MAGIC Arabic sihr سحر
A belief in the magical art is entertained by almost all Muslims, and there is a large number of persons who study it.
Although magic (as-sihr) is condemned in the Qur’an (Surah ii. 96) and in the Traditions (Mishkat, book xxi. ch. iii ch. in. pt. 1), there are still many superstitious practices resembling this occult science, which are clearly permitted according to the sayings of Muhammad.
Anas says, “The Prophet permitted a spell, (ruqyah) being used to counteract the ill effects of the evil eye; and on those bitten by snakes or scorpions.” (Sahihu Muslim p. 238.)
Umm Salmah relates “that the Prophet allowed a spell to be used for the removal of yellowness in the eye, which, be said, proceeded from the malignant eye.” (Sahihu ‘l-Bukhari, p. 854.)
‘Auf ibn Malik says “the Prophet said there is nothing wrong in using spells, provided the use of them does not associate anything with God.” (Mishkat, book xxi. ch. i.)
The terms used to express the magical arts are da’wah, lit. “an invitation of the spirits,” exorcism; ‘azimah, an incantation; kihanah, divination, or fortune-telling: ruqyah, a spell; and sihr, magic.
The term da’wah is held to imply a lawful incantation, in which only the assistance of God is invited by the use of either the Ismir ‘l-A’zam, or great and unknown name of God or the recital of the ninety-nine names attributes of the Almighty. As-Sihr, or the magical use of evil spirits: and kihanah, fortune-telling, are hold to be strictly unlawful.
Incantation and exorcism as practiced by Muslims is treated of in the article on DA’WAH.
Mr. Lane in his annotated edition of the Arabian Nights, says:-
There are two descriptions of magic, one spiritual, regarded by all but freethinkers true; the other, natural, and denounced by the more religious and enlightened as deceptive.
1. Spiritual magic, which is termed Roohanee ‘ (ar-ruhani), chiefly depends upon the virtues of certain names of God, and passages from the Kuran, and the agency of angels, and jinn, or genii. It is of two kinds, Divine and Satanic (” Rahmanee,” i.e. relating to “the Compassionate” [who God], and Sheytanee,” relating to the Devil.)
1. Divine magic is regarded as a sublime science, and is studied only by good men, at practised only for good purposes. Perfection in this branch of magic consists in the knowledge of the most great name of God [ISMU ‘L- AZAM]; but this knowledge is imparted to none but the peculiar favourites of heaven. By virtue of this name, which was engraved c his seal ring, Solomon subjected to his dominion the jinn and the birds and the winds. By pronouncing it, his minister Asaf (Asaf), also transported in an instant, to the presence his sovereign, in Jerusalem, the throne of the Queen of Sheba. But this was a small miracle to effect by such means, for, by uttering this name, a man may even raise the dead, Other names of the Deity, commonly known are believed to have particular efficacies when uttered or written; as also are the names the Prophet, and angels and good jinn are said to be rendered subservient to the purposes of divine magic by means of certain ii vocations. Of such names and invocation together with words unintelligible to the uninitiated in this science, passages from the Kuran, mysterious combinations of number and peculiar diagrams and figures, are chief composed written charms employed for good purposes. Enchantment, when used for benevolent purposes is regarded by the vulgar as branch of lawful or divine magic; but not so by the learned, and the same remark applies to the science of divination.
2. Satanic magic, as its name implies, is science depending on the agency of the Devil and the inferior evil jinn, whose services are obtained by means similar to those which propitiate, or render subservient, the good jmn. It is condemned by the Prophet and all good Muslims, and only practised for his purposes. Es sehr (as-Sihr), or enchantment is almost universally acknowledged to be a branch of Satanic magic, but some few persons assert (agreeably with several tales: the Arabian Nights), that it may be, and I some has been, studied with good intention and practised by the aid of good jinn; consequently, that there is such a science as good enchantment, which is to be regarded as a branch of divine or lawful magic. The metamorphoses are said to be generally effected by means of spells, or invocations to jinn, accompanied by the sprinkling of water or dust. &c., on the object to be transformed. Persons are said to be enchanted in various ways some paralyzed, or even deprived of life, others, affected with irresistible passion for certain objects, others, again, rendered demoniacs, and some, transformed into brutes, birds, &r. The evil eye is believed to enchant in a very powerful and distressing manner. This was acknowledged even by the Prophet. Diseases and death are often attributed to its influence. Amulets are worn by many Muslims with the view of counteracting or preserving from enchantment; and for the same purpose many ridiculous ceremonies are practised. Divination, which is termed El-Kihaneh (al-Kihanah), is pronounced on the highest authority to be a branch of Satanic magic; though not believed to be so by all Muslims. According to an assertion of the Prophet, what a fortuneteller says may sometimes be true; because one of the jinn steals away the truth, and carries it to the magician’s ear; for the angels come down to the region next the earth (the lowest heaven), and mention the works that have been pre-ordained in heaven; and the devils (or evil jinn) listen to what the angels say, and hear the orders predestined in heaven, and carry them to the fortune-tellers. It is on such occasions that shooting stars are hurled at the devils. It is said that, “the diviner obtains the services of the Sheytan (Shaitan) by magic arts, and by names invoked, and by the burning of perfumes, and he informs him of secret things ; for the devils, before the mission of the Apostle of God, it is added, used to ascend to heaven, and hear words by stealth. That the evil jinn are believed still to ascend sufficiently near to the lowest heaven to hear the conversation of the angels, and so to assist magicians, appears from the former quotation, and is assorted by all Muslims. The discovery of hidden treasures is one of the objects for which divination is most studied. The mode of divination called “Darb-el-Mendel” (Zarbu ‘l-Mandal), is by some supposed to be effected by the aid of evil jinn; but the more enlightened of the Muslims regard it as a branch of natural magic. Some curious performances of this kind, by means of a fluid mirror of ink, have been described in the Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, and in No. 117 of the Quarterly Review.
There are certain modes of divination which cannot properly be classed under the head of spiritual magic, but require a place between the account of this science and that of natural magic. The most important of these branches of Kihaneh is Astrology, which is called Lim en Nujoom (‘Ilmu ‘n-Nujum). This is studied by many Muslims in the present day, and its professors are often employed by the Arabs to determine a fortunate period for laying the foundation of a building, commencing a journey, &C: but more frequently by the Persians and Turks. The Prophet pronounced Astrology to be a branch of magic. Another branch of Kihaneh is Geomancy, railed “Darb er Raml” (Zarbu Raml); a mode of divination from certain marks made on sand (whence its appellation), or on paper; and said to be chiefly founded on astrology. The science called “ez Zijr,” or “el; Eyafeh” (al-‘Iyafah), is a third brunch of Kihanehr being divination or auguration, chiefly from the motions and positions and postures, of birds, or of gazelles and ether beasts of the chase. Thus what was termed a “Saneh ” (Sanih) that is, such an animal standing or passing with its right side towards the spectator, was esteemed among the Arabs as of good omen; and a “Barch” (Barih), or an animal of this kind, with its left side towards the spectator, was field as inauspicious. “El Kiyafeh” (al-Qiyafah), under which term are included Chiromancy and its kindred sciences, is a fourth branch of Kihaneh. “El Tefaul (at-Tafawwa1), or the taking an omen. particularly a good one, from a name or words accidentally heard or seen, or chosen from a book belonging to the same science. The taking a “fal”, or omen, from the Kuran, is generally held to be lawful. Various trifling events are considered as ominous. For instance, a Sultan quitting his palace with his troops, a standard happened to strike a “tsurayya” a cluster of lamps so called from resembling the Pleiades), and broke them: he drew from this an evil omen, and would have relinquished the expedition; hut me of his chief’ officers said to him, “O our Lord, thy standard has reached the Pleiades,” and being relieved by this remark, he proceeded, amid returned victorious.
(See The Thousand and One Nights, a new translation, with copious notes, by Edward W. Lane; new ed. By E. S. Poole, vol. i. p. 60.)
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam