In Islam, angels (Arabic: ملاك٬ ملك, romanized: malāk; plural: ملائِكة, malāʾik/malāʾikah) are believed to be heavenly beings, created from a luminous origin by God. They have different roles, including their praise of God, interacting with humans in ordinary life, defending against devils (shayāṭīn) and carrying on natural phenomena. Islam acknowledges the concept of angels both as anthropomorphic creatures with wings and abstract forces advising good. Belief in angels is one of the main articles of faith in Islam.
The Quran is the principal source for the Islamic concept of angels, but more extensive features of angels appear in hadith literature, Mi'raj literature, Islamic exegesis, theology, philosophy, and mysticism. The angels differ from other spiritual creatures in their attitude as creatures of virtue, in contrast to devils and jinn. Angels play an important role in Muslim everyday life by protecting the believers from evil influences and recording the deeds of humans.
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The Quranic word for angel (Arabic: ملك, romanized: malak) derives either from Malaka, meaning "he controlled", due to their power to govern different affairs assigned to them, or from the triliteral root '-l-k, l-'-k or m-l-k with the broad meaning of a "messenger", just as its counterpart in Hebrew (malʾákh). Unlike the Hebrew word, however, the term is used exclusively for heavenly spirits of the divine world, as opposed to human messengers. The Quran refers to both angelic and human messengers as rasul instead.
In Islam, angels are heavenly creatures created by God. They are considered older than humans and jinn. Contrary to popular belief, angels are never described as agents of revelation in the Quran, although exegesis credits Gabriel with that.
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. As with other monotheistic religions, angels are characterized by their purity and obedience to God. In Islamic traditions, they are described as being created from incorporeal light (Nūr) or fire (Nar).[a] A narrative transmitted from Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, audited and commented by two hadith commentary experts in the modern era, Shuaib Al Arna'ut and Muḥammad 'Abd ar-Raḥmān al-Mubarakpuri, has spoken a hadith that Muhammad said the number of angels were countless, to the point that there is no space in the sky as wide as four fingers, unless there is an angel resting his forehead, prostrating to God.
Humans and angels
Muslim scholars have debated whether human or angels rank higher. Angels usually symbolize virtuous behavior, while humans have the ability to sin, but also to repent. The prostration of angels before Adam is often seen as evidence for humans' supremacy over angels. Others 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. A similar opinion was asserted by Hasan of Basri, who argued that angels are superior to humans and prophets due to their infallibility, originally opposed by both Sunnis and Shias. 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, a tradition opposed by some scholars, such as ibn Taimiyya, but still accepted by others, such as ibn Hanbal.
Andalusian scholar ibn Arabi argues that a human generally ranks below angels, but developed to Al-Insān al-Kāmil, ranks above them. This is comparable to the major opinion, stating 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. Ibn Arabi explains this, in his al-Futuhat regarding the questions of Tirmidhi, by that Muhammad intercedes for the angels first, then for (other) prophets, saints, believers, animals, plants and inanimate objects last.
Groups of modern scholars from Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University in Yemen and Mauritania issued fatwa that the angels should be invoked with blessing Islamic honorifics (ʿalayhi as-salāmu), which is applied to human prophets and messengers. This fatwas were based on the ruling from Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya.
The possibility and degree of erring angels is debated in Islam. In the early Islamic period, supernatural creatures were not expected to understand sin or expiate it. They only follow their nature created by God. Hasan of Basra is often considered one of the first who established the doctrine of infallibility of angels by reinterpreting verses which seem to imply erring angels. To establish the doctrine of infallible angels, he asserted that Harut and Marut haven't been angels, but kings, and Iblis (Satan) was a jinn, with support from the Quranic verse "he was one of the jinn". This view was, however, not universal in the formative stage of Islam, as Abu Hanifa (d. 767), on the other hand, divided angels into three categories. Obedient angels, like Gabriel; disobedient angels, like whose who teach sorcery and unbelieving angels, like Iblis and his host.
Objection to a strict infallibility of angels rests on the following events in the Quran and Muslim tradition. The Quran mentions the fall of Iblis (whose angelic nature is rejected by some scholars) from the place of angels in several Surahs. Surah 2:102 implies that a pair of angels fell to earth and introduces magic to humanity. According to Surah 2:30, angels complained about God's decision to create Adam. In Shia traditions, a cherub called Futrus was cast out from heaven and fell to the earth in the form a snake. The Isma'ilism work Umm al-Kitab reiterates the story of Iblis in the form of an angel called Azazil who boasts about himself being superior to God until he is thrown into lower celestial spheres and ends up on earth.
Al-Maturidi (853–944 CE) pointed at verses of the Quran, according to which angels are tested by God and concludes angels have free-will, but, due to their insights to God's nature, choose to obey. Some angels nevertheless lack this insight and fail, pointing to Surah Al-Anbiya, and thus sentenced to hell. Since both the Quran and Kutub al-Sittah describe angels erring or failing to accomplish that has been ordered to them, Sunni scholars (Kalam) also explained that angels might be effected by circumstances, like smell or confusion when God created Adam.
Al-Taftazani (1322 AD –1390 AD) accepted that angels might slip into error and become disobedient, but rejected that angels would ever consciously turn against God's command and become unbelievers. Most scholars of Salafism usually reject accounts on erring angels entirely and do not investigate this matter further.
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.: 323 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,: 325 and the Guardian angel,: 327 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 the lie emanates.: 328 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.: 328
Inspired by Neoplatonism, the medieval Muslim philosopher Al-Farabi developed a cosmological hierarchy, governed by several Intellects. For al-Farabi, human nature is composed of both material and spiritual qualities. The spiritual part of a human exchanges information with the angelic entities, who are defined by their nature as knowledge absorbed by the Godhead. A similar function is attested in the cosmology of the Muslim philosopher Ibn Sina, who, however, never uses the term angels throughout his works. For Ibn Sina, the Intellects have probably been a necessity without any religious connotation.
Muslim theologians, such as al-Suyuti, rejected the philosophical depiction on angels, based on hadiths stating that the angels have been created through the light of God (nūr). Thus angels would have substance and could not merely be an intellectual entity as claimed by philosophers.
The chain of being, according to Muslim thinkers, includes minerals, plants, animals, human and angels. Muslim philosophers usually define angels as substances endowed with reason and immortality. Humans and animals are mortal, but only men have reason. Devils are unreasonable like animals, but immortal like angels.
The Sufi Muslim and philosopher Al Ghazali (c. 1058–19 December 1111) divides human nature into four domains, each representing another type of creature: animals, beasts, devils and angels. Traits human share with bodily creatures are the animal, which exists to regulate ingestion and procreation and the beasts, used for predatory actions like hunting. The other traits humans share with the jinn[b] and root in the realm of the unseen. These faculties are of two kind: that of angels and of the devils. While the angels endow the human mind with reason, advices virtues and leads to worshipping God, the devil perverts the mind and tempts to abusing the spiritual nature by committing lies, betrayals and deceits. The angelic natures advices how to use the animalistic body properly, while the devil perverts it. In this regard, the plane of a human is, unlike whose of the jinn and animals, not pre-determined. Humans are potentially both angels and devils, depending on whether the sensual soul or the rational soul develop.
Angels as companions
In later Sufism, angels are not merely models for the mystic but also their companions. Humans, in a state between earth and heaven, seek angels as guidance to reach the upper realms. Some authors have suggested that some individual angels in the microcosmos represent specific human faculties on a macrocosmic level. According to a common belief, if a Sufi can not find a sheikh to teach him, he will be taught by the angel Khidr. The presence of an angel depends on human's obedience to divine law. Dirt, depraved morality and desecration may ward off an angel.
Angels and devils
Just as in non-Sufi-related traditions, angels are thought of as created of light. Al-Jili specifies that the angels are created from the Light of Muhammad and in his attribute of guidance, light and beauty. 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".
According to al-Ghazali humans consist of animalistic and spiritual traits. From the spiritual realm (malakut), the plane in which symbols take on form, angels and devils advise the human hearth (qalb). However, the angels also inhabit the realm beyond considered the realm from which reason ('aql) derives from and devils have no place.
Unlike kalām (theology), Sufi cosmology usually makes no distinction between angels and jinn, understanding the term jinn as "everything hidden from the human senses". Ibn Arabi states: "[when I refer to] jinn in the absolute sense of the term, [I include] those which are made of light and those which are made of fire." While most earlier Sufis (like Hasan al-Basri) advised their disciples to imitate the angels, Ibn-Arabi advised them to surpass the angels. The angels being merely a reflection of the Divine Names in accordance within the spiritual realm, humans experience the Names of God manifested both in the spiritual and in the material world.
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 materials 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, he furthermore disapproves of scholars who use them.
Islam has no standard hierarchical organization that parallels the division into different "choirs" or spheres hypothesized and drafted by early medieval Christian theologians, but generally distinguishes between the angels in heaven (karubiyin) fully absorbed in the ma'rifa (knowledge) of God and the messengers who carry out divine decrees between heaven and earth. Angels are not equal in status and consequently, they are delegated different tasks to perform.
There are four special angels (karubiyin) considered to rank above the other angels in Islam. They have proper names, and central tasks are associated with them:
- Jibrīl/Jibrāʾīl/Jabrāʾīl (Arabic: جِبْرِيل, romanized: Jibrīl; also Arabic: جبرائيل, romanized: Jibrāʾīl or Jabrāʾīl; derived from the Hebrew גַּבְרִיאֵל, Gaḇrīʾēl) (English: Gabriel), is venerated as one of the primary archangels and as the Angel of Revelation in Islam. Jibrīl is regarded as the archangel responsible for revealing the Quran to Muhammad, verse by verse; he is primarily mentioned in the verses 2:97, 2:98, and 66:4 of the Quran, although the Quranic text does not explicitly refer to him as an angel. Jibrīl is the angel who communicated with all of the prophets and also descended with the blessings of God during the night of Laylat al-Qadr ("The Night of Divine Destiny (Fate)"). Jibrīl is further acknowledged as a magnificent warrior in Islamic tradition, who led an army of angels into the Battle of Badr and fought against Iblis, when he tempted ʿĪsā (Jesus).
- Mīkāl/Mīkāʾīl/Mīkhā'īl (Arabic: ميكائيل)(English: Michael), 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. Some scholars have pointed out that Mikail is in charge of angels who carry the laws of nature.
- Isrāfīl (Arabic: إسرافيل) (frequently associated with the Jewish and Christian angel Raphael), is the archangel who blows into the trumpet in the end time, therefore also associated with music in some traditions. Israfil is responsible for signaling the coming of Qiyamah (Judgment Day) by blowing a horn. However, Ali Hasan al-Halabi (a student of Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani), Muhammad ibn al-Uthaymeen, and Al-Suyuti, have given commentary that all the hadiths that describe Israfil as the horn-blower are classified as Da'if, although given the multitude of narrative chains that support this concept, they state that it is still possible.
- 'Azrā'īl/'Azrayl/Azrael (Arabic: عزرائيل), 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).
Mentioned in the Quran
- Nāzi'āt and Nāshiṭāt, helpers of Azrail who take the souls of the deceased.
- Nāzi'āt: they are responsible for taking out the souls of disbelievers painfully.
- Nāshiṭāt: they are responsible for taking out the souls of believers peacefully.
- Hafaza, (the Guardian angel):
- Kiraman Katibin (Honourable Recorders), 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) who keep people from death until its decreed time and who bring down blessings.
- Angels of Hell:
- Maalik, chief of the angels who govern Jahannam (Hell).
- Nineteen angels of hell, commanding the Zabaniyah, to torment sinful people in hell. The nineteen angel chiefs of hell were depicted in Quran chapter Al-Muddaththir verse Quran 74:10–11. The Saudi Arabia religious ministry released their official interpretation that Zabaniyah were collective names of angels group which included those nineteen chief angels. Those nineteen angels of hell were standing tall above Saqar, one of levels in hell. Muhammad Sulaiman al-Asqar, professor from Islamic University of Madinah argued the nineteen instead were nineteen type of hell angels which each type has different kind of form.
- Angels who distribute provisions, rain, and other blessings by God's command.
- Ra'd or angels of thunders, a name of angels group who drive the clouds. The angels who regulating the clouds and rains in their task given by God were mentioned in Quran 13:13 Ibn Taymiyyah in his work, Majmu al-Fatwa al-Kubra, has quoted the Marfu hadith transmitted by Ali ibn abi Thalib, that Ra'd were the name of group of angels who herded the dark clouds like a shepherd. Ali further narrated that thunder (Ra'dan Arabic: رعدان) was the growling voices of those angels while herding the clouds, while lightning strikes (Sawa'iq Arabic: صوائق) were a flaming device used by the said angel in gathering and herding the raining clouds. Al-Suyuti narrated from the hadith transmitted from Ibn Abbas about the lightning angels, while giving further commentary that hot light produced by lightning (Barq Arabic: برق) were the emitted light produced from a whip device used by those angels. Saudi Grand Mufti Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz also ruled on the sunnah practice of reciting Sura Ar-Ra'd, Ayah 13 Quran 13:13 (Translated by Shakir) whenever a Muslim hears the sound of thunder, as this was practiced according to the hadith tradition narrated by Zubayr ibn al-Awwam. The non-canonical interpretation from Salaf generation scholars regarding the tradition from Ali has described that "It is a movement of celestial clouds due to air compression in the cloud. However, this does not contradict that (the metaphysical explanation), […] the angels move the clouds from one place to another. Indeed, every movement in the upper and lower World results from the action of the angels. The voice of a person results from the movement of his body parts, which are his lips, his tongue, his teeth, his epiglottis, and his throat; he, however, along with that, is said to be praising his Lord, enjoining good, and forbidding evil."
- Cherubim, who are close to God and request forgiveness for the sinners.
- Hamalat al-'Arsh, those who carry the 'Arsh (Throne of God), comparable to the Christian Seraphim.
- Harut and Marut, often depicted as fallen angels who taught the humans in Babylon magic; mentioned in Quran (2:102). Some early scholars, such as Hasan al-Basri, and especially Salafi scholars, rejected the notion that Harut and Marut were fallen angels.
Mentioned in canonical hadith tradition
- The angels of the Seven Heavens.
- Jundullah, those who helped Muhammad in the battlefield.
- Those that give the spirit to the fetus 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.
- Malakul Jibaal (The Angel of the Mountains), met by the Prophet after his ordeal at Taif.
- Munkar and Nakir, who question the dead in their graves.
Hadith narratives of Isra and Mi'raj
According to hadith transmitted by Ibn Abbas, Muhammad encountered several significant angels on his journey through the celestial spheres. Many scholars such as Al-Tha'labi drew their exegesis upon this narrative, but it never led to an established angelology as known in Christianity. The principal angels of the heavens are called Malkuk, instead of Malak.
|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|
Mentioned in non canonical tradition
- Ridwan, the keeper of Paradise.
- Artiya'il, the angel who removes grief and depression from the children of Adam.
- 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 exact number is known only to God.[c]
- Darda'il (The Journeyers), who travel the earth searching out assemblies where people remember God's name.
- Dhul-Qarnayn, believed by some to be an angel or "part-angel" based on the statement of Umar bin Khattab.
- 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.
- Azazil, in many early reports a former archangel, who was among those who were commanded to bow before Adam, but he refused to and was banished to hell.
- "Differences between nūr and nar have been debated in Islam. In Arabic, both terms are closely related morphologically and phonetically. Baydawi explains that the term light serves only as a proverb, but fire and light refers actually to the same substance. Apart from light, other traditions also mention exceptions about angels created from fire, ice or water. 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. Asserting that both fire and light are actually the same but on different degrees can also be found by Qazwini and Ibishi. In his work Al-Hay'a as-samya fi l-hay'a as-sunmya, Suyuti asserts that the angels are created from "fire that eats, but does not drink", in opposition to the devils who are created from "fire that drinks, but does not eat", which is also identified with the fire of the sun.
- Here jinn refers to unseen creatures in general
- According to Muhammad al-Bukhari, when Muhammad journeyed through the celestial spheres and met Ibrahim in Bait al-Makmur, there are 70,000 angels in that place. (not a total number of angels)
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(HR. Ahmad 21516, Turmudzi 2312, Abdurrazaq in Mushanaf 17934. This hadith is rated as hasan lighairihi by Shuaib Al-Arnauth).
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Interpretation of tirmidhi Hadith: إِنِّي أَرَى مَا لَا تَرَوْنَ، وَأَسْمَعُ مَا لَا تَسْمَعُونَ أَطَّتِ السَّمَاءُ، وَحُقَّ لَهَا أَنْ تَئِطَّ مَا فِيهَا مَوْضِعُ أَرْبَعِ أَصَابِعَ إِلَّا وَمَلَكٌ وَاضِعٌ جَبْهَتَهُ سَاجِدًا لِلَّهِ، وَاللَّهِ لَوْ تَعْلَمُونَ مَا أَعْلَمُ لَضَحِكْتُمْ قَلِيلًا وَلَبَكَيْتُمْ كَثِيرًا
- 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.
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- Patricia Crone. The Book of Watchers in the Qurån, page 11
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