The Angel

An essay for discussion


At the beginning of Islam, Mohammed had been in a cave for many days and was visited by a spiritual being (angel). He was terrified by the encounter, seeking to hide in his home. His wife, Khadija, tried to comfort him. Then she took him to her cousin, Waraqa, for a consultation. Waraqa was perhaps the most educated person in the region and was a Christian who could read and write passages of the New Testament. It was Waraqa who declared that the angel was Gabriel. But Waraqa was then old and blind and died a few days later. After a passage of time the angel again visited Mohammed, this time in the open skies. Again he was terrified. Thereafter the visits involved receiving the teachings of the Quran.

However, was Waraqa qualified to identify the angel? It was the Nestorian cult version of Christianity that was likely present in his region, being forcibly excluded from the Trinitarian Christianity of the Mediterranean region. Waraqa mistakenly claimed that it was Gabriel who appeared to Moses. In the Bible, Gabriel appeared only to Daniel (8:16, 9:21), Zechariah (Luke 1:19) and Mary (Luke 1:26). Other named angels in the Bible are Michael (Daniel 10:13,21; 12:1; Jude 9; Revelation 12:7) and Satan (Lucifer). Moses was visited by "the angel of the Lord", a phrase traditionally meaning the Second Person of the Trinity, who accompanied the Exodus (1 Cor. 10:4). In spite of being able to read the Bible, Waraqa failed to recognize the danger of encountering the wrong angel, the one who is a liar, mixing truth and falsehood. Mohammed was right in being terrified of that angel. He should have stayed that way but heeded Waraqa instead. The teachings of the wrong angel bring about human strife and lead us astray from the true God. The religion of Islam is therefore built on a faulty foundation of an erroneous identification by Waraqa.

The analysis:

For Islam the first encounters with an angel by Mohammed need careful analysis. I have downloaded from the Internet English copies of the Quran and four Hadiths labeled Abudawud, Bukhari, Muslim, and Muwatta and imported them into a word processor for easy search for key words. In such searches I have not read the other parts of these documents. The Hadiths are often repetitive. It is therefore possible that I have missed something important.

The four persons involved are Mohammed, his wife Khadija, her cousin Waraqa, and the angel who appeared to Mohammed. Most of the detail comes from testimonies by Aisha, a subsequent wife of Mohammed. I have broken up the events into five topics. First is the activity of Mohammed at the cave before the first encounter with the angel. Second is the interaction with the angel. The third is the report to Khadija. The fourth is the response of Waraqa. The fifth is the second encounter with the angel. Thereafter the meetings with the angel became more frequent as the Quran was delivered for recitation.

The Cave of Hira

4 Relevant passages: Bukhari Volume 1, Book 1, Number 3; Volume 6, Book 60, Number 478; Volume 9, Book 87, Number 111; Muslim Book 001, Number 0301, all narrated by Aisha.

These four accounts differ slightly in wording but essentially say the same thing. Mohammed was in the Cave for extended periods of time.

The Angel, first encounter

4 Relevant passages: Bukhari Volume 1, Book 1, Number 3; Volume 6, Book 60, Number 478; Volume 9, Book 87, Number 111; Muslim Book 001, Number 0301, all narrated by Aisha.

The angel appears and forcefully tells Mohammed to recite. The four versions differ in substance only with two of them mentioning teaching and writing at the end and a third starting to mention them.

Report to Khadija

5 Relevant passages: Bukhari Volume 1, Book 1, Number 3; Volume 4, Book 55, Number; Volume 6, Book 60, Number 478; Volume 9, Book 87, Number 111; Muslim Book 001, Number 0301, all narrated by Aisha.

One of the five reports is greatly truncated. Two show Mohammed's fear by the twitching of his neck muscles and the other two by a trembling, rapidly beating heart. One version gives Khadija's ancestry. The four long versions all report the covering of Mohammed until his fear was over. Three report his question about what was happening to him. Three say he told her everything that had happened. Four tell of his fear that something bad would happen to him. In four Khadija refutes Mohammed and tries to cheer him up by telling him that Allah would never disgrace him, listing his good deeds. There are no significant differences. For the analysis it is important to note that Mohammed greatly feared the angel and that Khadija told him not to fear and be happy instead. It is likely that Khadija was simply trying to calm her husband, not realizing the importance of the encounter with the angel.

The meeting with Waraqa

5 Relevant passages: Bukhari Volume 1, Book 1, Number 3; Volume 4, Book 55, Number 605; Volume 6, Book 60, Number 478; Volume 9, Book 87, Number 111; Muslim Book 001, Number 0301, all narrated by Aisha.

Waraqa is variously identified as Khadija's cousin, the son of Khadija's uncle (brother of her father), sometimes with a list of his ancestors. He is identified as a convert to Christianity in the pre-Islamic period. Historically, it is most likely that he was of the Nestorian sect, considered heretical by some, and therefore not a good representative of traditional Trinitarian Christianity. Three passages indicate that he would write the Gospels in Arabic, one passage says that he read them in Arabic, and one passage says that he would write the Gospels in Hebrew characters. Four identify Waraqa as old and blind. Four have Waraqa addressing Mohammed as his nephew.

Two passages identify the angel as Namus; "Namus" does not occur anywhere else in all of the Hadiths and Quran. All say the angel was sent to Moses. The angel is named Gabriel in parentheses in three passages and identified as the angel who keeps secrets in two passages. The Bible has an unnamed "The angel of the Lord" appearing to Moses, which traditional Christianity identifies as the pre-incarnate second person of the Trinity, who later is Jesus when in human form. Gabriel appears only to Daniel, Zechariah (father of John the Baptist), and Mary (mother of Jesus), not to Moses. Waraqa was therefore wrong in his identification of the angel.

Finally Waraqa indicates that Mohammed would be persecuted for such a visitation by an angel (four passages). A few days later Waraqa died and Mohammed had no more visitations or visions for a period of time (three passages).

We might wonder if the death of Waraqa was a natural old-age death. Perhaps it was punishment, such as the death of King Saul of Israel after he used a medium to try to consult with the dead prophet Samuel, an action forbidden by God. Or perhaps the angel wanted Waraqa to be gone so that he could not change his identification. We cannot know the answer.

The angel; Second encounter

10 Relevant passages: Bukhari Volume 1, Book 1, Number 3: narrated by Aisha; Volume 4, Book 54, Number 461: narrated by Jabir bin 'Abdullah; Volume 6, Book 60, Numbers 444 and 445: narrated by Jabir bin 'Abdullah; Volume 6, Book 60, Number 447: narrated by Jabir bin 'Abdullah; Volume 6, Book 60, Number 448: narrated by Jabir bin 'Abdullah; Volume 6, Book 60, Number 478: narrated by Aisha; Volume 8, Book 73, Number 233: narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah; Muslim Book 001, Number 0304; Book 001, Number 0307.

There are 10 relevant passages. Three mention being in the cave in Hira; one says for one month, two of a limited period of seclusion. 8 speak of a period of no revelation: period of pause, short period, or intermission. Three say that he "came down" from Hira, one that he went into the heart of the valley. The other 7 say that he was walking when the angel came. All 10 mention a voice calling him. The 7 say the voice was in or from the sky. Two simply say "calling me". One says that the voice called 3 times. He looked around in the 4 directions the first time, "about" the second time, and raised his head the third time. Two passages say he looked to the right and then up. 4 say that he looked up, one towards the sky, one "raising my head". The angel was seated on a chair (6 passages) or Throne (2 passages). The other two say he "saw something". 7 passages say that it was the same angel of the first visit at Hira. One passage says directly that it was Gabriel. His reaction was to be afraid (3 passages), frightened (1), terrified (1), terror-stricken (1), trembled for fear (1). He went back home (2), to his house (1), to his family (2), to his wife Khadijah (4). He asked to be wrapped up (8) or covered (1). One passages says that water was thrown on him while another passage says that it was cold water. The message from Allah said to warn (8), magnify the Lord (3), purify his clothes (4), and have people forsake idols (6). Thereafter messages came more frequently (3) or continuously (1).

So this time the angel appeared in the sky, sitting on a chair or Throne. It was the same angel of the first visitation, and one passage identifies the angel as Gabriel. This time no other person was involved in the identification; Waraqa was dead.

The following passages may also fit with the second encounter:

Muslim Book 001, Number 0330; Book 001, Number 0331; Book 001, Number 0332; Book 001, Number 0333; Book 001, Number 0337; Book 001, Number 0340; Bukhari Volume 4, Book 54, Number 457: narrated by Aisha; Volume 4, Book 54, Number 458: narrated by Masruq; Volume 6, Book 60, Number 379: narrated by Abdullah; Volume 6, Book 60, Number 380: narrated by ASSAILANT.

There are 10 passages. All insist that Mohammed saw Gabriel. 5 give a distance of about two bows. 5 say that Gabriel had 600 wings. 4 say that Gabriel filled the sky, blocking the horizon. Two say this is "another descent", while one of them mentions only 2 occasions. Two passages say that the appearance in the past was in the shape of men, contrasting with this time. Two insist that it was not Allah who was seen. So this seems to refer to the second visitation by the angel. It firmly identifies the angel as Gabriel.

My assessment:

At the time before Mohammed received instructions from the angel, God's revelations, guidance, and instructions were written in the Bible's Old and New Testaments. Such passages take precedence over the arrival of new sources of information. Those were God's rules by which the encounter with the angel should have been evaluated.

I am claiming that while Waraqa was very literate, he was not qualified to identify the angel as Gabriel. He mistakenly said that Gabriel appeared to Moses. Waraqa did not heed the instruction in 1 John 4:1, which says "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God". He just simply declared that the angel who appeared to Mohammed was Gabriel. He forgot or ignored 2 Corinthians 11:14, which says "And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light." He did not consider that the angel who appeared to Mohammed might be Satan, the liar.

Mohammed was correct in being greatly afraid of the angel who appeared to him. 1 Peter 5:8,9 says, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith..." Jesus says in John 8:44, "You belong to your father, the devil.... He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." It is out of character for a good angel from God to be abusive during a visit unless God is inflicting judgement upon an entire group of unrepentant or pagan people. It is also strange that the angel would be abusive to Mohammed, trying to force him to read and recite, knowing him to be illiterate.

If the angel was actually Satan, pretending to be a good angel, then all messages from him would be a mixture of truth (when it is helpful to him) and lies. That would infect all the teachings of Islam. Much of Islam is in agreement with the previous revelations in the Bible, but some is not. Jesus says in Matthew 7:16 and following, "By their fruits you will recognize them." Jesus performed miracles; Mohammed did not. Jesus did not teach that it is right to kill, lie, steal, and have many wives. Satan would be expected to teach things in opposition to the words of Jesus. Satan has the goal to destroy humanity, both in this life and hereafter. Satan must be pleased with present world events in the name of Islam.

Over the centuries I would expect that some Muslim scholars would have wondered about the correct identification of the angel who appeared to Mohammed. Waraqa was wrong. What is the Islamic viewpoint on this important topic? If the identification is wrong, then all subsequent teachings from that angel are suspect, likely being a mixture of truth and lies.

In America in the 1820s Joseph Smith was apparently deceived by his first vision and thereafter departed from the teachings of Christianity as he formed the Mormon church. The accounts seem similar. Perhaps it was the same angel. ml>