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A welcoming depiction of the Archangel of Death (usually associated with Azrael), by Evelyn De Morgan, 1881[1]
Angel of Death
Associated religionsIslam and Judaism
AttributesArchangel; psychopomp; wings; cloak.
AssociationsJibrāʾīl, Mīkāʾīl, and Isrāfīl (in Islam)
Alternate spellings
  • ʿĂzarʾēl
  • ʿAzrāʾīl
  • ʿIzrāʾīl
  • Ajrā-īl
  • Ezrā’ël
Appearance in text

Azrael (/ˈæzri.əl, -r-/; Hebrew: עֲזַרְאֵל, romanizedʿǍzarʾēl, 'God has helped';[2] Arabic: عزرائيل, romanizedʿAzrāʾīl or ʿIzrāʾīl) is the canonical angel of death in Islam,[3] and appears in the apocryphal text Apocalypse of Peter.[4]

Relative to similar concepts of such beings, Azrael holds a benevolent role as God's angel of death; he acts as a psychopomp, responsible for transporting the souls of the deceased after their death.[5] In Islam, he is said to hold a scroll concerning the fate of mortals, recording and erasing their names at their birth and death, similar to the role of the malakh ha-mavet (Angel of Death) in Judaism.[6][7]: 234 

Depending on the perspective and precepts of the various religions in which he is a figure, he may also be portrayed as a resident of the Third Heaven, a division of heaven in Judaism and Islam.[8] In Islam, he is one of the four archangels, and is identified with the Quranic Malʾak al-Mawt (ملاك الموت, 'angel of death'), which corresponds with the Hebrew term Malʾakh ha-Maweth (מלאך המוות) in Rabbinic literature. In Hebrew, Azrael translates to "Angel of God" or "Help from God".[8]

Etymology and place in Judaism


The Hebrew Bible does not mention an angel by the name Azrael, nor does it appear in the rabbinic literature of the Talmud or Midrashim. No such angel is treated as canonical in traditional Rabbinic Judaism. However, an angel by a similar name, Azriel (עזריאל), is mentioned in Kabbalistic literature, such as the Zohar.

Despite the absence of such a figure in Judaism, the name Azrael is suggestive of a Hebrew theophoric עזראל, meaning "the one whom God helps". Archeological evidence uncovered in Jewish settlements in Mesopotamia confirms that it was indeed at one time used on an incantation bowl from the 7th century.[9][10] However, as the text thereon only lists names, an association of this angelic name with death cannot be identified in Judaism.[11]

After the emergence of Islam, the name Azrael became popular among both Christian and Islamic literature and folklore.[citation needed] The name spelled as Ezrā’ël appears in the Classical Ethiopic version of Apocalypse of Peter (dating to the 16th century) as an angel of hell, who avenges those who had been wronged during life.[12]



Along with Gabriel, Michael, and Israfil, Azrael is one of the four major archangels in Islam.[13] He is responsible for taking the souls of the deceased away from the body.[14][15] Azrael does not act independently, but is only informed by God when the time is up to take a soul.[16]

In Quran and its exegesis


Surah 32:11 mentions the angel of death.[17] Regarding Azrael's missions and function, interpretation from several groups of modern Islamic scholars from Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University in Yemen and Mauritania has issued fatwa that taken the interpretation from ibn Kathir regarding Quran chapter Al-An'am verse 61, and a hadith transmitted by Abu Hurairah and ibn Abbas, that the angel of death has assisting angels who helped him taking souls.[18] According to exegesis, these verses refer to lesser angels of death, subordinative to Azrael, who aid the archangel in his duty. Tafsir al-Baydawi mentions an entire host of angels of death, subordinative to Azrael.[19]

The eighth Umayyad Caliph Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz once reported the commentary regarding Azrael in Quran chapter As-Sajdah verse 11 Quran 32:11, that taking many lives are very easy for the angel, that in caliph's words "it is as if the entire mankind of earth were only like a dish on a plate from the perspective of Malak al-Mawt (angel of death)".[20] Meanwhile, Al-Qurtubi has narrated from the authority of Mujahid ibn Jabr that the world being between the hands of the Angel of Death is "similar to a vessel between the hands of a human; he takes from whatever place he wants", where Mujahid described that Azrael is able to seize many souls at the same moment because God made the earth shrunk for him until it seems as if it is a vessel between his hands.[18] A similar Marfu' Hadith (i.e., with an elevated chain of transmission) was reported by Zuhayr ibn Muhammad.[18] When the unbelievers in hell cry out for help, an angel, also identified with Azrael, will appear on the horizon and tell them that they have to remain.[21] Other Quranic verses refer to a multitude of angels of death.

Several modern contemporaries, such as Wahbah al-Zuhayli, and scholars from Islamic University of Madinah, Indonesian religious ministry, Saudi Islamic affair ministry, and Masjid al-Haram have compiled the classical exegesis from chapter Al-Anfal verse 50 Quran 8:50, that the angel of death has special tasks during the battle of Badr.[22]

In Hadiths


According to one Muslim tradition, 40 days before the death of a person approaches, God drops a leaf from a tree below the heavenly throne, on which Azrael reads the name of the person he must take with him.[15] Al-Qurtubi narrated commentary from classical scholar, Ibn Zhafar al-Wa'izh, that Azrael, has a shape resembling a blue colored ram, has numerous eyes in numerous places, and according to Ikrimah Mawlâ Ibn 'Abbâs [id; ar], a tabiʾ scholar,[Notes 1] the size of Azrael were so huge that "if the Earth were put on his shoulder, it would be like a bean in an open field".[20] He also had 4,000 wings which consisted of two types, wings of grace and wings of punishment.[20] The wings of punishment are made from iron rods, hooks, and scissors.[20] Muqatil ibn Sulayman has recorded his commentary in his commentary work, al-Suluk, the angel possessed 70,000 limbs of foot.[23][Notes 2]

Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz, an Umayyad caliph, reported a narration that the angel of death is armed with a flaming whip.[20] Caliph Umar also reported a narration that the angel of death was so huge that he even dwarfed Bearers of the Throne, group of angels which are known as the biggest among angels.[20]

The "Islamic Book of Dead" describes him with 4 faces, and his whole body consists of eyes and tongues whose number corresponds to the number of humans inhabiting the Earth.[6][8][34]: 33–34 

The angel of death features in a famous extra-Quranic creation story regarding the creation of Adam, recorded by various Muslim scholars, including Tabari, Mas'udi, Maqdisi, Kisa'i, Tha'labi, Ibn Kathir in his work Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyā (Stories of the Prophets), and Muqatil.[35] Accordingly, God ordered the archangels to collect dust from earth from which Adam is supposed to be created. Only Azrael succeeded, whereupon he was destined to become the angel concerning life and death, a reference to show the close connection between these two.[36]

Relationship between Azrael and Death


Islam elaborated further narratives concerning the relation between Azrael and Death. Christian Lange mentioned that according to some scholars Azrael and Death were one entity; other exegesis scholars opined Azrael and Death were different entities, with Death as some kind of tool used by Azrael to take life.[37]: 129 

One account explains death and its relation to Azrael, representing Death and Azrael as former two separate entities, but when God created Death, God ordered the angels to look upon it and they swoon for a thousand years. After the angels regained consciousness, Death recognized that it must submit to Azrael.[38] This opinion were shared among scholars of Islam such as Sultan ibn ‘Abdirrahman Al-‘Umairi, in his book Al-‘Uquud Adz-Dzahabiyyah ‘alaa Maqaasid Al-‘Aqiidah Al-Waasithiyyah where he adds commentary the Hadith about Death will be materialized after the judgment day in form of a Ram, which said as different entity than Angel Azrael.[39] According to one narration, Azrael is rewarded to become the angel of death for successfully carrying the dirt of the earth from which Adam would be created.[40]

The identification of "Death" and angel Azrael as one entity were explained in a Hadith about the fate of "Death" entity itself after the judgment day, where classical Hanafite scholar Badr al-Din al-Ayni has interpreted in that Hadith which compiled in Sahih Bukhari collection, that Death would take on the form of a ram, then placed between paradise and hell, and finally slaughtered by God himself, causing Death cease to exist, which followed by God to declare to both people of paradise and hell that eternity has begun, and their state will never end.[41] Lange mentioned that according to some scholars, the ram in that Hadith narration is no other than the angel of death himself, while others assert, this to be death's own form in the hereafter.[37] In other account sourced from Muqatil ibn Sulayman, Azrael and death were said as one entity as he reported the angel has number of faces and hands equal to the number of living creatures on his body, where each of those faces and hands are connected with the life of each souls in the living world.[23] Whenever a face within Azrael body vanished, then the soul which connected with it will experience death.[23]

Saints and prophets


A common belief holds that the lesser angels of death are for the common people, while saints and prophets meet the archangel of death himself.[19] Great prophets, such as Moses and Muhammad are invited politely by him, but saints are also said to meet Azrael in beautiful forms.

It is said that, when Rumi was about to die, he laid in his bed and met Azrael in human shape.[42] The belief that Azrael appears to saints before they actually die to prepare themselves for death, is also attested by the testament of Nasir Khusraw, in which he claims to have met Azrael during his sleep, informing him about his upcoming death.[43] According to the Sufi teacher Al-Jili, Azrael appears to the soul in a form provided by its most powerful metaphors.

It is believed to resist the pulling of the soul by the angel of death by accusing him of acting arbitrarily. In that case, the angel of death returns to heaven to bring proof for following heavenly instructions.[40]

Western reception

A six winged Seraph Azrael by M. Vroubel

The Islamic notion of Azrael, including some narratives such as the tale of Solomon, a hadith reaching back to Shahr Ibn Hawshab,[44] was already known in the United States in the 18th century as attested by Gregory Sharpe and James Harris.[44]

Some Western adaptions extended the physical description of Azrael, hence the poet Leigh Hunt depicts Azrael as wearing a black-hooded cloak. Although lacking the eminent scythe, his portrayal nevertheless resembles the Grim Reaper.[44] Henry Wadsworth Longfellow mentions Azrael in "The Reaper and the Flowers" as an angel of death, but he is not equated with Samael, the angel of death in Jewish lore who appears as a fallen and malevolent angel, instead.[45] Azrael also appears in G. K. Chesterton's poem "Lepanto" as one of the Islamic spirits commanded by "Mahound" (Muhammad) to resist Don John of Austria's crusade. In The Smurfs, the cat of the evil wizard Gargamel is called Azrael.

See also





  1. ^ According to the narrator, Ikrimah, he saw this narration from non-canonical source which he named the "scroll of Seth".[20]
  2. ^ Muqatil ibn Sulayman were neglected by numbers of Islamic scholars, such as Abu Hanifa (d. 150 H/ 767 CE) who criticised his theology, Ibn al-Mubarak (d. 181 H/ 797 CE) who criticised his methodology (particularly that he did not quote Hadith with chains of transmission), and Wakee ibn al-Jarrah (d. 197/ 812 CE) who criticize Muqatil as lying in his narration.[24][25][26] Ibn Hajar in particular quotes the following from him: "Two disgusting opinions came to us from the east: Jahm the negator [of God’s attributes] and Muqatil the anthropomorphist."[27] Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali stated that the early scholars (as-salaf) rejected Muqatil's views after they became known after his debate with Jahm.[28][29] However, more recent scholars has argued while Muqatil are not trustworthy, his theology as antrophomorphist are falsely attributed, as Ibn Abi al-Izz (d. 731), a follower of Ibn Taymiyyah,[30] argued that al-Ash'ari's material originated from the Mu'tazila and/or must have been tampered with.[31][32] Contemporary Saudi scholar Abdullah al-Ghunayman, author of the commentary on Ibn Taymiyyah's Al-Aqidah Al-Waasitiyyah, argues that he could not find anything he would consider anthropomorphic from Muqatil, arguing that to be reliable, ones views must be taken from one's own works, and not from the works of an opponent. Al-Ghunayman says "Mushabbih" has become a catch word to accuse one's opponents because of their different views.[33][32]


  1. ^ Smith, Elise Lawton. 2002. Evelyn Pickering De Morgan and the Allegorical Body. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. ISBN 9780838638835. p. 153–54.
  2. ^ "Strong's Hebrew Concordance - 5832. Azarel".
  3. ^ "Azrael| Meaning, Angel, & Fate | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 2024-06-06.
  4. ^ Bauckham, Richard (2008). The Fate of the Dead: Studies on the Jewish and Christian Apocalypses. Society of Biblical Literature. ISBN 978-1-58983-288-6.
  5. ^ Davidson, Gustav. 1968. "Longfellow's Angels". Prairie Schooner 42(3):235–43. JSTOR 40630837.
  6. ^ a b Hastings, James; Selbie, John A. (2003), Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 3, Kessinger Publishing, p. 617, ISBN 0-7661-3671-X
  7. ^ Hamilton, Michelle M. 2014. Beyond Faith: Belief, Morality and Memory in a Fifteenth-Century Judeo-Iberian Manuscript. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9789004282735.
  8. ^ a b c Davidson, Gustav. [1967] 1971. "A § Azrael". Pp. 64–65 in A Dictionary of Angels, Including the Fallen Angels. New York: Free Press. ISBN 9780029070505.
  9. ^ C.D. Isbell, Corpus of the Aramaic Incantation Bowls, Missoula: Scholars Press, 1975, §12:14 and 41:7, pp. 44 and 98
  10. ^ J. Naveh and S. Shaked, Amulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity, Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1985, §1:13; 2:16; 7:3, pp. 40–41, 46–7 and 68–9.
  11. ^ Burge, S. (2019). Themes in Islamic angelology. In Angels in Islam: Jalal Al-Din al-Suyuti's al-Haba'ik Fi Akhbar al-Mala'ik (p. 36). essay, Routledge.
  12. ^ S. R. Burge (University of Edinburgh) cZR’L, The Angel of Death and the Ethiopic Apocalypse of Peter
  13. ^ Noegel, Scott B.; Wheeler, Brannon M. (2002). Historical Dictionary of Prophets in Islam and Judaism. Scarecrow. ISBN 9780810843059.
  14. ^ Çakmak, Cenap. 2017. Islam: A Worldwide Encyclopaedia, 4 vols. ABC-Clio. ISBN 9781610692175. p. 137
  15. ^ a b Houtsma, Martijn Theodoor. [1913–1936] 1987. E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936, edited by R. Arnold and C. Gibb. Leiden: Brill Publishers. ISBN 978-9-004-08265-6. p. 570.
  16. ^ Smith, Jane I., and Yvonne Haddad. 1981. Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 9780873955072. p. 35.
  17. ^ Cenap Çakmak Islam: A Worldwide Encyclopedia [4 volumes] ABC-CLIO 2017 ISBN 9781610692175 pp. 137
  18. ^ a b c Abdullaah Al-Faqeeh (2003). "Angel of death seizes many souls simultaneously; Fatwa No: 20657". Islamweb.net. Fatwa center of Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University, Yemen, and Mauritania Islamic educational institutes. Retrieved 14 March 2022.
  19. ^ a b Michelle M. Hamilton Beyond Faith: Belief, Morality and Memory in a Fifteenth-Century Judeo-Iberian Manuscript BRILL, 14.11.2014 ISBN 9789004282735 p. 235
  20. ^ a b c d e f g al-Qurtubi (2005). Noor Ridho, Abdillah; Ihsan, Muhammad (eds.). At-Tadzkirah Jilid 1 Bekal Menghadapi Kehidupan Abadi [At-Tadhkirah Volume 1 Provisions for Facing Eternal Life] (ebook) (Music / Religious / Muslim, Religion / Islam / Koran & Sacred Writings, Religion / Islam / Rituals & Practice) (in Indonesian). Translated by Anshor Umar Sitanggal. east Jakarta: Pustaka al-Kautsar. pp. 50, 140–141. ISBN 9789795926320. Retrieved 7 March 2022.
  21. ^ Christian Lange|Locating Hell in Islamic Traditions| BRILL | 978-90-04-30121-4 | p. 93
  22. ^ Muhammad Sulaiman al-Ashqar; Wahbah_al-Zuhayli; Imad Zuhair Hafidz from Markaz Ta'dhim Qur'an Medina; Shalih bin Abdullah bin Humaid (2016). "Surat al Anfal ayat 50". Tafsirweb (in Indonesian and Arabic). Islamic University of Madinah; Ministry of Religious Affairs (Indonesia); Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance; Masjid al-Haram. Retrieved 30 January 2022.
  23. ^ a b c Ahmad Zacky El-Syafa (2020). Ternyata Kita Tak Pantas Masuk Surga [Turns out we did not deserve to enter the heaven] (ebook) (Religion / Islam / General, Young Adult Nonfiction / Religion / Islam) (in Indonesian). Surabaya: Genta Hidayah. pp. 38–39. ISBN 9786232350571. Retrieved 7 March 2022.
  24. ^ Ibn Ḥajar al-‛Asqalānī, Tahdhīb, 4/143-46
  25. ^ al-Dhahabī, Mīzan, 6/505-7
  26. ^ Tohe, Achmad. Muqatil ibn Sulayman: A neglected figure in the early history of Qur'ānic commentary. Diss. Boston University, 2015. pp. 11, 20
  27. ^ Ibn Ḥajar al-‛Asqalānī, Tahdhīb, 10/281
  28. ^ Ibn Rajab al-Ḥanbalī, Bayān Faḍl ‛ilm al-Salaf ‛alā ‘Ilm al-Khalaf, ed. Muḥammad ibn Nāṣir al-‘Ajmī(Beirūt: Dār al-Bashā’ir al-Islāmiyyah, 2003), p.55
  29. ^ Tohe, Achmad. Muqatil ibn Sulayman: A neglected figure in the early history of Qur'ānic commentary. Diss. Boston University, 2015. p. 33
  30. ^ Shagaviev, Damir A., and Venera N. Khisamova. "Islamic theological literature of the Salafi sect in the modern Tatarstan." Journal of Sustainable Development 8.7 (2015): 83.
  31. ^ Ṣadr al-Dīn ‘Alī ibn ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn Abī al-‘Izz al-Ḥanafī, Sharḥal-Ṭaḥāwiyyahfī al-‘Aqīdah al-Salafiyyah, ed. Aḥmad Muḥammad Shākir (Riyāḍ: Fahrasah Maktabat al-Malik Fahd al-Waṭaniyyah, 1997).
  32. ^ a b Tohe, Achmad. Muqatil ibn Sulayman: A neglected figure in the early history of Qur'ānic commentary. Diss. Boston University, 2015. p. 43
  33. ^ Abd Allāh Mūḥammad al-Ghanīmān, Sharḥal-‛Aqīdah al-Wāsiṭiyyah(al-Maktabah al-Shāmilah), 12/8.
  34. ^ Qāḍī, ʻAbd al-Raḥīm ibn Aḥmad (1977). Islamic book of the dead : a collection of Hadiths on the Fire & the Garden. Norwich, Norfolk: Diwan Press. ISBN 0-9504446-2-6. OCLC 13426566.
  35. ^ Chipman, Leigh NB. "Mythic Aspects of the Process of Adam's Creation in Judaism and Islam." Studia Islamica (2001): 5-25.
  36. ^ Ibn Kathir (2017). "Adam Alaihissalam". In Hikmatiar, Ikhlas (ed.). Kisah Para Nabi Sejarah Lengkap Kehidupan Para Nabi sejak Nabi Adam Alaihissalam hingga Nabi Isa Alaihissalam [Stories of the Prophets Complete History of the Life of the Prophets since Prophet Adam Alaihissalam to Prophet Isa Alaihissalam] (Religion / Islam / History) (in Indonesian). Translated by Saefulloh MS. east Jakarta: Qisthi Press. p. 46. ISBN 9789791303842. Retrieved 10 March 2022.
  37. ^ a b Lange, Christian (2016). Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions. Cambridge United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-50637-3.
  38. ^ Jane I. Smith, Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection State University of New York Press 1981 ISBN 9780873955072 p. 34-35
  39. ^ Sulthon bin ‘Abdirrahman Al-‘Umairi. إمداد القارى بشرح كتاب التفسير من صحيح البخارى 1-4 - 3 (Paperback) (in Arabic). IslamKotob. p. 506. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  40. ^ a b Wensinck, A.J., “ʿIzrāʾīl”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Consulted online on 17 August 2023 doi:10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_3719 First published online: 2012 First print edition: ISBN 9789004161214, 1960-2007
  41. ^ Badr al-Din al-Ayni. "Umdat al qari; Interpretation of Sahih Bukhari". Islamweb.net (in Arabic). al-Maktaba al-Islam (Islamic library). p. 53. Retrieved 18 March 2022. حدثنا عمر بن حفص بن غياث ، حدثنا أبي ، حد; فيقولون : نعم هذا الموت ، وكلهم قد رآه ، ثم ينادي : يا أهل النار ، فيشرئبون وينظرون ، فيقول : هل تعرفون هذا ؟ فيقولون : نعم هذا الموت ، وكلهم قد رآه فيذبح ثم يقول : يا أهل الجنة ، خلود فلا موت ، ويا أهل النار خلود فلا موت ، ثم قرأ; Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said, "On the Day of Resurrection Death will be brought forward in the shape of a black and white ram. Then a call maker will call, 'O people of Paradise!' Thereupon they will stretch their necks and look carefully. The caller will say, 'Do you know this?' They will say, 'Yes, this is Death.' By then all of them will have seen it. Then it will be announced again, 'O people of Hell !' They will stretch their necks and look carefully. The caller will say, 'Do you know this?' They will say, 'Yes, this is Death.' And by then all of them will have seen it. Then it (that ram) will be slaughtered and the caller will say, 'O people of Paradise! Eternity for you and no death O people of Hell! Eternity for you and no death."' ثنا الأعمش ، حدثنا أبو صالح ، عن أبي سعيد الخدري رضي الله عنه قال : قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : يؤتى بالموت كهيئة كبش أملح فينادي مناد : يا أهل الجنة ، فيشرئبون ، وينظرون ، فيقول : هل تعرفون هذا ؟
  42. ^ Davidson, Gustav. A Dictionary of Angels, Including the Fallen Angels. New York: Free Press. Simon & Schuster. p. 255.
  43. ^ Rubanovich, Julia. 2015. Orality and Textuality in the Iranian World: Patterns of Interaction Across the Centuries. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9789004291973. p. 148.
  44. ^ a b c Al-Garrallah, Aiman Sanad. 2016. "The Islamic tale of Solomon and the Angel of Death in English Poetry: Origins, Translations, and Adaptations". Forum for World Literature Studies 8(4):528–47. ISSN 1949-8519. Issue link.
  45. ^ Davidson, Gustav (Fall 1968). "Longfellow's Angels". Prairie Schooner. 42 (3): 235–243. JSTOR 40630837.