This folio from Walters manuscript W.659 depicts the angels Harut and Marut hanging as a punishment for being critical of Adam' creation

Harut and Marut (Arabic: هَارُوْت وَمَارُوْت, romanizedHārūt wa-Mārūt) are a pair of angels mentioned in the Quran Surah 2:102. They are said to tempt humans by teaching them the arts of sorcery (siḥr) in Babylon.[1][2]

Quranic exegesis (tafsīr) explains that this pair of angels complained about human wickedness, a reference to Surah 2:30, whereupon they were sent down to earth to compete against humankind with regards to obedience. After they committed various crimes, they found themselves unable to return to heaven. God offered them a choice between punishment on earth or in hell. They decided for punishment on earth, leading to their situation mentioned in the Quran.

The angelic pair is exemplary for angels in Islamic tradition to be tested and potentially fail. Furthermore, they are strongly associated with introducing sorcery to the world throughout Islamic culture.

Quranic narrative

In the Quran, the two angels are briefly mentioned as follows:[3][4]

and followed what the evil ones had fabricated about the Kingdom of Solomon instead. Not that Solomon himself was a disbeliever; it was the evil ones who were disbelievers. They taught people witchcraft and what was revealed in Babylon to the two angels Harut and Marut. Yet these two never taught anyone without first warning him, ‘We are sent only to tempt- do not disbelieve.’ From these two, they learned what can cause discord between man and wife, although they harm no one with it except by God's leave. They learned what harmed them, not what benefited them, knowing full well that whoever gained [this knowledge] would lose any share in the Hereafter. Evil indeed is the [price] for which they sold their souls, if only they knew.

— The Qur'an, 2: 102.


The Quran mentions a pair of angels teaching sorcery. The names Hārūt and Mārūt, however, do not originate from Semitic beliefs, but appear to be etymologically related to Haurvatat and Ameretat, two Amesha Spenta from Zoroastrianism.[5][6] Their fall from heaven is not mentioned by the Quran, in contrast to apocalyptic literature, they are "sent down" by God.[7] However, it is assumed by mufassirs (authorized exegetes of the Quran) that they were sent down as a form of punishment, and explain the story behind their fall.[7]

Fallen angels teaching magic reflects an early Christian belief.[7] For this reason, some Muslim scholars argue that the story derives from Judeo-Christian sources (Israʼiliyyat). According to Ansar al-'Adl, the additional interpretation of this verse entered tafsir from Judaism or Christianity. The English Quran translator Abdullah Yusuf Ali states this story develops from Jewish midrashim, particularly Midrash Abkir.[8] However, Midrash Abkir is not dated earlier than the eleventh century.[7] John C. Reeves concludes that, although the Quran integrates previous material, the midrashim is shaped by Muslim beliefs, not the other way around.[9] Similarly, Patricia Crone argues that Jews adopted the Islamic story, especially since stories regarding fallen angels were considered unauthentic by Rabbinic Judaism.[10] Rejecting a Jewish origin of the story also comes from Muslim scholars. Kürşad Demirci points out that there are no similarities between the story of Harut and Marut and the angels from ancient Jewish lore.[11]

Tale of Harut and Marut

Harut and Marut in Their Forever Well (1703)

Main article: Fallen Angel § Harut and Marut

Although the Quran does not call this pair of angels fallen explicitly, the context assumes this to be true.[7] The tale of Harut and Marut (qiṣṣat Hārūt wa-Mārūt) is a reoccurring story throughout Quranic exegesis (Tabari, ibn Hanbal, Rumi, Maqdisi, Tha'labi, Kisa'i, Suyuti) to explain the fall of these angelic pair.[12][7] In short, this story contains a prolegomenon in heaven, resulting in an angelic mission to earth, followed by a corruption of these angels, and consequent punishment by God.[13] Although this bears some resemblance to the story of the Watchers,[7] the most dominant components of this motif are unique to Islamic tradition and do not reflect either biblical or Second Temple traditions. The core feature of this story is the angels' amazement at human wickedness. Unlike in the Book of Watchers and Christian tradition, the story is not about angelic revolt or original sin, but about how tough it is to be a human.[7]

Ibn Kathir considers at least details of the story to be fabricated (mawḍūʿ) by Ka'b al-Ahbar.[14] Al-Suyuti traces the story back as ḥadīṯ attributed to Muhammad (marfūʿ).[15] Tabari narrates the story as follows:[16]

The angels were astonished at the acts of disobedience committed by the human beings on earth, claiming they would do better than them. Therefore, God challenged the angels to choose two representatives among them, who would descend to earth and be endowed with bodily desires. During their stay on earth, they fell in love with a woman named Zohra (often identified with the planet Venus). She told them she would become intimate with them if they joined her in idolatry and told her how to ascend to heaven. The angels refused and remained pious. Later they met her again and the woman this time stated she would become intimate with them if they drank alcohol. The angels thought that alcohol could not cause great harm and therefore, they accepted the condition. After they were drunk, they became intimate with her and after noticing a witness, they were killed them. The next day, Harut and Marut regretted their deeds but could not ascend to heaven anymore due to their sins, as their link to the angels was broken. Thereupon, God asked them, whether their punishment shall be in this world or in the hereafter. They chose to be punished on earth and therefore were sent to Babel as a test, teaching humans magic but not without warning them that they were just a temptation.[17]

Although the Quran gives them Iranian names, Muslim scholars compared them to the fallen angels from 3 Enoch. Al-Kalbi (737 AD – 819 AD) identifies Harut and Marut as such angels and asserts that their original names (‘Azā, ‘Azāyā) were only changed after their fall to Hārūt and Mārūt, just as the name of Satan was changed from ʿAzāzīl to Iblīs after his fall.[10]

Angelic impeccability

Main article: Angels in Islam § Purity

A miniature showing Harut and Marut punished (Servet Ukkâşe, Târîḫu'l-fen VI: et-taṣvîrü'l-Fârîsî ve't-Türkî, Beirut 1983, p. 213)

Angels are generally not considered infallible in Islam.[18][19] Yet, Muslim authors debated how angels might end up in error or advocate to free angels from sin in general, due to their lack of bodily impulses (Hasan al-Basri, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, ibn-Arabi and ibn Kathir among Sunnis; Shaykh Tusi and Shaykh Tabarsi among Shias).[20][21]

Mujahid ibn Jabr explains, in his version of this story, that the lechery of Harut and Marut was in their heart (qalb) not in their flesh, since as angels they lack bodily desires.[13] The story adds that a human prayed for their forgiveness. The human might be identified with the prophet Idris.[13] Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780–855 CE), argued that angelic impeccability is the reason for their transgression in the first place. Because of their obedience, they begin to oppose the children of Adam. By that, they also question the judgment of God, leading to their fall. This is in reference to the Quranic statement about angels complaining over the creation of Adam.[22][4]

Asharite tradition generally allows for angels to be fallible. Al-Baydawi asserts that "certain angels are not infallible even if infallibility is prevalent among them — just as certain human beings are infallible but fallibility is prevalent among them."[23]: 545  In a comment of Tafsir al-Baydawi it is said that the angels' "obedience is their nature while their disobedience is a burden, while human beings' obedience is a burden and their hankering after lust is their nature.[23]: 546 

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi is an exception and agrees with the Mu'tazilites that angels cannot sin, and Harut and Marut were merely teaching sorcery. He goes further and includes to the six articles of faith that it is not enough to believe in angels, one must also believe in their infallibility.[24] Al-Taftazani (1322 AD –1390 AD) argues that angels would not become unbelievers, but accepted they might slip into error and become disobedient. This would be the case for Harut and Marut.[25]

Māturīdism likewise accept that angels can disobey and be subject to trial.[26] Māturīdism generally considers sinful Muslims not to be unbelievers as long as they don't deny an obligation or prohibition.[27] Abū al-Qāsim Ishaq ibn Muhammad al-Māturīdī (9th to 10th centuries CE) draws this conclusion based on an analogy with Harut and Marut, who are regarded as sinful yet not unbelievers (Kuffār) in the Islamic tradition.[28]

Among Shia tradition, Hasan al-Askari, the 11th Imam of the Twelver Shi'ah, rejects that Harut and Marut transgressed, considering angels to be infallible (ismiah).[29]

Islamic culture

In the wider Islamic culture, Harut and Marut are seen as those who introduced magic to the world.[30] Magic is thus explained to be of celestial origin. Such spells would include spells to separate husband and wife and to harm others. Contrarily to demons (šayāṭīn), the angels teach magic by means of temptation, not malice.[31] The motif of Harut and Marut teaching magic found its way into Turkish poetry through Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyāʾ and spread across Central Asia, often featuring as the a trope for enchanting love.[11]

Rūmīs major work, the poem Mas̲navī, is closer to the orthodox Islamic depiction of Harut and Marut. The reader is recommended to remember the story of Harut and Marut, and how their self-righteousness led to their demise.[32]

As evident from al-Jāḥiẓ, the case of Harut and Marut were exemplified for the very phenomenon of fallen angels in Muslim culture. Such angels would descent to earth as punishment for disobedience and might beget children.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Quran 2:102 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
  2. ^ Jastrow, Morris; Price, Ira Maurice; Jastrow, Marcus; Ginzberg, Louis; MacDonald, Duncan B. (1906). "Tower of Babel". Jewish Encyclopedia. Funk @-Wagnalls.
  3. ^ Quran 2:102–102
  4. ^ a b Stephen Burge (2015). Angels in Islam: Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti's al-Haba'ik fi Akhbar al-malik. Routledge. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-136-50473-0.
  5. ^ Bürgel, J. Christoph. "Zoroastrianism as viewed in medieval Islamic sources." Muslim Perceptions of Other Religions (1999): 202-212.
  6. ^ "Harut and Marut". Britannica.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Dye, Guillaume. Early Islam: the sectarian milieu of late Antiquity?. Éditions de l'Université de Bruxelles, 2023.
  8. ^ Ali, Abdullah Yousf (2006). The Meaning of the Holy Quran (PDF) (11th ed.). note 104, p. 45. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-03-05.
  9. ^ Reeves, John C. (2015). Some Parascriptural Dimensions of the Muslim "Tale of Harut wa-Marut". Journal of the American Oriental Society. Western scholars who have studied the "Tale of Harut and Marut" and grappled with its literary analogues have most frequently pointed to the Jewish and Christian parascriptural materials that envelop the enigmatic figure of Enoch and in particular to a curious medieval Jewish aggadic narrative known as the "Midrash of Shemhazai and 'Azael." (29) This unusual tale, extant in at least four Hebrew versions and one Aramaic rendition, (30) requires our attention at this stage, and I accordingly provide here a translation of what is arguably its earliest written registration, in the eleventh-century midrashic compilation Bereshit Rabbati of R. Moshe ha-Darshan.

    Careful comparison of the developed narratives of the "Tale of Harut and Marut" and the "Midrash of Shemhazai and cAzael" amid the larger literary corpora within which they are embedded suggests that the Muslim Harut wa-Marut complex both chronologically and literarily precedes the articulated versions of the Jewish "Midrash of Shemhazai and 'Azael," or as Bernhard Heller expressed it over a century ago, "la legende [i.e., the Jewish one] a ete calquee sur celle de Harout et Marout." (39) What is likely the oldest Hebrew form of the story dates from approximately the eleventh century, (40) several hundred years after the bulk of the Muslim evidence.
  10. ^ a b Crone, Patricia. The Book of Watchers in the Quran. pp. 10–11.
  11. ^ a b KÜRŞAT DEMİRCİ, "HÂRÛT ve MÂRÛT", TDV İslâm Ansiklopedisi, (19.09.2023).
  12. ^ Majmaʻ al-Buḥūth al-Islāmīyah The Fourth Conference of the Academy of Islamic Research 1968 p. 707
  13. ^ a b c Reeves, John C. "Some Parascriptural Dimensions of the “Tale of Hārūt wa-Mārūt”." Journal of American Oriental Society 135.4 (2015): 817-842.
  14. ^ KÜRŞAT DEMİRCİ, "HÂRÛT ve MÂRÛT", TDV İslâm Ansiklopedisi, (20.09.2023).
  15. ^ Dye, Guillaume. Early Islam: the sectarian milieu of late Antiquity? Éditions de l'Université de Bruxelles, 2023.
  16. ^ Hanan Jaber (November 18, 2018). Harut and Marut in The Book of Watchers and Jubilees. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. pp. 14–15.
  17. ^ Hussein Abdul-Raof (2012). Theological Approaches to Qur'anic Exegesis: A Practical Comparative-Contrastive Analysis. Routledge. p. 155. ISBN 978-1-136-45991-7.
  18. ^ Houtsma, M. Th. (1993). E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913–1936, Band 5. BRILL. p. 191. ISBN 978-90-04-09791-9.
  19. ^ Welch, Alford T. (2008) Studies in Qur'an and Tafsir. Riga, Latvia: Scholars Press. p. 756
  20. ^ Omar Hamdan Studien zur Kanonisierung des Korantextes: al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrīs Beiträge zur Geschichte des Korans Otto Harrassowitz Verlag 2006 ISBN 978-3447053495 pp. 291–292 (German)
  21. ^ KÜRŞAT DEMİRCİ, "HÂRÛT ve MÂRÛT", TDV İslâm Ansiklopedisi, (19.09.2023)..
  22. ^ Reynolds, Gabriel Said (28 March 2020) [2009]. "Angels". In Kate Fleet; Gudrun Krämer; Denis Matringe; John Nawas; Everett Rowson (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2009-3. Vol. 3. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_ei3_COM_23204. ISBN 978-90-04-18130-4.
  23. ^ a b translator: Gibril Fouad Haddad, author: ʿAbd Allah ibn ʿUmar al-Baydawi, date= 2016, title= The Lights Of Revelation And The Secrets Of Interpretation, ISBN 978-0-992-63347-8 Parameter error in ((ISBN)): checksum
  24. ^ Street, Tony. "Medieval Islamic doctrine on the angels: the writings of Fakhr al-Dīh al-Rāzī." Parergon 9.2 (1991): 111-127.
  25. ^ Austin P. Evans A commentary on the Creed of Islam Translated by Earl Edgar Elder Columbia University Press, New York 1980 ISBN 0-8369-9259-8 p. 135
  26. ^ Rudolph, Ulrich (2015). "The Foundation and Establishment of Ḥanafite Theology in the Second/ Eighth and Early Third/Ninth Centuries". Al-Māturīdī and the Development of Sunnī Theology in Samarqand. Islamic History and Civilization. Vol. 100. Translated by Adem, Rodrigo. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. pp. 21–71. doi:10.1163/9789004261846_003. ISBN 978-90-04-26184-6. ISSN 0929-2403. LCCN 2014034960.
  27. ^ Yerzhan, K. "Principles of Abu Mansur Al-Maturidi, Central Asian Islamic Theologian Preoccupied With.pdf." A. Akimkhanov, A.Frolov, Sh.Adilbaeyva, K.Yerzhan (2016): n. pag. Print.
  28. ^ Tritton, A. S. "An Early Work from the School of Al-Māturīdī." Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, no. 3/4, Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1966, pp. 96–99,
  29. ^ Neshat, Gholamreza (2018). A History of the Prophets. Isfahan: Neshat. ISBN 978-600-04-9294-6.
  30. ^ Salim Ayduz, Caner Dagli The Oxford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Science, and Technology in Islam Oxford University Press, 2014 isbn 978-01998-1257-8 p. 504
  31. ^ Jones, David Albert. Angels: a very short introduction. OUP Oxford, 2010. p. 107
  32. ^ The Scholar Islamic Academic Research Journal Vol. 6, No. 2 ||July–December 2020 ||P. 129-155 Publisher Research Gateway Society DOI: 10.29370/siarj/issue11ar6