Oyekola Nabeel-Ahmad, Student, Jamia Ahmadiyya International, Ghana
Recently, a British University, the University of Exeter, has started a postgraduate course in Magic and Occult Sciences. According to The Guardian, it said the aim of the university “is seeking to harness growing interest in the subjects with a course that will explore the history and impact of witchcraft and magic around the world on society and science.” (www.theguardian.com/education/2023/oct/04/exeter-university-masters-degree-magic-occult)
Leader of the course, Professor Emily Selove, said:
“A recent surge in interest in magic and the occult inside and outside academia lies at the heart of the most urgent questions of our society. Decolonisation, the exploration of alternative epistemologies, feminism, and anti-racism are at the core of this programme.” (Ibid.)
The concept of magic, charms, witchcraft, amulets, superstitions, and so on is not new to our societies. We can find traces of such beliefs deeply rooted in all nations; from the Americas to Europe, Asia to Australia to Africa; all pre-modern and modern cultures are replete with the concept of witchcraft, magic, or the occult.
So, what does Islam say about such concepts? Is there any reality in magic, witchcraft, etc.?
Islam’s stance on magic
The Holy Prophetsa of Islam, who was sent to the Arabs to reform them of their wrong practices and to establish the Unity of God on earth, dispelled them of this concept of magic, occult sciences and superstition.
Allah the Almighty declares this belief or practice to be of no benefit to humankind whatsoever. The Holy Quran says:
وَلَا يُفْلِحُ السَّاحِرُ حَيْثُ أَتَى
“And a magician shall not thrive, come where he may.” (Surah Ta Ha, Ch.20: V.70)
A question was posed to Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IVra, during his visit to Nigeria in 1988 regarding magic, witchcraft, etc. He answered:
“The Holy Quran does not permit witchcraft and, in fact, does not recognise it. In reality, the Holy Quran mentions a kind of witchcraft or, let us call it magic, in one particular instance, and explains the nature of magic there.
“Having understood this point, we have no right to misinterpret this notion because the Holy Quran has made it manifestly clear as to what magic is. I am referring to the incident of Moses when he was confronted by the ‘magic’ of Pharaoh and his magicians.
“Referring to the magicians, the Holy Quran states that what they did was not real – it was not that they converted the ropes into snakes, they applied magic to the eyes of the onlookers, to the eyes of the observers:
“‘They enchanted the eyes of the people.’ [Surah Al-A’raf, Ch.7: V.117]
“It was made to appear to them that the ropes had turned into snakes. This ‘magic’ has been analysed by the Holy Quran itself. It was, in fact, a kind of hypnotism that does not bring about a real change in the matter created by God.” (www.alislam.org/question-answer/islam-and-witchcraft/)
Those who practise or believe in magic hold this notion that they can target people as if they possess the power to cast evil or good upon anyone they wish. However, the Holy Quran strongly rejects this belief, as it states:
وَيَعْبُدُونَ مِن دُونِ اللّهِ مَا لاَ يَمْلِكُ لَهُمْ رِزْقًا مِّنَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ شَيْئًا وَلاَ يَسْتَطِيعُونَ
“And they worship beside Allah such as have no power to bestow on them any gift from the heavens or the earth, nor can they [ever] have such power.” (Surah an-Nahl, Ch.16: V.74)
Similarly, misfortunes are trials from Allah and should not be seen as a result of magic, witchcraft, etc. In one narration, the Holy Prophetsa warns against such beliefs, saying:
الطِّيَرَةُ شِرْكٌ، الطِّيَرَةُ شِرْكٌ، ثَلَاثًا، وَمَا مِنَّا إِلَّا وَلَكِنَّ اللَّهَ يُذْهِبُهُ بِالتَّوَكُّلِ
“Taking omens is shirk [polytheism]; taking omens is shirk; taking omens is shirk. Every one of us has some, but Allah removes it by trust [in Him].” (Sunan Abu Dawud, Kitab at-tibb, Hadith 3910)
Thus, it is also not right to consider days and dates to be ‘evil’, as some tend to do. The decree of good and evil is in the hands of Allah and likewise, the stars and rotation of the heavenly bodies are under the laws and direction of Almighty Allah. (Surah al-A‘raf, Ch.7: V.55)
Hence, one should keep supplicating to Allah and also continue to give charity for one to be safeguarded from the ill effects of one’s actions and calamities. It is reported in Sahih Muslim:
مَنْ أَتَى عَرَّافًا فَسَأَلَهُ عَنْ شَيْءٍ لَمْ تُقْبَلْ لَهُ صَلَاةٌ أَرْبَعِينَ لَيْلَةً
“He who goes to one who claims to tell about matters of the Unseen and believes in him, his prayer will not be accepted for forty days.” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab as-salam, Hadith 2230)
About the effect of an ‘evil eye’, a popular narration of the Holy Prophetsa is usually cited wherein he states:
“The effect of an evil eye is a fact.” (Sahih Bukhari, Kitab at-tibb, Hadith 5740)
Similarly, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maud, Khalifatul Masih IIra, once stated:
“There is surely impact in the casting of the eye of man and it is established in the ahadith. Its solution is prayer. It is also medically proven that there is power in the eye.” (Al Fazl, 13 May 1916, p. 8)
But what does this mean exactly? Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh explains:
“Some people believe in the concept of the casting of the evil eye. However, what I have observed is that concentration can indeed have an influence. This phenomenon is known as mesmerism.” (Meeting with Lajna, recorded on 7 November 1999, Al Fazl Daily, 1 July 2000, p. 4)
Huzoorrh went on to say that in reality, the correct interpretation of this is that it is a form of mesmerism, but the rest of the superstitions are futile. Claims that the evil eye has prevented someone from having a child are false.
Similarly, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa also explains:
“Being affected by an evil eye or the supplication of the oppressed has nothing to do with shirk because in both cases, the result is effectuated by God Almighty and not the one who casts an evil eye nor the oppressed person. The beholder of the evil eye merely expresses an unintentional desire and a sigh arises from the pain of the oppressed person which God accepts and sets it into action.” (Al Hakam, Issue 145, 25 December 2020, p. 11)
Amulets and charms
The use of amulets, charms, and other superstitious beliefs also has no basis in Islam. Explaining this, Hazrat Mir Muhammad Ishaqra states:
“The reality is that amulets, or charms, are not useful and helpful means; they are mere superstition. The sharia [Islamic law] does not prohibit using worldly means while also acknowledging that core trust and reliance should be placed in God Almighty above any other means. After trust has been placed in God, worldly means can be used but not amulets, bad omens or superstition.
“It is clear from the Holy Quran that the disbelievers are those who take bad omens:
اِنَّا تَطَیَّرْنَا بِکُمْ
“(They [disbelievers] said, ‘Surely we augur evil fortune from you…’)
“In this manner, Islam prohibits erroneous superstitions and useless worldly means. On the other hand, making use of the proper means to counteract illnesses has neither been prohibited by God Almighty, nor his Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. […]
“Using true and proper worldly means is not only allowed but is stressed upon by Allah the Almighty and his Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. In turn, they have prohibited erroneous and delusional superstitions and have labelled those who use such superstitions as disbelievers and irreligious. (Al Hakam, Issue 97, 24 January 2020, p. 9)
Once, a person requested the Promised Messiahas to pray for him. The Promised Messiahas replied, “Alright, I shall pray for you.” The person was a little perplexed and asked, “You have not answered my request.”
The Promised Messiahas replied, ‘I have already said that I shall pray for you.’ The person said, “Do you not give any amulets?” The Promised Messiahas said, “It is not my practice to give charms and amulets. My job is only to supplicate before Allah.” (Malfuzat [English], Vol. 10, pp. 253-254)
This indicates that come what may, our sole responsibility and duty is to pray to God the Almighty, to protect us from all types of evils.
In conclusion, only prayers and taking recourse to Allah have been enjoined in Islam. Charm, evil incantation, amulets, sorcery, magic, witchcraft, divination, geomancy and consulting with them are all polytheistic by-products. The Holy Quran is full of prayers, divine words and names and attributes of Allah that we can invoke to beseech Him on all affairs and at all times.