Question: What are Angel Types in Islam?
Islam mentions believing in angels — spiritual beings who love God and help carry out His will on Earth — as one of its core pillars of faith. The Qur’an says that God has made more angels than human beings, since groups of angels guard every individual person among the billions of people on Earth: “For each person, there are angels in succession, before and behind him. They guard him by the Command of Allah [God],” (Al Ra’d 13:11).
That’s a lot of angels! Understanding how God has organized the angels he has created can help you begin to grasp their purposes. The major religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have all come up with angelic hierarchies to answer the question: “What are angel types?”. Here’s a look at who’s who among Muslim angels:
Islam’s angelic hierarchy isn’t as detailed as the ones in Judaism and Christianity, and Islamic scholars say that’s because the Qur’an doesn’t directly describe a detailed angelic hierarchy, so general organizational guidelines are all that’s necessary. Islamic scholars place the archangels that the Qur’an mentions at the top, with other angels named by the Qur’an underneath and differentiated by the types of missions God gives them to do.
Archangels are the highest-ranking angels that God has created. They rule over the universe’s daily operation, while also sometimes visiting human beings to deliver messages from God to them.
Muslims consider archangel Gabriel to be the most important of all angels, since Islam’s founder, the prophet Muhammad, said that Gabriel appeared to him to dictate the entire Qur’an. In Al Baqarah 2:97, the Qur’an declares: “Who is an enemy to Gabriel! For he brings down the [revelation] to thy heart by God’s will, a confirmation of what went before, and guidance and glad tidings for those who believe.” In the Hadith, a collection of the Islamic prophet Muhammad’s traditions, Gabriel again appears to Muhammad and quizzes him about Islam’s tenets. Gabriel communicates with other prophets, too, say Muslims — including all of the prophets that Muslims accept as true. Muslims believe that Gabriel gave the prophet Abraham a stone known as the Black Stone of Ka’aba; Muslims who travel on pilgrimages to Mecca, Saudi Arabia kiss that stone.
The archangel Michael is another top-ranking angel in the Islamic angelic hierarchy. Muslims view Michael as the angel of mercy, and believe that God has assigned Michael to reward righteous people for the good they do during their earthly lifetimes. God also charges Michael with sending rain, thunder, and lightning to the Earth, according to Islam. The Qur’an mentions Michael when it warns in Al-Baqara 2:98: “Whoever is an enemy to God and his angels and his apostles, to Gabriel and Michael — lo! God is an enemy to those who reject the faith.”
Another top-ranking angel in Islam is archangel Raphael. The Hadith names Raphael (who is called “Israfel” or “Israfil” in Arabic) as the angel who will blow a horn to announce that Judgment Day is coming. The Qur’an says in chapter 69 (Al Haqqah) that horn’s first blow will destroy everything, and in chapter 36 (Ya Sin) it says that humans who have died will come back to life at the second blow. Islamic tradition says that Raphael is a master of music who sings praises to God in heaven in more than 1,000 different languages.
The unnamed archangels who are referred to in Islam as the Hamalat al-Arsh and who carry God’s throne are also high on the Islamic angelic hierarchy. The Qur’an mentions them in chapter 40 (Ghafir), verse 7: “Those who sustain the throne [of God] and those around it sing glory and praise to their Lord; believe in him; and implore forgiveness for those who believe: ‘Our Lord! Thy reach is over all things, in mercy and knowledge. Forgive, then, those who turn in repentance, and follow thy path; and preserve them from the penalty of the blazing fire!’”
The angel of death, who Muslims believe separates each person’s soul from his or body at the moment of death, completes the top-ranking angels in Islam. Islamic tradition says that archangel Azrael is the angel of death, although in the Qur’an, he is referred to by his role (“Malak al-Maut,” which literally means “angel of death”) rather than by his name: “The Angel of Death who is charged with taking your souls will take your souls; then you will be returned to your Lord.” (As-Sajdah 32:11).
Islam groups the angels underneath those archangels together, differentiating them according to the different jobs they perform at God’s command. Some of the lower-ranking angels include:
Angel Ridwan is in charge of maintaining Jannah (paradise or heaven). The Hadith mentions Ridwan as the angel who guards paradise. The Qur’an describes in chapter 13 (a-Ra’d) verses 23 and 24 how the angels that Ridwan leads in paradise will welcome believers as they arrive: “Gardens of perpetual bliss: they shall enter there, as well as the righteous among their fathers, their spouses, and their offspring: and angels shall enter unto them from every gate [with the salutation]: ‘Peace unto you for that ye persevered in patience! Now how excellent is the final home!'”
Angel Malik supervises 19 other angels who guard Jahannam (hell) and punish the people there. In chapter 43 (Az-Zukhruf) verses 74 to 77 of the Qur’an, Malik tells the people in hell that they must remain there: “Surely, the disbelievers will be in the torment of hell to abide therein forever. [The torment] will not be lightened for them, and they will be plunged into destruction with deep regrets, sorrows and in despair therein. We wronged them not, but they were the wrongdoers. And they will cry: ‘O Malik! Let your Lord make an end of us!’ He will say: ‘Surely, you shall abide forever.’ Indeed we have brought the truth to you, but most of you have a hatred for the truth.”
Two angels called the Kiraman Katibin (honorable recorders) pay attention to everything that people past puberty think, say, and do; and the one who sits on their right shoulders records their good choices while the angel who sits on their left shoulders records their bad decisions, says the Qur’an in chapter 50 (Qaf), verses 17-18.
Guardian angels who pray for and help protect each human being are also among the lower-ranking angels in the Islamic angelic hierarchy.