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) MALAK / MALA IKA

The possibility of sending an angel with the Prophet Muhammad is taken seriously. In 6.8-9 the question of why none was indeed sent in this capacity is settled. It seems angels sent in this way would have taken away a sceptical audience’s opportunity to eventually accept the message. Less clear is the subsequent point that any such angel would have had to have been in human form, thus increasing the audience’s confusion. Belief in angels, mentioned alongside

belief in God, the Last Judgement, the Book and the Messengers is incumbent uponMuslims (2.177). Allah is the enemy of those who oppose his angels (2.98). More importantly, the angels function

as intermediaries between the divine and creation. They announce the glad tidings of John the Baptist to Zakariyya and Jesus to Mary. John the Baptist is declared truthful to a Word from God, subsequently identified as Jesus (3.39; 3.45). Angels may also serve as messengers. However, the vast majority of messengers mentioned in the Qur

) an are

human. The mission of angels should be understood in a general sense, and not confused with the doctrines of prophecy. The spirit (ruh) at times appears alongside the angels in this intermediate function. Passages describe the coming down of the angels and the spirit during the Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr), and the descent of the angels alongside the spirit of God’s command, to humanity (97.4; 16.2). Completing this is the move upwards, which both the spirit and the angels undertake; in 70.4 this ascent is described as taking them one day, a distance which would otherwise require 50,000 years – presumably for a human – to cover. Exegetes differ as to the identity of this spirit. The drama of the creation of Adam is

mentioned in at least seven separate places in the Qur

) an. In the most complete

narrative (2.30-34), God announces, ‘I will create a vicegerent on earth’, to which the angels reply, ‘Will You place therein one who will make mischief and shed blood? While we celebrate Your praises?’ This exchange echoes the angels’ principal occupation, praising their lord. (Some exegetes claim the angels objected because of their special knowledge of human nature.) The narrative continues with Allah teaching Adam ‘the names of all things’, and then challenging the angels to recite these names. Their inability to comply betrays their simple nature: ‘We have no knowledge beyond that which You have taught us.’ Adam then tells the angels their own names, and they are commanded to prostrate themselves to him, yet one named Iblis (Satan) refuses, saying: ‘I am better than he is. You created me from fire and him from clay’ (7.12). Iblis is cast out of heaven, and destined to oppose humanity until the end of days. The Qur

) an is unclear,

however, regarding his nature: he is clearly one of the angels in 7.11, yet he is made from fire, as the jinn are (55.15). In the hadith literature, angels are understood to be made from light. Islamic philosophers and mystics have

elaborated upon the angelic theme. Ibn Sina (d. 428/1037) identified the various spheres of the Neoplatonic universe (living and rational) as angels. The founder of the Illluminationist school, Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi (d. 587/ 1191), elaborated a cosmology of light in which angels would play an archetypal role, similar to the Platonic forms (Corbin, 1986: 294). Thinkers of the Akbarian school, established by Ibn( Arabi (d. 638/1240), distinguished the angels of the incorporeal world from those of the corporeal. The four archangels Gabriel, Michael,

( Izra

) il and

Israfil could represent the four divine attributes: life, knowledge, will and

power. These angels could also correspond to various human sensory organs (Murata, 1991: 330).