As in the Europe beneath a superficial layer of Christianity a faith in magic and witchcraft, in ghosts and goblins, has always survived so it is in the East. Brahmanism, Buddhism and Islam may come and go, but the belief in magic and demons remains unshaken through them all, and, if we may judge the future from the past, it is likely to survive the rise and fall of other historical religions. In no monotheistic religion are magic and sorcery so firmly entrenched as they are in Islam; for in the case of this religion they are based on the teaching of the Quran and the practice of the Prophet. In fact the Quran itself is seen to have magical power. In one celebrated passage (“The Quran,” E. H. Palmer, Sura 11:96 ff.) we read:
> “they follow that which the devils recited against Solomon’s kingdom; it was not Solomon who misbelieved, but the devils who misbelieved, teaching men sorcery, and what has been revealed to the two angels at Babylon, Harut and Marut, yet these taught no one until they said, ‘We are but a temptation, so do not misbelieve.’ Men learn from them only that by which they part man and wife; but they can harm no one therewith, unless with the permission of God, and they learn what hurts them and profits them not. And yet they knew that he who purchased it would have no portion in the future; but sad is the price at which they have sold their souls, had they but known. But had they believed and feared, a reward from God were better, had they but known.”
In the commentaries we have a long account of how these two angels, Harut and Marut, had compassion on the frailties of mankind and were sent down to earth to be tempted. They both sinned, and being permitted to choose whether they would be punished now or hereafter, chose the former and are still suspended by the feet at Babel in a rocky pit, where they are great teachers of Magic ( Hughes’ Dictionary of Islam, p.168. In a beautifully illustrated Persian book of Traditions found in the Sultaniah Museum, Cairo, there is a picture of these culprits).
There are other passages in the Quran dealing with magic; in fact the book itself is seen to have magical power. No orthodox Muslim doubts that men are able to call forth the power of demons and Jinn by means of magic (sihr), everywhere there are professional magicians. The sorcerer who desires to exercise his magic begins by sacrificing a black cock. He then reads his spell, ties his knots, or flings his magical reading into wells. All this is done in the same fashion to-day as was customary before Muhammad. To such practices the last two chapters of the Quran refer. Much more important and more widespread than the magic of producing demonic influences is the magic of acting against them. Illness, especially in case of children, is caused by Jinn. The one remedy is therefore magic. And consists in stroking or rubbing, the tying of knots, or spitting and blowing. I have seen an educated qadi in Arabia solemnly repeat chapters from the Quran and then blow upon the body of his dying child, in order to bring back health again.
The disgusting and unhygienic custom of the use of spittle in religious authority does indeed rest on good authority. Al Bukhari (Sahih 7, p. 150) gives two traditions reporting Muhammad’s sanction for the practice. After recording the usual chain of witnesses, Al Bukhari relates that “Aisha (May Allah be pleased with her) said that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) told a sick man, ’In the name of Allah the earth of our land and the saliva of some of us cure our sick, by the permission of our Lord.’”
The chief danger, however, always present to the Semetic mind is that of the “evil eye” not only of him who envies but also of him who admires. It is also feared in the glance of the Jinn and the ’afrit. Muhammad was a believer in the baneful influence of the evil eye. Asma Bint ’Umais relates that she said, “O Prophet, the family of Ja’far are affected by the baneful influences of an evil eye; may I use spells for them or not?” The Prophet said, “Yes, for if there were anything in the world which would overcome fate, it would be an evil eye” (Mishkat, 21, C.I., part 2)
Again we read, (Hughes Dictionary, p.303) “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.’” (Sahih Muslim – p.233.) and Umm Salmah relates “that the Prophet allowed a spell to be used for the removal of yellowness in the eye, which he said, proceeded from the malignant eye.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari, p.854.) And once again 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 21, ch 1)
The magic resting in knots is also referred to in the Quran. In Surah 113 the Chapter of the Daybreak we read:
> “Say, I seek refuge in the Lord of the Daybreak, from the evil of what he has created; and from the evil of the night when it cometh on; and from the evil of the blowers upon knots.”
This custom is clearly animistic and evidence of this practice were found in Sumatra, parts of Java, in East Indies and a similar custom in Syria, Among the Jews also knots played an important part in magic.
Commentators on the Quran relate that the reason for the revelation of the chapter quoted above was that a Jew named Lobeid, had, with the assistance of his daughters, bewitched Muhammad by tying eleven knots in a cord which they hid in a well. The Prophet falling ill in consequence, this chapter and that following were revealed; and the angel Gabriel acquainted him with the use he was to make of them, and told him where the cord was hidden. Ali fetched the cord, and the Prophet repeated over it these two chapters; at every verse a knot was loosed till on finishing the last words, he was entirely freed for the charm. (See “Al Razi,” Vol 8, pp. 559-564. Here also we learn that an afrit used to tease Muhammad, so Gabriel taught him to repeat this chapter at bed-time. It was also given him as a charm against the evil eye).
The Quran is also responsible for other forms of magic. Among the Muslims Solomon is a great historic figure. His adventures with the Queen of Sheba are recorded in romance, his seal (the pentacle) is drawn by sorcerers on talisman and gives its name to the five-pointed starfish, and his wealth, like the treasure of the Quran, is much sought by local magicians.
For additional magic purposes pieces of the Ka’aba-covering, Zam Zam water, earth which is mixed with water and used as medicine, date stones from Mecca, etc, are kept in a box in the house because of the blessings they are supposed to contain.
Astrology with its belief that the sun, the moon and the planets preside over the seven days of the week and govern by their good and bad influences is generally prevalent among the uneducated. Invocations taken form the “Book of Treasures” by the celebrated physician and philosopher, Ibn Sina (died A.D. 1035), are still used and published widely even though one would hardly call the prayers monotheistic.
Superstitions connected with hair and finger-nails
Animism lies at the root of all Muslim theology. Islam is the classic example of the way in which the non-Christian religions do not succeed in conquering Animism. Amongst the Animist peoples Islam is more and more entangled in the meshes of Animism. The conqueror is, in reality, the conquered. According to animistic beliefs the soul of man rests not only in his heart but pervades special parts of his body, such as the head, the intestines, the blood, placenta, hair, teeth, saliva, sweat, tears, etc. The means by which this soul-stuff is conveyed to others is through spitting, blowing, blood-wiping, or touch. In all these particulars and under all these subjects we have superstitions in Islam that date back to pagan days but are explained by Muslim Tradition and in some cases by the Quran itself. The personal soul in man has also a direct connection with his shadow, his dreams, his second self (qarina), or demon. The soul may escape through sneezing, yawning, etc. Soul-stuff exists in animals and certain plants, and these are therefore considered sacred. The Muslim doctrine of the soul itself, its pre-existence, its journey after death, the visiting of graves and the whole subject of demonology, is full of animistic elements. It is against the dread of demons and with the object of protecting the soul and strengthening it against sinister influences that we have in Islam magic of every description.
In the disposal of hair-cuttings and nail-trimmings among Muslims today, there is clear evidence of animistic belief. People may be bewitched through the clippings of their hair and parings of their nails. The belief that cut hair and nails contain soul-stuff and therefore may be wrongly used by enemies leads Muslims to hang their hair on the tombs of saints together with shreds of their garments, nails, teeth, etc. In the order of cutting the nails the Jews have borrowed from the Zoroastrians, while the Muslims seem to have borrowed from the Jews. According to Muhammad, the order of procedure is remembered by the word Khawabis, which indicates the initials of the names of the five fingers of the hand. The order of cutting is first the khansar (little finger), then the Wasti (middle finger), then the Abham (thumb), then the Binsar (ring finger), and last of all the Sababa (index finger). Sababa means the “finger of cursing.” Muslims generally follow this practice without knowing why they do so.
The custom connected with hair-cutting or shaving and the trimming of the nails during the pilgrimage ceremony at Mecca is well-known. As soon as the pilgrim assumes the Ihram or pilgrim dress, he must abstain from cutting his hair or nails. This command is observed most scrupulously. When the pilgrimage is terminated and the ceremony completed, the head is shaved, the nails are cut and the following prayer is offered: “I purpose loosening my Ihram according to the Practice of the Prophet, whom may Allah bless and preserve! O Allah, make unto me every hair, a light, a purity, and a generous reward! In the name of Allah and Allah is Almighty!” After this prayer strict Muslims carefully bury their hair and nail-trimmings in sacred soil.
Special chapters are found in the lives of Muhammad the Prophet on the virtues of his Fadhalat, breath, blood, etc, including his hair. We read, for example in the Life of Muhammad by Seyyid Ahmed Zaini Dahlan: “When the Prophet had his head shaved and his companions surrounded him they never suffered a single hair to fall to the ground but seized them as good omens or for blessings, and since His excellency only had his hair cut at the times of the pilgrimage this has become sunna. ‘And Muhammad bin Sairain relates, I said to Obeidah Suleimani, I have a few hairs of the Prophet which I took from Anas, and he replied, if I had a single hair it would be worth more to me than all the world.” Because of this belief, hairs of the Prophet’s beard, and in some cases other saints in Islam, are preserved as relics in the mosques throughout the world, e.g. at Delhi, Aintab, Damascus, etc.
Superstitions connected with the hand
The hand of Fatima is a great favourite in Tunis and it is seen above many doorways. Actually the hand does not represent the hand of Fatima at all, but is an old Carthaginian sign of Tanith.
A controversy arose in Islam very early about the raising of hands in prayer. It is regarding the position of the hands that the four sects have special teaching and can be distinguished. Who can doubt that this indicates also a magical use of the hands? The hand is widely used as an amulet against the evil eye. The origin of the stretching out of the hand with the palm exposed towards the person was explained by a Sheikh in this way. Tradition says that at one time a woman who saw Muhammad became very much enamoured with his handsome presence, and Muhammad, fearing she would work some power over him, raised his hand (said to be the right one) and stretched it out to one side in front of him with the palm exposed towards the woman, at the same time he repeated Surah 113. When he did this the covetous glance passed between his two fingers and struck a nail that was in a tree near by and broke it in pieces!