Noble Creatures of the Light
Angels rank among the highest creations of God. In fact, belief in the angels comes only second to the belief in God in the Islamic scheme of things. It’s just that they cannot be seen in the flesh because they are created from light. They belong to the realm of the unseen which we Muslims are required to believe in. When you believe in the unseen, you acknowledge that there is more to the world than its fleeting material aspects; that there is another dimension to our existence – a purely spiritual one that longs to serve God and do good.
Angels remind us of the spirit that is in us, the soul that cannot be seen but nevertheless exists within us and is taken at death from our lifeless bodies. Thus when we become highly spiritual we are said to have angelic qualities, just as when we go the other way, we are said to have Satanic qualities. Since angels are godly creatures, they cannot disobey God or do evil. This is why we Muslims do not believe that Satan is a fallen angel, but rather a creature made out of fire known as a jinn. Angels, pure and sinless as they are by their very nature cannot ever stoop to the level of a devil.
Agents of God
Angels, to put it in a nutshell, are the agents of God, doing His Will on earth. They are the intermediating beings between the One Divinity and the vast mass of Humanity. They are with us from cradle to grave and will be with us even in the hereafter by God’s Grace. Belief in these angels is a source of comfort to the believer as he or she knows that the universe abounds with these kind, friendly, helpful spirits who are there to assist people in times of trouble, bring blessings into their households and convey the news of their good deeds to the Almighty.
It’s not only we Muslims who believe in angels. Many cultures of the ancient world believed in angelic figures which shows that they must be grounded in reality, that the men of old were told of them or comprehended them in some form or other. Besides the Biblical accounts of angels, we find similar beings occurring in other religious traditions, like for example the Amesha Spentas of that ancient Iranian faith known as Zoroastrianism. Tradition has it that when its Prophet Zarathustra was thirty years old, he went to the Daiti river to draw water when he saw Vohu Mana who took him to the other six amesha spentas. These seven heavenly beings we are told, had been created by the Supreme Being to assist him in the affairs of the world. They resemble the archangels with Vohu Mana occupying a place similar to that of Gabriel in the Biblical and Islamic traditions. Ordinary angels also seem to have been known to the ancient Persians as Peris who are described as winged spirits.
Other ancient civilization also knew of angelic beings, like the Lamassu of Mesopotamia, guardian spirits with wings who help people fight evil and the Liosalfar or ‘Light Elves’ of Norse belief who inhabit a luminous region called Alfheim between heaven and earth and have been described as very radiant beings, even fairer to look upon than the sun. They are also said to be always benevolent towards humans. All these traditions when taken as a whole agree that these heavenly beings are luminous and winged and help men in the struggle between good and evil, a fact that is reflected in Islamic teachings as well.
Islam takes the belief in angels to a much higher level than the Bible does, holding that the belief in angels comes only next to belief in God. As the Qur’an says: “Whoever denies God, His angels, His Books, His Prophets and the Day of Judgement have gone far, far astray”. (The Women:136). Indeed so pervasive is this belief in angels that we are left wondering whether not the modern Christian belief in angels as guardians and benefactors of humanity have been influenced by Islam rather than Judeo-Christian teachings. True, the Bible knows of angels, but they do not figure as prominently as they do in Islam with descriptions of them being few and far between. Perhaps the earliest mention of one is found in the account of Hagar, Abraham’s Egyptian spouse who is mistreated by his first wife Sarah. Here we read that Hagar is visited by the Lord’s Messenger who says to her: “You are now pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall name him Ishmael (God has heard) for the Lord has heard you” (Genesis).
Interestingly, this first angelic visitation mentioned in the Bible has to do not with the Children of Israel about whom the Bible is concerned about, but the son of Hagar, Abraham’s firstborn, who gave rise to the Arabian nation. Even the name bestowed on him Ishmael or in Arabic Ismaeel (God has heard) is more like an angelic name which we can liken to names like Gabriel, Michael and Raphael. In later times we hear of one visiting the children of Israel before the parting of the Red Sea in the days of Moses: “The angel of God, who had been leading Israel’s camp, now moved and went around behind them. the column of cloud also, leaving the front, took up its place behind them, so that it came between the camp of the Egyptians and that of Israel” (Exodus 14:19-20). We also read that Joshua saw one standing facing him, drawn sword in hand, and he asked him: “Are you one of us or of our enemies?”. The other replied: “”Neither, I am the captain of the host of the Lord” (Joshua 5:13-14). He is also called on other occasions ‘The Angel of the Lord’ (Judges 6:11-12). This unnamed angel was probably the archangel Gabriel who finds mention by name for the first time in the Book of Daniel, a later part of the Bible more in the apocalyptic tradition compiled about the 6th century BC: “While I Daniel, sought the meaning of the vision I had seen, a manlike figure stood before me and I heard a human voice that cried out: “Gabriel, explain the vision to this man” (Daniel 8:15-16).
The archangel Michael too is mentioned by name for the first time in Daniel: “At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people” (Daniel 12:1). As for Raphael, he occurs for the first time in the Book of Tobit where we read of Tobit’s son Tobiah coming across the angel standing before him, though he did not know that he was an angel of God as he was in the form of a young man (Tobit 5:4-5). We later hear of the angel pursuing the demon Asmodeus into Egypt and binding him hand and foot (Tobit 8:3).
In the New Testament of the Bible we do come across references to angels, but they are not as pronounced as in Islam. Even the idea of guardian angels is found only in reference to Jesus’ mission, as in the Gospel of John where Jesus tells Nathanael: “Amen, amen. I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51). When Jesus had withdrawn from his disciples about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying to God “If thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him (Luke 22:42-43). He also said when he was arrested: “Do you think I cannot call upon my Father and He will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53).
The Purest Beings Alive
In Islam, angels occupy a very high place in the Divine scheme of things. Indeed they are the purest and noblest created beings we can think of. They are immaculate and free of sin. They praise God often and also pray for those on earth, reflecting as it were God’s Mercy on all of creation.
O ye who believe! Celebrate the praises of God and do so often. And glorify Him morning and evening. He it is who sends blessings on you, as do His angels, that He may bring you out from the depths of Darkness into Light
(The Confederates: 41-43)
The heavens are almost rent asunder from above them (by His Glory). And the angels celebrate the praises of their Lord, and pray for forgiveness for all beings on earth
The Day the heaven shall be rent asunder with clouds, and angels shall be sent down, descending (in ranks)
Islam teaches us that angels were created even before man:
Behold thy Lord said to the angels: “I will create a vicegerent on earth” They said “Wilt thou place one therein who will make mischief therein and shed blood? -Whilst we celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy Holy (Name)?”
Since God told the angels about His intention to create man, we have to suppose that they existed before Adam was created. We Muslims believe that the angels are created from light for our Prophet Muhammad informed us of it when he said:
The Angels were created from light and the Jinns were created from the smokeless fire and Adam was created from that which has been described to you (in the Qur’an, from clay)
As angels have been created from light, they are essentially non-material beings which is why we cannot see them in their original form with the naked eye or perceive them with our other senses. They may however take a physical form to be seen by men as and when required. Islam tells us that the angels are winged and that they are primarily messengers (of God):
Praise be to God, who created the heavens and the earth, Who made the angels messengers with wings – Two, Three or Four. He adds to creation as He Pleases, for God has Power over all things
(The Originator of Creation:1)
This belief that angels are messengers is even shared by Christianity. Did you know that the English word angel comes from Greek angelos ‘messenger’. The Arabic word for angel malak also literally means messenger. Thus we may suppose them primarily to be the heavenly messengers of God.
The angels are also winged as the Qur’an tells us. Some of them have two pairs of wings, some three, some four, and some have more than since our Prophet saw Gabriel in his usual form on the Night Journey to the heavens and he had six hundred wings (Saheeh Al-Bukhari). Angels are also able to take on forms other than their own. We read in the Qur’an that angel Gabriel appeared before Mary to announce the birth of Jesus in the form of a man: “Then We sent her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. She said: “I seek refuge from thee in the Most Gracious (God). (Come not near) if you fear God”. He said: Nay, I am only a Messenger from Thy Lord (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son” (Mary:17-19)
Likewise, angels were sent to Abraham in human form: “There came our Messengers to Abraham with Glad tidings. They said “Peace!” He answered “Peace!” and hastened to entertain them with a roast calf. But when he saw that their hands went not (towards the meal), he felt some mistrust of them, and conceived a fear of them. They said: “Fear not, We have been sent against the people of Lot” And his wife was standing, and she laughed. But We gave her Glad Tidings of Isaac, and after him, of Jacob. She said: “Alas for me! Shall I bear a child seeing I am an old woman, and my husband here is an old man? That would indeed be a wonderful thing!”. They said: “Dost thou wonder at God’s Decree? The Grace of God and His Blessings on you, O ye people of the house” For He is indeed worthy of all Praise, full of all Glory”(Hood:69-73).
Angels were also reported to be seen as bright lights in the times of Prophet Muhammad. A companion of the Prophet named Usayd Bin Hudayr has left this account:
“One night I was reading the Chapter of the Heifer. My horse was tied up near me. At one point, it rose up on its two hind legs. I stopped reading; the horse calmed down. I began to read again, and the horse started again. I was afraid that the horse was going to stomp on my son Yahya, so I went near it. When I looked up the sky, I saw something that looked like candles. Then they rose up towards the sky and disappeared”. When he informed the Prophet about it the next morning, he said: “They were angels who had come down to listen to you recite the Qur’an. If you had continued to read, they would have listened to you until the morning. They would not have remained invisible to the people who would have been able to see them” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari).
However angels generally cannot be seen with the naked eye, unless they wish to reveal themselves to the beholder, a privilege they usually give to the chosen messengers of God. The Prophet once turned to his wife Ayisha and said: “O Aish! This is Gabriel greeting you” whereupon she said: “Peace and God’s Mercy and Blessings be on him, you see what I don’t” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari).
Doing God’s Work on Earth
Much of the work of God on earth is accomplished through the agency of the angels. From the moment a baby is conceived in its mother’s womb, angels commence their good work by the leave of God, breathing the soul into the embryo and marking its genome, setting it on the path towards its genetic destiny, and predisposing it to many things that determine the course of its life including its lifespan. Prophet Muhammad said:
When forty two nights have passed over the embryo, God sends an angel to it, who shapes it and creates its hearing, vision, skin, flesh and bones
At every womb God appoints an angel who says, ‘O Lord! A drop of semen, O Lord! A clot. O Lord! A little lump of flesh.” Then if God wishes (to complete) its creation, the angel asks, (O Lord!) Will it be a male or female, a wretched or a blessed, and how much will his provision be? And what will his lifespan be?’ So all that is written while the child is still in the mother’s womb
Thus it is the angels who turn our genes on and off in a complex cascade of biological events that lead to the formation of a human being. Modern scientists still wonder why only certain genes are turned on or off as if in random fashion, allowing cells to develop into specialized organs in its early stages and adapt to environmental changes in later life and affecting developments as diverse as hair colour, disease resistance and even longevity, not knowing that there are hidden hands at work here.
Interestingly, placentas, the interface between womb and foetus have yielded genomes where at least a third is switched off, compared to ordinary human tissue where two thirds of the genome is switched on. Thus placentas are now looked upon as a window into embryological or foetal development, a veritable time capsule when many genetic events would have occurred to determine our genetic destiny. So it is the angels who are the unseen factor switching genes on or off, stacking the odds of survival in favour of or against us, giving us our sex and our looks, a process that has been in operation throughout human history. Think about it, if this sifting of genes did not occur, we would be alike as peas, or like identical twins, all men looking like Adam and all women like Eve.
Mutations to suit the environment or an anticipated environment at some point in future are also very likely the work of angels that do God’s bidding. If not for these changes that affect the information in our DNA, there would not be different races accustomed to different climes. Why, because environment cannot impact one’s genes; rather genes have to adapt to the environment. How else could you explain how people acquired lighter skin in cold climates to synthesize vitamin D and prevent bone degeneration, or how people in hot tropical climates took on darker skin to prevent the harmful effects of ultra-violet rays that could cause skin cancer, or how pastoral people have become lactose tolerant to benefit from the nutrition obtained from cow milk?
As evident from the sayings of the Prophet, even human longevity and behaviour are inscribed into people’s genetic code and modern science upholds this view. Scientists today know that altering genes can induce different behaviour in animals. It’s only that the genes determining or influencing human behavior are inscribed in the human genome somewhere still undetermined which scientists find difficult to untangle. The same holds true of the aging process. Why do we age, why do our cells go into reverse mode, what impels them to do so, but for the fact that it is already preset in our genes, a phenomenon even evolutionary theory cannot explain, which is why God asks us to ponder about it: “If We grant long life to any, We cause him to be reversed in nature, will they not then understand?” (Ya Sin: 68).
But that’s not all, angels may well play a greater role in our environment than we can imagine in our wildest dreams. Who knows? It is perhaps they who carry out all mutations in nature, changing the colours of flowers so that from one flower of a single hue you have flowers of different colours and from the rose of a few petals that lived centuries ago, you have the multi-tiered rose you have today. Who knows, it may well be they who are responsible for certain inexplicable natural phenomena we take for granted like bringing down rain drops or snowflakes without allowing them to collide with one another to show us how beautifully God created the nature around us.
The Guardian Angels
Angels also serve as our guardians. They are known to help people in distress, for was it not an angel who dug the well of Zamzam in Mecca so that Hagar, the mother of Ishmael could drink of it (Saheeh Al-Bukhari). The inexplicable manner in which little infants or children sometimes escape death or injury unscathed despite all the odds being against them could easily be explained on this basis. In the Qur’an angels are sometimes referred to as guardians over us: He is Irresistible (watching) from above over His Worshippers, and He sets guardians over you (The Cattle: 61). The word used here is hafazatan which literally means ‘those who protect or preserve’. Indeed, there is no human being standing on earth who is without angels in charge of protecting him or her.
There is no soul but has a protector over it
(The Night Star:4)
For each (person) there are (angels) in succession. Before and behind him. They guard him by command of God
For those who say: “Our Lord is God” and stand straight and steadfast, the angels descend on them (from time to time). “Fear not” they say “Nor grieve! But receive the Glad Tidings of the Garden (of bliss) that you were promised. We are your protectors in this life and in the Hereafter. There shall you have all that your souls shall desire, there shall you have all that you ask for! A hospitable gift from one Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful”
In the Qur’an we are told that God, the angel Gabriel and the angelic host would protect Muhammad in his mission:
Truly God is His Protector, and Gabriel, and every righteous one among those who believe, and moreover the angels will back him up
Angels also help the believers in times of war, for it was Gabriel and his army of angels who came to the assistance of the ill-armed Muslim army of no more than 300 men, enabling them to rout the 1000-strong army of the Quraysh in the decisive Battle of Badr.
The Prophet raised his hands in prayer and implored his Lord loudly:
O God! Grant me what you have promised. O God, grant me victory. O God, if you destroy this community of Islam, then there will be nobody on the face of the earth to worship you.
Remember when you called on your Lord, and He answered you:“I will assist you with a thousand angels, ranks on ranks”. Remember He covered you with a sort of drowsiness, to give you calm as from himself, and He caused rain to descend on you from heaven to clean you with, to remove from you the stain of Satan, to strengthen your hearts, and to plant your feet firmly therewith. Remember your Lord inspired the angels:“I am with you, give firmness to the Believers. I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers, smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them”
(The Spoils of War: 9-11)
Among the Angels, there are three who occupy the foremost place. These are the archangels Gabriel whom we call Jibreel, Michael whom we call Mikail and Raphael whom we call Israfeel, Peace be on all of them. The Prophet used to say in his supplication to His Lord:
“O God, Lord of Gabriel, Michael and Raphael, Bringer of the heavens and the earth into being, Knower of the seen and unseen”
Gabriel occupies the foremost place among them. He figures in all three monotheistic faiths –Islam, Christianity and Judaism. It was Gabriel who announced the birth of Jesus to Mary and brought down the Qur’an to Muhammad. God tells us that on the Resurrection Day “the Spirit and the Angels will stand forth in ranks” (The Great News: 38). The Spirit here refers to angel Gabriel and shows the high rank he occupies among the angelic host. He is also referred to as such in the verse speaking of Laylat al-Qadr or The Night of Power: “The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein descend by God’s permission the angels and the spirit (Gabriel) with every decree. Peace, it is, until the rise of Morn!” (The Night of Power: 3-5). Gabriel whose name literally means ‘Power of God’ is described in the Qur’an as the Holy Spirit –Roohul Qudusi:
Say, the Holy Spirit has brought the Revelation from thy Lord in Truth, in order to strengthen those who believe
And the Trustworthy Spirit- Roohul Ameen:
Verily this is a Revelation from the Lord of the Worlds brought to your heart (O Muhammad) by the Trustworthy Spirit
(The Poets 192-194)
Whoever hates Gabriel is indeed lost for his duty is a most sacred one:
Say (O Muhammad): “Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel, for indeed he has brought it (this Quran) down to your heart by God’s Permission, confirming what came before it (The Torah and the Gospel) and guidance and glad tidings for the believers. Whoever is an enemy to God and His angels and prophets, to Gabriel and Michael – Lo! God is Enemy to those who reject faith”
(The Heifer 97-98)
Gabriel, as the angel of revelation was present at Prophet Muhammad’s side throughout his mission of over twenty years, not only revealing the Qur’an piece by piece, but also giving him strength and questioning him on matters of faith to edify his followers. The Prophet’s first impression of him was, as can be imagined, was an awe-inspiring one. When Muhammad was shaken by the first mystical experience he had when Gabriel embraced him, bidding him read the first verses of the Qur’an to him, he became so scared that he rushed from the cave he had been meditating in and while midway in the mountain, he heard a voice as if from heaven: “O Muhammad thou art the Messenger of God and I am Gabriel”. He would later recall: “I raised my head towards heaven to see who was speaking, and lo, Gabriel in the form of a man with feet astride the horizon. I stood gazing at him, moving neither backward or forward. Then I began to turn my face away from him, but towards whatever region of the sky I looked, I saw him as before”.
It happened one day that the companions of the Prophet were sitting in his company, and there appeared before them a man dressed in pure white clothes. None recognized him nor were there any signs of travel in him. He knelt before the Prophet, placed his palms on his thighs and questioned him: “Inform me about faith” he asked Muhammad. The Prophet replied: “That you affirm your faith in God, in His Angels, in His Books, in His Prophets, in the Day of Judgement and faith in the Divine Decree”. The inquirer said: “You have spoken the truth”.
He then inquired about good deeds and the Prophet replied: “That you worship God as if you are seeing Him, for though you don’t see Him, He verily sees you”. He then inquired: “Tell me about the Hour (of Doom)?” whereupon the Prophet remarked: “The one who is asked knows no more than the one who is inquiring”. He said: “Tell me some of its Signs” and the Prophet replied: “That the slave girl will give birth to her mistress; that you will find barefooted herdsfolk vying with one another in constructing magnificent buildings”. He then went his way, and the prophet asked his companion: “Umar, do you know who the inquirer was?” Umar replied: “God and His Messenger know best!”. The prophet said: “That was Gabriel. He came to instruct you in matters of faith” (Saheeh Muslim).
The other archangel Michael is named once in the Qur’an where he is called Mikaal.
Whoever is an enemy to God and His angels and prophets, to Gabriel and Michael – Lo! God is Enemy to those who reject faith
(The Heifer: 98)
Michael is responsible for scattering the rain and dispensing it to wherever God wishes, moving the clouds to join them and produce rain to revive the earth. The Prophet once asked Gabriel: “What is Michael in charge of?” and he replied: “The plants and the rain” (Tabarani). The archangel Raphael has been entrusted with the responsibility of blowing the trumpet on the Day of Judgement. He will blow three blasts at the command of God and Majestic. The first is the Blast of Terror, the second the Blast of Swooning, and the third the Blast of the Rising for the Lord of Heaven and Earth. The Prophet once said: “How can I enjoy myself when the one with the Trumpet, has raised the Trumpet to his mouth, knitted his brow and is waiting to blow” (Ahmad).
The Recording Angels
There are also angels responsible for recording the deeds of man, good and bad. One angel on the right of a person records his or her good deeds and the other on the left records his or her evil deeds. These are known as the Kiraman Katibin or ‘Honourable Scribes’. The Qur’an speaks of such angels in very clear terms:
Behold two (angels) appointed to learn (his doings) learn (and note down) one on the right, and one on the left, Not a word does he utter, but there is a sentinel by him, ready (to note it)
Or do they think that We hear not their secrets and their private counsels? Indeed (We do), and Our messengers are with them recording
(Ornaments of Gold: 80)
These angels have specific instructions how they are to record the doings of men in their register of good and bad deeds. God has instructed these angels: “If My slave intends to do a bad deed then (O Angels) do not write it unless he does it; if he does it, then write it as it is, but if he refrains from doing it for My Sake, then write it as a good deed (in his account). (On the other hand) if he intends to do a good deed, but does not do it, then write a good deed (in his account), and if he does it, then write it for him (in his account) as ten good deeds up to seven-hundred times” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari).
The Angels of Death
There are also angels who take the souls of the dead. Death will find us when our time comes, and it is the angels who accomplish this. As God reminds us: “Wherever ye are, Death will find you out, even if ye are in towers built up strong and high” (The Women:78).
Thus wherever we be, the angels will be there to take our souls:
When angels take the souls of those who die in sin against their souls, they say: “In what plight were you?”They reply: “Weak and oppressed were we in the earth”. They (the angels) say: “Was not the earth of God spacious enough for you to move away from evil?”
(The Women: 97)
How (will it be) when the angels take their souls at death, and smite their faces and their backs?
If you could but see how the wicked (fare) in the flood of confusion at death. The angels stretch forth their hands (saying): “Yield up your souls”
(The Cattle: 93)
By those (angels) who tear out (the souls of the wicked) with violence and those who gently draw out (the souls of the blessed)
(Those Who Tear Out:1-2)
The Holy Book mentions a specific angel who will accomplish the task- the Malakul Maut meaning ‘The Angel of Death’. The Qur’an rehearses for us what the unbelievers used to say about the coming meeting with their Lord: “What! When we lie hidden and lost, in the earth, shall we indeed be in a creation renewed?”, and rejoins: “The Angel of Death put in charge of you will take your souls. Then shall you be brought back to your Lord” (The Prostration: 10-11). This Angel of Death is popularly known as Azrael and may even come in the form of a man, visible only to the person whose soul he is about to take. It once happened that Prophet David saw the figure of a man sitting in the middle of his abode in spite of his having secured it well. “Who are you?” he asked, only to be told by the mysterious figure: “I am the one who fears no king, nor are any veils an obstruction for me”. David replied: “By God, you are the Angel of Death. Welcome by God’s Command!”. A while later his soul was taken by the angel (Ahmad).
A companion of the Prophet, Bara Ibn Aazib sheds further light on the role of the angels at death. Says he: “We went out with the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) for the funeral of a man from among the Ansaar, and we reached the grave whilst it was still being dug. The Messenger of God sat down and we sat down around him, and it was as if we had birds on our heads. In his hand was a stick with which he was scratching in the earth. He raised his head and said, ‘Seek refuge with God from the punishment of the grave,’ two or three times. Then he said, ‘Verily, when the believing slave is about to depart this world and enter the Hereafter, there come down to him angels from heaven with white faces, as if their faces are the sun. They bring with them one of the shrouds of Paradise and some of the perfume of Paradise. They sit with him as far as the eye can see. Then the Angel of Death (peace be upon him) comes to him and sits by his head and says, ‘O pure soul, come out to the forgiveness and pleasure of God.’ Then his soul comes flowing out like a drop of water flowing from a cup. Then he takes the soul, and no sooner does he seize it but they take it and place it in that shroud and perfume. Then out of it comes the most excellent fragrance of musk to be found on the face of the earth. Then they ascend with it and they do not pass by any group of angels but the angels ask, ‘Who is this pure soul?’ and they reply, ‘It is So and so the son of So and so’ – using the best names by which he was known on earth. Then they bring it to the lowest heaven, and ask for it to be opened, and it is opened for him. Those who are of high rank in each heaven accompany it until they approach the next heaven, and so it goes until it reaches the seventh heaven. Then God, may He be glorified and exalted, says: ‘Record the book of My slave in Illiyoon (the highest heaven) and take him back to the earth, for I created them from it, and I shall return them to it, then I shall take them out from it again.’. Then his soul is returned to his body”.
The Prophet continued: “When the disbelieving slave is about to depart this world and enter the Hereafter, there come down to him angels from heaven with black faces, bringing with them sackcloth. They sit with him as far as the eye can see. Then the Angel of Death comes to him and sits by his head and says, ‘O evil soul, come out to the wrath and anger of God.’ Then his soul disperses in his body and is dragged out like a skewer being pulled out of wet wool. Then he takes the soul, and no sooner does he seize it but they take it and place it in that sackcloth. Then out of it comes the most putrid stench of rotten flesh to be found on the face of the earth. Then they ascend with it and they do not pass by any group of angels but the angels ask, ‘Who is this evil soul?’ and they reply, ‘It is So and so the son of So and so’ – using the worst names by which he was known on earth. Then they bring it to the lowest heaven, and ask for it to be opened, and it is not opened for him. Then God, may He be glorified and exalted, says: ‘Record the book of My slave in Sijjeen (the lowest Hell) in the lowest earth. Then his soul is cast down” (Musnad of Ahmad).
The angels who question the dead in their graves are two in number and are called Munkar and Nakeer. The Prophet has informed us about them: “When one of you is buried, there come to him two blue-black angels, one of whom is called Munkar and the other Nakeer“. The angels make him sit up, and ask him, ‘Who is your Lord.’ He says ‘God.’ They ask, ‘What is your religion?’ He says, ‘My religion is Islam’ They ask, ‘Who is this man that was sent amongst you?’ He says, ‘He is the Messenger of God.’ They ask him, ‘What knowledge do you have?’ He says, ‘I read the Book of God and I believed in it.’ Then a voice will call out from heaven, ‘My slave has spoken the truth. Prepare for him a bed from Paradise and give him clothes from Paradise, and open for him a door to Paradise.’ And he will feel its breeze and smell its fragrance, and his grave will be widened for him as far as his eye can see.
As for the disbeliever, two angels would come to him, make him sit up, and ask him, ‘Who is your Lord.’ He says, ‘Oh, oh, I don’t know.’ They ask, ‘What is your religion?’ He says, ‘Oh, oh, I don’t know.’ They ask, ‘Who is this man that was sent amongst you?’ He says, ‘Oh, oh, I don’t know.’ Then a voice will call out from heaven, ‘He is lying. Prepare for him a bed from Hell and open for him a door to Hell.’ And he will feel its hot winds and smell its stench (Musnad, Ahmad). And as if that were not enough, there are even angels who serve as the guardians of hell:
We have set none but angels as Guardians of the Fire
(The Wrapped up One:31)
O ye who believe! save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who flinch not (from executing) the Commands they receive from God, but do (precisely) what they are commanded
The keepers of hell are nineteen in number led by one called Malik literally meaning ‘Master’. In the Qur’an we read that the dwellers of hell will cry out:
“O Malik! Let your Lord make an end of us.” He will say: “Nay, ye shall abide!”
(Ornaments of Gold:77)