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Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"The Arabic word for angel is malak (pl. mala'ika), which is derived from alk or alaka, meaning the bearing of messages. Another view traces its root from malk or milk, meaning power. It is also stated that it is derived from uluqatun, means messenger. In Arabic the person whom the message is assigned to convey is also called uluqat. The word malak and mala'ika occur 68 times in the Koran. In Persian, the firishta is used for the angel, which is derived from firishtadan, meaning to send.

The Koran speaks of the creation of man from dust and of the creation of jinn from fire, but it does not speak of the origin of mala’ika. There is, however, a tradition indicating that the jinn are created from fire (na’r) and that the angels from light (noor) (Al-Muslim, 53:10). It shows that the angels are immaterial beings. The angels are spoken in the Koran (35:1) as messengers (rusul) flying on wings (ajniha, pl. of janah). Their description as rusul has reference to their spiritual function of bearing Divine messages. The Koran represents angels as possessing wings, but it would be a grievous mistake to confuse the janah (wing) of an angel with the fore-limb of a bird, which fits it for flight. The wing (janah) is a symbol of the power, indicating the execution of their functions with all speed. In Arabic, the word janah is used in a variety of senses. In birds it is the wing, the two sides of a thing are called its janahain or two janahs; and in man, his hand is spoken of as his janah. The word is further used metaphorically in the Koran (15:88 and 26:215), where the "lowering of the janah" stands for "being kind". The Arabic proverb, "Huwa maqsus al-janah" means, he lacks power to do a thing, which shows that janah represents a symbol of power, which is speedily brought into action.

The angels are not endowed with powers of discrimination like those of human beings or unseen beings of luminous and spiritual substance. Their function is to obey and they cannot disobey. The Koran says plainly: "They do not disobey God in what He commands them and they do as they are commanded" (66:6). And inasmuch as man is endowed with a will while the angel is not, man is superior to the angel; which is evident from the fact that angels were commanded to make obeisance to him (2:34).

The term malaik usually in English is translated as angel, but the common religious notion of the word is very different from its Koranic conception. The universe can be divided into two parts: the material world, which we can perceive through the senses, and the immaterial world beyond our powers of perception. The Koran, in the first instance, uses the word malaik for the forces of nature at work in the world of matter. For instance, when it says, in the allegorical story of Adam, that all the malaik prostrated themselves before Adam, it means that man has been endowed with the capacity to subdue, and conquer the forces of nature. Moreover, the Koranic meaning of malaik includes, besides the physical forces of nature, the psychological forces within the human individual himself. When used with reference to the other part of the universe – the one beyond our powers of perception – the malaik stand for the forces at work there to fulfill God’s purpose and shape in practice the Divine Scheme of things. In this sense, the word also includes the agencies through which the word of God has been revealed to various prophets. So in this sense, malaik may also be called messengers. Malaika are not endowed with any will or independent power; they are devoted to the performance of their respective duties, and cannot act otherwise than they do. Man is the only being in the whole universe endowed with a free will and independent power.

In the Koran, angels are generally described as having some sort of connection with the spiritual state of man. It was Jibrail, who brought revelation to the Prophet (2:97, 26:193-4) and the prophets before him (4:163). The same angel is mentioned as strengthening the prophets (2:87) and the believers (58:22), while angels generally are spoken of as descending on believers and confronting them (41:30); they are also intermediaries in bringing revelation to those who are not prophets, as in the case of Zacharias (3:38) and Mary (3:41,44). Angels were also sent to help the believers against their enemies (3:123-4, 8:12); they pray for blessings on the Prophet (33:56) and on the believers (33:43); they ask forgiveness for all men, believers as well as non-believers (42:5); they cause to die believers (16:32) and also non-believers (4:97, 16:28). They write down the deeds of men (28:10,12). They will intercede for men on the day of judgment (53:26).

In sum, the faith in angels is necessary according to the Koran: "Righteousness is this that one should believe in God and the last day and the angels and the book and the prophets" (2:177), and "The apostle believes in what has been revealed to him from his Lord and so do the believers; they will believe in God and His angels and His books and His apostles" (2:285).

Faith in angels, therefore, means that there is a spiritual life for man after death, and that he must develop that life by working in accordance with the prompting of the angels and by bringing into play the faculties which God has given him; and that is why the devil makes the evil suggestions, is as much as fact as the angels who make the good suggestions.

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