Azrael (//; Biblical Hebrew: עֲזַרְאֵל ʿázarʾēl) is the Angel of Death in Islam and some Jewish traditions. The Hebrew name translates to "Angel of God", "Help from God".:64–65 Azrael is the spelling of the Chambers Dictionary. Both in Islam and Judaism, he is said to hold a scroll concerning the fate of the mortals. 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 Hebrew term malach ha-maweth in Rabbinic Literature. The Arabic language adapts the name as ʿAzrāʾīl (عزرائيل). He is responsible for transporting the souls of the deceased after death. In comparation to similar concepts of angels of death, Azrael holds a rather benevolent role as the angel of death.
Depending on the outlook and precepts of various religions in which he is a figure, Azrael may be portrayed as residing in the Third Heaven.:288 In one description, he has four faces and four thousand wings, and his whole body consists of eyes and tongues whose number corresponds to the number of people inhabiting the Earth. He is constantly recording and erasing in a large book the names of men at birth and death, respectively.
The name indicates a Hebrew origin. Archaeological evidence found in Jewish settlements in Mesopotamia confirm, that the name Azrael was indeed used in Aramaic Incantation texts from the seventh century. The text only lists names, thus it can not be determined, whether or not Azrael was associated with death or not, before the advent of Islam. First after the emergence of Islam, the name Azrael becomes popular among both Jewish and Islamic literature and folklore.In Jewish mysticism, he is the embodiment of evil.:64–65[dubious ]
Azrael is, along with Jibrail, Mīkhā'īl and Isrāfīl, one of the four major archangels in Islam. He is responsible for taking the souls of the deceased away from the body. However, Azrael is not necessarily the only angel of death. Tafsir al-Baydawi mentions an entire host of angels of death, subordinative to Azrael. Also the Quran, in Surah 79 speaks of many angels of death. Thus, the lesser angels of death are for the common people, but saints and prophets meet the archangel himself. Azrael does not act independently, but is only informed by God when time is up to take a soul. According to one Muslim tradition, forty 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.
Islam elaborated further narratives concerning the role of Azrael and Death. The Kitab ahwal 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 human.
Most notions of Azrael are not attested by the Quran nor by the Kutub al-Sittah, but derive from the reports of the Tabi‘un especially Wahb ibn Munabbih, compiled during the reign of the Rashidun. Suyuti's al-Haba'ik fi akhbar al-mala'ik contains many such hadiths describing the appearance of Azrael, his duties and meetings between him and the prophets, including Idris, Moses and Solomon.
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. Great prophets such as Moses and Muhammad are invited politely by him, but also saints are said to meet Azrael in beautiful forms. It is said that when Rumi was about to die, he lied in his bed and met Azrael in human shape.
The Islamic notion of Azrael, including some narratives such as the tale of Solomon, 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, thus 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 mentiones 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.