|Angel of Death|
|Associated religions||Islam, Judaism, Sikhism|
|Attributes||archangel; psychopomp; wings; cloak|
|Associations||Jibrail, Mīkhā'īl, and Isrāfīl (Islam)|
|Appearance in text|
Azrael (//; Biblical Hebrew: עֲזַרְאֵל, ʿÁzarʾēl; Arabic: عزرائيل, ʿAzrāʾīl orʿIzrāʾīl; Punjabi: अजराईल, Ajrā-īl) is the Angel of Death in Islam and some Jewish traditions, as well as in Sikhism.
Relative to similar concepts of such beings, Azrael holds a rather benevolent role as the angel of death, wherein he acts as a psychopomp, responsible for transporting the souls of the deceased after death. Both in Islam and Judaism, he is said to hold a scroll concerning the fate of the mortals, recording and erasing the names of men respectively at birth and death.:234
Depending on the perspective and precepts of various religions in which he is a figure, he may also be portrayed as residing in the Third Heaven. In Islam, he is one of the four archangels, and is identified with the Quranic Malak al-Mawt (ملك الموت, 'angel of death'), which corresponds with the Hebrew term malakh ha-maweth in Rabbinic literature. In Hebrew, Azrael translates to 'Angel of God' or 'Help from God'.
The name Azrael indicates a Hebrew origin, and archaeological evidence found in Jewish settlements in Mesopotamia confirm that it was indeed used in Aramaic Incantation texts from the 7th century. However, as the text only lists names, it cannot be determined whether Azrael was associated with death prior to the advent of Islam.
After the emergence of Islam, the name Azrael becomes popular among both Jewish and Islamic literature, as well as folklore. The name spelled as Ezrā’ēl appears in the Ethiopic version of Apocalypse of Peter (dating to the 16th century) as an angel of hell, who avenges those who had been wronged during life.
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Along with Jibrail, Mīkhā'īl, and Isrāfīl, Azrael is one of the four major archangels in Islam. He is responsible for taking the souls of the deceased away from the body. Azrael does not act independently, but is only informed by God when time is up to take a soul. According to one Muslim tradition, 40 days before the death of a person approaches, God drops a leaf from a tree below the heavenly throne, on which Azrael reads the name of the person he must take with him.
Surah 32:11 mentions an angel of death, identified with Azrael. When the unbelievers in hell (jahannam) cry out for help, an angel, also identified with Azrael, will appear on the horizon and tell them that they must remain. Other Quranic verses refer to a multitude of angels of death; according to exegesis, these verses refer to lesser angels of death, subordinative to Azrael, who aid the archangel in his duty. Tafsir al-Baydawi mentions an entire host of angels of death, subordinative to Azrael.:235
Islam elaborated further narratives concerning the relation between Azrael and Death. The Al-Qiyama offers an account of death and its relation to Azrael, representing Death and Azrael as former two separate entities, but when God created Death, God ordered the angels to look upon it and they swoon for a thousand years. After the angels regained consciousness, death recognized it must submit to Azrael. According to another famous narrative, God once ordered to collect dust from earth from which Adam is supposed to be created from. Only Azrael succeeded, whereupon he was destined to become the angel concerning life and death of humanity.
Azrael kept his importance in everyday life. According to the Sufi teacher Al-Jili, Azrael appears to the soul in a form provided by its most powerful metaphors. A common belief holds that the lesser angels of death are for the common people, while saints and prophets meet the archangel of death himself. Great prophets such as Moses and Muhammad are invited politely by him, but saints are also said to meet Azrael in beautiful forms. It is said that, when Rumi was about to die, he laid in his bed and met Azrael in human shape. The belief that Azrael appears to saints before they actually die to prepare themselves for death, is also attested by the testament of Nasir Khusraw, in which he claims to have met Azrael during his sleep, informing him about his upcoming death.
The Islamic notion of Azrael, including some narratives such as the tale of Solomon, a hadith reaching back to Shahr Ibn Hawshab, was already known in America in the 18th century as attested by Gregory Sharpe and James Harris.
Some Western adaptions extended the physical description of Azrael, hence the poet Leigh Hunt depicts Azrael as wearing a black-hooded cloak. Although lacking the eminent scythe, his portrayal nevertheless resembles the Grim Reaper. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow mentions Azrael in The Reaper and the Flowers as an angel of death, but he is not equated with Samael, the angel of death in Jewish lore who appears as a fallen and malevolent angel, instead. Azrael also appears in G. K. Chesterton's poem "Lepanto" as one of the Islamic spirits commanded by "Mahound" (Muhammad) to resist Don John of Austria's crusade.
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