Hamad Rasheed (host): In today’s program we begin our fourth series in our Islam in Focus program. This series will deal with Muslim Beliefs. Today’s program is the first in the series and deals with belief in the angels of God.
To begin could you comment on this series of Muslim Beliefs and the last three series that we have produced on the Islam in Focus program?
In fact all four series are related in one way or another to Muslim beliefs. In the first series on monotheism the focus was on Muslim belief in God. We tried to explore in what sense Islam insists on pure monotheistic faith. We discussed the various aspects the Quran negates concerning erroneous beliefs about God. We also discussed some of the basic attributes of divinity. This took us eight programs.
In the second program was still related to the belief because once you believe in God you also have to believe in the prophets of God who taught us about God. This took about ten programs in which we explored the nature of prophethood, the characteristics of the prophets, and how Prophet Muhammad fit as the last in a series of all prophets to unify all believers in God under one last revelation. We allocated three sessions to discuss the story of one great prophet, Jesus, as narrated in the Quran. Then in the last two sessions of the series we discussed the implication of belief in prophethood and that is the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims as provided in the Quran.
In the third series, we could say it is related to prophethood, it focused on Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) prophethood with the title ‘Muhammad in the Bible.’ We tried to see through the canonized accepted Bible , The Old and New Testaments that there is a great deal of evidence that shows a clear connection between all Israelite prophets of the past, Jesus and finally Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as all links in the same chain bringing the message of God to humanity.
These discussions in the last three series which took about 26 programs did not even touch on some additional beliefs that are regarded as basic articles of faith for the Muslim like the belief in the angels of God, in the Books or scriptures of God, in the life hereafter, what happens to us after death, what happens between death and resurrection, signs of the last hour, what is in heaven and belief in qadaar (a concept we will come to). So there are still additional beliefs besides believing in God and his prophets that were mainly covered in the last three series.
Host: What is the basis for the Muslim’s belief in angels?
To begin with we have to realize that God’s creation is not limited by the physical world that we can perceive. We realize our existence as humans but there are lots of beings that have been created by God. There is also the world of the unseen. Our knowledge and our perception ability are quite limited as it doesn’t enable us to explore the world of the unseen as fully as we would wish.
This curiosity on the parts of the human to understand the mysteries of the universe and the unseen world can’t be totally satisfied by known scientific methods or by mystical experiences. If you recall we almost allocated a whole program in the beginning of the series on prophethood to discuss the pros and cons of using scientific approach or having a mystical experience. We said that both fall short of providing full information about aspects that transcend scientific methods and individual mystical experiences. It follows then that we have to depend on a higher source of information and that can’t be anything but direct revelation of God as has been revealed to His prophets through authoritative scriptures. For the Muslim it boils down as a basis for belief in angels or other similar beliefs. The authority being the Quran which Muslims accept as the last word of God, which has been protected and preserved in its original form, in addition of course to the sayings and elaborations of the last Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Anything beyond these two authoritative sources can not be but sheer speculation. Basically the Quran and the explanation of Prophet Muhammad are what we have to use for the discussion of this topic.
Host: What do these sources have to say about the nature of angels and what they are created from?
This is summarized in one Hadith or saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that “angels are created from light and Jinn, another spirit, were created from fire and the human is created with what has been described to you.” He means what has been described in the that humans were created from clay. In fact this saying of Prophet Muhammad is quite consistent with what also appears in the Quran in (32:7) “He Who has made everything which He has created most good: He began the creation of man with (nothing more than) clay.” Clay here has two meanings. It could be interpreted as literally from clay or it could also mean from the same basic elements that are on earth. It has been proven that we as humans have the same elements that are found on earth such as Carbon, Potassium and others.
In the same chapter also it talks about Jinn being created from fire without flame. For example this is also mentioned in chapter in (55:15) about the nature of Jinn. We don’t know exactly what that nature of the light or fire. All we can infer from this is that if angels are created from light they are not physical beings they don’t have the same carnal desires that we have, they are not subject to being male or female but they may appear in human form. Also, light refers to purity as angels are pure and absolutely sinless creatures of God. Light also give the impression that they have certain capabilities which are not imaginable by us, just like we can’t imagine that light can travel at a speed of 186,000 miles per second. We can infer from this that angels have certain capacities that are not restricted by our physical understanding. Indeed to prove this point of the absolute sinlessness of angels we find that in the Quran (66:6) describes angels “who flinch not (from executing) the Commands they receive from Allah, but do (precisely) what they are commanded.” Also in (16:50) “They all revere their Lord, high above them, and they do all that they are commanded.”
The Arabs used to uphold a strange belief that the angels were the daughters of God and we find a categorical rejection of that in (21:26-29) “And they say: "((Allah)) Most Gracious has begotten offspring." Glory to Him! they are (but) servants raised to honour. They speak not before He speaks, and they act (in all things) by His Command. He knows what is before them, and what is behind them, and they offer no intercession except for those who are acceptable, and they stand in awe and reverence of His (Glory). If any of them should say, "I am a god besides Him", such a one We should reward with Hell: thus do We reward those who do wrong.” From this it is quite obvious that the Quran doesn’t only reject attributing offspring to God in a sense of other human beings but even the superstitions claim by the Arabs that angels are daughters of God. Actually in another chapter of the Quran (7:206) it shows again that angels never hesitate in worshipping God and carrying out his commands in humility and full submission. This is as much as we can tell about the nature of angels and the implication of the fact that they are created from light. Beyond this we don’t know what don’t know the nature of this creation.
Host: What indications in the Quran do we have as to when the angels were created?
There is an indication that they had been created before human kind. For example in the Quran in (2:30) “Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: "I will create a vicegerent on earth." They said: "Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?- whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?" He said: "I know what ye know not.” So from this it is quite clear that the announcement of God’s plan to create human beings on earth was told to the angels and this indicates that angels were created before humans.
Host: Usually the term angels, suggests to most people, the concept of perfection. Does this mean that angels are superior to man kind?
This is not necessarily the way it is as it depends on human behavior. First of all angels are good despite themselves. They are created good, they don’t have carnal desires and they don’t face the temptations that we as humans face. It’s not a big thing for them to be good because they are created good.
As to the human being who is created by God with the inclination towards good and evil. We find that the human is in a unique position to make the good in himself subdue the evil, which requires a great deal of struggle which angels are not required to do. In that sense a human who is able to capitalize the goodness that is created in him can actually be superior to angels.
This may be surprising but this is not a personal interpretation of mine but in fact I’ll refer to the same chapter I was reading (2:31-34) which will give a full implication of superiority of the human if he is righteous “And He taught Adam the nature of all things; then He placed them before the angels, and said: "Tell me the nature of these if ye are right." They said: "Glory to Thee, of knowledge We have none, save what Thou Hast taught us: In truth it is Thou Who art perfect in knowledge and wisdom." He said: "O Adam! Tell them their natures." When he had told them, Allah said: "Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of heaven and earth, and I know what ye reveal and what ye conceal?" And behold, We said to the angels: "Bow down to Adam" and they bowed down. Not so Iblis: he refused and was haughty: He was of those who reject Faith.”
From these verse, I know the translation don’t always reflect the beauty and clarity of the original Arabic, there are two implications; one the human has been given certain types of knowledge which exceeds the knowledge given to the angels. The second point is that the most conclusive was the last verse I sighted in which God commanded the angels to bow down to Adam. This shows that the human being as a species especially those who are righteous were so high and honored in the sight of God that He ordered angels who are purer creators to bow down to the first man created, Adam.
Host: This raises another interesting question from the verse you just sited. It says that when God commanded the angels to bow down to Adam Satan disobeyed God and refused to do so. Was Satan one of the angels and if so how could he disobey God if by definition angels are totally obedient to God as we mentioned earlier.
I realize that some people tend to have the belief that Satan was an angel or even that he was the chief of angels. This is not so in the case of the Muslim belief at all. Indeed according to Muslim belief Satan belongs to Jinn which another type of spirit that are not angels. And when we mention the verse some people confuse it because it says that when He ordered the angels they bowed down but no Satan. So they infer from that that Satan was one of the angels. But the implication of the verse is that he was not of the angels but he was with the angels. Like if one address a hundred students and one person was not a student; the students were addressed because they were the overwhelming majority. So it doesn’t mean that Satan was of the angels.
Let me give conclusive evidence that Satan according to the Quran is not an angel let alone a chief of angels. This appears in the Quran in (18:50)* “Behold! We said to the angels, "Bow down to Adam": They bowed down except Iblis. He was one of the Jinns, and he broke the Command of his Lord.” This is very conclusive evidence that Satan was not really an angel or else it would be a contradiction of terms. He was a different species of creators which we can discuss at a different time.
Host: Why were angels created in the first place? What function do they have? Do they have any valuable function to perform?
Well in addition to the obvious thing that most of us know that they constantly worship God, that they glorify his Holy name they also have other functions that affect our life. This more particularly is their historical role in bringing revelation to the prophets, which ended with the coming of the last Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To give documentation from the Quran (26:192-193)** it talks about the Quran having been sent by the Honest Spirit “Verily this is a Revelation from the Lord of the Worlds: With it came down the spirit of Faith and Truth.” This is understood by Muslims to refer to angel Gabriel who is the chief of angels.
Also we find that in the Quran in (16:102) it describes the Quran as having been revealed through the Holy Spirit. “Say, the Holy Spirit has brought the revelation from thy Lord in Truth, in order to strengthen those who believe, and as a Guide and Glad Tidings to Muslims.” Holy Spirit here has nothing to do with the notion of Holy Spirit having anything to do with divinity. Holy Spirit to the Muslim is simply the archangel Gabriel the angel of revelation.
Host: What is the form of angels and is it possible for them to appear in human form?
Again I have to restrict my remarks to what one can find in authoritative references for example the Quran or the sayings of the Prophet. Yes we do find evidence of angels at times appearing for special purpose in the form of humans but it is very rare. For example in the Quran (11:69-73) it discusses the angels of God coming to Prophet Abraham before they went to destroy the people of Lute and they not only told him of their plans but they also brought him the glad tiding of the birth of a son, Isaac, from his first wife Sarah who was baron. There is an incident also in the Quran in (19:16-17) when it talks about the Holy Spirit, as the Muslim understand it, coming to Mary the mother of Jesus (PBUH) to give her the glad tiding of the birth of her son Prophet Jesus (PBUH). Also there are lots of evidence that angel Gabriel came in human form to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) several times. The first time he came was when Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation in the cave of Hira’a. So in this sense and in limited rare cases angels did appear in the form of man. I have no knowledge of their appearance after Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Host: Besides these contacts that angels have had with prophets in the past how do angels relate to other humans like you and I? What is the relationship between ourselves and angels?
We cant just think of angels as they relate to prophets alone in fact could give you at least five areas in the Quran or the sayings of the Prophet that indicates the involvement of angels. In one saying of Prophet Muhammad he said that “you have angels who are constantly with you, they do not leave except in the most private functions.” In other words they are with us at all times and he said one should really be generous to them, generous here in a sense of doing good things because those angels would definitely feel very happy when we are doing the right things.
In another Hadith (saying of Prophet Muhammad) he indicated that one of the functions of these angels is to prompt us to do good. It is not necessary that we hear sound but sometimes one feels something from inside as if something is whispering ‘do this it is a good thing to do’ just as Satan or devils prompt one to do things that are wrong. So the angels balance the effect of evil prompting.
Secondly, in the Quran there is indication that the angels also take care of recording our deeds. They keep a very accurate record of what we do. We don’t know exactly how they record it computer, tape only Allah knows. In the past we did not know that information could be stored in a magnetic tape. They have their ways of keeping track of our deeds whether good or evil we find reverence to this in the Quran in (82:10-12),(43:79-80), (50:16), and in (17:13-14).
In addition to this we find that there is reference to angles having special relationship with pious people. For example, Prophet Muhammad indicated that whenever a group of people meet to recite the word of God (Quran) as an act of worship or make supplication and praise God that the angles would surround them and feel very happy. The Quran in (17:87) talks about the special value of reciting Quran in the late hours of the night near dawn time and that the Angles come in great numbers to listen to the recitation of the Quran.
Fourthly, we find that the Quran refers to angels as providing support and aid to the believers at the time of stress and adversity. We find reference to this in (58:22) and (8:10-12). Also we find that angles pray to God for forgiveness of those who are believers and we find that in (40:7)*** “Those who sustain the Throne (of Allah. and those around it Sing Glory and Praise to their Lord; believe in Him; and implore Forgiveness for those who believe: "Our Lord! Thy Reach is over all things, in Mercy and Knowledge. Forgive, then, those who turn in Repentance, and follow Thy Path; and preserve them from the Penalty of the Blazing Fire!” Another very impressive citation in the Quran in (33:43) it also talks about the angels praying for forgiveness and the welfare of humans in general and more specifically those who are pious.
Host: Does the Muslim belief in angels have any practical implications for us and does our relationship with angels end with our deaths?
The questions are actually composed in two parts. For the first part the belief in angels is not just a mater of dogma or something to except as an article of faith but it does have practical applications just like we discussed in previous series the implication of belief in the oneness of God or belief in prophets. If we realize that angels are with us and they are watching us (we should also keep in mind that God is also with us and is watching us) would provide us with some inducement to do what is good in an effort to please them and to avoid doing evil because we feel ashamed not only before God but before the angels surrounding us. This is why we find in the Quran that belief in angels is a part of righteousness. Examples are found in (2:77) and (2:285). This is a method used to help awaken our moral consciousness.
As far as the second part this is a whole issue of itself.
*The verse is not (18:80) as quoted in the lecture.
**The verses are not (29:193-194) as quoted in the lecture.
***The verses are not (40:97) as quoted in the lecture.