#389: The Name of the Angel of Death

Question:

Assalamualaikum ustaz. Is it true that the name for the angel of death is Azrael? Hope for an explanation.

Answer:

Waalaikumussalam wrt. wbt.,

Alhamdulillah, praise and gratitude to Allah SWT for His countless blessings for us all. Praise and salutations to our beloved Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his family, companions, and all those who follow his footsteps until the Final day.

First and foremost, the one that causes death for every creation is Allah, however, the one who carries out the task of taking the life is the angel of death. Allah SWT states:

هُوَ يُحْيِي وَيُمِيتُ وَإِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ

“He gives life and causes death, and to Him you will be returned,” [1]

Ibn Kathir explained: Allah SWT informs that He is the Sovereignty of the heavens and earth. His promise is true and will surely happen. He is the One who gives life and causes death and then resurrects the dead and returns them to Him. [2]

The angel of death is stated as the angel who will take the life of every creation. 

Among the evidences of the existence of the angel of death is the verse:


وَهُوَ الْقَاهِرُ فَوْقَ عِبَادِهِ ۖ وَيُرْسِلُ عَلَيْكُمْ حَفَظَةً حَتَّىٰ إِذَا جَاءَ أَحَدَكُمُ الْمَوْتُ تَوَفَّتْهُ رُسُلُنَا وَهُمْ لَا يُفَرِّطُونَ

“And He is the subjugator over His servants, and He sends over you guardian angels until, when death comes to one of you, Our messengers take him, and they do not fail [in their duties].” [3]

Ibn Kathir said: The time when a person dies arrives, the angel tasked to take life will come for him. According to Ibn Abbas: “The angel of death has a number of accompanying angels who are tasked to take the soul from the body. When the soul reaches the throat, the angel of death will take over and take the life of the person. [4] Hence, it can be understood from this verse that there is more than one angel of death, there are a lot of angels tasked in the taking of life.”

In another verse, Allah SWT states:

قُلْ يَتَوَفَّاكُم مَّلَكُ الْمَوْتِ الَّذِي وُكِّلَ بِكُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكُمْ تُرْجَعُونَ ‎

Say, “The angel of death will take you who has been entrusted with you. Then to your Lord you will be returned.” [5]

It is also stated that the souls of the disbelievers will be taken roughly without any compassion. This is as stated in the statement of Allah SWT:

فَكَيْفَ إِذَا تَوَفَّتْهُمُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ يَضْرِبُونَ وُجُوهَهُمْ وَأَدْبَارَهُمْ ‎

“Then how [will it be] when the angels take them in death, striking their faces and their backs?” [6]

Consequently, the souls of the believers will be taken gently. When their souls are taken, the angel gives them glad tidings as stated in the verse:


إِنَّ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا رَبُّنَا اللَّهُ ثُمَّ اسْتَقَامُوا تَتَنَزَّلُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ أَلَّا تَخَافُوا وَلَا تَحْزَنُوا وَأَبْشِرُوا بِالْجَنَّةِ الَّتِي كُنتُمْ تُوعَدُونَ ‎﴿٣٠﴾‏ نَحْنُ أَوْلِيَاؤُكُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَفِي الْآخِرَةِ ۖ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَشْتَهِي أَنفُسُكُمْ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَدَّعُونَ

“Indeed, those who have said, “Our Lord is Allah ” and then remained on a right course – the angels will descend upon them, [saying], “Do not fear and do not grieve but receive good tidings of Paradise, which you were promised. We [angels] were your allies in worldly life and [are so] in the Hereafter. And you will have therein whatever your souls desire, and you will have therein whatever you request [or wish].” [7]

Whereas, for the disbelievers, they are given grave news of their punishment and wrath of Allah SWT. This is as stated in the verse:


وَلَوْ تَرَىٰ إِذِ الظَّالِمُونَ فِي غَمَرَاتِ الْمَوْتِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةُ بَاسِطُو أَيْدِيهِمْ أَخْرِجُوا أَنفُسَكُمُ ۖ الْيَوْمَ تُجْزَوْنَ عَذَابَ الْهُونِ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ غَيْرَ الْحَقِّ وَكُنتُمْ عَنْ آيَاتِهِ تَسْتَكْبِرُونَ

“And if you could but see when the wrongdoers are in the overwhelming pangs of death while the angels extend their hands, [saying], “Discharge your souls! Today you will be awarded the punishment of [extreme] humiliation for what you used to say against Allah other than the truth and [that] you were, toward His verses, being arrogant.” [8]

The Name of the Angel of Death

Coming back to the above question, al-Quran and al-Hadith didn’t mention the name Azrael. It is only described as the angel of death in the Quran and hadith. Allah SWT states:

قُلْ يَتَوَفَّاكُمْ مَلَكُ الْمَوْتِ الَّذِي وُكِّلَ بِكُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَى رَبِّكُمْ تُرْجَعُونَ

Say, “The angel of death will take you who has been entrusted with you. Then to your Lord you will be returned.” [9]

Ibn Kathir said: “As for the name of the angel death, it isn’t mentioned clearly in the Quran and sahih hadiths. However, the name Azrael is stated in several athar.” [10]

Among the commentary books that stated the name of the angel of death as Izra’il are:

  • Tafsir al-Sam’ani (4/245) when commenting Surah al-Sajdah verse 11.
  • Fath al-Qadir (4/289) when commenting Surah al-Sajdah verse 11.
  • Fath al-Bayan fi Maqasid al-Qur’an (11/20) when commenting Surah al-Sajdah verse 11.
  • Tafsir al-Sya’rawi (4/2574) when commenting Surah al-Nisa’ verse 97.
  • Tafsir al-Muqatil (3/450) when commenting Surah al-Sajdah verse 11.
  • Tafsir Al-Hidayah ila Bulugh al-Nihayah (9/5754) when commenting Surah al-Sajdah verse 11.
  • Tafsir Ibn ‘Atiyyah (4/360) when commenting Surah al-Sajdah verse 11.
  • Tafsir Ibn Juzay (2/142) when commenting Surah al-Sajdah verse 11.
  • Tafsir al-Bahr al-Muhit (8/434) when commenting Surah al-Sajdah verse 11.
  • Tafsir Adhwa’ al-Bayan (6/184) when commenting Surah al-Sajdah verse 11.
  • Tafsir al-Wasit (8/119) when commenting Surah al-Sajdah verse 11.
  • Tafsir Mafatih al-Ghaib (2/386) when commenting Surah al-Baqarah verse 30.
  • Tafsir al-Samarqandi (3/542) when commenting Surah al-Nazi’at verse 14.

Furthermore, it is also stated in Ihya’ Ulumiddin written by Imam al-Ghazali [11] who took a narration from Asy’ath (maqtu’ hadith), he said:


سَأَلَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَى نَبِيِّنَا وَعَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ تَسْلِيمًا مَلَكَ الْمَوْتِ عَلَيْهِ السَّلَامُ وَاسْمُهُ عِزْرَائِيلُ، وَلَهُ عَيْنَانِ عَيْنٌ فِي وَجْهِهِ وَعَيْنٌ فِي قَفَاهُ، فَقَالَ: يَا مَلَكَ الْمَوْتِ، مَا تَصْنَعُ إِذَا كَانَتْ نَفْسٌ بِالْمَشْرِقِ وَنَفَسٌ بِالْمَغْرِبِ، وَوَقَعَ الْوَبَاءُ بِأَرْضٍ، وَالْتَقَى الزَّحْفَانِ كَيْفَ تَصْنَعُ؟ قَالَ: أَدْعُو الْأَرْوَاحَ بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ فَتَكُونُ بَيْنَ أُصْبُعَيَّ هَاتَيْنِ. قَالَ: وَدُحِيَتْ لَهُ الْأَرْضُ فَتُرِكَتْ مِثْلَ الطَّسْتِ يَتَنَاوَلُ مِنْهَا حَيْثُ شَاءَ. قَالَ: وَهُوَ الَّذِي بَشَّرَهُ بِأَنَّهُ خَلِيلُ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ

“Prophet Abraham asked the angel of death and its name is Azrael. It has two eyes; one on its face and the other on the back of its neck. Abraham said: ‘O angel of death, what would you do if one of the souls is in the east and the other in the west and there is an epidemic on earth and these two issues occurred concurrently. How would you cope? He answered: ‘I’ll call upon the souls and with Allah SWT’s will, they will gather between my two fingers.’” [12]

Al-Qadhi ‘Iyadh also stated regarding Azrael in the book al-Syifa bi Ta’rif al-Huquq al-Mustafa.[13] Moreover, Syeikh al-Islam Ibn Taimiyyah also named the angel of death Azrael when discussing the issue of whether all creations including angels will die. Most books as stated above only cited it without questioning whether the sanad is marfu’ and sahih regarding the name.

In our opinion, the word Azrael may have originated from Hebrew. In Tanakh (one of the Jewish holy books), the word Azrael is mentioned and it describes the angel of death. [14]

Hence, the name Azrael is clearly an Isra’iliyyat narration. The approaches for Muslims when interacting with Israiliyyat narrations are divided into three:

  • Narrations that are in line with the shariah and al-Quran. Thus, such stories function as a support for what is stated by them both.
  • Narrations that contradict the shariah and al-Quran. This is rejected with the agreement of the scholars.
  • Narrations that aren’t mentioned in shariah and al-Quran as to whether they are in line or contradict them. The principle is to not accept it wholeheartedly but not reject it completely.

To conclude, the angel of death’s name Azrael is included in the third category where we can neither wholly defend nor reject it. Thus, there isn’t an issue to use it although it isn’t found in the Quran and hadith as long as we don’t wholeheartedly believe that it is the name of the angel of death.

Wallahu a’lam.

[1] Surah Yunus: 56

[2] See Tafsir al-Quran al-‘Azim, 3/663

[3] Surah al-An’am: 61

[4] See Tafsir al-Quran al-‘Azim, 3/48

[5] Surah al-Sajdah: 11

[6] Surah Muhammad: 27

[7] Surah Fussilat: 30-31

[8] Surah al-An’am: 93

[9] Surah al-Sajdah: 11

[10] See al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, 1/47

[11] See Ihya’ Ulumiddin, 4/467

[12] See al-‘Uzmah3/908

[13] See al-Syifa bi Ta’rif al-Huquq al-Mustafa, 2/303

[14] See A Dictionary of Angels: Including The Fallen Angels, pg. 64-65

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