Luminous Workers of the Universe: Angels

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Malaika are dutiful living creatures that serve Allah Subhanahu wa Taʽala everywhere.

The heavens have attracted the interest of the man since he first set foot on the earth. Questions like “I wonder if anyone lives there? If so, who are they? How are their lives? Is it possible to communicate with them? What do they do?” always occupied man’s mind until today.

Both the Divine Religions and other beliefs attribute different meanings by giving various names to the inhabitants of the heavens. In this article, the attributes, features and some special duties of the angels will be discussed by giving reasonable and narrative evidences for the existence of these luminous inhabitants of the heavens, who can be not only in heavens but also everywhere around the universe as part of their duty.

Islam has proved the existence of the angels with both reasonable and narrative evidences. Since ‘the belief in malaika’ is one of the six fundamentals of the Islamic faith, it is fard (obligatory) to believe in the angels; denying them is kufr (unbelief). The angels whom we cannot perceive with our five senses are revered servants of Allah (swt) in the ʿalam-al ghayb (the world of the unseen); they are subtle and luminous beings.

Reasonable Evidences for the Existence of the Angels

Belief in angels is such a matter that the existence of the entire angels is known with the existence of a single angel. There are many reasonable evidences for the existence of the angels. Some of these evidences will be discussed below:

  1. Living beings in the world are evidences for the existence of the angels

Living beings are evidences for the angels’ existence; because seeing that millions of species live on the earth which is like a grain of sand in desert in comparison to the universe, and the earth is continuously filled with those species and emptied, it is unreasonable to accept that this vast universe is just left desolate. Filling the tiny world with so many living beings, but leaving the rest of the universe empty would be extravagance. However, The One Who does not allow even a tiny bit wastefulness in any part and being of/in the universe and does the works in wisdom can never consent such ugliness.

  1. The living creatures are not limited to only what we see. Every corner of the universe is filled with beings having the hayat (life) and the shuʿur (consciousness).

Man’s ability to see is so limited that he is only able to see the beings that come into view. To be able to see what the out of sight, he either has to have super powers or necessary tools to provide with the sight. For instance; bacteria and microorganisms are invisible to the naked-eye, to see them; one must either increase his faculty of sight or use a microscope. At the utmost, it is only a proof of ignorance to assume invisible-to-the-naked-eye creatures as non-existent. Seeing that; to be unable to see those beings cannot be an evidence for their non-existence. Likewise, it would be an unproven assumption to claim that no living being live out there in the universe although we do not have eyes or tools to see every corner of this huge cosmos. For, Allah (swt) creates the fish and the lion with the features appropriate for living in water and on land respectively and there is no reasonable obstacle for Him (SWT) to create the angels with the suitable features to live in the heavens.

  1. Hayat (Life) is an evidence for the existence of the angels

Existence gains value with life. Life is one of the perfection degrees of the existence. There is not so much difference between the existence and non-existence of a thing which is not a living being. For instance, an ant compared to a big mountain is more valuable despite its littleness; because the ant is a living being. It has connection and exchange with its environment. Moreover, it has a relationship with the universe in some way. When the living beings on earth are observed, it is seen that they are created from very simple and dense materials. Those simple and opaque materials are enlightened with hayat and shuʿur. Soil and water are two simple and dense materials. But by creating infinite numbers of creatures with these materials, these two materials are enlightened. Can someone who creates the mankind and the animals from a small quantity of mingled fluids (semen) and countless plant species from a dry soil, leave the elements like fire and light, which are more transparent and subtle than soil and water, lifeless and unconscious? Does it befit His wisdom to value a dry soil and a mingled fluid yet to ignore the fire and the light? By all means, Zat-Al-Hakim, The Absolute Wise Lord, would never allow such an absurdity which would totally contradict His wisdom.

He does not waste the valuable elements by leaving them lifeless and unconscious while utilising the simple materials by creating living and conscious beings out of them. It is of His wisdom to create pleasant and luminous beings from subtle and transparent elements like fire and light.

  1. The existence of Shuʿur (Consciousness) requires the existence of the angels

Shuʿur is defined as “the state of understanding, recognising and realizing something” or “perception of being aware of one’s existence and self.” Just as the life renders the existents valuable, the existence gains value with life. Likewise, the life becomes luminous with consciousness and perception. The more the degree of the consciousness and perception increases, the more the value of life rises. The consciousness is given to us in order to get to know the existents by perceiving them and to discover the mysteries and truths in the universe by comprehending and reflecting upon them. It is bestowed upon us in order us to realize our being and self to fathom our Creator. That is to say, the duty of every conscious being is “to reflect upon in proportion to their consciousness; that is, to understand the mysteries and the truths of the universe by thinking through.”

All the hikmah (wisdom), art and order in the universe are for a purpose. And it is to inform about the Creator by introducing Him and provide with praising and regard befitting the Creator by making us comprehend the greatness and dignity of Him. If there were no beings which would understand and comprehend the wisdom and art, who would recognize the Creator, who would know about His existence? Therefore, wisdom, art, orders and regularity make the existence of conscious beings necessary. If there were no conscious creatures, wisdom would be unknown. The value of art, order and regularity could not be understood. If the conscious beings were living only on the earth, and if there were no conscious beings in the rest of the universe; all the activities, arts and wisdom in there would be unknown. Since those activities could not be observed and praised, it would be a huge waste. What’s more is that, man do not have the means to go everywhere around the universe although he is a conscious being. Moreover, we even cannot totally comprehend the wisdom and art on the earth. Yes, man have uncovered many mysteries by means of that consciousness; but there are many mysteries and hikmah (wisdom) behind the thing haven’t been (able to be) discovered. Now that Allah (swt) exhibits His countless wisdom and arts in the realms other than the world, and manages those realms under His order; this unlimited hikmah (wisdom) and art require the existence of conscious beings that will contemplate upon them. Therefore, in order not to waste that wisdom, art, order and regularity, He also creates appropriate conscious beings that can live in those places. And Islam names those beings as Malaika.

  1. The existence of Allah (swt) is an evidence for the existence of the angels

All the reasonable evidences for the existence and oneness of Allah (swt) are also the evidences for the existence of the angels. Because Allah (swt) has mentioned them in every Holy Book He sent down, informed us about them a lot and commanded us to believe in them. Since the reasonable evidences prove the existence and oneness of Allah (swt) and show that He is the only Creator and Ruler of the universe; indicate that He has ‘ilm (infinite knowledge), iradah (will), qudrah (power) and hikmah (wisdom); state that He is exempt from any fault, shame, shortcoming and weakness; therefore, there must be no doubt about the existence of the angels made known by the Creator Who possesses those attributes.

  1. The prophets are both witnesses to and evidences for the angels

The evidences for the truthfulness of the prophets prove the existence of the angels; because prophets met with the angels in person, a major part of the revelation sent down to the prophets through Jabrail Alaihissalam. The agreement of the prophets, who are always qualified with truthfulness, about the angels proves their existence as clear as daylight. Prophets proved their causes to the people by the sense of confidence they gave with the help of wisdom, reason and moral qualities. As for the miracles they performed, they were to dispel the doubts and hesitations, and to overcome the obstinacy of the deniers. Now that the prophets proved their causes with reasonable and logical evidences, their moral qualities and miracles, therefore, all the prophets are both witnesses to and evidences for the angels of which they unanimously informed. Who can deny the existence of the angels of which 124 thousand prophets unanimously informed based upon their miracles and witnessing? Who can deny such a cause having so many truthful witnesses?

  1. The Qur’an proves the existence of the angels with the evidences for its truthfulness

All the evidences showing that the Qur’an is the word of Allah (swt) also prove the existence of the angels; because the most extensive explanation about the existence and attributes of the angels is made in the Qur’an. If the Qur’an is the word of Allah (swt), everything mentioned in it is right and the truth. Guiding the humanity for more than 1400 years, none of the truths of the Qur’an has been disproved; none of its causes has been refuted. Therefore, it can be said with certain conviction that the angles exist; anyone who cannot disprove that the Qur’an is the truth and the word of Allah (swt) cannot refute the evidences for the existence of the angels and cannot deny them.

  1. Awliyas are evidences for the existence of the angels with the witnessing of their discoveries and wonders.

Awliyas (Muslim saints) prove the truths of the religion, which the prophets brought, by seeing, feeling, discovering and enjoying those truths (ayn al-yaqin wa haqqal yaqin). Awliyas’ observing the angels is an evidence for the existence of the angels. It is a strong proof of this matter that the awliyas, having different ways and madhabs (schools of thought), far from each other by time and place, and proving their causes with discoveries and wonders, unanimously inform about the angels.

  1. Common people’s meeting and talking with the angels is an evidence for their existence

It is related both in the Qur’an and other Divine Books that the angels sometimes met people as well. There is unanimity among the Divine Books, in which the majority of the people in the world believe, that people met angels and talked to them in some exceptional cases. It is a proof of common people’s seeing the angels that some angels seemed as handsome young to the people of Lot Alaihissalam. (Hud, 11:77-83) Moreover, the polytheists’ seeing angels in the Battle of Badr and asking the companions of the Prophet (saw) who they were is also an evidence for their existence.

The story of Lot Alaihissalam is told in the 13th, 18th and 19th passages of the Genesis: “The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. ‘My lords,’ he said, ‘please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.’ ‘No,’ they answered, ‘we will spend the night in the square.’ ” (Genesis, 19:1-2) “But the men (angels) inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.” (Genesis, 19:10-11) There are similarities to the Qur’an’s expressions in these passages.

The dialogue between angels and humans is related in the Gospel as follows: “The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus.” (Matthew, 28:5) When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke, 2:15)

  1. That every religion has a belief in angels is an evidence for their existence

It is also an evidence for the existence of angels that the angel concept is somehow present in both divine religions and other beliefs. As it will be explained in detail under the title of “narrative evidences,” both the people of wisdom and the people of narration reached a consensus on the existence of the angels. How can there be a doubt about such a matter on which there is such a wide consensus? How can be such a truth that so many people believe deemed unlikely? Someone who denies the existence of the angels also denies all the divine religions and books, prophets, awliyas and any belief that accept the angels. Wouldn’t it be much sounder to doubt the sanity of that man who denies such strong evidence?

Considering the evidences mentioned till here, the truth came up is that the existence of the angels is sound by narration, and is right by reason. The reasonable evidences do not only consist of aforementioned proofs. These are just drops in the ocean.

Narrative Evidences for the Existence of the Angels

Without a doubt, the most important of the narrative evidences for proving the existence of the angels is the news that Heavenly Books gave. Angels are mentioned in all the Divine Books. Although there are some different beliefs about the attributes of the angels, their existence is unanimously accepted. Belief in angels exists in non-heavenly religions as well.

Angels in Judaism: All the sects of Judaism accept the angels. According to Judaist belief, the angels are pure spirits created out of fire in the second or the fifth day of the creation. In the rabbinic literature the angel is seen superior to the man; but it is stated that the virtuous people are much superior to the angels. Angels have limited will; they have divine knowledge, but do not know the future and the time of the doomsday. Based on the expression “the sons of God [angels] saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.” (Genesis, 6:2) a gender is attributed to the angels. Their wings and flight ability are mentioned to indicate their power and speed. The angels were created before the earth. (Job, 38:6-7) They dwell in the heavens. (Genesis, 28:12) They are invisible beings. When they descend to the earth for a duty, they are disguised as man and talk like man. (Genesis, 18:8)

The duties of the angels according to Judaism can be listed as follows: to help God, to worship God, to convey revelation and shariah (religious law), to protect humans and help them, to be intermediaries between God and humans.

Angels in Christianity: The belief in angels in Christianity has similarities to the belief in angels in Judaism. There is ‘good and evil’ angel expression in the New Testament. (Matthew, 25:41; Revelation, 12:7) It is stated that the good angels dwell in the heavens, are in the presence of God and praise Him; form His army, and descend to the earth. (Matthew, 18:10; Luke, 1:19) Angels have limited knowledge and will. (Matthew, 24:36; Mark, 13:31-32) They appear as human. They are categorized among themselves; created out of smoke and fire. Angels being frequently seen in certain shapes in the Bible caused an attribution of a body to them.

The duties of angels according to Christianity are to deliver the commands of God to people, to guard them and ask their salvation, and to be a means of punishment them when necessary.

Angels in Islam: Angels are described as luminous beings which cannot be perceived by the five senses and can assume various forms. Angels are mentioned both in the Qur’an (Baqarah, 2:85; Nisa, 4:136) and the Ahadith ,sayings of the Prophet (saw), which are at the degree of tawatur (Bukhari, ‘Iman,’ 37; Muslim, ‘Iman,’ 1), and counted among the fundamentals of faith. It is stated that they are created out of light (Musnad, V1, 168; Muslim, “Zuhd”, 60), already existed before Prophet Adam Alaihissalam, honoured with the addressing of Allah (swt) and talk to Him (Baqarah, 2:30–34; Hijr, 15:28–29), never eat or drink (Hud, 11:69–70; Dhariyat, 51:24–28), their faculties are sharp and strong (Najm, 53:5; Nisa, 4:136). Moreover, the argument of the polytheists that ‘the angels are the daughters of Allah’ is rejected. (Saffat, 37:149–150; Zukhruf, 43:19) To continuously exalt Allah (swt) like other creatures (Aʿraf, 7:206; Raʿd, 13:13, Anbiya, 21:20), to prostrate to Allah (swt) (Nahl, 16:49–50), to carry out His orders (Tahrim, 66:6), to confer blessing upon the Prophet (Ahzab, 33:56), and to ask forgiveness for those who have believed (Ghafir, 40:7-9) are listed among the duties of the angels. It is also stated that nobody knows their kinds and numbers except Allah (swt) (Muddaththir, 74:31).

Angels in other beliefs: The belief in angels (or invisible beings) exists in the beliefs such as Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, in the philosophy Neo Hellenism of Greek and Alexandria, and in the societies like Sumerians and Hittites.

Are the Angels more virtuous than the Humans?

According to Ahl al-Sunnah scholars, all the prophets are “afdal” (more virtuous) than the four grand angels which are regarded as the prophets of the angels. The prophets of the angels are more virtuous than all the other humans. There is consensus on this. The pious (sahib’ul-amal salih) and righteous (ahl-al’taqwa) people are regarded as more virtuous than all the other angels by their degrees. (Jurcani, Sharh al-Mawaqif, III, 216-220, Istanbul 1311;  Taftazani, Sharh al-Maqasid, II,146-149, Istanbul 1277)