humans or jinn, they have no biological needs and therefore no lower desires predicated by animal nature; consequently, they may be described as creatures of pure emotion, who though endowed with free will are not subject to temptation. This make Angels beings who are composed of light and are in essence consisting of motion of the universe and emotions. While it has been said that angels lack free will since they are known from the Quran to strictly obey what God commands due the lack of rational decision-making because of lack of lower desires seen in nature. This assertion leads to scopes of interpretation amongst different schools of Islam amongst the extent of free will which angels have not as beings of endowed with human reason but as beings of emotions. The implications of a well-known hadith concerning an argument that took place between the angels of Mercy and the angels of Punishment about what to do with a notorious murderer who repented of his crimes but died before reaching a pre-destination that would have ensured his forgiveness, reflects decision-making from a state of natural emotion rather than natural reason.

Belief in angels is one of the six Articles of Faith in Islam. Just as Allah made Adam, the first human, from clay, and jinn from fireless smoke, He made the angels from light.[1][citation needed]

Metaphorical view[edit]

The astrophysicist Nidhal Guessoum in his book "Islam's Quantum Question" has pointed to modern Islamic scholars such as Muhammad Asad and Ghulam Ahmed Parwez who have suggested a metaphorical reinterpretation of the concept of angels.[2]

Angel hierarchy[edit]

For other angelic hierarchies, see Hierarchy of angels.

There is no standard hierarchical organization in Islam that parallels the division into different "choirs" or spheres, as hypothesized and drafted by early medieval Christian theologians. Most[who?] Islamic scholars agree that this is an unimportant topic in Islam, simply because angels have a simple existence in obeying God already, especially since such a topic has never been directly addressed in the Quran. However, it is clear that there is a set order or hierarchy that exists between angels, defined by the assigned jobs and various tasks to which angels are commanded by God. Some scholars suggest that Islamic angels can be grouped into fourteen categories as follows, of which numbers two-five are considered archangels. Due to varied methods of translation from Arabic and the fact that these angels also exist in Christian contexts and the Bible, several of their Christian and phonetic transliteral names are listed:

  • Jibrail/Jibril (Judeo-Christian, Gabriel), the angel of revelation. Jibril is the archangel responsible for revealing the Quran to Muhammad, verse by verse. Jibrail is widely known as the angel who communicates with (all of) the prophets and also for coming down with God's blessings during the night of Laylat al-Qadr ("The Night of Divine Destiny (Fate)"). Jibril is mentioned by name in the Quran.[3]
  • Mikail (Judeo-Christian, Michael),[4] who provides nourishments for bodies and souls. Mikail is often depicted as the archangel of mercy who is responsible for bringing rain and thunder to Earth. He is also responsible for the rewards doled out to good people in this life.
  • Israfil or Israafiyl (Judeo-Christian, Raphael), is an archangel in Islam who will blow the trumpet twice [or thrice] at the end of time. According to the hadith, Israfil is the angel responsible for signaling the coming of Qiyamah (Judgment Day) by blowing a horn. The blowing of the trumpet is described in many places in the Quran, but the name Israfil is not mentioned in the holy text, rather the tradition may adopted the name from Judeo-Christian tradition. It is said that the first blow will bring all to attention, will end all life,[5] while the second blow will bring all human beings back to life again to meet their Lord for their final judgement. Those who say it is three blows, say the first one will cause everyone to be startled. The second: everyone will die; and the third will be that of resurrection.
  • 'Azrael/'Azraaiyl also known as Malak al-maut (Judeo-Christian, Azrael), the angel of death. He is responsible for parting the soul from the body. He is not mentioned by name, only referred as malak al-maut, meaning angel of death, in the Quran.[6]


While angels are known to perform various functions, one of the most prominent of these is to be messengers. The angel Jibreel (Gabriel) is the most important (prominent) messenger angel, as he delivers the message of God (Allah) to the Islamic prophets. Angels cannot ordinarily be seen as they are heavenly beings but they can take on different forms, including that of human beings.[7] One well-known example is when God sent the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) to Maryam (Mary) in the form of a man, as God says in the Quran:

...then We sent her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects.

— Quran, sura 19 (Maryam), ayat 17[8]

Similarly, angels also came to ʾIbrāhīm (Abraham) in human form, and he was not aware that they were angels until they told him so. Lūṭ (Lot) also had angels come to him to warn him of the impending doom of his people. All angels praise and glorify God and they never become tired of doing this.

They celebrate His praises night and day, nor do they ever flag or intermit.

— Quran, sura 21 (Al-Anbiya), ayah 20[9]

...for in the presence of thy Lord are those who celebrate His praises by night and by day. And they never flag (nor feel themselves above it).

— Quran, sura 41 (Fussilat), ayah 38[10]

There are angels who stand in rows (in the worship of Allah), never tiring or sitting, and others who bow or prostrate to Allah continuously for their entire lifetimes, without ever raising their heads. Abu Dharr al-Ghifari is quoted as saying:

"The Messenger of Allah (Peace & Blessings of Allah be upon him) said: 'I see what you do not see and hear what you do not hear. The heaven makes a noise like groaning, and it has the right to (or it is no surprise), for there is no space in it the width of four fingers, but there is an angel there, placing his forehead in sujood (prostration) to Allah. By Allah, if you knew what I know, you would laugh little and weep much, you would not enjoy your relationships with women and you would go out in the street praying to Allah.'"

No angel would want to disobey God, for not only would it make no sense, but it would contradict their nature. It follows that the accursed Iblīs or Shaytan (the Devil or Satan) was never an angel; rather, he was one of the jinn.

O ye who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is men and stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who flinch not (from executing) the Commands they receive from Allah, but do (precisely) what they are commanded.

— Quran, sura 66 (At-Tahrim), ayah 6[11]

The Quran also mentions that among the physical qualities of the angels are what may be classified as "wings":

Praise be to Allah, Who created (out of nothing) the heavens and the earth; Who made the angels, messengers with wings - two, or three, or four (pairs):...

— Quran, sura 35 (Fatir) ayah 1[12]

The preceding sentence does not imply that all angels have two to four wings. Most notably, archangels (namely Gabriel and Michael) are described as having thousands of wings.[citation needed]

However, according to another narration collected by Muhammad al-Bukhari, the Prophet Muhammad said that Gabriel possessed 600 wings;

Narrated Abu Ishaq-Ash-Shaibani:
I asked Zir bin Hubaish regarding the Statement of Allah: "And was at a distance of but two bow-lengths or (even) nearer; so did (Allah) convey the Inspiration to His slave (Gabriel) and then he (Gabriel) conveyed (that to Muhammad). (53.9-10)[13] On that, Zir said, "Ibn Mas'ud informed us that the Prophet had seen Gabriel having 600 wings."

— Muhammad al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 455[14]

The angels also accompanied Muhammad up to Jannah (Heaven) when he received commands from God. The Prophet rode a creature called a Buraq whose stride spans from horizon to horizon.

Angels are not equal in status and consequently, they are delegated different tasks to perform. The names and roles of some angels have been mentioned to us:

  • The angels of the Seven Heavens.
  • Hafaza, (The Guardian Angel):
    • Kiraman Katibin (Honourable Recorders),[15] 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)[16] who keep people from death until its decreed time and who bring down blessings.
  • Jundullah, those who helped Muhammad in the battlefield
  • The angels who violently pull out the souls of the wicked,[17]
  • Those who gently draw out the souls of the blessed,[18]
  • Those angels who distribute (provisions, rain, and other blessings) by (God's) Command.[19]
  • Those angels who drive the clouds.[20]
  • Hamalat al-'Arsh, those who carry the 'Arsh (Throne of God),[21] comparable to the Christian Seraph
  • 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.[22]
  • The Angel of the Mountains[23]
  • Munkar and Nakir, who question the dead in their graves.[16]
  • Darda'il (The Journeyers), who travel in the earth searching out assemblies where people remember God's name.[24]
  • The angels charged with each existent thing, maintaining order and warding off corruption. Their number is known only to God.[25]
  • There is the angel who is responsible for Jannah (Paradise). A weak hadith gives his name as Ridwan.
  • Maalik is the chief of the angels who govern Jahannam (Hell)
  • Zabaniah are 19 angels who torment sinful persons in hell
  • Harut and Marut are the two angels mentioned in the second surah of the Qur'an who were present during the reign of the prophet Solomon and according to some narratives those two angels were in the time of prophet Enoch and were located at a location called Babel.

These angels take no pity in punishing, as they do what the Lord has commanded them precisely and perfectly. A verse stipulates this:

O ye who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is men and stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who flinch not (from executing) the Commands they receive from Allah, but do (precisely) what they are commanded.

— Quran, sura 66 (At-Tahrim), ayah 6[11]

The following Quranic verse mentions the meeting of the angel Gabriel with Mary in order to deliver to her the good news of her son Jesus (ʿĪsā):

Behold! the angels said: "O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah;

— Quran, sura 3 (Ali-Imran), ayah 45[26]

Muhammad, speaking of the physical magnitude of angel Gabriel, has said that his wings spanned from the eastern to the western horizon.

Narrated Aisha:
Whoever claimed that (the Prophet) Muhammad saw his Lord is committing a great fault, for he only saw Gabriel in his genuine shape in which he was created covering the whole horizon.

— Muhammad al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 457[27]

Verses in the Quran that directly name angels[edit]

Gabriel (Jibreel) and Michael (Meekaal) are mentioned early on the Quran in sura Al-Baqarah:

Say: Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel-for he brings down the (revelation) to thy heart by Allah's will, a confirmation of what went before, and guidance and glad tidings for those who believe,-
Whoever is an enemy to Allah and His angels and messengers, to Gabriel and Michael,- Lo! Allah is an enemy to those who reject Faith.

— Quran, sura 2 (Al-Baqara) ayat 97-98[28]

They will cry: "O Malik! would that thy Lord put an end to us!" He will say, "Nay, but ye shall abide!"

— Quran, sura 43 (Az-Zukhruf ) ayah 77[29]

Another angel, Maalik is defined in the Quran as a being who is the warden of Hell. However Maalik is not an evil angel, nor a fallen one, rather Maalik is merely doing what he is commanded to do by God.

The angelic nature of Iblīs (the Devil or Satan) is disputed among scholars and also considered to be a jinni, rather than an angel.[30]

Two other angels are also mentioned directly in the Quran: Haaroot and Maaroot (Harut and Marut):

...and such things as came down at Babylon to the angels Harut and Marut.

— Quran, sura 2 (Al-Baqara) ayah 102[31]

Several angels such as Azrael, Israfil, Munkar and Nakir are not mentioned by name in the Quran but are explained further in the hadiths of Muhammad.

Angels in islamic mysticism[edit]

Sufism also notices angels as messengers between the divine and the human realms. But additionally, angels are viewed as the original state of a soul, before it touches the earthly plane. Those who stay in heaven, remain as angels. Angels rank lower than humans, because they are, as already flawless and desireless beings, not capable to love God like humans do.[32] Then humans die, they can return to the heavenly spheres with all deeds, experiences and thoughts accomplished on the earthen plane.[33][34] Furthermore, angels can inspire the Sufi. These angelic inspirations are also related to Khidr encounters.[35]

Iblis occupies a special position in Sufism and is often viewed as a true monotheist rather than a failed creature,[36] because his refusal to prostate before someone else than God and preferring to be cast out of heaven, proved his love to God without any expectations. Otherwise he is also considered as the cause of separation and attempts to prevent the development of the human spirits. Some Sufis assign Iblis to the jinn.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Angels Archived April 10, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ Guessoum. Islam's Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science. 
  3. ^ Quran 2:97-98
  4. ^ Quran 2:98
  5. ^ Quran 69:13
  6. ^ Quran 32:11
  7. ^ a b Al-Malaa’ikah (Angels)
  8. ^ Quran 19:17
  9. ^ Quran 21:20
  10. ^ Quran 41:38
  11. ^ a b Quran 66:6
  12. ^ Quran 35:1
  13. ^ Quran 53:9–10
  14. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:54:455
  15. ^ Quran 82:11
  16. ^ a b Quran 13:10–11
  17. ^ Quran 79:1
  18. ^ Quran 79:2
  19. ^ Quran 51:4
  20. ^ Quran 37:2
  21. ^ Quran 40:7
  22. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 1:6:315
  23. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:54:454
  24. ^ Darda'il on[dead link]
  25. ^ The Vision of Islam by Sachiko Murata & William Chittick pg 86-87
  26. ^ Quran 3:45
  27. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:54:457
  28. ^ Quran 2:97–98
  29. ^ Quran 43:77
  30. ^ Amira El-Zein Islam, Arabs, and Intelligent World of the Jinn Syracuse University Press 2009 ISBN 9780815650706 page 46
  31. ^ Quran 2:102
  32. ^ a b John Renard The A to Z of Sufism Scarecrow Press 2009 ISBN 978-0-810-86343-9 page 33
  33. ^ Karin Jironet The Image of Spiritual Liberty in the Western Sufi Movement Following Hazrat Inayat Khan Peeters Publishers 2002 ISBN 978-9-042-91205-2 page 36
  34. ^ H.J. Witteveen The Heart of Sufism Shambhala Publications ISBN 978-0-834-82874-2 chapter 4
  35. ^ Noel Cobb Archetypal Imagination: Glimpses of the Gods in Life and Art SteinerBooks ISBN 978-0-940-26247-8 page 194
  36. ^ Annemarie Schimmel Mystical Dimension of Islam Noura Books 2013 ISBN 978-9-794-33797-4 page 195