Angels in Islam
Islam's angels.  On left - they are standing (top) and bowing while performing salat.  On Right - Angels shown on the cover page of The Quintet - a collection of Persian poems

Inheriting concepts of angelology from Judaism and Christianity, Islam also developed a hierarchy of angels.  In a descending order of importance are: the four throne bearers of Allah (hamalat al-'arsh), symbolized by a man, a bull, an eagle, and a lion in Islamic legend (which drew from the imagery of the Revelation to John in the New Testament); the cherubim (karubiyun), who praise Allah; four archangels: Jibril, or Gabriel, the revealer; Mikal, or Michael, the provider; 'Izra'il, the angel of death; and Israfil, the angel of the Last Judgment); and lesser angels, such as the hafazah or hafza, or guardian angels.

Hierarchies of celestial or spiritual beings also were developed among various religions that arose out of the major Western religions, such as the Druzes, and among syncretistic religions, such as Gnosticism, which combined elements of Jewish, Greek, and Christian traditions, and Manichaeism, a dualistic religion that was founded by the 3rd-century-AD Persian reformer Mani.  Such religions usually incorporated into their hierarchical concepts aspects of emanation theories, such as aeons or Archons, or of astrology, such as the signs of the zodiac.

Jibrail or Jibril descending from heaven to meet Muhammad
Also spelled Jabra'il in Islam, the archangel who acts as intermediary between God and man and as bearer of revelation to the prophets, most notably, to Muhammad.  In biblical literature Gabriel is the counterpart to Jibril.
Muhammad himself could not at first identify the spirit that possessed him, and the Qur'an mentions him by name only three times.  Jibril, however, became Muhammad's constant helper.  He and the archangel Mikal purified Muhammad's heart in preparation for the Prophet's ascension to heaven (mi'raj), and then Jibril guided him through the various levels until they reached the throne of God.  When Muhammad recited a supposed revelation acknowledging the pagan goddesses al-Lat, al-'Uzza, and Manat, Jibril chastised him (Muhammad) for presenting as divine a message inspired by the devil.  Jibril also helped Muhammad in times of political crises, coming to his aid at the Battle of Badr (624) with thousands of angels, then telling him to attack the Jewish tribes of Banu Qaynuqa' and Banu Qurayzah.
On the night of Ishra Jibril and Mikhail cleansed Muhammad before the night trip to heaven.  As angels watch, Jibril is cleansing the Prophet (on the right)

Muhammad generally only heard the voice of his inspiration, but, according to 'A'ishah, his wife, he saw Jibril twice “in the shape that he was created” and on other occasions as a man resembling Dihyah ibn Khalifah al-Kalbi, an extraordinarily handsome disciple of Muhammad.  Others have described the archangel as having 600 wings, each pair so enormous that they crowd the space between East and West.  Jibril has also been depicted as sitting on a chair suspended between heaven and earth. The popular image of Jibril is of an ordinary, turbaned man, dressed in two green garments, astride a horse or a mule.

Muslim traditions concerning Jibril largely concur with biblical accounts of Gabriel, but his special relationship with Muhammad has inspired a mass of mythical detail.  Jibril is said to have appeared at Adam's side after his expulsion from paradise and shown him how to write and work iron and raise wheat.  Jibril later appeared in Egypt to help Moses and to deceive the Egyptians into entering the Red Sea in pursuit of the Jews.  The name of Jibril figures in the preparations of charms and appears with the names of the other archangels on the sides of magic squares.

(Ref: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. On-line 2002)

Four angels in heaven.  Mika'l is at the bottom right

Also spelled Mika'il, in Islam, the archangel who was so shocked at the sight of hell when it was created that he never laughed again.  In biblical literature Michael is the counterpart of Mikal.  In Muslim legend, Mikal and Jibril were the first angels to obey God's order to worship Adam.  The two are further credited with purifying Muhammad's heart before his night journey (isra') from Mecca to Jerusalem and subsequent ascension (mi'raj) to heaven.  He also is remembered as aiding the Muslims to their first significant military victory in Arabia in 624.

The single allusion to Mikal in the Qur'an (2:98) states: “Whoever is an enemy of God or his angels or his apostles or Jibril or Mikal, verily God is an enemy of the unbelievers.”  This has generated several explanatory legends that revolve around the Jews, who hold Michael in particular esteem as “the lord of Israel.”  In one story Muhammad is questioned by Jews about his prophetic mission and answers them quite satisfactorily.  But when he says that Jibril is the bearer of his revelations, the Jews attack the archangel as the spirit of destruction and the foe of Michael, the angel of fertility.  On another occasion the caliph 'Umar is reported to have asked the Jews of the synagogue of Medina how Mikal and Jibril were regarded by God.  The Jews replied that Michael sat at God's left and Gabriel at his right but that the two were enemies.  Whereupon 'Umar revealed the falseness of their position and said that an enemy of either angel was immediately an enemy of God.

(Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. On-line 2002)

The following additional information on Mik'ail shows that this archangel was already invented by the Jews and Christians long before Muhammad's time.

MICHAEL-Also St. Michael the Archangel and, in Arabic, Mika'il, perhaps the greatest of all the angels, whose name likely means "Who is like God?"  He is captain of the hosts of the Lord and the most beloved of all residents of the heavenly host (with the possible exceptionof the archangel Gabriel).  The figure of Michael probably originated in Chaldaea as a protective god or spirit.  Accepted by the Jews, he emerged as so major an angel in Jewish lore that he was honored as the patron angel of the nations (out of seventy) who did not fall from grace, his bias entirely understood since it favored God's Chosen People.

Michael appears twice in the Old Testament and is noted, with Gabriel (and Raphael in the book Tobit), as one of the few angels actually mentioned in the Bible: in Daniel (10:13), he is called "Michael, one of the chief princes," and later (12:1) is a "great prince."  Besides from these specific references, he is declared the ruling prince of the archangels, chief of the choir of virtues, the prince of the presence, and an angel of mercy and repentance.  He is also credited with being the angel who spoke to Moses in the burning bush (an honor often bestowed upon Zagzagel); the messenger who stayed the hand of Abraham before he sacrificed his sin; and the angel responsible for massacring the Assyrian army of Sennacherib, a deed normally attributed to an otherwise unnamed angel of destruction but perhaps accomplished by Uriel, Gabriel, or others.  He is accepted in lore as well as being the special patron of Adam.  Supposedly, he was the first angel in all of the heavens to bow down before humanity.  Michael than kept an eye on the first family, remaining vigilant even after the fall of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.  In the apocryphal Book of Adam and Eve, Michael taught Adam how to farm.  The archangel later brought Adam to heaven in a fiery chariot, giving him a tour of the blessed realm.  After Adam's death, Michael helped convince the Lord to permit Adam's soul to be brought to heaven and cleansed of its great sin.  Jewish legend also states Michael to be one of the three "men" who visited Abraham and one of the five angels, with Uriel, Metatron, Raphael, and Gabriel, who buried Moses.  Apparently, Michael had to fight with Satan for the body of the Lawgiver, an event mentioned in the New Testament Letter of Jude.  Finally, in the Dead Sea Scrolls is the story "The War of the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness," in which Michael is described as the prince of light, leading forces of good against the darkness of evil.

Michael was embraced enthusiastically by Christianity and honored as the leader of the angels whose very name was used as a war chant by the holy angels during the war in heaven.  As commander of the heavenly host, he led the good angels in their successful conflict against Satan and the fallen angels. He is named in the book of Revelation, fighting against Satan, and at the end of the world will command the hosts of the Lord in final conflict.

The Catholic Church honors Michael with four main titles or offices.  He is the Christian angel of death, carrying the souls of all the deceased to heaven, where they are weighed in his perfectly balanced scales (hence Michael is often depicted holding scales).  At the hour of death, Michael descends and gives each soul the chance to redeem itself before passing, thus consternating the devil and his minions.  Michael is the special patron of the Chosen People in the Old Testament and is guardian of the Church; it was thus not unusual for the angel to be revered by the military orders of knights during the Middle Ages.  Last, he is the supreme enemy of Satan and the fallen angels.

Michael has been the object of considerable examination on the part of theologians, especially regarding the apparent inconsistency of having an archangel-a member of the eighth and second-lowest choir of angels-lead the hosts of the Lord. Some, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, declare him to be the chief of the order of archangels.  His high post is presumably explained by the fact that archangels are in the forefront of the fight in the world against evil, so Michael, as their chief, assumes the command of the angels by virtue of his experience.  Others, most notably the Greek fathers such as St. Basil the Great, wrote that Michael was superior to all the angels; others appointed him the ruling prince of the seraphim, which would place him in the highest position in heaven.

Michael has been venerated by the Church from early time.  His elevated position is made clear by his title of saint, by the number of churches dedicated to him, and by his many appearances in history.  He supposedly visited Emperor Constantine the Great (d.337) at Constantinople, intervened in assorted battles, and appeared, sword in hand, over the mausoleum of Hadrian, in apparent answer to the prayers of Pope St. Gregory I the Great (r.590-604) that a plague in Rome should cease. In honor of the occasion, the pope took to calling the mausoleum the Castel Sant'Angelo (Castle of the Holy angel), the name by which it is still known.

The last visit certified one major aspect involving Michael, namely his role as an angel of healing.  This title was bestowed at Phrygia, in Asia Minor, which also propagated the cult of angels and became a leading center for their veneration.  Michael is reputed to have caused a healing spring to flow in the first century at Colossae, and his churches were frequently visited by the sick and lame.  The angel is invoked additionally as the patron of sailors in Normandy (the famous monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel on the north coast of France is named after him) and is especially remembered in France as the spirit who gave Joan of Arc the courage to save her country from the English during the Hundred Years' War) 1337-1455). Perhaps his most singular honor was given to him in 1950 when Pope Pius XIII (r. 1939-1958) named him patron of policemen.  Michael is also said to have announced to the Virgin Mary her impending death, declaring himself to be "Great and Wonderful."

Among the Muslims, Michael is one of the four archangels (with Azrael, Isfrafel, and Gabriel), and one of the two angels, with Gabriel, named in Qur'an.  He resides in the seventh heaven and is popularly believed to have wings of emerald green.

A favorite angelic subject in art, matched only by Gabriel, Michael is most often depicted as a proud, handsome angel in white or magnificent armor and wielding a sword, shield, or lance.  In some paintings he is shown with a banner or holding scales.  Quite often he is seen, like St. George or some Madonnas, in conflict with a dragon or standing upon a vanquished devil. Of him was declared in Milton's Paradise Lost (Book VI).

Azrail or Izrael
A sad-faced Azrail came to take Muhammad's soul to heaven

In Islam, the angel of death who separates souls from their bodies; he is one of the four archangels (with Jibril, Mikal, and Israfil).  'Izra'il is of cosmic size: with his 4,000 wings and a body formed by as many eyes and tongues as there are living human beings, he stands with one foot in the fourth (or seventh) heaven, the other on the razor-sharp bridge that divides paradise and hell.

Before the creation of man, 'Izra'il proved to be the only angel brave enough to go down to Earth and face the hordes of Iblis, the devil, in order to bring God the materials needed to make man.  For this service he was made the angel of death and given a register of all mankind.  While 'Izra'il can recognize the name of the blessed (circled in light) and the damned (circled in darkness), he does not know when anyone will die until the tree beneath God's throne drops a leaf bearing the man's name.  He must then separate the body and soul after 40 days.

Man has several means for forestalling death.  By reciting a dhikr (ritual prayer), he prevents the angel of death from entering the throat to take his spirit.  When he is distributing sadaqah (alms), the angel cannot take him by the hand. But when, after all protests, the angel returns with an apple from paradise inscribed with the bismillah (the invocation “In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate”) or writes God's name in his palm, the spirit must leave.  The souls of believers are then gently drawn out and carried to the seventh heaven, but the souls of unbelievers are ripped out of their bodies and hurled down to Earth before they can reach the gates of heaven.

(Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. On-line 2002)


In Islam, the archangel who will blow the trumpet from a holy rock in Jerusalem to announce the Day of Resurrection (Qiamah or Qiamat).  The trumpet is constantly poised at his lips, ready to be blown when God so orders.  In Judeo-Christian biblical literature, Raphael is the counterpart of Israfil.

Israfil is usually conceived as having a huge, hairy body that is covered with mouths and tongues and that reaches from the seventh heaven to the throne of God.  One wing protects his body, another shields him from God, while the other two extend east and west.  He is overcome by sorrow and tears three times every day and every night at the sight of hell.  It is said that Israfil tutored Muhammad for three years in the duties of a prophet before he could receive the Qur'an.

(Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.  On-line 2002)

Iblis (Devil)
A scene from heaven.  A nude Adam sleeps while all angels except Ash-Shaytan bows following Allah's command.  A turbaned Shaytan is shown as a human form sitting on the prayer rug
The Devil (from Greek diabolos, “slanderer,” or “accuser”), the spirit or power of evil, personifies As-Shaitan, the Islamic devil. Though sometimes used for minor demonic spirits, the word devil generally refers to the prince of evil spirits and as such takes various forms in the religions of the world.

In the monotheistic Western religions, the devil is viewed as a fallen angel who in pride has tried to usurp the position of the one and only God.  In Judaism, and later Christianity, the devil was known as Satan.  In the Old Testament, Satan is viewed as the prosecutor of Yahweh's court, as in Job, chapters 1 and 2, but he is not regarded as an adversary of God. In postbiblical Judaism and in Christianity, however, Satan became known as the “prince of devils” and assumed various names: Beelzebub (“Lord of Flies”) in Matthew 12:24–27, often cited as Beelzebul (“Lord of Dung”), and Lucifer (the fallen angel of Light).

In Christian theology, the devil's main task is that of tempting man to reject the way of life and redemption and to accept the way of death and destruction.  The leader of the angels who have fallen from heaven because of pride, Satan has as his main adversary in Christian thought, legend, and iconography the archangel Michael, leader of God's heavenly hosts.

Islamic theology is rich in references to Iblis, the personal name of the devil, who is also known as ash-Shaytan (“The Demon”) and 'aduw Allah (“Enemy of God”).  In the Qur'an, Iblis first appears in the story of the creation of the world.  He alone of the angels refuses God's order to bow before Adam, the first man.  He is then cursed by God; his punishment is to come on the Day of Judgment, but until then he is empowered to tempt the unfaithful (but not true believers).  Iblis next appears as the tempter of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  In Islamic theology, Iblis is described as an angel, a jinn (spiritual creature capable of good or evil), or an angel who was the leader of the jinni.  The questions of his sins of pride and disobedience are especially important in the Sufi traditions, in which he is sometimes presented as a true monotheist who would bow only to God.

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