Is Muhammad Superior to Angels?

Sam Shamoun & Jochen Katz

Muslims have traditionally taught that Muhammad was chosen above all the sons of Adam and that he is also better than the angels. One Muslim scholar attempts to use the Quran to demonstrate that Muhammad is superior even to angels:

Ibn `Abbas (RA) said: "Allah has preferred (faddala) Muhammad over all Prophets and over the dwellers of the heavens (= the angels)." They said: "O Ibn `Abbas, how did He prefer him to the dwellers of the heavens?" He replied: "Allah Most High said: 'And one of them [the angels] who should say: Lo! I am a God beside Him, that one We should repay with hell" (21:29) but He said: 'Lo! We have given thee (O Muhammad) a signal victory That Allah may forgive thee of thy sin that which is past and that which is to come, and may perfect His favor unto thee, and may guide thee on a right path' (48:1-2)." They said: "And how did He prefer him over the Prophets?" He replied: "Allah Most High says: 'And We never sent a messenger save with the language of his folk' (14:4) but He said: 'And We have not sent thee (O Muhammad) save unto all mankind' (34:28)."1[1] …

1.Al-Qadi `Iyad, al-Shifa' fi Ma`rifati Huquq al-Mustafa (Dr. G.F. Haddad, The Prophetic Title: "BEST OF CREATION"; source)

Ibn Abbas proposed two main points to prove that Muhammad's status is higher than the angels and the other prophets. First, Muhammad is preferred above the angels because if any angel should sin, he is threatened with the punishment of Hell whilst Muhammad is granted the forgiveness of all his sins. Second, he is above the other prophets because they are only sent to their own people, but Muhammad is sent to all mankind.

There are several major flaws with the arguments set forth in the above paragraph. First, Ibn Abbas must have forgotten the many warnings and threats issued against his prophet. For instance, the Quran warns Muhammad in the case that he tries to change or forge the "revelation":

And when Our clear revelations are recited unto them, they who look not for the meeting with Us say: Bring a Lecture other than this, or change it. Say (O Muhammad): It is not for me to change it of my accord. I only follow that which is inspired in me. Lo! if I disobey my Lord I fear the retribution of an awful Day. S. 10:15

And if he had invented false sayings concerning Us, We assuredly had taken him by the right hand And then severed his life-artery, And not one of you could have held Us off from him. S. 69:44-47

Muhammad is further told not to doubt the "revelation" lest he become one of the losers:

And if thou (Muhammad) art in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto thee, then question those who read the Scripture (that was) before thee. Verily the Truth from thy Lord hath come unto thee. So be not thou of the waverers. And be not thou of those who deny the revelations of Allah, for then wert thou of the losers. S. 10:94-95

He is even warned against compromising with the pagans by embracing their gods:

This is (part) of that wisdom wherewith thy Lord hath inspired thee (O Muhammad). And set not up with Allah any other god, lest thou be cast into hell, reproved, abandoned. S. 17:39

And they indeed strove hard to beguile thee (Muhammad) away from that wherewith We have inspired thee, that thou shouldst invent other than it against Us; and then would they have accepted thee as a friend. And if We had not made thee wholly firm thou mightest almost have inclined unto them a little. Then had we made thee taste a double (punishment) of living and a double (punishment) of dying, then hadst thou found no helper against Us. S. 17:73

Muhammad is also rebuked for overlooking the believers who worship Allah in order to appease the wealthy Meccan nobles:

Restrain thyself along with those who cry unto their Lord at morn and evening, seeking His Countenance; and let not thine eyes overlook them, desiring the pomp of the life of the world; and obey not him whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance, who followeth his own lust and whose case hath been abandoned. S. 18:28

He frowned and turned away Because the blind man came unto him. What could inform thee but that he might grow (in grace) Or take heed and so the reminder might avail him? As for him who thinketh himself independent, Unto him thou payest regard. Yet it is not thy concern if he grow not (in grace). But as for him who cometh unto thee with earnest purpose And hath fear, From him thou art distracted. S. 80:1-10

Hence, if angels being threatened with hell is a sign that they are somehow inferior in status to Muhammad then the same principle should hold true for Muhammad. Wouldn’t the rebuking he received on several occasions show that he is not the best of creation and that his status isn’t any higher than that of the angels?

This brings up another point. The Quran claims that Allah has honoured the children of Adam and has chosen them over certain other creatures:

We have honoured the Children of Adam and carried them on land and sea, and provided them with good things, and preferred them greatly over many of those We created. S. 17:70 Arberry

Note the wording of this text carefully … Allah hasn’t chosen the children of Adam above all the rest of his creatures. Rather, Allah has preferred Adam’s descendants above many (though not all) of his creation.

Now does this mean that all human beings are preferred above the angels, i.e. the angels are some of those many creatures above whom all the children of Adam are greatly preferred? If so, in what way are humans preferred above angels?

It can’t possibly be due to the office of apostleship that was given to some men since even angels are said to be apostles of Allah:

Allah chooseth from the angels messengers, and (also) from mankind. Lo! Allah is Hearer, Seer. S. 22:75

Praise be to Allah, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, Who appointeth the angels messengers having wings two, three and four. He multiplieth in creation what He will. Lo! Allah is Able to do all things. S. 35:1

It can’t be the result of the close proximity to Allah that the righteous will experience since some angels are among those nearest to him and even carry his throne:

The Messiah will never be proud to reject to be a slave to Allah, nor the angels who are near (to Allah). And whosoever rejects His worship and is proud, then He will gather them all together unto Himself. S. 4:172 Hilali-Khan

And the angels will be on the sides thereof, and eight will uphold the Throne of thy Lord that day, above them. S. 69:17

And, according to the Quran, not every human will be near to Allah since many will end up in hell:

And surely, We have created many of the jinns and mankind for Hell. They have hearts wherewith they understand not, they have eyes wherewith they see not, and they have ears wherewith they hear not (the truth). They are like cattle, nay even more astray; those! They are the heedless ones. S. 7:179 Hilali-Khan

So in what way exactly are humans greatly preferred above the angels?

Moreover, if Q. 17:70 has angels in view when it speaks of many creatures then this means that all humans are ranked higher than the angelic host. Then in what way would Muhammad be any better than the rest of men? After all, if angels are included among those whom human beings are greater then what is the point in claiming that Muhammad is above the angels when all people are above them?

Thus, if all humans are higher than the angels, the claim that Muhammad is higher than the angels means absolutely nothing. There still is the following to observe.

We know that according to the Quran angels bowed in honor to Adam by direct orders of Allah:

And when We said unto the angels: Prostrate yourselves before Adam, they fell prostrate, all save Iblis. He demurred through pride, and so became a disbeliever. S. 2:34

And (remember) when We said unto the angels: Fall prostrate before Adam, and they fell prostrate, all save Iblis. He was of the jinn, so he rebelled against his Lord's command. Will ye choose him and his seed for your protecting friends instead of Me, when they are an enemy unto you? Calamitous is the exchange for evil-doers. S. 18:50

All angels were asked to prostrate before the first human being. Was there ever even one human being that was commanded to prostrate before one of the angels?

Now if this is evidence that Adam is greater than the angels then what makes Muhammad so special? In fact, nowhere do we find the Quran commanding angels to prostrate before Muhammad, nor do we find any hadith claiming that Gabriel prostrated before Muhammad when he came to bring him the revelations. This is a strong indication that Adam should be considered higher than Muhammad.

There is also a text which implies that when the angels prostrated before Adam they were basically bowing before all of mankind since Adam stood in the place of his descendants, being their federal head, their representative:

And We created you, THEN fashioned you, THEN told the angels: Fall ye prostrate before Adam! And they fell prostrate, all save Iblis, who was not of those who make prostration. S. 7:11

Note the implication of the above citation… the creation of Adam also included the creation of his descendants which explains why after mentioning the creation of man ("you") the author jumps to the time when the angels bowed before Adam. In fact, the Quran expressly says that all of Adam’s descendants were already in their father’s loins and that Allah even made a covenant with them:

And (remember) when your Lord brought forth from the Children of Adam, from their loins, their seed (or from Adam's loin his offspring) and made them testify as to themselves (saying): "Am I not your Lord?" They said: "Yes! We testify," lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection: "Verily, we have been unaware of this." Or lest you should say: "It was only our fathers afortime who took others as partners in worship along with Allah, and we were (merely their) descendants after them; will You then destroy us because of the deeds of men who practised Al-Batil (i.e. polytheism and committing crimes and sins, invoking and worshipping others besides Allah)?" (Tafsir At-Tabari).S. 7:172-173 Hilali-Khan

This further supports that when the angels bowed before Adam they were also bowing to all of his offspring, even those that ended up in hell!

A Muslim may wish to interject here and claim that this includes Muhammad as well, e.g. the angels were also bowing before him since he too was in Adam’s loins, and thus Adam isn’t greater than him. The problem here for the Muslim is that their act of prostration was directed to ALL of Adam’s descendants, which means that there is nothing special about Muhammad. And if the angel’s prostration is a sign that men are greater than they then this again proves that Muhammad isn’t any more special than other human beings since all humans are above Allah’s angelic creatures.

A Muslim may further assert that Muhammad is more exalted above the angels than any other human being since Allah and his angels pray for the prophet of Islam:

Verily, God and His angels pray for the prophet. O ye who believe! pray for him and salute him with a salutation! S. 33:56 Palmer

An honor not bestowed on anyone else. This is not correct since the Quran says that Allah and his angels are also praying for other believers:

He it is who prays for you and His angels too, to bring you forth out of the darkness into the light, for He is merciful to the believers. S. 33:43 Palmer

Those who bear the Throne, and all who are round about it, hymn the praises of their Lord and believe in Him and ask forgiveness for those who believe (saying): Our Lord! Thou comprehendest all things in mercy and knowledge, therefore forgive those who repent and follow Thy way. Ward off from them the punishment of hell. Our Lord! And make them enter the Gardens of Eden which thou hast promised them, with such of their fathers and their wives and their descendants as do right. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Mighty, the Wise. And ward off from them ill-deeds; and he from whom Thou wardest off ill-deeds that day, him verily hast Thou taken into mercy. That is the supreme triumph. S. 40:7-9

Almost might the heavens above be rent asunder while the angels hymn the praise of their Lord and ask forgiveness for those on the earth. Lo! Allah, He is the Forgiver, the Merciful. S. 42:5

More importantly, if this Muslim logic were sound then this implies that Muhammad and the rest of human beings are also higher than Allah since the verses say that he too is praying for them!

As if this wasn’t problematic enough the so-called authentic narrations expressly deny that Muhammad was the best of humanity, let alone of all creation:

Narrated Abdullah:
The Prophet said, "None has the right to say that I am better than Jonah bin Matta." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 127)

Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, "Whoever says that I am better than Jonah bin Matta, is a liar." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 128)

Narrated Abu Huraira:
"A man from the Muslims and a man from the Jews quarreled, and the Muslim said, ‘By Him Who gave superiority to Muhammad over all the people!’ The Jew said, ‘By Him Who gave superiority to Moses over all the people!' On that the Muslim lifted his hand and slapped the Jew. The Jew went to Allah's Apostle and informed him of all that had happened between him and the Muslim. The Prophet said, ‘Do not give me superiority over Moses, for the people will fall unconscious on the Day of Resurrection, I will be the first to regain consciousness and behold, Moses will be standing there, holding the side of the Throne. I will not know whether he has been one of those who have fallen unconscious and then regained consciousness before me, or if he has been one of those exempted by Allah (from falling unconscious).’" (See Hadith No. 524, Vol. 8) (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 564)

Anas b. Malik reported that a person came to Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: O the best of creation; thereupon Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: He is Ibrahim (peace be upon him). (Sahih Muslim, Book 030, Number 5841)

How can Muhammad be the best of creation when he wasn’t even better than Abraham, Moses or Jonah?

There is one specific Person, however, whom the Quran emphatically attests is preferred above all creatures, one that is exalted above both spirit beings and humans. That Person is none other than Jesus Christ:

Lo! Allah preferred Adam and Noah and the Family of Abraham and the Family of 'Imran above (all His) creatures (ala al-alameen). They were descendants one of another. Allah is Hearer, Knower. (Remember) when the wife of 'Imran said: My Lord! I have vowed unto Thee that which is in my belly as a consecrated (offering). Accept it from me. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower! And when she was delivered she said: My Lord! Lo! I am delivered of a female - Allah knew best of what she was delivered - the male is not as the female; and lo! I have named her Mary, and lo! I crave Thy protection for her and for her offspring from Satan the outcast… And when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! Allah hath chosen thee and made thee pure, and hath preferred thee above (all) the women of creation… (And remember) when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a word from him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, illustrious in the world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near (unto Allah). He will speak unto mankind in his cradle and in his manhood, and he is of the righteous. She said: My Lord! How can I have a child when no mortal hath touched me? He said: So (it will be). Allah createth what He will. If He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is. And He will teach him the Scripture and wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel, And will make him a messenger unto the Children of Israel, (saying): Lo! I come unto you with a sign from your Lord. Lo! I fashion for you out of clay the likeness of a bird, and I breathe into it and it is a bird, by Allah's leave. I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I raise the dead, by Allah's leave. And I announce unto you what ye eat and what ye store up in your houses. Lo! herein verily is a portent for you, if ye are to be believers. And (I come) confirming that which was before me of the Torah, and to make lawful some of that which was forbidden unto you. I come unto you with a sign from your Lord, so keep your duty to Allah and obey me… (And remember) when Allah said: O Jesus! Lo! I am gathering thee and causing thee to ascend unto Me, and am cleansing thee of those who disbelieve and am setting those who follow thee above those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection. Then unto Me ye will (all) return, and I shall judge between you as to that wherein ye used to differ. S. 3:33-36, 42, 45-50, 55

Jesus’ family is exalted above the alameen, a term which refers to the realm of spirit beings and the world of men.

This leads us to the problems with the second claim of Ibn Abbas. According to the Quran Muhammad wasn’t the only person sent to all mankind. The Muslim scripture emphatically states that both Jesus and his mother are signs for all creation, and that the Gospel that he was sent with is guidance and light for all mankind:

It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) Before this, as a guide to mankind (Min qablu hudan lil-nasi), and He sent down the criterion (of judgment between right and wrong). Then those who reject Faith in the Signs of God will suffer the severest penalty, and God is Exalted in Might, Lord of Retribution. S. 3:3-4 Y. Ali

And We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, confirming that which was (revealed) before him in the Torah, and We bestowed on him the Gospel wherein is guidance and a light (feehi hudan wa-noorun), confirming that which was (revealed) before it in the Torah - a guidance and an admonition unto those who ward off (evil). Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah hath revealed therein. Whoso judgeth not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are evil-livers. S. 5:46-47

And make mention of Mary in the Scripture, when she had withdrawn from her people to a chamber looking East, And had chosen seclusion from them. Then We sent unto her Our Spirit and it assumed for her the likeness of a perfect man. She said: Lo! I seek refuge in the Beneficent One from thee, if thou art God-fearing. He said: I am only a messenger of thy Lord, that I may bestow on thee a faultless son. She said: How can I have a son when no mortal hath touched me, neither have I been unchaste? He said: So (it will be). Thy Lord saith: It is easy for Me. And (it will be) that We may make of him a revelation for mankind (ayatan lil-nasi) and a mercy from Us, and it is a thing ordained. S. 19:16-21

And she who guarded her virginity, so We breathed into her of Our spirit and appointed her and her son to be a sign unto all beings (ayatan lil-alameen). S. 21:91 Arberry

Hence, if the form of argumentation employed by Ibn Abbas is valid then it is Jesus, not Muhammad, who is superior to all creation.

Moreover, according to the Quran Jesus was raised alive to dwell with God, whom Muslims say is above the seven heavens. This means that for nearly 2000 years Jesus has been basking in the presence of God.

Muhammad, on the other hand, died and is in the grave (although conscious) according to Islamic belief. He awaits to enter Paradise, and by now has been waiting for over 1400 years!

In other words, Muhammad is below the earth whereas Jesus is above the seventh heaven with God.

Now with this in mind whom does Allah really prefer to join his company and whom has he exalted above everyone else? The answers are too obvious to be stated.

And as Bible-believing Christians we already know this; we already know that Jesus is superior to every created thing. After all, God’s Word, the Holy Bible, expressly teaches that Jesus is infinitely greater than every creature by virtue of his being the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of God’s creation (cf. John 1:1-4, 10, 14; Colossians 1:13-20; Hebrews 1:1-14, 3:1-6).

The Bible further informs us that Jesus is exalted above the heavens and is worshiped by the entire heavenly host:

"and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." Ephesians 1:19-23

"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority." Colossians 2:8-10

"And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God's angels worship him.’" Hebrews 1:6

"Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever." Hebrews 7:23-28

"and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him." 1 Peter 3:21-22

"Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’ Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’ Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’ The four living creatures said, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped." Revelation 5:6-14

We therefore didn’t need the Quran to inform us of Jesus’ superiority over both angels and men.

Unless noted otherwise, Quranic citations taken from the Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall’s English version.

Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page