Islamic view of angels

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An angel according to Islamic arts from a Persian miniature from the 16th century

Belief in Angels (Arabic: ملائكةmalāʾikah; singular: ملاك or مَلَكْ malāk) is one of the six Articles of Faith in Islam. They are regarded as celestial beings who perform different tasks of God. The imagination of angels in Islam developed from the Quran and was influenced by pre-Islamic religions like Judaism, Zoroastrianism and probably even some gnostic beliefs,[1][2] expanded by tafsir (exegesis) and the hadith literature.[3]

Concept of angels[edit]

Angels take the role of intermediaries performing different tasks of God. They are associated with abstract concepts,[4] specific phenomena, carrying the laws of nature[5] and can also appear personified.[6] created from luminous material.

Unlike humans or jinn, they have no biological needs and therefore no lower desires predicted by the natural world. Angels in Islam are believed to be able to take human form. This is known in the Quran and Hadith literature where Jibrail came in human form to announce to Mary, mother of Jesus, and to Muhammad about reciting the message that is the divine will of God, known to Muslims as the Quran.[7] They may be described as creatures of pure emotion.[8] It has been said that angels lack free will and some scholars stated based on Sura 66:6 of the Quran, they strictly obey God's commands; while others debate the extent of free will which angels have, not as beings of endowed with human reason, but as beings who may err, and if they are endowed with free will they are not subject to temptation. The implications of a well-known hadith concern 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 pre-destination that would have ensured his forgiveness. This is narrated in Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, book 56.[9] This can be seen in Islamic scholarly analysis which suggests the decision-making framework of angels is different from that of mankind, as their souls are composed of light rather than mud-like clay.[10]

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.[11]

Elements of angels[edit]

Based on hadith tradition, reported by Aisha, angels were created out of light:

The Angels were born out of light and the Jann was born out of the spark of fire and Adam was born as he has been defined (in the Qur'an) for you (i. e. he is fashioned out of clay) [12]

However some reports attributed to the Sahaba state, there are also angels created from other substances. Regarding the Judeo-Christian thought, angels were created from fire,[13][14] Islamic scholars tried to dissolve this contradiction,[15] that angels were said to be created from light. Zakariya al-Qazwini explained, that the angels are created from the light of fire, the jinn from its blaze and the demons from its smoke.[16] Others, like Tabari and Al-Baydawi explained a difference between fire and light should not be taken too precise, since fire and light are akin and both pass into another, therefore the elements "light" and "fire" just delineate a luminous origin of angels.[17] Other scholars suggested a distinction between the angels of mercy, created from light, and angels of punishment, created from fire.[18]

Prostration of angels[edit]

Angels bow before the newly created Adam, but the Iblis (top right on the picture) refuses to prostrate

A common Quranic motif appearing 7 times over several Suras is the prostration of angels. The keypoint can be summarized, that God created Adam, blow his spirit into him and therefore commanded the angels to prostrate, but Iblis among them refused and was banished. Angels bowing before Adam, appears in some earlier Jewish and Christian sources such as "Cave of Treasures". While in Jewish Midrash angels are retained to bow before Adam, in Syriac Christian source, angels are commanded to worship Adam, since according to Christian interpretation, he is the image of God.[19] Similar motif appears in the Gospel of Bartholomew, there the angels are commanded to worship Adam as the image of God, but the devil created from fire refuses, feeling superior to Adam made from dust, and therefore banished to hell. However Islam rejects Christians account on Adam being the image of God. Islam hold, God is unique, the prostration of angels on Adam has other reasons, commonly because human are thought to rank higher than angels or to uncover the haughtiness of the Iblis.

Quran commentators and scholars explained humans suprimacy, in contrast to angels who according to Quran would not "shed blood" unlike men and praise God, because human is able to evolve and therefore overcome his flaws. Ibn Arabi stated, angels rank lower than humans, due to their inability, caused by their limited capacity to perceive the world and Gods names. Accordingly, in first instance, human in undeveloped state ranks lower but can improve himself and than rank higher than the angels, due to their own work of improving. The perfect human is Al-Insān al-Kāmil.[20] Some traditions gave Iblis a positive depiction as a true monotheist and regarded as a master of oneness. By accepting a penalty for disobedience, he affirmed the oneness of God, erased the illusion of duality (good and evil) and represents a selfless believer and therefore a true lover of God.[21] The command to prostrate before Adam is considered to be a test of love, rather than a real command. Additionally, Iblis as the devil teaches evil among the earthly beings, so they learn to recognize good.[22]

Individual angels[edit]

Islam has no standard hierarchical organization that parallels the division into different "choirs" or spheres, as hypothesized and drafted by early medieval Christian theologians, but does distinguish between archangels and angels. Angels are not equal in status and consequently, they are delegated different tasks to perform.


  • Jibra'il/Jibril/Jabril (Judeo-Christian, Gabriel),[23] the angel of revelation. Jibra'il is the archangel responsible for revealing the Quran to Muhammad, verse by verse. Jibrail is the angel who communicates with (all of) the prophets and also descends with the blessings of Allah during the night of Laylat al-Qadr ("The Night of Divine Destiny (Fate)").
  • Mikail (Judeo-Christian, Michael),[24] who provides nourishment for bodies and souls.[25] Mikail is often depicted as the archangel of mercy, and is responsible for bringing rain and thunder to Earth.[26]
  • Israfil or Israafiyl (Judeo-Christian, Raphael), is an archangel in Islam who will blow the trumpet at the end of time. According to the hadith, Israfil is the angel responsible for signaling the coming of Qiyamah (Judgment Day) by blowing a horn.
  • 'Azrael/'Azraaiyl/Azrail also known as Malak al-maut (Judeo-Christian, Azrael), is the angel of death. He is responsible for parting the soul from the body of the dead.[27]

Other angels and angel groups[edit]

  • The angels of the Seven Heavens.
  • Hafaza, (The Guardian Angel):
    • Kiraman Katibin (Honourable Recorders),[28] two of whom are charged to every human being; one writes down good deeds and another one writes down evil deeds. They are both described as 'Raqeebun 'Ateed' in the Qur'an.
    • Mu'aqqibat (The Protectors)[29] who keep people from death until its decreed time and who bring down blessings.
  • Jundullah, those who helped Muhammad in the battlefield.
  • Those who draw out the souls of the blessed.[30]
  • Those angels who distribute (provisions, rain, and other blessings) by (God's) Command.[31]
  • Those angels who drive the clouds.[32]
  • Hamalat al-'Arsh, those who carry the 'Arsh (Throne of God),[33] comparable to the Christian Seraph.
  • Those that give the spirit to the foetus in the womb and are charged with four commands: to write down his provision, his life-span, his actions, and whether he will be wretched or happy.[34]
  • The Angel of the Mountains.[35]
  • Artiya'il, the angel who removes grief and depression from the children of Adam.[36]
  • Munkar and Nakir, who question the dead in their graves.[29]
  • Darda'il (The Journeyers), who travel the earth searching out assemblies where people remember God's name.[37]
  • The angels charged with each existent thing, maintaining order and warding off corruption. Their number is known only to God.[38]
  • Ridwan, the keeper of Paradise.
  • Maalik, chief of the angels who govern Jahannam (Hell)

Disputed angels[edit]

The figures mentioned in the following are, according to some traditions, not actual angels but rather demons, jinn, saints or kings. Their affiliation as angels is not universally accepted among Islamic belief.

  • Zabaniah are 19 angels who torment sinful persons in hell.
  • Harut and Marut, fallen angels, who taught the humans in babylon magic.[39]
  • Azazil, a former archangel,[40] held to be Iblis' name before his fall. Once given authority over the lower heavens, he was also responsible for separation in the universe, and was an instrument of divine anger.[41]
  • Iblis, leader of demons.
  • Khidr, sometimes regarded as an angel which took human form, thus able to reveal hidden knowledge exceeding those of the prophets to guide and help people or prophets.[42]
  • Angel of fire and ice, an angel Muhammad met during his night journey

Distinction between angels and jinn[edit]

In addition to the angels, Islam assumes the existence of other invisible creatures including jinn and demons. Since they are all concealed from human eye, the angels are sometimes also referred to jinn. Thus angels are jinn, but not every jinn is an angel.[43] Concerning the ordinarily jinn, they have some characteristics in common with humans. Unlike angels, the jinn are mortal; they also eat, drink, procreate, die and have desires.[44] They live a limited life, that is subject to God's judgment, and they will go along with humans either to hell or to heaven. The jinn may also dwell in an intermediary realm below the angelic plane or next to humans on earth.[45]

Meaning of angels in mysticism[edit]

Sufism also views angels as messengers between the divine and the human realms. Additionally, angels are viewed as the original state of a soul before it touches the earthly plane. Those who stay in heaven, remain as angels. Angels rank lower than humans, because as already flawless and desireless beings, they are not capable of loving God like humans do.[46] When humans die, they then return to the heavenly spheres with all deeds, experiences and thoughts accomplished on the earthen plane.[47][48] Furthermore, angels can inspire the Sufi. These angelic inspirations are also related to Khidr encounters.[49]

Ibn Arabi cosmology[edit]

The sunni scholar and sufi mystic Ibn Arabi stated the angels are the first beings created, and distinguished between angels of the corporeal and the incorporeal world, called Al-Ama (the cloud), where all of the creation will be created. In this place, angelic beings dwelled in the presence of God, but were unable to recognize each other or even themselves, until God chose one of them to become the Higher Pen writing everything God will create in the cosmos.[50][51] The angels in the corporeal world are more akin to humans in the majority Islamic view. Accordingly, angels are spirits blown into light, while humans are spirits blown into shape, and jinn spirits blown into wind[52] (wind is referring to the hot air, discharged from the flame called marijin min nar, from which the jinn are created according to the Quran).[53] Humans are even superior to the angels, because angels can just follow straight lines, therefore they can function as forces of nature and perform specific tasks but are unable to know God's names, attributes or to perceive God in different ways like humans can.[54] Angels hesitated to bow before Adam, because they were unable to see the true nature of the human. Some angels erred in believing their way of perceiving God is the only way, and they became guilty of opposing Adam as a vice regent and fixing on one interpretation of God to the exclusion of others.[55][56]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jenny Rose Zoroastrianism: A Guide for the Perplexed Bloomsbury Publishing 2011 ISBN 978-1-441-12236-0 page66
  2. ^ Christian Lange Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions Cambridge University Press 2015 ISBN 978-1-316-41205-3 page 65
  3. ^ Stephen Burge Angels in Islam: Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti's al-Haba'ik fi akhbar al-mala'ik Routledge 2015 ISBN 978-1-136-50473-0 chapter 1.1
  4. ^ Stephen Burge Angels in Islam: Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti's al-Haba'ik fi akhbar al-mala'ik Routledge 2015 ISBN 978-1-136-50473-0
  5. ^ J. I. Laliwala Islamic Philosophy of Religion: Synthesis of Science Religion and Philosophy Sarup & Sons 2005 ISBN 978-8-176-25476-2 page 28
  6. ^ J. I. Laliwala Islamic Philosophy of Religion: Synthesis of Science Religion and Philosophy Sarup & Sons 2005 ISBN 978-8-176-25476-2 page 28
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  11. ^ Guessoum. Islam's Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Stephen Burge Angels in Islam: Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti's al-Haba'ik fi akhbar al-mala'ik Routledge 2015 ISBN 978-1-136-50473-0
  14. ^ Amira El-Zein Islam, Arabs, and Intelligent World of the Jinn Syracuse University Press 2009 ISBN 978-0-815-65070-6 page 46
  15. ^ Syrinx von Hees Enzyklopädie als Spiegel des Weltbildes: Qazwīnīs Wunder der Schöpfung : eine Naturkunde des 13. Jahrhunderts Otto Harrassowitz Verlag 2002 ISBN 978-3-447-04511-7 page 270 (german)
  16. ^ Seyyed Hossein Nasr Islamic Life and Thought Routledge 2013 ISBN 978-1-134-53818-8 page 135
  17. ^ M. Th. Houtsma E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936, Band 5 BRILL 1993 ISBN 978-9-004-09791-9 page 191
  18. ^ Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb The Encyclopaedia of Islam: NED-SAM Brill 1995 page 94
  19. ^ Mehdi Azaiez, Gabriel Said Reynolds, Tommaso Tesei, Hamza M. Zafer The Qur'an Seminar Commentary / Le Qur'an Seminar: A Collaborative Study of 50 Qur'anic Passages / Commentaire collaboratif de 50 passages coraniques Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG ISBN 978-3-110-44590-9 page 63
  20. ^ Mohamed Haj Yousef The Single Monad Model of the Cosmos: Ibn Arabi's Concept of Time and Creation ibnalarabi 2014 ISBN 978-1-499-77984-4 page 292
  21. ^ Annemarie Schimmel Mystical Dimension of Islam Noura Books 2013 ISBN 978-9-794-33797-4 page 195
  22. ^ John Ryan Haule Tantra & Erotic Trance: Volume One - Outer WorkFisher King Press, 2012 page 160 ISBN 978-0-977-60768-6
  23. ^ Stephen Burge Angels in Islam: Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti's al-Haba'ik fi akhbar al-mala'ik Routledge 2015 ISBN 978-1-136-50473-0 chapter 3
  24. ^ Quran 2:98
  25. ^ Ruzbeh N Bharucha The Perfect Ones Penguin UK 2015 ISBN 978-9-352-14013-8
  26. ^ Matthew L.N. Wilkinson A Fresh Look at Islam in a Multi-Faith World: A Philosophy for Success Through Education Routledge 2014 ISBN 978-1-317-59598-4 page 106
  27. ^ Juan Eduardo Campo Encyclopedia of Islam Infobase Publishing, 2009 ISBN 978-1-438-12696-8 page 42
  28. ^ Quran 82:11
  29. ^ a b Quran 13:10–11
  30. ^ Quran 79:2
  31. ^ Quran 51:4
  32. ^ Quran 37:2
  33. ^ Quran 40:7
  34. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 1:6:315
  35. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:54:454
  36. ^ Stephen Burge Angels in Islam: Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti's al-Haba'ik fi akhbar al-mala'ik Routledge 2015 ISBN 978-1-136-50473-0
  37. ^ Darda'il on
  38. ^ The Vision of Islam by Sachiko Murata & William Chittick pg 86-87
  39. ^ Hussein Abdul-Raof Theological Approaches to Qur'anic Exegesis: A Practical Comparative-Contrastive Analysis Routledge 2012 ISBN 978-1-136-45991-7 page 155
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  42. ^ Brannon Wheeler Prophets in the Quran: An Introduction to the Quran and Muslim Exegesis A&C Black 2002 ISBN 978-0-826-44956-6 page 225
  43. ^ Richard Gauvain Salafi Ritual Purity: In the Presence of God Routledge 2013 ISBN 978-0-710-31356-0 page 302
  44. ^ "The difference between angels, Jinns and devils". islamweb. 
  45. ^ Amira El-Zein Islam, Arabs, and Intelligent World of the Jinn Syracuse University Press 2009 ISBN 9780815650706 page 50
  46. ^ John Renard The A to Z of Sufism Scarecrow Press 2009 ISBN 978-0-810-86343-9 page 33
  47. ^ Karin Jironet The Image of Spiritual Liberty in the Western Sufi Movement Following Hazrat Inayat Khan Peeters Publishers 2002 ISBN 978-9-042-91205-2 page 36
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  50. ^ Mohamed Haj Yousef The Single Monad Model of the Cosmos: Ibn Arabi's Concept of Time and Creation ibnalarabi 2014 ISBN 978-1-499-77984-4 page 29, 291
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  53. ^ Moiz Ansari Islam And the Paranormal: What Does Islam Says About the Supernatural in the Light of Qur'an, Sunnah And Hadith iUniverse 2006 ISBN 978-0-595-37885-2 page 55
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  55. ^ Sa'diyya Shaikh Sufi Narratives of Intimacy: Ibn Arabi, Gender, and Sexuality Univ of North Carolina Press 2012 ISBN 978-0-807-83533-3 page 114
  56. ^ Christian Krokus The Theology of Louis Massignon CUA Press 2017 ISBN 978-0-813-22946-1 page 89