16. ANGELS IN THE QUR’AN AND IN THE BIBLE
In today’s world of hard facts and modern technology there hardly seems to be room for the strange man-woman-like creatures with wings and halos in their weightless flight through space – as we may know them from some ancient paintings; with the possible exception of the monstrous extra-terrestrial beings which we might have seen on cinema screens as ‘superman’ or as ‘enterprise commander’.
But nothing could be further away from the Biblical witness to those heavenly messengers known in Scripture as angels. From the enormous wealth of information in the Bible, over 200 references, most of them in the New Testament! – Let us just confirm a few important aspects: (for more details we recommend O’Donovan BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY IN AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE, pp. 176- 186)
Angels are spirit beings without a physical body although they can assume bodily form and appear as ordinary human beings, as Hebrews 13:2 implies. They do not procreate after their kind, yet they are innumerable. God created them perfectly to bring glory and praise to His name. The OT tells us about the fearsome Cherubim guarding paradise (Genesis 3:24 a.o.) and the Seraphim cleansing for the service of God (Isaiah 6:2-7), but also about the heavenly contest of Michael and his angels against the Satanic army or Gabriel delivering God’s messages at crucial moments in history. You will realize that there is an enormous field of study for the diligent Bible student.
Unfortunately many angels rebelled against their creator along with their influential leader, Lucifer, ‘the angel of light’. Because of this tragic rebellion it is necessary to differentiate between the holy angels of God and the fallen angels (or demons) of Satan. While God’s angels protect, strengthen, guide and also warn and declare judgment on (God’s people, on the other hand the unclean, fallen angels seek to bring men and women into deeper bondage to Satan and his evil desires. Only complete surrender of our lives to the One who is far greater than any of the angels (Hebrews 1:4) can keep us from seeking support from the wrong camp.
Turning to the Qur’an we will notice that there are far fewer references to angels amounting to hardly more than 20 in about a dozen Suras. Surprisingly the world of ‘malaikats’ (=angels) and ‘jinni’ is very crucial for many Muslims.
Bill Musk speaks about: “… a major theme in most Muslims’ lives: they are caught up in attempts to manipulate the spirit world. The universe of the ‘unseen’- of jinn and angels, blessings and curses is familiar territory to them.” (TOUCHING THE SOUL OF ISLAM, p. 182)
Many a Muslim would be very familiar with the names and significance of various angels: first of all Jibreel (Gabriel), renowned for his key-role in the transmission of the Qur’an: the fearsome Izrafil. the angel of death “who never fails in his duty”; Munkar and Nakir (not in the Qur’an) who bite their way through the ground to the grave of the deceased confronting him with their examining interrogation about his religious status; or the two recording angels, mentioned in Sura 50:17-18. This reminds me about a humorous anecdote. A friend of mine always wondered why a certain Muslim fellow so often moved his left shoulder after presenting some dirty joke or doubtful information. Determined to find out he eventually received the explanation: “I am just shaking my shoulder to disturb the recording angel in anything that could be used against me later.”
Apart from the angels, believed to be created of light, Muslims may be even more troubled about the fire-related ‘jinni’ (Sura 55:15). These spirits represent an invisible or unseen force and are neither good nor evil. However they are considered as intensely jealous of all human beings constantly seeking for opportunities to harm them. “The fear of Jinns or the desires to subdue and use their services are strong motivating forces in the practices of many common Muslims”, recalls a believer about his Muslim background.
To the committed Christian witness it will be obvious that this topic presents an excellent opportunity to declare the power of Christ over the world of spirits. The thought about angels should neither scare us nor will we seek ways to employ them in our service. Angels are the messengers of God or as Dr. Billy Graham likes to call them, “God’s secret agents”. Once again the Christian has good reason to praise the living God for the privilege of knowing and serving Him in reverence and love.