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Angels are mentioned in the Qur’an both as individuals and as a group and appear to have been known to Muhammad’s listeners. They are described in the Qur’an (35.1) as having two, three, or four wings, as having hands (6.93), and not eating (25.7). They are sent as messengers from God, and may intercede with God, but only with his permission (53.25). Besides acting as messengers, individual angels have specific functions. Gabriel (Jibril) is the bringer of divine revelation to Muhammad, while death is brought by an angel unnamed in the Qur’an but known in post-Qur’anic Islamic tradition as `Izra’il. Mikd’il is the same rank as Gabriel. Joseph is thought to be an angel because of his beauty, and evidently some expected Noah to be an angel, implying that angels have human form.

Both the concept of angels and the names for them are related to the larger Semitic tradition. The Arabic word for angel, malak (sg.), mald’ikah (pl.), appears to be a loan word from Hebrew or Aramaic, possibly through Ethiopic, although Muslim philologists have assumed one of several Arabic roots (*mlk, *l`k, *’1k). Individual names like Jibril, Mika’il, and Israfil appear also to be derived from the same linguistic source assimilated into Arabic phonological patterns. The process of assimilating angels into the Arabic language and culture of northwestern Arabia seems to have happened in the pre-Islamic period before the birth of Muhammad. By the time of the rise of Islam, Jews, Christians, and polytheists in the Arabic cultural sphere each had their own view of angels.

The Qur’an does not set forth a systematic description of the different varieties and classes of angels but gives enough information that commentators were able to propound various theories. As well as messengers, angels are guardians over humans and keepers of the inventory of good and bad deeds (82.10-12), although the recording is also ascribed to God (21.94). The Qur’an does not name the two angels, Munkar and Nakir, who visit the dead in the grave and test the person for entry into paradise or hell. Some believe that these angels inflict punishment on those in the grave, making that period before the day of judgment a kind of purgatory. This was denied by the Mu’tazilis and various rationalists, prompting a counterreaction among some traditionists that made belief in these angels an article of faith. The angel Malik rules over hell (43.47) apparently commanding the Zabaniyah, nineteen angels who thrust people into torment (96.18, 74.30). According to tradition, angels are made of light but in the view of some Qur’an scholars are not impeccable, as Iblis, who is sometimes ranked as an angel and sometimes as a jinn, rebelled when God commanded the angels to worship Adam. Scholastic traditions are careful to distinguish between satans (shaytans), jinn, and angels. In Shi’l traditions, the imams can see angels that surround and protect them and their families. In Ismd’ili traditions, each hierarchical order of the universe has an angel associated with it. Some modernist commentators have rejected the existence of angels as nonscientific, but this has been a minority view. Most modern commentators accept the existence of angels as part of the physical universe created by God.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Kisa’i, Muhammad ibn `Abd Allah al-. The Tales of the Prophets of al-Kisa’i. Translated by Wheeler M. Thackston.Boston, 1978. Good translation of extra-Qur’anic stories about prophets, angels, devils, etc.

Macdonald, J. “The Creation of Man and Angels in the Eschatological Literature.” Islamic Studies 3 (1964): 285-3o8. Sound discussion of early Muslim ideas about angels.

Schwarzbaum, Haim. Biblical and Extra-Biblical Legends in Islamic Folk-Literature. Walldorf-Hessen, 1982. Thorough treatment of Islamic folklore and methodology, with a good bibliography.

Welch, Alford T. “Allah and Other Supernatural Beings: The Emergence of the Qur’anic Doctrine of Tawhid.” Journal of theAmericanAcademyof Religion 47.4 (1979) 739, 749, and passim.

GORDON D. NEWBY

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/angels/
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  • writerPosted On: October 9, 2012
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