Islamic view of angels

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 reason, who though endowed with free will are not subject to temptation. While it has been said that angels lack free will since they are known from the Quran to strictly obey what God commands, this assertion would contradict 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 destination that would have ensured his forgiveness. 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 smokeless fire, He made the angels from light.[1]

Metaphorical view

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

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 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:


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.

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:

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

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]

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, a notion Islam rejects, rather Maalik is merely doing what he is commanded to do by God. In Islam, Iblīs or Shayṭan (the Devil or Satan) is considered to be a jinn rather than a fallen angel, since he questioned God when He ordered the angels to prostrate themselves before Adam, an act that suggested he possesses free will. An alternative view holds that rather than "defying" God, Iblis was acting in a manner predetermined by God.

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]

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[30]

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

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Angels in Islam.


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