Angles in Islam
Angels are very active in the Qur’an, and are described in a variety of ways. They may have two, three, or four pairs of wings (35:1); they do not need to eat (25:7, 25:20); and they are said to be very beautiful. Sometimes they fight on the side of the righteous (3:124). They note our actions (50:18) and take the souls of the dead and guard over hell (32:11, 43:77). These angelic guards are understood to be nineteen in number (74:30). On the day o judgment God’s throne will be carried by the angels (69:17). The Ark of the Covenant, holding the sakinah (inspired peace | السكينة), will also be borne by the angels (2:248). There is a High Council of angels (37:8, 38:69), who repel eavesdropping demons with bolts of fire. Some angels are described by name, such as the “two angels at Babylon,” Harut and Marut, who teach people white magic (2:102). There are also Gabriel and Michael (2:98). The former is associated with the bringing down of revelation (26:193 calls him “the faithful spirit”), and in the hadith accounts he accompanies Muhammad on his heavenly ascension or miraj. The Qur’an calls ‘Ina’ il the angel of death and names Israfil as the angel whose trumpet blast will mark the day of judgment (69:13).
It is an interesting question why an angel was not sent down to accompany the Prophet Muhammad in his task. In 6:8-9 we are told that such an angel would have made it too easy for the audience to accept the message. The only miracle in the Qur’an is taken to be the miracle of the Qur’an itself, its unique and perfect style and composition.
Belief in angels, mentioned alongside that in God, the Last Judgment, the Book and the messengers is incumbent upon Muslims (2:177). God is the enemy of those who oppose his angels (2:98).
The angels are intermediaries between the divine and the lower world. They announce the news of Yahya (John the Baptist) to Zaka-riyya and Jesus to Mary. Angels may also serve as messengers (sing. rand). However, most messengers mentioned in the Qur’an are human. Passages describe the coming down of the angels and the spirit (rah) during the Night of Power (laylat al-qadr), and the descent of the angels, together with the spirit of God’s command, to help humanity (16:2,97:4).
In the story of Adam’s creation, which is mentioned in seven distinct places in the Qur’an, angels figure prominently. In 2:30-34 God announces, “I will create a vicegerent on earth,” to which the angels reply, “Will You place there someone who will make mischief and shed blood? While we celebrate Your praises?” The narrative continues with God teaching Adam “the names of all things,” and then challenging the angels to recite these names. Their inability to comply betrays their simple nature: “We have no knowledge beyond that which You have taught Us.” Adam then tells the angels their own names, and they are commanded to prostrate themselves to him, but one of them called Iblis (Satan) refuses, saying, “I am better than he is. You created me from fire and him from clay” (7:12). Iblis is cast out of heaven, and will contend with humanity until the Last Day. He is an angel (7:11), but made from fire, like the jinn (55:15). In the hadith literature, angels are said to be made from light.
The Muslim philosopher Ibn Sina (Avicenna, d. 428/1037) identified the various spheres of the world as angels, and this sort of language became popular with various thinkers. Al-Suhrawardi (549-587/ 1154-1191) developed a cosmology of light in which angels play a significant role. Ibn ‘Arabi (560-638/1164-1240) distinguished between the angels of the incorporeal world, and contrasted them with those of the physical. The four archangels Gabriel, Michael, `Izra’il, and Israfil are used to represent the four divine attributes of life, knowledge, will, and power.