Distinguishing between Black Magic and Prophetic Miracle


Assalam’aleykum Shaykh,

I pray this finds you in the best of states. I have come across something very disturbing.

In At Tariqa Al Muhammadiya it is said that it is Fard Kifaya to learn Sihr (sorcery) to avoid its harms.

One of which is , according to Al Bariqa and Al Wasila Al Ahmadiya, to be able to uncover the lie of a sorcerer claiming prophethood through the use of sorcery.

My question is:

How can we distinguish between a real Mu’jiza and a strange event performed through sorcery?

I have read several defintions of sihr and it is a science that allows the sorcerer to affect the four elements (fire, earth, water, air) through “preparations” with or without a celestial helper. What is disturbing for me is that it would be possible, according to this definition, for the sorcerer to make pebbles talk, to have water gushing from their fingers or even to split the moon while claiming prophethood. Please help.

Below is what is said in the Bariqa:

د (ومن لم يعرف الشر ويجهله يقع فيه) لعدم علمه، والتباسه بالخير لا يقال المعرفة الإجمالية بل التقليد كاف في عدم الوقوع، والظاهر من المعرفة الحاصلة من التعلم هو التفصيل فلا تقريب لأن التفصيل ليس كالإجمال إذ التفصيل كالكنه، والإجمال كالوجه وفرق بينهما نعم إن أصل التوقي حاصل بالإجمال لعل تحقيق ذلك يمكن أن يؤخذ من قول بعضهم إنه فرض كفايةلجواز ظهور ساحر يدعي النبوة بالخوارق السحرية إذ ذلك إنما يتحصل بالتفصيل لكن السابق إلى الخاطر أن ذلك عند مظان ظهور مثل هذا المدعي وإلا فما يكون في ندرة سيما في غايتها لا يكون مدارا


Alaykum Salam,

To begin, the claim mentioned in the question is doubtful, namely, that “it is said that it is Fard Kifaya to learn Sihr (sorcery) to avoid its harms.”

The complete passage in al-Khadimi’s Bariqa Mahmudiyya fi Sharh Tariqa Muhammadiyya states:

(وَأَمَّا السِّحْرُ) وَقَدْ تَقَدَّمَ (، وَالنِّيرَنْجَاتُ) وَيُقَالُ لَهَا الشَّعْبَذَةُ أَيْضًا فُسِّرَ بِأَنَّهُ عِلْمٌ بِكَيْفِيَّةِ اسْتِعْدَادَاتٍ تَقْدِرُ بِهَا النُّفُوسُ الْبَشَرِيَّةُ عَلَى ظُهُورِ التَّأْثِيرِ فِي الْعَنَاصِرِ (وَنَحْوُهُمَا مِنْ الشُّرُورِ، وَالْمَعَاصِي فَيَجُوزُ تَعَلُّمُهَا لِلِاحْتِرَازِ عَنْهَا) لَا لِلرَّغْبَةِ فِيهَا (كَمَا قِيلَ عَرَفْت الشَّرَّ لَا لِلشَّرِّ لَكِنْ لِتَوَقِّيهِ) أَيْ لِتَحَفُّظِهِ، وَالِاحْتِرَازِ عَنْهُ لَا يَخْفَى أَنَّ الدَّلِيلَ يَخْتَصُّ بِمَا تَكُونُ مَعْرِفَتُهُ وَسِيلَةً لِاحْتِرَازِهِ، وَالْمَطْلُوبُ أَعَمُّ مِنْ ذَلِكَ وَدَعْوَى كَوْنِ الْكُلِّ كَذَلِكَ بَعِيدٌ (وَمَنْ لَمْ يَعْرِفْ الشَّرَّ وَيَجْهَلْهُ يَقَعُ فِيهِ) لِعَدَمِ عِلْمِهِ، وَالْتِبَاسِهِ بِالْخَيْرِ لَا يُقَالُ الْمَعْرِفَةُ الْإِجْمَالِيَّةُ بَلْ التَّقْلِيدُ كَافٍ فِي عَدَمِ الْوُقُوعِ، وَالظَّاهِرُ مِنْ الْمَعْرِفَةِ الْحَاصِلَةِ مِنْ التَّعَلُّمِ هُوَ التَّفْصِيلُ فَلَا تَقْرِيبَ لِأَنَّ التَّفْصِيلَ لَيْسَ كَالْإِجْمَالِ إذْ التَّفْصِيلُ كَالْكُنْهِ، وَالْإِجْمَالُ كَالْوَجْهِ وَفُرِّقَ بَيْنَهُمَا نَعَمْ إنَّ أَصْلَ التَّوَقِّي حَاصِلٌ بِالْإِجْمَالِ لَعَلَّ تَحْقِيقَ ذَلِكَ يُمْكِنُ أَنْ يُؤْخَذَ مِنْ قَوْلِ بَعْضِهِمْ إنَّهُ فَرْضُ كِفَايَةٍ لِجَوَازِ ظُهُورِ سَاحِرٍ يَدَّعِي النُّبُوَّةَ بِالْخَوَارِقِ السِّحْرِيَّةِ إذْ ذَلِكَ إنَّمَا يَتَحَصَّلُ بِالتَّفْصِيلِ لَكِنَّ السَّابِقَ إلَى الْخَاطِرِ أَنَّ ذَلِكَ عِنْدَ مَظَانِّ ظُهُورِ مِثْلِ هَذَا الْمُدَّعِي وَإِلَّا فَمَا يَكُونُ فِي نُدْرَةٍ سِيَّمَا فِي غَايَتِهَا لَا يَكُونُ مَدَارًا لِتَشْرِيعِ الْأَحْكَامِ.

As can be seen, al-Khadimi’s conclusion is not to endorse but to cast doubt on the generality of the claim that it is fard kifaya to learn sihr, since he makes the validity of such a claim preconditional on the conjecture that some false claimant to prophethood should appear, then he says, “and something rare, not to mention beyond rare, does NOT constitute a pivot for legislating rulings.”

This conclusion is in agreement with the general position that for a firmly established, pious scholar to learn witchcraft in order to repel sihr is permissible. This was held by Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi and is the position of the majority of the scholars. In his commentary on the hadith “Beware, all of you, of the world for it is more bewitching than Harut and Marut” (ittaqu al-dunya fa’innaha as-haru min Haruta wa-Marut)1 in Fayd al-Qadir, al-Munawi states: “[Witchcraft] is an enormity (kabira) according to Imam al-Shafi`i and kufr according to others, and if it is learned for any reason other than to repel magicians who practice it, it is haram according to the majority.” The above exception and concession is a far cry from saying it is fard kifaya.

Secondly, as to the question, “how can we distinguish between a real Mu’jiza and a strange event performed through sorcery?”

Al-Mawardi in his book A`lam al-Nubuwwa (The Marks of Prophethood) addressed this issue in ten major points in the section entitled Hujaj al-Anbiya’ (The Proofs of Prophets) and the following sections as well, as did also al-Taftazani in eight points as cited by al-Bajuri in his commentary on verse 68 of al-Laqani’s Jawharat al-Tawhid, “With stunning miracles they were supported out of Divine munificence” (bil-mu`jizati uyyidu takarruman).

So did al-Sha`rani in the twenty-ninth topic of his book al-Yawaqit wal-Jawahir fi `Aqa’id al-Akabir (The Gems and Jewels: Doctrines of the Authorities) where he cites al-Qazwini’s Siraj al-`Uqul (a commentary on Baydawi’s Minhaj al-Wusul) as saying: “The difference between miracles [on the one hand] and witchcraft (sihr) and quackery (sha`wadha) [on the other] is that the miracle remains–together with its traces–for some time after the Prophet, while witchcraft quickly vanishes. Further, miracles are performed by a Prophet in the midst of witnesses and the most eminent persons of a region while quackery is foisted upon children, the simple-minded, and the ignorant.”

So did al-Qastallani in al-Mawahib al-Ladunniyya where he said, in the section on the Prophet’s (s) mu`jizaat:

واختلف: هل السحر قلب الأعيان وإحالة الطبائع أم لا؟ فقال بالأول قائلون، حتى جوزوا للساحر أن يقلب الإنسان حمارا. وذهب آخرون: إلى أن أحدا لا يقدر على قلب عين ولا إحالة طبيعة إلا الله تعالى لأنبيائه، وأن الساحر والصالح لا يقلبان عينا.

“There is a difference of opinion whether witchcraft actually alters objects and changes their nature or not. Some said yes to the point they hold it feasible for a sorcerer to change a human being into a donkey. Others said that no one can actually alter an object or change its nature except Allah Most High or His Prophets, while neither sorcerers nor the righteous Saints can actually alter objects.”

Also, as Taftazani said, “It must be impossible to counter it. This condition excludes witchcraft and charlatanry (sha`badha), which is a sleight of hand suggesting that something is taking place in reality when in fact it is not, as in the case of the snakes [of the magicians].” So, IF a charlatan is able to suggest through sihr that pebbles talk or that water gushes out of his fingers, then another can counter it with a similar act or greater, which means that the first act is not a mu`jiza.

Perhaps more relevantly to the questioner, al-Haytami said in his commentary on the Hamziyya: “Nor is this contradicted by the huge supernatural events that might appear at the hands of the Anti-Christ (al-dajjal) because the latter does not claim Prophethood but Divinity, and his mendacity is established by categorical proofs, although he only displays those feats to confuse and mislead people and for no other reason.”

It should be emphasized most of all that the Prophet (s) himself wished for the Qur’an to be placed above all the miraculous mu`jizaat in importance and everlastingness, without compare, with the proof that it will continue to attract and confirm believers in their strong faith until the Day of resurrection. This the ultimate mu`jiza which no one can possibly reduplicate. The Prophet (s) said: “There is no Prophet among the Prophets except he was granted signs the like of which caused people to believe in him. What I was granted is an everlasting revelation revealed to me alone, so I hope to be the most numerous of them in followers on the Day of Resurrection.” (Narrated from Abu Hurayra by al-Bukhari and Muslim.)

Shaykh Yusuf al-Nabhani cites all of the above and more in the introduction to his encyclopedia of the Prophetic miracles entitled Hujjat Allah `ala al-`Alamin bi-Mu`jizat Sayyid al-Mursalin.

And Allah knows best.

Hajj Gibril

1Narrated (i) from `Abd Allah b. Busr by al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi in Nawadir al-Usul;
(ii) mursal from Abu al-Darda’ al-Rahawi by Ibn Abi al-Dunya in Dhamm al-Dunya and al-Bayhaqi in Shu`ab al-Iman; and
(iii) as a saying of Umm al-Darda’ by Abu Tahir al-Mukhallis in al-Mukhallisiyyat, all of them in the wording ihdharu instead of ittaqu.

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