Hadith

7 Hadiths on the Angel of Death

AL-SUYUTI: 7 HADITHS ON THE ANGEL OF DEATH

Seven Narrations on the Angel of Death

(malak al-mawt)

Imam al-Hafiz Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti mentions in his compendium of Prophetic narrations regarding the Angels:[1]

1. “Ibn al-Najjar related in his Ta’rikh from Anas in marfu` form that: Every day the Angel of death looks into the whereabouts of the servant up to 70 times. When [the Angel of Death] is sent to the servant and he laughs, [the Angel of death] says: How astonishing! I am sent to you in order to seize your soul and you are laughing?”

وأخرج ابن النجار في تاريخه عن أنس مرفوعا: إن ملك الموت لينظر في وجود العباد كل يوم سبعين نظرة، فإذا ضحك العبد الذي بعث إليه يقول: يا عجبا بعثت إليه لأقبض روحه وهو يضحك.

2. “`Abd al-Razzaq, Ahmad in his [book] al-Zuhd, Ibn Jarir, Ibn al-Mundhir, Ibn Abi Hatim and Abu ’l-Shaykh all relate from Mujahid who said: there is no place on earth – whether a house or dwelling – but that the Angel of death encircles it twice a day.”

وأخرج عبد الرزاق وأحمد في الزهد، وابن جرير، وابن المنذر، وابن أبى حاتم، وأبو الشيخ عن مجاهد قال: ما على ظهر الأرض من بيت شعر ولا مدر إلا وملك الموت يطوف به كل يوم مرتين.

3. “Ibn Abi Shayba in his Musannaf, `Abd Allah b. Ahmad in his Zawa’id al-Zuhd from `Abd al-A`la al-Tamimi who said: There is no person except that the Angel of death visits him twice a day.”[2]

وأخرج ابن أبى شيبة في المصنف، وعبد الله بن أحمد في زوائد الزهد عن عبد الأعلى التميمى قال: ما من أهل دار إلا وملك الموت يتصفحهم في اليوم مرتين.

4. “Ibn Abi Hatim relates from Ka`b who said: There is no house in which a person lives except that the Angel of death is at his door seven times a day looking in to see if there is anyone he has been ordered to take.”

وأخرج ابن أبى حاتم عن كعب قال: ما من بيت فيه أحد إلا وملك الموت على بابه كل يوم سبع مرات ينظر هل فيه أحد أمر به يتوفاه.

5. “Ibn Jarir, Abu ’l-Shaykh from al-Rabi` b. Anas who was asked about the Angel of death: Is he alone in taking the souls of all people? He said: He is in charge of taking souls but has helpers for that in that the Angel of death is the Leader with each of his step stretching to the East and West.”

وأخرج ابن جرير، وأبو الشيخ عن الربيع بن أنس: أنه سئل عن ملك الموت: هل هو وحده الذي يقبض الأرواح? قال: هو الذي يلي أمر الأرواح، وله أعوان على ذلك، غير أن ملك الموت هو الرئيس، وكل خطوة منه من المشرق إلى المغرب.

6. “al-Dinawari relates in [his book] al-Majalisa from Abu Zayd al-Azdi who said: the Angel of death was asked: how do you take the soul? He replied: I call out to it and it immediately comes to me.”

وأخرج الدينورى في المجالسة عن أبى زيد الأزدى قال: قيل لملك الموت: كيف تقبض الأرواح? قال: أدعوها فتجيئنى.

7. “Ibn Abi Shayba, Ibn Abi al-Dunya, Ibn Abi Hatim, al-Hakim who graded [the narration] sahih, al-Bayhaqi in Shu`ab al-Iman all relate from al-Bara’ b. al-`Azib regarding Allah’s statement {Their salutation on the day when they shall meet Him will be: Peace. And He hath prepared for them a goodly recompense…}[3] that it is the Angel of death who does not seize the pious believer’s soul without imparting salams upon him.”

وأخرج ابن أبى شيبة، وابن أبى الدنيا، وابن أبى حاتم، والحاكم وصححه، والبيهقى في شعب الإيمان عن البراء بن عازب في قوله تعالى: تَحيَتُهُم يَومَ يَلقَونَهُ سَلام (الأحزاب: 44) قال: ملك الموت، ليس من مؤمن يقبض روحه إلا يسلم عليه.

Notes:

  • Death is certain.
  • Allah warns us that we cannot escape it {know that the death from which you seek to flee will surely meet you…}[4] and that all human beings will taste it {every soul shall taste death}.[5]
  • Death is supposed to put believers in a state, a condition that reminds them not only of their mortality (finite life) but what is to come when they actually die, namely:
  1. There is a pre-resurrection existence in the grave (al-qabr).
  2. There will be specific events that occur in the grave prior to judgment day.
  3. All actions will be accounted for.
  4. There is a Heaven and a Hell which will be the final abode for the pious and impious respectively.
  • Imam Ghazzali warns: “Know that […] with every breath that one draws the Angel of death is liable to come upon him with the agonies of death.”[6]
  • The Angel of death is called Azra’il and is a member of the divine counsel of Angels who include: Jibril, Israfil and Mika’il (as).
  • The Prophet (saw) is reported to have said:
“Ibn Abi Shayba, Ibn Abi Hatim, Abu ’l-Shaykh in his Kitab al-`Uzma as well as al-Bayhaqi in Shu`ab al-Iman mention from Ibn Sabit who said: The affairs of the world are governed by four: Jibril, Mika’il, The Angel of Death and Israfil. As for Jibril, he is in charge of the winds and the armies; Mika’il is in charge of the lands and the plants, the Angel of death seizes the souls and Israfil will descend with the commanded [by Allah].”[7]

أخرج ابن أبى شيبة وابن أبى حاتم، وأبو الشيخ في العظمة، والبيهقى في الشعب، عن ابن سابط قال: يدبر أمر الدنيا أربعة: جبريل، وميكائيل، وملك الموت، وإسرافيل، فأما جبريل: فموكل بالرياح، والجنود، وأما ميكائيل: فموكل بالقطر، والنبات، وأما ملك الموت: فموكل بقبض الأرواح، وأما إسرافيل: فهو ينزل بالأمر عليهم.

  • The Angel of death has many attributes and many reports have come regarding his functions and duties as given by Allah (swt).
  • Some of the reports about the Angel of death include:
  1. Seizing the souls of all people:
“Abu Nu`aym relates in his [book] al-Hilya from Thabit al-Bunani[8] who said: night and day has 24 hours and there is not a single hour in which the Angel of death does not come upon a soul, presiding over it where if he is commanded to seize it he does otherwise he leaves.”[9]

وأخرج أبو نعيم في الحلية عن ثابت البناني قال: الليل والنهار أربع وعشرون ساعة، ليس فيها ساعة تأتي على ذي روح إلا وملك الموت قائم عليها، فإن أمر بقبضها، قبضها وإلا ذهب

  • A person in the state of death is followed by three “calamities” (al-dawahi, sing. = al-dahiya) and one of these calamities is beholding the Angel of death (mushahadat malak al-mawt).
    1. The actual form of the Angel of death is indescribable. Although glimpsing the his form even made Prophets faint with horror:
“Ibn Abi al-Dunya relates from Ka`b[10] the following: Ibrahim (as) saw a man in his house and asked: who are you? He replied: I am the Angel of death. Ibrahim said: if you really are him, then show me sign by which I can be sure that you are the Angel of death. The Angel of death said: turn your face so [Ibrahim] did and when he turned back around he saw the form [of the Angel] when he takes the souls of the believers. He saw from the light and the splendour the likes of something only truly Allah Most High knows. Then [Ibrahim] was told: turn your face again so he did. Then he turned around and saw the form [of the Angel] when he takes the souls of the disbelievers and pen sinners upon which Ibrahim was absolutely terrified with his whole body trembling [out of fear] and collapsing to the ground as though his like was taken out of him.”[11]

وأخرج ابن أبى الدنيا عن كعب قال: إن إبراهيم عليه السلام رأى في بيته رجلا فقال: من أنت? قال: أنا ملك الموتن قال إبراهيم: إن كنت صادقا فأرني منك آية أعرف أنك ملك الموت قال ملك الموت: أعرض بوجهك فأعرض ثم نظر فأراه الصورة التي يقبض فيها المؤمنين، فرأى من النور والبهاء شيئا لا يعلمه إلا الله تعالى ثم قال: أعرض بوجهك، فأعرض ثم نظر فأراه الصورة التي يقبض فيها الكفار والفجار فرعب إبراهيم رعبا حتى أرعدت فرائصه، وألصق بطنه بالأرض، وكادت نفسه أن تخرج.

  1. Imam al-Ghazzali mentions about the Angel of death that “his name is Azra’il and he has two eyes; one at the front and one at the back of his head” – […وأسمه عزرائيل وله عينان عين في وجهه وعين في قفاه].[12]
  2. For the sinner (al-`ussat): the Angel of death appears in the most frightening form, ghastly, horrible, ugly[13] and for the righteous (al-muti`) the Angel of death appears in the most beautiful, pleasant, perfumed, youthful.[14]
  3. The Angel of death is never delayed in his task and never falters.
  4. According to he Angel of death does not even know when a person’s lifespan will terminate until he is ordered:
“Ahmad mentions in al-Zuhd as well as Ibn Abi al-Dunya from Ma`mar who said: it reached us that the Angel of death does not have knowledge of when a person’s lifespan will end until he is commanded to take [the soul].”[15]

وأخرج أحمد في الزهد، وابن أبى الدنيا عن معمر قال: بلغنا أن ملك الموت لا يعلم متى يحضر أجل الإنسان حتى يؤمر بقبضها.

  1. No-one knows when the Angel of death will come:
“`Ata’ b. Yasar[16] said that: In the middle of the Night of Sha`ban, the Angel of death is given a scroll and is told: ‘this year, you are to seize the soul of the people whose names are recorded on the scroll.’ A man may sow crops, marry women and build tall buildings while his name is on the scroll and he knows it not.”[17]

قال عطاء بن يسار: إذا كانت ليلة النصف من شعبان دفع إلى ملك الموت صحيفة فيقال اقبض في هذه السنة من في هذه الصحيفة قال فإن العبد ليغرس الغراس وينكح الأزواج ويبني البنيان وإن اسمه في تلك الصحيفة وهو لا يدري

  1. “At first Azra’il was an angel like the others. When Allah wanted to create man, he ordered Jibril to snatch from the earth for this purpose a handful of its main constituents. The earth, however, stirred up by Iblis (Satan), offered resistance, so that neither Jibril, nor Mika’il nor Israfil could carry out the commission. But Azra’il managed to do it. Because of his pitilessness (qillat al-rahma) Allah then appointed him angel of death.”[18]
  • In general, however, angels must be believed in based on the noble verse {The Messenger believeth in what hath been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one (of them) believeth in Allah, His angels, His books, and His apostles}.[19]
  • Thus, denying belief in the Angel of death is tantamount to disbelief (kufr).

And Allah knows best.

S. Z. Chowdhury


[1] See al-Suyuti, al-Haba’ik fi Akhbar al-Mala’ik, pp.15-17.  The entire section is pp.14-25.

[2] Other narrations have 3 times, 5 times, etc. al-Suyuti, al-Haba’ik fi Akhbar al-Mala’ik, pp.15-16.

[3] See surat al-Ahzab:44 (M. Pickthall translation).

[4] Surat al-Jum`a:8.

[5] Surat Ali `Imran:3, al-Anbiya’:35 and al-`Ankabut:57.

[6] al-Ghazzali, The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife (tr. T. Winter), p.37

[7] al-Suyuti, al-Haba’ik fi Akhbar al-Mala’ik, p.4.

[8] A pious tabi`i (‘1st generation of successors’) who sat with Imam Malik for over 40 years. He was one of the bakka’un (those given to much weeping out fear of Allah). He died in 127/744.See Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, 2:2-4 and Abu Nu`aym, Hilyat al-Awliya’, 2:318-333.

[9] al-Suyuti, al-Haba’ik fi Akhbar al-Mala’ik, p.16.

[10] A rabbi from Yemen who converted to Islam during the time of `Umar (ra). He died in 32/652. See s.v. M. Schmitz, EI2, 4:316-317 and Ibn Hibban, Mashahir `Ulama’ al-Amsar, p.118.

[11] al-Suyuti, al-Haba’ik fi Akhbar al-Mala’ik, p.17.

[12] al-Ghazzali, Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din, 4:432.

[13] From Ibn Mas`ud regarding some of the descriptions of Azra’il:

“[…] the [Ibrahim] turned and lo there was a man, dark black, whose head reached the sky with blazing fire billowing out of him; not a single hair was on his body like the form of a man and fire too was blazing out of his ears…”

وأخرج عن ابن مسعودن وابن عباس قالا: لما اتخذ الله تعالى إبراهيم خليلا سال ملك الموت ربه يأذن له فيبشره بذلك فأذن له فجاء إبراهيم فبشره بذلك فقال: الحمد الله ثم قال: يا ملك الموت أرني كيف تقبض أنفاس الكفار، قال: يا إبراهيم لا تطيق ذلك قال: بلى قال: فأعرض، فأعرض ثم نظر فإذا برجل أسود ينال رأسه السماء يخرج من فيه لهب النار ليس من شعرة في جسده غلا في صورة رجل، يخرج من فيه ومسامعه لهب النار فغشى على إبراهيم ثم أفقا وقد تحول ملك الموت في الصورة الأولى فقال: يا ملك الموت لو لم يلق الكافر من البلاء والحزن إلا صورتك لكفاه، فأرني كيف تقبض أنفاس المؤمنين قال: أعرض فأعرض ثم التفت فإذا هو برجل شاب أحسن الناس وجها، وأطيبهم ريحا، في ثياب بيضاء فقال: يا ملك الموت! لو لم يرى المؤمن عند موته من قرة العين والكرامة إلا صورتك هذه لكان يكفيه.

[14] al-Ghazzali, Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din, 4:430-431 and The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife (tr. T. Winter), pp.44-45.

[15] al-Suyuti, al-Haba’ik fi Akhbar al-Mala’ik, p.20.

[16] A pious tabi`i (‘1st generation of successors’) who narrated from Abu Dharr and Zayd b. Thabit and found in the collections of Bukhari and Muslim. He died in 121/721. See Ibn Hibban, Mashahir `Ulama’ al-Amsar, p.69 and al-Dhahabi, al-Kashif, 2:223.

[17] al-Ghazzali, Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din, 4:432 and al-Suyuti, al-Haba’ik fi Akhbar al-Mala’ik, p.20.

[18] A. J. Wensinck, “Izra’il” in EI2, 1:292. See al-Suyuti, al-Haba’ik fi Akhbar al-Mala’ik, pp.15-16.

وأخرج ابن جرير، والبيهقى في الأسماء والصفات، وابن عساكر من طريق السدى عن أبى مالك، وعن أبى صالح عن ابن عباس، وعن مرة عن ابن مسعود وناس من الصحابة قالوا: بعث الله جبريل إلى الأرض ليأتيه بطين منها فقالت الأرض: أعوذ بالله منك أن تنقص منى، فرجع ولم يأخذ شيئا وقال: يا رب، إنها عاذت بك فأعذتها، فبعث ميكائيل كذلك، فبعث ملك الموت فعاذت منه فقال: وأنا أعوذ بالله أن أرجع ولم أنفذ أمره، فأخذ من وجه الأرض…

[19] See surat al-Baqara:285 (Yusuf Ali translation).

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