Since all angels were created from light, they can be present in any place and in any form simultaneously. They also can perform countless tasks at the same time. Therefore, Azrael can take millions of souls simultaneously and without any confusion. Each Archangel has subordinates that resemble him and are supervised by him. When believers die, angels come to them with smiling, radiant faces. Azrael and his subordinates charged with taking these souls, or by one of his subordinates. The Qur’anic verses: By those who pluck out violently; by those who draw out gently (79:1–2) indicate that the angels who take the souls of believers differ from those who take the souls of unbelievers. The souls of the latter, who have embittered and frightened faces at death, are plucked out violently.
By the angels who tear out (the souls of the wicked). By those who gently draw out (the souls of the blessed). And by those who glide along (on errands of mercy). (79:1-3)
With this question, we again face a subject which, if we tackle it by making human analogies, will mislead us. It is a mistake to liken an angel to a human being, just as it is a mistake to seek the mind in the brain, or the emotions in the heart, or the soul in the body, or—in the language of philosophy—to seek the noumenal in the phenomenal. It would be improper to attempt this question without first pointing out that mistake in thinking and terminology which (probably) is what gives rise to it and other questions like it.
Angels are, as regards their creation and essence, the realm they exist in, and their responsibilities and duties, creatures wholly different from all others. Any argument or judgment made without taking full account of that difference is bound to go wrong. The nature of angels should therefore be approached through consideration of their different creation and essence, their different realm of existence, and their different responsibilities and duties.
The shared point of reference is to one most powerful or to the power itself or to one who, as messenger, holds and carries that power: thus, an angel comes to mean one who, as messenger, holds and carries the divine commands. Such an elevated rank belongs to all angels as such. For the angel commissioned to convey the Divine Message to humankind, it is necessary to have the most elevated rank and the most superior attributes of all. Angels are commissioned to oversee all kinds of events—from supervising birth, life, and death to carrying the Throne and observing the Divine Actions in wonder, admiration and praise. All so-called natural laws, from attraction and repulsion between masses to the principles that regulate electrons spinning around the nucleus, and the putting into effect of these laws, and all changes and transformations, compositions and decompositions, exist under the administration of angels, who are the medium of the Messengership and power. Angels are so related to things and events that neither a drop of rain nor a clap of thunder can ever be conceived without them. The laws operating in the universe are the manifestation of the limitless power of the Creator, the All-Mighty, the Absolute Sovereign, on angels according to their skills and capacities. Similarly, all legislative commands to humankind from the attributes of the Word are conveyed by angels. Since humanity is the focus of all great and majestic manifestations of the Creator, the Divine inspiration and revelation that come to humanity to guide and regulate his actions are nothing other than the manifestations of God to angels. In this respect, it is ignorance and an error in thinking to liken to human beings, the angelic beings who are a medium or a means between God and His servants, who are charged with supervising or administering all things from atoms to nebulae in dependence on the power of the All-Mighty. It is likewise a misjudgement and an error to consider restrictions by which human existence is bound as applicable also to angels. If the angels had a physical form like that of humankind and were subject to decay and decomposition, if they too were aged and eroded by time, we might use the same criteria for both. However, there is a world of difference which makes such a comparison impossible.
As regards their creation and nature, the angels are different from humankind. The powers and responsibilities of angels are not bounded by space and time. The purity, light (noor) and splendor in their essence make them more powerful, influential, quick and active. They can be in touch with many souls, be seen by many eyes, and manifest their oneness in plural forms, at any instant of time or space, even though they are one. “The angels were created out of light (noor).” That is why, they are given and thus manifest all the attributes of light.
Luminous things, like the sun, though single, are reflected by and so seen in each transparent object; they can reach and be seen by each and every eye. Similarly, the angels, who are created out of light, can meet and be reflected in many souls; and they can deal with thousands of them at an instant. The angels, whose essence is fine, subtle, are very different from what has material form and is therefore heavy and dense. The angels can take different shapes and forms; also, they can be seen in different shapes and forms at the same instant. The souls’ or angels’ assuming visible forms, has long been known among religious people, and there are many examples of it. It is even now not uncommon to hear claims (something, alas, of a pastime among the so-called “idle rich”) of some individual’s “spirit” or “double” being in a place separate and distant from where the body is and able to produce material effects. Whatever the truth of such reports and claims, they indicate that all fine beings like souls, in comparison to physical beings, are more capable, quick and active. Angels are far more capable, quick and active than souls, which is another indication that angels operate beyond the bounds of physical nature.
There are many incidents which indicate that some saints are in touch with the heroes of the Unseen, among them former saints and Companions of the Prophet. Also, their appearance to ordinary people in dreams and trance-like states supports the argument. A number of godly men and women have testified that, in their dreams, particular noble souls always keep in touch with them, and give them guidance. To be sure, there will be people who refer all such experiences to the “subconscious” and so make the whole subject incomprehensible. Alas for their ignorance and arrogance!
To sum up what we have said so far: just as all beings are seen reflected in a mirror, so angels are seen in everything that can be a mirror to them, but with this difference that angels are not merely a picture or image, as a reflection in a mirror is, but are as themselves, with all their powers and faculties. Like a beam of light, angels can reach and be in various places at the same time and carry out their duties, the distance of the place or the number of people concerned are of no relevance and can present no hindrance. The sun is single but is reflected, seen, and its effects are felt, everywhere on every object according to the object’s qualities. Similarly, the angels, being created of light, can be seen, breathe life into human beings or recapture their souls or carry out any other of their duties everywhere at any time.
In reality it is, of course, God who gives and takes life. Azrael is only a medium and means, commissioned to superintend the giving of life and recapturing of souls and to praise the All-Mighty in His Divine Actions. As God is everywhere at every instant and performs innumerable actions beyond the power of our imaginations to conceive, it is not difficult to accept that He can create, give and take innumerable lives all in a single instant. Such omniscience and omnipotence can undoubtedly see, administer and govern the deeds, and give and take the lives, of as many people as there may be particles in the whole universe, at the same instant, though some unfortunate atheists may refuse to believe.
Whether God or Azrael captures the souls, each soul whose time of death has come turns to God at its last moment and then is taken. We can make this more comprehensible by an analogy. Let us suppose that there are thousands of radio-like receivers operating on the same frequency. If any transmitter sends signals on that frequency, they will be heard on all the receivers. In the same way, all beings live in dependence for everything on the All-Mighty, All-Generous Creator, and when they ask for anything from Him, they do so through their poverty, that is, through their needs, their helpless impotence. And when they reach the last minute of their life and turn to God by, as it were, switching on to their life-ending frequency, they begin to perceive the signals of death. If a weak, powerless human being can make contact with systems hundreds of miles away simply by pressing a button, why cannot the All-Mighty Creator, who is free from all our weakness, impotence and deficiencies, make contact with souls, each of which is, in a sense, a living machine? Why cannot He make them all start or stop functioning in an instant?
- It is God who gives and takes life. Azrael is only an agent who is commissioned to oversee and administer and praise the work of God.
- While carrying out his task, Azrael acts only with the permission and approval of God.
- As a great number of angels administer tasks in the universe as representatives of the Divine Authority, Power and Will, there are many angels that can help Azrael with his work. They are even grouped into classes according to their tasks. Some of them take the lives of people without causing them any distress or hurt—they carry out their task peacefully. After souls have been recaptured, other angels at once take the souls before the Divine Presence, and so on. The Qur’an refers to all of them: By the angels who tear out (the souls of the wicked). By those who gently draw out (the souls of the blessed). And by those who glide along (on errands of mercy) (79:1-3).
Thus there are different angels dispatched according to the level of the people they will deal with. They are all under the supervision of Azrael, and God commissions them according to whether the individuals concerned were good or wicked.
In conclusion, we can say that the understanding which gives rise to such questions begins in an error of thinking in that it mistakenly likens angels to human beings. We have pointed out that angels are quite different from beings with physical form; not only in their essence and creation but also in their tasks, servanthood and responsibilities, angels are quite different from other creatures. Angels can assume different forms, be in many places, and do many things, as human beings’ souls can. What is popularly read about in our day in connection with spirit-mediums, necromancy, and other such efforts to communicate with the Unseen, are in their way evidence of metaphysical elements operating in the physical universe. Angels, as beings far superior to these elements, can function and carry out their missions in a way far superior to all other beings. And certainly, at the time of death, when people share the same “frequency” with the angels, an angel can deal with thousands of people at the same instant. Finally, we must remember that the angel for death is not alone; rather, there are innumerable angels appointed for taking souls, and when we consider that there is an angel for each individual death, no further point remains to raise the kind of doubts expressed in the question.
Angels and jinn can assume any form or shape and appear in this world. Here, we observe movement from the visible to the invisible: water evaporates and disappears into the atmosphere, solid matter becomes a liquid or a gas (steam), and matter becomes energy (nuclear fission). Likewise, we observe movement from the invisible to the visible: gases become fluids, evaporated water becomes rain (as well as snow or hail), and energy becomes matter. Similarly, intangible thoughts and meanings in our minds can appear in the tangible form of letters and words in essays and books.
Angels are created from light. The Arabic word for angel is malak. According to its root form, malak means messenger, deputy, envoy, superintendent, and a powerful person. The root meaning also implies descent from a high place. Angels build relations between the macrocosmic world and the material one, convey God’s commands of, direct the acts and lives of beings (with God’s permission), and represent their worship in their own realms.
Since Ezrail was created from light like all other angels, he can be present and take on form in numberless places at the same time and his engagement in a particular task does not prevent him from carrying out many other tasks at the same moment. Like the sun giving heat and light to all things in the world at the same time and being present through its images in innumerable transparent objects, the Archangel Ezrail can take millions of souls at the same moment without one hindering the other.
It is possible for angels and jinn to take on form and appear in the visible world in the shape of any being. We do observe, in the material world, a movement from the visible to the invisible. For example, the evaporation of water and its disappearance in the atmosphere; the transformation of solid matter into fluid or gas (steam); or, in nuclear fission, the transformation of matter into energy. Likewise, we also observe in the world a movement, in the other direction, namely from the invisible to the visible. Gases become fluid; evaporated water is transformed into drops of rain or snow or even hail, and energy into matter. Similarly, intangible thoughts and meanings in our minds can appear in the tangible form of letters and words in essays and books.
This ‘startling’ discovery of biology contains clues to some other realities, which sciences should consider. The Messenger states that angels are created from light. We read in the Holy Book that God created man from dried earth, from wet clay and, from an extract of clay. According to Holy Book, man has been made a khalifa on the earth. Khalifa means one who succeeds. Many interpreters of the Holy Book have concluded from this that the jinn once ruled the earth and men succeeded them.
We unquestionably accept the existence of natural laws and forces and even go so far as to attribute all the phenomena in the universe to them. We ascribe the growing of a tiny seed into a huge, elaborate tree to the law of germination and growth in that seed, or the incredible balance in the universe to the laws of gravitation and repulsion, but we ignore the absolute will, knowledge, power, and wisdom, which are necessary for the existence, operation and balance of the universe. The One Who has absolute Will, Knowledge, and Power, and absolute Wisdom, uses powerful beings, invisible like winds or gales and much more powerful than natural forces or laws, behind those forces and laws. It is through those beings that God makes natural laws and forces operative. Those beings are angels.
The angels do not gain promotion by endeavoring; each of them has a fixed, determined rank, but receives a particular pleasure from the work itself and radiance from worship. That is, the reward of these servants is found in their service. Just as man is nourished by air, water, light, and food, and derives pleasure from them, so are the angels nourished by the lights of remembrance, glorification, worship, knowledge, and love of God, and receive pleasure from them. For, since they are created out of light, light is sufficient for their sustenance. Fragrant scents even, which are close to light, are a sort of nourishment for them, which they enjoy. Indeed, pure spirits take pleasure in sweet scents.
The existence of the angels and other spirit beings can be established by proving the existence of an individual angel, because their denial amounts to the denial of the species. Thus, the acceptance of the individual requires the acceptance of the whole species. Does it not suffice to prove the existence of the angels and other spirit beings that all the people of religion from the beginning have unanimously believed in their existence, and that a consensus has been formed that some human beings have seen and conversed with them, and related from them. Had the angels not existed, and if a single angel had not been seen or the existence of one or numerous individual angels not been established through observation, would it have been possible for such a general belief to continue, and had this belief not been based on strong evidences, could it have come down to the present time in spite of the changing of ideas and beliefs along with the passage of time? Besides, is it possible that such a religious belief and the consensus of the religious scholars is not based on a certain intuition and an experienced certainty which originated in countless signs and numerous experiences? Therefore, we can conclude that the religious belief in the existence of the angels and other spirit beings is based on the experiences, which the Prophets and some other godly persons have had with them, and this has been narrated by reliable sources.