"Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit."
Both Christianity and Islam feature beings known as angels. These beings occupy a category somewhere between humans and God. They are pure spirit, but in certain instances they take bodily form in order to better communicate with humans. Angels lead a completely different sort of existence from that of humans, but they are able to enter the earthly sphere and exert influence upon people.
Angels serve as emissaries for God, and they make announcements on behalf of God. Angels are created good but they can fall. In fact, both of these religions include stories about angels who fell and became permanent enemies of God.
In the modern era, many Christians consider angels to be imaginary beings. However, in Islam angels are still considered seriously, and believing in their existence is a fundamental part of the Muslim faith.
In the Bible, angels are participants in several key episodes in the story of Jesus. An angel announces to Mary that she is to give birth (despite being a virgin), and angels announce the births of Jesus and John the Baptist. In addition, an angel in bodily form removes the stone from the opening to the tomb of Jesus. Another angel appears in human form after Jesus has ascended to Heaven and explains to the disciples the meaning of the Resurrection.
In Christianity, four such beings are honored with the title “Archangel,” Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel. Another named angelic figure is Satan, the leader of the fallen angels. Due to pride, Satan (also known as the devil) and his companions refused to bow down to God and consequently were cast out of God’s presence.
In Islam, angels also played key roles at certain points in the religion’s central narrative. In fact, it was the angel Gabriel who ushered in Muhammad’s role as prophet by beginning to dictate the Quran to him. This dictation continued as Muhammad gradually comprehended his mission, and the resulting text as repeated by Muhammad and recorded by others is considered to be the verbatim word of God. Gabriel also served as Muhammad’s escort during a key event, the Nocturnal Ascension, when the prophet was miraculously transported from Mecca to Jerusalem and then into the presence of God.
There is also in Islam an angel who became a devil – Iblis, who fell from grace when he refused to prostrate himself before Adam, exhibiting the sin of pride.
In addition, angels are involved with the lives of individual Muslims: they record each person’s actions, and they take each person’s soul at the hour of death.
Finally, in Shia Islam, angels have yet another role – they provide special knowledge to their Imams, knowledge that is not provided to anyone else.
Angels in Islam and Christianity are beings that are close to God and bring key messages to human beings. As such, they were instrumental in bringing about the enlightenment of humankind as understood within each religion. While their role has faded in Christianity, in Islam angels continue to perform actions that are necessary and irreplaceable.