Summary of 4.3 "Divination, Astrology, & Magic"
We started by explaining the various meanings of magic. We said that could mean simply enchantment or attraction and it could also mean playing a little trick just like bringing a rabbit out of a hat which is ok if used for entertainment. We talked about another type of tricks which is used to strike terror into people’s hearts or used to exploit them. We gave examples about the magicians during the time of Prophet Moses (PBUH) and how they tried to deceive people. Of course Moses was not a magician; we should make it clear that when he threw his staff it became a real snake that ate all the trivial magical deeds that the magicians were using. This was how he proved his prophethood.
We also talked about another meaning of magic and that is sorcery or the use of magic, witchcraft wizardry used for a sinister or bad purpose and to hurt people. We indicated that Islam is very clear on the question of magic and that Islam the use of magic, learning of magic or resorting to a magician to help in solving any problems. Actually we indicated that whenever a Muslim person is faced with a problem they should depend upon God and realize that the final authority lies in His hands. A Muslim should use their God given minds, the help and advice of others to solve their problems and after all they have to constantly petition God and pray to Him for guidance.
Then we touched on the question of divination and people who claim to tell the future, fortune tellers. We said that Islam forbade this and again the knowledge of the unseen belongs only to God with the exception of what He reveals to some people, prophets and messengers. We also indicated that this basic principal applies to all other forms of telling the future whether it is palm reading, astrology or horoscope. All of these things are at times exploitation of people. We indicated that whenever the Quran mentions anything about the starts it doesn’t talk about in terms of fortune telling but as beautification in the sky as light and guidance.
4.4 Dreams, Omens, Envy and Charms
Host: Are there specific areas of the unseen or things about the future which Islam emphasizes that particularly belong to Allah?
There are five areas that are actually summarized in one verse in the Quran and also repeated in one of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This appears in (31:34) “Verily the knowledge of the Hour is with Allah (alone). It is He Who sends down rain, and He Who knows what is in the wombs. Nor does any one know what it is that he will earn on the morrow: Nor does any one know in what land he is to die. Verily with Allah is full knowledge and He is acquainted (with all things).” There are five basic areas that are emphasized in this passage of the Quran.
First, the knowledge of the hour or The Day of Judgment, knowledge of the rain fall, what is in the wombs of mothers, what a person is going to earn in the future and where and how a person is going to die.
Host: Some people might argue that some of these things like rain fall can be predicted by a forecast and other things that you mentioned might be predicted by scientific means. What would be your response to this?
I think that in raising this argument they seem to be mixing between two things. They are mixing between the absolute and complete knowledge of God that is with complete certitude without any doubt as to its exactitude and the human effort to try and predict and forecast something that may happen on the basis of some partial evidence that is available.
Let’s take each of these five areas briefly. First of all I don’t think that people who raise these questions raise it about the hour that is The Day of Judgment. There may be signs of the approach of The Day of Judgment or great havoc in the universe but nobody can say for sure when it will happen.
The second issue is the question of rain fall. When the weather person makes any forecast about rainfall it is based on certain information and study of the patterns of wind speed and direction and of clouds. This is facilitated by information that could be obtained by satellites. So we are not really getting information of hidden things but from things that God has already created in the universe. Things that have already started by way of wind movement according to certain laws that God created in nature. In that sense it is not encroachment on the domain of God to make these kinds of forecasts because God according to the Quran encourages us to try and learn what is in the universe and to harness them for human benefit.
Take the third issue of the knowledge of what is in the wombs of mothers. Some people would say that refers to the sex of the fetus. We can use medical means now like taking some of the fluid from the uterus and analyze it and they come up with a prediction of the sex of the fetus. What is forgotten here is the verse that I sighted as it did not say the sex of the fetus it says only God what is in the wombs. What is in the womb is not necessarily if the person is going to be male or female but rather what kind of person it is, their character, how long he or she will live, what kind of destiny the person would have after death. This is a very embracive knowledge that only God would know for sure and in full details.
The fourth area that says that no person knows what he or she is going to earn tomorrow. It doesn’t mean the salary because for example I work on a fixed salary so I know how much I am going to make tomorrow. Earn here is used for deeds. Again nobody knows for sure because nobody knows if they are going to be alive tomorrow.
Finally in which land a person is going to die. I think all of us can attest to the fact that medical doctors can sometimes predict that this person might die within so many days or months. But the exact moment and date is something that is reserved with the knowledge of God.
In other wards the main issue here is the distinction between the full and certain knowledge of God and between God permitting us to forecast certain natural phenomena. The Quran takes a very open attitude towards the understanding of the universe and the various laws. To the Muslim these laws are created by God and we have to understand them and harness them for our benefit.
Host: Lets tern to the aspect of knowledge of the future related to dreams. Sometimes people have dreams which eventually come true. Does this kind of situation contradict the Islamic understanding of the unseen?
Not necessarily, to remind you of one verse we quoted from the Quran in the last program that the knowledge of the unseen is reserved to God except as He permits. So there is a possibility of God allowing some of this information or giving them to prophets or even to people through dreams. In fact I have a reference to this particular point in one of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which is narrated in Sahih Muslim one of the authentic collections of prophetic sayings in which the Prophet (PBUH) divides dreams into three types. He says there are good dreams and they come from God, there are bad dreams that come from Satan and there are dreams that are basically ones own thoughts or something that emanates from ones own mind or thoughts or worries.
Now as far as the first category, dreams that come from God, it could be a kind of warning of something wrong that one might be tempted to do or it could be foretelling something that is going to happen to very soon. This is coming from God and could be like a gift and is one aspect of prophesy. In fact in one saying of Prophet Muhammad he says that if a person is gifted with dreams that come true then it constitutes one part of forty five portions of prophecy. It is like two percent or so of prophecy but one is not a prophet. So there is nothing wrong with this.
The second type of dream which the prophet calls dreams from Satan with evil suggestions or scary things like nightmares. Again he explains a variety of ways to deal with it when one wakes up scared or with a bad dream. One is not to tell people about it and should invoke the name of God by saying ‘I seek refuge in the name of God most beneficent most merciful.’ He also recommended that one changes the side one is sleeping on. If one is sleeping on their right side they should turn to their left side. An even better way is to raise up make ablution and perform prayers and then go back to bed and this would drive away the evil spirits or evil suggestions and one can sleep again securely.
The third type of dreams is something that perhaps many psychiatrists will be interested in as it is a reflection of some of ones thoughts, prier experiences, knowledge, worries, desires or whatever the case may be. This could be neutral and may not necessarily cause any particular harm as it reflects ones own thought. A dream in the case of a prophet or what he sees in his dream becomes compulsory and is regarded as a direct command from God just as when God sends the revelation to instruct him to do certain things. We find evidence in the Quran about this in the story of Prophet Abraham (PBUH) when he was commanded by God in his dream to sacrifice his only son Ishmael. This story is found in (37:100-113). This again is something that applies exclusively to a prophet or messenger.
Host: Does the Quran have anything to say about bad luck or bad omens?
There is a term which is used in the Quran which approximates the meaning of bad omen it is called in Arabic tatiyor.. Tatiyor is believing that somebody brings bad luck. We find that this is quite common in a variety of cultures one example would be people having certain hang up with the number 13. I even heard that when people build high rises they have floor number 12 then floor number 14 because the number 13 is a no no. Some people feel bad luck if a black cat passes in front of them or if they pass next to a ladder (which might be understandable because the ladder might fall on them). Some people might have bad omen from certain objects or people they see or from animals they encounter. The Quran indicates that in the past many people have fallen prey to these kinds of superstition and this is not acceptable to the Muslim.
Indeed the Quran mentions by way of ridiculing some of the unbelievers who used to accuse the prophets in the past of bringing bad luck. This accusation for example appears in the Quran (36:18) and it is denied that Prophets do not bring bad luck. In the case of Prophet Saleh in (27:47) it talks about accusations made against him. Even in the case of one of the great prophets Prophet Moses (PBUH) we find that his people, the Egyptians at that time, felt that Prophet Moses and his followers brought bad luck to them. This would be interesting to quote as it talks about the Egyptians in (7:131) “But when good (times) came, they said, "This is due to us;" When gripped by calamity, they ascribed it to evil omens connected with Moses and those with him! Behold! in truth the omens of evil are theirs in Allah’s sight, but most of them do not understand!” In other words Islam came to change the whole notion of bad omens and that it is not necessarily a person or event that bring bad luck but what truly brings bad luck are the evil deeds.
There are some sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) where he used that term and he changes the usage from believing in it as a superstition into objective and rational evil. For example when one says a bad omen is connected with a home it could just be a bad neighborhood or an omen involved in an animal that one uses like a horse could be because it is a troublesome animal. In this case the whole meaning is changed from superstitious and supernatural belief to actual reasons why things are the way they are. It is not unusual that because of some peoples involvement in the belief in bad omens that they tend to become self fulfilling prophecies. For example some one who is leaving their home and sees a black cat or crow pass in front of them will cause them to keep thinking about it with all the anxiety that it arouses might cause them to get in an accident on the way. Then they blame it on the crow- what does the crow have to do with it? This is a self fulfilling type of prophecy. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) says in one of his sayings ‘it is not of us (it is not a Muslim) he who believes in bad omens or goes to someone else who tells about these omens, a person who practices divination or foretelling of the future or goes to someone who practices divination, a person who practices sorcery or even resorts to someone who practices sorcery.” All of these types of situations are included in this saying.
Host: What is the Muslim position on the belief in charms and other things that protect from evil or bring good fortune?
It is very surprising that even among cultures where there is a very high degree of education and rationality that many of these things are persist. In some places they hang horns, hand, eye or something of that sort. The basic rule in terms of these things is, and it relates to one basic principle that we discussed in the last program, that this kind of belief reflects the belief in another power beside the power of God as a rival power. As such it is just as rejected in Islam as bad omens.
Indeed there are two sayings of Prophet Muhammad that we will refer to. One is narrated in Ahmad in which he says “that if a person has a necklace or hangs something believing that this protects him, then he is associating other deities with God.” In another saying in the collection of Tirmithy he says that “a person who hangs something believing in its protection, God will leave him so the object may protect him.” This means of course that that thing has no power to protect the individuals. So in this sense a true Muslim would not believe in it. It is unfortunate that we find some Muslims who still hang these things out of imitation to others. Even in the case of illness for example Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) taught and I quote him again in a saying narrated in Ahmad. “Seek remedy for your disease because he who created disease also created the cure.” So one should not have superstitious thoughts about either good or bad omens as one has to apply rational means and seek remedy. Of course this does not contradict what is beyond rational as the attitude of praying to God, invocation of His name and the belief that God can cure one without the agency of medicine. What Islam provides is that one has got to try first and do their best and then leave the rest to God. One should always feel that it is ultimately His authority.
One of the interesting practices of the Prophet (PBUH) was that when he visited someone who is sick he used to do ruqya or make prayer for his cure. He puts his hand on the persons forehead and says “relieve the suffering oh Lord of mankind, cure you are the Curer, there is no cure but yours, cure which leaves no trace of illness.” This however doesn’t say don’t take medicine in addition to seeking the proper cure. This is where one finds that the attitude of Islam is to combine between rational ways of looking for solutions to ones problems while always believing that everything is contingent on the power and will of God.
Host: Can we discuss the bad eye, envy, voodoo or spells and how they can or can’t cause harm to a person?
This reminds me of a story a friend was tell me the other day that there were two people who were believed to have a bad eye. Whenever they looked at someone or something, something bad happens to it. And he said that they started competing and one looked at a mountain and the mountain evaporated so the other person looked at him and said my goodness what kind of an eye have got. So the other person became blind.
The question of envy has been mentioned in the Quran in more than one place but perhaps more specifically in (113:5) in which a believer is told to seek the protection of God from the evil of an envious person when he or she envies. Now what exactly is the bad eye or spell? One possibility would be the fact that an envious person, which is by definition someone who does not wish that any blessings happen to another, is driven by extreme jealousy to try and partake in extreme actions that may harm another. This is one possible meaning. On the other hand we should not try to approach the subject in a way that is overly rational and forget the fact that in human history and the experience of many people there have been many cases where this envious eye did actually result, not cause, in some harm. Not necessarily mountains dissipating but there maybe something of that sort. How do we explain it? We do not know. There is no text that I know of for sure in the Quran or Sunnah which gives a clear explanation as to how this happens. Is it a kind of thing that emanates from the person that is unseen that might cause this harm? We don’t know. I don’t want to make guesses on this issue. What the Quran says, however, that we should not be over anxious about the bad eye and the Prophet of Islam the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has taught us to recite three times each the last three chapters of the Quran. Two of them chapters 113 and 114 involve all kinds of invocation of the name of God for protection. They should be read by the person at the time when he or she goes to bed but after all the person should keep his trust in God and should not have undue anxiety.