Jabraʾīl (Arabic: جَبرَئیل), or Jibrīl (Arabic: جِبرِیل), or Gabriel, is one of the four nearest angels to God. Jabra'il carries divine revelations. In addition to carrying the revelation, Jabra'il allegedly helps the prophets, punishes the unbelievers, and consoles the believers. The word "Jabra'il" is used in 3 Quranic verses and many hadiths.
The significance of Jabra'il is discussed in Islamic philosophy and mysticism. In Islamic philosophy, Jabra'il is identified with the "Active Intellect". The angel is also mentioned in Jewish and Christian texts.
The word "Jabra'il" has a Hebrew origin. It seems that its Syriac form has entered Arabic. Researchers of the Arabic language have made it explicit that the word is not Arabic.
Some Arabic lexicographers have referred to different meanings of "Jabr", including king, servant, brave, and man, and the meaning of "il" which refers to God in Hebrew, thus taking "Jabra'il" to have two parts, just like "Mika'il" and "Israfil: Jabr + il, which means the man of God or God's servant.
In the Quran
The word "Jibril" appears in three verses of the Quran, all of which were revealed in Medina. In the Quran 2:97, it is explicitly mentioned that Jara'il's main task is to carry the divine revelation, although it is silent on how the revelation is carried by him. There are other phrases in the Qur'an that its exegetes take to refer to Jabra'il, including:
- "Al-Ruh al-amin" (الروح الأمين, the Trusted Spirit), which refers to his trustworthiness in carrying the revelation to prophets.
- "Rasul karim" (رسول کريم, Dignified Messenger), which refers to his good characteristics.
- "Shadid al-Quwa" (شديد القُوَی, Mighty in Power), "Dhu Mirra" (ذو مِرَّة, possessor of strength), and "Dhi Quwwa" (ذی قُوَّة, possessor of power), referring to his power to perform divine commands.
- "Makin" (مَکين, firmly established) and "Muta'" (مُطاع, obeyed), referring to his special place for God and among other angels.
- "Ruh al-Qudus" (رُوح القُدُس, the Holy Spirit).
Birth of Jesus
According to Quranic verses, Jabra'il had a special role in the birth of the prophet, Jesus. He gave the good news of the birth of Jesus to Maryam (a) (Saint Mary) by appearing to her in the form of a man, blowing the divine spirit in her. God empowered and aided Jesus with Jabra'il. Exegetes of the Quran agree that Jabra'il contributed to the birth of Jesus by blowing the divine "spirit" to Maryam (a).
There is a disagreement about the relation between Jabra'il and the Spirit (Ruh) and what is meant by the Spirit as mentioned in Sura al-Qadr or as asked about in the Quran. Some people take the Spirit to be an angel in charge of the souls or a creature superior to angels, including Jabra'il, and some people identify the Spirit with Jabra'il, taking the word "Ruh" (Spirit) to refer to his superiority to other angels.
Criticism of the Jewish Conception
According to the Quran 2:97-98, the Jews asked the Prophet Muhammad (s) about the angel who descends to him and carries the revelation to him. When they heard that the angel was Jabra'il, they said that the angel was their enemy.
It seems that they took Jabra'il to be the angel who brings hardships, punishments, and wars, in contrast to Mika'il who was the angel of mercy and good news for the Jews. Thus, Sura al-Baqara (chapter 2):98 takes the hostility with Jabra'il to amount to hostility with Mika'il, other angels, and even God.
The Myth of his betrayal (Khan al-Amin)
Some Sunni scholars have falsely attributed to Shi'as the belief that Jabra'il was supposed to carry the revelation to 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a), but he disobeyed God's orders and carried the revelation to Muhammad (s). Thus, the accusation against Shi'as continues, they—the Shi'as—raise their arms after saying their prayers and say: "Khan al-Amin" (خانَ الاَمینُ), that is, the trusted (Jabra'il) has broken his promise.
According to available reports, Jabra'il revealed the first Quranic verses to the Prophet (s) in the Hira' Cave. Then, the Prophet (s) went to his wife, Khadija (a), and let her know about the revelation made to him. The rest of the story is, nonetheless, a matter of dispute among Shi'as and Sunnis.
- According to Sunni Muslims: according to several hadiths in Sunni sources, the Prophet (s) doubted whether who he met was the angel of revelation or the Satan. His wife recommended that he go to Waraqa b. Nawfal, a Nazarite who was familiar with religious books. He assured the Prophet (s) that who he saw was the angel who carried the revelation to the prophet Moses (a). The story is widely accepted by Sunni biographers, scholars of hadiths, and exegetes of the Quran. Some of these hadiths found their way to some Shi'a sources of hadiths and exegesis of the Quran as well.
- According to Shi'as: Shiite scholars have objected to such hadiths with respect to both their contents and chains of transmissions. For example, they object that the chains of the transmitters of such hadiths do not continuously end in the person who allegedly witnessed the story. Moreover, doubting the authenticity of the revelation—whether he had met Jabra'il or the Satan—is incompatible with the infallibility of the Prophet (s).
Supporting the Prophet (s)
During the Prophet's (s) mission, Jabra'il always helped him. Here are some cases in which the Prophet (s) was aided by Jabra'il:
- The Prophet's (s) chest was expanded and purified by Jabra'il and Mika'il.
- He accompanied the Prophet (s) and guided him throughout his mi'raj (ascent to the heavens), although he could not accompany the Prophet (s) in Sidart al-Muntaha (the Utmost Lote Tree, or the utmost boundary), where the Prophet (s) continued the journey on his own.
- When the Prophet (s) wanted to let his family know about his prophethood, Jabra'il encouraged him to do so.
- He let the Prophet (s) know about a conspiracy by polytheists to kill him before his migration.
- In the Battle of Badr, he and thousands of other angels joined and aided the Prophet (s) and his companions.
Jabra'il always went to the Prophet (s) with humility. He always asked the Prophet (s) to give him the permission before going to him. The place where Jabra'il appeared to the Prophet (s) in al-Masjid al-Nabawi is called "Maqam Jabra'il" (stance of Jabra'il). The Prophet (s) reviewed the Quran with Jabra'il once a year in Ramadan months. It is said that he went down to the Prophet (s) 60,000 times.
According to hadiths, Jabra'il sometimes appeared to the Prophet (s) in his real face, sometimes as a handsome young man, and sometimes as invisible.
The Real Face
According to Sunni and Shi'a sources, the Prophet (s) saw Jabra'il in his real face twice:
- Once in the "Highest Horizon" (al-Ufuq al-A'la) when the Prophet (a) asked him to show his real face.
- Once again in mi'raj near Sidrat al-Muntaha (the Utmost Lote Tree).
It is also said that on one occasion, the Prophet (s) saw Jabra'il sitting on al-Kursi (the Throne) between the sky and the Earth, and then the verses of Sura al-Muddaththir were revealed to him. About the real appearance of Jabra'il, it is said that he has 600 wings decorated with pearls, filling the east and the west of the cosmos.
The Human Face
The Prophet (s) said that Jabra'il usually appeared to him with the face of a handsome young man, called Dihya al-Kalbi. It is said that even some Sahaba and A'isha saw Jabra'il in this appearance and thought that he was Dihya al-Kalbi.
According to some Sunni hadiths, Jabra'il once appeared to the Prophet's (s) companions in the form of a man in order to teach them the doctrines of Islam. He usually appeared as an ordinary man with green clothes and a silk turban, riding a horse or a mule.
Helping the Imams (a)
It is said that Jabra'il taught the Laylat al-Sabt Supplication to Imam 'Ali (a). After the demise of the Prophet (s), Jabra'il suggested some Knowledge of the Hidden to Fatima al-Zahra (a) which was collected by 'Ali (a) in a book known as Mushaf Fatima.
Relations with Nabi, Rasul, and Imam
In a series of hadiths, the difference between Rasul, Nabi, and Imam with respect to their relations with Jabra'il is pointed out. According to these hadiths, Rasul sees Jabra'il and talks to him; Nabi sees Jabra'il only in his dreams and hears his voice; and Imam only hears Jabra'il's voice. These hadiths are collected by al-Saffar al-Qummi.
In the Stories of the Prophets
Jabra'il distinctively figures in the stories of the prophets, since he was the teacher and supporter of all prophets from Adam (a) to Jesus. He taught farming, manipulation of the iron, and hajj rituals to Adam (a), building a ship to Noah (a), and making armors to David (a), he rescued Abraham (a) from Nimrod's fire, he saved Ishmael (a) from being slaughtered, he helped Joseph (a) when he was thrown into a water well by his brothers, and he helped Moses (a) in his conflict with the army of Pharaoh by downing them in the Red Sea.
Jabra'il is characterized in hadiths with titles such as "Tawus al-Mala'ika" (the Peacock of Angels), and "al-Namus al-Akbar" (that is, the big holder of good news, as opposed to "al-Jasus" which means the holder of bad news).
Jabra'il is one of the four nearest angels to God who administer the world: Jabra'il (or Gabriel) carries revelations, Mika'il (or Michael) is in charge of livelihoods and rains, Israfil blows in the Trumpet on Dooms Day, and 'Izra'il (or Azrael) is the angel of death.
Superiority to Angels
Some hadiths imply that the other three angels are superior to Jabra'il; for example, according to some hadiths, Mika'il and Israfil mediated the revelation (wahy), Mika'il is very big, and Jabra'il's life will be taken on Dooms Day by Izra'il. These stories might imply that these three angels are superior to Jabra'il. However, there are more explicit remarks in other hadiths to the effect that Jabra'il is superior to all other angels.
In the Jewish-Christian Tradition
The Hebrew word, Gaḇrīēl, which is pronounced in Greek as Gabriel, literally means "God is almight" or "man of God" or "hero of God". Jabra'il is mentioned 4 times in the Bibles.
- Two times in the Book of Daniel: according to this book, Jabra'il appeared to the prophet, Daniel (a), in the form of a human being, to tell him the interpretation of his dream. The appearance of Jabra'il is accompanied with a rapture with which Daniel (a) was enchanted and fell unconscious. In another part of the Book of Daniel, Jabra'il flies to Daniel (a) when he was praying and slaughtering for the sake of God to reveal some secrets to him. In these cases, Jabra'il is not referred to as an angel; rather as a heavenly being who carries God's message and whose appearance is accompanied with a divine rapture
- Twice in the Gospel of Luke: here he is referred to as the angel who gives the prophet Zechariah (a) (or Zakariyya) the good news that he would have a son, John the Baptist (or Yahya (a)). He also gave Mary (or Maryam (a)) the good news that she would have a son, Jesus.
It is said that Jabra'il figures in the Old Testament merely as manifesting the divine might, but he figures in the New Testament as an assuring character as well. It is also said that the 4 times in which Jabra'il figures in the Bible are somewhat relevant to the divine promise of Jesus being born.
Jabra'il prominently figures in unofficial books between Torah and Gospel, and was elevated to one of the nearest angels to God. In the Aramaic translation and interpretation of Torah, Jabra'il has more roles to play. Contributions to some events are attributed to him which occurred in the early periods of the Old Testament; for example, they allege that he guided the prophet, Joseph (a), or attended the burial of the Prophet, Moses (a).
Also in some Jewish writings, Jabra'il who is conceived to be made of fire, is, along with Mika'il, Uriel, and Raphael, one of the 4 angels who reside around the Throne (al-'Arsh). Moreover, he is taken to be one of the angels who met the prophet, Abraham (a) and destroyed Sodom (a city in which the People of Lot lived).
Ranking among the Angels
Although Jabra'il became increasingly more valuable and higher-ranking in both the Jewish and Christian traditions and his image as a winged angel found its way to paintings, he was never deemed as valuable as Mika'il neither in the Jewish tradition (in which Mika'il is taken to be the permanent defender of the Jewish people), nor in the Christian tradition. He was always second to Mika'il in these traditions.
In Islamic Philosophy
In the texts of Islamic philosophy and mysticism, Jabra'il is associated with notions such as intellect and spirit.
Ibn Sina takes the "intellects" (al-'uqul) to be the nearest angels to God, and in his explanation of wahy, he maintains that the Prophet Muhammad (s) was connected to the Active Intellect through which he received his revelations. Ibn Sina calls the angel who revealed the wahy "Ruh al-Qudus" (the Holy Spirit), taking him to the most noble spirit and a holy soul or a medium between God (the Necessary Being) and the First Intellect.
Shahab al-Din al-Suhrawardi takes Jabra'il to be the Tenth Intellect and the last word in the Arc of Descent and among divine words. In the terminologies of the Illuminationist Philosophy, Jabra'il is one of the al-Anwar al-qahira (Victorious Lights)—it is the biggest of these lights which holds the spell of the human archetype. Al-Suhrawardi takes the genesis of the Elemental and Sensuous World as well as human souls to be caused by the acts of Jabra'il. He also attributes to him the acts of giving life, giving knowledge, and giving virtues.
According to al-Suhrawardi, Jabra'il or Ruh al-Qudus (the Holy Spirit) brings human souls from potentiality to actuality. If human beings have the required disposition, they can connect to him and enjoy his treasury of knowledge and virtues. On this view, the relation between Jabra'il and human souls is that of the sun with the eyes or the pen with a paper. Thus, Jabra'il is the medium of the existence and knowledge of human souls.
Mulla Sadra identifies Jabra'il with the Holy Spirit and the Active Intellect. On his view, Jabra'il is the angel of guidance. He has a prominent role in the perfection of the souls. He is the medium by which knowledge is given to souls and wahy is revealed to prophets. According to Mulla Sadra, in giving knowledge to human beings, Jabra'il treats everyone in an equal way, although the degree to which knowledge is acquired varies with the difference in human dispositions and capacities which prepare the ground for the connection with Jabra'il or the Active Intellect. In Mulla Sadra's view, Jabra'il has two positions with respect to which he is referred to with different titles: so long as he did not descend from the heaven of immateriality and proximity to God, he is called the "Holy Spirit" (Ruh al-Qudus), and when he descends from there and embodies in a mundane form, he is called the Spirit (al-Ruh).
Abu Ya'qub al-Sajistani, an Isma'ili scholar, has coined three terms, "Jadd" (ancestor), "Fath" (opening), and "Khiyal" (imagination), and applied them respectively to Jabra'il, Mika'il, and Israfil. "Jadd" is the determining factor in the happiness and misery of human beings. If "Jadd" supports a pure soul, they will turn into teachers of their times, guiding people to the divine satisfaction. Lights of the divine kingdom reach the person through the "Jadd". Whenever the lights—the messages—are vague and indistinct, "Fath" (Mika'il) will open—that is, decipher—them.
In Islamic Mysticism
In Islamic mystical texts, Jabra'il is referred to as the origin of life, the manifestation of divine knowledge, the embodied form of intellect, the assignee of knowledge-acquisition and the management of livelihoods, and the teacher of prophets. He is one of the 4 angels who carry the Divine Throne (al-'Arsh) before the resurrection, and one of the 8 angels who do so at the time of the resurrection.
According to al-Fanari, Jabra'il's stance is in Sidrat al-Muntaha (the Utmost Lote Tree) which is an intermediate world between the natural elemental world and the world of constant universal nature containing the Imaginal World ('alam al-mithal), the Throne (al-'Arsh), al-Kursi, and the like. Thus, the form of Jabra'il as appearing in this stance includes the characteristics of what is above and beneath the Lote (Sidra). Jabra'il is the holder of divine words.
Sayyid Haydar al-Amuli identifies Jabra'il with the First Intellect in some respect, but according to al-Jayli, God created Jabra'il in the eternity from the First Intellect, which is identical to the spirituality of the Prophet Muhammad (s). Thus, the Prophet (s) is the father of Jabra'il and the origin of the whole world. This is why in the night of mi'raj, Jabra'il—who is inferior in his ranking to the Prophet (s)—could continue the holy journey along with the Prophet (s) and stayed at the stance of the Utmost Lote Tree. He believes that the Muhammadi Reality (al-Haqiqat al-Muhammadiyya) or "Ruh" (the Spirit) is the most noble angel and the highest-ranking creature, of which many angels—including Jabra'il—are a form and from which they are created. "Ruh al-Qudus" (the Holy Spirit) and "Ruh al-Amin" (the Trusted Spirit) are not, according to al-Jayli, specific titles of Jabra'il. In his view, Jabra'il is called "Rul al-Amin" because his origin (the First Intellect, that is, the Prophet Muhammad (s)) is Ruh al-Amin. In the terminology of Sufis, Jabra'il is also referred to as "Ruh al-Ilqa'" (the Spirit of Suggestion, because it suggests the Knowledge of the Hidden to the hearts).
Identification of Simurgh with Jabra'il
In the Islamic mystical literature, some people have proposed the possibility of applying the characteristics of Simurgh to Jabra'il. Simurgh is a mythical, sacred, and supernatural bird. This has been compared with Jabra'il's characterization as having large wings and feathers, and a huge body. Simurgh's support of Zal in ancient texts of the Persian literature, and his mediation for the transfer of hidden forces to Zal are similar to the relation between Jabra'il and the Prophet Muhammad (s).
The tree or a mountain in which Simurgh resides has immaterial features. The tree, called "Tuba", comes out of mountains and is the mother of all plants and vegetables. Every morning when Simurgh flies out of its nest and spreads its wings over the Earth, all the fruits appearing on trees and all vegetables growing on the Earth result from its feathers.
Correspondingly, Jabra'il is said to reside in Sidrat al-Muntaha (the Utmost Lote Tree) which is a monumental tree, to which the acts of the creatures and the positions of the prophets and angels go back.
Simurgh is the king of all birds, and what appears in Ibn Sina's Risala al-tayr and Ahmad al-Ghazali's story of birds regarding the journey of the birds to Simurgh by travelling different stations and stages is very similar to the stages of the development of the soul to reach the stage of Acquired Intellect (al-'Aql al-Mustafad) and the connection with the Active Intellect (which is Jabra'il).
Simurgh's Support of Mystics
Mulla Sadra quoted mystics as saying that in order for creatures to achieve all the various perfections that they can achieve and in order for mystical wayfarers to reach their desires and destinations, they should be helped by this sacred bird.
Mystical Characteristics of Jabra'il
In his Persian essay, Awaz-i par-i Jabra'il (The sound of Jabra'il's feather), inspired by what appears in the Quran concerning the features of the angels' wings and in hadiths concerning the wings of Jabra'il, al-Suhrawardi maintains that Jabra'il, because of having two wings, is superior to angels who have 3 or 4 wings, because 2 is closer than all other numbers to 1. He has also referred to the right wings of Jabra'il being bright and his left wings being dark. Light or brightness is, for al-Suhrawardi, a symbol of existence, and darkness is a symbol of non-existence, and except "Nur al-Anwar" (the light of the lights) who is a mere light and the essentially Necessary Being, every other being is contingently existent, and this is the reason why Jabra'il's left wing is dark. The souls are created from Jabra'il's right wing which is bright, and the material world is created from his left wing which is dark. Moreover, the suggestion of knowledge to prophets and saints of God is attributed to his right wing, but catastrophes, cries, and accidents are attributed to his left wing.
Moreover, according to Mulla Sadra's account, mystics hold that the sacred bird, Simurgh, residing the mythical mountain, Cafcuh (or Qaf), has a cry that awakens the asleep in darkness and reminds ignorant people of divine signs. However, there are few people who listen to his cry and know his song. If one understands his language, he will understand the language of all the birds.
In Persian poems, "Shahpar" (the king feather) or "Par-i Jabra'il" (Jabra'il's feather) is also frequently used. It is alleged to have features such as protection against the enemies, preventing the damages of fire and water, and recovering the wounds. Jabra'il is also known as "Tawus al-Mala'ika" (the Peacock of Angels), "Our Father", and the "Logos" (the Universal Intellect).
- قُلْ مَن كاَنَ عَدُوًّا لِّجِبرِْيلَ فَإِنَّهُ نَزَّلَهُ عَلىَ قَلْبِكَ بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ مُصَدِّقًا لِّمَا بَينَْ يَدَيْهِ وَ هُدًى وَ بُشْرَى لِلْمُؤْمِنِين Qur'an 2:97
- تَنَزَّلُ الْمَلائِكَةُ وَ الرُّوحُ فيها بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهِمْ مِنْ كُلِّ أَمْرٍ In it the angels and the Spirit descend, by the leave of their Lord, with every command. (Qur'an 97:4)
- The material for this article is mainly taken from جبرئیل in Farsi WikiShia.