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Are Humans Superior to Angels?

Questioner

Ahmad

Reply Date

Aug 25, 2016

Question

Salam, I have a Brazilian friend. She is reading about Islam and when she has a problem she asks me to sort it out. Yesterday she asked me this question and I couldn't find an answer; and I hope you can answer it. The question is: why are we superior to others, like angels?

Consultant

Answer


Are Humans Superior to Angels

Salam Dear Ahmad,

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

I hope that your friend has no difficulty in understanding the fact about the differences existing between different orders of God’s creatures. Sometimes the differences might pertain to ‘superiority’ or ‘inferiority’ depending on the way we look at them. One may say that there is something called inherent superiority or inferiority with regard to the differences between beings.

Angels are a high order of God’s creation, no doubt. They were created for the performance of specific tasks Allah the Almighty wants them to undertake. We may say that they were ‘programmed’ (to use a modern term) to obey God, and never to disobey. They are no free beings who can make choices: they have no freedom of will.

But humans are created with freedom of choice, though within limits. We may read the following verses in the Quran about the creation of humans:

{Behold, you Lord said to the angels: “I will create a vicegerent on earth.” They said: “Will You place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?, whilst we do celebrate Your praises and glorify Your holy (name)?” He said: “I know what you know not.”

And He taught Adam the nature of all things; then He placed them before the angels, and said: “Tell me the nature of these if you are right.”

They said: “Glory to You, of knowledge We have none, save what You has taught us: In truth it is You Who art perfect in knowledge and wisdom.”

He said: “O Adam! Tell them their natures.” When he had told them, Allah said: “Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of heaven and earth, and I know what you reveal and what ye conceal? “

And behold, We said to the angels: “Bow down to Adam” and they bowed down. Not so Iblis: he refused and was haughty: He was of those who reject Faith.”} (Al-Baqarah 2:30-34)

The first verse quoted above means that Allah informed the angels in advance about the creation of a khalifah (vicegerent or deputy) on earth, who is given the task of representing Allah in the proper management of His blessings on earth.

For this purpose, Allah has given humans the required qualities as well as the freedom of choice that is essential for creative action. This means that humans have been created to do things the angels cannot do.

But the angels, knowing the implication of appointing man as Allah’s own deputy, suggest that the new creatures would prove to be a problem, since they could misuse the freedom given to them to create mischief on earth: “Will You place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?”

The angels raised this question only for the sake of learning about the wisdom of creating humans: They meant (Allah knows best): ‘Our Lord! What is the wisdom of creating such creatures since they will cause trouble on earth and shed blood? If the wisdom behind this action is that You be worshiped, we praise and glorify You (meaning we pray to You) we never indulge in mischief, so why create other creatures?’

Allah said to the angels in answer to their inquiry, “I know what you know not”. Which according to Ibn Katheer means:

“I know that the benefit of creating this type of creature outweighs the harm that you mentioned, that which you have no knowledge of. I will create among them Prophets and send Messengers.

I will also create among them truthful, martyrs, righteous believers, worshipers, the modest, the pious, the scholars who implement their knowledge, humble people and those who love Allah and follow His Messengers.” (Adam and His Children Inhabited the Earth)

The next couple of verses mean that Allah taught Adam the nature of things – which is essentially the ability to attain conceptual knowledge. This intellectual capacity given to humans among other talents would be meaningful only if humans are given freedom.

The word, khalifah implies representation and Allah’s khalifah ought to be Allah’s ambassador on earth. And the real representatives of Allah on earth can act on His behalf, only if they have at least a few qualities granted by Allah, though at a much lesser degree.

It is the special abilities of humans that empower them to act creatively and do service to the whole world as well as to their fellow beings. The idea of the superiority of humans to the angels is brought out by the ensuing verses:

{And He taught Adam the nature of all things; then He placed them before the angels, and said: “Tell me the nature of these if you are right.”

They said: “Glory to You, of knowledge We have none, save what You has taught us: In truth it is You Who art perfect in knowledge and wisdom.”

He said: “O Adam! Tell them their natures.” When he had told them, Allah said: “Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of heaven and earth, and I know what you reveal and what ye conceal?”} (Al-Baqarah 2:31-33)

The idea of the superiority of humans to other creatures is underscored by Allah in the following verse too:

{We have honored the sons of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favors, above a great part of our creation.} (Al-Israa’ 17:70)

And it was clearly brought home to the angels that this new creation – that is Allah’s vicegerent on earth – is really superior to even angels. This was done by Allah’s command to them to bow down to Adam:

{And behold, We said to the angels: “Bow down to Adam” and they bowed down.} (Al-Baqarah 2:34)

The foregoing points to the following facts:

1. Angels have their place in Allah’s scheme, and humans have their place; and it has been most emphatically made clear that humans are superior to angels owing to the fact that they are endowed with reason and freewill, which angels do not possess. And it is Allah’s decree that it should be so.

2. The fact of the superiority of humans is evident to all, particularly if we study the progress humans have made over the centuries in the fields of science and technology as well as culture and civilization.

I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.

Salam.




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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