Angels and the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him)


Question:

Many critics of Islam claim that the way the Angel Gabriel interacted with the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was not in a way that occurred Biblically. This must mean that the “angel” which approached the Prophet, was not actually an angel but a demon.

Answer:

As always, our initial response to this claim should be that we as Muslims do not accept the Bible as a standard with which to judge the Qur’an. We understand that Christians do this because it is an authority for them, but for us as Muslims, it is not an authority for us and so we do not need to view the Qur’an through Biblical lenses. Perhaps someone might mention the “Ask the People of the Book” verse of the Qur’an, please see the link to it as appended which answers this argument.

As for the claim that no Biblical angel has been violent, Genesis 32 disputes such a notion. We read from the English translation of the Judaica Press, verses 25-31:

And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he could not prevail against him, he touched the socket of his hip, and the socket of Jacob’s hip became dislocated as he wrestled with him. And he (the angel) said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking,” but he (Jacob) said, “I will not let you go unless you have blessed me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” And he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have commanding power with [an angel of] God and with men, and you have prevailed.” And Jacob asked and said, “Now tell me your name,” and he said, “Why is it that you ask for my name?” And he blessed him there. And Jacob named the place Peniel, for [he said,] “I saw an angel face to face, and my soul was saved.”

We can establish from this text, that an angel physically wrestled with Jacob and dislocated his hip, thus violence was involved. However, some from the Christian faith argue that Jacob actually wrestled with God, however Hosea 12:4 (NIV) clarifies for us with certainty who Jacob wrestled with:

He struggled with the angel and overcame him;
he wept and begged for his favor.

From the first argument, another common claim is that no one has been afraid of an angel of God previously in the Bible, but this is also not the case. At the end of Mark 16, an angel (or angels if you prefer the other Gospels), in the form of a man greets the women who have come to the empty tomb and they leave with fear, see Mark 16:4-8 (NIV):

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

We know that the man (or men if you read the other Gospels) were angels, as John 20:11-12  (NIV) explicitly says so:

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

It should also be noted that when Moses (peace be upon him) was given the ten commandments and had to ascend Mount Sinai (as recorded in the Old Testament), those with him shook with fear due to the horn which was heard, which indicated they were to ascend the mountain. This is recorded in Exodus 19:16 (NIV):

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning. A cloud covered the mountain, and a very loud horn sounded. All the people among the tents shook with fear.

Another common argument that usually follows is that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) should have known from the outset that Gabriel (Jibreel ‘alayhi as salaam) was an angel of God due to his presence alone. The argument here being that when in close physical proximity to a holy individual, one should feel their holy presence. This is not always the case, notably the disciples did not recognize Jesus (peace be upon him) despite being in there presence, see Luke 24:15-18 (NIV):

As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

The same is the case with Mary Magdalene in John 20:11-14 (NIV):

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

It should be noted that she eventually recognized him. Regardless of this, in both examples above and in the example with Jacob, we do not see that they recognized that they were in the presence of angels or of a holy person, therefore the argument that merely being in the presence of angels should indicate who they are is not one from the Biblical tradition. Using these arguments is an indication that a person is not familiar with the Bible and so one should calmly and with sincere intentions, educate them of these things.

and Allah knows best.

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