Is Magic (Sihr) Real?
Continuing from my previous entry, the subject of magic has needlessly created controversy within the Muslim ummah. The Suhuf-i-Mutahharah (Holy Qur’an) is very explicit when it describes the art of the magicians as fantasy and imaginary, not having any reality:
وَأَلْقِ مَا فِي يَمِينِكَ تَلْقَفْ مَا صَنَعُوا إِنَّمَا صَنَعُوا كَيْدُ سَاحِرٍ وَلَا يُفْلِحُ السَّاحِرُ حَيْثُ أَتَىٰ
“And throw that which is in your right-hand: Quickly will it swallow up that which they have faked. Verily, what they have faked is not but a magician’s trick. And the magician will never succeed no matter where he goes.” (Surah 20:69)
It is therefore a mistake to believe, as some foolish or ignorant people do, that the Pharoanic magicians actually possessed the skill to transform in reality their ropes and sticks into self-moving objects. Rather, they only made that appear to be the case through pure trickery on the eyes of the people (that which we refer to as an optical illusion), as Allah Most High says;
قَالَ أَلْقُوا فَلَمَّا أَلْقَوْا سَحَرُوا أَعْيُنَ النَّاسِ وَاسْتَرْهَبُوهُمْ وَجَاءُوا بِسِحْرٍ عَظِيمٍ
“(Moses) said: ‘Throw ye!’ So when they threw they bewitched the eyes of the people and caused them to panic, for they performed a great feat of magic.” (Surah 7:116)
The great companion and second successor of our beloved Prophet, Sayyidina Umar b. al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) was once asked about the Gheelaan (Ghouls):
ذكرنا عند عمر رضي الله عنه الغيلان فقال: انّه لا يستطيع شيءٌ أن يتحوَّل عن خلق الله الّذي خلقه, ولكن فيهم سحرة كسحرتكم, فاذا أحسستم من ذلك شيئاً فأذِّنوا
“Asir b. Amro said: We mentioned the Gheelaan in the presence of Umar may Allah be pleased with him, so he said: ‘Verily he (the Ghoul) cannot transform anything from the creation of Allah which He has created, but there are magicians from among them (the Jinn) like your magicians. So if you perceive something of that (the Gheelaan), then immediately proclaim the Adhaan.”
Reference: Jaami’ al-Hadith of Imam Suyuti
The above narration demonstrates the fact that Sayyidina Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) firmly believed that no one except Allah has the power to transform any of His creation. No human magician with his magic, nor any jinn, ghoul, or any other “supernatural” creature has the ability to transform any of Allah’s creation. Yes, they can at most, with their dark arts of trickery and illusion, make it appear as though an object has been transformed, or that a static object is in motion when in reality it is not.
Among the great Imams from the early Muslims, Imam Abi Hanifah (may Allah have mercy on him) was well known for denying that magic has any reality or real effect:
قال أبا حنيقة: لا حقيقة للسحر
Reference: Tafsir Ibn Kathir
Another eminent Hanafi jurist and scholar, Abu Bakr al-Razi al-Jassas (d. 942 C.E) likewise denied the reality of magic. He also denied specifically all narrations about a Jewish woman doing magic on the Prophet (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam), or the narration about Lubaid b. al-Asim who allegedly bewitched the Prophet (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) معاذ الله
Reference: Ahkaam ul-Qur’aan; v.1 p.52, 60
Among the Shafi’ies, the Imam Abu Ja’far al-Istarabadhi also denied the reality of magic, as mentioned by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani in his monumental Fath al-Bari (v.10, p.222)
Ibn Hazm also argued passionately against the contention that magic is real. He said that the people of truth do not hold that magic has any real effect or ability to transform anything, or change the nature of anything, as this is only the Power of Allah which He manifests as a miracle at the hands of the Prophets. This is quite a compelling argument, for otherwise to hold that magic has real power to alter the natural laws or transform objects supernaturally would mean that the magicians are on par with the Prophets and there is no real difference between a magician’s sorcery and a Prophet’s miracle (God forbid).
Reference: Al-Fisl; v.5, p.99, 103