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17. Understanding Islam

3.2. AXIOM 2: Belief in angels

The second axiom for Muslims is the belief in angels. They believe that, although the Qur’an (21:31) says that everything was made out of water, “[t]he Angels were created out of light and the Jann was created out of the mixture of fire and Adam was created as he has been defined (in the Qur'an) for you (i.e. he was fashioned out of clay or soil)” (Sahih Muslim). A few angels are mentioned by name in the Qur’an, but on the whole, Muslim scholars agree on very little concerning angels. However, it is certainly true that the Muslim understanding of angels is radically different from the Christian’s; even though there is some overlap of accounts of events, there are some radical differences in the details or in the underlying message. One example is the story of the angels blowing the trumpet in the book of Revelation as a symbol of judgement; Muslims believe the angel Israafeel is literally – and not symbolically – going to blow a trumpet three times initiating the resurrection of the dead and the beginning of the last day.

A few angels are mentioned by name in the Qur’an. Jibreel (Gabriel) is venerated as one of the primary archangels. He is also called the spirit of the holy, the angel of revelation, and the trustworthy spirit, though note that this is not at all saying he is anything akin to the Holy Spirit of the Bible.

Some of these named angels have specific jobs, such as Malik the guardian of hell. The Qur'an says:

“[i]ndeed, the criminals will be in the punishment of Hell, abiding eternally. It will not be allowed to subside for them, and they, therein, are in despair. And We did not wrong them, but it was they who were the wrongdoers. And they will call, ‘O Malik, let your Lord put an end to us!’ He will say, ‘Indeed, you will remain.’” (Qur’an 43:74-77)

Other angels are known by their job but not by name, such as the angels that carry Allah’s throne and the angels that give spirit to the foetus in the womb. Muslims also believe every person has angels who record their every deed. The Qur’an says:

“[a]nd indeed, [appointed] over you are keepers, Noble and recording.” (Qur’an 82:10-11)

One last important angel in Islam is Iblis, which is one of the names the Qur’an gives to Satan. In keeping with the teaching of the Bible, the Iblis of the Qur’an is a disobedient angel. However, the circumstances surrounding his fall from favour are quite different. The Qur’an (2:34 onwards) relates how Iblis was expelled from paradise when the angels were ordered to prostrate before Adam, and all except for Iblis prostrated. Iblis refused and was sent out of paradise – along with Adam and Eve – and Allah decreed that there would be enmity between them.

According to Muslim scholars, angels are creatures created out of light, do exactly what they are told and they never disobey Allah. This however creates a small problem in that the Qur’an tells of angels objecting to Allah’s creation to Adam (Qur’an 2:30)

Before closing this section, I want to briefly mention another category of creatures in Islam called Jinn. These have an entire chapter in the Qur’an called after them (Sura 72). Unlike angels, only some Jinn are righteous; others are less so. Some are Muslim; others deviate from Islam and are destined for hell. Some Muslim scholars believe in the possibility of intermarriage between Jinn and humans but the majority of Muslim scholars deny its legality though not its possibility. As a result, some schools of Islamic jurisprudence don’t recognise pregnancy as evidence of sex outside of marriage (zinah) because it is technically possible that the woman has had intercourse with a Jinn without knowing, or she may in fact be married to one.

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