Share on facebook
Share on twitter

The Quran’s Divine Corporation: Unveiling the Reason Why Allah Speaks in the Plural

Non-Muslims are baffled over the reason why the Quran repeatedly has Allah speaking of himself in the plural. And Muslims themselves are either not clear or are not consistent why their deity so often refers to himself in the plural.

As an illustration of just how baffling and incoherent this employment of the plural happens to be, noted the following passages where the plural is jumbled up with first and second person singular pronouns:

What, shall seek after any judge but God? For it is HE WHO sent down to you the Book well-distinguished; and those whom WE have given the Book know it is sent down from thy Lord with the truth; so be not thou of the doubters. S. 6:114 Arberry

Glorified be HE WHO carried HIS servant by night from the Inviolable Place of Worship to the Far distant place of worship the neighbourhood whereof WE have blessed, that WE might show him of OUR tokens! Lo! HE, only HE, is the Hearer, the Seer. WE gave unto Moses the Scripture, and WE appointed it a guidance for the children of Israel, saying: Choose no guardian beside ME. (They were) the seed of those whom WE carried (in the ship) along with Noah. Lo! he was a grateful slave. And WE decreed for the Children of Israel in the Scripture: Ye verily will work corruption in the earth twice, and ye will become great tyrants. So when the time for the first of the two came, WE roused against you slaves of OURS of great might who ravaged (your) country, and it was a threat performed. Then WE gave you once again your turn against them, and WE aided you with wealth and children and made you more in soldiery. S. 17:1-6 Pickthall

Talk about mass confusion!

Allah garbles up these passages by referring to himself with first person singular and plural pronouns, and also employs the second person singular pronouns to speak of himself! In the process of doing so, he ends up baffling the readers by identifying someone other than himself as Allah or God, who so happens to be his very own judge!

With the foregoing in perspective, I am now going to demonstrate that part of the reason why the Islamic god speaks in the plural is that he is referring not just to himself, but also to the angels, particularly Gabriel, and Muhammad, who happen to be the partners that Allah has joined to himself.

Note, for instance, the following passage:

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. S. 19:63-72 Arberry

The careful reader will see that the first person plural pronouns are all referring to one and the same entity or group. In other words, the very same one(s) that only come(s) down by the commandment of the Lord, is/are also the very same entity/entities that claim to have created mankind, and who shall cast the devils and everyone else into hell, and who will then take out the god-fearing from the fire.

According to the so-called authentic narrations, the ones speaking here are supposed to be the angels, specifically the angel Gabriel (Jibril):

CCXXII: “We do not descend except at your Lord’s command.” (19:64)

  1. It is related from Sa’id ibn Jubayr that Ibn ‘Abbas said, “The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, asked Jibril, ‘What prevents you from visiting us more than you visit us?’ Then it was revealed, ‘We do not descend except at your Lord’s command. Everything in front of us, and everything behind us, and everything in between belongs to Him.’ (19:64)” (Aisha Bewley, The Sahih Collection of al-Bukhari, Chapter 68. Book of Tafsir https://bewley.virtualave.net/bukhari32.html; )

This means that it is Gabriel who is claiming to have created mankind and who musters the demons and human beings into hell.

The hadiths further teach that Muhammad will actually take people out of hell itself and cause them to then enter into paradise:

Narrated ‘Imran bin Husain: The Prophet said, “Some people will be taken out of the Fire through the intercession of Muhammad they will enter Paradise and will be called Al-Jahannamiyin (the Hell Fire people).” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 76, Number 571 https://www.searchtruth.com/book_display.php?book=76&translator=1&start=0&number=571; bold emphasis mine)

And:

“‘… So they will come to me, and I will ask my Lord’s permission to enter His House and then I will be permitted. When I see Him I will fall down in prostration before Him, and He will leave me (in prostration) as long as He will, and then He will say, “O Muhammad, lift up your head and speak, for you will be listened to, and intercede, for your intercession will be accepted, and ask (for anything) for it will be granted”: Then I will raise my head and glorify my Lord with certain praises which He has taught me. Allah will put a limit for me (to intercede for a certain type of people). I WILL TAKE THEM OUT AND MAKE THEM ENTER PARADISE.’

“(Qatada said: I heard Anas saying that), the Prophet said, ‘I will go out and TAKE THEM OUT OF HELL (Fire) AND LET THEM ENTER PARADISE, and then I will return and ask my Lord for permission to enter His House and I will be permitted. When I will see Him I will fall down in prostration before Him and He will leave me in prostration as long as He will let me (in that state), and then He will say, “O Muhammad, raise your head and speak, for you will be listened to, and intercede, for your intercession will be accepted, and ask, your request will be granted.”’ The Prophet added, ‘So I will raise my head and glorify and praise Him as He has taught me. Then I will intercede and He will put a limit for me (to intercede for a certain type of people). I WILL TAKE THEM OUT and let them enter Paradise.’

“(Qatada added: I heard Anas saying that) the Prophet said, ‘I will go out and TAKE THEM OUT OF HELL (Fire) and let them enter Paradise, and I will return for the third time and will ask my Lord for permission to enter His house, and I will be allowed to enter. When I see Him, I will fall down in prostration before Him, and will remain in prostration as long as He will, and then He will say, “Raise your head, O Muhammad, and speak, for you will be listened to, and intercede, for your intercession will be accepted, and ask, for your request will be granted.” So I will raise my head and praise Allah as He has taught me and then I will intercede and He will put a limit for me (to intercede for a certain type of people). I WILL TAKE THEM OUT and let them enter Paradise.’

“(Qatada said: I heard Anas saying that) the Prophet said, ‘So I will go out and take them out of Hell (Fire) and let them enter Paradise, till none will remain in the Fire except those whom Quran will imprison (i.e., those who are destined for eternal life in the fire).’

“The narrator then recited the Verse:– ‘It may be that your Lord will raise you to a Station of Praise and Glory.’ (17.79) The narrator added: This is the Station of Praise and Glory which Allah has promised to your Prophet.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 532v https://www.searchtruth.com/book_display.php?book=93&translator=1&start=0&number=532)

These hadiths prove that Gabriel and Muhammad are included within the being or entity that the plural pronouns in the Quran refer to since they are performing the very actions that the subjects of these pronouns are said to carry out.

Further corroboration of this point comes from the way the Muslim expositors and ahadith interpret the following Quranic texts:

And she who guarded her virginity, so WE breathed into her of OUR spirit and appointed her and her son to be a sign unto all beings. S. 21:91 Arberry

And Mary, Imran’s daughter, who guarded her virginity, so WE breathed into her of OUR Spirit, and she confirmed the Words of her Lord and His Books, and became one of the obedient. S. 66:12 Artery

It is obvious from the foregoing passages that Allah is supposed to have been the one breathing his spirit into Mary’s body in order to cause her to supernaturally conceive her glorious and blessed Son. And yet according to the Islamic sources, the one who did the actual breathing was none other than the angel Gabriel:

And ˹remember˺ the one who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her through Our angel, ˹Gabriel,˺ 1  making her and her son a sign for all peoples. S. 21:91 (Mustafa Khattab, Clear Quran Translation http://www.alim.org/library/quran/surah/english/21/MKT#91; bold and italicized emphasis mine)

29442 Gabriel breathed into the sleeves of Mary’s garment so she conceived Jesus. (Ibid. http://www.alim.org/library/quran/surah/english/21/MKT#ayanote-1; bold emphasis ours)

˹There is˺ also ˹the example of˺ Mary, the daughter of ’Imrân, who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her ˹womb˺ through Our angel ˹Gabriel˺. 1  She testified to the words of her Lord and His Scriptures, and was one of the ˹sincerely˺ devout. S. 66:12 (Ibid. http://www.alim.org/library/quran/surah/english/66/MKT#12; bold and italicized emphasis mine)

29989 Gabriel breathed into the sleeves of Mary’s garment so she conceived Jesus. (Ibid. http://www.alim.org/library/quran/surah/english/66/MKT#ayanote-1)

And mention Mary the one who guarded her virginity the one who preserved it from being taken so We breathed into her of Our spirit namely Gabriel when he breathed into the opening of her garment and she conceived Jesus. And We made her and her son a sign for all the worlds that is for mankind jinn and angels because she bore him without having a male partner. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn https://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=74&tSoraNo=21&tAyahNo=91&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2; bold emphasis mine)

And Mary wa-Maryama is a supplement to imra’ata Fir‘awna daughter of ‘Imrān who preserved the chastity of her womb so We breathed into it of Our Spirit namely Gabriel — when he breathed into the opening of her shirt by God’s creation of this action of his which reached her womb thus conceiving Jesus — and she confirmed the words of her Lord His prescriptions and His revealed Scriptures and she was of the obedient one of the obedient folk. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn https://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=74&tSoraNo=66&tAyahNo=12&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2; bold emphasis mine)

(And) and mention (she who was chaste, therefore We breathed into her (something) of Our Spirit) therefore, by Our command, Gabriel breathed into her (and made her and her son a token) a sign and admonition (for (all) peoples) for the children of Israel: a son without a father; and a birth without physical contact. (Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs https://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=73&tSoraNo=21&tAyahNo=91&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2; bold emphasis mine)

(And Mary, daughter of Imran, whose body was chaste, therefore We breathed therein something of Our Spirit) and so Gabriel breathed inside her garment and she became pregnant with Jesus. (And she put faith in the words of her Lord) she believed in what Gabriel told her that he was the Messenger of Allah entrusted with giving her a holy son (and His Scriptures) and she also believed in His Scriptures: the Torah, the Gospel and all other Scriptures; it is also said this means: she believed in the words of her Lord that Jesus the son of Mary will come into being by Allah saying “Be!” and he became a human being, and she also believed in His Scripture: the Gospel, (and was of the obedient) in times of hardship and comfort; and it is also said that this means: and she was obedient to He Who is far transcendent and majestic’.(Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs https://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=73&tSoraNo=66&tAyahNo=12&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2; bold emphasis mine)

(And We breathed into it (private part) through Our Ruh,) meaning, through the angel Jibril. Allah sent the angel Jibril to Maryam, and he came to her in the shape of a man in every respect. Allah commanded him to blow into a gap of her garment and that breath went into her womb through her private part; this is how `Isa was conceived. This is why Allah said here…

(And We breathed into it through Our Ruh, and she testified to the truth of her Lords Kalimat, and His Kutub,) meaning His decree and His legislation. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir http://www.alim.org/library/quran/AlQuran-tafsir/TIK/66/11; bold emphasis mine)

(Al-Masih `Isa, son of Maryam, was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, which He bestowed on Maryam and a spirit from (created by) Him;) `Isa is only one of Allah’s servants and one of His creatures. Allah said to him, `Be’, and he was, and He sent him as a Messenger. `Isa was a word from Allah that He bestowed on Maryam, meaning He created him with the word `Be’ that He sent with Jibril to Maryam. Jibril blew the life of `Isa into Maryam by Allah’s leave, and `Isa came to existence as a result. This incident was in place of the normal conception between man and woman that results in children. This is why `Isa was a word and a Ruh (spirit) created by Allah, as he had no father to conceive him. Rather, he came to existence through the word that Allah uttered, `Be,’ and he was, through the life that Allah sent with Jibril… (Ibid., Q. 4:171 http://www.alim.org/library/quran/AlQuran-tafsir/TIK/4/171; bold emphasis ours)

“… Tabarsi, however, said… ‘Gabriel also appeared to Mary when she conceived Jesus, he announced him to her AND BREATHED THE SPIRIT OF GOD INTO HER‘ (Tabarsi, I, p. 349).” (Mahmoud M. Ayoub, The Qur’an and its Interpreters [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany, NY 1984], Volume One, pp. 124-125; bold and capital emphasis ours)

What this shows is that the reason why plural pronouns are being employed in these specific verses is that Gabriel happens to be one of the divine speakers. It also confirms that Gabriel is a co-creator and life-giver with Allah since he is the one who caused Mary’s miraculous conception.

It seems that Gabriel isn’t the only angel who has the power to create and bestow life. According to the following narrations, Allah sends an unnamed angel to blow/breathe the soul/spirit into every human being that is conceived, obviously for the express purpose of animating their physical bodies:

‘Abd Allah b. Mas’ud said:

The Messenger of Allah who spoke the truth and whose word was belief told us the following : The constituents of one of you are collected for forty days in his mother’s womb, then they become a piece of congealed blood for a similar period, then they become a lump of flesh for a similar period. Then Allah sends to him AN ANGEL with four words who records his provision the period of his life, his deeds, and whether he will be miserable or blessed; thereafter HE BREATHES the spirit into him. One of you will do the deeds of those who go to Paradise so that there will be only a cubit between him and it or will be within a cubit, then what is decreed will overcome him so that he will do the deeds of those who go to Hell and will enter it; and one of you will do the deeds of those who go to hell, so that there will be only a cubit between him and it or will be within a cubit, then what is decreed will overcome him, so that he will do the deeds of those who go to Paradise and will enter it.

Grade: SAHIH (Al-Albani)

Reference: Sunan Abi Dawud 4708

In-book reference: Book 42, Hadith 113

English translation: Book 41, Hadith 4691 (Sunnah.com https://sunnah.com/abudawud/42/113; capital and underline emphasis mine)

Jami` at-Tirmidhi

Chapters On Al-Qadar

‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud said:

The Messenger of Allah narrated to us – and he is the truthful and entrusted one: ‘Indeed the creation of one of you is gathered inside his mother in forty days. Then, for a similar period, he is a clot. Then, for a similar period, he is a piece of flesh. Then Allah sends THE ANGEL to him TO BLOW the soul into him, and he is ordered to write four (things): To write his provision, his life-span, his works, and whether he will be wretched or happy. By the One besides Whom there is none other worthy of worship! One of you will do deeds of the people of Paradise, until there is between him and it but a forearm span, then he is overcome by what is written for him, and he is sealed off with the deeds of the people of the Fire, so that he enters it. And indeed one of you will do deeds of the people of the Fire, until there is between him and it but a forearm span, then he is overcome by what is written for him, and he is sealed off with the deeds of the people of Paradise, so that he enters it.’”

Grade: SAHIH (Darussalam)

English reference: Vol. 4, Book 6, Hadith 2137

Arabic reference: Book 32, Hadith 2284 (Sunnah.com https://sunnah.com/urn/674400; capital and underline emphasis mine)

Interestingly, not only are angels capable of creating and giving life, they also have the ability to cause death,

Verily, those whom the angels cause to die while they are wronging their own souls, the angels will say to them: ‘What were you after?’ They will say: ‘We were treated as weak in the land.’ The angels will say, ‘Was not ALLAH’s earth spacious enough so that you could have emigrated therein?’ It is these whose abode shall be Hell, and an evil destination it is; S. 4:97 Sher Ali

Those whom the angels CAUSE TO DIE while they are unjust to themselves. Then would they offer submission: We used not to do any evil. Aye! surely Allah knows what you did… Those whom the angels CAUSE TO DIE in a good state, saying: Peace be on you: enter the garden for what you did. S. 16:28, 32 Shakir

Say, `The angel of death that has been put in charge of you will cause you to die; then to your Lord will you be brought back.’ S. 32:11 Sher Ali

In the same way that Allah does:

How disbelieve ye in Allah when ye were dead and He gave life to you! Then He will give you death, then life again, and then unto Him ye will return. S. 2:28 Pickthall

It is Allah Who takes away the souls at the time of their death, and those that die not during their sleep. He keeps those (souls) for which He has ordained death and sends the rest for a term appointed. Verily, in this are signs for a people who think deeply. S. 39:42 Hilali-Khan

The above helps us better appreciate the following text:

And verily, it is WE Who give life, and WE Who cause death; And it is WE Who are the sole Inheritors of ALL. S. 15:23 Sher Ali

Since the Quran and Islamic corpus testify that both Allah and his angels give life and cause death, this explains the reason for the employment plural pronouns. I.e., the plural pronouns refer to Allah and his angels collectively, thereby affirming that these angelic beings are also divine since they speak and do the very things, which only God can do.

The foregoing data provide conclusive evidence that the reason why Allah speaks in the plural is not that he is referring to himself in a majestic way, e.g. plural of majesty, or royal plural. Rather, it is due to the fact that both the angels, such as Gabriel and Muhammad himself, are included within the divine identity of the Islamic deity since they perform the very acts and possess the same abilities, which the Quran ascribes to exclusive Allah. This, in turn, proves that Allah is not alone, but has taken the angels such as Gabriel and Muhammad to be his partners in divinity and majesty.

Related articles

Muhammad

Allah