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A brief overview of angels in light of the Quran

Introduction

An angel in general is a supernatural being depicted as benevolent to mankind in various religions and mythologies. Angels are celestial beings who act as intermediaries between God and humanity. Their roles are carrying out tasks of God as assigned to them by Him. They are invisible to humans while there are various views on them according to theology, religious traditions and philosophy, and mythology but we may reflect to that what has been spelled out in the Quran being the final guidance for humanity not to exceed our limits. Angels are another kind of creature created by God, known to mankind, and they are dwelling in the heavenly spheres (6: 111 & 158, 2:210). However, the term “angel” has also been expanded to various notions of spirits or figures found in different religious traditions:

[6:111] And if we had sent down the angels to them, and the dead spoke to them, and we had gathered everything before them, they would not believe except that God wills. But most of them are ignorant.
[6:158] Are they waiting until that the angels come to them, or your Lord comes, or some signs of your Lord come? The day the signs of your Lord come, it will not profit a soul to its faith, if it had not believed before, or earned any good through its faith. Say, “Wait, we are also waiting.”
[2:210] Are they waiting until God to come to them in shadows of the clouds and (all) the angels while the matter is predetermined? And to God all the matters are to be returned.

Angels are created from Fire

Angels are created from Fire with no bodily desires, never get tired, do not eat or drink and have no anger. However, there is a dispute whether there are angels created from other substances or not. Besides the angels of fire (light), there can be angels created from any other substances such as water or ice while Iblis was an angel created from fire, differing from the other angels. It is also disputed that angels are either from fire or light dividing them into two groups: the angels of mercy created from light in contrast to the angels of punishment from the fire. They are composed of a subtle matter that is equivalent to fire but which differs in intensity and are distinguished by the part of fire they originated from. Accordingly, the angels are created from the light of a fire, the jinn from the tongue of fire and the Demons from its smoke while it is stated that light and fire do not appeal to different elements, but to a luminous origin of angels which should not be taken literally.

What we know from the Quran that God has created humans from clay while He has created angels from fire. Thus, He created Adam, then He ordered all the angels to bow before him. All the angels bowed down, but Iblis refused to do so. He argued that since he was created from fire, he is superior to humans, made from clay, and that he should not prostrate before Adam. For his haughtiness, he was banished from heaven and condemned to Hell. However, Iblis made a request for the ability to try to mislead Adam and his descendants. God grants his request but also warned that he will have no power over God’s servants:

[17:61] When we said to the angels: “Fall prostrate before Adam,” so they fell prostrate, except Satan. He (Satan) said, “Shall I prostrate to one You created from clay?”
[17:62] He said, “Do You (God) see this whom You have honored him (Adam) over me? If You respite me till the Day of Resurrection, I will surely ruin (all) his descendants, except a few.”
[17:63] He (God) said, “Go, then whoever follows you (Satan) among them; then certainly, Hell is requital for you all, a fair requital.
[17:64] You may entice them with your voice, and mobilize all your forces and all your men against them, and share them in the wealth and the children, and promise them. And the devil promises nothing but delusion.
[17:65] Indeed, you have no power over them who are My servants. Your Lord suffices as an advocate.”

Angels’ impeccability

The Quran teaches us that the angels were tested and found them faithful to God exposing Iblis to be an arrogant one among them being a fallen angel. Some scholars argue that this test is not an explicit proof of all angels to be impeccable arising an argument concerning whether humans or angels are superior. But many of them interpret and advocate that angels are impeccable as the prostration of Adam (humans) is not a matter of supremacy as the angels are free from any material deficits such as anger and lust. Thus, there are arguments in favor and against the impeccability of angels while the God given roles and responsibilities to them and controlling of His vast dominion efficiently and faster manner with involvement of angels is a direct proof from the Quran that they are impeccable:

[4:166] But God bears witness of what He has revealed to you (Muhammad). He has revealed it (Quran) with His knowledge, and the angels bear witness; and God is enough as a witness.
[4:172] The Messiah was never disdain to be a servant to God, nor are the angels who are near to Him. Whoever disdains from His worship and is arrogant, then He will gather them to Him all together.
[16:49] And to God prostrate whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth of the creatures and the angels, and they are not arrogant.
[33:43] He is the One who supports you and His angels that He may bring you out of the darkness to the light, and He is Merciful on the believers.
[41:30] Surely, those who say: “Our Lord is God”, then remain steadfast, the angels will descend upon them (saying:) “You shall not fear, nor shall you grieve but have good news of Paradise which you have been promised.”
[66:6] O you who believe, protect yourselves and your families from Fire whose fuel is people and rocks. Around it there are stern and powerful angels who do not disobey God what He commands them and they do whatever they are commanded to do.
[70:4] The angels and the Spirit (Gabriel) ascent to Him in a day that measures to fifty thousand years.

Grouping and ranking of angels

There are vast numbers of angels who serve the Throne 24 hours but God has not specified their number in the Quran except that none knows your Lord’s soldiers except He (74:31). It can easily be anticipated the vast number of angels from the general information about angels as well as reflecting to the grouping and ranking of them as indicated in the Quran:

  1. The angels will line up in rows (37:1).
  2. The angels are to carry out commands (51:4).
  3. The angels are sent in succession (77:1).
  4. The angels and the Spirit (Gabriel) ascent to Him in a day that measures to fifty thousand years (70:4).
  1. The angels those who drive away devil (37:2).
  2. The angels those who recite the reminder (37:3).
  3. The angels those who are sent to drive the wind (77:2).
  4. The angels those who are sent to move the clouds (77:3).
  5. The angels those who are sent to record good and evil (77:4 and 50:17).
  6. The angels those who are sent to deliver the reminder containing guidance and warning (77:5-6).
  7. The angels those who fight with the believers to ensure victory over the disbelievers (3:124-125).
  8. The angels those who support the prophets and the believers (33:43 & 56).
  9. The angels those who snatch (the souls of the unrighteous) forcibly (79:1).
  10. The angels those who take (the souls of the righteous) gently (79:2).
  11. The angels those who arrange the matter (79:5).
  12. The angels those who are in charge of Hell (66:6 and 74:31).
  13. The angels those who will invite the righteous to enter Paradise.
  14. The angels those who float all round (79:3).
  15. The angels those who race each other (79:4).
  16. The angels those who will bear Lord’s Throne on the Day of Judgment (69:17).
  17. An angel often referred as teacher of Moses, which took human form to reveal hidden knowledge to Moses (18:65-82).

In addition, out of the vast number of angels only a few angles are mentioned by name in the Quran:

  1. Gabriel: The angel who delivers God’s reminders to humanity (37:3).
  2. Michael: The angel who is in charge of provision and the natural laws (77:2 & 3).
  3. Naziat: The angels who take the disbelievers in death striking their faces and their backs to taste the retribution of the blazing Fire (4:97, 6:93, 8:50, 16:28, 47:27).
  4. Nashitat: The angels who take the believers in death inviting them to enter Paradise because of what they used to do (16:32).
  5. Haroot and Maroot: The two angels who descended in Babylon to teach magic as a test during the reign of king Solomon (2:102).
  6. Iblis: is a fallen angel who became a jinn but more often referred as Satan in the Quran (18:50).

Moreover, the archangels and ranking of angels came down to us from the past with the scriptural support. Even though there is no direct indication of ranking of angels in the Quran but the Quran supports it as reflected in the following verses for specific mention of Gabriel and Michael along with the angels otherwise mentioning of the angels would be enough:

[2:98] Whoever is an enemy to God, and His angels, and His messengers, and Gabriel and Michael, then indeed, God is an enemy to the disbelievers.
[16:2] He sends down the angels with the Spirit (Gabriel) of His commands, to whomever He chooses from among His servants that you shall warn that there is no other god beside Me. Therefore, you shall reverence Me.
[70:4] The angels and the Spirit (Gabriel) ascent to Him in a day that measures to fifty thousand years.
[97:4] The angels and the Spirit (Gabriel) descend therein by their Lord’s permission with every command.

However, here is the list of archangels based on the scriptural support along with short descriptions. The names of angels end with “el” indicate that they are the high ranking angels:

  1. Jibra’il (Gabriel) – also often refers as the Spirit in the Quran is the archangel in charge of revelation who communicates with all the prophets and messengers (16:2, 97:4) and also his subordinate angels are those who recite the reminder (37:3), descended with good news of John to Zachariah (3:39) and of Jesus to Mary (3:42 & 45) .
  2. Mikail (Michael) – is the archangel who is in charge of provision and the natural laws and his subordinate angels are those who drive the wind (77:2) and move the clouds (77:3).

     

  3. Israfil (Raphael) – is the archangel depicted with a trumpet and he will blow it in the end time. The horn will be blown on the promised day and all will gather before their Lord (50:27, 36:51).

     

  4. Azrail (Azrael) – also refers as the angel of death (malaku al-mawt) in the Quran (32:11) is the archangel in charge of death. He and his subordinate angels (Naziat and Nashitat) are responsible for parting the soul from the body of the dead and carry it to their Lord (79:1-2).

Distinction between angels and jinns

Another creature, often related to the subject of angels, are the jinn. While the term jinn means “to hide” it is sometimes used to encompass any creature concealed from human eye. The jinn are commonly thought of as entities distinct from angels. The jinn do not dwell in Heaven, but below, either on earth along with humans or in an intermediary realm. Unlike angels, jinn are endowed with desires, have an extended measure of free decisions, thus able to choose between good and evil, can procreate and are not immortal, thus sharing many characteristics with humans. Finally, the jinn will either enter Hell or Heaven depending on how they lived their lives:

[18:50] And when we said to the angels: “Fall prostrate before Adam.” Then they fell prostrate except Satan. He became a jinn. Thus, he disobeyed the order of His Lord. Will you then take him and his descendants as protectors other than Me, while they are enemies to you? What is a miserable substitute for the wicked!
[7:27] O children of Adam, do not let the devil entice you as he drove out your parents from Paradise removing their clothing from them to expose their shame. Indeed, he and his tribe see you from where you do not see them. Certainly, we have made the devils as allies of those who do not believe.

[51:56] And I have not created the Jinn and the human except that they worship Me.
[6:130] O you tribes of jinns and humans, did not messengers come to you from amongst you reciting to you My revelations, and warn you about the meeting of this day? They will say, “We bear witness against ourselves.” And the life of the world deceived them, and they will bear witness against themselves that they were disbelievers.
[11:119] Except him on whom your Lord has mercy, and for that He created them. And your Lord word will be fulfilled, “I will fill Hell with the Jinn and the human together!”
[32:13] And if we had willed, we would have given every soul its guidance, but the word from Me will come true that I will fill Hell with the jinn and the human together.

Conclusion

What have been covered in this review are: (1) angel as a supernatural being, (2) angels are created from fire, (3) impeccability of angels, (4) grouping and ranking of angels and (5) distinction between angels and jinns. Angels being celestial beings carry out tasks of God assigned to them while they act as intermediaries between God and humanity. There are various views on them according to theology, religious traditions and philosophy and mythology but we may reflect to that what has been spelled out in the Quran being the final guidance for humanity.

What we know from the Quran that God has created humans from clay while He has created angels from fire. Thus, when He ordered all the angels to bow before him, they all bowed down, but Iblis refused to do so. He argued that since he was created from fire, he is superior to humans, made from clay, and that he should not prostrate before Adam. Then he was banished from heaven and condemned to Hell. However, Iblis made a request for the ability to try to mislead Adam and his descendants. God grants his request but also warned that he will have no power over God’s servants. But there is a dispute that there can be angels created from any other substances such as water or ice while Iblis was an angel created from fire, differing from the other angels. Hence, the angels are either from fire or light dividing them into two groups: the angels of mercy created from light in contrast to the angels of punishment from the fire. the angels are created from the light of a fire, the jinn from the tongue of fire and the Demons from its smoke.

What we also know from the Quran that the angels were tested and found them most faithful to God exposing Iblis to be disbeliever and arrogant one among them being a fallen angel. The test of angels with Adam (Humans) was not a matter of supremacy as the angels are free from any material deficits such as anger and lust. However, there are arguments in favor and against the impeccability of angels while the God given roles and responsibilities to them and controlling of His vast dominion efficiently and faster manner with the involvement of angels is a direct proof from the Quran that they are impeccable.

There is indication of hierarchy in the angels in the previous scripture including a clue to differentiate between angels and archangels, which can also be derived from the Quran even a few angels and archangels are mentioned by name in it. The angels are Naziat, Nashitat, Haroot and Maroot while the archangels are Gabriel and Michael. Thus, the ranking of angels is another divine system to better understand of their involvement in controlling the expanding Kingship of God.

The jinn are another creature distinct from angels. They are invisible to humans either. They do not dwell in Heaven, but below, either on earth along with humans or in an intermediary realm. Unlike angels, jinns are endowed with desires, have an extended measure of free decisions. They are able to choose between good and evil, can procreate and are not immortal, thus sharing many characteristics with humans and will either enter Hell or Heaven depending on how they lived their lives.

Theology, religious traditions and philosophy, mythology depict the different views of angels while the angels are part of our core belief. If we can reflect that God has given details as much as we need, we may avoid many arguments about angels. Thus, we must make a clear distinction between fact and fiction to stay in the right path perfecting our belief following the guidance given to us without exceeding limits.
Peaceful Friday, salaam and God bless.
Tafazzal (10/5/2018).