Angel in the Form of a Man

Qadi `Iyad has commented that the hadith presented herein under sums up several disciplines of knowledge and practice, if not all, e.g. devotional acts, the apparent of them and the unapparent, beliefs and doctrines; deeds of the limbs, reformation of the hidden, what could destroy the deeds.

Umar ibn al-Khattab(ra) narrated:1 “Once we were around the Prophet (saws) when there appeared a man, of extremely white clothes and very dark hair.2 He did not carry signs of travel,3 nor any one of us knew him.4 He came in and sat opposite the Prophet placing his folded knees touching those of the Prophet, and his two hands on his (own) thighs.5 He asked: ‘Muhammad, tell me about Islam.6‘ The Prophet replied: ‘Islam is that you testify that there is no god save Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; establish the Prayers, pay the zakah, fast the Ramadan, and visit the House if you can afford the passage.’ He responded: ‘You spoke the truth.’

`Umar said: ‘The man surprised us that he asks a question and then ratifies the answer as true.’

Then he asked: ‘And what is iman?’7 The Prophet replied: ‘Iman is to believe in Allah, His angels, His Messengers, the Last Day, and that you believe in qadr – its good as well as its bitter.’ He responded: ‘You spoke the truth.’

Then he inquired: ‘Tell me about Ihsan.’ The Prophet answered: ‘Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you are seeing Him,8 for if you do not see Him, He sees you.’9 He said: ‘You spoke the truth.’

Then he asked: ‘Tell me about the Hour.’ The Prophet answered: ‘He who has been questioned does not know any more than the questioner.’10

He said: ‘Tell me about its signs.’ The Prophet said: ‘That a slave-girl should give birth to her (female) master;11 and you see ill-clad, barefooted, impoverished shepherds12 competing in constructing tall buildings.’ After that the man went away.”

`Umar added, “Then quite some time elapsed after which the Prophet asked me:13 ‘`Umar. Do you know who the questioner was?’ I said: ‘Allah and His Messenger know best.’ He said: ‘It was Jibril. He had come down to teach you your religion.'”  (Sahih Muslim, Kitab Al Iman)


  1. This hadith is known among the scholars as Hadithu-Jibril.
  2. That is, he was a young man (Qari).
  3. Normally, a new man in town would carry on his person some signs of a journey such as disheveled hair, untidy clothes, etc. (Qari).
  4. They noticed these details because they must have been wondering that since the man was neither from the town, nor a traveler, he could either be a Jinn, or an angel (Tibi).
  5. That is, he sat in the fashion of a student before his teacher (Nawawi, Tibi and others).
  6. Islam is ‘submission, obedience with fond affection, and without any dissent’ (Tibi).  It may be noticed that the question about Islam preceded that about Iman. This is because Islam comes first (although Iman is more important: Au.). Furthermore, this follows the principle of dealing first with the lower affairs and then the higher (Tibi).
  7. Iman is testimony accompanied by the feeling of peace. Technically, it means the heart’s testimony to the effect that whatever has come from the Lord is true (Qari).Qari adds on: In further explanation it can be said that Iman is simply testification to what the Prophet has brought – ‘in detail’ involving such matters as have come in detail, and ‘in general’ in affairs those that have come in general terms – even if it (Iman) is not accompanied by ‘evidences’ (daleel), which implies that it amounts to no more than blind following (Taqleed). This has been the position of the great majority of the Ash`ari School, as well as of the specialists. In short, whosoever attests to the pillars of Islam, to Tawheed, to Messengership of the Prophet, and other such major issues, is a believer. This is the opinion of the four Imams because the Prophet never demanded anything more.It is also agreed that Iman is the act of the heart as well as the tongue, requiring a man to attest with the tongue when asked to – although, admittedly, this attestation is not necessarily an ingredient of Iman, so that if a man testifies in his heart, and dies, he is a believer – for the affair is between him and his Lord.But a difficulty arises, adds Qari, when unbelieving soldiers are taken prisoners, they speak out the testimony La ilaha save their necks from the sword. What should be done? The answer is they cannot be killed if they have pronounced the two testimonies. However, they may be watched. If it is found that they were not at all serious about it, they may be killed.The following may also be noted:

    Firstly, the testimony “La ilahailla Allah” is also called “Tawhid al Uluhiyyah” as well as “Tawhid al `Ubudiyyah” because it entails belief in Oneness of Allah, and implies that He alone is worthy of worship.

    Secondly, Iman is a deed of the tongue also. (So that if a hypocrite testifies, then, he is a believer so far as we are concerned; but not a believer in the sight of Allah).

    Thirdly, Iman is belief in the heart, and testimony with the tongue. (That is, to know the truth with the heart, and testify with the tongue. This is the opinion of Imam Abu Haneefa and most of the juris consults).

    Fourth, iman is an act of the heart, the tongue, and the limbs. (This is the opinion of Ahl al-Hadith, Imam Malik, Imam Shafe`ee, Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal, and Awza`ee.

    It is also reported of Imam Shafe`ee that he said that Iman is (three things: Au.): to believe in the heart, testify (both) with the tongue as well as with corresponding deeds. Therefore, he who does not meet with the first condition (but comes up with the second and the third, i.e. testimony with the tongue and the deed) is a hypocrite. He who does not come up with the second is an unbeliever. And he who does not come up with the third (that is, with belief in the heart and testimony with the tongue, but not with concomitant deeds: Au.) is a fasiq, who will enter the Fire (unless forgiven: Au.) but will not abide there forever.

    As for whether Iman increases or not, some have said that if what we mean by Iman is the testimony of the heart, then surely it does not accept increase or decrease. However, some have said that it does not accept decrease, because if there is no testimony then there can be no Iman at all. But it does admit increase by means of evidences added through reasoning and contemplation. However, Sufyan b. `Uyayna has said that it can go on decreasing until nothing of it remains, since, according to Kirmani, what admits increase has to admit decrease.

    Hence, and to sum up, ibn Battal has said that there is no difference of opinion among the majority of scholars that Iman is testimony with the tongue and deeds with the limbs, and that it does increase and decrease – increasing with good deeds and decreasing with evil deeds. This is the opinion of `Umar ibn al-Khattab, `Ali, Ibn Mas`ud, Muadh, Abu Darda, Ibn `Abbas, Ibn `Umar, `Ammar, Abu Hurayrah, Hudhayfa, Salman, `Abdullah b. Rawaha, Abu Umamah, Jundub b. `Abdullah, `Umayr b. Habib, and `Ayesha. And, from among the followers, Ka`b al-Ahbar, `Urwah, `Ata’, Ta’us, Mujahid, Sa`eed b. Jubayr and scores of others.

  8. It implies, apart from the apparent meaning, that one ought to always worship Allah through his righteous deeds since he is always in the sight of Allah.Scholars have suggested the taking up of the companionship of the righteous because – out of respect for them – one feels shy to perform sinful or socially unacceptable deeds before them. How much more then not the feeling, were one to feel that he is in the company of Allah (swt), who knows both his hidden as well as the open?! (Nawawi)
  9. “He sees you:” that is, you should do the Prayers well, because, even if you have forgotten Him, (He has not forgotten you). He is ever watchful of you (Ibn Hajr and others).Ibn Hajr deals with the explanation offered by some extremist Sufis. Despite the unanimous opinion that God Lord cannot be seen by the physical eyes in this world, they interpret the meaning as: ‘In these words the hidden message is that of the Station of Mahw and Fana, and the meaning is: “If you cannot ..” i.e., if you do not annihilate your ‘person’ to the extent that you have no existence at all, then it is that you will see Him.’ Such an interpretation has, writes Ibn Hajr, no literary support. If what these Sufis claim was meant to be said, the sentence construction would have been different.
  10. This instructs us that there is nothing wrong in admitting one’s ignorance, especially in religious matters (Nawawi, Ibn Hajr).At all events, it has been suggested, as by Qurtubi, that the question about the Hour was specifically raised to silence the inquisitive, who frequently asked about when it would strike (Ibn Hajr).
  11. There are several ways in which it could happen. One is that moral corruption would run high so that a slave-girl or a harlot would rotate through several owners, through sale and purchase, until she lands into the ownership of someone whom she had mothered, but without his or her knowledge (Nawawi).There are several other explanations, but complicated, and not so very satisfactory. Scientifically, however, it is possible that a lady-master’s embryo is preserved, she dies, then that embryo is implanted in her slave-girl who gives birth to a baby girl who inherits the slave-girl (Au.).
  12. Some versions of this report add the words which can be interpreted to man, “unlettered,” in addition to barefooted, bareheaded (Ibn Hajr).
  13. According to some versions of this report three days had elapsed before the Prophet (saws) asked `Umar this question (Nawawi).At all events, according to some other versions, the Prophet told the Companions, after the man was gone, to go after him and bring him back. They looked for him all over the place but could not find him. He then informed them that it was Jibril (Ibn Hajr).So, it is possible that `Umar had left the assembly with the departure of Jibreel, thus missing to hear the Prophet explaining that it was Jibreel who had come to instruct them in their religion, and, the Prophet might have asked `Umar this question three days later (Nawawi).


    Qadi `Iyad has commented that this hadith sums up several disciplines of knowledge and practice, if not all, e.g. devotional acts, the apparent of them and the unapparent, beliefs and doctrines; deeds of the limbs, reformation of the hidden, what could destroy the deeds, and so on – from which spring forth knowledge of the rest of the Shari`ah (Ibn Hajr, reworded).

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