Sunday, June 2, 2024


**How many wings does an angel have?**

The Quran claims that Allah created angels with up to four wings, no more than that:

**"All praise is due to Allah, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, who made the angels messengers with wings—two, three, and four. He increases in creation what He wills. Indeed, Allah is over all things competent." (Surah 35:1, Sahih International)**

The Arabic phrase for "two, three, and four" is similar to what is mentioned in Surah 4:3:

**"But if you fear that you will not be just, then marry those that please you of [other] women, two, or three, or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice]." (Surah 4:3, Sahih International)**

No Muslim denies that this verse limits the number of wives a man can have at one time to four, provided that he can treat them justly. Considering this, it is consistent to understand Surah 35:1 in the same way—that angels do not have more than four wings.

However, by making this claim, the Quran contradicts the Holy Bible on this matter, as there are angels who indeed have six wings:

**"In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.' And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: 'Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!' Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: 'Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.'" (Isaiah 6:1-7, ESV)**

Furthermore, the so-called sound traditions also contradict the Quran on this point as the hadith states that Gabriel (Jibril) has six hundred wings!

**Narrated Abu Ishaq-Ash-Shaibani:**

I asked Zir bin Hubaish regarding the Statement of Allah: “And was at a distance of but two bow-lengths or (even) nearer; so did (Allah) convey the Inspiration to His servant (Gabriel) and then he (Gabriel) conveyed (that to Muhammad). (53:9-10) On that, Zir said, "Ibn Mas'ud informed us that the Prophet had seen Gabriel having 600 wings." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 455)

**Narrated Abdullah:**

Regarding the Verse: "And he (Muhammad) certainly saw him (Gabriel) in another descent, at the Lote-tree of the utmost boundary." (53:13-14) Ibn Mas'ud reported that the Prophet saw Gabriel having 600 wings. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 380)


**Narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas:**

Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “I saw Gabriel at the Lote-tree of the utmost boundary. He had six hundred wings, and between each two wings there was a distance of as far as the eye could see.” (Al-Tirmidhi)

According to Aisha, this was one of the times Muhammad saw Gabriel in his true form:

**Narrated Masruq:**

I said to Aisha, "O Mother! Did Muhammad see his Lord?" Aisha said, "What you have said makes my hair stand on end! Know that if somebody tells you one of the following three things, he is a liar: Whoever tells you that Muhammad saw his Lord, is a liar." Then Aisha recited the Verse: 'No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision. He is Subtle, and All-Aware.' (6.103) "It is not fitting for a human being that Allah should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil." (42.51) 'Aisha further said, "And whoever tells you that the Prophet knows what is going to happen tomorrow, is a liar." She then recited: "No soul can know what it will earn tomorrow." (31.34) She added: "And whoever tells you that he (the Prophet) concealed (some of Allah's orders), is a liar." Then she recited: "O Apostle! Proclaim (the Message) which has been sent down to you from your Lord." (5.67) 'Aisha added. "But the Prophet saw Gabriel in his true form twice." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 378)

**Narrated Aisha:**

Whoever claimed that (the Prophet) Muhammad saw his Lord is committing a grave error, for he only saw Gabriel in his actual form in which he was created, covering the whole horizon. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 457)

**Narrated Masruq:**

I asked Aisha "What about His Statement: ‘Then he (Gabriel) approached and came closer, and was at a distance of two bow lengths or (even) nearer.' (53:8-9)" She replied, "It was Gabriel who used to come to the Prophet in the form of a man, but on this occasion, he came in his actual form and covered the whole horizon." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 458)


**Al-Tirmidhi reported:**

Ibn ‘Abbas met Ka‘b [al-Ahbar] at ‘Arafa and asked him about a certain matter. Ka‘b began to proclaim Allahu Akbar! Until the mountains echoed back. Ibn ‘Abbas said: “We are Banu Hashim!” Ka‘b said: “Allah divided His vision and speech between Muhammad and Musa. Musa spoke with Him twice, and Muhammad saw Him twice.” Masruq said: “Later I went to ‘Aisha and asked her: ‘Did Muhammad see his Lord?’ She replied: ‘You have said something that makes my hair stand on end.’ I said: ‘Calm down!’ She recited the verses: 'No vision can grasp Him.' (6:103) 'It is not for a human being that Allah should speak to him except by inspiration or from behind a veil.' (42:51) Then she said: “But he saw Gabriel in his true form only twice: once at the Lote-tree of the utmost boundary and once at Jiyad in Mecca, with six hundred wings, filling the horizon.” (Islamic Teachings and Beliefs: Volume 1: Prophets in Barzakh, Hadith on Isra’ and Mir’aj, the Immense Merits of Al-Sham, the Vision of Allah, Al-Sayyid Muhammad Ibn 'Alawi al-Maliki, translated and annotated by Dr. Gibril Fouad Haddad, As-Sunna Foundation of America 1999, p.147-148)

Now, some attempt to resolve this by claiming that the text of Surah 35:1 does not mean that angels have two, three, or four wings, but rather that Allah sends groups of angels in pairs, threes, or fours. In other words, this passage refers to the number of angels sent together. This interpretation, if correct, contradicts the following verses:

**"When you said to the believers, 'Is it not enough for you that your Lord should reinforce you with three thousand angels sent down?' Yes, if you remain patient and conscious of Allah and the enemy come upon you in rage, your Lord will reinforce you with five thousand angels having marks [of distinction]." (Surah 3:124-125, Sahih International)**

**"[Remember] when you asked help of your Lord, and He answered you, 'Indeed, I will reinforce you with a thousand from the angels, following one another.'" (Surah 8:9, Sahih International)**

We are not aware of any passage in the Quran that speaks of an event where Allah sent angels in pairs, threes, or fours. The number is usually not specified. The only time we read about two angels together is in the story of Harut and Marut. On the other hand, the above verses mention numbers that are far greater.

Others might try to argue that the last part of the verse clarifies the meaning of the text:

**"All praise is due to Allah, Creator of the heavens and the earth, [who] made the angels messengers having wings, two, three, and four, and increases in creation what He wills. Indeed, Allah is over all things competent." (Khalifa)**

It has been suggested that the final part indicates that Allah can add to the creation of the angels as He wills.

The problem with this claim is that it presupposes that the phrase

 indeed pertains to the previous description about the angels, as opposed to simply saying that Allah can increase His creation as He sees fit, since the text mentions Allah as the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Considering this, one might assume that Allah increases His creation not by adding wings to the angels but rather in relation to the increase of humans, animals, plants, the formation of stars, and so on. This interpretation makes complete sense in light of what immediately follows:

**"O mankind, remember the favor of Allah upon you. Is there any creator other than Allah who provides for you from the heaven and the earth? There is no deity except Him, so how are you deluded? ... Allah is He who sends the winds and they stir the clouds and spread them in the sky however He wills, and He makes them fragments, so you see the rain emerge from within them. And when He causes it to fall upon whom He wills of His servants, immediately they rejoice." (Surah 35:3, 9-13, Sahih International)**

Do you not see that Allah sends down rain from the sky? He brings forth fruits of various colors with it. In the mountains, there are streaks of white and red, of varying shades, and some are raven black. Among people and moving creatures and grazing livestock are various colors as well. Only those who fear Allah among His servants have knowledge. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Forgiving. (Surah 35:27-28, Sahih International)

After all, there is a difference between creation and a creature. The phrase does not say: He adds to His creature/creatures what He wills, i.e., putting more wings on them after their creation, but it means that He can add more/different creatures to His creation as He wills.

Furthermore, this interpretation overlooks the fact that the same construction is found in Surah 4:3 where no one disputes that the plain meaning of the verse is that the maximum number of wives a man can have is four. Since the same construction is used in Surah 35:1, it becomes very difficult to escape the conclusion that this reference clearly states that four wings are the maximum a single angel can have. That is unless, of course, a Muslim wants to be consistent and claim that none of these texts imply that four is the maximum number, thus suggesting that a man can have more than four wives at one time!

Moreover, even if we were to assume for the sake of argument that the last part of the sentence refers to Allah adding extra wings for the angels, this still wouldn't prove the Muslim case. It would only mean that Allah can increase the wings of the angels but not beyond four, i.e., He can make an angel with two wings have three, another with three wings have four, but no more than that since He has designed it such that the most wings an angel can have at one time is four.

Besides, it seems that the real reason why Muslims came up with this answer is because they clearly saw the conflict between this verse in the Quran and the hadith. It is very doubtful that anyone would have connected the last part of the sentence about Allah adding to His creation with Allah adding more wings to the angels if the hadith did not mention that Gabriel had six hundred wings.

It seems more likely that if there were no traditions about Gabriel having that many wings, Muslims would have no problem admitting that the maximum number of wings an angel can have is four. This is especially so since the Arabic construction is identical to that found in Surah 4:3, which clearly limits the maximum number of wives a man can have to four.

We accept that this Muslim answer is purely ad hoc, an argument supported by the opinion of the renowned Sunni scholar Ibn Kathir who wrote the following regarding Surah 35:1:

**"<two, three, or four.> means, among them are those who have two wings, those who have three and those who have four. Some have more than that, as mentioned in the Hadith that states that the Messenger of Allah saw Jibril (peace be upon him) on the Night of the Isra with six hundred wings. Between each pair of wings, there was a distance like that between the east and the west. Allah says...**

**<He increases in creation what He wills. Indeed, Allah is over all things competent.> As-Suddi said, 'He adds wings to them and creates them as He wills.'"** (Source; emphasis ours)

Notice that Ibn Kathir says that some angels have more than four wings based on the hadith, not because of the text itself. This highlights the truly ad hoc nature of the Muslim argument.

More importantly, if Muslims still insist that their interpretation of Surah 35:1 is correct, then they exacerbate the problem. After all, the claim that Muhammad saw the true form of Gabriel directly contradicts the Quran, which clearly states that humans cannot see the true form of angels, which is why they take on human forms!

**"And they say, 'Why has an angel not been sent down to him?' But if We had sent down an angel, the matter would have been decided; then they would not be reprieved. And if We had made him an angel, We would have made him [appear as] a man, and We would have covered them with that in which they cover themselves." (Surah 6:8-9, Sahih International)**

The two Jalals explained why angels must take human forms:

**"And had We appointed him an angel, We would assuredly have made him (as) a man, that is, We would have sent him in the form of a man, so that they would be able to see him, for no human being is capable of seeing an angel and surviving; and We would have confused them when they are [now] confused." (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)**

Ibn Kathir writes:

**"And if We had made him an angel, We would have certainly made him [appear as] a man. And We would have confounded them in what they confuse themselves."**

Meaning, if We had sent an angel along with the human Messenger, or if We had sent an angel as a Messenger to mankind, he would have appeared in human form so that they could speak to him and benefit from his teachings. In this case, the angel (in human form) would have brought them the same confusion that they brought upon themselves! Allah said...

**"Say: 'If there were angels walking about on the earth, We would surely have sent down to them from the heaven an angel as a Messenger.'" (17:95)**

It is a mercy from Allah to His creatures that He sends messengers from among themselves so they can talk to them and benefit from their teachings. In another Ayah, Allah said...

**"Indeed, Allah conferred a great favor upon the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from among themselves, reciting to them His verses and purifying them." (3:164)**

Ad-Dahhak said that Ibn Abbas said about Ayah [6:9 above]: "If an angel were sent to them, he would have come in the shape of a man because they would not be able to look at the angel because of the light." (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) (Surat An-Nisa, Ayah 148 to the end of Surat Al-An’am), abridged by a group of scholars under the supervision of Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore, First Edition: January 2000], Parts 6, 7 & 8, Volume 3, p. 317-318; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Regarding this Surah, the late Muhammad Asad said:

**"8 That is, 'We would have confused them about what they are now confounded.' Since it is impossible for mortal man to see angels as they really are, the hypothetical angelic bringer of a message would have had to assume the shape of a human being—and thus, the very demand for a direct 'angelic' revelation would have remained unsatisfied, and their confusion would have persisted." (Source; bold emphasis ours)**

He reiterates this point in his commentary on Surah 19:17, which mentions the Spirit of God appearing to Mary as a man:

**"14 As pointed out in surah 2, note 71, and surah 16, note 2, the term ruh is often used in the Qur’an to describe God’s guidance. Occasionally, however, it is used to describe the medium through which such guidance is imparted to God’s elect—namely, an angel. Since— as stated in 6:9—mortal man cannot see angels as they really are, God caused them to appear to Mary 'in the shape of a well-made human being', i.e., in a form accessible to her perception. According to Razi, the designation of an angel as ruh ('soul' or 'spirit') indicates that this category of beings is purely spiritual, without any physical element." (Source; bold emphasis ours)**

This, perhaps, explains why the Quran mentions angels appearing to prophets in human forms as follows:

**"And when Our messengers came to Lot, he was anguished for them and felt for them great discomfort and said, 'This is a trying day.' And his people came hastening to him, and before [this] they had been doing evil deeds. He said, 'O my people, these are my daughters; they are purer for you [if you marry them]. So fear Allah and do not disgrace me concerning my guests. Is there not among you a man of reason?' They

 said, 'You have already known that we have not concerning your daughters any claim, and indeed, you know what we want.' He said, 'If only I had against you some power or could take refuge in a strong support.' The angels said, 'O Lot, indeed we are messengers of your Lord; [therefore] they will never reach you. So set out with your family during a portion of the night and let not any among you look back—except your wife; indeed, she will be struck by that which strikes them. Indeed, their appointment is [for] the morning. Is not the morning near?' So when Our command came, We made the highest part [of the city] its lowest and rained upon them stones of layered hard clay, [which were] marked from your Lord. And Allah’s punishment is not from the wrongdoers [very] far." (Surah 11:77-83, Sahih International)**

But if no human can see an angel except in human form, then this means Muhammad could not have seen the true form of Gabriel. But if he did not see the true form of Gabriel, then all those traditions that claim he did must be mistaken! Thus, no matter how one tries to reconcile these contradictory claims, there will always be problems between what the Quran and the Hadith say.


Dr. Max Shimba for Max Shimba Ministries

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