Angels hold an important place in Islam. This is testified by the fact that angels are mentioned more than 80 times in the Qur'an, as well as in over 200 hundred sayings of the Prophet (PBUH) that are currently translated into English.
The Arabic word for angel is "Malak" and the plural is "Malaa'ikah". The root meaning of the word Malak is "messenger", which affirms that one of the important and noble roles of some angels is that they are messengers sent by Allah.
It is incorrect to for a Muslim to associate the features and appearance of angels with those depictions that are common in both Christianity and Western countries in general i.e. that angels have feathery wings, wear a white gown and have a golden halo over their heads etc. A Muslim only believes what s/he is told about angels from the Qur'an and Sunnah, and no more. The following is a description of angels from the Islamic texts which will hopefully help us to understand the true nature of angels and their place in Islam.
Angels are honoured creatures
Along with mankind and jinn, angels are one of the groups of creatures created by Allah. Angels are part of the Unseen that we as humans cannot comprehend. Despite this, it is one of the Articles of Faith that a Muslim believes in the existence of the angels.
"and whosoever disbelieves in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers, and the Last Day, then indeed he has strayed far away"
Furthermore, the angels are honoured creatures to be respected by us. For this reason the term "Alayhis salaam" (or AS for short) which is mentioned after the names of the Prophets, is also often mentioned after the names of the angels in Islamic texts.
"They are honored servants who precede Him not in speech and act as He commands"
(Qur'an 21: 27)
created before Mankind
We have no knowledge of precisely when angels were created, because there is no text to tell us this. However, we do know for certain that they were created before Mankind because the Qur'an says:
"Behold, your Lord said to the angels: 'I will create a vicegerent on earth.' . . ."
The very fact that Allah told them of His intention to create man indicates that they already existed.
Angels are made from light
We know that angels are made from light because the Prophet (PBUH) said:
"The angels were created from light, the jinn were created from smokeless fire, and Adam was created from that which has been described to you."
The greatest speed known to us today is the speed of light, yet the angels are able to travel much faster than this. This is illustrated by the fact that when an enquirer came to the Prophet (PBUH), they would hardly have completed the question and the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) would already bring the answer from Allah to the Prophet.
Angels are beautiful
In their normal form (i.e. when they are not appearing in the form of a human etc.) angels are beautiful and magnificent. Allah said, describing Jibreel (AS):
"He (the Prophet) has been taught by one Mighty in Power, Dhoo Mirrah (free from any defect in body and mind), then he rose and became stable."
It is said that: "'Dhoo
Mirrah' means that he (i.e. Jibreel) has a beautiful appearance" and that
it means that "he is tall and beautiful."
The idea that angels are beautiful is firmly established in all people's minds, so much so that they liken a beautiful human to an angel, as the women said about Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) (AS):
". . . When they (the women) saw him, they did extol him and (in their amazement) cut their hands: they said: 'Allah preserve us! No mortal is this! This is none other than a noble angel!'"
Angels have wings, although the shape and form of these wings is unknown to us. Similarly, we do not know the number of these wings. Allah mentions in the Qur'an that angels may have two, three or four pairs of wings, but we also know that the number of wings can be up to 600 hundred or more for a single angel, as in the case of Jibreel.
"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) - adds to Creation as He pleases: for Allah has power over all things."
"The Messenger of Allah saw Jibreel 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 Allah knows about them."
great in size
The above hadith brings us to another important point - the great size of angels. Angels are huge and this is testified by the following hadith:
"The Messenger of Allah said, describing Jibreel: 'I saw Jibreel descending from heaven, and his great size filled the space between heaven and earth.'"
Describing the angels who carry the Throne of Allah:
"The Prophet (PBUH) said: 'I have been given permission to speak about one of the angels of Allah who carry the Throne. The distance between his ear-lobes and his shoulders is equivalent to a seven-hundred-year journey.'"
Angels come in
Angels can be different colours. For example, in the case of the angels Munkar and Nakeer who question the person in the grave, their colour is black and blue.
Angels take different forms
In some circumstances Allah allows certain people to see angels. In many cases the angels have appeared to people in the form of humans as Allah has given the angels the ability to take on forms other than their own forms. One well known example is when Allah sent the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) to Maryam (Mary) in the form of a man, as Allah says in the Qur'an:
". . . Then We sent to her Our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects."
Similarly, angels also came
to the Prophet Ibraaheem (Abraham) (AS) in human form, and he was not
aware that they were angels until they told him so. Prophet Lut (Lot) (AS)
also had angels come to him in the form of young men with beautiful faces.
Jibreel used to come to Prophet Muhammad in many different forms. Sometimes Jibreel would appear in the form of a man called Dihyah al-Kalbi, who was a very handsome companion of the Prophet. Other times he would come in the form of a Bedouin. The companions of the Prophet saw Jibreel in his human form, as reported in the following account:
Umar said: "One day while we were sitting with the Messenger of Allah, there appeared before us a man whose clothes were exceedingly white and whose hair was exceedingly black; no signs of travel were to be seen on him, and none of us knew him. He walked up and sat down by the Prophet. Resting his knees against his and placing his hands on his thighs, he said: 'O Muhammad, tell me about Islam.'. . ."
There are also many other examples of ahadith that mention angels taking human forms.
Angels are countless in number
There are countless numbers of angels, and only Allah knows how many there are.
The Prophet said, describing the Much-Frequented House (al-Bayt al-Ma'moor) in the seventh heaven:
"Then I was taken up to the Much-Frequented House: every day seventy thousand angels visit it and leave, never returning to it again, another (group) coming after them."
"The Messenger of Allah said: 'Hell will be brought forth that day by means of seventy thousand ropes, each of which will be pulled by seventy thousand angels.'"
Angels do not
eat or drink
This is indicated by the conversation between Prophet Ibraaheem (AS) and the angels who visited him. Allah says:
"Then he turned quickly to his household, brought out a fatted calf, and placed it before them. He said, 'Will you not eat?' (When they did not eat), he conceived a fear of them. They said: 'Fear not,' and they gave him glad tidings of a son endowed with knowledge."
Elsewhere, Allah says (regarding the same incident):
"But when he [(Ibrahim) saw their hands went not towards the (meal), he felt some mistrust of them, and conceived a fear of them. They said: 'Fear not: we have been sent against the people of Lut.'"
Angels do not need food and drink as we do. Rather, their food is their glorification of Allah and declaring the Oneness of Allah (i.e. saying "La illaha ill-Allah").
"Allah bears witness that Laa ilaaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), and the angels, and those having knowledge (also give this witness); (He always) maintains His creation in justice. Laa ilaaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), the All-Mighty, the All-Wise"
Where are the
Angels are in many places, but they will not enter a house where there are any of the following:
Pictures of animate beings (such as photographs of people or animals etc)
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
"The angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog or an image."
Angels also do not enter filthy places like toilets nor when a person is not dressed decently, because angels are good and shy by nature. Some angels are dedicated to a particular person to record their deeds. These angels will be discussed further in the next section.
Angels have different roles and responsibilities
All angels praise and glorify Allah and they never become tired of doing this.
"They celebrate His praises night and day, nor do they ever flag or intermit."
". . . For in the presence of your Lord are those who celebrate His praises by night and by day. And they never flag (nor feel themselves above it)."
There are angels standing in rows, who never get tired or sit down, and others who bow or prostrate, and never raise their heads.
"The Messenger of Allah 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 is able to disobey Allah due to the way Allah created angels. For this reason, Islam does not teach that Satan was a fallen angel, rather he was one of the Jinn.
"O you 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."
Angels are not equal in
status and consequently they have been delegated different tasks to
perform. The names and roles of some angels have been mentioned to us.
Some of these will now be discussed.
The angel Jibreel (Gabriel) is the greatest angel and he is also known as al-Rooh al-Ameen (the Trustworthy Spirit).
"Which the trustworthy spirit has brought down, Upon your heart, that you may be (one) of the warners."
It is Jibreel's task to convey the revelation from Allah to His Messengers. Allah says:
"Say: Whoever is an enemy to Jibreel - for he brings down the (revelation) to your heart by Allah's will, a confirmation of what went before, and guidance and glad tidings to those who believe - Whoever is an enemy to Allah, and His angels and prophets, to Jibreel and Mikaa'eel - Lo! Allah is an enemy to those who reject Faith."
Jibreel has already been
described in many ahadith that have been mentioned above with regard to
his beauty, his ability to take different forms, his great size and so on.
Jibreel brought the Qur'an to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as a series of many, many revelations over a period of 23 years. He also used recite the Qur'an in its complete revelation to date in its correct order once a year to Prophet Muhammad (SAW). In the year before the Prophet's death, Jibreel recited it to him twice.
Mikaa'eel (Michael) is responsible for rain, directing it wherever Allah wishes. He has helpers, who do what he tells them, by the command of his Lord; they direct the winds and clouds, as Allah wills. Mikaa'eel is also one of the angels who is a messenger (like Jibreel) and he also used to descend to some of Allah's prophets, though to a lesser extent that Jibreel.
The angel Israafeel is responsible for blowing the Trumpet which will be blown at the onset of the Hour (the Day of Judgement).
"It is reported that when the Prophet got up to pray at night he used to start his prayer with the words: 'O Allah, Lord of Jibreel, Mikaa'eel and Israafeel, Creator of heaven and earth, Knower of the unseen and the seen, You are the Judge of the matters in which Your slaves differ; guide me with regard to disputed matters of Truth by Your permission, for You guide whomever You will to the Straight Path.'"
Malik, whose name literally means "Master" is the Keeper of Hell, as Allah says:
"They (the people in Hell) will cry: 'O Malik! Would that your Lord put an end to us!'..."
Munkar and Nakeer
These two angels are responsible for questioning a person in the grave.
"The Messenger of Allah said: 'When the deceased is buried (or he said: when one of you is buried), there come to him two blue-black angels, one of whom is called Munkar and the other Nakeer...'"
For more information on the questioning in the grave, please refer to the section Death.
Haaroot and Maaroot
These two angels are mentioned in the second verse of the Qur'an. Allah says:
". . . and such things as came down at Babylon to the angels Haaroot and Maaroot . . ."
Angel of Death
The Angel of Death and his helpers are responsible for taking the soul of the deceased. Allah says:
"Say: 'the Angel of Death, put in charge of you, will (duly) take your souls, then shall you be brought back to your Lord.'"
Note: There is no proof in any authentic hadith that the name of the Angel of Death is 'Azraa'eel, as some believe.
For more information on the
taking of the soul, please refer to the section
Some angels are responsible for protecting the slave throughout his life, when he stays home and when he travels, when he is asleep and when he is awake. These are the "angels in succession" concerning whom Allah says:
"It is the same (to Him) whether any of you conceal his speech or declare it openly, whether he be hid by night or go forth freely by day. For each (person), there are angels in succession, before and behind him. They guard him by the Command of Allah. Verily! Allah will not change the good condition of a people so long as they do not change their state of goodness themselves (by committing sin and by being ungrateful and disobedient to Allah). But when Allah wills a people's punishment, there can be no turning back of it, and they will find besides Him no protector."
"There is no soul without a guardian over it."
Others angels are responsible for recording the deeds of Man, good and bad. There is one angel on the left who records the bad deeds of a person, and one on the right who records the good deeds of a person. These angels are known as the "honourable scribes" (or 'kiraaman kaatibeen' in Arabic) and are referred to in the following verses and ahadith:
". . . and He sends guardians (angels guarding and writing all of one's good and bad deeds) over you . . ."
"Or do they think that We hear not their secrets and their private counsel? (Yes We do) and Our Messengers (appointed angels in charge of mankind) are by them, to record."
"(Remember!) that the two receivers (recording angels) receive (each human being after he or she has attained the age of puberty), one sitting on the right and one on the left (to note his or her actions). Not a word does he (or she) utter, but there is a watcher by him ready (to record it)."
"But verily, over you (are appointed angels in charge of mankind) to watch you, Kiraaman (honourable) kaatibeen - writing down (your deeds)."
"Angels come to you in succession by night and day, and all of them assemble together at the time of the Fajr (dawn) and 'Asr (afternoon) prayers. Those (angels) who have spent the night with you ascend (to Heaven). Allah asks them, although He knows everything about you, "In what state did you leave my slaves?" the angels reply, "When we left them they were praying and when we reached them they were praying."
Allah says (addressing the angels), "If My slave intends to do a bad deed, do not write it down unless he does it. If he does it, then write it down as it is. But if he refrains from doing it for My sake, then write it as a good deed. If he intends to do a good deed but does not do it, write a good deed (in his account), and if he does it, then write it for him as ten good deeds up to seven hundred times."
The bad deeds of children under the age of puberty are not recorded. Until they reach the age of reason, the sign of which is physical maturity, young people are not held accountable for their bad deeds. This is because before this time they do not have the ability to reason between what is good and what is bad and be able to make sound decisions based on this.
Angels as keepers of Paradise
Some of the angels are the keepers of Paradise. Allah says:
"And those who kept their duty to their Lord will be led to Paradise in groups, till, when they reach it, its gates will be opened and its keepers will say: Salaamun 'alaikum (peace be upon you!). You have done well, so enter here, to abide therein."
Angels as keepers of Hell
Some of them are the keepers of Hell, the "guards of Hell", whose number is nineteen and whose leader is Malik (AS).
Giving the spirit to the foetus in the womb
One of the angels is responsible for the sperm in the womb, as is mentioned in the following hadith:
"The Messenger of Allah said: 'The way that each of you is created is that he is gathered in his mother's womb for forty days as a sperm drop, and then for a similar length of time as a blood-clot, and then for a similar length of time as a lump of flesh. Then an angel is sent and he breathes the spirit into (the foetus), and is charged with four commands: to write down his provision, his life-span, his actions, and whether he will be wretched or happy.'"
Angels carrying the Throne of Allah
Some angels carry the Throne of Allah, upon which Allah is, as He describes in the Qur'an:
"Those (angels) who bear the Throne (of Allah) and those around it glorify the praises of their Lord, and believe in Him, and ask forgiveness for those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah) (saying): 'Our Lord! You comprehend all things in mercy and knowledge, so forgive those who repent and follow Your way, and save them from the torment of the blazing Fire!'"
Seeking gatherings remembering Allah
Some of the angels travel throughout the world, seeking out gatherings of dhikr (remembrance of Allah).
"The Messenger of Allah said: 'Allah, be He blessed and exalted, has angels who travel the highways seeking out the people of dhikr. When they find people remembering Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, they call out to one another, "Come to what you hunger for!" and they enfold them with their wings, stretching up to the lowest heaven. Their Lord asked then, and He knows better than them, "What are My slaves saying?"
They say: "They are glorifying, magnifying, praising and extolling You." He asks, "Have they seen Me?" They say, "No, by Allah, they have not seen You." He asks, "And how would it be if they saw Me?" They say, "They would be even more fervent and devoted in their praise and worship." He asks, "What are they asking me for?"
They say, "They ask You for Paradise." He asks, "And have they seen it?" They say, "No, by Allah, O Lord, they have not seen it." He asks, "And how would it be if they saw it?" They say: "They would be even more eager for it and they would beseech You even more earnestly."
He asks, "And what do they seek My protection from?" They say, "From the Fire of Hell." He asks, "Have they seen it?" They say, "No, by Allah, they have not seen it." He asks, "And how would it be if they saw it?" They say: "They would be even more afraid and anxious to escape it."
Allah says: "You are My witnesses that I have forgiven them." One of the angels says: "So-and-so is not really one of them; he came (to the gathering) for some other reason." Allah says, "They were all in the gathering, and one of them will not be excluded (from forgiveness)."'"
Angels responsible for mountains
In one hadith narrated by 'Aa'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) (the wife of the Prophet):
'I said to the Prophet : "Have you ever faced any day more difficult than the day of Uhud?"
He said: "I suffered at the hands of your people and the worst that I suffered was what I suffered at their hands on the day of 'Aqabah. That was when I went to call Ibn 'Abd Yaalayl ibn 'Abd al-Kalaal to Islam, and he did not respond. I left, feeling depressed and hardly knowing where I was going. I did not recover until I found myself in Qarn al-Tha'aalib. I raised my head and saw that I was being shaded by a cloud. I looked, and saw Jibreel in the cloud. He called me and said: 'Allah has heard what your people said and how they responded to you. He has sent the Angel of the Mountains so that you can tell him to do to them whatever you want.' The Angel of the Mountains called me and greeted me, then said: 'O Muhammad, tell me what you want me to do. If you want, I can crush them between two mountains.'"
The Prophet said: "All I hope for is that Allah will bring forth from their loins people who will worship Allah alone and not associate any partner with Him.""