In this post I am going to show that, much like we find in God’s true Word the Holy Bible and among the ancient pagan cultures before and during Muhammad’s time, the Quran acknowledges the existence of a heavenly council. This council or assembly consists of heavenly divine beings whom the one true God presides over.
Compare the following:
“Then Micaiah said, ‘Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing on His right hand and His left.’” 2 Chronicles 18:18 New King James Version (NKJV)
“– A Psalm of Asaph. God hath stood in the company of God, In the midst God doth judge.” Psalm 82:1 Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)
“Elohim standeth in the Adat El; He judgeth among the elohim [See Ps 82:6 and Yn 10:34].” Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB)
“And so the heavens will praise your wonderful deed, O Yahweh, even your faithfulness, in the assembly of the holy ones. For who in the sky is equal to Yahweh? Who is like Yahweh among the sons of God, a God feared greatly in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all surrounding him? O Yahweh God of hosts, who is mighty like you, O Yah, with your faithfulness surrounding you?” Psalm 89:5-8 Lexham English Bible (LEB)
“The Lord has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all. Bless the Lord, you His angels, Who excel in strength, who do His word, Heeding the voice of His word. Bless the Lord, all you His hosts, You ministers of His, who do His pleasure.” Psalm 103:19-21 NKJV
“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts!” Psalm 148:1-2
“I watched till thrones were put in place, And the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, And the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, Its wheels a burning fire; A fiery stream issued And came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, And the books were opened.” Daniel 7:9-10
With the foregoing in perspective, let us now see what the Quran has to say:
Verily! We have adorned the near heaven with the stars (for beauty). And to guard against every rebellious devil. They cannot listen to the higher group (angels) for they are pelted from every side. Outcast, and theirs is a constant (or painful) torment. Except such as snatch away something by stealing and they are pursued by a flaming fire of piercing brightness. S. 37:6-10 Hilali-Khan
Here’s another version of the specific part of the text:
they listen not to the High Council, for they are pelted from every side, S. 37:8 Arberry
And here’s how the Muslim expositors explain this verse:
They namely the devils lā yasma‘ūna this is the beginning of a new sentence cannot listen in — this ‘listening’ of theirs represents that faculty with which they memorise what they hear — on the High Council the angels in the heavens the normally transitive verb al-samā‘ is complemented with the preposition ilā ‘to’ here ‘in on’ because it includes the additional sense of ‘paying attention’ while listening; a variant reading has yassamma‘una which is actually yatasamma‘ūna the tā’ have been assimilated with the sīn for they the devils are pelted with flames from every side from the remotest regions of the heavens (Tafsir al-Jalalayn https://altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=74&tSoraNo=37&tAyahNo=8&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2; bold emphasis mine)
(They cannot listen) so that they do not listen (to the Highest Chiefs) to the speech of the angels, i.e. the guardian angels, regarding that which is communicated amongst them (for they are pelted from every side) they rise up to, (Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs https://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=73&tSoraNo=37&tAyahNo=8&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2; bold emphasis mine)
(They cannot listen to the higher group) meaning, they cannot reach the higher group — which refers to the heavens and the angels in them — when they speak of what has been revealed by Allah of His Laws and decrees. We have already mentioned this when explaining the Hadiths quoted when we discussed the Ayah, (Tafsir Ibn Kathir http://www.alim.org/library/quran/AlQuran-tafsir/TIK/37/6; bold emphasis mine)
This isn’t the only Quran reference to the heavenly council:
I had no knowledge of the High Council when they disputed. This alone is revealed to me, that I am only a clear warner.’ When thy Lord said to the angels, ‘See, I am creating a mortal of a clay. When I have shaped him, and breathed My spirit in him, fall you down, bowing before him!’ Then the angels bowed themselves all together, save Iblis; he waxed proud, and was one of the unbelievers. Said He, ‘Iblis, what prevented thee to bow thyself before that I created with My own hands? Hast thou waxed proud, or art thou of the lofty ones?’ Said he, ‘I am better than he; Thou createdst me of tire, and him Thou createdst of clay.’ Said He, ‘Then go thou forth hence; thou art accursed. Upon thee shall rest My curse, till the Day of Doom.’ Said he, ‘My Lord, respite me till the day they shall be raised.’ Said He, ‘Thou art among the ones that are respited until the day of the known time.’ Said he, ‘Now, by Thy glory, I shall pervert them all together, excepting those Thy servants among them that are sincere.’ Said He, ‘This is the truth, and the truth I say; I shall assuredly fill Gehenna with thee, and with whosoever of them follows thee, all together.’ S. 38:69-85 Arberry
Note, once again, the interpretation by the Muslim scholars:
I had no knowledge of the High Council that is to say of the angels when they disputed in the matter of Adam when God exalted be He said to them ‘I am appointing on earth a vicegerent’ to the end of the verse Q. 2:30. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn https://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=74&tSoraNo=38&tAyahNo=69&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2; bold emphasis mine)
(I had no knowledge of the Highest Chiefs) i.e. of the angels, if it was not Allah Who sent me (when they disputed) when they spoke and said: (Wilt Thou place therein one who will do harm therein and will shed blood; (Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs https://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=73&tSoraNo=38&tAyahNo=69&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2; bold emphasis mine)
(I had no knowledge of the chiefs (angels) on high when they were disputing and discussing.) meaning, `were it not for the divine revelation, how could I have known about the dispute of the chiefs on high (the angels).’ This refers to their dispute concerning Adam and how Iblis refused to prostrate to him and argued with his Lord because He preferred him (Adam) over him. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir http://www.alim.org/library/quran/AlQuran-tafsir/TIK/38/65; bold emphasis mine)
This explains the Quran’s repeated use of plural nouns, verbs, pronouns etc., in contexts that clearly refer to a group of heavenly or divine beings carrying out divine functions:
Thus have WE appointed unto every prophet an adversary – devils of humankind and jinn who inspire in one another plausible discourse through guile. If thy Lord willed, they would not do so; so leave them alone with their devising;… 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.Pickthall
As for the ship, it belonged to certain poor men, who toiled upon the sea; and I DESIRED (faaradtu) to damage it, for behind them there was a king who was seizing every ship by brutal force. As for the lad, his parents were believers; and WE were afraid he would impose on them insolence and unbelief; so WE DESIRED (Faaradna) that their Lord should give to them in exchange one better than he in purity, and nearer in tenderness. As for the wall, it belonged to two orphan lads in the city, and under it was a treasure belonging to them. Their father was a righteous man; and thy LORD DESIRED (faarada rabbuka) that they should come of age and then bring forth their treasure as a mercy from thy Lord. I did it not of my own bidding. This is the interpretation of that thou couldst not bear patiently.’ S. 18:79-82 Arberry
And mention in the Book Idris; he was a true man, a Prophet. WE raised him up to a high place. These are they whom God has blessed among the Prophets of the seed of Adam, and of those WE bore with Noah, and of the seed of Abraham and Israel, and of those WE guided and chose. When the signs of the All-merciful were recited to them, they fell down prostrate, weeping. Then there succeeded after them a succession who wasted the prayer, and followed lusts; so they shall encounter error save him who repents, and believes, and does a righteous deed; those — they shall enter Paradise, and they shall not be wronged anything; Gardens of Eden that the All-merciful promised HIS servants in the Unseen; HIS promise is ever performed. There they shall hear no idle talk, but only ‘Peace.’ There they shall have their provision at dawn and evening. That is Paradise which WE shall give as an inheritance to those of OUR servants who are godfearing. WE come not down, save at the commandment of thy Lord. To HIM belongs all that is before US, and all that is behind US, and all between that. And thy Lord is never forgetful, Lord HE of the heavens and earth and all that is between them. So serve HIM, and be thou patient in HIS service; knowest thou any that can be named with HIS Name? Man says, ‘What, when I am dead shall I then be brought forth alive?’ Will not man remember that WE created him aforetime, when he was nothing? Now, by thy Lord, WE shall surely muster them, and the Satans, then WE shall parade them about Gehenna hobbling on their knees. Then WE shall pluck forth from every party whichever of them was the most hardened in disdain of the All-merciful; then WE shall know very well those most deserving to burn there. Not one of you there is, but he shall go down to it; that for thy Lord is a thing decreed, determined. Then WE shall deliver those that were godfearing; and the evildoers WE shall leave there, hobbling on their knees. When OUR signs are recited to them as clear signs, the unbelievers say to the believers, ‘Which of the two parties is better in station, fairer in assembly?’ And how many a generation WE destroyed before them, who were fairer in furnishing and outward show! S. 19:56-74 Arberry
By no means! Surely WE have created them out of what they know! But nay! I swear by the Lord of all points in the East and the West that WE can certainly—Substitute for them better (men) than they; and WE are not to be defeated (In Our Plan). S. 70:39-41
Some Muslims seek to circumvent this problem by arguing that the Quranic plurals are an indication of what is commonly referred to as the plural of majesty, where God refers to himself in the plural for the express purpose of highlighting his majesty or magnificence. It is argued that even the Hebrew Bible employs this linguistic feature, as do Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) religions.
There are two main problems with this claim.
In the first place, there are passages where the plural clearly refers to a group of divine beings that Allah sends down and commands:
And WE do not descend but by the command of your Lord; to Him belongs whatever is before US and whatever is behind US and whatever is between these, and your Lord is not forgetful. S. 19:64 Shakir
This has led Muslim scholars to admit that these plurals actually refer to Allah and his angelic helpers:
“The use of plural forms (in the Quran) is the style of Arabic speech used to refer to one who is of high standing and has helpers who obey him. So if his helpers do something by his command, he says ‘we did it.‘ This is like when a king says, ‘We conquered this land, we defeated this army,’ and so on. Because he did it through the actions of his helpers… So what He (God) says when He does something through His angels is: ‘We did it’.” (Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmū’ al-Fatāwa, 5:233f.; bold emphasis mine)
Ibn Taymiyyah wrote elsewhere that:
“Every time Allah uses the plural to refer to Himself, it is based on the respect and honor that He deserves, and on the great number of His names and attributes, and on the great number of His troops and angels.” (Al-‘Aqidah al-Tadmuriyyah, p. 109; bold emphasis mine)
Secondly, no actual textual, historical and/or archaeological proof have been supplied to show that the Arabic at the time of Muhammad employed such a literary device. In fact, the Arab Christians that disputed with Muhammad took the Quran’s use of the plural as evidence for Allah and Jesus being God!
Muhammad bin Ishaq bin Yasar said in his famous Sirah, “The delegation of Christians from Najran came to the Messenger of Allah. The delegation consisted of sixty horsemen, including fourteen of their chiefs who make decisions. These men were Al-`Aqib, also known as `Abdul-Masih, As-Sayyid, also known as Al-Ayham, Abu Harithah bin `Alqamah, of the family of﴾ Bakr bin Wa`il and Uways bin Al-Harith. They also included, Zayd, Qays, Yazid, Nabih, Khuwaylid, `Amr, Khalid, `Abdullah and Yuhannas. Three of these men were chiefs of this delegation, Al-`Aqib, their leader and to whom they referred for advice and decision; As-Sayyid, their scholar and leader in journeys and social gatherings; and Abu Harithah bin `Alqamah, their patriarch, priest and religious leader. Abu Harithah was an Arab man from the family of Bakr bin Wa`il, but when he embraced Christianity, the Romans and their kings honored him and built churches for him (or in his honor). They also supported him financially and gave him servants, because they knew how firm his faith in their religion was.” Abu Harithah knew the description of the Messenger of Allah from what he read in earlier divine Books. However, his otherwise ignorance led him to insist on remaining a Christian, because he was honored and had a high position with the Christians. Ibn Ishaq said, “Muhammad bin Ja`far bin Az-Zubayr said that, `The (Najran) delegation came to the Messenger of Allah in Al-Madinah, entered his Masjid wearing robes and garments, after the Prophet had prayed the `Asr prayer. They accompanied a caravan of camels led by Bani Al-Harith bin Ka`b. The Companions of the Messenger of Allah who saw them said that they never saw a delegation like them after that… Then Abu Harithah bin `Alqamah and Al-`Aqib `Abdul-Masih or As-Sayyid Al-Ayham spoke to the Messenger of Allah, and they were Christians like the king (Roman King). However, they disagreed about `Isa; some of them said, `He is Allah,’ while some said, `He is the son of Allah,’ and some others said, `He is one of a trinity.’ Allah is far from what they attribute to Him.”
Indeed, these are the creeds of the Christians. They claim that `Isa is God, since he brought the dead back to life, healed blindness, leprosy and various illnesses, told about matters of the future, created the shape of birds and blew life into them, bringing them to life. However, all these miracles occurred by Allah’s leave, so that `Isa would be a sign from Allah for people.
They also claim that `Isa is the son of Allah, since he did not have a father and he spoke when he was in the cradle, a miracle which had not occurred by any among the Children of Adam before him, so they claim. They also claim that `Isa is one of a trinity, because Allah would say, `We did, command, create and demand.’ They said, `If Allah were one, he would have said, `I did, command, create and decide.’ This is why they claim that `Isa and Allah are one (Trinity). Allah is far from what they attribute to Him, and we should mention that the Qur’an refuted all these false Christian claims. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir http://www.alim.org/library/quran/AlQuran-tafsir/TIK/3/59; bold emphasis mine)
Moreover, biblical Hebrew had no plural of majesty, and there are no explicit documented cases in ANE sources that such a linguistic feature was ever in use:
“The plural of majesty dos not occur in Hebrew.” (Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary [Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, 1994], 145)
“… there are no certain examples of plurals of majesty with either verbs or pronouns… the verb used in Gn 1:26 (āśāh) is never used with a plural of majesty. There is no linguistic or grammatical basis upon which the ‘us’ can be considered to be a plural of majesty.” (Gerhard F. Hasel, The Meaning of “Let Us” in Gn 1:26 [Andrews University Seminary Studies 13, 1975], pp. 63-64)
“In both Ugaritic and biblical literature, the use of the first person plural is characteristic of address in the divine council. The familiar ‘we’ of Gen 1:26, ‘Let us make man in our image…’ Gen. 3:22, ‘Behold the man is become as one of us…’ Gen. 11:7, ‘Come let us go down and let us confound their language…,’ has long been recognized as the plural address used by Yahweh in his council.” (Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel [Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1973], p. 187, n. 176)
Therefore, contrary to later Islamic beliefs the Quran itself does not deny the existence of a heavenly council of divine beings that work in union with the Muslim god in performing specific divine tasks.