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Mention of the Roles of Angels in the Qur’an
by Saima Batool Shamsi

    Angels have several functions, which fall under the categories of work and worship.  In Arabic the angel is referred to as Mal'ak.  The angel is one of three life forms of advanced existence, the other two being the jinn and the human.  They differ from the human and jinn in their substance of creation and their lack of free will.  Belief in the angels is essential to one's faith in Islam: "The righteous man is he who believes in God and the Last Day, in the angels, and the Book and the prophets." (Qur’an 2:177)  The Qur’an also states that "all the angels were commanded to prostrate themselves before Adam,"(2:32) indicating that they are inferior to the Prophets.  The different roles of the angels are mentioned frequently throughout the Qur’an.  There are angels that worship God, relay messages to the prophets, and deal with the actions of mankind.

    The angels are different from humans and jinn because, unlike angels, mankind and jinn alike were given free will by God.  This is because the angels chose to eternally be with God and serve Him, rather than indulge in the worldly desires that come with free will.  Two things that separate mankind, the jinn and the angels are their substance of creation and their nature of being.  Angels are created from light, whereas jinn are created from fire and humans are created from clay.  While humans and jinn are free to use their will towards either good or bad, angels have no "carnal desire," or predilection towards sin.  Gulen states that "angels do not sin or disobey, for they do not have an evil-commanding soul that must be resisted." (Gulen 78)  Angels are thus more devoted to God than either the jinn or the human because they have no free will to tempt them into doubt or rebellion against His
existence and instruction.

    Angels have certain functions that are mainly divided between work and worship. Their reasons for existence are evident in their functions and roles.Their primary function is to serve under God and carry out His will.  Angels act as a bridge between the material and spiritual world by conveying God's word to the prophets and helping mankind.  There are also those who exist to represent their worship to God:  "You shall see the angels circling round the Throne, giving glory to their Lord.  They shall be judged with fairness, and all shall say 'Praise be to God, Lord of the Universe.'" (Quran 39:75)  In surah "Naziat," which Dawood translates as
"Soul Snatchers," the various activities of different angels are

    "By those who snatch away men's souls, and those who gently release them; by those who float at will, and those who speed headlong; by those who govern the affairs of this world!  On the day the Trumpet sounds its first and second blast, all hearts shall be filled with terror, and eyes shall stare with awe." (Quran 79:1-5)

    There are several accounts of angels that are sent on God's behalf to intercede for mankind.  In surah "Mary," the angel Jibraeel, also known as Gabriel, explains to Mary his role to mankind as the bearer of God's will: "He [Jibraeel] said: I am only a messenger of thy Lord, that I may bestow on thee a faultless son [Jesus]." (Quran 19:19)  There are also accounts in the Quran regarding the angel's contact with the prophets. Among these accounts are those of Prophet Ibrahim and Prophet Lot, who received the word of God from the same angels, but regarding different
messages.  In Surah "Hud," the angels, on their way to Lot, bring good news to Prophet Ibraham and his wife Sarah:  

    "And Our messengers came to Ibrahim with good news We gave her [Sarah] good tidings (of the birth) of Isaac, and, after Isaac, of Jacob.  She said: Oh woe is me! Shall I bear a child when I am an old woman, and this my husband is an old man? Lo!  This is a strange thing!  They said: Wonderest thou at the commandment of Allah? The mercy of Allah and His blessings be upon you, O people of the house! Lo!  He is the Owner of Praise, Owner of Glory!" (Quran 11:69-73)

    Ibrahim is said to have then pleaded with the angels on behalf of the people of Lot: "And when the awe departed from Ibrahim, and the glad news reached him, he pleaded with Us on behalf of the folks of Lot." (Quran 11:74)  These same angels are again mentioned in surah "The Spider" regarding their visit to Lot:

    "And when Our messengers came unto Lot, he was troubled upon their account, for he could not protect them; but they said: Fear not, nor grieve!  Lo!  We are to deliver thee and thy household, (all) save thy wife, who is of those who stay behind.  Lo! We are about to bring down upon folk of this township a fury from the sky because they are all evil-livers." (Quran 29:33-34)

    The most prominent angel associated with relaying the word of God to mankind is Jibraeel (or Gabriel), the angel of revelation.  He brought the Divine messages to the Prophet Muhammad, now preserved in Quran, the Last Revelation and Scripture.  For this reason, Jibraeel is given high status among the rest of the angels.  His importance is mentioned in surah "Cessation," which briefly discusses Jibraeel's appearance as the messenger of God to Prophet Muhammad: "this is the word of a gracious and mighty messenger [Jibraeel], held in honor by the Lord of the Throne [God], obeyed in Heaven, faithful to his trust." (Quran 2:9)  Jibraeel is
again mentioned in association with Prophet Muhammad in the surah entitled
"Prohibition."  Here, he is referred to by name: "if you conspire against him [Muhammad], know that God is his Protector, and Gabriel, and the righteous among the believers; the angels too are his helpers. (Quran

    In addition to angels worshipping God and conveying messages to the prophets, there are also those that deal with the actions of mankind.  They exist as the recorders of deeds, guardians to mankind, questioners in the grave, and inflictors of punishment. Angels that record the deeds of each person are referred to as the Kiram u'l Katibin.  One translation of this Arabic expression is  "Illustrious writers."  (Hughes 279)  They are also referred to as the "Noble Recorders." (Gulen 79).  Hughes refers to the recorders of deeds as the "Mu'aqqibat," two angels that exist on the right and left shoulders of each man. (Hughes 279)  One records man's
good actions from his right side, while the other records the evil actions from his left.  These angels have a dual function - they record the good and evil actions of humans, and also act as guardian angels: "Each has guardian angels before him and behind him, who watch over him by God's command." (Quran 13:12)  This is complimented by a verse in surah " Aale 'Imran," where the Prophet Muhammad is addressed by God after his victory at the battle of Badr:

    "You said to the believers: 'Is it not enough that your Lord should send down three thousand angels to help you?'  Yes! If you have patience and guard yourselves against evil, God will send to your aid five thousand angels splendidly accoutered if they [disbelievers] suddenly attack you." (Quran 3:124-125)  

    The presence of angels as guardians to mankind is mentioned again in the Quran, in surah "Cattle":  "He sendeth guardians over you until, when death cometh unto one of you, Our messengers [angels] receive him, and they neglect not." (6:61)

    Munkar and Nakir are two of the angels that visit the dead.  These angels question the dead before they are punished and rewarded for their actions in life.  Hughes describes them as two black angels with blue eyes. (Hughes 420)  Gulen offers a synopsis of the questions asked by Munkar and Nakir:  

"In the grave, everyone is questioned by the angels Munkar and Nakir.  They ask: 'Who is your Lord?  Who is your Prophet?  What is your religion?' and many other questions [concerning their deeds in this world]." (Gulen 60)

The Quran states in the surah "The Cloaked One" that there are angels appointed by God at Hell.  These angels are called the Zabaniyah and are subordinates or guards that assist Malik, an angel appointed by God to oversee the management of punishments.  The Quran comments on these angels as guardians of Hell, and discloses a specific number referring to their amount: "Above it [Hell] are nineteen.  We have appointed only angels to be wardens of the fire..." (Quran 74:30-31)  There is also reference to these angels implementing punishments in Hell: "Believers guard yourselves and guard your kindred against a Fire fueled with men and stones, in
charge of fierce and mighty angels who never disobey God's command and who promptly do His bidding." (Quran 66:6)

    Out of all of God's creations, the angels are the most obedient.  They are mentioned frequently throughout the Quran, and in various contexts.  Jibraeel is perhaps the most well known of all the angels, since he is known for his role of communicating messages to mankind through the revelation of God's word.  The roles of the angels are several:  they worship God, and interact with the human world by relaying messages to the prophets and dealing with the actions of mankind. According to Islam, angels exist in life, death, and the hereafter.  They also serve a variety of purposes by acting as recorders of deeds, guardians to mankind, questioners at the grave, and executors of punishment.   


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York: New American Library 1988.

The Koran Translation by N.J. Dawood  New York: Penguin Books 1990

Hughes, Thomas Patrick  Dictionary of Islam  Calcutta: Rupa 1885

Abdel Haleem, Muhummad  Understanding the Quran: Themes and Style  
London: I.B. Tauris 1998

Rahman, Fazlur. Major Themes of the Quran  Chicago: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1980

Sells, Michael  Approaching the Quran: the Early Revelations  
Ashland: White Cloud Press, 1999

Ali, Abdullah Yusuf   The Meaning of the Glorious Quran Volume II
Cairo: Dar Al-Kitab Al-Masri (no date given)

Gulen, M. Fethullah  Essentials of the Islamic Faith
Fairfax, VA: The Fountain (no date given)

Musvi, Hujjatul Islam Syed Mudassir Ali Musvi  Life After Death  
Delran, NJ: S.A.N.A (no date given)

Zacharias, Paul  Insights into the Beyond  New York: Swedenborg Publishing 1976

The Holy Bible: New King James Version  Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1982

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen.  Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience New York: HarperCollins 1991





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