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In Islam the Zabaniyah (Arabic: الزبانية) (also spelled Zebani) are the tormentors of the sinners in hell. They appear namely in the Quran in verse 96:18. Identified with the Nineteen Angels of Hell in 66:6 and 74:30, they are further called "angels of punishment", the "Guardians of Hell",[1] "wardens of hell", and "angels of hell".[2] Some consider the zabaniya to be the hell's angels' subordinates.[3] As angels, the zabaniyah are, despite their gruesome appearance and actions, ultimately subordinative to God (Allah), and thus their punishment is considered just.[4]: 274 

The etymological origin of the term is unclear. Some scholars consider zabaniyah to refer to a class of Arabian demons. Others argue that they designated a group of angels conducting the souls of the dead and throwing the sinners into hell. The idea of punishing angels goes back the Hebrew Bible and are further attested in apocrypha.


The word Zabaniyah may have been derived from the syriac shabbāyā. Ephrem used this term for angels who conduct the souls after death.[5] Alternatively, it has been argued the term might have denoted a class of pre-Islamic demons.[6] Al-Khansa is said to have written a poet mentioning zabaniya. Similar to the jinn, they would ride on animals (eagles).[7] Another suggestion attributes the origin to rabbāniyya referring to the lords angelic council.[8] Since none of the older codices of the Quran (Mus'haf) contain variants of this term, it is unlikely it has been changed over time.[9] Another theory holds that this term may derive from Sumerian ("The Scales") and Assyrian zibanitu (also referring to scales).

Al-Mubarrad suggested, zabāniya could derive from the idea of movement and the Zabaniyah are those who "push somebody [back]".[10] Quran exegete Qatada ibn Di'ama states that the term is used for policemen. Although it is true that the term is sometimes associated with earthly state's agents, this is a post-Quranic development.[11] According to founder of PERSIS, Ahmad Hassan, in his exegesis work Tafsir al-Furqan, he interpret Zabaniyah etymologically as "mighty soldiers of Allah".[12]

As for the number nineteen, independent researcher Gürdal Aksoy suspects it refers to the sum of the seven planets and twelve signs of the zodiac,[13] as found in Mandaen literature, which, while suggestive, is ultimately inconclusive.[10][14] Scholars such as Richard Bell has found the evidence adduced for this apparent association to lack direct correspondence.[15] In a similar vein, Angelika Neuwirth sees the Qur'an's reference to nineteen as an "ostentatiously enigmatic element",[16] whereas Alan Jones suggests that "initially the meaning of 'nineteen' would have been vague."[17]

In Islamic traditions[edit]


Tabari records that ibn Abbas stated that the zabaniya are the punishers in hell. According to Hasan al-Basri, they are God's minions on Judgment Day, driving the sinners into hell with "iron hooks".[18] Mujahid ibn Jabr defended the idea that zabaniya are angels against contrary assertions.[19]

Adam ibn Abd al-aziz describes the zabaniya as angels of death who, according to the Quran (4:97, 32:11), conduct the souls of sinners and question them in the grave.[20] Similar to the angelic pairs Nāzi'āt and Nāshiṭāt and Munkar and Nakir, they are assisting Azrael and seize the souls of the injust.[21] Ghazali states, they appear as black shadows to the dying person, pull their souls out of their bodies, and drag them to hell.[10] According to the hadiths of Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, the zabaniya were guarding Muhammad while he prayed in the Kaaba. They scared Abu Jahl when he tried to trample on Muhammad's neck with his foot.[22] A similar narration, authorized by ibn Abbas, appears in Sahih Bukhari. Here, Muhammad explains Abu Jahl's retraction that Abu Jahl felt the presence of the zabaniyah.[23] In his Fath al-Bari, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani explores this event in greater detail, stating that Abu Jahl was asked about his retreat whereupon he answered that he suddenly saw winged terrifying monster in a trench filled with flames, between him and Muhammad.[24] Al-Baladhuri comments on this narration, that the angels which protected Muhammad were twelve zabaniyah as tall sky.[25] Similarly, Ibn Barrajan (d. 1141) giving commentary on Sura At-Tur that Moses and Aaron are protected by zabaniyah.[26]

Another Hadith narrates that an army of angels of punishment battled against the angels of mercy over the soul of a sinner.[27](p56) In some Turkish lore, it is believed that when both groups battle, their strikes cause thunder.[28] While the angels of mercy are said to be created from light (nur), the angels of punishment are usually said to be created from fire (nar).[29][30] However, this distinction is not universally accepted among Muslim scholars.[31]

As part of Isma'ili eschatology, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi identified the zabaniya with the seven planets, who administrate the upper barzakhs, indicating that there is a kind of hell within the celestrial spheres. Accordingly, impure souls remain imprisoned within bodies, missing salvation in purely intellectual existence. The Houris appear as counterparts of the zabaniya, who are, in contrast to the zabaniya, items of knowledge from the beyond.[32]

Miraj mythology[edit]

In Mi'raj literature, the zabaniyah are under command of the nineteen angels of punishment.[33] They guard the gates to hell, mentioned in the Quran. Throughout the Mi'raj literature, they are given different names including Suhâil, Tufail, Tarfail, Tuftuil, Samtail, Satfail, Sentatayil, Şemtayil, Tabtayil, Tamtail, Tantail, Sasayil, Tuhayil, Sutail, Bertail, Istahatail.[34] A zabani called Susāʾīl shows Muhammad the punishments of hell.[10] But the zabaniya also fill the landscape of the first layer of hell and the fiery seas wherein. The leader of the hell's angels, Malik, explains to Muhammad that the zabaniyya were created by God inside hell, so they have no desire to leave this place and feel comfortable in it. God would have made them from the fires of hell and placed hardness into their hearts, for they may have no mercy towards the inmates.[35]

Cultural representation[edit]

Islamic art commonly pictures them as horrifying demons with flames leaping from their mouth.[36] Christian Lange noted from the classical exegesis works, that zabaniyah have "repulsive faces, eyes like flashing lightening, teeth white like cows horns, lips hanging down to their feet, and rotten breath".[37] According to the interpretation of Ibn Qutaybah in his work, Uyun al Akhbar, he quoted that Tawus ibn Kaysan has transmitted his description each of the Zabaniya's fingers equal to the number of the sinners that will be thrown into hell after the judgment day.[38]


The idea of punishing angels appears in earlier Abrahamic literature. In the Hebrew Bible, God sents punishing angels to smite enemies. (for example, Exodus 12:23)[39] According to the Apocalypse of Paul, an angel casts the sinners into hell. In hell, such angels inflict pain on the inmates with iron hooks.[40] The Book of Enoch mentions punishing angels called satans who act as God's executioners on both sinful humans and fallen angels.[41] The Apocalypse of Peter also mentions angels torturing the sinners in a place of punishment.[42]

Hubert Grimme raised the possibility that zabaniya originally referred to a class of Arabian demons.[43] In favor of this theory is, that the poetress convert al-Khansa mentions zabaniya in one of her poems as supernatural creatures similar to Sa'aali (a type of jinn).[44] Further, al-Mubarrad associates zabaniya with demons. He states that afarit (a type of underworld demon) were sometimes called "ʿifriyya zibniyya".[10] Rudi Paret argues that the grammar of the term zabani indicates a characteristical action personified in a type of spirit. In that case, the zabani would refer to a spirit pushing someone back.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stephen Burge Angels in Islam: Jalal Al-Din Al-Suyuti's Al-Haba'ik Fi Akhbar Al-mala'ik Routledge 2015 ISBN 978-1-136-50474-7 page 277
  2. ^ translation from
  3. ^ Mohammed Rustom The Triumph of Mercy: Philosophy and Scripture in Mulla Sadra SUNY Press 2012 ISBN 9781438443416 p. 90
  4. ^ Lange, Christian (2016). Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions. Cambridge United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-50637-3.
  5. ^ Lange, C. (2016). Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions. Vereinigtes Königreich: Cambridge University Press.
  6. ^ Tesei, Tommaso (2016). "The barzakh and the Intermediate State of the Dead in the Quran". Locating Hell in Islamic Traditions. Brill. pp. 29–55. doi:10.1163/9789004301368_003. ISBN 978-90-04-30136-8. JSTOR 10.1163/j.ctt1w8h1w3.8.
  7. ^ Lange, Christian. Locating hell in Islamic traditions. Brill, 2015. p. 80
  8. ^ O'Meara, Simon (2016). "From Space to Place: The Quranic Infernalization of the Jinn". Locating Hell in Islamic Traditions. Brill. pp. 56–73. doi:10.1163/9789004301368_004. ISBN 978-90-04-30136-8. JSTOR 10.1163/j.ctt1w8h1w3.9.
  9. ^ Lange, Christian. Locating hell in Islamic traditions. Brill, 2015. p. 77
  10. ^ a b c d e Lange, Christian (2016). "Revisiting Hell's Angels in the Quran". Locating Hell in Islamic Traditions. Brill. pp. 74–100. doi:10.1163/9789004301368_005. ISBN 978-90-04-30136-8. JSTOR 10.1163/j.ctt1w8h1w3.10.
  11. ^ Lange, Christian. Locating hell in Islamic traditions. Brill, 2015. p. 78
  12. ^ Hassan, Ahmad (2010). I.M, Thoyib (ed.). Al-Furqan : tafsir Qur'an (in Indonesian). Indonesian national Library; Al-Azhar Indonesian university. ISBN 978-602-95064-02. Retrieved 13 February 2022.
  13. ^ Aksoy, Gürdal. "Mezopotamyalı Tanrı Nergal'den Zerdüşti Kutsiyetlere Münker ile Nekir'in Garip Maceraları (On the Astrological Background and the Cultural Origins of An Islamic Belief: The Strange Adventures of Munkar and Nakir from the Mesopotamian god Nergal to the Zoroastrian Divinities) (2017)".[self-published source?]
  14. ^ Trompf, G. W.; Mikkelsen, Gunner B.; Johnston, Jay (eds.). The gnostic world. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-315-56160-8. OCLC 1056109897.
  15. ^ Richard, Bell (1991). Bosworth, Clifford Edmund.; Richardson, M. E. J. (eds.). A commentary on the Qur'ān. University of Manchester. p. 453. ISBN 0-9516124-1-7. OCLC 24725147.
  16. ^ Neuwirth, Angelika (2011). Der Koran: Band 1: Frühmekkanische Suren: Poetische Prophetie: Handkommentar mit Übersetzung. p. 369.
  17. ^ Jones, Alan (2007). The Qurʼān. Cambridge. p. 545. ISBN 978-1-909724-32-7. OCLC 878413496.
  18. ^ Lange, Christian. Locating hell in Islamic traditions. Brill, 2015. p. 75
  19. ^ Lange, Christian. Locating hell in Islamic traditions. Brill, 2015. p. 75
  20. ^ Lange, Christian. Locating hell in Islamic traditions. Brill, 2015. p. 74
  21. ^ Zaki, Mona M. (2015). Jahannam in Medieval Islamic Thought (Thesis).
  22. ^ al-Baghawi (2005). ‏الأنوار في شمائل النبي المختار [Lights in the merits of the chosen Prophet (PBUH)] (Hadith, Religion / Islam / General) (in Arabic). دار الكتب العلمية، منشورات محمد علي البيضون،‏. p. 19. ISBN 9782745147349. Retrieved 9 February 2022. Yes. He said: By Lat and `Uzza. If I were to see him do that, I would trample his neck, or I would smear his face with dust. He came to Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) as he was engaged in prayer and thought of trampling his neck (and the people say) that he came near him but turned upon his heels and tried to repulse something with his hands. It was said to him: What is the matter with you? He said: There is between me and him a ditch of fire and terror and wings. Thereupon Allah's Messenger (may peace he upon him) said: If he were to come near me the angels would have torn him to pieces. Then Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, revealed this verse- (the narrator) said: We do not know whether it is the hadith transmitted by Abu Huraira or something conveyed to him from another source: "Nay, man is surely inordinate, because he looks upon himself as self-sufficient. Surely to thy Lord is the return. Hast thou seen him who forbids a servant when he prays? Seest thou if he is on the right way, or enjoins observance of piety? Seest thou if he [Abu Jahl] denies and turns away? Knowest he not that Allah sees? Nay, if he desists not, We will seize him by the forelock-a lying, sinful forelock. Then let him summon his council. We will summon the guards of the Hell. Nay! Obey not thou him" (lcvi, 6-19). (Rather prostrate thyself.) Ubaidullah made this addition: It was after this that (prostration) was enjoined upon and Ibn Abd al-Ala made this addition that by "Nadiyah" he meant his people.]
  23. ^ Abd al-Rahman ibn Abdullah ibn Ahmad ibn Abi al-Hasan al-Khathami al-Suhaili (1967). bin Mansour bin Sayed Al-Shura, Majdi (ed.). الروض الأنف في شرح السيرة النبوية لابن هشام [Ar-Ruud al-Unf in Explanation of the Biography of the Prophet by Ibn Hisham - Volume] (Islam -- History, Islamic Empire -- History -- 622-661) (in Arabic). يطلب من دار الكتب الحديثة (Yathlib min Dar al Kitab wa al Hadith). p. 155. Retrieved 27 February 2022.
  24. ^ Abd al-Majid al-Sheikh Abd al-Bari (2006). "3". الروايات التفسيرية في فتح الباري [Explanatory narratives of Fath al-Bari] (ebook) (Hadith study, Islam) (in Arabic). p. 81. Retrieved 27 February 2022.
  25. ^ Muhammad Al-Saeed bin Bassiouni Zaghloul (2004). "10". موسوعة أطراف الحديث النبوي الشريف 1-11 ج10 [Encyclopedia of the parties to the Prophet's Hadith 1-11 c 10] (Religion / Islam / General) (in Arabic). Dar Al Kotob Al Ilmiyah. p. 20. Retrieved 27 February 2022.
  26. ^ Louise Gallorini (2021). Orfali, Bilal (ed.). "THE SYMBOLIC FUNCTION OF ANGELS IN THE QURʾĀN AND SUFI LITERATURE". Students Publications (Theses, Dissertations, Projects). AUB ScholarWorks: 190. hdl:10938/22446. Ibn Barrajān 2, 690.
  27. ^ Awn, Peter J. (1983). "Mythic Biography". Satan's Tragedy and Redemption: Iblīs in Sufi Psychology. BRILL. pp. 18–56. doi:10.1163/9789004378636_003. ISBN 978-90-04-06906-0.
  28. ^ Hans Wilhelm Haussig, Egidius Schmalzriedt Wörterbuch der Mythologie Klett-Cotta 1965 ISBN 978-3-129-09870-7 page 314 (german)
  29. ^ Jane Dammen McAuliffe Encyclopaedia of the Qurʼān Brill 2001 ISBN 9789004147645 p. 118
  30. ^ Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb The Encyclopaedia of Islam: NED-SAM Brill 1995 page 94
  31. ^ "Zebani nedir, zebaniler kimdir, ne demek, görevleri, cehennem".
  32. ^ Hoover, Jon (2016). "Withholding Judgment on Islamic Universalism". Locating Hell in Islamic Traditions. Brill. pp. 208–237. doi:10.1163/9789004301368_011. ISBN 978-90-04-30136-8. JSTOR 10.1163/j.ctt1w8h1w3.16.
  33. ^ Ürkmez, Ertan. "Türk-İslâm mitolojisi bağlamında Mi ‘râç motifi ve Türkiye kültür tarihine yansımaları." (2015).
  34. ^ Ürkmez, Ertan. "Türk-İslâm mitolojisi bağlamında Mi ‘râç motifi ve Türkiye kültür tarihine yansımaları." (2015).
  35. ^ Colby, Frederick S. Narrating Muhammad's Night Journey: Tracing the Development of the Ibn'Abbas Ascension Discourse. Suny Press, 2008. p. 207
  36. ^ Sheila Blair, Jonathan M. Bloom The Art and Architecture of Islam 1250-1800 Yale University Press 1995 ISBN 978-0-300-06465-0 page 62
  37. ^ Lange, Christian (2016). "Introducing Hell in Islamic Studies". Locating Hell in Islamic Traditions. Brill. pp. 1–28. doi:10.1163/9789004301368_002. ISBN 978-90-04-30136-8. JSTOR 10.1163/j.ctt1w8h1w3.7.
  38. ^ Al-Suyuti (2021). Muhammad as Said Basyuni, Abu Hajir; Yasir, Muhammad (eds.). Misteri Alam Malaikat (Religion / Islam / General) (in Indonesian). Translated by Mishabul Munir. Pustaka al-Kautsar. pp. 29–33, 172. ISBN 9789795929512. Retrieved 6 February 2022. Quoting Ibnul Mubarak from a book of az-Zuhd; ad Durr al-Manshur, chain narration from Ibnul Mubarak to Ibn SHihab (1/92)
  39. ^ Lange, Christian. Locating hell in Islamic traditions. Brill, 2015. p. 93
  40. ^ Lange, C. (2016). Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions. Vereinigtes Königreich: Cambridge University Press. p. 63
  41. ^ Caldwell, William (1913). "The Doctrine of Satan: II. Satan in Extra-Biblical Apocalyptical Literature". The Biblical World. 41 (2): 98–102. doi:10.1086/474708. JSTOR 3142425. S2CID 144698491.
  42. ^ TY - BOOK T1 - The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Apocrypha A1 - Gregory, A.F. A1 - Tuckett, C.M. A1 - Nicklas, T. A1 - Verheyden, J. A1 - Verheyden, J. SN - 9780199644117 T3 - Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology UR - Y1 - 2015 PB - Oxford University Press ER - p. 351
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  44. ^ Lange, Christian. Locating hell in Islamic traditions. Brill, 2015. p. 80
  45. ^ Lange, Christian. Locating hell in Islamic traditions. Brill, 2015. p. 82