In Islam, it is believed that Allah created three ‘beings’: man, angel, and jinn. They each have their similarities and their differences as both man and jinn are characterized as having free will whereas angels do not and must worship and serve Allah as the sole purpose for their existence (Thorne, 2003). The Holy Qur’an explicitly mentions and discusses all three creations of Allah, however different interpretations of the Qur’an lead to questions regarding jinns and angels – what they have in common and the attributes that sets them apart.


Islam describes angels as being created by Allah from light, solely to serve and worship him. Angels are referred to as Malaika in Arabic, meaning ‘messenger’ and are mentioned over eighty times in the Qur’an and also in the Hadith (Klein, 2005). They are not visible by the human eye, yet they surround us and are a spiritual substance that behaves as a mediator between Allah and the ‘human world’, so to speak. Faith in Islam comes hand-in-hand with the belief that angels exist, as it was the famous angel Gabriel (Jibrail) who approached Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) in the Cave of Hira in the Mountain of Light (Jabale-Noor) during 610CE – a historic, defining moment in Islam which is now referred to as the First Revelation.

“The Messenger believes in what was sent down to him from his Lord, and the believers: Each one believes in God, His angels, His Books, and His Messengers” (Quran II:285; cf. II:177, IV:136).

Furthermore, Archangel Gabriel played a vital role in the compilation of the Qur’an as he would relay messages from Allah to Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), who would then memorize it (Klein, 2005). This process took 23 years to reveal the entire Qur’an, and even today it is not unusual for Muslims to memorize the entire Qur’an as Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) once did – such a person is referred to as a Qur’an Hafize.

In the Hadith, Gabriel is explicitly described by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as he is reported to have said:

“I saw Jibraeel in the fashion that he was originally created in. He had 600 wings. Each wing filling the (entire) horizon. (The east to the west, as far as the eye could see).”

Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) strongly encouraged Muslims to greet one another with

“Al-salām ‘alay-kum”, an Arabic phrase meaning ‘peace be upon you’. Angels have a strong association with Heaven (Jannat) and

Depiction of the Angel of Death by Evelyn De Morgan

it is believed that upon entering Paradise, angels will greet you with this phrase (Thorne, 2003). Aside from Gabriel, there are other angels who play a vital role in Islam and the Archangels are: Azrail, Munkar, Nakir, Mikha’il, and Israfil.

Azrail is the Archangel of Death who is responsible for taking a person’s soul from their body once they decease. Interestingly, the Holy Qur’an only refers to this angel by the title Malak al-Maut (translates to Angel of Death). Munkar and Nakir question the dead in their graves, while the angel Mikha’il provides nourishment for bodies and souls and is oftenreferred toas the angel of mercy. Israfil is the angel responsible for indicating that Qiyamah (the Day of Judgement) is approaching by blowing his trumpet twice. The Qur’an describes how the first blow will destroy everything, and the second blow will bring all human beings back to life to face Allah and ultimately their fate.

“And when the trumpet shall sound one blast. And the earth with the mountains shall be lifted up and crushed with one crash. Then,

on that day, will the Event befall. And the heaven will split asunder, for that day it will be frail. And the angels will be on the sides thereof, and eight will uphold the Throne of thy Lord that day, above them” (Quran 69:13 – 69:17).

It is also believed there are two angels who are with us all the time, one on the left shoulder who records our bad deeds, and the other on the right who records our good deeds. In the Holy Qur’an they are referred to as Kiraman Katibin (Honourable Recorders):

“Lo! There are above you guardians, Generous and recording, Who know (all) that ye do.

Lo! the righteous verily will be in delight” (Quran 82:10 – 82:13).

“We verily created a man and We know what his soul whispereth to him, and We are nearer to him than his jugular vein. When the two Receivers receive (him), seated on the right hand and on the left. He uttereth no word but there is with him an observer ready” (Quran 50:16 – 50:18).

At the end of salaat, Muslims say a salutation to these angels by reciting “Salaam alaikum rahmatulla”. Jinns are another creation of Allah, which are not comprehendible by the human eye.


Jinns in Islam are defined as being a class of spirits, lower than angels who are capable of appearing in both human and animal forms, influencing humankind for either good or evil (Crone, 2009). Connotations around jinns often link them to evil or even Shaytan (the adversary), however not all jinns are bad. Jinns, much like humans, have free will and are able to commit sin, whereas angels do not have free will and are sinless –hence they are regarded as being the highest of all three creations. The similarity between angels and jinns is often compared to the similarity between humans and animals as an analogy.

In Islam, Shaytan was once Iblis, a jinn who was raised with the Angels of Allah. He was a powerful Jinn, and Allah was said to have loved him so much that He treated him like an Angel (Crone, 2009). However, Iblis broke Allah Almighty’s Commands and turned into Satan and was expelled with disgrace from the Group of the Angels and from Paradise. Iblis became Shaytan when he refused to bow down to Adam, and this event is discussed in the Qur’an:

Behold! We said to the Angels, ‘Bow down to Adam’: they bowed down except Iblis.  He was One of the Jinns, and he broke the Command of his Lord….( Quran, 18:50)

“It is We Who Created you and gave you shape; then We bade the Angels bow down to Adam, and they bowed down; not so Iblis; he refused to be of those who bow down.  (Allah) said: ‘What prevented thee from bowing down when I commanded thee?  He said: ‘I am better than he: Thou didst create me from fire, and him from clay.  (Allah) said: ‘Get thee down from this: it is not for thee to be arrogant here: get out, for thou art of the meanest (of creatures).  He said: ‘Give me respite till the day they are raised up.  (Allah) said: ‘Be thou amongst those who have respite.’  He said: ‘Because thou hast thrown me out of the Way, lo! I will lie in wait for them on thy Straight Way: Then will I assault them from before them and behind them, from their right and their left: Nor wilt Thou find, in most of them, gratitude (of Thy mercies).’  (Allah) said: ‘Get out from this, disgraced and expelled.  If any of them follow thee – Hell will I fill with you all.  (Quran, 11-18)”

This verse from the Qur’an tells of how Iblis disobeyed Allah in his arrogance towards mankind, specifically Adam, and challenged Allah that he would lead humans away from the straight path of Islam and worshipping Allah.

Upon analyzing Islamic literature, it may be argued that jinns are more similar to humans than they are to angels as both will end up in either heaven or hell and have the power to exercise free will. Jinns may be likened to angels by humans because they are both creatures which are unknown to us, as we are unable to see them. Additionally, jinns are created by fire while angels are created by light, and “light is fire and fire is light”, a saying which may add to the confusion (Crone, 2009). Angels are sinfulness servants of Allah, while jinns are able to commit sins and their fate will also be determined on the Day of Judgment. On the whole, both jinns and angels play an important role in Islam in the past and will continue to do so in the future.


Crone, P. (2009) The Religion of Qur’anic Pagans. Vol. 57, 2-3, pp. 151-200(50). Brill Online. University of Queensland. Retrieved 20 Oct 2010

Esposito, JL. (2005). Islam: The Straight Path. New York, USA: Oxford University Press.

Holt, P. M., & Ann K. S., (2005). Umayyads: The First Muslim Dynasty. Cambridge History of Islam http://www.princeton.edu/~bat/itl/denise/umayyads.htm

Klein, FA. (2005) The Religion of Islam. RoutledgeCurzon. Retrieved 20 Oct 2010

The Holy Quran (II:285; cf. II:177, IV:136; 69:13 – 69:17; 82:10 – 82:1; 50:16 – 50:18

18:50; 11-18)

The Hadith, Faza’il-E-A’Maal.

Thorne, M. (2003) Shi’a vs Sunnism. Journal for the Scientific Study of Islam P.381 – 399

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Karbala – The Battle that Shaped the Future of Islam

Yesterday, when the War Began

Most religions that exist today have undergone a historic, defining moment which has shaped the future of its teachings and beliefs. The Battle of Karbala may be exactly that for the religion of Islam (Esposito, 2005). This battle was amongst the most significant moments for the spreading, development and segregation of Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, taking place in the year 61 CE in Karbala – present day Iraq (Kermani, 2002).  These two categories of Islam have struggled to meet eye-to-eye (Bohol, 2008), as literature published by Shi’a or Sunni authors always seem to encapsulate a certain degree of bias towards their own faith. Additionally, the story of the Battle of Karbala is often published in a light that favours either Shi’a or Sunni Islam, resulting in Muslims believing that their belief is the correct one, when in fact neither may be right.  In this essay, I will discuss the division in Islam between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims, focusing on the Battle of Karbala. More specifically, I will be discussing the events leading up to, during, and after the battle of Karbala and its significance on the segregations in both historical and contemporary Islam.

The Beginning of a History-making Battle

Hussein ibn Ali was the grandson of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and also the third Imam of the Shi’ites. The events leading up to his death involved a strong army comprising of several thousand of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid (Thorne, 2003). At the time of the battle, the official segregation of the Muslims into Sunnis and Shi’ites had not yet taken place, but little did they know that the growing conflict between Hussein and Yazid, i.e. the Imam and the Caliph, was set to cement the division between the Muslims. Since then, the cement has not cracked – not even in the 21st century, as today a Muslim will still specify whether they are Shi’a or Sunni when stating their faith. The Umayyad army reportedly tracked down Hussein and his companions and blocked their access to the river. Shi’a literature reports that right before his decease Hussein was painfully thirsty (Thorne, 2003) which weakened his strength as he finally fought his way to the Euphrates in order to drink when Shimr roared “Don’t let him drink… if he drinks he will revive” (Bohol, 2008). Just as he was about to quench his undying, torturous thirst an arrow pierced through the roof of his mouth which was only the beginning of his unmerciful, agonizing death in 680AD. Another important aspect of Hussein’s death is that according to Holt (2005) he attempted to persuade his 72 remaining companions not to die a martyr but instead abandon him and flee, however they loyally refused to leave Hussein with the enemy. Before his own death, he reportedly exclaimed “if the religion of Mohammad was not going to live on except with me dead, let the swords tear me to pieces” (Aghaie, 2005). Thus, during the month of Muharram in the morning of the tenth day, they entered the battle of Karbala – a battle in which they would all perish, and be honoured today.

The Contemporary Honouring of Hussein

The Battle of Karbala has since been acknowledged, especially by Shi’a Muslims during an annual ten-day period held every Muharram, also known as ‘Day of Ashura’ and this day is considered to be so significant that in places such as Afghanistan and Iran it is declared a national public holiday as Shi’ites commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali. Muslims are also known to fast on this day and no other historical event is said to have moved the Shi’ites as deeply as this battle and even modern Shi’ites have been known to become violently passionate and weep at the very mention of the death of Hussein. Iranian cities are also known for having huge, ice-cold vessels during the summer and local people offer others water as a mark of respect for the thirst suffered by Hussein before his death. Hussein died at Karbala and his grave became a shrine (Cahen, 2010) where his followers would visit and even asked to be buried next to him.

Furthermore, the symbol of the Shi’ites worn as a ‘charm’ is the hand of Abulfazi, Hussein’s half-brother which was chopped off when he tried to offer his companion some water. Another more subtle mark of the Shi’a (especially Iranian) devotion to Hussein’s martyrdom is that when they sign off on letters they don’t conclude with ‘best wishes’ or ‘with love’ – instead they write ‘self sacrificingly yours’.

The way Muslims mourn the death of Hussein varies between ethnic groups. Sunni Muslims don’t act out as passionately as Shi’ites do on the tenth day of Muharram. However, within the Shi’ites, the intensity at which they commemorate Hussein does vary greatly. To an outsider looking in, another more controversial way in which Shi’ites (especially in Iran) are known to honour the martyrdom of Hussein is that they will beat their chest to a rhythmic, coordinated drumming sound and even in more extreme cases will hit themselves to such an extent that they begin to draw blood.

Recently in 2009, the Day of Ashura fell in December with the regular marches and demonstrations however there was a class between Shi’ites and Sunnis and also bombings in Iraq and Pakistan. A vast number of police officers were required to hold back the violence, leading to the controversial barring of Shi’ite Ashura activities in the Middle East. It is believed by some that after this recent disorder during the month of Muharram, the Sunni opposition, Shi’ites protectors and police all contradicted the sacredness of Ashura by their wrongful violent actions towards each other. Middle Eastern governments have a history of barring Shi’ite Ashura activities because of the immense passion displayed by the emotionally-charged Ashura crowds (Thorne, 2003) and their inclination to relate injustice in today’s world with Imam Hussein’s martyrdom and political injustice.

Sunni vs. Shi’a, Will it ever End?

Similar to Christianity, Muslims are divided into sects but unlike Christianity there are only two – Sunnis and Shias i.e. followers of Ali and the traditionalists. They are united by their common beliefs especially in Allah, the one and only God; however they are divided by certain details. Shi’as believe that Muhammed wanted Ali to be Caliph, but Sunnis believe they are mistaken about what happened since they stand by the statement ‘How could Muhammed, the last of all the prophets, have a divine successor?’

The battle of Karbala bears immense significance as it was the event that sealed the schism between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims. Even today, the segregation between these two sects of Islam still exists and the death of Prophet Muhammed’s (PBUH) martyred grandson and cousin results in Shi’as feeling immense passion and sadness. Literature published about the Battle of Karbala and the death of Hussein often contradict each other, as one source may claim that Hussein’s head was cut off and kicked around, while other sources report a somewhat less gruesome killing. Centuries after the death of Hussein, Sunni and Shi’as are still unable to meet eye to eye, even though it seems that the lines that separate these two sects of Islam are slightly faint. It leads one to wonder whether this is in fact a self fulfilling prophecy and maybe the only reason they have trouble getting along is because they are divided into two different categories and have been for centuries. Perhaps one day, Sunnis and Shi’as will accurately refine the story of the death of Hussein and when a Muslim tells someone their faith is in Islam, no extra detail will be required as Muslims will be recognised as one religion – not one religion, with two divisions.





Aghaie, K. S., (2004). The martyrs of Karbala: Shi’i symbols and rituals in modern Iran Journal of Law and Religion P. 46 – 67. Retrieved from http://books.google.com.au/books?id=tUhhurxISRcC&lpg=PP1&ots=eZRXDFwFP4&dq=The%20martyrs%20of%20Karbala%20%3A%20Shi’i%20symbols%20and%20rituals

Aghaie, K. S., (2005). The women of Karbala: ritual performance and symbolic discourses in modern Shiʻi Islam

Bohol, P (2008). Battle of Karbala. The Journal of Contemporary Religion P. 234 – 254

Cahen, Cl. “Ḳabāla.” (2010) Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill Online. University of Queensland. Retrieved from http://www.brillonline.nl.ezproxy.library.uq.edu.au/subscriber/entry?entry=islam_SIM-3736

Esposito, JL. (2005). Islam: The Straight Path. New York, USA: Oxford University Press.

Holt, P. M., & Ann K. S., (2005). Umayyads: The First Muslim Dynasty. Cambridge History of Islam http://www.princeton.edu/~bat/itl/denise/umayyads.htm

Kermani, N. (2002) Roots of Terror, Suicide and Martyrdom. Journal of Religion and Health

Sabir, R. (2002). Karbala: Chain of Events. World Policy Journal Retrieved from http://www.al-islam.org/short/karbala.htm

Thorne, M. (2003) Shi’a vs Sunnism. Journal for the Scientific Study of Islam P.381 – 399

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment