Khutba: Iman in Angels
Friday 2nd July 1999
"The Messenger has iman in what has been sent down to him from his Lord, and so do the muminun. Each one has iman in Allah and His angels and His Books and His Messengers." (2:284 )
"Praise be to Allah, the Bringer into Being of the heavens and earth, He who made the angels messengers, with wings two, three or four. He adds to creation in any way He wills. Allah has power over all things". (35:1)
In the last two weeks we have seen something of what it means to have iman in Allah and His Messengers so this week we will continue by looking into another of the pillars of iman: iman in the angels. I am sure that all of us can rattle off the pillars of iman and we may feel that by doing so, by stating our belief in all the things concerned, we have confirmed our iman. But the place of iman is not on the tongue, or even in the head; it is in the heart. This means that our belief cannot be superficial or even intellectual; it must penetrate to the very core of our being. Our ancestors had no trouble at all in believing in angels. The basis of their education and world view was Allah's Book in which the existence of the angels is a given - they are directly mentioned in it more than ninety times - and the hadiths of the Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, which are likewise full of references to angels as a natural part of existence. Our forebears lived at the centre of the universe with the sun and moon and stars revolving around them, above which were the celestial spheres of angelic activity all encompassed by the Throne of Allah, whose unseen Hand moved and directed the whole affair. This was genuinely their actual view of the world they lived in.
This is not the case with us. We live on an insignificant mineral mass, a mere part of a minor planetary system, one of countless others lost in the unimaginable vastness of limitless space in which there is no sign of, or indeed room for, angels or spiritual beings of any kind. It does not matter whether we are Muslims or not, this is the world view which has been drummed into all of us from the time we were born. The fact is that the pervasive nature of the scientific world view has had a profound and far reaching effect on human consciousness. The result has been devastating for the whole human race. It is as if an impenetrable barrier has been erected between the spiritual and material worlds. As the scientific world view has inexorably imposed itself on and pervaded human consciousness, human beings have become, in real terms, cut off from a true view of existence as it really is.
This means that we can no longer take our iman in the angels for granted. It is something we have to reflect on, to get to grips with, to work on, if we are really going to take it to heart as we must if our iman is to be sound and we want to arrive safely to the Next World. Firstly we must completely revise our understanding of the way existence functions, of the way creation unfolds, the way the world we live in comes into being. It is clearly beyond the scope of this occasion to give an account of the whole creational process and this is in no way intended to be that but it is necessary to have the basic picture. Simply put there are three domains of existence known in arabic as Mulk, Malakut, and Jabarut.
The last of these, Jabarut, is the domain of undifferentiated Divine Power, that indivisible Oneness which is at once the Fountainhead and Sustainer of all being and yet totally independent of it. The first of them, Mulk, is the domain of this world, the so-called material universe into which we emerge at birth and where we remain until we die, the space\time world of the seemingly solid objects of our day to day experience. The third term, Malakut, is the bridge between the two. It is the domain of Allah's Throne; the domain of the Mighty Pen and the Guarded Tablet whereby and on which all created things are written down; the domain of the Day of Judgement and all that happens on it; the domain of the Delights of Paradise and the Terrors of Hellfire; and, of course, the domain of the angels where they live and move and have their being.
All of this and everything that happens in existence takes place continually and instantly by the direct command of Allah. The angels are the means whereby the commands of Allah are carried out and this is where the overall function of the angelic forces in existence lies. An example that is sometimes used to help explain the angelic role in the creation as a whole is the way the body works. Think what happens when you decide to stand up. First of all an act of will is necessary, a decision to move, a central command. And then automatically as if by magic literally hundreds of coordinated separate movements and adjustments and readjustments occur spontaneously and you find yourself on your feet. The body moves as a harmonious whole but the process by which this takes place requires the transmission of hundreds of discrete electrical impulses conveying the instruction to stand up to every one of the different limbs, muscles and faculties concerned, simultaneously, unresistingly obedient to the command to move. As these electrical impulses are to the body, so are the angels to existence as a whole.
The classical definition of the angels is that they are winged creatures created out of light, being neither male nor female, needing no external sustenance, and totally submissive to the will of Allah. I would add at this point as a kind of caution that the angels belong outside the space\time continuum of our ordinary experience and perception and are therefore, properly speaking beyond the scope of normal language to describe. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, once said that such things are: "What the eye has not seen and the ear has not heard and the heart of man cannot conceive." But the fact is that we have no other access to knowing about them except through human language, and Allah in the Qur'an and the Prophet in his own statements use human language to tell us about realities which exist beyond space\time in the way that best indicates what they truly are.
We must, however, be careful on two counts. We must not imprison the descriptions within our own experience of material existence by taking them too literally but at the same time we must be careful not to etherialise them completely and so remove them from the realm of real things and make them abstract ideas within no reality whatsoever. We should realise that, when we meet them, the things involved will be unmistakably recognisable from the description we were given. It is a little like reading a map. You have a clear idea about what you will find when you arrive where you are going but the reality is, of course, totally different from the lines and symbols on the map. What we can be absolutely certain of is that the angels are intensely beautiful or terrible winged creatures made out of pure light.
This general understanding of the nature and role of the angels is greatly amplified by the Qur'an and the words of the Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, so that we end up with a clear picture of the angelic world. It is not a complete and exhaustive description of the angelic realm. There are undoubtedly hierarchies upon hierarchies of innumerable angelic beings in existence whose splendour and magnificence are truly only known to Him who brought them into being. But one of the great blessings of Islam as man's final guidance is that we are only told of things on a need to know basis. We have been given neither more nor less than all the knowledge we need to allow us to successfully navigate the shoals and turbulences of the dunya and ensure our safe arrival in the akhira. The basic guidance of the Qur'an and Sunna contains all that is necessary to know for all human beings until the end of time and so we have to delve deeply into it and plumb the depths of our own hearts to find out all we need to know about the angels and how they affect our lives.
"Anyone who is the enemy of Allah and of His angels, and of His Messengers and of Jibril and Mika'il, should know that Allah is the enemy of the kafirun." (2:97)
So far we have looked in a general way at the role of the angels in the scheme of things. We should now look briefly at the way they manifest themselves in more individual and specific ways. First and foremost in the angelic domain are the four great angels who bestride the world of the angels: Jibril, Mika'il, Azra'il, and Israfil.
Of all the individual angels we know more about Jibril than any other. Jibril is the angel of revelation. In a general sense this means that he is charged by Allah with informing mankind about the Divine Reality. Were it not for Jibril the human race would know nothing about Allah or His Laws or the purpose of human existence on the earth. He is the means to all knowledge and awareness of Allah. Specifically, this meant, of course, that Jibril had an intimate connection with the Prophet during his life. He transmitted to him the words of Allah in the form of the Qur'an over a period of more than twenty years and also acted as teacher and guide for the Prophet on many other occasions throughout his life.
Mika'il is over all natural processes. He is the angel of creation. He is, as it were, the translator of Allah's creational commands making sure that they are completely and perfectly carried out. This means, of course, that there is an angelic component, angelic participation, in everything that happens. The Prophet, peace be upon him, made this clear in several specific statements. Every drop of rain that falls has an angel accompanying it. Every blade of grass; every budding leaf; every opening bloom; every flourishing tree. Every beast that crawls and bird that flies. There is nothing in existence which is not in reality imbued with angelic presence indicating and declaring its Divine origin.
Azrail is the Angel of Death. At the appointed predetermined time he will visit every single one of us and draw our spirits out from our bodies. If we have affirmed Allah's Unity in our lives and followed His Messengers our spirits will slip from our bodies with no difficulty. But if we have rejected Allah and His guidance, then the spirit's emergence from the body is compared to a rusty nail being drawn with great difficulty out of a skein of tangled wool. May Allah protect us all from such an end.
Finally there is Israfil, the Trumpet-blower, the Angel of Annihilation. To him falls the task, when Allah's command is finally given, of causing the total annihilation of all existence so that the Face of Allah alone remains and then of calling it back again for the Final Account. There will be three blasts sounded by Israfil. The first will be a blast of terror announcing the arrival of the Last Day; the second blast will wipe out everything that exists; and the third will call back every human being to face their reckoning. The Messenger of Allah, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "How can I give myself to enjoyment when the one with the Trumpet has raised the Trumpet to his mouth and knitted his brow and is poised to blow?"
Along with these four great beings are others of similar magnitude and magnificence. There are the bearers of the Throne of Allah. There are eight of them and they are so huge that the distance between the neck and shoulder of one of them is described as being as far as the fastest horse could travel in seven hundred years. Near these are the Karubiyyun, angels near to Allah whose sole function is to bask in His presence unceasingly glorifying and praising Him. There is Ridwan, chief of the beautiful angels who are the custodians of the Gardens of Paradise and his counterpart Malik, chief of the terrible angels who are the custodians of Hellfire and Munkar and Nakir who question us in the grave.
The angels we have been talking about up to now have all been cosmic beings of universal dimensions but there are also angels of a much more intimate personal kind. All of us have guardian angels who are with us continually. Their task is to protect us from harm and, whenever possible, to guide us to the good. This protection can vary from simple reminders, such as suddenly remembering we have forgotten something and many other similar things, which all of us experience on a daily basis, to more spectacular occurrences, such as when we narrowly miss being killed or escape unscathed from serious accidents, which happen to almost everyone at some time in their lives. Each of us also has recording angels who quite literally keep a record of every moment of our lives. This is the Book we will be presented with on the Day of Resurrection which constitutes the indisputable evidence on which our Reckoning will be based. Thus our ultimate fate in the Next World is made up of the texture of our lives in this world; we are either condemning or exonerating ourselves minute by minute every day of our lives.
There are many other ways in which the angels can and do directly impinge on human existence. One is by taking on human form. This dimension of existence simply would not be able to withstand the brightness of the angelic light so when Allah wishes angels to appear in this world they appear in human form. For instance the Qur'an mentions the angels who visited Ibrahim and Maryam. There were many occasions in the Prophet's life when Jibril appeared to him in human form. There are also many recorded instances when people have been helped by the sudden appearance of a person who has subsequently disappeared without trace.
Another way in which angels have a direct effect on human affairs is when angelic energy makes itself felt in this world. This can take various forms. It is known from the Qur'an, for instance, that the Muslims were helped militarily by receiving angelic support during several battles during the life of the Prophet. This appeared as lending an overwhelming violent force to the Muslims' efforts and as panic and terror in the hearts of their enemies. Examples of this particular kind of angelic reinforcement are very numerous. One such occurrence I was told about at first hand happened during the fighting in Afghanistan between the Russians and the Mujahidin.
A comparatively weakly held Mujahidin position (about twenty men with machine guns and a couple of mortars) was being attacked by a Russian tank platoon of greatly superior strength. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, all the tanks halted and their occupants got out and started running away as fast as they could in the opposite direction leaving the perfectly operational tanks they had been driving in Mujahidin hands. One of the Russians was captured and questioned about what had happened. He said that suddenly all of them had been simultaneously paralysed by a blind panic and could think of nothing but getting away as soon as possible.
There is another form of angelic energy people experience which is the direct opposite of the previous one. That is the feeling of tranquillity that sometimes comes over the heart of the believer in the middle of the most tumultuous and stressful situations. This is called in arabic, sakina, which may be translated as serenity. An angelic presence can also often be clearly felt at some places of worship. For instance people visiting this mosque frequently speak of the extraordinary feeling of peace they experience. In all of these and many other ways the angelic world intersects with ours continually.
This has been a necessarily very brief glimpse at the angels and their interaction with our world and what is absolutely clear from it is that we cannot afford to take the false, so-called scientific position which is the literally soul-destroying viewpoint of modern man. The world is vibrant with the energy of ceaseless angelic activity. Knowing this is dangerous. It means we have to change. It means we can no longer afford to be passive consumers in a society dedicated the destruction of people's spiritual well-being. We have to act on our knowledge and become true inheritors of the mantle of divine guidance which has been passed down to us. We have to re-implement Allah's deen in its entirety. If we do not strive for this we will poison and destroy our own hearts. If we do, we will truly live and die in the company of the angels, realising in both the worlds the splendour of what it is to be a human being.
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