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About Angels and Thunder in the Quran

Questioner

James

Reply Date

May 27, 2018

Question

Hello. I have read your site and must thank you for all the effort you put in your work. I am very close to converting to Islam, and I need to find answers to some questions. The first is related to a verse in the Quran that talks about the setting of the sun, which seems to contradict science. Could you please explain this verse to me: *{Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it set in a spring of murky water: Near it he found a People: We said: "O Dhul Qarnayn! [thou hast authority], either to punish them, or to treat them with kindness." (Al-Kahf 18:86) Second, it is common knowledge, as scientists teach, that thunder is a sound caused by the impact between electrical charges found in the clouds. Yet Muhammad, the Prophet of Muslims, has a different opinion in this matter. He claims that the thunder and the lightning are two of God’s angels—exactly like Gabriel. In the Qur’an there is a chapter under the title of “Thunder” (13) in which it is recorded that the thunder praises God. We might think that it does not mean that literally because thunder is not a living being—although, spiritually speaking, all of nature glorifies God. The expounders of the Qur’an however, insist that Muhammad said that the thunder is an angel exactly like the angel Gabriel. In his commentary (p. 329), Baydhawi comments on verse 13 of the chapter “The Thunder”: “Ibn `Abbas asked the apostle of God about the thunder. He told him, ‘It is an angel who is in charge of the cloud, who (carries) with him makhareq (skewers) of fire by which he drives the clouds.’” In the commentary of the Jalalain (p. 206), we read about this verse: “The thunder is an angel in charge of the clouds to drive them.” Not only Ibn `Abbas asked Muhammad about the essence of the thunder, but the Jews did, too. In the book, Al-Itqan by Suyuti (part 4, p. 230), we read the following dialogue: “On the authority of Ibn `Abbas, he said the Jews came to the prophet (peace be upon him) and said, ‘Tell us about the thunder. What is it?’ He told them, ‘It is one of God’s angels in charge of the clouds. He carries in his hand a skewer of fire by which he pricks the clouds to drive them to where God has ordered them.’ They said to him, ‘What is this sound that we hear?’ He said, ‘(It is) his voice (the angel’s voice).’” Thank you very much as you are doing a great deed by answering this question.

Consultant

Answer


Angels and Thunder

Short Answer: The Quran is a book of divine guidance to those who seek to live a good and meaningful life here on earth. God mentions angels and thunder in the Quran. Science does not speak of angels, but only of the effects produced by the angels in scientific terms. That does not rule out the possibility of the existence of angels as God’s obedient servants carrying out His commandments or working behind the so-called natural phenomena.

_____________________________________

Salam (Peace) Dear James,

Thank you very much for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

The Quran is the word of God in the language of Man.

People’s explanation of the Quranic verses depends on their intellectual, educational, and cultural background.

That is to say, there is a difference between the actual word of God and the human explanation of it.

One of the wonders of the Quran is that any sincere reader of it can experience some of its verses as a personal revelation to him or her in the course of a very attentive reading of these verses followed by meditation.

The Quran addresses the soul of Man and answers eternal questions.

It is not a book of science, just as it is not a book of history, sociology, etc. The Quran is a book of guidance, divine guidance to those who seek to live a good and meaningful life here on earth.

It is noteworthy that the Quran had been from the very beginning in the hands and hearts of the people, unlike most other scriptures which were the exclusive property of priests or specially designated custodians.

For example, during the Middle Ages the common people were not allowed to read the Bible. The Church thought that the uninitiated readers of the Bible would form all kinds of wrong notions about God and religion.

But to Muslims, the Quran is the divine guidance for Man, and no one has the authority to prevent others from possessing a copy of the Quran or reading and understanding it in their own way.

For the same reason, all the interpretations and exegeses given by scholars of old can be subjected to investigation and to further studies and analyses to verify their acceptability and authority.

The Setting of the Sun in Surat Al-Kahf

Your first question is about verse 86 of chapter 18, Surat Al-Kahf (The Cave), which means:

About Angels and Thunder in the Quran

{Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it set in a spring of murky water: Near it he found a People: We said: “O Dhul Qarnayn! [thou hast authority], either to punish them, or to treat them with kindness.} (Al-Kahf 18:86)

Here the setting of the sun simply means, the place where “he found it set”, namely “a spring of murky water.”

This need not necessarily mean a place where actually the sun went down; but a place where the sun seemed to go in; that is, it could be a place to the west where there was a spring of murky water.

We can understand that Dhul Qarnayn, in one of his expeditions, had reached a place in the evening when the sun seemed to go into a pool in the west.

We know that on a clear evening a person on the western shore of a sea or lake can see the sun as going down into the water.

It is very clearly said, {wajadah taghrubu fi `aynin hami’atin (he found it setting in a spring of murky water)}.

Angels in Islam

All the scholars of Islam, both ancient and modern, agree that it is the role of the mala’ikah or angels to carry out the commands of God in nature and the universe.

In other words, the angels stand mostly for the forces of nature.

Angel Gabriel who served as a messenger between God and the prophets appeared as a person who could talk, which was in keeping with his task.

Whereas the angel who brings the thunder acts in a different way; he, too, serves God and obeys His command.

Similarly there are numerous angels who carry out the orders of the Creator.

It is true that science does not speak of angels, but only of the effects produced by the angels in scientific terms.

That does not rule out the possibility of the existence of angels as God’s obedient servants carrying out His commandments or working behind the so-called natural phenomena.

The Quran speaks of how the angels prostrated before Adam. This means the angels have been subjected to the service of Man.

The same is the essential import of the following verses too. They say what means:

{And He has subjected to you, as from Him, all that is in the heavens and on earth: Behold, in that are signs indeed for those who reflect.} (Al-Jathiyah 45:13)

{It is He Who hath created for you all things that are on earth.} (Al-Baqarah 2:29)

Angels & Thunder

Your second question is particularly about the angel who causes thunder.

The relevant verse in Surat Ar-Ra`d (The Thunder) means this:

{Nay, thunder repeateth His praises, and so do the angels, with awe: He flingeth the loud-voiced thunder-bolts, and therewith He striketh whomsoever He will… yet these [are the men] who (dare to) dispute about God, with the strength of His power [supreme]!} (Ar-Ra`d 13:13)

We know we use language both literally and figuratively.

When we say (as you yourself have pointed out), that “all of nature glorifies God,” we do not mean nature is somewhat like a human capable of uttering the words, alhamdu lillah (praise be to Allah).

The same is applicable in the case of thunder praising God.

This is the saying of the Prophet about thunder:

“It is one of God’s angels in charge of the clouds. He carries in his hand a skewer of fire by which he pricks the clouds to drive them to where God has ordered them.” They said to him, “What is this sound that we hear?” He said: “(It is) his voice (the angel’s voice).”

Should we take the above too literally?

It is common knowledge that in the explanation of certain concepts and ideas we cannot stick to a very mundane and literal use of language; rather we need to resort to the use of metaphors and figures of speech.

Thunder & Science

There is no reason for insisting that the Prophet’s saying that the thunder is an angel must be taken ONLY in the literal sense.

Do we expect the Prophet to give a scientific lecture on the way lightening and thunder are caused?

He was using a language his people could understand. And the early interpreters were explaining the verse from the level of their knowledge of the natural forces.About Angels and Thunder in the Quran

Today when we read the above quoted verse, we find that it lends itself to a “modern” and scientific interpretation, too. And the fact that this is in contrast to the earlier “unscientific” explanation does not create any problem for us. The Quranic verse per se does not violate any law of science as we know it.

This is an amazing aspect of the Quran: that its verses do not get outdated as science and technology advance.

Rather, the Book of Allah’s Guidance becomes only more relevant and suited to the fast-changing times.

And Allah knows best.

Thank you and please let us know more about your news.

Salam and please keep in touch.

(From Ask About Islam archives)

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Who Are the Angels?

Have a Look at the Signs of Surat Ar-Ra’d

Duties of These Famous Angels

 




About Professor Shahul Hameed

Professor Shahul Hameed is an Islamic consultant. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.

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