Angels are created from what the Qur’an calls nur.3 We cannot exactly know whether nur is light or something like light. The Qur’anic word for angel is malak. According to its root form, malak means “messenger,” “deputy,” “envoy,” “superintendent,” and “powerful one.” The root meaning also implies descent from a high place. Angels are beings who build relations between the meta-cosmic world and the material one, convey God’s commands, direct the acts and lives of beings (with God’s permission), and conduct their worship in their own realms.
Having refined or subtle bodies of nur, angels move very rapidly and permeate or penetrate all realms of existence. They place themselves in our eyelids or in the bodies of other beings to observe God’s works through our or their eyes. They also descend into the hearts of Prophets and other beloved servants of God to bring them inspiration.
Some animals, like honeybees, act according to Divine inspiration, although science asserts that all animals are directed by instincts. But science cannot explain what an instinct is and how it occurs. Scientists are trying to discover how migrating birds find their way, and how young eels hatched in the rivers of Europe find their way to the ocean, which is their native water. Even if we attribute this to information coded in their DNA, this information is assuredly from God, Who knows everything, controls the universe, and assigns angels to direct the lives of such creatures.
Everything that exists, either as an individual or as a species, has a collective identity and performs a unique, universal function. Each flower displays a superlative design and symmetry and recites, in the tongue of its being, the Names of the Creator manifested on it; the entire earth performs a universal duty of glorification as though it were a single flower; and the heavens praise and glorify the Majestic Maker of the universe through their suns, moons, and stars. Even inert material bodies, although outwardly inanimate and unconscious, perform a vital function in praising God. Angels represent these immaterial bodies in the world of the inner dimensions of things, and express their praise. In return, these immaterial bodies are the angels’ dwellings and “mosques” in this world.
There are various classes of angels. One class is engaged in constant worship; another worships by working also. These working angels have functions that resemble human occupations, like shepherds or farmers. In other words, the earth’s surface is like a general farm, and an appointed angel oversees all of its animal species by the command of the All-Majestic Creator, by His permission and Power, and for His sake.
The earth’s surface is also an arable field where all plants are sown. Another angel is appointed to oversee all of them in the name of Almighty God and by His Power. Lower ranking angels worship and glorify Almighty God by supervising particular plant species. Archangel Michael, upon him be peace, is the head of all these angels.
Angels who function as shepherds or farmers bear no resemblance to human shepherds or farmers, for their supervision is purely for God’s sake, in His name, and by His Power and command. They observe the manifestations of God’s Lordship in the species they are assigned to supervise, study the manifestations of Divine Power and Mercy in it, communicate Divine commands to it through some sort of inspiration, and somehow arrange its voluntary actions.
Their supervision of plants, in particular, consists of representing in the angelic tongue the plants’ glorification in the tongue of their being. In other words, they proclaim in the angelic tongue the praises and exaltations that all plants offer to the Majestic Creator through their lives. These angels also regulate and employ the plants’ faculties correctly and direct them toward certain ends. Angels perform such services through their partial willpower and a kind of worship and adoration. They do not originate or create their acts, for everything bears a seal particular to the Creator of all things, meaning that only God creates. In short, whatever angels do is worship, and it is therefore not like the ordinary acts of human beings.
The Majestic Maker of this huge palace of creation employs four kinds or classes of laborers: angels and other spirit beings; inanimate things and vegetable creations, which are quite important servants of God working without wages; animals, which serve unconsciously in return for a small wage of food and pleasure; and humanity, which works in awareness of the Majestic Creator’s purposes. Men and women learn from everything, and supervise lower- ranking servants in return for wages in the form of rewards here and in the Hereafter.
The first class consists of angels. These beings are never promoted for what they do, for each has a fixed, determined rank and receives a particular pleasure from the work itself, as well as a radiance from worship. That is, their reward is found in their service. Just as we are nourished by and derive pleasure from air and water, as well as light and food, angels are nourished by and receive pleasure from the “lights” of remembrance and glorification, worship and knowledge, and love of God. Since they are created of nur, nur sustains them. Even fragrant scents, which are close to nur, are a sort of enjoyable nourishment for them. Indeed, pure spirits take pleasure in sweet scents.
From their jobs performed at the command of the One Whom they worship, their actions for His sake, their service rendered in His name, their supervision through His View, their honor gained through connection with Him, their “refreshment” found in studying His Kingdom’s material and immaterial dimensions, and their satisfaction in observing His Grace and Majesty’s manifestations, 56 An Introduction to Islamic Faith and Thought angels receive such elevated bliss that we cannot even begin to comprehend it. In addition, only they can perceive this bliss.
Angels do not sin or disobey, for they do not have an evil-commanding soul that must be resisted. They have fixed stations, and so are neither promoted nor abased. They are also free of such negative qualities as envy, rancor, and enmity, and from all lusts and animal appetites found in human beings and jinn. They have no gender, do not eat or drink, and do not feel hunger, thirst, or tiredness. Praise, worship, recitation of God’s Names, and glorification of Him are their nourishment, as are light and sweet fragrances.
Besides those deputed to represent and supervise various species on the earth and present their worship to God, there are four Archangels and other angels having special nearness to God. There are other groups of angels known as Mala’-i A‘la (the Highest Council), Nadiy-i A‘la (the Highest Assembly), and Rafiq-i A‘la (the Highest Company), as well as angels appointed to Paradise and Hell. Angels who record a person’s deeds are called Kiramun Katibun (the Noble Recorders), and 360 angels are responsible for each believer’s life. They guard their charges, especially during infancy and old age, pray for them, and ask God to forgive them. Other angels help believers during times of war, attend assemblies that praise and glorify God, as well as study meetings held for God’s sake and to benefit people.
God Almighty is powerful over everything. Even though He can guard everyone by Himself, He may appoint angels to guard His servants. To earn such a guardianship and the company of angels, one has to willingly do what is good and establish a close relation with God Almighty. One must have strong belief in God and all other pillars of faith, never abandon regular worship and prayer, lead a disciplined life, and refrain from forbidden things or sinful acts.
Belief in angels has many benefits. For example, it provides us with some sort of peace and removes our loneliness. The inspiration breathed by angels exhilarates us, enlightens us intellectually, and opens new horizons of knowledge and thought. Awareness of the continuous company of angels also helps us abstain from sin and improper behavior.4
Ünal, Ali. Living in the Shade of Islam. Somerset, NJ: Tughra, 2009.
- September 19, 2013
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