(A 16th Century Persian Miniature of an Angel)
Belief in angels is a tenet of the Islamic faith. The Arabic word malak (mala’ik) means ‘messenger’ and the Qur’an uses the term, and variants of it, 99 times. The most prominent angel in Islam is Jibril (Gabriel). In Islamic beliefs angels are made of light and, unlike human beings, do not have free will. But they are essential to the Qur’anic themes of creation, revelation, prophecy, and eschatology.
Belief in angels is a necessary aspect of faith (iman) in Islam. the Qur’an says, “Whoever is an enemy to God (seeks to destroy faith on earth, and persecutes God’s followers and prophets) and his angels and his messengers and Jibril and Mikail (Michael), then indeed God will turn away His blessings from the unbelievers” (-Qur’an 2:97). There is also a famous Hadith in which Jibril asks the Prophet about the different stages of belief. The first stage is Islam, which is to testify that there is no deity worthy of worship except God. This stage also requires observence to the five pillars of Islam (the Shahada, which is the declaration of faith, Prayer, Charity, Fasting, Hajj). The second stage is Iman, which is to ‘believe in God and his angels and his books (the Bible and the Qur’an) and his messengers and in the Last Day, and believe and accept that God will test the worthy with trials and tribulations’ (much like Latter-day Saint belief).
Angels are described as “messengers with wings” but they cannot be seen because they’re heavenly beings. They can, however, take on different forms, including the human. An example of this occurs during the annunciation of Mary when Jibril is sent to Mary in the form of a man: “and she took, in seclusion from them, a screen. Then we sent to her our angel, and he represented himself to her as a perfect man” (-Qur’an 19:17). While the word ruh means spirit, it is often translated as angel in this context, thus engendering a close relationship between spirit, angel, and Jibril.
In another passage, it is angels who deliver the news of Jesus to Mary: ‘And when the angels said, “Mary, God has chosen you, and purified you; he has chosen you above all the women of the world” (-Qur’an 3:42). The connection between spirit, soul, angels, and divine command also appear in several Qur’anic passages. Such as ‘They will question you concerning the spirit. Say “The spirit comes from the command on my Lord.” You have very little knowledge compared to the mysteries of God” (-Qur’an 17:85). This command is associated with the “Preserved Tablet” the source all books (The Torah, The Gospel, and other holy books that were given to all the Prophets), from which the spirit is brought by the angels to the hearts of all the Prophets.
There are various stories in the Qur’an in which angels feature as agents either preparing or helping the Muhammad in his mission. This includes traditions surrounding the Prophets night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and then his assent into the heavens. Another famous incident is related to about the Prophet in which, as a young man, while he was tending sheep, two men dressed in white came upon him with a golden basin of snow. They opened his breast, took out his heart and stirred their hands inside. Muhammad explained that that these men were angels who had extracted a black speck from his heart and then washed his heart with the snow to cleanse it thoroughly. In other words, Muhammad had been chosen and prepared to receive revelation from an early age.
Other than the prominent role of Jibril, and Michael, perhaps the most famous story relating to angels is in the story of human creation. The Qur’an says:
“Behold, when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority.” They said, “Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?” Allah said, “Indeed, I know that which you do not know.”
“And He taught Adam the names – all of them. Then He showed them to the angels and said, “Inform Me of the names of these, if you are truthful.”
“They said, “Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You who is the Knowing, the Wise.”
“He said, “O Adam, inform them of their names.” And when he had informed them of their names, He said, “Did I not tell you that I know the unseen [aspects] of the heavens and the earth? And I know what you reveal and what you have concealed.”
And [mention] when We said to the angels, “Prostrate before Adam”; so they prostrated, except for Iblees (Lucifer). He refused and was arrogant and became of the disbelievers” (Qur’an 2:30-34).
It is this story that seals humankind at the top of creation’s hierarchy and reveals the moment at which the angels understand their nature, purpose, and limitations. They know their singular purpose is to glorify God, but that Adam’s knowledge means that Adam has been created for a different purpose in life, which only God knows.
When looking to see how angels and their responsibilities are described in Islam, there are resonances with the Judeo-Christian tradition. Nevertheless, a fairly distinct analogy appears in the way the Qur’an and the Hadith literature mention specific angels by name.
Angels feature quite largely in Islamic eschatology, the cataclysmic end of the created order. Among the most notable are Israfil, the angel who will blow the trumpet and signal the second coming of Jesus Christ. Michael is the angel who provides nourishment as well as being responsible for bringing rain and thunder to earth. Finally Izra’il is the angel of death on the Last Day.
It is also important to note that in the 4th Century A.D. the Church Fathers agreed on the many different forms of Angels.
Angels and Sufi Muslims:
In hagiographical literature, we find that angels often serve as instruments of God’s care and protection for the young Sufi destined very early on in his life to follow a particular mystical path. The mystic may be frightened in his ignorance but is always learning the truth from this powerful presence. One of the most powerful saints and scholars of Islam, Abdul Qadir-al-Jilani wrote:
“When I was a small child, every day I was visited by an angel in the shape of a young man. He would walk with me from our house to school and make the children in the class give me and place in the front row. He would stay with me the whole day and then bring me back home. I would learn in a single day more than the other students learned in a week. I did not know who he was. One day I asked him and he said, ‘I am one of Allah’s angels. He sent me to you and asked me to be with you as long as you study.’
Every time I felt a desire to go and play with the other children I would hear a voice saying, ‘come to me instead, O blessed one, come to me.’ In terror I would go and seek the comfort of my mother’s arms. Now even in my most intense devotions and long seclusions, I cannot hear that voice clearly.” (-Abdul Qadir al-Jilani, The Secret of Secrets, xiv)
In 610 A.D. Muhammad received his very first revelation from the angel Jibril (Gabriel).
In 621 A.D. Jibril brings Buraq (the white horse in which Muhammad traveled to Jerusalem on from Mecca in a single night) to Muhammad, and then Muhammad’s ascension to heaven from Jerusalem.
In the 8th Century A.D. Islamic scholar Abu Hanifa wrote a creed to the Islamic world stating that the belief in angels is a huge part of Islam.
I love this poem from the great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) on angels:
“Then the man read and when he did, the angel bowed. It was as if he had always been reading and now was able to obey and bring to pass.” (-Rainer Maria Rilke)
On the same night as Muhammad’s first revelation in 610 A.D. on his journey home, from Mount Hira, to Mecca (about three miles), Muhammad was again visited by the angel Jibril (Gabriel). This visitation was just as important as his first in Islamic theology, as this cemented Muhammad’s testimony of what he had just experienced, and he accepted his calling. He described everything to his wife Khadijah when he returned home. Here are the details of Jibril’s second visit to Muhammad.
While Muhammad had been walking, he had heard a voice booming down from the sky. He looked up and surely enough, the archangel Jibril who had previously visited him in the Cave of Hira was there, but this time he was not in the form of a man. Muhammad stumbled back, as he was stunned at the immense sight of the angel filling the entire horizon. It sat on a magnificent, mighty chair between the heavens and earth. It’s beautiful and breathtaking wings stretched out across the sky and numbered no less than 600. With his eyes filled with tears, Muhammad knelt to the ground.
“Oh Muhammad!” called the angel, now standing plainly before his very eyes. “You are indeed Allah’s Messenger in truth!” Muhammad felt peace and tranquility descend upon him, more than he had ever felt before, as he crept back up the mountain side. The ambiance was as soft as a spring breeze.
Serenity had filled Muhammad’s heart when he heard those words. He had not been abandoned (after receiving his first revelation not long before) after all. Allah was with him and would take care of him, and his friend people. Notice how much Muhammad already missed being in the presence of the angel?
As Muhammad sat with his wife Khadijah, recalling what had happened, Khadijah noticed that something quite bizarre was happening to Muhammad. Pearls of sweat cascaded from his brow, and he began smiling, and he fell almost unconscious as he suddenly became exhausted. Khadijah had never seen Muhammad in this way before (Muhammad would frequently go up Mount Hira to the cave to meditate), Muhammad had never returned so peaceful, and radiant she thought. Then within moments, as Muhammad was gazing into Khadijah’s eyes he could see another revelation:
“O you enveloped in blankets. Arise and warn your people. And your Lord, magnify. And your garments, purify. And from the Idols (Muhammad’s people were pagans), keep away, and warn your people of them” (-Qur’an 74:1-5).
Khadijah was amazed, and emotional as she heard Muhammad repeating out loud, the revelation that had just been sent down to him. The wondrous words were a clear message to Muhammad and Khadijah, telling them to worship the one true God, in these verses of the Qur’an, God informed Muhammad that the time had come to tell people about his message: to worship God alone and to stay away from the worship of idols.
From that day onwards, the angel Jibril regularly visited Muhammad, teaching him Gods words, and the scriptures (the Torah and the Gospel) and the message he now had to convey. The time had now come for Muhammad to visit his nearest and dearest, and preach Islam.
Notice how tired Muhammad got after his first revelation? This is more evidence to support Muhammad had indeed felt the Holy Ghost, just as our Latter-day Prophets have stated.
Who are the angels mentioned by name in the Qur’an? There are seven angels mentioned by name in the Qur’an, and many more mentioned but not by name. The seven angels mentioned are:
Jibril (The same Gabriel of the Bible)
Michael (the same Michael of the Bible)
Israfeel (The Qur’an states that Israfeel is the angel who will blow the trumpet to signal the second coming of Jesus Christ)
Azrael (The same Azrael of the Bible, who is also known as the angel of death)
Kiram al Katibin (Who are a group of angels who record all our earthly deeds)
Hamalat al-‘Arsh (They are a group of angels who carry Gods heavenly throne)
Hafaza (These are a group of angels who are guarding the earth)
Muslims revere angels, and believing in them is a huge part of the faith. Muhammad received much of the Qur’an from Jibril.