Islamic view of Angels

Belief in Angels (Arabic: ملائكة‎‎ malāʾikah; singular: ملاك or مَلَكْ malāk) is one of the six Articles of Faith in Islam. They are regarded as celestial beings who, unlike men, are not endowed with ability to make decisions and instead perform different tasks of GOD. The imagination of Angels in Islam developed from the Quran and was influenced by pre islamic religions like Judaism, Christian, Zoroastrianism.

Concept of Angels

Angels take the role of intermediaries performing different tasks of GOD (ALLAH). They are generally said to be created out of light (althought several tradition assume exceptions including angels created from fire. For example based on a tradition from Ibn Abbas, Azazil was an Angel created from fire or even from a whole tribe of angels, created from fire. Others suggested a distinction between the angels of mercy, created from light and angels of punishment, created from fire. On the other hand, scholars like Al-Baydawi stated, the creation from fire or light should not be taken too precisely, since fire and light are same in nature and pass into another).

An angel according to Islamic arts from a Persian miniature from the 16th century

Unlike humans or jinn, they have no biological needs and therefore no lower desires predicted by the natural world. Angels in Islam are believed to be able to take human form, this is known in the Quran and Hadith literature where Jibrail came in human form to announce to Mary, mother of Jesus, and to Muhammad about reciting the message that is the divine will of ALLAH (GOD), known to Muslims as the Quran. They may be described as creatures of pure emotion. It has been said that angels lack free will since they are known from the Quran to strictly obey GOD’s commands; but different schools of Islam debate the extent of free will which angels have not as beings of endowed with human reason but as beings who may error, and if they are endowed with free will they are not subject to temptation. 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. This is narrated in Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, book 56. This can be seen in Islamic scholarly analysis which suggests the decision-making framework of Angels is different from that of mankind, as their souls are composed of light rather than mud-like clay.

Besides the personificated interpretation of Angels, they are also thought of carrying the laws of nature.

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.

Individual Angels

Islam has no standard hierarchical organization that parallels the division into different “choirs” or spheres, as 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

  • Jibra’il/Jibril/Jabril (Judeo-Christian, Gabriel), the angel of revelation. Jibra’il is the archangel responsible for revealing the Quran to Muhammad, verse by verse. Jibrail is the angel who communicates with (all of) the prophets and also for coming down with the blessings of ALLAH during the night of Laylat al-Qadr (“The Night of Divine Destiny (Fate)”).
  • Mikail (Judeo-Christian, Michael), 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.
  • Israfil or Israafiyl (Judeo-Christian, Raphael), is an Archangel in Islam who will blow the trumpet 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.
  • ‘Azrael/’Azraaiyl/Azrail also known as Malak al-maut (Judeo-Christian, Azrael), is the Angel of death. He is responsible for parting the soul from the body of the deads.

Other angels and angel groups

  • The Angels of the Seven Heavens.
  • 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.
  • Jundullah, those who helped Muhammad in the battlefield .
  • Those who draw out the souls of the blessed,
  • Those angels who distribute (provisions, rain, and other blessings) by (GOD’s) Command.
  • Those Angels who drive the clouds.
  • Hamalat al-‘Arsh, those who carry the ‘Arsh (Throne of ALLAH), 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.
  • The Angel of the Mountains
  • Munkar and Nakir, who question the dead in their graves.
  • Darda’il (The Journeyers), who travel in the earth searching out assemblies where people remember GOD’s name.
  • The angels charged with each existent thing, maintaining order and warding off corruption. Their number is known only to GOD.
  • Ridwan, the keeper of the Paradise.
  • 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 sometimes considered to be fallen Angels, who taught the humans in babylon, magic.
  • Azazil is sometimes considered as an angel, who was the keeper of paradise and leader of an angelic army. He is also the instrument of divine anger. Otherwise he is held for a Jinni raised to the Angelic realm.

Distinction between Angels and Jinn

In addition to the angels, Islam assumes the existence of other invisible creatures called Jinn. Besides they also belong to the supernatural creatures, they have some characteristics in common with humans and differ from the angels. Unlike Angels, the Jinn are mortals and it is said, they also eat, drink, procreate, die and have desires. Furthermore, the angels belong to the celestial realm, even they can travel to other realms, if their tasks requires it, while Jinn are assumed to live either next to humans on earth or in an intermediary realm.

According to a tradition derived from a hadith from Sahih Muslim, jinn and Angels are created from different substances:

A’isha reported that ALLAH’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) said: The Angels were born out of light and the Jinns were born out of the spark of fire and Adam was born as he has been defined (in the Qur’an) for you (i. e. he is fashioned out of clay)

— Muslim 2996, also, #Sahih Muslim Vol-7, Book of Zuhd & softening of hearts, Hadeeth 7134

Some scholars like Zakariya al-Qazwini explained, the Angels are created from the light of fire, the jinn from its blaze and the devils from smoke.

Meaning of angels in mysticism

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. Then humans die, they can return to the heavenly spheres with all deeds, experiences and thoughts accomplished on the earthen plane. Furthermore, angels can inspire the Sufi. These angelic inspirations are also related to Khidr encounters.

Based on Al Hallaj, Iblis, who is according to the traditions from Ibn Abbas, unlike those from Hasan of Basra, an Angel, despite the fact he is also considered as an adversary to humans spiritual development, represents a true monotheist and is regarded as a master of oneness. By accepting a penalty for disobience, he affirmed the oneness of GOD, erased the illusion of duality (good and evil) and represents a selfless believer and therefore a true lover of GOD. Actually, the command, prostating before Adam, is considered to be a test of love, rather than a real command. Additionally Iblis as the devil, teaches evil among the earthly beings, so they learn to recognize good.

Ibn Arabi cosmology

The sunni scholar and sufi mystic Ibn Arabi stated the Angels are the first beings created and distinguished between Angels of the corporeal and the incorporeal world, called Al-Ama (the cloud), there all of the creation will be created. In this place, angelic beings dwelled in the presence of GOD, but are unable to recognize each other or even themselves, until ALLAH (GOD) elected one of them, to become the Higher Pen writing, everything GOD will create in the cosmos. The Angels in the corporeal world are more akin to the humans than in the majority Islamic view. Accordingly, angels are spirits blown into light, while humans are spirits blown into shape, and jinn spirits blown into wind (wind is referring to the hot air, discharged from the flame called marijin min nar, from which the jinn are created according to the Quran). Humans are even superior to the Angels, because angels can just follow straight lines, therefore they can function as forces of nature and perform specific tasks but are unable to know GOD’s names, attributes or to perceive GOD in different ways like humans can do. Angels hesitated to bow before Adam, because they were unable to see the true nature of human. Some angels erred in believing their way of perceiving GOD is the only way, and they become guilty of opposing Adam as a vice regent and fixing on one interpretation of GOD to the exclusion of others.

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