Posted by: Dawud Israel | May 20, 2010

Angelology: Shah Waliullah (rahimullah) on the Secret Lives of Angels

Bismillah, alhamdulillah, wa salat wa salam ala Rasulullah.

And (remember) when your Lord said to the angels: “Verily, I am going to place (mankind) generations after generations on earth.” They said: “Will You place therein those who will make mischief therein and shed blood, – while we glorify You with praises and thanks (Exalted be You above all that they associate with You as partners) and sanctify You.” He (Allah) said: “I know that which you do not know.” (Quran 2:30)

Abu Huraira (رضی اللہ عنہ) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (صلی اللہ علیہ وآلہ وسلم) said, “Allah has angels who roam about on roads looking for the love-sick rememberers of Allah. When they find such people, they call out other angels: ‘Come here to your coveted aspiration.” (Sahih Bukhari)

For each (person), there are angels in succession, before and behind him.They guard him by the Command of Allah… [13:11]

There is no human being but has a protector over him (or her) (i.e. angels in charge of each human being guarding him, writing his good and bad deeds, etc. [86:4]

Say (O Muhammad Peace be upon him ): “Whoever is an enemy to Jibrael (Gabriel) (let him die in his fury), for indeed he has brought it (this Quran) down to your heart by Allah’s Permission, confirming what came before it [i.e. the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel)] and guidance and glad tidings for the believers. (Quran 2:97)

From Allah, the Lord of the ways of ascent. The angels and the Ruh [Jibrael (Gabriel)] ascend to Him in a Day the measure whereof is fifty thousand years. (Quran 70:3-4)

(Remember!) that the two receivers (recording angels) receive (each human being after he or she has attained the age of puberty), one sitting on the right and one on the left (to note his or her actions).Not a word does he (or she) utter, but there is a watcher by him ready (to record it). (Quran 50: 17-18)

Shah Waliullah ad-Dehlawi (rahimullah)’s Altaf al-Quds is number 3 on my list of Islamic books too difficult to read (Rasa’il of Imam Junayd, and Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam of Muhammad Iqbal are #1 and #2). The translation is decent and the book is very convoluted, with very unusual, rigid old writing style. Nonetheless, there are some amazing passages in here that anyone who has had even the slightest Islamic spiritual experience or devotion in worship can relate to. He gives a glimpse of the knowledge of the unseen realms that is given to the pious who are close to God. I don’t understand everything he gets at, and hope one day to study this book with a shaykh, but you can get a scent of the fragrance of the ghayb of it from the passages below.

This post may confuse some or some will prefer to ignore this post because its talking about very abstruse matters. I can understand and relate to that because it’s no simple matter– just make dhikr! 🙂

Note how angels are connected with the world of ideas (alam-e-mithal), the relation to symbolism/omens, the hierarchical structure, heavenly departments, the disciplined order of the unseen, how they are actively cognizant and creative in guiding mankind, and how that compares to the (dis)organization of Muslims as an ummah/community. Note also how real the angels are and how neglected they are in discussions of popular Islam today, in comparison to tales of jinns- what does that say about our ummah?

In Afghanistan: With tears in his eyes for the decline of the
Muslims, Iqbal asked Allah: “Why are you so kind to the British, they
have confined mankind to the house of bondage?” Unhesitatingly, the
poet answered this rhetorical question. “The Muslim has lost the zest
for life and his heart beats no more. He was the Israfil (the Angel of Resurrection), but his Sur (the Trumpet of Life) blows no more.”
(Taken from “Iqbal: Poet-Philosopher of Pakistan” by Hafiz Malik)

And above all, remember angels are attracted to dhikr.


When these forces come into close proximity with one another, and the special characteristics of things become differentiated, then a decree is issued and universal nature becomes organized into particulars. This is analogous to the situation when water is poured onto uneven ground which is strewn with sticks and straws and stones and clods of earth: when the water collides with these various obstacles, it is in the nature of water to percolate through. The same thing occurs with the collision of forces: a decree pours down from universal nature, and hosts of angels adapted to that inspiration hasten to be present in the battlefield and control the situation by means of inspiration, transmission, contraction and expansion, until that decree is made manifest and the imagined form comes into existence.

The action of angels in this case is comparable to the action of nature working in a body when a disease reaches its crisis. Or it is like the metamorphosis of insects according to the requirements of their natures, or the way that moths mob round a lamp. It is according to such a pattern that impulses descend int the hearts of mankind.
Sometimes the angels contrive a strategem to save someone from destruction. Sometimes they make a person aware of the real situation by means of dreams or voices. At other times they may use someone else, or even an animal, as a means to convey some information to the individual or to do something for him.
Most of such thoughts percolate through via the energies of the world of ideas. The angels make no distinction between good and bad in their work of transmission and inspiration. In addition to the many angels of humanity, there is also a band of pure souls who do the work of angels and thus counted among their number.
The science of talisman, the science of letters, and the science of the names of God, all derive from a knowledge of this system or from a branch of it. And God knows best.
Be that as it may, the impulses and thoughts which are numbered among the stages of perfection come under one of three headings.
The first category is when a thought descends from the major selfhood into the minor selfhood. The reason for this descent is an inherent part of the system, in that the universal expediency required the establishment of some benefit or other in the world. Now the establishment of a benefit without the mediation of one particular human being would not be possible. To be more precise, when the form of the world changes and the condition of its basic components also changes, then it follows of necessity that the supreme manifestation should also move from one state to another. This is the meaning implied in the words, “Everyday He is in a new state.”
The exalted assembly takes on this same colouring. There can be no affinity with Pure Goodness except by immersion in this influence. Hence it is essential in this case that human souls should be tinged with the colouring of this holy presence, and that it should permeate them through and through.
This is analagous to the situation when water comes into contact with some earth: inevitably some of the water will soak through the soil, and by virtue of the porosity of the earth will seep through to the other side of the intervening mass. In this case, however, the ‘pores’ belong to the souls of the exalted assembly and those of perfected individuals. It is they alone who have pores and channels connecting them with the major selfhood and the supreme manifestation, which last is the heart, as it were, of the major selfhood. Thus it is that this impulse, passing via universal nature, reaches these perfected souls and from there connects up with all other souls.
The aspirations of the exalted assembly are like enclosed waters: as long as they are not stirred up, they will stir up by themselves. Or, again, they are like a spring: as long as no one scoops up a handful of water from it, it will not reach the thirsting mouth. The difference between the aspirations of the exalted assembly as a whole and those of a single individual from its midst is analogous to the difference which is to be seen between the prior knowledge that an astronomer possesses about eclipses in general and the knowledge which people gain about one particular eclipse when they see it taking place. So long as this general aspiration does not become a particular one, the universal expediency will not descend in the form of a particular expedient act, and the precipitation from that majestic presence will not be able to flow continuously, linking pore to pore.
Such an impulse then selects one of those perfected souls. First of all it produces to mingle and associate with the supreme manifestation. Then that impulse descends into his pure intellect, in the way that a signet ring stamps its impression in wax. Subsequently both the secret faculty and the spirit become amenable to its will. The pattern of that impulse is transferred from the exalted assembly, just like the imprint of the ring on the wax; from there it descends further to the intellect and the heart, thus colouring the premonitions of the mind and the states of the heart. This impulse becomes an authoritative pronouncement, and can appear in new forms according to the requirements of the circumstances. After that, the impulse descends further to the level of the physical body, and induces the people to act in accordance with that truth.
Thus a new religion, or doctrine, or line of succession is organized. God then pours down fresh enhancement into the knowledge of the perfect man, and inspires his religion and his doctrine, so that they may continue through the ages, uneffaced. Successive reformers them revive that religion, until eventually the complexion of the supreme manifestation changes, and this new aspect appears within the heart of another perfected ma. Most probably the supreme manifestation will appear to him to be tinged with the colour of that new impulse. Thus whatever news he gives of the supreme manifestation will contain a hint of that new colouring.
There is one point here which should be carefully noted: the best interpreter of the truth is the one whose intellect keeps silent concerning the premonitions and thoughts which arise spontaneously within his mind by virtue of its own innate disposition. Apart from the impulse which we have described above, nothing stirs his intellect or prompts him to any original utterance. The most perfected exemplification of this is to be found in Muhammad (salallahu alayhi wasalam) the Seal of the Prophets. Jesus Christ (alayhi salam) proclaimed the unification of the pure intellect with the supreme manifestation, thereby creating a mighty stir. The Holy Prophet (salallahu alayhi wasalam) however, did not speak of this matter either overtly or covertly. Whatever he said was said calmly and with complete sobriety of mind.

We now come to the second category of thoughts and impulses. The training of human souls has its equivalent in the world of ideas, and this is the concern of the universal impulse. However it is essential that a particular impulse should be joined with it. Thus this impulse percolates down into the hearts of upright people who are continuously devoted to the world of ideas and to the angels who are bearers of this secret. The desire to carry out this world arises in a great number of people, and through them it is brought to completion. Spiritual leaders, reformers of religion, even the guide who is the very axis of the earth, all drink their fill at this fountain. It may even be that perfected individuals likewise receive this secret from the presence of the world of ideas and exert themselves accordingly, but in such a case they would be working below their true capacity. Or it may be that some of those matters which we have already discussed pour down on the angels of humanity; in which case it is for them to make the appropriate effort.
Sometimes it happens that inspiration is directed towards a certain person, but that the import of that inspiration is conveyed via the speech of someone else, who may or may not know the underlying situation and intention behind what he says. In such a case the latter would appear to the former to be one of the angels. Or it might even be that he is brought to an understanding of that inspiration through the cooing of a dove, the chirping of a sparrow, or the sound made by some object or other.
The third and final category is this: the luminous angels appointed to watch over the exercises of praise and submission circle round whoever performs them and some of their splendour falls upon his intellect and his heart. If the heart is uppermost then the quality of the resultant state is one of intimacy and tranquility. But if the intellect is predominant, the blessing takes the form of premonitions, or else the resolve of his heart becomes linked with the intention to perform good actions; such an intention is consistent with the understanding of the angels, and is therefore known as ‘angelic thought.’
Sometimes this state or thought is represented to the perception of the seeker in sleep. In this first case that sleep becomes a dream of splendour and bliss and everything connected with intimacy and tranquility. In the second case it takes the form of an admonition, the substance of which is the command either to perform a certain act or desist from doing an evil one. This is in fact a revelation of the mind which has appeared in the individual’s intellect and created there the form of an impulse.
Here this treatise entitled The Sacred Knowldge of the Higher Functions of the Mind (Altaf al-Quds) comes to an end. It is to God that all praise is due, first and last, outwardly and inwardly. May God shower his blessings and benedictions upon our Lord Muhammad (salallahu alayhi wasalam) and his family and descendants.

(End of Chapter and Book)

–Shah Waliullah (Trans: David Pendlebury, Jalbani) Altaf al-Quds Sacred Knowledge of the Higher Functions of the Mind. Chapter 7- Thoughts and their Causes, pg. 98-103.

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.


  1. The hadith in the image is taken from Hilayatul Awliya of Abu Nuaym al-Isfahani (rahimullah).

  2. Subhanallah! A very thought provoking post. As you’ve said, it’s ironic that although the second pillar of iman is belief in angels, yet people discussed more about jinns rather than these beautiful beings.

  3. Dawud Israel ,i am looking for Shah WaliULLAH s this book from where u took excerpt.The sacred knowledge ….could you upload it or let me know ,from where i could download it .

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