What Is Magic And How Does Islam View It?  /     Evil Eye  /     Good Omen

Extract From Ayt Makarim Shirazi' s book 180 Questions Part 2

Æ         There are numerous opinions in connection with ‘what is magic’ and ‘when did it come into existence’?  Nevertheless, this much can be said that magic had been prevalent amongst the people from ancient times, but the exact date for it is unknown; in addition, it is also not known as to who was the first person to have brought it into existence.

However, with respect to its meaning and essence, it can be said that magic is a kind of supernatural act, which has an impact on men; at times it is a kind of jugglery and sleight of hand, while on other occasions it is just psychological and imaginary.

According to the lexicon, magic has two meanings:

1.       Deception, guile, sleight of hand and legerdemain; and according to the book Qaamus al-Lughah, magic means ‘to deceive’.

2.       کُلُّ ماَ لَطُفَ وَ دَقَّ (All such thing, the causes of which invisible and mysterious)

In Raaghib’s book Mufradaat, which is devoted to the words appearing in the Qur'an, three meanings have been mentioned for it:

1.       Deception and imaginations, which are devoid of reality and actuality - like sleight of hand and legerdemain.

2.       Attracting the Satans by special means and seeking assistance from them.

3.       There is another meaning that some have been given to imagine and that is:  It is possible to transform the essence and form of people or entities by certain means; for example, transforming man, by means of it, into an animal.  However, this kind is nothing more than mere fancy and imagination, and without an iota of reality.[1]

Studying the 51 instances of the usage of the word سحر (magic) and its derivatives in the chapters of the holy Qur'an, such as Taha, Shua’ra, Yunus, Aa’raaf, etc., in connection with the stories of the Prophets Musa (peace be upon him), E'sa (peace be upon him) and the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny), we conclude that magic, according to the Qur'an, can be classified into two categories:

1.       Those instances wherein the objective is deception, jugglery, sleight of hand and legerdemain and possesses no reality, as we read: 

فَاِذاَ حِباَلُهُم وَ عِصِيُّهُم يُخَيَّلُ اِلَيهِ مِن سِحرِهِم اَنّهاَ تَسعَی

(then lo! their cords and their rods-- it was imaged to him on account of their magic as if they were running.)[2]

Another verse says:

فَلَمَّا اَلْقَوا سَحَرُوا اَعيُنَ النَّاسِ وَ اسْتَرْهَبُوهُم

(So when they cast, they deceived the people's eyes and frightened them, and they produced a mighty enchantment.)[3]

From these verses it can be ascertained that magic does not possess any such reality such that it could exert control over things, and leave an impact and influence upon them.  Rather, it is jugglery and sleight of hand of the magicians that gives the impression of magic.

 

2.       From some of the verses of the Qur'an it can be inferred that certain kinds of magic do yield an influence, such as this verse, which says:

فَيَتَعَلَّمُونَ مِنهُماَ ماَ يُفَرِّقُونَ بِهِ بَينَ الْمَرءِ وَ زَوجِهِ

(Even then men learned from these two, magic by which they might cause a separation between a man and his wife)[4]

 

Another verse of the Qur’an says that they learned things that were detrimental to them and not at all beneficial.

وَ يَتَعَلَّمُونَ ماَ يَضُرُّهُم وَ لاَ يَنفَعُهُم

(And they learned what harmed them and did not profit them)[5]

 

But, are the effects of magic purely psychological or can it affect physically and externally too?  The above verses possess no allusion to this, and hence some are of the opinion that the effects of magic are purely psychological in nature.

At this juncture it is essential to mention another point:  It appears that a considerable portion of the magic were enacted by making use of certain physical and chemical properties, and performed with the intention of defrauding simple-minded people. 

For example, we read in history that the magicians of the time of Musa (peace be upon him) used to place some special chemical substances within their cords and staffs (possibly mercury or some like substance) which, as a result of sunshine or under the influence of a heating apparatus that they had devised under them, would come out in motion and the spectators would be given to imagine that they had come to life.  Such kinds of sorcery, even in our times, are not rare.

magic, in the eyes of islam

In this regard, all the Islamic jurists have declared the learning and practicing of magic to be unlawful and prohibited.

In this regard, we present some traditions that have been narrated from the Imams (peace be upon them) and which have been reported in authentic books.

Imam A'li (peace be upon him) says:

مَن تَعَلَّمَ شَيئاً مِنَ السِّحرِ قَليلاً اَو کَثِيراً فَقَد کَفَرَ وَ کاَنَ آخِرُ عَهدِهِ بِرَبِّهِ

(One who learns magic, less or more, has become an infidel and his association with God is completely severed.)[6]

However, as we have mentioned, if it is for the purpose of nullifying the sorcery of the sorcerers, then there is no harm in it.  Rather, at times, on the basis of general obligation (wajib kifaai) some individuals must necessarily learn it so that they can nullify the sorcery of a false claimant (to Prophethood), should he desire to mislead the people by means of sorcery, and thus lay bare his lies and false claims.  And testifying to this is a tradition of Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him), which states that one of the magicians, who used to take money for performing his magic, approached the Imam (peace be upon him) and said:  Sorcery had been my profession; I would take money for it and in this manner managed to meet the expenses of my life.  I even performed the Hajj by means of this income, however now I have abandoned it and have repented.  Is there a way for me to achieve deliverance?  The Imam (peace be upon him) replied:  Open the knots of magic but do not tie the knots of sorcery.[7]

From this tradition it can be inferred that it is permissible to learn and practice magic if it is for the purpose of nullifying the (evil) effects of magic.[8]


[1] Mufradaat, of Raaghib (سحر).

[2] Holy Qur'an, ch. Taha (20), vs. 66.

[3] Ibid, ch. Al-Aa’raaf (7), vs. 116.

[4] Ibid, ch. Al-Baqarah (2), vs. 102.

[5] Holy Qur'an, ch. Al-Baqarah (2), vs. 102.

[6] Wasaail al-Shia’h, ch. 25 from the chapters of Maa Yuktasabu bihi, tr.  7.

[7] Wasaail al-Shia’h, ch. 25 from the chapters of Maa Yuktasabu bihi, tr. 1.

[8] Tafseer-e-Namunah, vol. 1, pg. 377.

20 -      Does ‘Injury By An Evil Eye’ Possess Any Reality?

In verse 51 of the chapter Al-Qalam, we read:

وَ إِنْ يَكادُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَيُزْلِقُونَكَ بِأَبْصارِهِمْ لَمَّا سَمِعُوا الذِّكْرَ

(And those who disbelieve would almost smite you with their eyes when they hear the reminder)

In view of the above verse the question that arises is: Does injury by means of an evil possess any reality?

Many of the people are of the belief that some of the eyes possess a peculiar influence such that if they happen to look at something in wonder, they destroy it or break it, and if they happen to look at a person, they make him sick or (even) insane.

According to intellect, this is not something which is impossible.  Many of today’s scientists believe that concealed in some of the eyes lies a special magnetic force which has great advantages and utility, such that it can even be nurtured and developed by means of training and exercise; the magnetic sleep is induced by means of this very magnetic force of the eyes.

In a world wherein X-rays are able to perform tasks, the like of which even the most destructive of weapons are unable to perform, acknowledging the presence of a force, in some of the eyes, that is capable of influencing someone by means of some special waves should not appear to be greatly fantastic and strange.

It has been numerously reported that people have personally witnessed individuals, possessing this mysterious power of the eyes, to have incapacitated humans, animals and things by injuring them by means of ‘evil eye’. 

Thus, not only should one not insist on rejecting such issues but instead acknowledge the possibility of their occurrence - scientifically and intellectually.

In the Islamic traditions too, various expressions meet the eye which, sort of, corroborate the existence of such an issue.

In a tradition we read that Asmaa Bint U’mays once said to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny):  At times, some people inflict injury to the children of Ja’far by means of ‘evil eyes’.  Should I procure a charm for them?  (Charm means prayers, which people keep in their possessions to protect themselves from ‘evil eyes’; this is also referred to as ta’weedh). 

The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) replied:

لو كان شي‏ء يسبق القدر لسبقه العين‏

(Yes (there is no harm in it).  Had there been something that could have superseded divine fate and destiny, it would have been ‘evil eye’!)[1]

In another tradition it has been reported that Amirul Mu'mineen (peace be upon him) said:  The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) secured a charm for Imam Hasan and Imam Husain (peace be upon them) and recited the following supplication:

أُعِيذُكُمَا بِكَلِمَاتِ اللَّهِ التَّامَّاتِ وَ أَسْمَائِهِ الْحُسْنَى كُلِّهَا عَامَّةً مِنْ شَرِّ السَّامَّةِ وَ الْهَامَّةِ وَ مِنْ شَرِّ كُلِّ عَيْنٍ لَامَّةٍ وَ مِنْ شَرِّ حَاسِدٍ إِذَا حَسَدَ

(I place you in the refuge of all of the Perfect Words and the Best Names of God from death, harmful animals, evil eye and from the evil of the envious when he envies.)

Then turning to us, he (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) said:  “Likewise Prophet Ibrahim did the charm for Ismai’l and Ishaaq.”[2]

In Nahjul Balaghah we read:

الْعَيْنُ حَقٌّ وَ الرُّقَى حَقٌ‏

(Injury by the evil eye is true and resorting to prayers to ward away its evils is true too.) [3], [4]

21 -      Does ‘Good Omen’ And ‘Evil Omen’ Possess Any Reality?

Perhaps, the concept of good and evil omens has always prevailed amongst men and nations, all through the ages; they interpreted certain things as auguring good for themselves and considered them to be an indication for their victory and progress, and interpreted some others as portending evil for themselves, looking upon them as a sign for their defeat, failure and lack of success.  This, when there existed no logical relation whatsoever between these things and victory and defeat; this is especially so in the case of ‘evil omen’, which was and is preponderantly irrational and superstitious in essence.

Although these two do not possess any natural effect and influence, nevertheless they can undoubtedly possess a psychological bearing.  Predominantly, a good omen induces hope and activity while an evil omen results in despondency, hopelessness, slackness and weakness.

It is probably for this reason that whereas auguring good has not been prohibited in the Islamic sources, auguring evil has been intensely criticised. A well-known tradition of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) states:

تفألوا بالخير تجدوه

(Regard things as being good omens (and be hopeful) in order that you achieve it).

 

The positive aspect of this issue is also observed in the life of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) and the Imams (peace be upon them) that, at times, they interpreted events as possessing a good omen.  For example, during the encounter of the Muslims with the disbelievers of Mecca in Hudaibiyyah, we read that when Suhail Ibn A'mr, in his capacity as the representative of the disbelievers of Mecca, desired to meet the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) and he (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) was informed of his name, he (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) said (to his companions):

قد سهل عليكم امركم

((I interpret the name Suhail to be a good omen and that) this meeting shall go easy upon you)[5]

A celebrated scholar and writer of the 8th century A.H. alludes to this point in one of his works when he says: “The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) approved of a good augury because whenever man is hopeful of God’s favours, he ventures on the path of good whereas when he severs his hope from God, he shall venture out on the path of evil.  Presaging evil results in misgivings and causes one to await misfortunes and endure misery.[6]

As far as the evil omen, which the Arabs refer to as ‘tatayyur’ and ‘tiyarah’, is concerned, the Islamic traditions strongly criticize it; the Qur'an too has repeatedly alluded to it and censured it.[7]  In a tradition we read that the Holy said:

الطيرة شرک

(Auguring evil (and considering the evil omen to have an influence upon the life of man) is a kind of polytheism (shirk).)[8]

 

We also read that the only influence that an evil omen possesses is the psychological one.  Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him) has said:  An evil omen affects only in the measure you consider it to possess.  If you take it lightly, its influence would be trivial, but if you regard it seriously, it would affect you immensely and if you totally disregard it, it would have no effect.[9]

It has been reported in traditions from the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) that the way to combat evil auguries is to disregard them.  It has been narrated that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) said:  There are three things from which none can remain safe (and its whisperings are found within the hearts of most men): auguring evil, envy and mistrust. 

He (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) was asked:  What then should we do? 

He replied:  When you augur evil, ignore it and go your way; when envy manifests itself in your heart, refrain from doing anything in accordance with it, in practice; and when you experience mistrust, disregard it.

Strangely, the issue of good and evil omen had existed and still exists in industrially developed countries and amidst intellectuals and even amongst celebrated geniuses.  Passing beneath a ladder, falling of a saltcellar and gifting someone a knife are gravely looked upon as evil omens by those, living in the West.

Of course, the existence of good omens, just as we had mentioned previously, is not an important issue – it mainly possesses a positive impact and influence.  However, the factors of evil auguries must be opposed, fought and expelled from the minds, and the best way for this is by strengthening the spirit of tawakkul (relying on God) and trust in God within the hearts, as has been alluded to in the Islamic traditions, too. [10]


[1] Majma’ Al-Bayaan, vol. 10, pg. 341.

[2] Nur Al-Thaqalain, vol. 5, pg. 400.

[3] Nahjul Balaghah, short sayings 400. 

This tradition has also been narrated as:  العين حق in Sahih Bukhari, vol. 7, pg. 171 in the chapter العين حق. 

In the book Al-Mu’jam al-Mufahhras Li-Alfaadh Al-Hadith Al-Nabawi, (vol. 4, pg. 451) this same meaning has been reported from various sources.

[4] Tafseer-e-Namunah, vol. 24, pg. 426.

[5] Al-Mizaan, vol. 19, pg. 86.

[6] Safinah al-Bihaar, vol. 2, pg. 102.

[7] Like verse 19 of chapter Yaseen, verse 47 of chapter Al-Naml and verse 131 of chapter Al-Aa’raaf.

[8], Al-Mizaan, while interpreting the verse presently under discussion.

[9] Ibid

[10] Tafseer-e-Namunah, vol. 6, pg. 317.