Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Is Gabriel really the Holy Spirit?

Sam Shamoun

This is a brief reply to Muslim apologist Joseph Islam who wrote an article seeking to prove that the Quran teaches that Gabriel is the same as the Holy Spirit, “Is Gabriel (Jibril) an Angel?”.

One of the ways he tries to establish his point is by appealing to texts such as Q. 2:97, 16:102 and 26:193, which say that the Spirit and Gabriel brought down the Quran to Muhammad. He then reasons from this fact that these entities must be the same since the Quran assumes that there was only one supposed divine agent of revelation.

I have already addressed this claim in several rebuttals, the links to which will be provided at the end. Therefore, I will not be responding to this assertion since I have no intention of repeating myself again.

What I plan to do here is to tackle Joseph Islam’s denial that Q. 77:5 implies that there was more than one medium of revelation that allegedly brought down the Quran to Muhammad.

This is what he wrote in reference to Q. 77:5:


It is often asserted by some critics (especially from critical Christian corners) that verse 77:5 alludes to multiple Divine agents responsible for revealing the Quran to the Prophet. Such an argument is usually posited to counter any suggestion that there was only one Divine agent responsible for the task of revealing the Quran to the Prophet based on the interpretation solicited from verses 2:97, 16:102 and 26:193.

Quite apart from absolutely no mention of angels in the Arabic text of verse 77:5, the verse is best rendered implying those that simply spread the message of the Quran.

In verses 2:97, 16:102 and 26:193, the verb used to denote the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet is 'nazzala' / 'nazala'. The is [sic] clearly not the case in verse 77:5 where the verb 'alqa' is used which means to cast, throw, hurl, to convey or to offer.

First, the same Quran also employs the verse alqa to denote the supposed revelation of the Quran being sent down to Muhammad:

Thou didst not hope that the Book should be cast (yulqa) unto thee, except it be as a mercy from thy Lord; so be thou not a partisan of the unbelievers. S. 28:86 Arberry

This same verb is further used to speak of the revelation given to so-called messengers such as Salih:

Thamood cried lies to the warnings and said, 'What, shall we follow a mortal, one out of ourselves? Then indeed we should be in error and insanity! Has the Reminder been cast upon him (aol’qiya al-thikru ‘alayhi) alone among us? Nay, rather he is an impudent liar.' S. 54:23-25 Arberry

Second, Joseph Islam’s assertions fail to take into consideration that the Quran itself uses these verbs synonymously, just as the following examples demonstrate:

Exalter of ranks is He, Possessor of the Throne, casting the Spirit of His bidding upon whomever He will of His servants (yulqee al-rooha min amrihi ala man yashao min ibadihi), that he may warn them of the Day of Encounter, the day they sally forth, and naught of theirs is hidden from God. 'Whose is' the Kingdom today?' 'God's, the One, the Omnipotent. S. 40:15-16 Arberry

He sends down the angels with the Spirit of His command upon whomsoever He will among His servants (Yunazzilu almala-ikata bi’al-roohi min amrihi ala man yashao min ibadihi), saying: Give you warning that there is no God hut I; so fear you Me!  S. 16:2 Arberry

Here we see the verbs nazzala and alqa being used in the same exact context of Allah sending down his revelations by the Spirit whom he commands and sends forth upon whomever he has chosen to be a recipient of revelation. The following text says something similar:

Say: 'The Holy Spirit sent it down (nazzalahu roohu al-qudusi) from thy Lord in truth, and to confirm those who believe, and to be a guidance and good tidings to those who surrender.' S. 16:102 Arberry

Third, Joseph Islam ignores the fact that the immediate context of Q. 77:5 is dealing with those who brought down the message which warns of the Day of Judgment:

I swear by the emissary winds, sent one after another (for men's benefit), By the raging hurricanes, Which scatter clouds to their destined places, Then separate them one from another, Then I swear by the angels who bring down the revelation (fal-mulqiyati), To clear or to warn. Most surely what you are threatened with must come to pass. So when the stars are made to lose their light, And when the heaven is rent asunder, And when the mountains are carried away as dust, And when the apostles are gathered at their appointed time. To what day is the doom fixed? To the day of decision. And what will make you comprehend what the day of decision is? Woe on that day to the rejecters. Did We not destroy the former generations? Then did We follow them up with later ones. Even thus shall We deal with the guilty. Woe on that day to the rejecters. S. 77:1-19 Shakir

Since the context of the surah speaks of the day of decision, e.g. the day in which Allah will judge everyone for what they have believed and earned, this led certain Muslim commentators and translators such as Shakir to assume that verse 5 must be referring to the angels who brought down revelations such as the Quran for the purpose of warning mankind about this dreadful day. Note, for instance, the following translations and commentaries:

And by the angels that bring the revelations to the Messengers, Hilali-Khan

by the casters of the remembrance, that is, [by] ANGELS that descend with the revelation upon the prophets and messengers, casting the revelation onto the [various] communities [of mankind], (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; bold and capital emphasis ours)

(By those who bring down the Reminder) and He swore by THOSE who bring down THE REVELATIONS, (Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs; bold and capital emphasis ours)

(By the Mursalat `Urfa.) "The angels.” From Masruq, Abu Ad-Duha, Mujahid in one narrations from him, As-Suddi and Ar-Rabi` bin Anas, statements similar to this have been reported. It has been reported from Abu Salih that he said, "These are the Messengers.” In another narration from him (Abu Salih) he said that it means the angels. Abu Salih has also said the meaning of Al-`Asifat, An-Nashirat, Al-Fariqat and Al-Mulqiyat, that they all refer to the angels. Ath-Thawri narrated from Salamah bin Kuhayl, who reported from Muslim Al-Batin, who reported from Abu Al-`Ubaydayn that he asked Ibn Mas`ud about the meaning of Al-Mursalat `Urfa, and he (Ibn Mas`ud) said, "The wind.” He said the same about Al-`Asifat `Asfa and An-Nashirat Nashra, that they all refer to the wind. Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid and Qatadah all said the same. Ibn Jarir confidently affirmed that Al-`Asifat `Asfa means the wind just as Ibn Mas`ud and those who followed him said. However, he (Ibn Jarir) did not affirm whether An-Nashirat Nashra are the angels or the wind as has preceded. It has been reported from Abu Salih that An-Nashirat Nashra is the rain…

(The Fariqat that separate, the Mulqiyat that remind, excusing or warning.) meaning, the angels. This was said by Ibn Mas`ud, Ibn `Abbas, Masruq, Mujahid, Qatadah, Ar-Rabi` bin Anas, As-Suddi and Ath-Thawri. THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE OF OPINION HERE, because THEY (THE ANGELS) are the ones who descend with Allah's command to the Messengers, separating between the truth and falsehood, guidance and misguidance, and the lawful and the forbidden. THEY bring the revelation to the Messengers, which contains exemption or absolvement for the creatures and a warning for them of Allah's torment if they oppose His command… (Tafsir Ibn Kathir; bold and capital emphasis ours)

“Yet other scholars say that they refer to Allah's Prophets and Messengers. Ibn Jarir Tabari says that, in this matter, it is safer to observe silence. He says that both possibilities exist, but he prefers not to side with any particular interpretation. There is no doubt about the fact that some of the attributes are more appropriately applicable to the angels of Allah, and cannot fit the winds without unusual stretch of imagination, and others are more appropriately applicable to winds, and cannot apply to angels without a fanciful stretch of imagination. Therefore, Ibn Kathir's approach seems to be the best. He says that in the first three verses of this Surah, Allah swears oaths by various types of winds. In verses [4] and [5], Allah swears oaths BY THE ANGELS.

“If verses [4] and [5] are applied to the winds, THEN THE IMAGINATION WILL HAVE TO BE STRETCHED FAR TO INTERPRET THEM… The word fariqat is the attribute of the angels 'who differentiate (between right and wrong) distinctly by bringing down the Divine revelation'. The phrase fal-mulqiyat dhikran also refers to the 'angels'. The word dhikr 'Reminder' refers to the Qur'an or revelation in general. The verse signifies 'I swear by angels who [by bringing down revelation] separate between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, [and lawful and the forbidden]'. Likewise, I swear by angels who bring down revelation OR QUR’AN TO THE HOLY PROPHET. This interpretation IS PLAIN AND SIMPLE, AND DOES NOT REQUIRE ANY UNDUE STRETCH OF IMAGINATION… (to provide excuses [for the believers] or (to giving warnings to disbelievers… 77:6) This phrase is complement to verse [5]… then bring down the advice. [77:5] The 'advice refers to the 'revelation' that came down upon the Prophets. Verse 6 says that it serves two purposes. In the case of the people of truth and believers, it persuades them to seek excuse from Allah for their shortcomings, and pray for forgiveness; and in the case of the people of falsehood and disbelievers, it contains a warning for them of Allah's torment, if they oppose His command. (Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani Rahimahullah, Maariful Qur’an, Volume 8, pp. 675-676:; bold and capital emphasis ours)

It seems that these renowned scholars who knew the Arabic well all failed to grasp the distinction between the use of the verb alqa in this particular verse from the word normally employed to describe the sending down of the revelation, namely, nazzala/nazala. And they apparently couldn’t tell that nothing in the Arabic would lead one to see a reference to angels anywhere in the context.

This brings me to my next point. Q. 16:2 expressly says that a group of angels bring down the revelations along with the Spirit whom Allah commands:

He sendeth down THE ANGELS with the Spirit of His command unto whom He will of His bondmen, (saying): Warn mankind that there is no God save Me, so keep your duty unto Me. Pickthall

This is further confirmed by the following text:

And WE (angels) descend not except by the Command of your Lord (O Muhammad). To Him belongs what is before US and what is behind US, and what is between those two, and your Lord is never forgetful, S. 19:64 Hilali-Khan

Could these texts be any clearer that it wasn’t a single heavenly agent that supposedly came down to bring the alleged revelation to Muhammad?

Thus, whether a person accepts that Q. 77:5 refers to angels bringing down the Quran or not, the fact remains that the Muslim scripture itself denies that Allah only employed one specific spirit medium to communicate the supposed divine message to Muhammad.

Therefore, there is absolutely no warrant from the Muslim scripture to assume that only one supposed divine agent was allegedly responsible for “revealing” the Quran to Muhammad since all of the Quranic evidence clearly goes against such an assumption.

Finally, Joseph Islam’s take on this text, and the disagreement among the Muslim scholars concerning its precise meaning, simply highlight the Quran’s chaotic and incoherent structure. This verse is a perfect example of how the Quran fails to adequately explain much its passages, despite its repeated claims of being a perspicuous scripture which fully explains its verses in detail:

Shall I seek other than Allah for judge, when He it is Who hath revealed unto you (this) Scripture, fully explained? Those unto whom We gave the Scripture (aforetime) know that it is revealed from thy Lord in truth. So be not thou (O Muhammad) of the waverers. S. 6:114 Pickthall

One day We shall raise from all Peoples a witness against them, from amongst themselves: and We shall bring thee as a witness against these (thy people): and We have sent down to thee the Book explaining all things, a Guide, a Mercy, and Glad Tidings to Muslims. S. 16:89 Y. Ali

A Book, whereof the verses are explained in detail; - a Qur'an in Arabic, for people who understand; - S. 41:3 Y. Ali

So much for the Muslim assertion that the Quran’s eloquence and literary composition are unmatchable, and therefore divine in origin.


Related Articles

The Spirit and the Angels

On Gabriel and the Holy Spirit, Round 2, Round 3

The Confusion Concerning Identity of the Spirit and Gabriel in the Quran 

Is "the Holy Spirit" Only Another Name for the Angel Gabriel?