Munkar and Nakir
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These angels are described as having solid black eyes, having a shoulder span measured in miles, and carrying hammers "so large, that if all of mankind tried at once to move them a single inch, they would fail". When they speak, tongues of fire come from their mouths. If one answers their questions incorrectly, one is beaten every day, other than Friday, until Allah (God) gives permission for the beating to stop.
Questioning in the grave
Muslims believe that after a person dies, his soul passes through a stage called barzakh, where it exists in the grave (even if the person's body was destroyed, the soul will still rest in the earth near their place of death). The questioning will begin when the funeral and burial is over. Nakir and Munkar prop the deceased soul upright in the grave and ask three questions:
- Who is your Lord?
- What is your religion?
- What is your faith about this person (Muhammad)?
A righteous believer will respond correctly, saying that their Lord is Allah, that Muhammad is their prophet and that their religion is Islam. If the deceased answers correctly, the time spent awaiting the resurrection is pleasant and may enter heaven. Those who do not answer as described above are chastised until the day of judgment. There is belief that the fire of hell can already be seen in Barzakh, and that the spiritual pain caused by this can lead to purification of the soul.
Muslims believe that a person will correctly answer the questions not by remembering the answers before death but by their iman (faith) and deeds such as salat (prayer) and shahadah (the Islamic profession of faith).
History and Origins
Munkar and Nakir bear some similarity to Zoroastrian divinities. Some of these, such as Mithra, Sraosha and Rashnu have a role in the judgement of souls. Rashnu is described as a figure who holds a set of scales, like some angels of the grave. E.G. Brown has suggested that a continuity exists between Rashnu and Munkar and Nakir. A mythical figure in Mandaean religion, Abathur Muzania is similar to Rashnu. He holds the same position in the world of the dead, and also holds a set of scales. Muzania means scales (mizan) in Aramaic.
According to recent research, Munkar and Nakir are originally astrological figures and they are transformations of the Mesopotamian astral god Nergal. In that research, it has been suggested that the Mesopotamian god Nergal has almost the same characteristics as Munkar and Nakir. First of all, Assyrian nakru which means 'enemy', was an epithet of Nergal. The Assyrian nakru, like the names Munkar and Nakir, comes from the same root, from the proto-Semitic NKR. Some scholars use a different spelling; nakuru. which is almost the same as Nakir. Moreover, Nergal is a lord of the Underworld and the grave (Assyrian qabru: grave). Like Munkar and Nakir, he has a terrifying voice that can cause panic among men and gods. He holds a shining mace and his breath can burn his enemies. Because he is related to fire most scholars suggest that he was originally a sun god. Furthermore, he is identified with the celestial twins (Gemini) in the Babylonian astral mythology which forms a direct link to Munkar and Nakir. There is no reference to Munkar and Nakir in the Quran. The Mesopotamians still believed in the sun god Shamash, as well as Nergal and several other Babylonian gods at the time Islam was introduced. Thus, Nergal the god of the Underworld who is symbolized by the planet Mars, is a possible prototype for Munkar and Nakir. Astrologically, Munkar and Nakir share more clues in their Martian characteristics which connect them to Nergal.
It could also derive from Judaism as Rabbinic literature offers many traditions about punishing angels, chastising the dead. Muhammad is said to have heared from Jews, he will be punished after death. Accordingly, he was afraid and adapted the belief of angels tormenting the dead.
- Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, Entry: Munkar and Nakir
- ""Life after death" at www.al-islam.edu.pk". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2006-12-04.
- Christian Lange Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions Cambridge University Press 2015 ISBN 978-0-521-50637-3 Seite 123
- The Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, Entry: Islam
- E.G. Brown, A year amongst the Persians; impressions as to the life, character, and thought of the people of Persia, received during twelve month's residence in that country in the years 1887-8, London, 1893, p. 378 https://archive.org/details/yearamongstpersi00browuoft
- E.S. Drower, The Mandaeans of the Iraq and Iran, Oxford 1937 https://archive.org/details/TheMandaeansOfIraqAndIran
- for more information, see Gürdal Aksoy, On the Astrological Background and the Cultural Origins of An Islamic Belief: The Strange Adventures of Munkar and Nakir from the Mesopotamian god Nergal to the Zoroastrian Divinities, https://www.academia.edu/35372440/On_the_Astrological_Background_and_the_Cultural_Origins_of_An_Islamic_Belief_The_Strange_Adventures_of_Munkar_and_Nakir_from_the_Mesopotamian_god_Nergal_to_the_Zoroastrian_Divinities_Mezopotamyal%C4%B1_Tanr%C4%B1_Nergal_den_Zerd%C3%BC%C5%9Fti_Kutsiyetlere_M%C3%BCnker_ile_Nekir_in_Garip_Maceralar%C4%B1_
- for nakuru see C.J. Snijders, Beginselen der Astrologie, Amsterdam, 1949, p. 153 https://archive.org/details/beginselenderast00snij
- for more information, see Aksoy, On the Astrological Background and the Cultural Origins of An Islamic Belief: The Strange Adventures of Munkar and Nakir from the Mesopotamian god Nergal to the Zoroastrian Divinities
- Ulrike Al-Khamis, "The Iconography of Early Islamic Lusterware from Mesopotamia: New Considerations", Muqarnas, Vol. 7, 1990, pp.109-118, https://www.academia.edu/1383806/The_Iconography_of_Early_Islamic_Lusterware_from_Mesopotamia_New_Considerations; see also https://www.academia.edu/39767937/Helenistik_ve_Enoh%C3%A7u_Yahudilik_Ba%C4%9Flam%C4%B1nda_Kehf_Suresi_Musa_H%C4%B1z%C4%B1r_ve_Z%C3%BClkarneyn_Bir_Revizyon_Surat_al-Kahf_in_the_Context_of_the_Hellenistic_and_Enochic_Judaism_Moses_Khidr_and_Dhul-Qarnayn_A_Revision_
- for more detailles, see Aksoy, On the Astrological Background and the Cultural Origins of An Islamic Belief: The Strange Adventures of Munkar and Nakir from the Mesopotamian god Nergal to the Zoroastrian Divinities
- Burge, S. R. (2010). Angels in Islam: a commentary with selected translations of Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī’s Al-Ḥabā’ik fī akhbār almalā’ik (The Arrangement of the Traditions about Angels), pg. 89 "The origin of the names is not at all clear, although some have suggested that both the names are related to the base root NKR, but Wensinck felt this was unlikely."
- Wensinck, A.J. (1993). "MUNKAR wa-NAKIR". The encyclopaedia of Islam. Gibb, H. A. R. (Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen), 1895-1971., Bearman, P. J. (Peri J.). Leiden: Brill. p. 577. ISBN 90 04 09419 9.
- Eichler, Paul Arno, 1889 Die Dschinn, Teufel und Engel in Koran [microform] p. 105-106 (German)