Azrael or ʿIzrā'īl (Arabic: عِزرائیل) is the Angel of Death, an angel close to God who is assigned by Him to take the lives of living beings. Azrael takes the lives of prophets and saints on his own, and he has agents who take the lives of other beings. When Azrael takes the lives of all living beings, God will take his own life.
Name and Features
"Azrael" has a Hebrew origin, consisting of two parts ("Azra" and "el") where the first part means servant and the second means God, and so the phrase literally means "the servant of God". The word found its way to Arabic (by transforming into "'Izra'il") through the Syriac language.
Azrael is referred to in the Qur'an as "Malak al-Mawt" (the Angel of Death): "Say: "The Angel of Death, put in charge of you, will take your souls: then shall ye be brought back to your Lord."". He is also referred to in hadiths as "Qābiḍ al-Arwāḥ" (قابض الأرواح, literally: taker of the souls) and "Hādim al-Dhāt" (هادِم الذات, literally: destroyer of the essence).
According to hadiths, Azrael is a manifestation of divine attributes, "al-Qābiḍ" (القابض) and "al-Mumīt" (المُمیت), because it is God who expands people's souls or grasps them, although He does this with His agents, such as angels and Azrael. Azrael, Mika'il, Israfil, and Jabra'il are characterized as "Heads of Angels" (Ru'us al-Mala'ika). According to some hadiths, the Guarded Tablet (al-Lawh al-Mahfuz) consists of four elements: knowledge, life, will, and power, and Azrael is a manifestation of its power.
According to some hadiths, in the last moments of the Prophet Muhammad's (s) life, Fatima (a) and Azrael, who was permitted to enter the Prophet's (s) house, had a conversation. Also, some physical properties are attributed to Azrael in some sources of hadiths, such as having four wings which cover the four sides of the whole world with his feet in the bottom of the world and his head in the sky. However, according to Shiite theologians, the wings of angels are not analogous to those of birds, since they are immaterial entities. Their attributes are cashed out in hadiths in ways that are understandable by laypeople.
According to some hadiths, when God wanted to create Adam, He ordered the angels to bring Him part of the soil on the Earth, but none of them could do this except Azrael, because he was the only angel who enjoyed the divine power and dominance. Thus, God appointed him to take the lives of living beings.
Azrael takes the lives of prophets and saints on his own, but the lives of other living beings are taken by his agents. There is a question of how Azrael can take the lives of many living beings throughout the world at the same time. To this question, philosophers and theologians have answered as follows: Azrael is an immaterial, spiritual entity, and so he is not located in a particular place and so, he does not move from one place to another. In fact, the whole material world is the same for Azrael. So, he takes the lives of many living beings at the same time by calling them to himself.
There are many verses of the Qur'an with regard to how the soul is taken or grasped: in some Quranic verses, the grasping of the souls is attributed to God; in others, it is attributed to Azrael, and in others, it is attributed to other angels. According to exegetes of the Qur'an, these verses do not contradict one another, because God is the ultimate cause of taking lives, but the task is sometimes carried out by Azrael and sometimes by other angels.
The Quranic verse, "when death comes to one of you, Our angels take his soul", shows that people's deaths are undertaken by a group of angels, and so, Azrael has many assistants and agents to take the lives of people. The angels are referred to in the Qur'an as "Nāzi'āt" (نازعات, pluckers), "Sābiḥāt" (سابحات, swimmers), and "Sābiqāt" (سابقات, outsrippers) who are assigned with different tasks of taking the lives. For example, "Nāshiṭāt" (ناشطات, drawers) are commissioned to take the lives of believers gently, and "Nazi'at" are commissioned to take the lives of unbelievers forcefully.
According to Quranic verses, unbelievers die with a lot of pain and torture. Angels of death surround them and beat them behind them and in front of them, but the lives of believers are taken by the angels of mercy. They are treated gently and are given the good news of going to the Heaven.
Death of Azrael
When Israfil blows the Trumpet (see: Nafkh al-Sur) for the first time at the end of the world, all living beings will die, except Azrael and some other angels. After the first blow of the Trumpet, when Azrael takes the lives of other angels who were initially excluded from death, God will take the life of Azrael.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from عزرائیل in Farsi Wikishia.