In the name of Allah. All praise is due to Allah and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon His beloved Messenger, his family and companions, and those that follow them in righteousness till the final day.
The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam was once sitting in his home, his lower legs uncovered, when Abu Bakr radi Allahu anhu came in, followed by 'Umar radi Allahu anhu. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam remained seated as he was. Then Uthman radi Allahu anhu arrived, and this time the Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam sat up, covered his lower legs and greeted him with the warmest greeting. Aisha radi Allahu anha witnessed this and when she later questioned the Messenger of Allah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam about it, he sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam replied, “Should I not be shy from he whom the angels are shy of?”
Jibreel alayhis salaam once came to the Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam and asked him about Islam, eman, and ihsan. The Messenger of Allah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam in response to the question, "What is eman?" said, "Eman is to believe in Allah, in His angels, His books, His Messengers, the Last Day, and the divine decree – the good and the bad thereof."
We learn from the above hadith that believing in the angels is one of the pillars of eman. Angels are a creation of Allah. They were created before our father Adam alayhis salaam was created. Allah created them from light; they do not eat or drink; they are characterized by neither feminine nor masculine qualities; and they do not tire. Some spend their entire existence in ruku', others in sujood and then when the judgment is called they will raise their heads and say, "Glory be to You, our Lord, we did not worship You in a way befitting Your Majesty."
The Messenger of Allah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam told us about some of the characteristics and duties of the angels. Some of what he sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam taught us is as follows:
1. Their creation is huge.
The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said, "I saw Jibreel in the fashion that he was originally created in. He had 600 wings, each wing filling the (entire) horizon (i.e. the east to the west, as far as the eye could see)."
This event is mentioned in the Qur'an as well:
And indeed he (Muhammad sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) saw him (Jibreel alayhis salaam) in the clear horizon (towards the east) (At-Takweer 81/23).
2. They have the ability to change shape.
We know this from the story of Maryam and also from the hadith of Jibreel alayhis salaam in which we are told that he appeared before the companions in the form of a man, wearing an intensely white garment and having intensely black hair.
3. They live in the heavens, from which they descend to carry out the duties appointed to them.
Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala says:
Nearly the heavens might be rent asunder from above them (by His majesty) and the angels glorify the praises of their Lord (Ash-Shura 42/5). This was just a glimpse into some of the characteristics of the angels. As for the relationship between the angels and the mu'mineen, this is a very close one. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam told us that they witness the gatherings of Muslims in which Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala is remembered. He sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said: "Allah has some angels who look for those who celebrate the praises of Allah on the roads and paths. And when they find some people celebrating the praises of Allah, they call each other, saying, 'Come to the object of your pursuit.'"
"Then the angels encircle them with their wings up to the sky of the world. (After those people celebrated the praises of Allah, and the angels go back) their Lord, asks them (those angels), though He knows better than them, 'What do My slaves say?'
"The angels reply, 'They say subhan Allah, Allahu Akbar, and alhamdulillah.'"
"Allah then says 'Did they see Me?' The angels reply, 'No! By Allah, they didn't see You.'"
"Allah says, 'How would it have been if they saw Me?'"
"The angels reply, 'If they saw You, they would worship You more devoutly and celebrate Your Glory more deeply, and declare Your freedom from any resemblance to anything more often.'" "Allah says (to the angels), 'What do they ask Me for?'"
"The angels reply, 'They ask You for Paradise.'"
"Allah says (to the angels), 'Did they see it?'"
"The angels say, 'No! By Allah, O Lord! They did not see it.'"
"Allah says, 'How would it have been if they saw it?'"
"The angels say, 'If they saw it, they would have greater covetousness for it and would seek it with greater zeal and would have greater desire for it.'"
"Allah says, 'From what do they seek refuge?'"
"The angels reply, 'They seek refuge from the (Hell) Fire.'"
"Allah says, 'Did they see it?'"
"The angels say, 'No! By Allah, O Lord! They did not see it.'"
"Allah says, 'How would it have been if they saw it?'"
"The angels say, "'If they saw it they would flee from it with the extreme fleeing and would have extreme fear from it.'"
"Then Allah says, 'I make you witnesses that I have forgiven them.'"
Allah's Apostle sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam added:
"One of the angels says, 'There was so-and-so amongst them, and he was not one of them, but he had just come for some need.'"
"Allah says, 'These are those people whose companions will not fall into misery.'"
The angels love the believers. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said:
"When Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala loves someone he calls to Jibreel saying, ‘O Jibreel, I love such and such a person, so love him.’ Then Jibreel will call to the (angels) of the heavens, ‘Allah loves such and such a person so love him.’ And the angels will love [that person]. And then Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala will place acceptance on earth for that mu’min" (Bukhari and Muslim).
The angels also pray for the believers. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam explained:
"Any servant that prays for me, an angel will pray for them" (Sahih Al-Jami’). And the Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam also said that there is an angel appointed to say, "Ameen and to you the same," when someone supplicates for his brother in his absence. And of course, the angels undoubtedly assist the mu’mineen in jihaad. In the Battle of Badr the Messenger of Allah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam left Madinah with only 317 companions in pursuit of a caravan, unprepared for war. When the Muslim army found themselves confronted with over 1000 well-prepared fighters from the Quraish who had weapons and horses, the prospects of them emerging victorious seemed grim, especially since it was to be their first battle. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam entered his tent, prayed and raised his hands invoking victory from Allah. He raised his hands so high that his shawl would fall off and Abu Bakr radi Allahu anhu was there placing it back on his shoulders. He, sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam cried and prayed until Abu Bakr radi Allahu anhu felt sympathy for the state in which he saw him. He called out to the Messenger of Allah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam, "Ruwaidan Ya RasuAllah. Inallaha naasiruk wa mujizu wa’dak (Take it easy, O Messenger of Allah. Allah shall surely aid you, and fulfill the promise [He made] to you.)."
Then Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala revealed the verse:
(Remember) when your Lord inspired the angels, "Verily, I am with you, so keep firm those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who have disbelieved, so strike them over the necks, and smite them over all their fingers and toes" (Al-Anfal 8/12).
Jibreel asked the Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam what the position of the men who had participated in the Battle of Badr with him was. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam replied, "They are the best of us."
Then Jibraeel said, "Likewise, the angels that attended Badr are the best amongst the angels."
And of course, the angels are there when the mu’min dies. Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala tells us of that day when they come to extract the soul of the mu’min: Verily, those who say: "Our Lord is Allah (alone)," and they (lived) upright, on them the angels will descend (at the time of their death, saying), "Fear not, nor grieve! Rather receive the glad tidings of Paradise which you have been promised" (Fussilat 41/30)!
Just as the angels are a part of the mu’mins life, death and resurrection, they are also a part of the existence and end of the kafir, but in a different way. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam told us that when Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala hates a person he calls to Jibreel alayhis salaam saying, "O Jibreel, I hate such and such a person so hate him." Then Jibreel will call to the (angels) of the heavens, "Allah hates such and such a person so hate him." And the angels will hate him. And then Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala will place displeasure on earth for him.
During the time of the Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam, the kuffar mocked him by requesting to see the angels in this life, claiming that only then would they believe. Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala recorded their statement in the Qur'an, for them and others who believe with their eyes and not their hearts: And those who expect not to meet with Us (those who deny the Day of Resurrection and the life of the Hereafter) saying, "Why are not the angels sent down to us, or why do we not see our Lord?" indeed they think too highly of themselves, and are scornful with great pride! / On the Day they will see the angels – no glad tidings will there be for the mujrimoon (the criminals) and they will say, "Forbidden to you is any sort of glad tidings" (Al-Furqan 25/21-22).
And Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala tells us about their conversation with the angel custodians of Hell, when they enter it:
And those in the fire will say to the keepers (angels) of Hell, "Call your Lord to lighten for us a day of the punishment." / They will reply, "Did there not come to you your Messengers with clear proofs?" They will say, "Yes." They will say, "Then pray," and the prayer of the disbelievers is to no avail (Ghafir 40/49-50).
What, we may now ask, is our duty towards these angels? It is to believe in them and respect them in the manner they are deserving of. Thus, when we hear that angels do not enter houses that have dogs and images, we immediately go and rid ourselves of that which will rob our houses of their blessed presence. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam told us in an authentic hadith that the angels will not enter a house in which there is an image or a dog. It is unfortunate that many Muslim homes have found a place on their shelves to put up figurines of animals, or dolls, and walls on which to mount pictures of animate objects. If prayer time comes they may cover these items or they may not, but irrespective – this is a house that is robbed of the angels' blessed presence, protection and du'a. And it is most likely that devils and jinns will find refuge in a home in which angels are absent. May Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala protect us all.
Throughout the stages of our creation the angels have been there, carrying out some duty or the other. When we were nothing in our mothers' wombs, an angel was present, breathing a soul into us. They are there everyday reporting to Allah about our salah. They are there every second recording what we whisper and speak. When the time of our death comes they are there, ready to take our souls. And when the Day of Judgment commences, an angel will be there, blowing the trumpet to announce its arrival.
The closest angels to us are those which are present on our shoulders, recording our good deeds and our bad deeds. Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala mentions them in the Quran: Not a word does he (or she) utter except that there is a watcher near him, ready (to record it) (Qaaf 50/18).
If we had a tape recorder on both shoulders and there was a competition in which the person who glorified Allah would get one dollar for each time he/she did so, and the person who spoke ill would be lashed once, imagine what would happen! Our community would be ignited by tasbeeh – "Subhan Allah, alhamdulillah, Allahu Akbar." And at the end of the day someone would win $30,000, another $50,000. Who would not want to participate in such an easy competition with such high stakes?
Remember dear brothers and sisters, we are being recorded all the time and the stakes are much higher!
By Muhammad Alshareef