In a previous entry I made recently, I negated the common mythological belief among Muslims that Sihr (magic/witchcraft) is real. On the contrary, magic is imaginary and has no real effect, something exemplified best by the Qur’anic narrative of the Prophet Moses’s contest with the Pharaonic sorcerers.
However, those Muslims who have been deluded into believing, often with such shocking certitude, that magic is real, even go to the extent of saying that a sorcerer can, through the dark art of sorcery, cause a person to become ill and even murder people!
Those who argue this opposing view cite the following verse of the Holy Qur’an as substantiating their claim:
وَاتَّبَعُوا مَا تَتْلُو الشَّيَاطِينُ عَلَىٰ مُلْكِ سُلَيْمَانَ وَمَا كَفَرَ سُلَيْمَانُ وَلَـٰكِنَّ الشَّيَاطِينَ كَفَرُوا يُعَلِّمُونَ النَّاسَ السِّحْرَ وَمَا أُنزِلَ عَلَى الْمَلَكَيْنِ بِبَابِلَ هَارُوتَ وَمَارُوتَ وَمَا يُعَلِّمَانِ مِنْ أَحَدٍ حَتَّىٰ يَقُولَا إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ فِتْنَةٌ فَلَا تَكْفُرْ فَيَتَعَلَّمُونَ مِنْهُمَا مَا يُفَرِّقُونَ بِهِ بَيْنَ الْمَرْءِ وَزَوْجِهِ وَمَا هُم بِضَارِّينَ بِهِ مِنْ أَحَدٍ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِ اللَّـهِ وَيَتَعَلَّمُونَ مَا يَضُرُّهُمْ وَلَا يَنفَعُهُمْ وَلَقَدْ عَلِمُوا لَمَنِ اشْتَرَاهُ مَا لَهُ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنْ خَلَاقٍ وَلَبِئْسَ مَا شَرَوْا بِهِ أَنفُسَهُمْ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ
And they followed [instead] what the devils had recited during the reign of Solomon. It was not Solomon who disbelieved, but the devils disbelieved, teaching people magic and that which was revealed to the two angels at Babylon, Harut and Marut. But the two angels do not teach anyone unless they say, "We are a trial, so do not disbelieve [by practicing magic]." And [yet] they learn from them that by which they cause separation between a man and his wife. But they do not harm anyone through it except by permission of Allah. And the people learn what harms them and does not benefit them. But the Children of Israel certainly knew that whoever purchased the magic would not have in the Hereafter any share. And wretched is that for which they sold themselves, if they only knew. (Sura 2:102)
The essence of the argument that magic is real is based on this verse. This verse states that Magic is something that is learnt, that it is a type of ‘Ilm (knowledge/science), and something that is learnt or taught is real and not imaginary. Otherwise, how can someone learn something that is not real but only imaginary. Such a thing cannot be considered as knowledge or acquired through “learning” since it is imaginary, according to this argument.
Furthermore, this verse is proving [as per this argument] that the one learned in magic can cause separation between a man and his wife. Causing separation between husband and wife is something real and not imaginary.
The answer to this argument is that it is not necessary that something which is imaginary cannot be labeled as knowledge. Magic is a type of knowledge in a linguistic sense, because, as this verse makes clear, it is something that is learned. There are many things that people learn which have no basis or are imaginary. For example, people study and learn mythology, fiction, horoscopes and astrology. All of these are examples of knowledge, but knowledge of imaginary, useless things that have no benefit or reality. The Prophet (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) has made this point clear by stating:
مَنِ اقْتَبَسَ عِلْمًا مِنَ النُّجُومِ ، اقْتَبَسَ شُعْبَةً مِنَ السِّحْرِ زَادَ مَا زَادَ
“Whoever learns anything of astrology, he [learns] a branch of magic…” (Sunan Abi Dawud; Kitab al-Tibb; Bab Fil Nujum)
Astrology is known as ‘Ilm al-Nujum or the knowledge of stars. Despite the fact that astrology is imaginary and false, and that Muslims have been specifically commanded to reject astrology and disbelieve in it absolutely, it is nonetheless refered to as a type of knowledge, and interestingly enough, as one of the branches of Sihr (magic).
Therefore, magic, where, for example a person learns how to cause separation between a man and his wife, is comparable to learning from the books of astrology how to predict future events and horoscopes through the movement and position of the stars. Both are useless types of knowledge because neither will any magician be able to actually cause separation between a man and his wife, and neither will any astrologer be able to correctly predict future events through the knowledge of astrology, i.e., the movement or pattern of the stars.
Furthermore, I would like to draw the reader’s attention to the words of this Verse: “But they do not harm anyone through it except by permission of Allah. And the people learn what harms them and does not benefit them.”
Here it is clearly stated that the dark art of witchcraft is something that cannot be used to harm anyone, a strong proof for our side’s firm belief that magic is not real and cannot be used to harm anyone, such as causing death or sickness. However, there is an exception, “…except by the permission of Allah.” Now it is argued that magic can harm someone only if Allah permits it. Indeed, we do affirm that nothing can occur without the permission of Allah, and likewise, no person can kill or harm anyone, through any means, until and unless Allah permits.
But what needs to be examined more carefully is whether or not magic is one of the means which Allah has created through which a person can kill or harm another. For example, Allah has created weapons like swords, knives, daggers, guns, bullets, etc., as means by which a person can kill or harm another. Is the same true for magic, i.e., is it an actual means that Allah has created and permitted through which people can inflict harm upon each other? The answer is no.
In fact I believe that the exceptive particle used in this verse “except by the permission of Allah” is an example of استثناء منقطع (Istithnaa’ Munqati’a). In Arabic grammar, Istishna’ Munqati’a refers to an exception where the excepted thing represents a different type from the excepted noun. In other words, Allah is saying that harm occurs by His permission and magic is something that cannot harm. Those who harm, they harm not by means of magic, but by the permission of Allah. Magic has absolutely no power to cause harm, and Allah knows best.