Sorcery is Punishable by Death
By: Shaheed Ayatullah Abdul Husain Dastghaib Shirazi
It is clearly stated to be a Greater Sin is sorcery. A tradition from the Holy Prophet (S) has been recorded in Wasa’il ul-Shia in which the Prophet (S) has mentioned that Magic is a Greater Sin. The tradition of Abdul Azīm (r.a.) has also mentioned from Imam Jawad (a.s.) who has related through his fore-fathers from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that he said to the effect, “Sorcery is a Greater Sin because the Almighty Allah says in the Holy Qur’an: “And they followed what the shaitans chanted of sorcery in the reign of Sulaiman, and Sulaiman was not an unbeliever, but the shaitans disbelieved, they taught men sorcery and that was sent down to the two angels at Babel, Harut and Marut, Yet these two taught no man until they had said, ‘Surely we are only a trial, therefore do not be a disbeliever.’ Even then men learned from these two, magic by which they might cause a separation between a man and his wife; and they cannot hurt with it anyone except with Allah’s permission, and they learnt what harmed them and did not profit them, and certainly they know that he who brought it should have no share of good in the hereafter and evil was the price for which they sold their souls; had they but known this.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:102)
According to Tafsīr al-Mizan this ayat shows that sorcery was prevalent among the Jews for a long time; and they used to ascribe it to Hazrat Sulaiman (a.s.). They believed that Hazrat Sulaiman (a.s.) had mastered the techniques of controlling the angels, jinns and wild animals through magic, and some of these alleged methods had reached them. They also implicated the two angels Harut and Marut for other magical rites. Therefore, the Holy Qur’an has denounced their belief regarding Hazrat Sulaiman (a.s.) because sorcery is the method of misusing the power of human spirit in order to perform extraordinary acts. It is against the Divine law because it negates the supremacy of Allah (S.w.T.). Since Hazrat Sulaiman (a.s.) was a Prophet and undoubtedly infallible, he cannot be blamed for such a violation of Divine Command. Therefore to ascribe sorcery to Hazrat Sulaiman (a.s.) was absolutely wrong. As the Almighty says, “...and Sulaiman was not an unbeliever, but the shaitans disbelieved, they taught men sorcery...” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:102)
Regarding Harut and Marut the Holy Qur’an says: “...and that was sent down to the angels at Babel, Harut and Marut, yet these two taught no man until they had said, “Surely we are only a trial, therefore do not be a disbeliever.” Even then men learnt from these two, magic by which they might cause a separation between a man and his wife; and they cannot hurt with it anyone except with Allah’s permission, and they learnt what harmed them and did not profit them...” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:102)
We should however know that some of the commentaries of the Holy Qur’an by Ahle-Sunnat have recorded some lewd traditions on this subject; and their lewdness itself proves their forged nature. For example they say that the Jinns stole the ring of Hazrat Sulaiman (a.s.) and with the help of its power ruled for forty days from his throne and during this period the satans spread the practice of sorcery among the masses. They have also written that Harut and Marut were two angels and when they became seized with sensuality, they drank wine and murdered a man; later they committed adultery with a woman. The woman then ascended to the heavens; and the star Zahra on the sky is that same woman.
This is a false allegation because during his conversation on this subject with Ma’mūn, as mentioned in Uyun al-Akhbar ar-Riďa, Imam Riďa (a.s.) says that Harut and Marut were two angels who had taught people the method of nullifying the magic of the sorcerers so as to enable them to prevent the effect of magical rites practiced by the magicians. They did not teach any magical spell before warning them that this was a Divine test and they must not fall prey to infidelity but some people became disbelievers by misusing the spells to cause discord between husband and wife, though the proper utility of the spell was obstructing black magic.
Even the Shia scholars differ in the explanation of this verse. Tafsīr Majmaul Bayan has also recorded different views. Some thinkers have opined that this is one of the Divine secrets and they further offer the exegesis that Harut and Marut signify the intellect and soul of man. These two entities changed their abstract form and assumed a physical body. Therefore, they were examined in their material life. They became engrossed in satisfying their carnal desires. Consequently they attached themselves solely to the material world and continued to worship their desires. In this way they committed gross injustice upon themselves and deprived themselves from eternal bounties. They also made themselves liable for a terrible punishment. Such traditions are unacceptable according to their wordings and if they are reported to have been uttered by the infallibles they should be understood in the light of their sayings only.
The honourable scholar Shaykh Sadūq says that Zahra and Suhail are two types of marine animals who are referred to in traditions by the name of Harut and Marut. They are not two stars as the Ahle-Sunnat believe. Moreover, the Qur’anic ayat mentioned above is clear that magic is equivalent to disbelief and the sorcerer will not receive any benefit on the Day of Qiyāma.
As the Holy Qur’an says, “And if they had believed and guarded themselves (against evil), reward from Allah would certainly have been better; had they but known (this).” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:103)
The Holy Prophet (S) says, “Three kinds of people will not enter Paradise, habitual alcoholics, habitual sorcerers and those who severe relationships.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) says, “The magician will enter hell like the disbeliever.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
Imam (a.s.) also says, “If one learns magic, whether a little bit or more, he has become an infidel. And his end result is that he does not receive Divine Mercy. His punishment is that he be killed except if he repents.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) says that a woman came to the Holy Prophet (S) and said, “My husband is very severe and misbehaves with me, so I have prepared something for him that he may become kind to me.” (i.e. I have prepared a magical potion to change his attitude).
The Holy Prophet (S) said, “Curse be upon you! You have darkened the realms of the seas and the lands, the angels of the earth and the heavens curse you.”
After going from there the woman began to fast during the days and pray during the night and she trimmed her hair and started wearing a leather garment. When the Holy Prophet (S) learnt of this he remarked that her fasting and prayers would not be accepted. (Kitab Faqih)
Muhaddith Faid mentions this hadith and comment that these actions will not save her from death penalty. Sorcery is such a severe crime that her repentance and worship will not bring her near Allah (S.w.T.). She has done an injustice to her husband and unless he forgives her, she cannot be forgiven.
The Holy Prophet (S) says: “If a person goes to a magician, a diviner or a liar and testifies to the truth of whatever he says, he becomes an infidel according to all the books revealed by Allah.” (Safinat’ul-Bihār)
Sorcery is punishable by death
A Muslim who indulges in magic and does not repent is punished by death. An infidel guilty of sorcery must not be killed. He should be punished according to the decree of a just jurist (Qazi) and his penalty is at the discretion of the Qazi.
According to a tradition of Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.): “The sorcerer must be given a single blow of the sword on his head.” (al-Kāfi)
“If two just witnesses testify, it is permissible to kill him.” (Tahzīb)
Imam (a.s.) also said, that the Holy Prophet (S) ordered, “The Muslim sorcerer must be killed and the infidel magician must not be killed.”
Someone asked, “O Messenger of Allah, why shouldn’t the disbelieving sorcerer be killed too?”
The Messenger of Allah (S) replied, “Because disbelief is a more serious sin than magic; and sorcery and polytheism are the same.”
It means that when a zimmi infidel is not sentenced to death for his infidelity he cannot be killed for the sin of practising magic because infidelity is greater than sorcery. Whereas the Muslim magician is killed because he has committed polytheism.
What is sorcery?
The late Sayyad writes in Wasila an Najāt that magic means the writing and reciting of some special spells and charms and the burning of particular objects so that its smoke can be used for some extraordinary effects. Making a picture and blowing, or tying up knots, or buying special objects in particular places so that the person for whom the magic is intended may be affected physically or mentally. That is if he is reported lost he can be located by it or he can be put to sleep or made unconscious. It can also be used for creating love or discord between two people; like husband and wife etc.
In the exegesis Tafsīr al-Mizan very interesting points are mentioned under the explanation of the 104th verse of Surah al-Baqarah. We shall present them for our readers.
A philosophical discussion
It is common knowledge that many unusual events do take place which are beyond the established natural system. It is difficult to find someone who has not seen, or heard about some abnormal or seemingly supernatural event. But on close scrutiny it turns out that most of them are not enigmatic and mysterious at all. They are the results of normal and natural causes, like intensive practice and training, for example, eating poison, lifting heavy loads, walking or dancing on a tight rope etc. Some are based on natural causes that are not known to the general public, for example, a man walks into flaming fire without coming to any harm, (he applies some chemicals like talc to his body); or sends a sheet of blank paper and the addressee understands the message it contains. (He writes with an invisible ink that becomes visible if heated by fire or treated with some chemicals). A third set depends on the sleight of hand like juggling. All these seemingly abnormal feats actually emanate from normal causes, although the causes are unknown to the common man; they may even be beyond his ability.
Yet there are other strange happenings that cannot be attributed to any normal physical cause. For example, giving information of the unseen, and particularly foretelling future events; the charms for love and hate, the harmful or beneficial spells affecting man’s virility, hypnotism, mesmerism, spiritualism, telekinesis and so on. It is known that such events do take place from time to time. We have seen some demonstrations ourselves, and similar reports were brought to us by reliable sources. At present there are many people in India, Iran and the western countries, who demonstrate such extraordinary feats and their authenticity is beyond doubt.
It appears from close investigation of their methods and regimen that these feats spring from the will power of the doer, and from his unshakable self-confidence. The will power arises from the special knowledge which they have mastered. Sometimes the will acts independently and sometimes it needs some boosting; for example, writing a certain charm with a certain ink in a certain place at a certain time (for the amulets of love or hate); or fixing a mirror before a certain child (in the seances of spiritualism); or chanting a certain incantation a certain number of times, and so on and so forth. When the conditions are fulfilled the will is strengthened to bring the desired effect into being. When the knowledge becomes one with the knower, it influences his senses to such an extent that he sees the end product, that is, the desired effect, with his eyes.
You may verify this statement yourself. Just tell yourself that a certain person is present before you and that you are looking at him; then put your imagination to work to bring his form before your eyes; this should be raised to such a high level of certainty that you become oblivious of all other thoughts and ideas and then you will actually see him standing before you-as you had imagined. Many ancient doctors, acting on this principle, restored to health their incurable patients-simply by creating in them the confidence that they would soon regain their health.
Taking this principle a step further, if someone’s will power is extraordinarily strong, it might influence the psyche of another individual and create the desired impression on him also. That impression might, or might not depend on fulfillment of certain conditions, as indicated earlier.
From the above discourse, we may deduce the following Three principles:
First: The appearance of such extraordinary events depends on the firm “knowledge” and strong conviction of the doer but it is irrelevant whether that “knowledge” is true to the fact or not. That explains why the conjurations of the priests of the sun god and the moon-goddess etc. seemed to work although they believed that the heavenly bodies had souls, which they claimed to bring under by their magic. Probably the same applies to the angels and satans whose names are “discovered” and invoked by many practitioners of the magic art. The same is true for spiritualism and its seance and spirit communication- and the spiritualist belief that the spirits attend their sittings. Utmost that may be claimed regarding those sessions, is that the spirit appears in their imagination or, let us say, before their senses- and this “perception” emanates from their firm belief in their art but it can never be said that the spirit actually presents itself at the sittings- otherwise all the participants in the sitting should have perceived its presence, because everyone of them has the same senses as the medium has.
But accepting this principle, we may solve many problems related to the seance and spirit communication. For example:
1. Sometimes the spirit of a living man is called to present itself at a seance, and supposedly it comes there but at that very moment, that man is busy attending to his affairs and he never feels his spirit leaving him even for an instant. The question is: As a man has only one spirit, how was it possible that his spirit presented itself to that seance without his being aware of it?
2. The spirit is an immaterial essence which has no relation whatsoever with space and time. How can it present itself at a certain place at a certain time?
3. Why is it that often a single spirit appears before different mediums in different forms?
4. Why is it that sometimes when the spirits are called to a seance, they tell lies and give wrong answers? And why do the various spirits sometimes contradict each other?
All these problems will be solved if the principle is accepted that it is not any spirit that presents itself to the seance; it is only the firm belief and conviction of the spiritualists and his medium that is at work, making the medium see, hear and feel the spirit. It is all a play of his imagination and will; and nothing more.
Second: Some of the people, holding the strong and effective will-power, rely on their own power and their own being, in bringing about the desired effect, the intended supernatural events. Such events are bound to be limited in strength, confined in their scope- in their own imagination as well as in reality.
On the other side, there are some persons, like the Prophets and the friends of Allah (S.w.T.) who, in spite of their most effective will power, totally rely on their Lord. They truly worship Him and have full trust in Him. They do not wish anything but from their Lord, and by His permission. Theirs is a pure and clear will, untainted by any personal feeling. It does not depend except on Allah (S.w.T.). This is a Divine Will- not limited in anyway, nor restricted in any manner.
The supernatural events that are brought into being by the first group may be of many kinds; If they are based on enquiry of, or help from, a jinn or a spirit etc. then it is called “al-Kihanah” (divination, sooth-saying, fortune-telling); and if it comes about by means of a charm, amulet, talisman or other such instruments or potions, then it is called magic.
The supernatural events shown by the prophets and saints are also of various kinds. If it is produced as a challenge, in order to prove the truth of the claim of prophethood, then it is called miracle, if it is not offered as a challenge, then it is named “al-Karamah” which literally means nobility, mark of honour; and in Islamic terminology is used for a miraculous event shown without a challenge; and if it happens as a result of the prayer to Allah (S.w.T.), then it is called, “answer to the prayer.”
Third: As the whole thing depends on the will power of the doer, its strength varies according to the strength (or weakness) of the will. That is why some of them may nullify the others, as, for example, the miracle annihilates sorcery. Also, a weak agent fails to impose his will on a stronger psyche, as is often seen at the sessions of mesmerism, hypnotism and seances.
Various Kinds of Magic
There are many fields of study dealing with various awe-striking feats and extraordinary deeds; and it is very difficult to classify them so as not to leave anything out. However, we give here a list of the more commonly used branches of this art.
a) as-Simiya: It deals with the ways of combining the will-power with particular physical and material forces for manipulating the natural order and, thus, producing extraordinary effects. Under this head comes the manipulation of thought, also known as the eye-enchantment.
It is the most deserving candidate for the title of magic
b) al-Limiya: It teaches how one may establish a connection between his psyche and the higher and stronger spirits, in order that one may bring them under one’s control, for example, the spirits of the stars, or the jinn, etc.
It is also called the knowledge of subjugation of the spirits.
c) al-Himiya: It explains how the powers of the higher spiritual world may be combined with the base elements of this world to produce awe-inspiring effects. It is also called talisman. The stars and their configuration have some relation to the material happenings of this world, in the same way as the elements and compounds and their physical qualities affect those phenomena. Supposedly if the heavenly forms, pertaining to a certain event, for example, A’s life or B’s death, could be combined with the relevant material forms, the desired effect would take place without fail.
d) ar-Rimiya: It trains one how to control and manipulate the qualities of various things, to produce seemingly super-natural effects. It is also called “ash-Sha’badhah” (sleight of hand, jugglery, magic).
These four fields of knowledge, together with the fifth, called “al-Kimiya” (alchemy, the forerunner of chemistry, primarily the attempt to transmute base metals into gold or silver) formed what the ancients called the five secrets, mysterious branches of knowledge.
Ash-Shaykh al-Bahai has said: “The best book written on these subjects was the one I saw in Herat, ‘Kulah al-sar’ (the head’s cap) by name. Its name was an acronym, made of the first letters of the five subjects, that is, al-Kimiya, al-Limiya, al-Himiya, al-Simiya and ar-Rimiya.”
The standard books of these subjects are the epitome of the books of Balinas, Rasa’il, al-Khusraw Shahi, adh-Dhakhirah, al-Iskandariyya, as-Sirru’l makhtum (by ar-Razi), at-Taskhirat (by as-Sakkaki) and A’malu’l-kawakib as-Sab’ah (by al-Hakim Tamtam al-Hindi).
Supplementary of the above are the following subjects:
e) The knowledge of numbers (numerology): It shows the relation of numbers and letters with the desired effect. The relevant letters or numbers are filled in a magic square or triangle etc. in a particular sequence.
f) al-Khafiyah (the hidden knowledge): It breaks down the name of the desired effect or other relevant names, and finds out the names of the angels or the satans managing the said effect; and then composes the invocations made of those names.
Divination or Kahanat, Soothsaying
To predict future events is known as divining and when the prediction is made on the knowledge obtained through some groups of Jinns it is known as Kahanat. (However we shall use the word soothsaying as an equivalent of Kahanat). Kahanat pertains to the prediction of future with the help of special knowledge. For example, the soothsayer may be adept at guessing the words of the enquirer or his private affairs etc.
According to the author of Nihaya this kind of soothsayer is known as ‘Ārāf’ but according to the majority of scholars a soothsayer is the one who predicts with the help of Jinns. The Jinns inform him of hidden matters. For example, he might be able to find where a stolen thing is hidden or who is the thief, or who is the murderer of a particular person. All the jurists are unanimous in their opinion that ‘Kahanat’ or soothsaying is Harām. Just as it is Harām to learn, teach, perform magic, in the same way it is Harām to learn soothsaying, to act upon the advice of a soothsayer and even to go for advice from a soothsayer. Some scholars maintain that soothsaying is a kind of magic.
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) says: “One who divines or the one who goes to a soothsayer for divination, (both) have renounced the religion of Muhammad (S).” (Khisāl)
Janabe Haitham enquired from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.), “There is a person we know who informs about stolen property etc. Is it permitted for us to seek his advice?”
The Holy Imam (a.s.) said, “The Messenger of Allah (S) has mentioned that one who goes to a sorcerer, a soothsayer or a liar and testifies to what he says has become an infidel in the light of all the divine books revealed on Allah’s Messengers.” (Makasib Muharrama of Shaykh Ansari)
The Shaykh comments that according to this tradition, informing about the hidden matters is Harām; whether through divination or otherwise. However, if someone guesses and conjectures or doubts; it is allowed. Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) considers soothsaying a prohibited profession and also considers it earnings Harām. Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) is also recorded to have mentioned a similar tradition.
Ignorance about future is better for the people
We must understand that prohibition of soothsaying is beneficial to us. Allah the Almighty does not wish people to have knowledge of the future. It is possible that a person may come to know of something of tremendous importance which will take place is according to his wishes. But their happening may be dependant on his giving Sadaqah or invoking Allah (S.w.T.). Having this knowledge beforehand may prevent the person from giving Sadaqah and invoking Allah (S.w.T.) with the result he will be deprived of his wishes. Similarly he may come to know of some calamity is to befall and this will cause him great anxiety when in reality this happening may not occur at all because of change in Allah (S.w.T.)’s ordinance (Badā). It is well known that many calamities are warded off by invoking Allah (S.w.T.) or giving Sadaqah or due to some good actions of the person or repentance. We can recall the people of Prophet Yūnus (a.s.), who were to be subjected to a great disaster. But their Du’a and repentance at the eleventh hour changed the course of their destiny. The Qur’an has also mentioned this fact.
A tradition is quoted in the Ihtijaj of Tabarsi from the sixth Imam (a.s.). The gist of the same is as follows: After the birth of the Holy Prophet (S) the shaitans and the Jinns were denied access to the heavens, hence they were unable to give information about the heavenly affairs. Now they could only inform about the evil magical matters. This information is unreliable because among the jinns too there are liars as well as truthful jinns. Therefore the fortune telling of a diviner is unreliable.