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.
SHEDDING SOME LIGHT ON ANGELS
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
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.
FIRE IS LIGHT, AND LIGHT IS FIRE
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
The Hadith, Faza’il-E-A’Maal.
Thorne, M. (2003) Shi’a vs Sunnism. Journal for the Scientific Study of Islam P.381 – 399