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Last Updated: 2007/06/09
Summary of question
Does the angel of death take the life of all living things?
question
Does the angel of death take the life of all living things?
Concise answer

Traditions imply the fact that the angel of death (Isra’il) is at the top of the list of those divine creatures who take the lives of living things and is the one to take the lives of living things.

What is important to know is that the true one who takes the lives of all living things is Allah (swt) and that it is His tradition and decision to do it through His “emissaries”, regardless of whether it is the angel of death or not.

Detailed Answer

It has been stated in the Quran that: “Allah takes the souls at the time of their death…”[1]

Here, Allah (swt) has counted taking the souls a responsibility of His own, in addition to the fact that in this verse He has announced this job as exclusively His responsibility.[2]

At the same time, other verses of the Quran say that Allah (swt) has left the responsibility of many of the different matters and issues of this world to His angels, as the fifth verse of surah Nazi’at says: “By those (angels) who direct the affairs (of creatures).”

It is Allah’s (swt) tradition and course of action to leave this world’s matters to their natural causes, taking place whenever their causes call for them.

Therefore, a group of angels are responsible for taking the life of others, and the angel of death is at the head of them.[3] [4]

Concerning this subject, the Quran says: “Say, You will be taken away by the angel of death, who has in charge of you…”[5] and “Until when death comes to one of you, then Our Emissaries (the angel of death and his assistants) take his soul…”[6] If these two verses are placed next to the first one discussed, it will become evident that taking lives is originally Allah’s (swt) job, and He has given permission to the angel of death, and sometimes the angel of death gives permission to his assistants to do the job.[7] All issues in this world are at the hands of Allah (swt), and His angels are the executers of His will.

There is a hadith that says that a person quoted these verses: “Allah takes the souls at the time of their death”, “Say, You will be taken away by the angel of death, who has in charge of you”, “Those whom the Angels Of death take away gently their souls…”[8] and “When death approaches anyone of you, Our messengers take him away”, then asked Imam Sadiq (as) saying: “In one specific time around the world thousands of people in which only Allah (swt) knows the number of, pass away; how can the angel of death or other angels take away their souls in the same instant?

Imam Sadiq (as) replied: “Allah (swt) has assigned many assistants and “workers” to the angel of death in which he is like a commander to and assigns each a responsibility that must be carried out. Therefore, sometimes his assistants are the ones who take one’s life, and sometimes the angel of death himself takes the life, and in the end Allah (swt) takes the souls from the angel of death.”[9] Once, an atheist came to Imam Ali (as) saying: “Contradiction can be found in the Quran, because in one verse it says that Allah (swt) is the one who takes the lives, and in another this job has been counted as the angel of death’s responsibility, while in a third verse this task has been related to a group of angels.

Imam Ali (as) answered: “The angel of death has assistants, some are angels of mercy, while others are angels of punishment. Both have the same job as the angel of death, and whatever they do is what the angel of death has done. At the same time, whatever the angel of death does is what Allah (swt) has done because Allah (swt) can take the lives of others through anyone He desires, just like how He can give and take, and reward and punish through anyone He desires, and whatever His emissaries do, is in reality what He has done, as the Quran says: “And you shall not wish anything unless it be the wish of Allah, the Creator of the worlds[10].”[11]

In other words, one can relate the taking of lives to the angel of death or Allah (swt) when someone other than the angel of death is doing it because all causes have obtained their power originally from Allah (swt) and are being managed by Him. Angels other than the angel of death are considered his soldiers and just like how we can relate this task to the angel of death, we can relate it to his assistants, the same way that victory in a war is both related to the soldiers of an army and to its commanders.

Taken into consideration this introduction, we will also discuss who takes the lives of other creatures other than humans.

Imam Ali (as) says: “…all you need to know is that Allah (swt) is the one who gives life and takes it, and is free to do so through whoever He desires, regardless of whether who He does it through is the angel of death or not.”[12]

Therefore, what is important is to know that Allah (swt) is the one who does this, and it doesn’t matter who it is done through.

Of course, in another hadith it has been stated that: “When the Prophet (pbuh) ascended to the skies in his mi’raj, he asked the angel of death: Are you the one who takes the lives of those who die and are to die in the future? The angel of death answered: Yes…the whole world and whatever lies in it of the things that Allah (swt) has brought under my control, are like a coin to me that a man holds in his hands, turning it any way he desires. I visit all homes in the world five times a day (to see if their households are praying on time or not).”[13]

This hadith implies and strengthens the possibility that the angel of death takes the lives of all living things, even those who aren’t human.

Indexes that are related to this subject:

1- Question 1104, Index: The lifespan and death of angels

2- Question 96, Sleep and the death of the human’s soul

3- Question 849, Satan (Shaytan) and death



[1] Zumar:42 “اللَّهُ یَتَوَفىَّ الْأَنفُسَ حِینَ مَوْتِهَا

[2] Muhammad Husein Tabatabai, Tafsir al-Mizan (translation), vol. 17, pg. 407.

[3] That is because the existential degree of different angels differs, and the angel of death’s degree is the highest of all the angels who are responsible for taking lives.

[4] Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 17, pg. 140.

[5] Sajdah:11.

[6] An’am:61.

[7] Muhammad Husein Tabatabai, Tafsir al-Mizan (translation), vol. 17, pg. 407.

[8] Nahl:32.

[9] Sheikh Saduq, Man la Yahdhuruhul-Faqih, vol.1, pg. 82.

[10] Insan:20, Takwir:29.

[11] Majlisi, Biharul-Anwar, hadith 1, pg. 140.

[12] Ibid, hadith 6, pg. 143.

[13] Ibid, hadith 2, pg. 141.

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