God exists. God is One in His Lordship. God is One in His Right to be Worshipped. God is Unique in His Names and His Attributes. Through His Mercy, He sent prophets to us to teach us how to worship Him, and he sent revelations to some of them, messages to pass down to later generations. These revelations tell us more about Him and the creation, about our role in the world and our purpose, about the seen and the unseen.
Just how did God transmit these messages to His servants here on Earth? To answer this, we need to turn to the unseen world, the realm of Angels and others. This is the fourth pillar of Iman: the belief in Angels and the unseen.
Angels are among the earliest creations of Allah. The Pen and the Book and the Throne and light maybe came earlier, but the Angels were right there from the beginning. God created them from light, and created them to serve specific purposes. He blessed them with strength, foresight, willingness to serve, the ability to doubt and ask questions, and all sorts of things, but He did not give them the gift of free will: Angels do exactly and only what God tells them to do.
There are billions and billions and just an astonishing, uncountable (but not infinite) number of angels, and they were all created to perform a specific task.
- Gabriel, peace be upon him, has a number of jobs, but chief among them (from our vantage point) is to deliver God’s messages to humanity
- Michael, peace be upon him, is responsible for the wind, rain, and other natural phenomena; he is the sort of manager of the angels that make possible/perform/conduct all of the various natural processes and movements, from binding protons and neutrons and keeping electrons in orbit, to directing the orbits of the galaxies around the galactic core
- Israfil, peace be upon him, is responsible for blowing the horn to announce the Last Day
- Azrael, peace be upon him, takes our souls at the time of death
- Munkar and Nakir ask the three questions in the grave (“Who is your Lord?” “Who is your prophet?” “What is your religion?”) that determine how peaceful our time in the grave will be between then and the Day of Judgement
- Each of us has angels that follow us around, peace be upon them: the honorable recorders (Kariman Katibin) record our deeds (one to our right records our good deeds; one on our left records the evil that we do); and a group of guardian angels proceed in front of us and follow behind us, reminding us to worship and blessing our path, to the best of their ability
- There are angels that hold up the Throne of God, and angels that worship God incessantly, all day every day
There are loads and loads of angels, everywhere. For someone with a twinge of social anxiety, all these angels around give me a bit of fright sometimes, but the bigger fright—and one that I think most people experience from time to time—come from something else, another of God’s creation: the Jinn.
The Jinn were created from fire. They were sort of precursors to humanity, in that they were created before us, and they have some of our abilities, including free will. They also have the ability to fly and move at will, appear and disappear, get into trouble, and pretty much do the same sorts of things that we do. The Jinn are usually invisible to us, but we sometimes feel their presence in dark and decrepit and abandoned places, and it is possible to contact and communicate with them, though I wouldn’t advise that: it’s best to worship God alone, and best not to take any partners with Him. Just like us, some of the Jinn believe in God and worship Him alone, without any partners; some of them worship themselves, false gods, and even the Devil.
Speaking of the Devil, I know in the Christian tradition, he is depicted as a fallen angel, but that really can’t be: Angels don’t have free will, so they can’t disobey God, they can’t decide to quit being angels and go do something else. In Islam, the Devil was the best of the jinn, he was—and is—sort of a leader of theirs. He was so beloved by God, that he used to be able to hang out around the Throne and worship God directly, in His presence. The Devil was right there when God created Adam, and when God told the angels and jinn to prostrate to Adam, the Devil refused and was banished for his pride and condemned to hell. The Devil asked for respite until the end of time and swore to make every attempt to distract us from God. God granted his request and the little whispers that we hear and feel, that tug us towards things that we shouldn’t do, come from the Devil and his buddies. (I wrote a good bit about that a couple of months ago.)
But the Devil and his cohort are just one community among the jinn, who exist alongside us. They tend to favor dark, dirty places and they eat bones and excrement and stuff like that (according to our tradition), so we stay separate from them mostly. But I bet you’ve had a chill run through you in the dark and in some dirty, forgotten places, a feeling like someone or something is there with you, around the corner or something. What you feel at those times is the presence of jinn. Don’t worry: they’re pretty much like snakes or skunks. They’re just as afraid as you are, and unless you start calling to them or hanging around their hangouts, they’ll leave you alone. If you start calling them, though, they’ll start messing with you: palm readers and fortune tellers are thought to be communicating with jinn who try to creep up to heaven and listen in on the conversations of the angels. God and the angels always catch and chase them away, and so most of the messages they give to people are fragmentary at best, or, more likely, made up entirely.
I’ve left some of the specifics out here, but they’re really not important: the important part is the belief that angels, jinn, and other parts of the unseen exist. Without angels, there would be nothing to blow the trumpet on the Day of Judgement; without jinn, there would be no devils to tempt us. There are loads of stories out there about angels and jinn, and I’ll leave you to go explore that if you like.
I mentioned above that an angel named Israfil, peace be upon him, is poised to blow the trumpet that will announce the Last Day. Just what is this Last Day, and what is its relevance to Islam? God willing, I’ll get into that next week.