We hear stories of black magic all around us. A lot of people believe in black magic. Do Muslims believe in black magic? What does the Quran say about that?
In the Quran, there are several mentions of magic. When we think of black magic we think of something involving evil spirits or the devil. Where's the line of distinction between other magic and black magic? In any case, there are several mentions of magic in the Quran.
Usually, it is the people who do not believe in the prophets of God who are saying that the prophet of God is doing some kind of magic.
According to the Quran that seems to be an accusation that was levelled against Jesus, on whom be peace, though the reference is not very clear. Were people saying that about Jesus or were they saying it about the Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him? They said this is clear magic when he arrived. They referred to it as سحر, in Arabic meaning magic. We know that outside of the Islamic tradition it is mentioned that the people accused Jesus of being a magician and on that basis, they led him out to be stoned for what they said were his practicings of magic. Yet, in the Quran, most often those who don't believe in the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, say that the reciting of the Quran is magic. They most likely said that because they could feel that the Quran has a certain pull. There's a magnetism in the Quranic restoration that draws people to it. Maybe they thought that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is performing some kind of magic on them.
However, in the Quran itself, reference is made to the magic that was done in the time of Moses, on whom be peace.
It is mentioned that in the seventh chapter of the Quran, Moses has this confrontation with the magicians. It all began when Moses came to the Pharaoh and the Pharaoh said "Show me something that would demonstrate that God is with you". He was able to cast his staff and the staff turned into a serpent. He withdraws his hand from his cloak and his hand is very white. The Pharaoh says "this obviously looks like magic, so I'll get the magicians." He talks to his advisors and they call for the best magicians to come forward for a contest and see whose magic is superior. The magicians come and they go first. They cast their staffs, and the Quran says in the 116th verse of the seventh surah, “They bewitch the eyes of the people, and cause them to fear”. Muslim scholars thought about this and took different attitudes towards this. Some are willing to say that people can cause the natural order to change with this kind of magic. Some others thought that no, what they did was not real, they just bewitched the eyes of the people. They used some kind of psychological trick or like an illusion.
They caused the people to think that you can work up a crowd and make the crowd believe that they're going to see something. When you show them something close to that, they think they actually saw what you prepared them to think that they were going to see.
Yet, what Moses did wasn't magic from the Quran’s perspective. This is God's intervention causing his staff to change into a serpent or his hand to become so glowing white that this clearly is a sign that something supernatural is going on. At least this is how the Quran has been generally interpreted. There may be some Muslims who think the scientific order of things is so well in place that we should give some other interpretation to these passages. Nonetheless, this is the story and this is how it is told in the Quran. That would naturally predispose many Muslims to think that magic can occur. Can persons who are not prophets of God perform such tricks? Such magical feats? This now becomes an issue for discussion. Some Muslims may think that there are evil forces that are out there, Satan and his entourage, who can help people to perform such magical feats, which is what we call black magic because we're now dealing with evil spirits. Whether or not they do have that power to effect such change in the world, and whether people can with the help of such devils, effect such change and harm other people, this now is a question among Muslims. Some will say yes, some will say no.
There's a story in the Hadith about the Prophet Mohammad, Peace Be Upon Him, being the victim of black magic. The story goes that he was ill for quite a long time until some hair was found and once that hair was found he was cured.
Just as we have in the understanding of the voodoo tradition, you start with some object that is connected to the person, then you do something to that object, and that person suffers the harm. Similarly, it is thought, according to that Hadith, that some hair of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was gathered maybe from his comb, tied into a knot, and placed at the bottom of a well. That was causing Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, to be ill, until Ali, the cousin of the prophet, peace be upon him, eventually went and discovered that knot and untied it. The prophet, peace be upon him, now was loosened from his burden. Many modern Muslims question this narrative because though it is found in many of the generally reliable classical sources of Hadith narratives, they find that this is too extraordinary to give credit to it as if it actually happened like this. It naturally reflects the beliefs of the people who were complaining about these narratives and even those who were trading, telling them one to another. Did it actually represent the facts on the ground? Was the prophet, peace be upon him, bewitched and suffering from this situation for some time? Many Muslims feel that God was in the supervision of the life of the prophet, peace be upon him, and guiding him closely. It seems odd that God would allow for something like this to have been happening to the person that he's so closely guiding and supervising. Many Muslims think that this narrative, though reflecting the beliefs of some early Muslims, does not reflect the actual facts on the ground in the time of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
He had a very close connection to God and then had the sense that if he was bewitched.
Those Hadiths contain reflective beliefs of the people who were relating these narratives. According to Chapter 113 of the Quran teaches us to pray for refuge in God from those women who used to blow in the knot, among other things. The commentators say that this refers to a sort of magical practice, where people were blowing into some knots and he spoke about the hair of the prophet, peace be upon him, being tied into a knot. However, this does not mean that it actually is effective, that some people are able to effect change by doing that. Yet, the psychological trick can be such that if you think people have that power, then you yourself can feel that you're under such a spell. If you feel that you're under such a spell, that could have a psychological effect on you. Maybe when it comes time to apply for a job you don't apply because you think “I'm not going to get the job because I'm under this spell that's holding me back and causing me to be a failure”. If you have that negative sense that something is holding you back, you will be held back. By giving us this prayer, God is not necessarily telling us that it is true people can harm you with these things, but what God is giving us is a prayer to get rid of any such effects, even our harm from our own mistaken belief that those things could harm us.
Should Muslims believe in black magic and should they fear the consequences of it?
According to the second chapter of the Quran, in the 102nd verse, there is a mention of devils teaching magic to people. That would be classified as black magic. It does not seem to me that today people have this power to effect change by these magical arts. It is better for Muslims to cultivate a scientific mind. I believe that's the mind the Quran as a whole is teaching us to cultivate by telling us to think, to travel, to see, to examine, and so on. That's basically a scientific mind. In the scientific world we understand things happen by physical cause and effect and it cannot be that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is in one place and something is being done to his hair in another place and he's feeling the effect of it. This is because there's no physical connection between the two. This is one of the hallmarks of science. There has to be a physical connection. The physical does not mean a solid object. It could be something in the air, but things that can be described in physical terms. It's not some kind of supernatural or magical thing that is happening between this and that. The connection has to be a physical one. If it's electricity, water can be a conductor of electricity. However, there's water there and the electricity is flowing through the water. There's a physical connection. If it's airwaves then there is the air and the waves. These are all physical things, but to say no, without any such physical connection between two things one is affecting the other, this is unscientific. It's not healthy for Muslims to have that sort of attitude. Indeed, we believe that God can do anything. However, to ascribe all of this kind of power to supernatural forces other than God, seems to go beyond the call of our religion.