How does Azrael, the angel of death, take a person’s soul?

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Azrael (peace be upon him) is one of the four great angels created by Allah. He releases people’s souls and returns them to Allah when their life is up.

Death is inevitable and we all die one day, no matter where we live, what complexion or social status we have. Sometimes it might seem that death takes a person by surprise. Some people might have thought that they would live a long happy life and plan their future and their prospects before the moment they die. However, when we see Azrael in front of us, we realize that death is inevitable.

Most of the people, especially those who are not aware of religious aspects, think that Azrael is a scary and horrible creature. You can easily find pictures where death is depicted as the Grim Reaper… Yet, we should not forget that death was created by Allah and it obediently follows orders of our Creator. Therefore, it is not reasonable to think of any injustice with regard to death. Everyone lives as long as it has been destined to him by the Creator.

There is a hadith narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar in the Tafsir Al-Mazhari: “When Allah ordered Azrael, peace be upon him, to mortify people, he implored: “O, my Lord! You imposed such a duty on me that all the sons of Adam living in the world will curse me every time they remember me and they will believe that I am the evil.”

Allah said to him: “We have taken care of this. There are diseases and other misfortunes which people will take as causes of their death. So they will neither complain about you nor curse you.” (refer to Al-Qurtubi set of hadith and his composition “At-tazkirah”).

People often ask how the angel of death manages to be at different places of the world at the same time? They cannot understand how people can die simultaneously at different places.

This question arises because we tend to perceive the world through the objects that are tangible. This is very subjective and far from reality. The world is much more multi-faceted than we think. We are not aware of other universes created by our Great God. There are many of them. We have quite limited knowledge about the world of angels and jinns who live in a world parallel to us. Their existence does not depend on whether we believe in the fact they exist or not.

We do know the velocity of light and that there are creatures of the Merciful Creator who are able to cover vast distances of thousands of kilometers in the blink of an eye. Yet, we do not know how fast the angels can move. Their speed can be incredibly higher than we could imagine.

Moreover, angels are beyond notions such as time and space. They can be in different places at the same time and this is beyond the limits of the human mindset. If you put a number of mirrors in a room, a person who enters the room will be reflected in all the mirrors. Yet, it is still one and the same person rather than a number of people reflected in all the mirrors.

In his work “At-Tazkira”, Al-Qurtubi narrates that one day the Prophet, peace be upon him, saw the angel of death standing by one of the sahabah’s deathbed. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said to the angel of death: “Relieve it for my sahabah”. The angel of death said in reply: “Be sure that I relieve it to every believer.” He continued: “Think of all the people living in cities and villages, forests, mountains and by the rivers. I see all of them five times a day. This is why I know all of them, no matter how young or old they are.”

Some scholars believe that the Azrail has some assistants who help him to take people’s souls.

Referring to one of the most prominent commentators of Quran Mujahid, Al-Qurtubi describes the process of soul distraction from the body this way: “The world is like an open chest for the angel of death. People are scattered like seeds in this chest. He takes any seeds he likes.”

The nature of angels is unchangeable. Only the all-Wise and Great Allah who Created all this many-faceted splendor Knows all about it.

Ihsan Kishkarov

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