Translation from Madarij Al-Salikin (Steps of the Seekers) by Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim

The Servant and His Relationship with the Angel and with the Devil

 The Servant and His Relationship with the Angel and with the Devil

ONE OF THE punishments that sinful deeds are bound to inflict on the servant is that they keep him away from the angel put in charge of him, who is his protecting friend, the most helpful to him of all creatures and the best counselors of all whose company will bring about his happiness.

His enemy the Devil, who is the most deceitful of all creatures and the one who is capable of doing him the most terrible harm, will get closer to him. For when the servant disobeys Allah, the angel [put in charge of him] keeps away from him in proportion to that act of disobedience, so much so that a single lie would make him keep away from him at a very long distance.

It has been reported that when a servant lies, the angel stays a mile away from him due to his foul smell. Thus, if the angel keeps away from him because of a single lie, what would the case be of one who does far worse than this? One of the righteous predecessors once said,

 When a man sleeps with another man, the earth roars and cries out to Allah, the angels run to their Lord and complain to Him about the outrageous act they have witnessed.

Another one also said,

When the servant wakes up in the morning, [both] Satan and the angel rush to him. When he remembers Allah, praises Him and thanks Him, the angel drives Satan away and sets himself in charge of his protection. However, if he begins [his day] with other than that, the angel leaves him and Satan sets himself in charge of him.

The closer the angel gets to the servant, the more upper hand he gains with regard to authority, obedience and victory. Consequently, the angels become his protectors in this life, on his deathbed and upon resurrection. Allah says in this regard,

As for those who say, ‘Our Lord is Allah’ and then remain steadfast, the angels descend on them, [saying]: ‘Fear you not, nor grieve; and rejoice in the Garden that you were promised. We are you protectors in this life and in the Hereafter.’ [Surat Fussilat, 41:30-31]

When the angel becomes his friend and protector, he has in fact won the company of the best counselors to him ever, the most helpful to him and the most loyal and faithful. Consequently, he will strengthen him, teach him, keep him firm and support him. Allah says,

Remember when your Lord inspired the angels [with the message]: ‘I am with you; so keep firm those who believe.’ [Surat Al-Anfal, 8:12]

On his deathbed, the angel gives him support, saying:

Do not fear anything, nor grieve, but receive the news of that which will gladden your heart.

He will also keep him firm with the word that stands firm in this world (i.e., he will keep on worshipping Allah and none else), on his deathbed and in his grave while being questioned [by the two angels].

Thus, there is no one who is more helpful to the servant than the company of the angel. For he will be his protector in his wakefulness and sleep, life, while dying and in his grave. He will also give him company in his loneliness and seclusion, communicate with him in private, fight his enemy for him, shield him and give him support over him, promise him good and urge him to believe in the truth.

It has been reported that the angel exerts influence [in the servant’s heart]—and so does Satan. That of the angel is a promise of good and belief in Allah’s Promise, while that of Satan is a promise of evil and rejection of the truth.

When the angel gets closer and closer to the servant, he becomes his tongue with which he speaks and inspires him to always speak the truth. However, when he keeps away from him and Satan takes over, Satan becomes his tongue with which he speaks and encourages him to utter lies and obscene words.

The Prophet once mentioned that wisdom was being manifested on Umar’s tongue. It was also common practice that whenever someone said something nice, it would be said to him that it could have only been inspired by an angel; and if he said something bad, it would be said that only Satan could have inspired it. Thus, the angel throws truth in on the heart and the tongue, while it is Satan who throws falsehood in on the heart and the tongue.

Accordingly, one of the punishments that sinful deeds are bound to inflict on the servant is that they keep him away from his protecting friend in whose company and friendship lies his success. They also bring his enemy closer to him, in whose company and friendship lies his corruption, misery and doom. The angel stands up for the servant and defends him when a foolish person behaves foolishly towards him and insults him.

It happened once that two men quarreled in the presence of the Prophet and one of them started abusing the other while the latter kept quiet. However, when he said something to the other man to defend himself, the Prophet stood up to leave. Upon this, the man asked him, “O Allah’s Messenger! Why did you decide to leave when I said something to him to defend myself?” The Prophet replied, “The angel was defending you, but when you responded to him, Satan came and so I could not stay any longer.”

Furthermore,

  • When a person prays for his [Muslim] brother in his absence, the angel says “Amen, and you will get the same thing.”
  • Similarly, when he recites Surah Al-Fatihah and completes it with its concluding supplication, the angels say ‘Amen’ as well.
  • Also, when a believing servant commits a sin, one who does not associate any one with Allah in worship and who follows the practice of Allah’s Messenger, the angels that bear the Throne of Allah and those who are around it ask forgiveness for him.
  • When he goes to bed in a state of ablutions, an angel stays the night around him.
  • When the servant does harm to [his relationship to] the angel through all forms of sins, wrongs and obscenities, the angel invokes Allah against him thus, “May Allah not reward you with good.” Conversely, he invokes divine care for him when he honors him by doing good deeds.

Thus, the believer’s angel stands up for him, fights for him, defends him, teaches him, strengthens him and gives him encouragement. Therefore, he should not harm [the relationship with] his companion and cause him to leave, for he is his guest and neighbor. Given the fact that honoring the human guest and showing kindness to the neighbors is one of the prerequisites of faith, what about honoring the honorable guests and the best and most faithful neighbors!

One of the Prophet’s Companions said, “In your midst, there are angels who do not leave you, so respect them and honor them.” In fact, there is no one who is more wicked than someone who shows no respect for the noble and honorable and does not honor them and revere them. Allah points this out thus:

But verily over you [are appointed angels in charge of mankind] to watch you, kind and honorable, writing down [your deeds]; they know all that you do. [Surat Al-Infitar, 82:10-12]

This means: Do not offend these honored recorders but honor them and respect them and let them see that you do things for which you will be ashamed of yourselves if other humans see you doing them. In fact, the angels feel offended by that which humans are offended.

If human beings feel offended by those who commit sins and act immorally in their presence, even though they may do the same, what about offending the honorable angels who record our deeds!

Written By

Uwaymir Anjum is the Imam Khattab Chair of Islamic Studies at the Department of Philosophy, University of Toledo. He is also professor of Islamic Intellectual History at Qatar University. He studies the connections between theology, ethics, politics, and law in classical and medieval Islam, with a subfocus on its comparisons with western thought. Related fields of study include Islamic philosophy and Sufism. His dissertation, published in 2012 by Cambridge University Press, is entitled Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment. His translation of Ibn al-Qayyim’s Madârij Al-Sâlikîn is forthcoming.

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