Is Gabriel really an angel?

We continue with our series regarding the incompleteness of the Quran, this time by focusing on the identity of Gabriel and specific other entities that Muslims normally believe to be angels of God.

Muslims are taught that Allah sent the angel Gabriel (Jibril) with the revelation to Muhammad. Muslims are also taught that Allah sent specific angels to both Abraham and Lot in order to warn them about the destruction of Lot’s people due to their gross immorality.

What makes this intriguing is that none of the passages of the Quran clearly and explicitly identify Gabriel or these messengers as angels. The Muslim assumes this already and proceeds to read this back into the Quranic texts. In other words, the Muslims have been taught that Gabriel is an angel and that Allah sent angels to Abraham and Lot despite the Quran never clearly saying that they are.

Furthermore, despite Gabriel playing such a large and important role in later Islamic theology and tradition the Quran has only two references to him.

We post the references themselves so as to bring out these points more clearly:

Say: 'Whosoever is an enemy to Gabriel -- he it was that brought it down upon thy heart by the leave of God, confirming what was before it, and for a guidance and good tidings to the believers. Whosoever is an enemy to God and His angels and His Messengers, and Gabriel, and Michael - surely God is an enemy to the unbelievers.' S. 2:97-98

If ye twain turn unto Allah repentant, (ye have cause to do so) for your hearts desired (the ban); and if ye aid one another against him (Muhammad) then lo! Allah, even He, is his Protecting Friend, AND Gabriel AND the righteous among the believers; AND FURTHERMORE the angels are his helpers. S. 66:4 Pickthall

If you two repent to God, yet your hearts certainly inclined; but if you support one another against him, God is his Protector, AND Gabriel, AND the righteous among the believers; AND, AFTER THAT, the angels are his supporters. Arberry

As the keen reader can see neither passage identifies Gabriel, or even Michael, as an angel. The passages seem to be distinguishing Gabriel from the angels, i.e. Allah AND Gabriel AND the angels AND the righteous believers protect Muhammad. Just like Allah, the righteous believers and angels are all different and distinct from one another, they don’t belong to the same class of being, Gabriel must also be viewed as a distinct entity from all the rest.

Surah 2:97-98 also lists several different groups giving the impression that these entities are also different from one another. The fact that angels and messengers are distinguished from each other shows that, at least in this specific context, the messengers are not angelic beings; they may be the human agents that Allah sent to mankind, i.e. Moses, Jesus etc., or even the messengers from the jinn. After all, the Quran does mention Allah sending forth messengers from both men and jinn:

"O ye assembly of JINNS and men! came there not UNTO you messengers FROM AMONGST YOU, setting forth unto you My Signs, and warning you of the meeting of this Day of yours?" They will say: "We bear witness against ourselves." It was the life of this world that deceived them. So against themselves will they bear witness that they rejected Faith. (The apostles were sent) thus, for thy Lord would not destroy for their wrong-doing men's habitations whilst their occupants were unwarned. S. 6:130-131 Y. Ali

We now turn our attention to the story of Abraham and Lot. In several places the Quran refers to certain messengers which were sent to these two servants of God:

Our messengers came to Abraham with the good tidings; they said, 'Peace!' 'Peace,' he said; and presently he brought a roasted calf. S. 11:69 Arberry

And when Our messengers came to Lot, he was troubled on their account and distressed for them, and he said, 'This is a fierce day.' S. 11:77 Arberry

They said, 'Lot, we are messengers of thy Lord. They shall not reach thee; so set forth, thou with thy family, in a watch of the night, and let not any one of you turn round, excepting thy wife; surely she shall be smitten by that which smites them. Their promised time is the morning; is the morning not nigh?' S. 11:81 Arberry

And tell them of Abraham's guests, … He said: And afterward what is your business, O ye messengers (of Allah)? … And when the messengers came unto the family of Lot, S. 15:51, 57, 61

And when Our messengers came to Abraham with the good tidings, they said, 'We shall destroy the people of this city, for its people are evildoers.' … When that Our messengers came to Lot he was troubled on their account and distressed for them; but they said, 'Fear not, neither sorrow, for surely we shall deliver thee and thy family, except thy wife; she has become of those that tarry. S. 29:31, 33 Arberry

They even asked of him his guests for an ill purpose. Then We blinded their eyes (and said): Taste now My punishment after My warnings! S. 54:37

For those interested in reading the complete story of Abraham, Lot and the destruction of Lot’s people please read the following surahs: 11:69- 83; 15:51-75; 29:28-35.

As the above texts show there is nothing within the context which rules out the view that these messengers were human beings. A careful reading of the passages provides absolutely no evidence that Allah sent angels to assist Lot and to bring destruction upon the evildoers.

Keeping the foregoing in mind we proceed to ask our questions and post our challenges to the Muslim reader:

  1. Since the Quran claims to be fully detailed, completely exhaustive, can you please tell us who Gabriel is by using the Quran alone?
  2. Was Gabriel a human being whom Allah sent to assist Muhammad? Was he an angel or was he a jinn? One may even ask if he is in a category different from all these.
  3. Was Michael an angel, a jinn or a human messenger? Please answer this by using the Quran alone.
  4. Were the messengers whom Allah sent to destroy Lot’s people human beings, or were they angels? Perhaps they were actually from the jinn? How do you know?

Knowing that Muslims will try to answer our allegations we will try to be of assistance and show them how not to answer our points.

For instance, some Muslims may argue that the above verses about Lot and his people, when read in context, show that the messengers must be angels. After all, specific passages say that these messengers were sent to destroy the people of Lot and their dwelling places. No mere human could perform such a feat.

There are basically three responses to these assertions. First, the Quran says in other places that it was Allah who destroyed these towns:

And Lot, when he said to his people, 'What, do you commit such indecency as never any being in all the world committed before you? See, you approach men lustfully instead of women; no, you are a people that do exceed.' And the only answer of his people was that they said, 'Expel them from your city; surely they are folk that keep themselves clean!' So We delivered him and his family, except his wife; she was one of those that tarried. And We rained down upon them a rain; so behold thou, how was the end of the sinners! S. 7:80-84; cf. 26:160-174; 27:54-58; 54:33-39

The above reference implies that it wasn’t necessarily the envoys that wrought the destruction; rather it was Allah who did so, much like he was the one who performed the miracles through other human agents such as Moses, Jesus etc. Yet we know of no Muslim who would argue that Moses was not a human envoy, or that he was an angel solely because he was able to do wonders and signs. To therefore argue that these messengers were angels since they had the power to destroy the people of Lot is unfounded.

Second, Lot is also said to be Allah’s messenger, one of the very apostles sent to his people in order to warn them. Compare the following:

The people of Lut gave the lie to the apostles. S. 26:160 Shakir

And Lut was most surely of the apostles. When We delivered him and his followers, all -- Except an old woman (who was) amongst those who tarried. Then We destroyed the others. And most surely you pass by them in the morning, And at night; do you not then understand? S. 37:133-138 Shakir

"and Thamood, and the people of Lot, and the men of the Thicket - those were the parties; not one, that cried not lies to the Messengers, so My retribution was just." S. 38:13-14

The very fact that Lot is said to be a messenger who was sent to warn his people, and yet Lot was nothing more than a human being, demonstrates that there is nothing contextually to prove that those other envoys were angels from Allah.

This leads us to our third point. There are references in the Quran which specifically say that Allah sent only human messengers to people:

"Before thee, also, the messengers We sent were BUT MEN, to whom We granted inspiration: If ye know this not, ask of those who possess the Message. Nor did We give them bodies that ate no food, nor were they immortals." S. 21:7-8

Thus, if the Quran is correct then this definitely establishes the case that these envoys could not have been angels; they must have been human beings sent alongside of Lot to assist him.

If a Muslim tries to appeal to the Holy Bible he/she will run into a whole host of additional problems. First, to go outside of the Quran in order understand it falsifies its repeated claim that it is complete and exhaustive, lacking nothing essential.

Second, according to the Bible one of the persons who came to warn Abraham about the fate of Sodom was Yahweh God. We are told in Genesis that Yahweh appeared as a man and spoke directly with Abraham:

"And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, ‘O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on--since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, ‘Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.’ And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while THEY ATE. They said to him, ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ And he said, ‘She is in the tent.’ The LORD said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, "Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?" Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah denied it, saying, ‘I did not laugh,’ for she was afraid. He said, ‘No, but you did laugh.’ Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.’ Then the LORD said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.’ So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’ And the LORD said, ‘If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.’ Abraham answered and said, ‘Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?’ And he said, ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.’ Again he spoke to him and said, ‘Suppose forty are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of forty I will not do it.’ Then he said, ‘Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.’ He answered, ‘I will not do it, if I find thirty there.’ He said, ‘Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.’ Then he said, ‘Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.’ And the LORD WENT HIS WAY, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place." Genesis 18:1-33

Thus, if the Muslims appeal to the Holy Bible to explain the Quran then they must accept the fact that Allah appeared as one of the messengers. In this way a Muslim can even argue that the messengers did in fact destroy Lot’s people, at least one of them did, since Allah was one of the messengers who was sent. Let us examine this point a little more:

And Lot, when he said to his people, 'What, do you commit indecency with your eyes open? What, do you approach men lustfully instead of women? No, you are a people that are ignorant.' And the only answer of his people was that they said, 'Expel the folk of Lot from your city; they are men that keep themselves clean!' So We delivered him and his family, except his wife; We decreed she should be of those that tarried. And We rained on them a rain; and evil indeed is the rain of them that are warned. S. 27:54-58

Allah is supposedly speaking using the first plural pronoun "We." Now compare this with the following:

And when Our messengers brought Abraham the good news, they said: Lo! we are about to destroy the people of that township, for its people are wrong-doers. S. 29:31 Pickthall

In Sura 29, the messengers used the plural pronoun since there is more than one envoy, and yet in Sura 27 Allah himself uses the plural pronoun. Allah's use of the plural can either be viewed as a royal plural or a genuine numerical plural reflecting a plurality of entities united together as a group. Furthermore, in one Sura it says Allah killed Lot's people whereas in the other one it is the envoys that did. This may mean that both Allah and his envoys destroyed Lot's people, or it may mean something else.

By piecing both these passages together we come to see that one of the messengers that came to Abraham and Lot must have been Allah who had been sent by another person who also happened to be Allah! This understanding accounts for why Allah used the plural pronoun for himself in Sura 27, he was obviously referring to both himself and at least to one of the envoys that he had sent since one of them happened to be God also. If this is correct then this rules out the royal or majestic plural explanation. What this basically means is that Allah used the plural pronoun for himself so as to indicate that he is a multi-personal entity. Putting it another way, the conclusion of trying to harmonize both these passages together is that Allah sent Allah as his messenger in order to destroy Lot’s people because there is more than one entity that is Allah! If one were to accept this explanation then both the Holy Bible and the Quran would be in agreement that one of the messengers who came to Abraham was God Almighty himself.

Third, the biblical Gabriel is one who contradicts the theology of the Quran. This Gabriel calls Jesus the Son of God and sovereign King:

"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’" Luke 1:26-37

But the Quran’s Gabriel didn’t preach the same message that this other Gabriel did. If the Muslims say the Bible is corrupted at this point then how can they even use it to show who this Gabriel was? How do they know that the Bible is accurate when it identifies the angel, but not accurate when it records the message from this same angel? Muslims cannot have their cake and eat it too.

Recommended Reading:

Sam Shamoun

The Incompleteness and Incoherence of the Qur'an
Answering Islam Home Page