Bābī and Bahā'ī Angelology - an overview



Stephen Lambden UCMerced.

1996 +2005-6 + 2015. Being reformatted, corrected and supplemented

Last uploaded 10/06/05 + 15-11-2016

The Bahā'ī angelology or doctrine of angels (sing. Ar. malak, pl. malā'ika; Per. firishtih) is rooted in and interprets the scriptural references to angelic beings found in the Abrahamic ("Semitic", primarily Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and, to a lesser extent, Asian religious traditions (especially Zoroastrianism). Though angelic beings of various kinds are mentioned in Bābī and Bahā'ī scripture this terminology is usually meant to be understood "spiritually" or "allegorically".

The English word "angel" derives from the Greek angelos which basically means -- like the Biblical Hebrew mal'ākh which it often translates -- `messenger'. On the most basic level angels are divine messengers though the word "angel" indicates a bewildering variety of largely benevolent spiritual beings with a wide range of functions. In religious and other literatures originating in both the orient and the occident, the varieties of angels has been reckoned so extensive that detailed listings of the angelic hierarchy have been set down. Bulky dictionaries of angels have been published.

        Frequent mention is made within the Zoroastrian tradition of benevolent spiritual beings which may be loosely thought of as "Archangels" or angelic beings. Most importantly, six divine Immortal Beings (Amesha Spentas), including the primordial Holy/Bounteous Spirit (Spenta Mainyu, an active creative Reality) surround the great Divinity, Ahura Mazdā ("Wise Lord"; see Boyce, EIr. I:933f).

        The Hebrew Bible speaks of angels as heavenly beings who are members of God's court (Job 1:6, Isaiah 6:2f etc.). God appears like an oriental monarch surrounded by hosts of angels who serve Him. Among other functions, angels may mediate divine revelation (Zech 1:9,11ff; 2:2ff; Ezek 40:3) or have destructive function ( ). Among the special categories of angels are the six winged seraphim (sing. seraph, "burning ones" see Isaiah 6:2) and the cherubim (sing. cherub) "those nigh unto God" (see Gen ). Satan (Heb. `Adversary', `Accuser') was not originally a proper name, but indicated a sometimes human angelic functionary who later came -- under Zoroastrian influence (?) -- to be viewed as a malevolent source of evil.

        Post-exilic Judaism greatly increased the number, names and powers of the multiplying angelic host. It is reported in the Jerusalem Talmud that the names of the angels were introduced after the return from exile in Babylon (Rosh ha-Shanah, 1.2). The following [Arch] angels are among those well-known: Michael (Heb. mikā'el = "Who is like God?"), Gabriel (perhaps, "man of God"), Raphael (Gk. [loosely] = "God heals"), Uriel ("the Flame of God") and Phanuel ("the Face of God"). In the book of Daniel multitudes of angels "appear as powerful intermediate beings with personal names, archangels, watchers, and angels of the nations." (Bietenhard, 101). They also figure prominently in the Jewish sectarian Qumran texts or "Dead Sea Scrolls" as they do in such pseudepigaphical texts as the various `Books of Enoch' (I,II & III). Many Jewish Rabbis reckoned that many references to "angels" the result of the avoidance of anthropomorphic language about God (Urbach 1979:135). The angel Metatron

Biblical and traditional references to angels are often viewed symbolically or poetically within Reform Judaism and other sectors of modern Judaism (JE 2:976).

 The role of celestial divinities ("angels") in Zoroastrianism and Judaism has formed the basis of Christian and Islamic angeology. Angels figure quite prominently in the New Testament -- (Gk.) angelos occuring 175 times in this sacred scripture -- especially in the Synoptic infancy narratives (Matt ; Luke ), the post-crucifixion burial and resurrection accounts (esp. ) and in the Book of Revelation (e.g. 2:1ff; 5:11, 7:11 etc). Gabriel and the archangel Michael occupy a preeminent position as archangels in the New Testament (Luke 1:26; 1 Thess. 4:16). That human beings can be viewed as "angels" is probably indicated at Hebrews 13:2 (cf. Gen. 18:1ff) where we read: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." At his second coming, Jesus Christ is expected to be send out "angels" who will gather the "elect" (Matt 24:31 cf. Mark 13:27).

 The church Fathers defended the created nature of angels who came to be seen as purely spiritual beings. Largely on the basis of alleged references to an angelic beings by Paul (Eph. 1:21, Col. 1:16) their number and order were variously fixed. Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite (fl. c. 500 CE) in his influential, The Celestial Hierarchy spoke of three hierarchies of three choirs: (1) Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones; (2) Dominions, Virtues, Powers; (3) Principalities, Archangels and Angels (see Rorem, 1993:49f). Catholic systematic theology has speculated about the substantiality, form and nature of the angels.

 Often in the role of messengers of God, angels are mentioned more than fifteen times in the Qur'ān. The great angel Gabriel (Ar. Jibrāl) is three times named (2:97-8; 66:4). He came to be viewed as the primary bearer of divine revelation to Muammad. In Islam the angel Gabriel

 Believing Muslims affirm the existence of "God, His angels, His books, and His Messengers" (Qur'ān 2:285). As inhabitants of unseen celestial worlds, angels are usually understood to be independently existing celestial beings. They, according to the Qur'ān are immaterial beings "having wings two, three and four" (Qur'ān 35:1). The Muslim perspective has been thus summed up, "Angels are unseen beings of a luminoius and spiritual substance that act as intermediaries between God and the visible world." (Murata, 1987:324). Islamic angeology is complex and very highly developed. At he head of the angelic hierarchy according to some sources, stand "those brought nigh [unto God]" (al-muqarrabin; see Q. 4:172, 7:114, etc.), the Karubiyyun ("Cherubim"). Most notable among them are the following four exalted angels who "rule the seven heavens and attend the divine throne" (Moezzi, EIr. 6:318):

  • 1) Jibril/Jibrā'il (Gabriel), the angel of divine revelation.
  • 2) Mikāl / Mikā'āl (Michael), the one like unto God (see Qur'ān 2:98)
  • 3) Isrāfil,(Seraphiel), the Angel of the last trump on the Day of Resurrection.
  • 4) `Izrā'il (Azrael), the principal Angel of Death (cf. Qur'ān 32:11)

 Archangels, Cherubs and the  Sinaitic theophnany

 Various Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions interpret the Sinaitic theophany as an angelophany.  On these lines is the exposition of Qur'an 7:143 in an Arabic recension of Muhammad b. `Abd-Allāh Kisā'ī's Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā' ("Tales of the Prophets," c. 1200 C.E.):

"God commanded the angels of heaven to present themselves to Moses, and they passed before him in ranks. As he witnessed their different forms and the magnificence of their shapes, fear and trembling overcame him; and Gabriel passed his wing over Moses' heart to quieten his fear. Then Gabriel stood on the summit of the mountain and ascended to heaven." (Tr. Kisa'i 237)

Moses, we are led to believe, witnessed the Sinaitic manifestation of an whole heavenly host, including Gabriel whose calming act should be viewed as an anti-anthropomorphic paraphrase of the biblical mention of God's shielding Moses from His "glory" with His own "hand." (Exodus 33:22b)

Cherubim have played a significant role in Islamic angelology. The sixth Shi`i Imām, Ja`far al-Sādiq (d. 765 CE) spoke about primordial, proto-Shī`ī cherubim existing behind the heavenly, Divine Throne (al-`arsh) who are bearers of a stunningly bright Divine Light.


In another  important Shī`ī tradition attributed to the sixth Imam Ja'far al‑Ṣādiq (d.c. 705 C.E.), the theophany before the Sinaitic mountain is explained in terms of the appearance of an allegedly proto-Shiite cherub :

"The Cherubim (al‑karūbiyyīn) are a [celestial] people of our [Shi`i] party created in primordial times (min al-khalq al-awwal). God established them behind the [divine] Throne (al‑`arsh). If the light (nūr) of but one of them should be distributed among the people of the earth, it would assuredly suffice them . . . When Moses asked his Lord what he asked [i.e., to see Him], He [God] commanded one of the Cherubim and it manifested itself unto the mountain (fatajallā i'l-jabal)  and reduced it to dust" (Arabic text in Majlisi, Bihar 2nd ed.  13:223‑4. cf. Baha'-Allah, K.Iqan  61/50‑51.

The second Shaykhi leader Sayyid Kazim Rashti (d. 1259/1843) also reckoned that it was an angelic cherub who appeared before Moses on Sinai and expressed the Divine theophany (Lambden, 1987:89f, 165-6 fn.58).

In his T. sūrat al‑kawthar  (Commentary upon the Surah of the Abundance) the Bab quotes Qur'ān 7:142b and a tradition of Imam Ja`far al‑Sādiq to the effect that it was one of the cherubim of the party of `Alī  which shone forth upon the Mount and reduced it to dust. After quoting the same texts in his Tafsir al‑Hā' (INBMC 14:245) he writes:

"So when Moses asked his Lord that which he asked [i.e. to see Him] He [God] commanded a man (rajul) from among them [one of the heavenly cherubim ‑to appear before the Mount]. And he shone forth (tajallī) before it [Sinai] and the mountain [Sinai] was reduced to dust and Moses fell down in a swoon".  (Refer T. surat al‑kawthar  f. 94ff. For more details see also the letter of the Bab in reply to the questions of an unidentified tullab, (item 13, ) in INBMC 14:395ff.

 The Commentary on the Sura of Abundance contains several paragraphs in which the Bāb underlines the absolute transcendence and incomprehensibility of God and rules out any notion of a direct epiphany (tajallī) of His exalted Essence. Qur'an 7:143 is quoted and explained in terms of the manifestation of the proto-Shiite Cherub spoken about by Imam Ja`far Sādiq. Only seventy select Israelites were capable of sustaining the epiphany of this Cherub who represented the nafs or Logos-Self  of God. (Cf. Exodus 24:9ff.) Direct vision of God is not possible. (see T. Kawthar f.9[b]ff).

 While the tradition about the Cherub being the agent of the Divine Epiphany is occasionally quoted and commented upon literally in early (pre-1848) Bābī scripture, the Bāb ulti‑mately came to identify himself (as the expected Imam or Qā'im, or as one claiming independent prophethood and subor‑dinate divinity) with the "Lord" (rabb) who addressed Moses from the Burning Bush. In one of his epistles to Muhammad Shāh (d. 1848) we read:

When Moses . . . asked God that which he asked [to see Him], God revealed His glory (tajallā) upon the Mountain (al-jabal) through the Light of one belonging to the party of `Alī [the Cherub] just as hath been made clear in that famous tradition [of Imam Ja`far] . . . By God! This was my Light (n¬rī for the numer‑ical value of my name [`Alī Muhammad; i.e., 202] corresponds to that of the name of the "Lord" (rabb, also 202). Thus God, praised be He, said, "And when He revealed His glory (tajallā) before the Mountain . (Qur'ān 7:143b) " (INBAMC 64:109‑10)

According to Qur'an 7:143, Moses asked to see "his Lord" (rabbuhu). It was "his Lord" who "revealed His glory" (tajallī). Since the abjad numerical value of rabb (Lord) and the name `Alī-Muammad are both 202, the Bāb identified himself as the source of the epiphany (tajallī) before the Sinaitic mountain. The theophanic light (nūr)  of the proto‑‑Shiite Cherub was ultimately the light of the Bāb.

Lesser orders of Angels

There are myriads of lesser celestial angels apart from these four (Majlisi, Bihār 59:144ff). Islam knows of a pair of "guardian angels" who record the "good" and "bad" deeds of human beings (see. Q. 82:10-12; 86:4; Netton, 1992:35 cf. QA LXIII). The angels Hārāt and Marāt are sometimes reckoned two fallen angels who came to be associated with ancient Babylon and with the origins of sorcery (see Q. 2:102; cf. Gen 6:1f). According to many Islamic traditions, Munkar and Nakār are the names of the two angels who question the dead (`ashāb al-qabr cf. Q. ) in their graves -- after the "body" has been united to its "soul" prior to to the general Day of Judgement. Female celestial beings, the modest and beautiful `houris' (Ar. sing. ḥūrriyya, pl. ḥūr) of Paradise, are explicitly mentioned four times in the Qur'ān (44:54; 52:20; 55:72; 56:23). According to numerous Islamic traditions, these heavenly virgins ("houris") are to be companions of the blessed who enter Paradise (see Qur'ān 52:20 and numerous post-Qur'ānic traditions).

Ibn Sīnā (= Avicenna, d. 1037 CE) identified a series of Intellegences (`Angel-Intellects') with super intelligent cherubim, the tenth of which he considered to be Gabriel, the Holy Spirit (Corbin, 1990:46ff; Peters, 1973:629f). Like some later Muslim thinkers and mystics Ibn Sinā sometimes gave an allegorical interpretation to aspects of traditional angelology. Islamic angelology was greatly enriched by the founder of the Ishrāqī school, Shihāb al-Dīn Yaḥyā Suhrawardī (d. 1191 CE). He reinterpreted aspects of Zoroastrian angelology and wrote a treatise called, `The Sound of Gabriel's Wing' (trans. Thackston Jr. 1982: 26ff; Corbin, 1992, index). Islamic traditions about the Cherubim inform Bahā'-Allāh's references to the "cherubim" in his Kitāb-i āqān (text, 1934/1980: 61, trans. 1961:50-51), Hidden Words (HWP:77; karrūbiyyūn  trans. Shoghi Effendi, "dwellers of the realms above") and other writings.

In various of their writings the Muslim harbingers of the Bābī-Bahā'ī religion, Shaykh Aḥmad al-Aḥsā'ī (d. 1826) and Sayyid Kāim Rashtī (d. 1843) interpret the Islamic angelological tradition. The former for example, proposed an intimate relationship between the Logos-like Muammadan Light (nūr) and the being of angelic figures such as Jibrā'il (= Gabriel; 30:xxx). In his Sharḥ al-qaṣīdā.. and other writings, Sayyid Kāẓim Rashti (d.1259/1843) indulges in sometimes elaborate angelological speculations. Utilizing kabbalistic type numerology (jafr) he occasionally refers to angels with exotic names which reflect Hebrew nomenclature. e.g. Hakthā'ēl, alā'ēl (cf. Ibrāhimi, Fihrist, 200f). On one level he regarded the cherubim (al-karrūbiyyīn) as the archetypal reality of the Prophets who possess corresponding names (Lambden, 1988:91-2, 165-6 fn. 58)

The Jinn and Azazel

Qur'an 72:1.  = Say: `It hath been revealed to me [Muhammad] that a group of the Jinn hearkened and said, "We have indeed heard an astonishing recitation/Qur'an (qur'an an `ajib an)".

The existnce of the shadowy jinn (Ar.pl. الجن‎‎, al-jinn, sing. الجني, al-jinnī,  jinnā, `genie'; loosely "spirits", cf. Arabic majnūn = "possessed", "Madness", "insane"), is presupposed in the Qur'ān. Surah 72 is entitled Surat al-Jinn, "The Surah of the Jinn". The Jinn are mentioned XX in the Qur'an. Unlike human beings (created from "clay") they are said to have been created from "smokeless fire" (55:14;15:26f).

Jinn are not viewed by Bahā'īs as independently existing benevolent or malevolent supernatural beings. References to them in the Qur'ān, traditions and Bābī-Bahā'īs scripture, are symbolic. Shoghi Effendi reckoned that the jinn of the Qur'ān, "have no positive existence of any kind." (Hornby, Lights2 No. 1667). The satanic Iblīs, reckoned one of the jīnn and a `fallen angel' in the Qurān (Q.18:50;2:34, etc) is also interpreted symbolically in Bahā'ī scripture.

■ Bābī and Bahā'ī Angelology

The Bāb

        In a number of his works the Bāb refers to angels often repeating or interpreting Islamic references allegorically. In his earliest extant work, the incomplete Tafsīr sūrat al-baqara ("Commentary on the Sura of the Cow" 1843-4), the Bā b gives a number of interpretations to the word "angels" (al-malā'ika) in Qur'ān 2:34. He first seems to give them a qabbalistically oriented interpretation, by stating that "angels are the mediatory realities which are as letters (rawābi ka-'l-ḥurūfāt). Among other things he adds that they represent "categories of Lordship" (shu'ūnāt al-rububiyya) through which the Divine theophany (tajallī) is realized. God made them "transcendental mediators" (rawābi al-`alawiyyāt) which are the "essences of things mundane" (jawāhir al-sufliyyāt).

 A wide ranging significance for "angels" is presupposed when the Bāb states that this term signifies everything which is other than the Divine Will (al-mashiyyā  = the primordial creative reality) and its related spheres (kuwarihā). The existence and operations of the "angels" is carried out by the leave of Imām `Alī who is privy to full knowledge of them (INBMC 69:119f). He and other early Shī`ī worthies (i.e. Salmān and Miqdād) are indicated in the "deep esoteric" (bāṭin) sense of "angels" (ibid, 131 on 2:34).

 Within the Qayyum al-asmā' the Bāb states that "the angels and spirit[s] (al-malā'ika wa'l-rūḥ) arrayed rank upon rank descend, by the leave of God, upon this Gate [the Bāb] and circle round this Focal Point in a far-stretching [ cosmic/ alphabetical] line." (QA XXIV tr. SWB:50 cf. Qur'ān 78:38).

In his Persian Bayān and other writings, the Bāb gave an allegorical interpretation to many aspects of Islamic eschatology (Lambden, Eschatology, EIr.) including the matter of the interrogation of the dead by Munkar and Nakār prior to the Day of Judgement. In Persian Bayān 2:10 he gives a detailed allegorical interpretation of the expected Islamic `questioning in the grave.' It is interpreted as a this worldly questioning about faith-status in the "tomb" of the body during the dispensation of `Him whom God shall make manifest' (the Bābī Messiah = Bahā'-Allāh). Human believers take the place of Munkir and Nakīr in the questioning role.

It is reported that the Bāb interpreted the twin, probably `fallen angels' Hārāt and Mārāt allegorically. He related them with the possibly veiling nature of undue attention to grammatical rules which distract from the true senses of sacred scripture:

"Hārāt and Mārāt are two fixed habits, which, descending from the superior world, have become imprisoned in the well of the material nature, and teach men sorcery. And by these [two] habits are meant Accidence [naw?] and Syntax [arf?] from which, in the Beyānic Dispensation, all restrictions have been removed." (words attributed to the Bāb in the Hasht Bihisht, cited Browne, New History, 422).

Bahā'ī Angelology

Bahā'ī cosmology presupposes the existence of other "worlds" and universes apart from and beyond this physical world. In Bahā'-Allāh's Sura-yi vafā such "worlds" (al-`awālim) are said to be "countless in their number", "infinite in their range" and basically beyond human comprehension. Bābī and Bahā'ī scripture contains numerous references to celestial realms inhabited by all manner of spiritually evolved beings (e.g. the `Supreme Concourse', see below). While Bahā'ī scripture affirms the existence of life on other planets in the universe[s] and "creatures apart from these [human] creatures (khalq ba`da khalq"; see Gl LXXVIII), such references do not seem to presuppose the existence of orders of "angels" as spoken about figuratively in past sacred texts, popularly conceived, or as a distinct order of superhuman celestial beings. Explicit references to "angels" as a celestial order of beings distinct and separate from spiritually evolved human beings -- existing in this material world or in the spiritual worlds after death -- is lacking. Highly spiritually evolved human beings can be considered "angels" when alive on earth or after they have passed away. Being angelic however, does not imply the perfection of spirituality. For Bahā'is spiritual progress never comes to an end for human travellers of the spiritual path. Progress towards God is eternal path which has no end.

 In Islam "angels" have sometimes been thought of as having a role in maintaining or controlling forces active in the cosmos, the affairs of the natural order (e.g. winds, eclipses, paths of the stars, etc., cf. Qur'ān 79:5; Moezzi, EIr 6:318). In one of his meditations Bahā'-Allāh gives a human psychologizing interpretation to the "angels of fire and snow" (malā'ikāt... min al-nār wa'l-thulj) traditionally believed to exist and be responsible for controlling such incompatible natural phenomena as "fire" and "ice" (see P&M 94:108 trans, 120). These angels find early reference in certain recensions of the the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (ADD REFS). `Abdu'l-Bahā is reported to have interpreted the angelic figures `Isrā fil (a life infusing angel) and `Izrā'il (a life removing angel) as the powers of "composition" and "decomposition" respectively (Goodall, 1908:43-4).

Aside from indicating those forces active in the natural world the term "angel" can also indicate supernatural spiritual bounties, forces or powers:

"...the meaning of `angels' (Per. firishtagān) is the confirmations of God (tā'idiyyāt-i- ilāhiyya) and His celestial powers (qawā'-yi raḥmāniyyih)." (SWAB 39:78, trans, 81).

Perhaps the dominant of Bahā'ī interpretation of scriptural angelology is symbolic interpretation or the aried application of angelic qualities to to human beings. Spiritual men and women are seen as "angels". Whilst living in this world they are detached from it:

"Likewise angels (Per. firishtagān) are blessed beings (nufās-i mubārakā) who have severed all ties with this nether world, have been released from the chains of self and of the desires of the flesh, and anchored their hearts to the heavenly realms of the Lord" (SWAB 78:81; trans, 81).

The existence of infinite transcendent spiritual worlds is an important aspect of Bahā'ī cosmology. Spiritually advanced human beings may also be thought of as "angels" after they have died and passed on to one of the  infinite heavenly worlds of the afterlife. As this mortal world and the worlds after death are not completely separated, they may mediate spiritual blessings to persons in this world. This is not to say though that they are transformed "angels "after mythology of past ages, celestial winged beings. The spiritually advanced souls who have passed away may be thought of as "angels" in the sense of being celestial communicators of divine blessings. This is not to say, however, that Baha'is view the afterlife as having inhabitants focused upon this world and  its mundane affairs.

The Supreme Concourse (al-malā' al-a`lā)

The qur'ānic expression "supreme concourse" (Q. 37:8; 38:69; as Shoghi Effendi often translated, al-malā' al-a`lā'  is quite frequent in Bahā'ī scripture. On one level this expression describes heavenly beings who mediate spiritual powers to this earthly world. At one point in the Kitāb-i aqdas, (Most Holy Book, c. 1873) Bahā'-Allāh states that after his ascension his spiritual aid will be vouchsafed by "the hosts of the Concourse on high (junād min al-malā' al-a`lā) and a company of favoured angels (prominent Bahā'īs? qabāl min al-malā'ika al-muqarribīn)" (Aqdas, 53:38#). `Abdu'l-Bahā' stated that "The faithful are ever sustained by the Presence of the Supreme Concourse". He counted Jesus, Moses, Elijah (cf. Matt 17:1f etc) and Bahā'-Allāh, as well as elevated souls and martyrs, among the members of this elevated assembly, this sublime, celestial retinue  (ABL:97).

Heavenly "Maidens" , houris, Ar.  ḥurr / ḥūriyya)

  Bābī and Bahā'ī scripture contains numerous references to the houris (Ar. ḥūr) or maidens of Paradise (see AA 3:133f). The Bāb sometimes uses maiden imagery in his writings. He called the XXIXth chapter (surah) of his first major work, the Qayyām al-asmā' (mid. 1844 CE), the "Surah of the Maiden (sūrat al-ḥuriyya)". At one point in this lengthy Arabic work, he, speaking with the voice of God, addresses the people f the earth and proclaims, "I am the Maid of Heaven (al-ḥūriyya) begotton by the Spirit of Bahā (al-bahā')..." (QA XXIX trans. SWB:54). Bahā'-Allāh applied this reference to himself in his Sūat al-Bayān and thus claimed to be the heavenly Maiden. In his Book of Names (Kitāb al-Asmā'), the Bāb, drawing upon the Qur'ān (esp. Q. 56:22-23) refers to "houris like hidden pearls" (INBMC 29:90).

 Bahā'-Allāh, furthermore, named certain of his Tablets after these female beings, the "maidens" (houris) who figure prominently within certain of them. This imagery derived most closely from the writings of the Bab especially from the abovementioned Surat al-ḥūriyya of the Qayyūm al-asmā'. Dating from the Baghdad period are the ḥūr-i` ujāb ("The Wondrous Maiden" c.1858?), Lawḥ-i ḥuriyya ("Tablet of the Maiden") and the Munājat-i ḥūriyya ("Prayer of the Heavenly Maiden"). Such "maidens" references figure prominently in other Tablets of this period, including the Lawḥ-i Mallāḥ al-quds ("Tablet of the Holy Mariner", 1863). They are also found in alwah (Tablets) of the Edirne (1863-1868) and West Galilean (`Akka - Acre) period (1868-1892). The Lawḥ-i ru'yā ("Tablet of the Vision", 1873) is especially important in this respect. URL =

 The qur'ānic references to the "houris" who are to be heavenly companions of the righteous are symbolically interpreted in Bahā'ī scripture. In the Kitāb-i-Iqān, Bahā'-Allāh makes it clear that the "houris" (hūrīs) who are the companions of the blessed are essentially the deep, inner meanings of sacred scripture; the "húrís of inner meaning". Both the Bab and Bahā'-Allāh in many writings claimed to bring the deeper or batini senses of the Qur'an and other sacred scriptures. They claimed to unveil the mysteries of the Divine Word  in the eschatological age or promised age (KI:54 [text]/45-6 [tr.]).

Notes:  Shoghi Effendi often translated ḥūriyya ("houris") by the English word "maiden". He wrote that symbolically speaking it was the "Most Great Spirit" in the form of a "Heavenly Maiden" (ḥūriyya) which informed Bahā'-Allāh of his mission (ESW: cf. SAQ 16:85). Certain references to the heavenly maidens found in Bahā'-Allāh's Tablets as translated by Shoghi Effendi, has led some western Bahā'īs to speculate that a future Manifestation of God (expected after a millennium or more) might be female though there seems to be no authoritative text to substantiate this viewpoint..

Seraphim & Cherubim

 It has been noted that cherubim feature in Bahā'ī scripture. A Seraph (= one of the Seraphim) in the form of the (Islamic) angel Isrā'fīl (loosely = Seraphiel), the one expected to sound the trumpet-blast signaling the onset of the Day of Judgement, is also among the categories of angels mentioned in Bābī-Bahā'ī scripture. In the Kitāb-i-Iqān for example, the "Seraph of God" (so Shoghi Effendi's translation of "Isrā'fāl") is mentioned as one of God's "servants". He is referred to by Shoghi Effendi as an "angel of the Judgement Day" (KI Ar. 88 trans.  SE* 75 cf. Wensinck, EI2 Isrāfīl).

Gabriel (Jibril),

A Traditional Islamic Image of Gabriel.

Gabriel is quite frequently mentioned in symbolic terms in Bahā'ī scripture. At one point in the Kitāb-i-Iqān his symbolic significance is indicted in the phrase, Jibrā 'il-i waḥy (lit. "Gabriel of Divine Inspiration") which is translated by Shoghi Effendi as "Gabriel, the Voice of Inspiration" (KI:89/75). In one of his Tablets Bahā'-Allāh responds to a question about Gabriel, and seems to equate himself and his power of revelation with the outward, exterior personification of the angel Gabriel:

"In view of that which which thou asked about Gabriel, did Gabriel rise up before the Face [= Bahā'-A'llāh] and exclaim, `O Thou questioner! Know thou that when the Tongue of the Divine Oneness (lisān al-aḥadiyya) uttereth His Sublime Word, "O Gabriel  Thou shalt see Me [Bahā'-Allāh; cf. Q. 7:143) existing in the most comely of forms (aḥsan al-ṣūr), in the most concrete of existences (ẓāhir al-ẓāhir).' Be not astonished at this for thy Lord is assuredly, Mighty and All-Powereful." ( Ar.  text cited Māzandārāni, Asrar al-athar III:8).

 According to Shoghi Effendi is was "the Angel Gabriel" in the form, symbolically speaking, of the "Most Great Spirit" -- personified as a "Maiden" ("houri") -- which appeared to Bahā'-Allāh in 1852/3 at the time of his inaugural mystical experience in the Siyāh Chāl ("Black Pit") dungeon in Tehran (GPB:101).

 Bahā'ī scripture does not affirm the reality of angelic or archangelic beings who were banished from Paradise. Scriptural references to a class of `fallen angels' are symbolically interpreted as are references to Satan, demons and other varieties of malevolent beings (Hornby, 1988:1730ff). They generally indicate human opponents of the religion of God or their lower, undeveloped persona.

Riḍwān as an angelic keeper of Paradise. 

Riḍwān facing Gabriel and Muhammad

 Occurring twice in the Qur'ān (Q. 9:21 and 57:20), the word Riḍwān (lit. "Good pleasure") is sometimes understood by Muslims to be the proper name of that angel which is in charge of Paradise (Majlisi, Biḥār ADD ref. XX:XX?). In his Qayyūm al-asmā' and other writings the Bāb quite frequently addresses the inmates or "inhabitants of Paradise" (ahl al-ridwān). He quite frequently uses this term as in ADD

 The word Riḍwān is commonly used  in Bābī and Bahā'ī scripture. Among other things it designates the annual festival (April 21-May 2) observed by Bahā'īs in commemoration of Bahā'-Allāh's declaration of his mission in 1863, in the garden of Najīb Pāshā on the outskirts of Baghdad where this declaration took place and the garden of Na`mayn near `Akkā /Acre Palestine/Israel  ADD

The Bahā'ī demythologization of Apocalyptic angeology

 Both the Bible and the Qur'ān speak of the appearance of angels at the time of the second coming of Jesus and/ or the advent of Divinity (see Matt 24:31 Mk 13: Qur'ān 2:111). While in the 51st surah of the Qayyūm al-asmā' (51:200) the qur'ānic reference to the advent of God with an entourage of angels (Q. 2:111) is restated, in the 67th Sāra of the same work, the Bāb, rewriting and interpreting Qur'ān 2:110 states, "Muhammad will come upon a cloud with his angels (al-malā'ikat) round about him..". The advent of Divinity with accompanying angels becomes the eschatological appearance of Muhammad. A phrase from the same qur'ānic verse seems to be related to the expected eschatological Dhikr or Dhikr-Allah (messianic "Remembrance of God" = the hidden Imām / the Bāb) when in QA 88:355 it is stated,

"We, verily, created the angels around the [messianic]  Dhikr."

 References to the eschatological manifestation of "angels" are often demythologized in Bahā'ī scripture. Interpreting the Gospel references to the appearance of the "Son of Man" (= Jesus) and his sending of his "angels" (see Matt 24:31 cf. Mark 13:27) in his Kitāb-i  īqān  (c.1862 CE), Bahā'-Allāh interprets these "angels" (malā'ika) as human beings of exalted spirituality (vujādāt-i qudsiyyih / nufus-i muqaddisih): persons who,

" reinforced by the power of the spirit, have consumed, with the fire of the love of God, all human traits and limitations, and clothed themselves with the attributes of the most exalted Beings (`āliyyīn) and of the Cherubim (karrūbiyyān)." (KI:61 [text)/50-51 [trans.]).

Referring to this same text, `Abdul-Bahā has stated that Bahā'īs may be such "angels": CORRECT THIS

et thoughts pure, your eyes consoled, your ears opened..." (TAB 1:145 = BWF:360).

Maẓāhir-i īlāhī  (Manifestations of God)  as angels.

 It is sometimes the case that the pre-existent Messengers or Manifestations of God (maẓhar-i ilāhī) are themselves referred to in sacred writ as angels. There are angelomorphic (spiritually formed as an angelic being) aspects to the depiction of Jesus in the New Testament and the writings of later Christian theologians. References are made today to Angelomorphic Christologies (see bib.). This term is indicative of views of the exalted sanctity of Jesus expressed in angelomorphic terms. The mediators of the Divine Father have been pictured as being angelic in form and nature as  they communicate the Divine will to humankind.  They have been  also been considered elevated Archangels of the highest order. ADD

 The Bahā'ī doctrine of the Manifestation of God is, in a sense, an Angelophany. The "seventh angel" referred to in Rev. 11:15 is interpreted by `Abdu'l-Bahā as "a man qualified with heavenly attributes"; apparently a "Divine Manifestation ( ADD )" (= the Bāb?)" (SAQ:56)

Select Bibliography.

General and Miscellany

Burnham, Sophy.

  • 1990 A Book of Angels. New York: Ballantine Books

Coudert, Allison.

  • "Angels" in ER. (ed. Eliade) 1:282-286.

Davidson, G.

  • 1967 A Dictionary of Angels XX:XX

EREL. = Eliade, M. (et al., eds.)

  • Encyclopedia of Religion. London: Macmillan & Free Press: New York, 1987.

Godwin, Malcolm.

  • 1990 Angels, An Engangered Species. London: Boxtree Ltd.

Lambourn Wilson, Peter.

  • 1993 The Little Book of Angels. Shaftesbury, etc.: Element Books.


Boyce, Mary.

  • A History of Zoroastrianism 3 Vols. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1975-8?
  • `Amesha Spentas' Encyclopedia Iranica I:933-6.

Judaism & Christianity

Barker, Margaret.

1992 The Great Angel, A Study of Israel's Second God. London: SPCK.

Beitenhard, H. "Angel, Messenger, Gabriel, Michael" in Colin Brown (ed.) New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Corporation, 1986) pp. 101-3.

EJ = The Jewish Encyclopedia Vol 2 (Jerusalem:Keter, 1971?)

Kohler,K. `Angelology' The Jewish Encyclopedia Vol. 1 (1901), 590

Regamey, Pie-Raymond.

1960 What is an Angel? London: Burns & Oats.


1993 Pseudo-Dionysius, A Commentary on the Texts and an Introduction to

Scholem, G.   ADD

Segal, A. E.

1977 Two Powers in Heaven.. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Urbach, E. E.

1979 The Sages, Their Concepts and Beliefs. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. (Ch. VIII = `The Celestial Retinue' pp.135-183)

Their Influence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Corbin, Henry.

1992, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital. Tr. W. Task. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

al-Kisā'ī, [? `Alī ].

1978 The Tales of the Prophets of al-Kisa'i  (trans. W. M. Thackston). Boston: Twayne.

Montgomery Watt, W.

1977 Bell's Introduction to the Qur'ān (rev. & enlar.). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Netton, I.R.

1992 A Popular Dictionary of Islam. London: Curzon Press.

MacDonald, D. B. "Malā'ika" EI. 3:189-92

"Djinn" EI2 2:546-8

MacDonald, D. B. "Malā'ika" EI2 6:216-9.

& W. Madelung

Murata, Sachiko. `The Angels' in Seyyed Hossein Nasr (ed.) Islamic Spirituality, Foundations. London: Roputledge & Kegan Paul, 1987.

Pederson, J "Djabrā'il" EI2 2:362-4.

Suhrawardā, Shihab al-Dān.

1982 The Mystical and Visionary Treatises of Shihabuddin Yahya Suhrawardi. trans. W.H. Thachston Jr. London: Octogon Press.

Vajda, G. "Hārāt and Mārāt". EI2 3:236-7

Wensinck, A.J. "Isrāfāl". EI2 4:211.

"`Izrā'āl". EI2 4:292-3.

"Mākāl". EI2 7:25.


Bahā'-Allāh,Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri

ESW = Lawh-i mubāraka khitab bih Shaykh Muhammad Taqi. Cairo, n.d.

trans. = Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, (trans. Shoghi Effendi) Wilmette, Illinois, rev. ed.. 1976.

GL = Gleanings from the Writings of Bahā'-Allāh, trans. + comp. Shoghi Effendi, London: Bahā'í Publishing Trust, 1949 ; Wilmette Illinois : BPT., 1978

HW = Kalimāt-i maknunih. Hoffheim-Langenhaim, 1983 / 140 BE.

trans. The Hidden Words (trans. Shoghi Effendi). London: Bahā'í Publishing Trust, 1975.

KI = Kitāb-i āqān, Hofheim-Langenhain: Bahā'í-Verlag, 1980 / 136 Badā`.

trans. Kitāb-i Iqān: The Book of Certitude (trans. Shoghi Effendi). London: Bahā'í Publishing Trust, 1961.

PM = Munajāt..harat-i-Bahā'-Allāh. Rio de Janeiro: Editoria Baha'i Brasil, 138/1981.

trans. Prayers and Meditations (comp. & trans. Shoghi Effendi) London: BPT., 1957.

SV = The Seven Valleys and The Four Valleys, Trans. by `Alí Kuli Khan

assisted by Marzieh Gail Wilmette; 5th ed. Wilmette Illin.: BPT 1978.


ABL = `Abdu'l-Baha in London. London: BPT., 19

Shoghi Effendi,

GPB = God Passes By. Wilmette, Illinois, 1974

Ishrāq-Khāvarī, `Abdu'l-Hamād.

QI = Qāmus-i āqān. Tihrān: Mu'asisa-yi Milliy-i Ma-bā'āt-i Amrā, 127- 128 [1970-1972]. 4 vols.

RM = Rahāq-i Makhtām. Tihrān: Mu'asisa-yi Millāy-i -Matbā'āt-i Amrā, 130-1/1973 2 vols.

Lambden, Stephen. `Eschatology, Bābī-Bahā'ī'  in EIr. VIII  (ed. Yarshater)

Majlisī, Muhammad Bāqir. ADD

Bihār = Bihar al-anwār 2 Vol. 59 Beirut: Dār Ihyā al-turāth al-`Arabi, 1402/1983

Māzandarāni, Fādil,  Mirza Assadu'llāh

AA = Asrār al-āthār, vol. 2 Tehran: BPT., 128 BE/1972 Badā' [1971/2-].