اللهم صل على سيدنا محمد و آله و سلم
27th Ramaḍān, 1436 AH
I have never met an angel, never felt an angel’s presence, nor do I think I truly understand their importance – but I believe in them nonetheless, because Allah and the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him and his family) have informed me of their existence.
Those who lived in the Prophetic era didn’t see them in their angelic forms either – even though Muhammad’s prophethood was predicated on his claim that he was regularly meeting with the archangel Gabriel (Jibrīl) – so I don’t take my not seeing them as a bad sign. As the Qur’ān states:
“O you who believe, remember Allah‘s favor to you, when the forces (of the disbelievers) came upon you, and We sent upon them a wind, and the forces (of angels) you did not see. Allah is watchful of whatever you do.” (Qur’ān, 33.9)
Contrast that with verses where they are seen by normal human beings:
“Those who do not fear to meet Us say, ‘Why are the angels not sent down to us?’ or ‘Why can we not see our Lord?’ They are too proud of themselves and too insolent. There will be no good news for the guilty on the Day they see the angels. The angels will say, ‘You cannot cross the forbidden barrier,’ and We shall turn to the deeds they have done and scatter them like dust.” (21.23)
So I recognize that not seeing them is a test of faith, however much that must enrage the pure materialist. There is no empirical means to access the angelic realm – at no point in human history will a brilliant PhD from Oxford discover a mathematical proof for the existence of angels that leads a research team with billions of dollars in funding to develop a piece of technology that allows humans to observe angels at work. Such a storyline might work in Hollywood, but it is impossible in the real world. But as the Qur’an states,
“…If you could only see the wicked in their death agonies, as the angels stretch out their hands [to them], saying, ‘Give up your souls. Today you will be repaid with a humiliating punishment for saying false things about God and for arrogantly rejecting His revelations.’” (6.93)
So maybe the skeptical mind should not be too quick to see an angel – they might not like what they see staring back at them.
The inclusion of belief in angels in the following verse, which has been a personal source of guidance for many years, is enough to prove their importance to me:
“Goodness does not consist in turning your face towards East or West. The truly good are those who believe in God and the Last Day, in the angels, the Scripture, and the prophets; who give away some of their wealth, however much they cherish it, to their relatives, to orphans, the needy, travellers and beggars, and to liberate those in bondage; those who keep up the prayer and pay the prescribed alms; who keep pledges whenever they make them; who are steadfast in misfortune, adversity, and times of danger. These are the ones who are true, and it is they who are aware of God.” (Qur’ān 2.177)
God has mentioned the angels along with other obvious fundamentals of sound faith and righteous action, and so we do not deny them. But how can we get a better understanding of angels?
Perhaps we can reflect on two verses of the Qur’ān:
“Say [Prophet], ‘If anyone is an enemy of Gabriel – who by God’s leave brought down the Quran to your heart confirming previous scriptures as a guide and good news for the faithful – if anyone is an enemy of God, His angels and His messengers, of Gabriel and Michael, then God is certainly the enemy of such disbelievers.'” (2.97-8)
God speaks of the enemies of the angels. Some scholarly commentaries on the Qur’ān mention incidents that happened in the time of the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him and his family), but let us first explore some general meanings. First, to actively disbelieve in the angels likely means to be their enemy. Secondly, to deny the role that they have played in the revelations from God to humanity is likely to take them as an enemy. Thirdly, to interpret them away as some force of nature, and not as the created beings whom God has named quite explicitly as Gabriel and Michael (Mīkāl) is more likely to take them as enemies. Lastly, to believe that the angel is your enemy is to take them as an enemy, which was actually the story behind the verse. There were people in the Prophetic era who considered Gabriel to be their enemy. The following story is related in the classical Qur’an commentary Asbāb al-Nuzūl by al-Wāḥidī (d. 1075):
“The Jews came to the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, and said: ‘O Abu’l-Qasim! We would like to ask you about a few things; we shall follow you if you answer them. Who, among the angels, comes to you? For there is not a single prophet except that an angel comes to him with a message and revelation from his Lord, glorified and majestic, so who is the angel who comes to you?’ He said: ‘it is Gabriel’. They said: ‘That is the one who comes down with war and fighting. He is our enemy. If you had said: Michael, who comes down with rain and mercy, we would have followed you’.”
Angels were part of the beliefs of the followers of Moses (upon him peace) and Jesus (upon him peace), and they show up repeatedly in the Bible. Islam affirmed that general teaching, but also clarified various misconceptions. For example, in Islam, there is no concept of a “Fallen Angel,” for angels by their very nature cannot disobey God. And just as angels supported previous prophets, such as the angels that rescued the Prophet Lot (upon him peace) from Sodom and Gomorrah, so too did angels play an important role in the mission of Muhammad (blessings and peace be upon him and his family). For example, they fought with the Muslims at the Battle of Badr:
“God helped you at Badr when you were very weak. Be mindful of God, so that you may be grateful. Remember when you said to the believers, ‘Will you be satisfied if your Lord reinforces you by sending down three thousand angels? Well, if you are steadfast and mindful of God, your Lord will reinforce you with five thousand swooping angels if the enemy should suddenly attack you!’ and God arranged it so.” (3.123-5)
Importantly, there is no indication that angelic support has been removed from the Islamic community, so many centuries later. Our natural spiritual desire is to want knowledge about angelic support that we can rely upon. So when we look at the narrations from the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him and his family), we see various situations when the angels come to help and pray for those who believe in them:
- Seeking beneficial knowledge
- Sitting and waiting for prayer while in a state of ritual purity
- Fasting while others are eating nearby
- Visiting those who are sick
- Making du’a for someone who is absent
- Gathering to remember Allah
The reality is that the angels are there to support and comfort us on the path towards the Truth. Struggling for the sake of what is right can often feel like a lonely road, but if one remembers that the angels surround the person struggling for good, then one finds a sense of tranquility. The following verses reminds us of the angels’ concern for us:
“Those [angels] who carry the Throne and those around it exalt [Allah] with praise of their Lord and believe in Him and ask forgiveness for those who have believed: ‘Our Lord, You have encompassed all things in mercy and knowledge, so forgive those who have repented and followed Your way and protect them from the punishment of Hellfire. Our Lord, admit them to gardens of perpetual residence which You have promised them and whoever was righteous among their fathers, their spouses and their offspring. Indeed, it is You Who is the Exalted in Might, the Wise. And protect them from the evil consequences [of their deeds]. And he whom You protect from evil consequences that Day – You will have given him mercy. And that is the great attainment.'” (40.7-9)
Angels are Allah’s creation, and they obey the command of their Lord. And yet, the angels would seem like “demigods” to the masses of humanity. Their power and influence in the world, the reported nature of their size and appearance – all of these, if truly grasped, strike awe in the heart of the human being. People worship, serve and sacrifice to imaginary beings that are far less majestic than angels, and yet it is a remarkable testimony to the Muslim understanding of monotheism (tawḥīd) that we never consider angels as anything other than God’s loyal servants. There are some in human history who have worshipped the angels, believing that their immense power means that they have the inherent power to benefit or harm us. But the reality is that they do only what they are commanded. They have no inherent power, but rather all power and might and glory belongs to Allah alone, Who is the Creator of the angels. When we remember that, we feel the brotherhood of creation with the angels. They are different from us, and yet we serve the same Master.
The recitation of the Qur’ān reminds us of the centrality of the angels, for it is Gabriel “who by God’s leave brought down the Quran to [Muhammad’s] heart confirming previous scriptures as a guide and good news for the faithful.” We believe that the Angel Gabriel came in Ramadan to review the Qur’an with the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him and his family), acting not simply as medium of revelation, but also a teacher.
“The Prophet was the most generous of all the people, and he used to become more generous in Ramadan when Gabriel met him. Gabriel used to meet him every night during Ramadan to revise the Qur’an with him. Allah’s Messenger then used to be more generous than a free flowing wind.”
When the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him and his family) was absorbed in the Qur’ān, the delights of this world were nothing and could be easily given away as an additional act of worship. This is profound, especially when we remember that another fundamental act of worship tied to the prophetic reality, the salawat, also leads us to the same realization. As the Qur’ān states:
“Allah and His angels send blessings on the Prophet: O you that believe! Send blessings on him, and salute him with all respect.” (33.56)
After that, we send blessings upon the Prophet, and in turn the angels ask for blessings on us, as the hadith states:
It is a cycle of blessing, and another manifestation of the mercy of Allah that is built into the world. The Messenger is mercy, and recitation of the Qur’ān and sending salawat increases us in that connection with mercy!
Even though we have not met the angels face to face in this world, we will meet them in the next life without a doubt. There are many different angels that Allah and His Messenger (blessings and peace be upon him and his family) have informed us about, but perhaps the most important to mention at the end of this writing are the two angels who will meet us at our end: Munkar and Nakīr. Both Sunnī and Shi‘ī theologians state that everyone who dies is questioned in their grave by these two angels. It is reported that they ask three questions:
Who is your Lord?
What is your religion?
What do you say about the messenger that was sent to you?
So in closing, I remind myself and anyone who reads this to should remember these three questions whenever we hear talk of angels, and think about how we will respond to these questions when Munkar and Nakīr come to meet us in our graves. If our lives are filled with faith and good deeds, we hope that Allah will give us to the strength to sincerely reply:
Allah is my Lord (Allāhu rabbī)
Islam is my religion (al-Islāmu dīnī)
Muhammad is my Prophet! (Muhammadun nabīyī)
اللهم صل على سيدنا محمد و آله و سلم