Second Matter which is the Second Booklet: It describes the following hadith: “Hz. Musa (Moses) struck Azrail (the angel of death) in the eye…”
The Second Part,
which is the Second Matter
[This was written to put a stop to and solve an important argument about the Hadith which describes how Moses (Upon whom be peace) struck Azra’il (Upon whom be peace) in the eye, and the rest of the story.1]
I heard of a scholarly argument in Egridir. Such an argument was wrong especially at this time, but I did not know it was an argument. A question was asked me, and a Hadith in a reliable book marked with a qaf which signifies the agreement of the two Shaykhs [Bukhari and Muslim], was shown to me. They asked me: “Is it a Hadith or isn’t it?”
I said that one should have confidence in someone who, in a reliable book such as that, cites the agreement of the two Shaykhs concerning a Hadith; it means it is a Hadith. But Hadiths contain certain allegorical obscurities like the Qur’an. Only the elite can ascertain their meanings. Even the apparent meaning of this Hadith suggests the possibility that it is one of those containing obscurities, difficult to understand. If I had known that it had been a point of argument, I would not have given such a short answer, I would rather have replied as follows:
Firstly: The first condition for discussing matters of this sort is to argue fairly, with the intention of discovering the truth; it is permissible between those with knowledge of the question, so long as it is not in obstinate fashion and does not give rise to misunderstanding. Evidence that such an argument is for the sake of the truth is that if the truth becomes apparent at the hand of an opposer, a person is not upset, but pleased. For he will have learned something he did not know. If it had emerged from him, he would not have learned much and there is the possibility he would have fallen into pride.
Secondly: If the argument is about a Hadith, the degrees of Hadiths, and the degrees of implicit revelation, and the sorts of prophetic speech have to be known. It is not permissible to discuss the difficulties of Hadith among the ordinary people, show oneself to be right like a lawyer by demonstrating one’s superiority, and search for proofs in the form of preferring egotism to truth and right. This question being broached and becoming a point of argument is having a negative effect on the minds of the poor ordinary people. Because they cannot comprehend obscure allegorical Hadiths like these, and if they deny them, it opens a terrifying door; that is, it opens the way to them also denying definite Hadiths which they cannot comprehend with their tiny minds. If, taking the apparent meaning of the Hadith and accepting it as that, they spread it around, it opens up the way to the people of misguidance objecting to it and calling it “superstition.” Since attention has been attracted to this allegorical Hadith in unnecessary and harmful fashion, and there are many Hadiths of this sort, it is certainly necessary to expound a truth that will remove their doubts. Whether or not the Hadith is certain, the following fact has to be mentioned.
Regarding as sufficient the detailed explanations in the treatises we have written; that is, the Twelve Principles in the Third Branch of the Twenty-Fourth Word, and in the Fourth Branch; and in one of the Principles in the Introduction about the sorts of Revelation in the Nineteenth Letter, here we shall only indicate briefly to that truth. It is as follows:
The angels are not restricted to a single form like human beings; while individuals, they are like universals. Azra’il (Upon whom be peace) is the supervisor of the angels charged with taking possession of the spirits of the dying.
Q u e s t i o n : “Does Azra’il (UWP) himself take possession of the spirits of the dying, or do his helpers take possession of them?”
There are three ‘ways’ in this matter:
T h e F i r s t W a y : Azra’il (Upon whom be peace) takes possession of everyone’s spirit. No matter can be an obstacle to another, for he is luminous. Something luminous may be present in innumerable places by means innumerable mirrors and be represented in them. The representations of luminous beings possess their characteristics; they may be considered to be the same as them, not other than them. The sun’s image in mirrors displays the sun’s light and heat. Similarly, the images of spirit beings like the angels in the various mirrors of the World of Similitudes are the same as them; they display their characteristics. But they are represented in accordance with the capacities of the mirrors. The same instant Gabriel (Upon whom be peace) appeared before the Companions in the form of Dihya, he also appeared in different forms in thousands of places, and was prostrating with his magnificent wings which stretch from the east to the west before the Divine Throne. His representation was everywhere in accordance with the place’s capacity; at the same instant he was present in thousands of places.
Thus, according to this way, for the human and particular image of the Angel of Death represented in man’s mirror when taking possession of the spirit of a dying person to receive the blow of a resolute, angry, awe-inspiring person like Moses (Upon whom be peace), and for that image-form which was like the clothes of the Angel of Death to have his eye put out, would be neither impossible, nor extraordinary, nor irrational.
T h e S e c o n d W a y : The archangels like Gabriel, Michael, and Azra’il are each like general supervisors, having helpers who are of their kind, resemble them, and are lesser than them. Those assistants differ according to the sorts of creatures. Those who take possession of the spirits of the righteous2 are of one sort, while those who take possession of the spirits of the wicked are of another. As the following verses point out, they are all different:
By the [angels] who tear out [the souls of the wicked] with violence; * By those who gently draw out [the souls of the blessed].3
According to this way, for Moses (Upon whom be peace) to deal a blow not at Azra’il (Upon whom be peace), but at the similitude of a body belonging to one of his helpers, as a consequence of his natural awesomeness, courage, and being a suppliant before Allah, is most reasonable.4
T h e T h i r d W a y : As explained in the Fourth Principle in the Twenty-Ninth Word and as Hadiths indicate, there are some angels who have forty thousand heads, and in each head are forty thousand tongues -that means they also have eighty thousand eyes- and with each tongue they utter forty thousand Divine glorifications. Yes, since the angels are charged with duties in accordance with the sorts of beings in the Manifest World, they represent those species’ glorifications in the Spirit World. It must certainly be thus, because the globe of the earth is a creature; it glorifies Almighty Allah. It has not forty thousand, but perhaps a hundred thousand sorts of beings, which are like heads. Each sort has hundreds of thousands of individual members, which are like tongues; and so on. That means the angel appointed to the earth must have not forty thousand heads, but hundreds of thousands; and in every head must be hundreds of thousands of tongues; and so on.
Thus, according to this way, Azra’il (Upon whom be peace) has a face and an eye which looks to every individual. Moses (Upon whom be peace) striking Azra’il (Upon whom be peace) was not directed at his essential self and his true form, and it was not an insult, or non-acceptance; he struck, and strikes, in the eye the one who drew attention to his death and wanted to prevent his work, because he wanted his duties of prophethood to continue permanently.
Allah knows best what is right. * None knows the Unseen save Allah. * Say: The knowledge is with Allah alone.
He it is Who has sent down to you the Book: in it are verses basic or fundamental [of established meaning]; they are the foundation of the Book; others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Sustainer;” and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding.5
1. Bukhari, Jana’iz 69; Anbiya’ 31; Muslim, Fada’il 157-8; Nasa’i, Jana’iz 121; Musnad ii, 269, 315, 351.
2. In my native land, the Angel of Death charged with taking possession of the spirits of the saints came while a great saint famous with the name of Seyda was in the throes of death. Seyda shouted out beseeching the Divine Court: “I love students of the religious sciences, so let the angel charged with taking possession of their souls take possession of mine!” Those who were present testified to this incident.
3. Qur’an, 79:1-2.
4. In my native land, even, a very bold man saw the Angel of Death while he was in the throes of death. He said: “You’re seizing me while I’m lying in my bed!” And he got up, mounted his horse and challenged him, taking his sword in his hand. He died on horseback, like a man.
5. Qur’an, 3:7.
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