The Significance of Angels in Islam
Belief in angels
Jinn, humans and angels together comprise the sentient creations of Allah. However, among these three types of conscious beings, it is the belief in angels that is necessary for the completion of a Muslim’s faith. In Islam, the six articles of faith are as follows:
- Belief in the one God
- Belief in the angels of God
- Belief in the books of God, especially the Quran
- Belief in the prophets of God, especially Mohammed
- Belief in the day of judgement
- Belief in predestination
In order to argue for the significance of angels in Islam, historical and written referencing of their tasks, roles in Islamic events, physical appearances and the ranks that exist within the Angelic network must be taken into consideration.
Archangels and their duties
Angels exist to obey, serve and perform both earthly and non-earthly duties. They also possess the ability to assume human shape and form, and all are considered to be innately pure beings (McGerr 2001). Standard hierarchical organisation in Islam generally does not exist because it is deemed insignificant. However, one concerning angels is recognised and it is defined by the roles assigned to them by God. Contrary to other religions, there are only four archangels in Islam: Gabriel (Jibril), Michael (Mikhail), Raphael (Israfil) and Azrael.
Gabriel is the angel responsible for delivering messages sent by God to all of His prophets and messengers, As stated in the Quran “Say, ‘If there were settled, on earth, angels walking about in peace and quiet, We should certainly have sent them down from the heavens an angel for a messenger.” (Quran, 17: 95)
The four archangels assisting Prophet Mohammed and the Muslims at the Battle of Badr.
Another archangel by the name of Michael is responsible for the growth of plants, the regulation of rainfall and the occurrence of thunder on earth. In addition, Michael is also involved in distributing rewards to people who deserve it based on their merit and good deeds.
Raphael is known as the angel of the trumpet. This archangel will be responsible for sending out the ‘blast of truth’ on the day of judgement (McCasland 1941). It is also known that at the appointed time, Raphael will blow on the trumpet and a sound so loud and earth shattering will be produced. The sound will be so painful that not even one being in the universe will be able to withstand it. All creatures will die including human beings, jinn and angels. “And the trumpet will be blown, and all who are in the heavens and all who are on the earth will swoon away, except him whom Allah wills. Then it will be blown a second time, and behold they will be standing, looking on (waiting).” (Quran, 39:68)
As for Azrael, the angel of death, his name is not directly mentioned in the Quran but the term ‘Malak al- Maut’ (angel of death) is mentioned instead, and the following verse addresses the role of this angel, “Say: The Angel of Death, put in charge of you, will (duly) take your souls: then shall ye be brought back to your Lord.” (Quran, 32:11)
Focusing on the other angels
These archangels have very different roles, yet they are all of high-ranking and of importance to Muslims. As opposed to archangels who have very definite, time-specific roles, lower ranking angels such as the guardian angels are much more versatile. Every person has two guardian angels assigned to them. These angels take turns in watching over their subject, one throughout the day time and one throughout the night. Guardian angels are also named the ‘honoured writers’ and note down the good and bad deeds that every person commits, these angels are also the constant companions of the faithful believers (Jung 1926). They follow and protect all who Allah wishes to guard, they also participate with Muslims in prayers. “There are over you watchers, noble writers, who know whatever you do.” (Quran, 82:10-12) “Over every soul there is a watcher.” (Quran, 86:4).
Another spectacular gesture some angels are capable of performing is praying for Muslims. The angels ask god for forgiveness if believers’ sin and they ask God to bestow kindness upon the loyal, grateful worshippers who perform good deeds. The following Quranic verse refers to the angels praying for the forgiveness of believers, “Those who bear the Throne and those around it extol their Lord’s limitless glory and praise, and have faith in Him, and pray for the forgiveness of all believers. We see here how the angels dread that any act of disobedience is committed on earth, even by believers. They pray to God for forgiveness, knowing that He is surely ‘Much-forgiving, Ever Merciful.” (Quran, 40:7)
In addition to the archangels and the guardian angels, there are many more that occupy all existing planes. Some include, Munkar and Nakir who are the angels of the grave, responsible for questioning a person about their faith after they have died. An Angel who goes by the name of Malik meaning the ‘master’ or guard of hellfire, his role is to constantly remind the inhabitants of hell that they must remain there for all of eternity because they rejected the truth, when the truth was handed to them. In summary, whether directly or indirectly, humanity as a whole is put under the providence of angels only as assigned by God (Zeitlin 1964).
Physical appearance of angels
During Prophet Mohammed’s first revelation, Gabriel was sent down to communicate the message to the prophet. According to the Prophet, Gabriel had revealed himself in his true angelic form. The Prophet Mohammed describes the archangel’s appearance in the following Hadith, By Abu Ishaq-Ash-Shaibani: I asked Zir bin Hubaish regarding the Statement of God: “And was at a distance of but two bow-lengths or (even) nearer; So did (God) convey the inspiration to his servant (Prophet Muhammad) and then he Conveyed (that to the people). From ‘Abdullaah ibn Mas‘ood, who said: the Messenger of God saw Gabriel in his true form. He had six hundred wings, each of which covered the horizon. There fell from his wings jewels, pearls and rubies, only God knows about them.” (Sahih al Bukhari 4:54,4:55)
Nevertheless, angels can differ physically from one another. For example, some angels can have one pair of wings and others can have hundreds. The variations in physical appearance can depend on the angels’ ranks within the organisational hierarchy. “Praise be to God, Who created (out of nothing) the heavens and the earth, Who made the angel messengers with wings – two, or three, or four (pairs) and adds to Creation as He pleases: for God has power over all things.” (Quran, 35:1)
Careful consideration of the work of angels is necessary to fully conceptualise Islamic faith and spirituality. Angels have been sent down in the past; they presently exist and will be around in the future. They are intertwined with all realms of life.
The diversity of tasks appointed to angels, the constant protection from corruption they provide for all beings, and even their spectacular physical appearance all demonstrates the significance of angels. As directed by God, angels preside over all microcosmic and macrocosmic forces. To value their existence means to appreciate God’s greatness as well. Angels are not only crucial for a Muslim’s absolute faith but they are essential for a Muslim’s welfare whether it be mental, physical or emotional.
Hadith: Sahih al-Bukhari 4:54, 4:55.
Image of the archangels accessed from: www.cosmichealing.blogspot.com
Jung, L 1926, ‘Fallen Angels in Jewish, Christian and Mohammedan Literature: A Study in Comparative Folk-Lore’, The Jewish Quarterly Review, vol.16, no.3, pp.291-292.
McCasland, S.V 1941, ‘Gabriel’s Trumpet’, Journal of Bible and Religion, vol. 9, no.3, pp.159-161, viewed 20 October 2010, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1456405
McGerr, A 2001, A Harmony of Angels, Quadrille Publishing Limited, London.
The Quran: Surah 17:95, Surah 32: 11, Surah 35:1, Surah 39:68, Surah 40:7, Surah 82:10-12 and Surah 86:4.
Zeitlin, S 1964, ‘The Sadducees and the Belief in Angels’, Journal of Biblical Literature, vol.83, no.1, pp.67-71.