Dunyā is a place of worship for malāʾika. As such, the sanctity of the earth is underscored by the fact that entities that have transcended all physical confines and cannot be perceived by the senses, descend here in order to worship their Creator.
The word musallā can be used interchangeably with masjid, however, it is more commonly used in the context of the open space where the Eid namāz takes place. Though both are places of worship, a masjid is a mortmain property endowed purely for worship. Once dedicated as a masjid it must always remain so. A musallā, although a place of prayer, has not been similarly endowed. The divine reward for offering prayers in a masjid is not attained at a musallā and the etiquettes and norms defined for a masjid are not mandatory for those praying at a musallā.
For us, as physical beings, the more formal, meaning-laden and structured place of worship, masjid, is used. Whereas when referring to malāʾika the less venerated of the two, musallā, has been employed. For mankind to ascend to his heavenly abode he is obligated to formally acknowledge the existence of his Creator and worship Him in a prescribed manner, as laid down by the sharia. Yet, for malā’ika their acts of worship and homage to their Creator are so intrinsic to them that their form, occasion and duration need no specific parameters of time and place. That said, there are such men and women for whom, regardless of physical confines, acts of prayers and worship are just as intrinsic. In at least one sense, they have exceeded malāʾika for they are able to attain such loftiness despite the limitations of their physical form.
The question remains though, why would malāʾika descend to the temporal realm to worship their Creator? In order to answer this question one needs to understand the meanings of malāʾika and what constitutesʿibāda.
The presence of the malāʾika in the temporal realm is explained by their divine ordainment to protect it and its inhabitants. Their responsibility to protect dunyā is their ʿibādat. Some also act as mentors to the bearers of sharia who in turn are mentors to mankind. These malāʾika descend to the temporal realm to function as mediums for the imparting of divine grace which too is a service to their Creator. At the beginning of each month, a surge of spiritual energy flows from the moon towards the temporal world and as the month comes to a close, this energy reverses its flow heading back to the moon. This energy is known as the ‘spirituality of the moon’ and it is by virtue of this energy that malāʾika descend with divine grace and blessings and ascend with the deeds of mankind.
The term malāʾika is derived from the same Arabic root as the word māʾloka, which means message. Thus one form of their worship is to convey Allah’s message to His chosen ones. It is also narrated that on each Friday eve, Allah sends malāʾika with the singular task to note the number of ṣalawāt prayed upon the Prophet Mohammed SA and his progeny from sunrise to sunset on a Friday. Similarly, during Laila al-Qadr, malāʾika descend to this world and inscribe all that will take place over the course of the following year.
One understanding of malāʾika is that they are the various manifestations of the soul: nutritive (nabātiyya), sensible (ḥissiyya) and rational (nāṭiqa), since the soul, like angles, is not limited by any physical boundaries. The nutritive and sensible souls both submit themselves to the rule of the rational soul. Thus, in relation to the other two, the rational soul is like a malak (sing. of malāʾika). Likewise, ibādat for the rational soul is to inculcate noble character, undertake virtuous deeds and enlighten itself with true knowledge so that it may become an eminent and honourable entity and eventually be able to enter the heavenly fold of malāʾika once it departs the body.
Man has two forms, a physical one which he shares with the plant and animal kingdoms and a spiritual one which he shares with malāʾika. Just as man has these two forms, he also has before him two spheres: the first is that of malāʾika which is radiant and clear and the other of humans which is the Earth: opaque and solid. Death severs our link with the physical sphere. However, fortunate is he who has perfected his soul and has in essence taken the form of malāʾika, the final link in the chain of ascension, ultimately enabling him to rise from the sphere of darkness to that of radiance. On the other hand, the one who neglects his soul will regress, at times being subjected to scorching fires or to the bitter cold and depths of the oceans.
Both malāʾika and humans are present before us in this realm and it is up to us to decide who to affiliate ourselves with. The presence of malāʾika in the temporal realm shows that despite being in the confines of the physical world, man through abstract and tangible forms of worship, as shown to him by Allah’s beloved, can instil in himself the pure traits and characteristics of malāʾika and ultimately attain their status.