The characteristics of angels
As was explained before, angels are created from light. The ‘Arabic word’ for angel is ‘malak’. According to the root word from which it is derived, ‘malak’ means ‘messenger’, ‘deputy’, envoy’, ‘superintendent’ and ‘powerful one’. The root of the word also implies descent from a high place. Angels are beings who build relations between the macrocosmic world and the material one, and convey the commands of God, superintend or direct the acts and lives of beings and represent their worship in their own realms.
Having refined or subtle bodies of light, angels move very rapidly and permeate or penetrate all realms of existence. As they place themselves in our eyelids or in the bodies of other beings to observe the works of God through our or their eyes, they also descend into the hearts of the Prophets and saintly people and breathe inspirations into them. The inspirations occurring to the hearts of saintly people are usually from God but they may sometimes be from angels.
Some animals, like honeybees, for example, act under Divine inspiration, although science asserts that all animals are directed by impulses. Science is unable to explain what an impulse is and how it occurs. Scientists are studying to find out, for example, how migrating birds find their way; or how, for instance, young eels which hatch in the waters of Europe can find their way to their native waters in the Pacific Ocean. Even if we attribute this to the information coded into their DNAs, this information is assuredly from God, who knows everything and controls all the universe, and angels deputed for such creatures direct their lives. If it is a scientific attitude that we unquestionably accept the existence of some invisible forces like the law of growth in living creatures, then it will be more scientific to attribute those forces to God’s special servants, that is angels.
Each thing in existence, whether universal or particular, has a collective identity and performs a unique, universal function. As each flower displays a superlative design and symmetry and recites, in the tongue of its being, the Names of the Creator manifested on it, so the whole earth performs a universal duty of glorification as though it was a single flower. Likewise, the vast ‘ocean’ of the heavens gives praise to and glorifies the Majestic Maker of the universe through its suns, moons and stars. Even inert material bodies perform a vital function in praising God although they are outwardly inanimate and unconscious. Angels are the representatives of such bodies in the world of the inner dimensions of things, and express praises on behalf of them, and these bodies are, in turn, the representatives, dwellings, and mosques of the angels in the material world.
The Majestic Maker of this huge ‘palace’ of creation employs four kinds of labourers of which the first are the angels and other spirit beings. Second, there are inanimate things and vegetable creation, which are quite important servants of God working without wages. Thirdly, animals serve unconsciously in return for a small wage which is their food and pleasures, while, finally, mankind work in awareness of the purposes of the Majestic Creator. They take a lesson from everything and supervise the other servants below their rank in return for wages, which are paid in the form of a reward here and in the Hereafter.
Constituting the foremost category of these servants, the angels resemble mankind in that they know the purposes of the Creator and act in conformity with those purposes. They differ from man by working solely for God’s good pleasure, asking no reward other than the spiritual pleasure and happiness of nearness to their Creator. Their worship varies according to their different natures and the variety of their functions as the representatives of most species, and the services they perform and praises they sing differ from each other, as to the duties carried out by the different departments of a government. Michael, for example, superintends the growth of all kinds of corn and provision upon the earth by God’s leave and power, and, if one my say so, he is the head of all the angels that resemble farmers. There is another great angel who leads by God’s leave, command and power the ‘incorporeal shepherds-angels - of all the animals.
Since there is an angel to represent every kind of creature in existence and present their service and worship to the Divine Court, the description given by the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, of the angels are entirely reasonable and true: There are angels with forty thousand heads, each with forty thousand mouths, and forty thousand praises sung by forty thousand tongues in each mouth. This Prophetic tradition means that the angels serve universal purposes, and some natural creatures worship God with forty thousand heads in forty thousand ways. The firmament, for example, praises the Majestic creator through the suns and stars, whilst the earth, although a single body, worships with many thousands of ‘heads’, each with many thousands of ‘mouths’, each with many thousands of ‘tongues’. Thus, the angel who represents the earth in the world of the inner dimensions of things or in the world of immaterial bodies is to be regarded as referred to by this tradition.
The relevant verses of the Qur’an such as those to follow are an observatory from which we may look at angels:
By the loosed ones successively, storming tempestously, by the scatterers scattering, and the severally severing and those hurling a reminder, excusing or warning (77.1-6)
By those that plug out violently; and those that draw out gently; by those that float serenely, and those that outstrip suddenly; by those that direct an affair (79.1-5).
…in (the Night of Power) the angels and the spirit descend, by the leave of their Lord, upon every command (97.4).
…a Fire whose fuel is men and stones, and over which are harsh, terrible angels who disobey not God in what He commands them and do what they are commanded (66.6). Glory be to Him! Nay, hut they are honoured servants that outstrip Him not in speech, and perform as He commands (21. 26-27).
Angels do whatever God commands them; they never commit sins and show disobedience, and since they have no evil-commanding souls to resist obedience to God, they have fixed stations, they are not promoted to higher ranks, nor reduced to lower ones. They are also free of negative moral qualities like envy, rancour and enmity and from lusts and animal appetites which are to be found in mankind and jinn.
Angels have no sexes; they do not eat and drink, nor do they feel hunger, thirst and tiredness. Although they have no wages in return for their worship, they derive special pleasure in carrying out God’s commands and feel delight in being near to Him. They are not promoted but they receive some sort of spiritual pleasure from their worship. Praise, worship. recitation of God’s Names and glorification are their nourishment; they are also nourished with light and sweet fragrance.
Since angels do not have evil-commanding souls to struggle with, they are not promoted to higher ranks, but human beings are bound by creation to fight with their evil- commanding selves and Satan. While angels appointed to invite them to true guidance, always inspire in them belief, good conduct and virtues and call them to resist the temptations of Satan and their evil-commanding selves, Satan and their evil-commanding selves try to seduce them. It can be said that the life of a man is the history of his continuous struggle to make choices between the inspirations of angels through his spirit and the temptations of his evil-commanding self and Satan. That is why a human being can be elevated to the highest of the high or reduced to the lowest of the low. Also, that is why the elect of mankind- the Prophets and greatest saints - are higher in rank than the greatest of angels and ordinary believers than the commonalty of angels. Also, although angels are more advanced than human beings in knowledge of God and His Names and attributes, human beings by virtue of having developed senses and abilities like meditation and the complexity of their nature, excel angels in being more comprehensive mirrors to God’s Names and attributes.
As was pointed out, angels are of different kinds. Besides those deputed to represent and supervise species of creation on the earth and present to God their worship, there are four Archangels, and the angels carrying God’s Throne -we do not know what the Qur’an means by God’s Throne and how it is carried. There are also the groups of angels named Mala-i Ala (the Highest Council), Nadiyy-i Ala (the Highest Assembly) and Rafiq-i Aid (the Highest Company). There are angels appointed to Paradise and Hell. The angels who record men’s deeds are called Kiramun Katibin (the Noble Recorders), and as stated in a hadith, there are 360 angels responsible for the life of each believer. They guard him, especially during his infancy and old age, and pray for him and ask God for his forgiveness. There are also angels who come to the aid of believers at war, attend the assemblies of praise and glorification of God and the meetings held to make studies for God’s sake and for the benefit of people.
Angels, particularly the angels of mercy, do not enter the houses where there are statues and dogs are fed, and refrain from close contact with those who are ritually unclean and women having periods. They also keep aloof from those who have bad breath because of what they have had like onions and garlic or because of smoking. Angels also do not visit those who break off relations with their parents and relatives.
God Almighty is powerful over everything; even though He is able to guard everyone by Himself, He may appoint angels to guard His servants. In order to deserve the guardianship and company of angels, one should use his free will in making good choices and build up a close relation with God Almighty. One must have strong belief in God and other pillars of faith and never give up worshipping and praying to Him regularly. One must lead a disciplined life and refrain from forbidden things or sinful acts.
Angels came to the aid of the believers at the Battles of Badr and Uhud, and also at the conquest of Makka. They help the believers who struggle in the way of God sincerely, whenever they need and wherever they are.
Belief in angels has many benefits for man. It provides man with some sorth of peace and removes his loneliness. The inspiration breathed by angels exhilarates him, enlightens him intellectually and opens for him new horizons in knowledge and thinking. Awareness of the continuous company of angels holds man back from committing sins and improper behaviour.
The word jinn literally means something hidden or veiled from sight. As mentioned earlier, jinn are the species or kinds of beings that cannot be seen with the naked eye, nor we can see them with telescopes or microscopes. In the Qur’an, there is a short chapter called jinn, which tells us that a band of jinn listened to the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, and some of them believed in his message and some did not. From this we understand that like mankind, jinn are also conscious beings charged with Divine obligations. Recent discoveries in biology made it clear that God created beings particular to each realm in the universe. Jinn might have been created while the earth was a body of some sort of fire. They preceded mankind in creation and were responsible for cultivating and improving the world. Although God later superseded them with mankind for ruling the world, He did not exempt the jinn from religious obligations.
As we mentioned before, the Qur’an states that jinn are created from smokeless fire. In another verse, it clarifies that the fire from which jinn are created is scorching and penetrating as deep as the inner part of the body (15. 27). We are not certain whether the Qur’an means energy or something like X-rays by smokeless, penetrating and scorching fire.
Like angels, jinn move extremely fast; they are not bound by the constraints of time and space within which we normally move. However, since the spirit is more active and faster than jinn, a man who lives at the level of the spirit’s life, who can go beyond the limits of matter and the confines of time and space within which normal people live, can excel jinn in speed and activity. For example, as we read in the Qur’an when the Prophet Solomon asked those around him who could bring the throne of the Queen of the Yemen, a member of jinn answered that he could bring it before he finished the meeting and stood up from his seat. However, a man who had special knowledge from God replied; ‘I can bring it to you in a time shorter than the twinkling of an eye,’ and he did so.
Nothing is difficult for God Almighty; it is equally easy for Him to create the whole of the universe and a tiny particle. He has provided men, jinn and angels with power and strength appropriate for the function or duties of each. As He uses angels in the supervision of the movements of celestial bodies, He has allowed man to rule on the earth, dominate over matter and build civilizations and produce technology.
Power and strength are not limited to the physical world, nor are they proportional to bodily size. We observe that immaterial things are much more powerful than huge physical bodies. For example, memory is much more spacious and comprehensive than a large room. We can touch with our hands a very near object, but our eyes can travel long distances in an instant while our imagination can go beyond time and space all at once. Winds can pull out trees and demolish huge buildings. A young, thin shoot of a plant can split rocks and appear in sun-light. The power of energy, whose existence we can know through the effect it produces, is known to everybody. All this shows that the power of something is not proportional to its physical structure, rather the immaterial world is dominant over the physical world, and immaterial entities are much more powerful than material ones.