Faith or belief in any doctrine, according to the Qur’an, is essentially the acceptance of a proposition as a basis for action. Faith in angels, therefore, means that there is a spiritual life for man, and that he must develop that life by working in accordance with the promptings of the angel and by brining into play the faculties which God has given him.
The Religion of Islam by Maulana Muhammad Ali
Angels are immaterial beings
The Arabic word for angel is malak, of which the plural form is mala'ika (1).
(1) The root from which the word is derived is 'alk or 'aluka meaning risala or the bearing of messages. The hamza (') was dropped from the singular form which was originally ma'lak and afterwards changed into mal'ak (hence the plural mala'ika), such changes being very uncommon in the Arabic language. Some authorities, however, consider the form malak to be the original form and trace it to the root malk or milk meaning power, and the difference of opinion has been turned by D.B. MacDonald into an argument that the word is borrowed from the Hebrew, though he admits that "there is no trace of a verb in Hebbrew (nor in Phoenician, where the noun occurs in later inscriptions)" (En. Is., art. Mala'ika).
The Qur'an speaks of the creation of man from dust and of the creation of jinn from fire, but it does not speak of the origin of angels. There is, however, a report from 'A'isha , according to which the Prophet said that the jinn are created from fire (nar), and that the angels are created from light (nur) (Muslim 52:22). This shows that the angels are two different classes of beings, and further, that the jinn and the angels are two different classes of beings, and that it is a mistake to consider them as belonging to one class. In the Qur'an angels are spoken of as "messengers (rasul) flying on wings" (35:1). (2)
(2) Ajniha pl. of janah.
Their description as rasul (3) has reference to their spiritual function of bearing Divine messages.
(3) Pl. of rasul, meaning a messenger.
Sacred history, indeed, represents angels as possessing wings, but so far as the Qur'an is concerned, it would be a grievous mistake to confuse the (janah) wing of an angel with the fore-limb of a bird which fits it for flight. The wing is a symbol of the power which enables those immaterial beings to execute functions with all speed; and in Arabic, the word janah is used in a variety of senses. In birds it is the wing; the two sides of a thing are called its janahin (two janahs); and in man, his hand is spoken of as his janah (R.). The word has further been used metaphorically in the Qur'an in several places, as in 15:88 and 26:215, where the "lowering of the janah" stands for "being kind." The Arabic proverb, huwa maqsus al-janah (lit., he has his janah -- wing -- clipped), really means, he lacks the power to do a thing (LL.), which also shows that janah is used for power in Arabic. In the immaterial beings called angels who are created from light (nur), and in whom therfore a material janah cannot be thought of, it is simply the symbol of a power which is speedily brought into action.
Can angels be seen?
It is commonly thought the immaterial beings, whom we call angels, can assume any shape they like, but the Qur’an gives no countenance to this idea. On the contrary, it is repeatedly stated to answer to the demands of the Prophet’s opponents, who desired to be see an angel or to have an angel as a messenger, that angels could not be seen and that an angel would have been sent as a messenger had angels, and not human beings, lived on earth.
“And nothing prevents people from believing when the guidance comes to them except that they say, Has Allah raised up a mortal to be a messenger? Say, Had there been in the earth angels walking about secure, We would have sent down to them from the heaven an angel as a messenger” (17:94-95).
Twice is it related in the Qur’an that the angelic hosts sent to help the Muslims were not seen by the human eye:
“Then Allah sent down His calm upon His Apostle and upon the believers, and sent hosts which you saw not” (9:26); “Call to mind the favour of Allah to you when there came against you hosts, so We sent against them a strong wind and hosts that you saw not” (33:9).
The Qur’an further states that the devils or jinn cannot be seen by human eye:
“He sees you, he as well as his host, from whence you see them not” (7:27).
Two cases have, however, to be considered. In the first place, there is a story about Abraham’s guests (11:69,70; 15:51, 52; 51:24,25) who first came to him and gave him the good news of a son, Isaac, and then went to Lot and bade him leave the city along with his followers, since punishment was about to overtake his people. It is generally supposed that these were angels, as angels are deputed to deliver messages to prophets, and the Bible says that they were angels. But the Qur’an speaks of them only as the guests of Abraham and as “Our messengers,” and nowhere says that they were angels. Had they been angels, they would have delivered the Divine message to Abraham and Lot in the manner in which the angels deliver such messages, which is by revealing the Divine message to the heart of the prophet: “He revealed it to thy heart by Allah’s command” (2:97); and the angel, though he may come in the shape of a man, is not seen by the physical eye of the prophet but by his spiritual eye. Therefore, if the guests spoken of were angels, their appearance to both Abraham and Lot must have been in vision, in which state it is that revelation comes to the prophets of God; but if it was with the physical eye that Abraham and Lot beheld them, then they were men and not angels. The fact that they did not take any food when it was offered by Abraham merely shows that they did not need it, or that they were fasting at the time. Abraham had received the news of son independently of them and Lot had also been informed of the impending fate of his people without their agency. “And We made known to him (i.e., to Lot) this decree that the roots of these should be cut off in the morning” (15:66).
Harut and Marut
The other case is that of Harut and Marut. Special stress has been laid on this point by Western writers generally, and by the Christian missionaries in particular, and the inference is drawn, from what is related of them in the Qur’an, that angels are not immaterial creatures and that they have desires like human beings; and thus it is sought to contradict the whole teaching o f the Qur’an on angels by a story which is based neither on the Qur’an nor on any authentic tradition. In fact, the Qur’an rejects the story which was current among the Magi and the Jews about these two angels. According to Sale, the Persian Magi “mention two rebellious angels of the same names, now hung up by the feet, with their heads downwards, in the territory of Babel.” And he adds: “The Jews have something like this, of the angel Shamhozai, who, having debauched himself with women, repented, and by way of penance hung himself up between heaven and earth.” These stories, and others ascribing evil practices to Solomon, were rejected by the Qur’an in the following words:
“And Solomon disbelieved not, but the devils disbelieved, teaching men enchantment. And it was not revealed to the two angels in Babel, Harut and Marut. Nor did they teach (it to) anyone, so that they should have said, We are only a trial, so disbelieve not” (2:102).
The statement made here amounts to this. The Jews instead of following the word of God went after certain evil crafts which they attributed to Solomon and two angels at Babel. Solomon is declared to be innocent of evil practices, and the story of the two angels a fabrication. All reliable commentators have taken the same view of the Qur’anic statement. The tradition which is quoted in support of the other view is not to be met with in the six reliable collections, but only in the Musnad of Ahmad, and the Musnad contains many untrustworthy repots. Moreover, nothing which contradicts the very principles laid down in the Qur’an can be accepted on the basis of such weak authority. The commentators have actually condemned the alleged report as untrue (fasid) and repudiated (mardud) (Rz.). Another authority says that nothing in this story can be traced to the Prophet and calls it puerile and worthless (Khurafat) (RM.). Hence the alleged story of Harut and Marut which is rejected by the Qur’an, and is not based on any authentic tradition, cannot be made a basis for rejecting the principles laid down in the Qur’an that angels cannot be seen.
Nature of angels
Though angels are spoken of as being, they are not endowed with powers of discrimination like those of human beings; in this respect, indeed, they may be said to partake more of the attributes of the powers of nature than of man. Their function is to obey and they cannot disobey. The Qur'an says plainly: "They do not disobey Allah in that which He commands them, but (they) do as they are commanded" (66:6); which also shows that the story of Harut and Marut, which ascribes disobedience to angels, is without foundation. And inasmuch as man is endowed with a will while the angel is not, man is superior to the angel; which superiority is also evident from the fact that angels were commanded to make obeisance to him (2:34).
The angel's coming to the Prophet
It is true that the angel Gabriel is spoken of as coming to the Prophet with the Divine revelation, but as has already been shown, it was with the spiritual senses that the Holy Prophet received the revelation. The angel came to him sometimes in the shape of a man; the Prophet heard the words of revelation, on occasions, with the force of the ringing of a bell; yet those who were sitting next to him, while fully conscious of the change coming over him, neither saw the angel, nor heard the words of the revelation. Numerous incidents are related in which the Prophet received the revelation while he was sitting among his Companions, yet no one of the Companions ever saw the angel, or even heard his voice. And even when Gabriel came to him at other times, it was always with the spiritual eye that the Prophet saw him. 'A'ishah is very explicit on this point. It is related that on a certain occasion the Prophet said to her: "O 'A'isha! Here is Gabriel offering salutation to thee." She said: "And on him be peace and the mercy and blessings of Allah; thou seest what I do not see" (Bukhari 59:6). This shows that even 'A'ishah never saw Gabriel, whether he came with revelation or on other occasions.
There are, however a few stray incidents, related in certain traditions, from which inference is drawn that others besides the Prophet saw Gabriel, but, from what has been stated above, it is clear that either it was in a vision (a state of kashf), and therefore with the spiritual senses, that they saw him or that there had been some misunderstanding in the relation of the incident. For instance, it is stated that a stranger came to the Prophet while he was sitting with his Companions, and asked him questions about faith and religion; and when he went away, the Prophet said that it was Gabriel who had come to teach them their religion (Bukhari 2:37). But it is doubtful whether the Prophet meant that the man who put the questions was Gabriel, or that the answers which he gave to the stranger were at the prompting of Gabriel. The latter interpretation of his words is more is consonance with the principle laid down that the angel cannot be seen with the physical eye, and with the vast majority of other incidents in which Gabriel came to the Prophet and was seen by him but not by others present at the same time. It is also possible that a few people who were present with the Prophet shared his vision and saw Gabriel with the spiritual eye.
There are two other cases in which there seems to be a misunderstanding. The first is the case of Umm Salama, the Prophet’s wife. Some one was talking with the Prophet, and Umm Salama thought it was Dhiya. Afterwards she heard the Prophet delivering a sermon which gave her to understand that it was Gabriel (Bukhari 66:1). Here, clearly, there seems to be a misunderstanding. The Prophet never told Umm Salama or anybody else that it was Gabriel who talked to him in the presence of Umm Salama. Her first impression was that it was Dhiya, and when she expressed the opinion to the Prophet, he did not contradict her, which shows that she was right. Afterwards certain words of the sermon gave her the impression that it was Gabriel, but she never expressed that opinion to the Prophet, and therefore her second impression cannot be accepted in face of the fact that whenever Gabriel appeared to the Prophet, whether with or without a revelation he was never seen by any one except the Prophet, and that too with inner light. The second is an incident recorded by Ibn Sa’d about ‘A’isha having seen Gabriel. (Is. VIII, p. 140). It cannot be accepted when, according to the report earlier quoted from Bukhari, ‘A’ishah had herself told the Prophet that she could not see the angel whom he saw.
In the Qur'an angels are generally described as having a connection with the spiritual state of man. It was an angel, Gabriel by name, who brought revelation to the Prophet (2:97; 26:193,194) and the prophets before him (4:163). The same angel is mentioned as strengthening the prophets (2:87) and the believers (58:22). While angels generally are spoken of descending on believers and comforting them (41:30), they are also intermediaries in bringing revelation to those who were not prophets, as in the case of Zacharias (3:38) and Mary (3:41,44). Angels were sent to help the believers against their enemies (3:123, 124; 8:12); they pray for blessings on the Holy Prophet (33:56) and the believers (33:43); they ask forgiveness for all men, believers as well as non-believers (42:5); they cause believers to die (16:32) and also non believers (4:97; 16:28); they write down the deeds of men (82:10, 12); they will intercede for men on the Day of Judgment (53:26). There is no clear reference to their function in the physical world unless the causing of death may be treated as such, but I have classed it as a spiritual function because death makes both believers and unbelievers enter a new life. It may be added here that the Tradition mentions an angel of birth, that is an angel appointed for every man when he quickens in the mother's womb (Bukhari 59:6). There are, however, verses in the Qur'an which show that the angelic hosts have some sort of connection with the physical world. The most important of these verses are those which speak of the creation of man (Adam). When God wished to create man, He communicated His wish to the angels (2:30; 15:28; 38:71). This shows that the angels were there before man was created, and, therefore, must have been some sort of connection with the physical world and with the forces which brought about the creation of man. Unless they are treated as intermediaries carrying out Divine will, the communication to them of the Divine will to create man is meaningless. These verses, therefore, lead us to the conclusion that the laws of nature find expression through angels. It is due to this function of theirs that they are called messengers (rasul) (22:75; 35:1).
Expression of the Divine will is a Divne message, and the angels as bearers of that message carry it into execution. Their description as bearers of the Throne (Arsh) of the Lord (40:7; 69:17) leads to the same conclusion for, as already stated, the 'Arsh stands for the Divine control of the universe, and the angels, the bearers of that control, are in fact the intermediaries through whom that control is exercised.
Vastly greater importance is, however, attached to the angelic function in the spiritual world, because it is primarily with the spiritual development of man that the Qur'an is concerned. To put it briefly, the function of the angel in the spiritual world is the same as his function in the physical world -- to serve as an intermediary in carrying out the Divine will which, in the latter case, is to bring about the evolution of creation, and in the former, the evolution of man. According to the teachings of Islam, the angel has a close connection with the life of man from his birth, even from the time he is in the mother's womb till his death, and even after death, in his spiritual progress in Paradise and his spiritual treatment in Hell. The different functions of the angel may be broadly divided into seven classes which are detailed below.
Angels as intermediaries in bringing revelation
The most important and, at the same time, the most prominent function of the angel, in the spiritual realm, is the bringing down of Divine revelation or the communication of Divine messages to the prophets. The prophet not only sees the angel but also hears his voice, and the angel is to him, therefore, a reality. This has been the universal experience of humanity in all ages. As the angel is an immaterial being, the prophet sees him sometimes in the shape of a human being and sometimes in other forms. Thus the angel Gabriel often appeared to the Prophet in the shape of a man, but sometimes he saw him "in his shape" (fi surati-hi) "filling the whole horizon" (Bukhari 59:7). It is not stated what the shape was, and probably it could not be described; only the spiritual eye could recognize it. Once, also, he saw his six hundred wings (ajnihah) (Bukhari 59:7) which no doubt stand for his immense power. On another occasion he saw him in a cloud (Bukhari 59:6), the cloud itself being probably part of a vision.
According to the Qur'an, the angel who brought revelation to the Prophet is known by the name of Gabriel (2:98). The Arabic form is Jibril which according to Ikrimah (7) is composed of jibr meaning servant ('abd) and 'il meaning God (2:97, Bu. 65). (7) The same authority says that Michael (Mikail) also has the same meaning, being Mika-'il, Mik bearing the significance of 'abd. Gabriel is also mentioned in the Qur'an as Ruh al-Amin or the Faithful Spirit (26:193, 194), and Ruh al-Qudus or the Holy Spirit (16:102). In all these places, Gabriel or the Faithful Spirit or the Holy Spirit is said to have revealed the Qur'an to the Prophet. The revelation to the prophets that appeared before him is said to have been granted in a similar manner (4:163). In Tradition, Gabriel is spoken of as the great angel who is entrusted with secret messages (al-Namus al-akbar), and the same Namus is said to have appeared to Moses (Bukhari 1:1). Gabriel is also called the messenger (rasul) through whom God speaks to His prophets (42:51).
While Gabriel is thus spoken of as bringing revelation to the prophets, angels generally are said to bring revelation to other righteous servants of God: "He sends down the angels with revelation (al-ruh) by His command on whom He pleases of His servants" (16:2). And again: "Exalter of degrees, Lord of the Throne; He makes the spirit (al-ruh) to light by His command on whom He pleases of His servants" (40:15).
These are general statements; and in the case of Mary who was undoubtedly not a prophet, the angels said, “O Mary, surely Allah has chosen thee and purified thee" (3:42). ;and again: "When the angels said, O Mary, surely Allah gives thee good news with a word (prophecy) from Him of one whose name is the Messiah" (3:45).
And so in the case of Zahcarias, the father of John the Baptist: "The angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary: Allah gives thee good news of John" (3:39).
And the believers generally are thus spoken of: "As for those who say, Our Lord is Allah, then continue in the right way, the angels descend upon them, saying: Fear not, nor be grieved, and receive the good news of the Garden which you were promised" (41:30).
Angels as intermediaries in strengthening believers
The second function of angels, as revealed in the Qur'an, is to strengthen the righteous servants of God, prophets as well as others, and to give them comfort in trials and affliction. Jesus Christ is specially mentioned in this connection because of the serious allegations of the Jews against him. Thrice (3) (2:87, 253; 5:110.) it is stated in the Qur'an that Jesus Christ was strengthened with the Holy Spirit which, as shown earlier, is another name of Gabriel, according to the Qur'an. (See 16:102 and 2:97). And the believers generally are said to be strengthened with the Spirit: "These are they into whose hearts He has impressed faith, and strengthened them with a Spirit from Him" (58:22), where instead of the Ruh al-Qudus we have Ruh-in min hu (Spirit from Him), the meaning being the same. In one tradition, the Prophet is reported as asking Hassan, the poet, to defend him against the abuse of the unbelievers and adding: "O Allah! Strengthen him with the Holy Spirit" (Bukhari 59:6).
Elsewhere the words are: "And Gabriel is with thee" (Bu. 59:6). And again we find in the Qur'an that the angels are spoken of as friends (awliya) or guardians of the faithful in this life and in the Hereafter (41:31). It was in this sense, i.e., to strengthen the believers, that the angels were sent to help them in their struggle against the unbelievers, as in these verses:
"When you sought the aid of your Lord, so He answered you: I will assist you with a thousand (10) of the angels" (8:9); "Does it not suffice you that your Lord should help you with three thousand (11) angels sent down" (3:124); while yet on a third field of battle the Muslims were promised the help of five thousand angels (3:125). The Qur'an itself explains why angels were sent:
"And Allah made it only a good news for you and that your hearts might be at ease thereby" (3:126; 8:10).
(10) & (11) The enemy numbered one thousand in the battle of Badr and three thousand in the battle of Uhud.
It was through the strengthening of the believers' hearts that the angels worked (8:12). (12)
(12) “When thy Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, so make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve” (8:12).
These angelic hosts were sent when the Muslims had to fight in self defense against heavy odds, 300 against a thousand, 700 against three thousand, and 1,500 against 15,000. And on all three fields the Muslims were victorious and the unbelievers had to go back without attaining their objective. (13)
(13) "... So that they should return in failure" (3:127).
The strengthening of heart through the angels is, therefore, a solid fact of history.
Angels as intermediaries in carrying out Divine punishment
Closely allied with this strengthening of the believers is the third function of the angels – that of executing Divine punishment against the wicked, because in the contest between the righteous and the wicked the punishment of the latter and the help of the former are identical. Often would those who sought to extirpate the truth by physical force say that if there were a God Whose messenger the Prophet was, and if there were angels who could help his cause, why did they not come? “Why have not angels been sent down to us, or why do we not see our Lord?” (25:21). “They wait for naught but that Allah should come to them in the shadows of the clouds with angels, and the matter has already been decided” (2:210). “Await they ought – but that the angels should come to them or that thy Lord should come, or that some of the signs of thy Lord should come “ (6:159). To these demands, the Qur’an replies in the following words: “And on the day when the heaven bursts asunder with clouds, and the angels are sent down, as they are sent. The Kingdom on that day rightly belongs to the Beneficent, and it will be a hard day for the disbeliever” (25:25,26). This shows that it was the promised punishment of the unjust which was hinted at in the coming of the angels. Elsewhere it is said: “And if thou couldst see when the angels cause to die those who disbelieve, smiting their faces and their backs?” (8:50). “But how will it be when the angels cause them to die, smiting their faces and their backs?” (47:27). And one occasion, the demand and the answer are thus put together: “Why bringest thou not angels to us if thou art of the truthful? We send not the angels but with truth, and then they would not be respited” (15:7,8).
Angels’ intercession and prayers for men
Another very important function of the angels is that of intercession – an intercession which includes both the believer and the unbeliever. As God “has ordained mercy on Himself” (6:12), and His “mercy encompasses all things” (7:156) – in fact, it was to show mercy that “He created them” (11:119) – it was necessary that His angels, who are intermediaries carrying out His will, should include all in their intercession. This intercession of angels is mentioned in the Qur’an on one occasion in particular:
“And how many angels are there in the heavens whose intercession avails not except after Allah gives permission to whom He pleases and chooses” (53:26).
The Tradition also speaks of the intercession of angels (Bu. 98:24). Now intercession is really a prayer to God on behalf of the sinners on the Day of Judgment, but we are told that the angels pray for men even in this life: “The angels celebrate the praise of their Lord and ask forgiveness for those on earth” (42:5), “those on earth” including both the believer and the unbeliever. And while this prayer is all-comprehensive, it grows stronger in the case of believers:
“Those who bear the Throne of Power and those around it celebrate the praise of their Lord and believe in Him and ask protection for those who believe: Our Lord, Thou embracest all things in mercy and knowledge, so protect those who turn to Thee and follow Thy way.. (and) make them enter the Gardens of perpetuity which Thou hast promised them and such of their fathers and their wives and their offspring as are good.. and guard them from evil” (40:7-9).
As a result of the prayers of the angels, the faithful are actually guided forth from every kind of darkness into light: “He it is Who sends His blessings on you and (so do) His angels, that He may bring you forth out of darkness into the light” (33:43).
And as regards the Prophet, the angels bless him: “Surely Allah and His angels bless the Prophet. O you who believe, call for blessings on him” (33:56).
Thus the angels’ connection with man grows stronger as he advances in righteousness. As regards men generally, the angels pray for their forgiveness so that punishment in respect of their evil deeds may be averted; as regards the faithful, they lead them forth from darkness to light, and thus enable them to make progress spiritually; and as regards the Prophet, they bless him and are thus helpful in advancing his cause in the world.
Angels help in the spiritual progress of man
It will be seen that in his spiritual function the angel is meant to render help in the spiritual advancement of man. The angel brings Divine revelation, and it is only with the help of such revelation that man is able to realize what the spiritual life is, and to make advancement spiritually by a development of his inner faculties. The angel strengthens the Prophet, through whom the law of spiritual progress is revealed, and also the believers who are instrumental in carrying the ennobling message to humanity, and thus renders help ion establishing the law of spiritual advancement; and the same end is achieved by the punishment of those why try to exterminate that law and its upholders. The angel’s intercession and prayer even for the believer are undoubtedly meant to set him on the road to spiritual progress, while his bringing of the believers from darkness into light, and his blessings on the Prophet, are the advancement of the cause of spiritual progress. Thus, if analyzed, each one of the functions of the angel is aimed at helping the spiritual advancement of man and bringing about his spiritual perfection. This is further borne out by the fact that there are angels even in Paradise and Hell (14) which are really two different places or conditions, wherein man is enabled to carry on his spiritual progress, (15) and the latter cleansing man of the spiritual diseases (16) which he has himself contracted by leading an evil life in this world.
(14) Speaking of those in paradise, the Qur’an says: “And the angels will enter upon them from every gate” (13:23). And of Hell it says: “And We have made none but angels the guardians of the fire” (74:31).
(15) A single day of that progress is said to extend over fifty thousand years: “To Him ascend the angels and the spirit (of man) in a day, the measure of which is fifty thousand years” (70:4).
(16) See the discussion on Hell.
Angels promptings to noble deeds
Every good and noble deed is the result of the promptings of the angel. The Qur’an speaks of the angel and the devil leading man to two different courses of life: the former, as shown above, to a good and noble life aiming at the development of the human faculties, and the latter, as will be shown later, to a base and wicked life tending to the deadening of those faculties. Every man is said to have to associates, an associate angel and an associate devil. The first is called a ‘witness’ (shahid), and the second a ‘driver’ (sa’iq):
“And every soul comes, with it a driver and a witness. Thou wert indeed heedless of this, but now We have removed from thee thy veil, so that they sight is sharp this day” (50:21,22).
The driver is the devil who makes evil suggestions and leads man to a state of degradation, and the witness is the angel who helps man on to a good and noble end. Man is said to be heedless of it here, there being a veil over his eyes, so that he cannot see to what condition he is being led, but he will see the result clearly on the Day of Judgment. In Tradition we are told that every man as an associate angel and an associate devil. Thus Muslim reports from Ibn Mas’ud: “The Prophet said, There is not one among you but there is appointed over him his associate from among the jinn and his associate from the angels. The Companions said, And what about thee, Prophet of Allah? He said, The same is the case with me, but Allah has helped me over him (i.e., the associate jinn) so he has submitted and does not command me aught but good.” (17)
(17) MM. 1:3 – I; Ah. I, pp. 385, 397, 401.
According to another tradition, the Prophet is reported to have said: “There are suggestions which the devil makes to the son of man, and suggestions which the angel makes. The devil’s suggestions is for evil and giving the lie to the truth, and the angel’s suggestion is for good and the acceptance of truth.” (18)
(18) MM. 1:3-ii.
Angels recording deeds of men
Another spiritual function of the angels, on which special stress is laid in the Qur’an, is the recording of the good and evil deeds of man. These angels are called ‘honourable recorders’ (kiram-an Katabin), the words being taken from the verse of the Qur’an:
“And surely there are keepers over you, honourable recorders, they know what you do” (82:10-12).
And elsewhere we have: “When the two receivers receive, sitting on the right and on the left. He utters not a word but there is by hi a watcher at hand” (50:17-18).
“Alike (to Him) among you is he who conceals the word and he who speaks openly, and he who hides himself by night and who goes forth by day. For him are (angels) guarding the consequences (of his deeds), before him and behind him, who guard him by Allah’s command” (13:10,11).
The guarding in the last verse refers to the guarding of man’s deeds. The angels are immaterial beings, and hence also their recording is effected in a different manner from that in which a man would prepare his record. In fact, their records exists, as elsewhere stated, in the form of the effect which an action produces: “And We have made every man’s actions cling to his neck, and We shall bring forth to him on the Day of Resurrection a book which he will find wide open” (17:13).
The clinging of man’s actions to his neck is clearly the effect which his actions produce and which he is powerless to obliterate, and we are told that this effect will be met with in the form of an open book on the Resurrection Day, thus showing that the angel’s recording of a deed is actually the producing of an effect.
Faith in angels
The different functions of angels in the spiritual world are thus connected, in one way or another, either with the awakening of the spiritual life in man or its advancement and progress. Herein lies the reason why faith in angels is required along with faith in God:
“Righteous is the one who believes in Allah and the Last Day, and the angels, and the Book and the prophets” (2:177).
“The Messenger believes in what has been revealed to him from His Lord, and so do the believers. They all believe in Allah and His angels and His books and His messengers” (2:285).
Faith or belief in any doctrine, according to the Qur’an, is essentially the acceptance of a proposition as a basis for action. Faith in angels, therefore, means that there is a spiritual life for man, and that he must develop that life by working in accordance with the promptings of the angel and by brining into play the faculties which God has given him; and that is why – though the existence of the devil, who makes the evil suggestions, is as much as fact as the existence of the angel who makes the good suggestions – the Qur’an requires a belief in angels and a disbelief in devils (19).
(19) “So whoever disbelieves in the devil and believes in Allah, he indeed lays hold on the firmest handle” (2:256).
This, of course, is not to say that one must deny the existence of the devil. The significance is clear enough: one must obey the commandments of God and refuse to follow the suggestions of the devil. Faith in the angels, therefore, only means that every good suggestion – and such is the suggestion of the angel – must be accepted, because it leads to the spiritual development of man.