Submission, Faith, and Beauty – 1.4

God sends down the nourishment that He has measured out for all things by means of luminous beings called angels. Although the modern consciousness thinks little of angels, for the traditional Islamic consciousness, they are an ever-present reality. The Qur’an repeatedly mentions them, and as one deepens in faith, one becomes increasingly aware of the role played by angels in every facet of our lives. What follows is a description of but a few other functions performed by angels. It begins with the highest order of angels, those who report directly to God -what the Christian tradition refers to as archangels. As previously mentioned, Gabriel عليه السلام is the angel of Revelation. The Angel Michael عليه السلام provides nourishment for all bodies and souls. Seraphiel عليه السلام will blow the trumpet twice to mark the End of Time, when all of creation will be brought before God. Azrael عليه السلام is said to be the angel of death. In addition, there are archangels who are said to carry the throne of God and others who are described as having no function other than contemplating and praising God.

Below the archangels are the angels who perform specific functions in the world. There are angels who attend to each and every existent thing, maintaining the measuring out as God has willed it. The attendant angels bring down blessings and report to God the news of His creatures. The guardian angels are always with human beings -one write down our good deeds and another records our evil deeds. Their presence obliges us to greet a fellow Muslim in the second person plural rather than the singular, so that the blessing of “Peace be upon you” is extended to that person’s guardian angels as well. Furthermore, in our prayers we must direct our greetings of peace to both our right and left sides in order to recognize our own guardian angels. When we die, Nakir عليه السلام and Munkar عليه السلام are two angels who will question us regarding God, the prophets, and the scriptures. All in all, every phase of life from birth to death is defined by our interaction with God’s angels.

Although most of the tasks angels perform differ from those of humans, there are two important functions we share: bearing witness to God’s oneness and wishing blessings upon the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم. Regarding the first, God says,

God bears witness that there is no deity but He,
as do the angels and those possessed of knowledge,
abiding in justice.
(3 : 18)

Regarding the latter, God states,

Verily God and His angels invoke blessings upon the Prophet.
O you who believe, invoke blessings upon him
and extend him greetings of peace.
(33 : 53)

Both verses address human beings, but only “those possessed of knowledge” and “who believe” participate in these activities regularly. These are the human beings who are closer to the angelic reality and to their own true nature. To bear witness that God is one and invoke blessings upon the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم is to move further from the darkness of our bodily nature and closer to the luminosity of our angelic nature, and closer to God. As the Qur’an states,

God is the light of the heavens and the earth. (24 : 35)

He is the one who makes clear signs descend upon His servant
to remove you from the darkness into the light
. (57 : 9)

He is the one who invokes blessings upon you, with His angels,
to remove you from the darkness to the light.
(33 : 43)

Nothing descends but that an angel descends with it. In addition, angels also invoke blessings upon us. Through these two activities, angels play a vital role in bringing humans from the darkness of ignorance and heedlessness to the light of knowledge and faith. Without them we would be lost.

Whereas traditional Christianity recognizes only Jesus عليه السلام as the guide and savior of mankind, Islam, like Judaism, recognizes a panorama of prophets through whom God guides mankind. The cycle of prophecy began with Adam عليه السلام and ended with the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم, who was declared to be “the seal of prophets” (khatam al-nabiyin). The station of prophecy is not something humans can work towards; instead, God bestowed it upon them before the beginning of time itself. As the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “I was a prophet when Adam was between water and clay.”[1] Prophets were then sent to mankind at different points in human history to reestablish the relationship between the divine and the human. As previously stated, God’s messenger have been sent to all human collectivities:

We have sent to every people a messenger,
that they may worship God.
(16 : 32)

And for every people there is a messenger. (10 : 48)

Each messenger came to teach the oneness of God and submission to the divine will. The forms of submission -the rites, rituals, and laws- differ, but the message of God’s oneness never alters:

And We never sent a messenger before you
save that We revealed to him, saying,
“There is no deity but I, so worship Me
.” (21 : 25)

Given the difference in religious forms, some prophets are distinguished:

And those messengers; some We have distinguished over others.
Among them was he 
[Moses] to whom God spoke,
and He raised some in degrees.
And We gave Jesus son of Mary the clear explications,
and We confirmed him with the Holy Spirit
. (2 : 253)

But at the same time, God says,

We do not differentiate between any of His messengers. (2 : 285)

God commands Muslims to have faith in all of them:

Say, we have faith in God,
and in what has been sent down
to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes,
and that which was given to Moses
and Jesus and the prophets by their Lord.
We make no distinction between any of them,
and to Him have we submitted.
(2 : 136)

While one prophet may be distinguished with more beauty and another with more eloquence, no prophet is distinguished from any other in the essence of prophetic nature itself. The Qur’an unambiguously states, “We make no  distinction between any of the Messengers” (2 : 285), and again, “But those who believe in God and God’s messengers, and do not make a distinction between any of them, they will be given their reward. And God is most forgiving, most merciful” (4 : 152). The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم also said, “Do not prefer me over Jonah.” The religion of God is submission, and therefore no prophetic dispensation is superior to another, as each originally taught the same essential truths. The excellence of any specific dispensation over another is based upon the degree to which its adherents remain true to the teachings of God as delivered by the respective prophet. And although the prophetic stories of the Qur’an are limited to the Jewish, Christian, and a few ancient Semitic prophets, revelation through emissaries has been a  universal phenomenon. The Qur’an states, “For We sent you with truth, as a herald and a warner. And there was never a people among whom a warner [prophet] never passed” (35 : 24). God further says in the Qur’an:

Verily We have revealed to you
as We revealed to Noah and the prophets after him.
And We revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac
and the tribes and Jesus, Job, Jonas, Aaron, and Solomon,
and We gave David the Psalms;
and messengers regarding whom We have informed you
and messengers regarding whom We have not informed you.
(4 : 163)

Only twenty-four messengers are mentioned by name in the Qur’an, but a hadith tells us that there have been either 313 or 315 messengers throughout human history, far more than those that God mentions in the Qur’an. Although most Muslim scholars maintain a narrow and exclusivist view or revelation, some have read this hadith as a possible reference to the messengers of non-Abrahamic traditions. It should be noted that there is an important distinction between messengers and prophets. Messengers are those who are commanded to propagate their revelation, whereas prophets receive revelation without propagating it. A messenger thereby fulfills all the functions of a prophet, but a prophet does not perform the same functions as a messenger. The prophets are far more numerous, totaling 124,000 according to one hadith.

Just as communities speak different languages and face different trials, the messages sent to them differ in language and in the laws they ordain. Regarding language, God says,

We have sent no messenger save with the tongue of his people. (14 : 4)

Regarding laws, God states,

For each of you We have made a law and a practice;
and if God wanted He would have made you a single people.
(5 : 48)

Jesus عليه السلام reports that he was sent,

To confirm the truth of the Torah that is before me,
and to make lawful to you certain things
that before were forbidden to you.
(3 : 50)

So too the Qur’an confirms the previous revelations while bringing new laws using a different language. There exists an underlying continuity between all revelations. As God says to the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم,

Nothing has been said to you
save what was said to the messengers before you.
(10 : 48)

Regarding the Qur’an, God states,

Truly it is a Revelation from the Lord of the worlds,
brought down by the Faithful Spirit upon your heart
that you may be among the warners,
in a clear Arabic language.
Truly it is in the scriptures of the ancients.
(26 : 192)

In another verse, God states,

Truly this is in the scriptures of the ancients,
the scriptures of Abraham and Moses
. (87 : 18)

It is to remind us of this that the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم made the previously mentioned statement, “The prophets are half brothers, their mothers differ, and their way is one.”[2]

Because revelation is universal guidance that was sent to all human collectivities in one form or another, the Qur’an provides an extensive discussion of the “People of the Book” (ahl al-kitab), those who follow the scriptures revealed through God’s other messengers. Qur’anic teachings regarding these faith communities are very subtle. On the one hand, the People of the Book are admired for their piety and promised salvation:

Verily those who believe and those who are Jews,
and the Sabeans and the Christians
are those who believe in God and the Last Day
and do righteous deeds,
so they shall not fear nor shall they sorrow.
(2 : 62, 5 : 69)

On the other hand, a group of them is said to be condemned to hell with the polytheists:

Verily those who disbelieve among the people of the Book
and the polytheists are in the fire for eternity
. (98 : 6)

Muslims are warned,

Many of the People of the Book
wish that they might return you to unbelief,
after your faith, because of the envy in their souls.
(2 : 109)

These are the people who have, forgotten a part of what they were reminded of (5 : 13) and have even altered the scripture of God to accord with their own conceits.[3] Therefore, those who do not follow their book as it was revealed are blameworthy, while those who do are praiseworthy:

Some of the People of the Book are a wholesome nation.
They recite God’s signs in the watches of the night,
prostrating themselves, having faith in God and the Last Day,
bidding to honor and forbidding dishonor,
and vying with one another in good deeds.
They are among the wholesome.
Whatever good they do, they will not be denied its reward.
(3 : 113 – 114)

One verse that is often read as a condemnation of Judaism and Christianity by Muslims is actually a condemnation of religious censuring:

The Jews say, “The Christians are founded upon nothing.”
The Christians say, “The Jews are founded upon nothing.”
Yet they recite the book.
Likewise, those with no knowledge
say the like of what they say.
And God shall judge between you
on the Day of Resurrection
regarding that wherein you differed.
(2 : 113)

In this vein, it is wiser to read Qur’anic criticism of people of other faiths not as a condemnation of their faiths, but rather as a warning that people who profess to follow the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم are also susceptible to forget a part of that of which they were reminded.[4]

This is confirmed by several hadith, including “You will follow the customs of those before you, length for length, cubit for cubit, until if they go down a snake hole, you will go down after them” The companions of the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم asked, “O Messenger of God, [do you mean] the Jews and the Christians?” He said, “Who else?”[5] in another account, the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم warns that many calamities will befall Muslims if they lose or falsify knowledge. A companion asked how that could be when Muslims will continue to teach the Qur’an generation after generation. He replied, “May your mother weep for you! Do you not see these Jews and Christians? They read the Torah and the Gospels and do not act in accord with them”[6] This indicates that although the outer form of the religion may remain, the inner meaning will be forgotten. People of varying faiths will then fight about the forms because they have forgotten their inner meanings, forgotten that they are all paths leading to the same peak.


[1] al-Hakim, 2 : 453, no. 3566
[2] al-Bukhari, p. 610, no. 3443
[3] Qur’an 2 : 75
[4] Editor’s note: Many Muslims unfortunately read the Qur’an as a condemnation of previous religious peoples as opposed to a method to understand their flaws inherent in all of humanity, and as a warning. The prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم told many stories that involved righteous Jews and Christians of the past whose exemplary behavior elucidated his points. Abu Dharr once quoted a verse about hoarding wealth and the governor of Syria, Mu’awwiyah replied, “That was revealed about the People of the Book!” To which Abu Dharr said, “Yes, but for our reflection!”
[5] al-Bukhari, p. 612, no. 3456
[6] Ibn Majah, p. 584, no. 4048


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