Rebuttal to Sam Shamoun's Article, "Quran Contradiction: How many wings does an angel have?"


Bassam Zawadi

Shamoun's article can be found here. We highly recommend that the reader read Shamoun's article before reading this one; otherwise, he/she might get confused.

Shamoun's article is not worthy of a detailed rebuttal. Shamoun's main argument can be summarized as the following:

Since in Surah 4:3, 'two, three and four' means that four is the maximum number of wives that a man can have, then the phrase 'two, three and four' in Surah 35:1 also implies that the maximum number of wings that an angel can have is four. However, there are hadith that show that angel Gabriel has more than four wings. Thus, the authentic hadith contradict the Qur'an.

This is all a result of Shamoun's failure to know the principles of the methodology of Qura'nic interpretation or science of Islamic hermeneutics.

As Shaykh Albani shows on page 22 of his book How Are We Obligated To Interpret the Qur'an?, the Qur'an is also explained by the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself.

Surah 4:3 and Surah 35:1, when read on their own, do not give any impression that the number four is the maximum amount.

We only know that Surah 4:3 intends to say that the number four is the maximum amount of wives that someone could have because the Prophet (peace be upon him) said so by clarifying that this is what the verse is saying.

As for Surah 35:1, the same could be said. It gives no indication what so ever that four is the maximum amount of wings that an angel could have. It only states that there are angels that have this amount of wings.

One could verify this by checking the commentary of Ibn Kathir, Suyuti, and others.

Imam at-Tabari, in his commentary on this verse even gives the example of Surah 34:46 and shows how it does not necessarily imply that either only one or two people could pray together.

Shamoun states this:

The problem with this assertion is that it takes for granted that this line is actually qualifying what precedes it regarding the angels, as opposed to simply stating that Allah can add more to his creation as he deems fit, since the text mentions Allah as the initiator of the heavens and the earth. In light of this, one can validly assume that Allah increases his creation not in reference to the wings of the angels, but in connection with an increase of human beings, animals, vegetation, formation of stars etc.

Yes, but Shamoun has not provided any evidence that suggests it could not refer to the wings of the angels. Since this is a possible interpretation, Muslims will give the Qur'an the benefit of the doubt and assume that it is speaking about the wings.

Shamoun states:

After all, there is a difference between creation and a creature. The phrase does not say: He adds to his creature(s) whatever he pleases, i.e. putting more wings on them later on (after they were created), but it means he can add more/other/different creatures to his creation at any time.

The verse says that Allah can increase in his creation whatever he pleases:


[035:001]  All praise is due to Allah, the Originator of the heavens and the earth, the Maker of the angels, messengers flying on wings, two, and three, and four; He increases in creation what He pleases; surely Allah has power over all things.


[035:001]  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.

Muhammad Al-Hilali & Muhsin Khan:

[035:001]  All the praises and thanks be to Allah, the (only) Originator (or the (only) Creator) of the heavens and the earth, Who made the angels messengers with wings, - two or three or four. He increases in creation what He wills. Verily, Allah is Able to do all things.


[035:001]  Praise belongs to God, the originator of the heavens and the earth; who makes the angels His messengers, endued with wings in pairs, or threes or fours; He adds to creation what He Pleases; verily, God is mighty over all!


[035:001]  Praise belongs to God, Originator of the heavens and earth, who appointed the angels to be messengers having wings two, three and four, increasing creation as He wills. Surely God is powerful over everything.


[035:001]  Praise be to GOD, Initiator of the heavens and the earth, and appointer of the angels to be messengers with wings - two, three, and four (wings). He increases the creation as He wills. GOD is Omnipotent.

Allah increases in His creation as He wills. The wings of the angels are part of Allah's creation. So if Allah can increase in creation, then He can increase the creation of wings for angels.

I do not understand why this is complicated.

The verse in no way could be forcibly interpreted as Allah adding more creatures to His creation as Shamoun suggests. It says no such thing.

Shamoun states:

All this would mean is that Allah could increase the wings of an angel without exceeding four, i.e. he could cause an angel with two wings to have three, another that has three to have four but not go beyond this point since he has designed it so that the most wings an angel can have at one time is four.

Yes, assuming you have proven that the verse says that the number four is the maximum number, which you haven't.

Shamoun states:

Besides, it seems that the real reason why Muslims came up with this response is because they clearly saw the contradiction between this verse in the Quran and the ahadith. It is highly doubtful that anyone would have connected the last part of the sentence regarding Allah increasing his creation with Allah increasing an angel's wings beyond four had the hadith not mentioned that Gabriel had six hundred wings.

This is mere speculation. What matters is whether Muslims could provide evidence to refute your argument. It does not matter what our motives are.

Secondly, I find that the context of the verse makes it pretty evident that its last part is connected to its first part.

Shamoun states:

Yet if no human can see an angel except in the form of a man then this means that Muhammad could not have seen Gabriel's true form. But if he didn't see Gabriel's true form then all those narrations that claim that he did must be wrong! Thus, no matter how one tries to harmonize these conflicting claims there will still be problems between what the Quran and hadiths say.

Shamoun is committing the same error here as his other article. He fails to acknowledge 'exceptions to the general rule.'

Yes, it is a general rule that humans cannot see angels or God in their true form. But that does not mean that we will never be able to. God could make exceptions and give us the ability to see the unseen realm if He pleases. However, we are not able to do so with our limited vision.

In Exodus 33:20, it says no one can see God and live. However, apparently, Revelation 22:3-4 states that the believers will eventually see God. John Gill states:

And they shall see his face.
The face of God, so as he is not to be seen now; they shall see him as he is; not only the angels, who always behold the face of God, but all the saints, risen and changed, being pure in heart, and perfectly holy; they shall see him face to face, they shall have intimate and familiar communion with him; they shall enjoy his favour, and have the freest and largest discoveries of his love; and they shall see the face of the Lamb; they shall behold Christ and his glory both with the eyes of their understanding, and with the eyes of their bodies; and this is a very desirable sight, and will be very glorious and delightful; it will be fully satisfying, and will make the saints like unto him; it will be free from all darkness and any interruption, and will always continue. (John Gill, John Gill's Exposition of the Bible, Commentary on Revelation 22:4, Source)

Now, should I be stubborn and insist that Exodus contradicts Revelation, or should I be more open-minded and understand that Exodus is a general statement, but Revelation is the exception to the rule? Obviously, the Christian will opt for the latter. Or he might use the book of Revelation to restrict the meaning of the verse in Exodus to only refer to time on planet Earth.

Well, we Muslims ask the same thing when approaching our scripture. In Qur'anic hermeneutics, there is the principle of takhsees (specification).

For example, the Qur'an says that all dead meat is forbidden (Surah 5:3). However, the authentic hadith makes an exception to this general rule by stating that we can eat dead sea creatures. We don't view this as the hadith contradicting the Qur'an but limiting and clarifying its meaning.

Similarly, if we were to assume that the Qu'ran generally states that angels cannot have more than four wings (which it doesn't, and Shamoun hasn't proven that it does so), then I can easily reply by saying that the Prophet (peace be upon him) is making an exception to this general statement, and that is Gabriel.

However, I opt for the first position, and that is that the Qur'an never states that angels have a maximum of four wings.

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