What is the definition of sihr or black magic (dark arts)?
Literally sihr, according to al-Layth (rahimahullah), is an act which brings one closer to, with the help of Shaytaan (the devil).
According to al-Azhari, the basic meaning of sihr is to make something appear in a form other than it’s real form.
Technically sihr is anything, the cause of which is hidden and which appears in a form other than it’s real one with the intention to distort the reality of things and to deceive. [Fakhrud-Din Razi in al-Misbāh al Munīr] According to Qudaamah al Maqdisee (rahimahullah)in al Mughni describes Sihr as a set of knots (‘uqad), incantations (ruqaa) and words written or uttered; carried out in a way so as to affect the body of the subject, his/her body, heart or mind without even coming into contact with him/her. The reality of sihr is that there are some types that can kill, cause one to fall ill act as obstacle against a man having relations with his wife. Other types can separate spouses, it can make them hate or love each other.
This can happen only with the will of Allah as a test on the faith of both the one doing the sihr (saahir/saahirah) and the subject of the sihr.
As Shaykh Walid bin ‘Abdes-Salaam Bali puts it “Sihr is an agreement between a sorcerer (saahir) and an evil jinn or devil (shaytaan) which stipulates that the saahir commit certain legal or polytheistic actions in return for the shaytaan’s assistance and obedience in fulfilling the saahir’s request.”
Evidence from Qur-aan that Sihr exists
There are many Muslims out there who do not believe in the existence of Jinn or sihr (black magic). Qur-aan proves to us that both sihr and jinn exist. “… And they follow what the satans believed, teaching the people sorcery and that which was sent down upon Babylon’s two angels- Haaroot and Maaroot. And they taught not any man without saying ‘We are but a temptation, do not disbelieve’. From them, they learned how to separate a man and his wife, yet they did not hurt any man but with the permission of Allah. And they learnt what hurt them and did not profit them, knowing well that whoever buys it shall have no share in the world to come. Evil was what they sold themselves for, if they had but known”. [Surat-ul Baqarah, v:102]
So why were Angels sent to teach magic?
Shaykh Abdul Hamid Kishk commentates on this verse…
Shaytaans (evil jinn) in that distant time used to eavesdrop in the heavens (as they continue to do today) and then add lies to what they had heard, which they would then pass on to the soothsayers and rabbis of the Jews. They, in turn, would record these fabrications in the books they read and taught to other people.
This spread in the time of Nabi Sulaymaan (‘Alayhis Salaam) or Solomon as he is known in the Bible, to the point that people said, “This is the science of Sulaymaan, and the kingdom of Sulaymaan was only made possible by it. It is by this means that he subjugated men and jinn and the wind which ran at his command.” This is one of the lies the Jews told about Nabi Sulaymaan (‘Alayhis Salaam). Allah accused them of lying when He says, “Sulaymaan did not reject but the shaytaans did reject and taught people sorcery.”
Then Allah ‘Azza wa Jall adds to that, “… and what had been sent down to the two angels in Babylon, Haaroot and Maaroot.” By “what had been sent down” refers to the science of magic, which was sent down so that they could teach it to people and warn them against it. The reason the two of them were sent down was to teach people what magic was so that they would then know the difference between magic and prophethood, and therefore that Sulaymaan was not a magician. It was to ensure a complete understanding.
They did not, in any case, teach anyone magic until they had first cautioned him saying to him, “We are merely a temptation and a trial and a test, so do not become unbelievers by teaching it and using it.” Part of the point of the teaching was to warn people against it and to teach them the difference between magic (sihr) and prophethood (nabuwwah) and prophetic miracles (mu’jizaat).
Other scholars like Mufti Muhammad Shafi say that Allah sent down to Babylon two angels, Haroot and Maroot, for informing the people as to the true nature of magic and as to its different forms, so that they should distinguish it from the miracles of prophets, and keep away from obeying magicians and practising magic themselves.
However, people did not take their advice and they would use magic to separate a man from his wife. That was by the permission and will of Allah. The ayah indicates that it is permitted to teach people to know about magic in order to warn people against succumbing to it and acting by it, and there is no sin in that.
It is unlawful to teach people magic in order to use it. This point is well illustrated by the sayings: “I learned evil not for evil’s sake, but in order to be safe from it.” And also: “People who do not recognise evil, fall into it.”
We are not saying that this is the case with all things. For example, I cannot do drugs to know it’s effects. If that was the case, most sin would not be regarded as sin. What Haroot and Maaroot taught the people at that time cannot be compared to what sorcerers do today. So please, don’t think that this aayah gives daleel to become a sorcerer. What it proves is that we can read books that increase our knowledge on sihr to give us a further understanding on how it works, how to recognise it’s symptoms and of course how to safeguard ourselves from it. Shaykh Wahid bin AbdesSalaam gives detailed descriptions of what Saharah (سحرۃ) or sorcerers do in his book Sword Against Black Magic and Evil Magicians.
As I said earlier, some people disbelieve in black magic saying that it is just trickery or the slight of the hand taking daleel (evidence or proof) from Surat-ul A’raaf, v:116 which is translated thus: “They cast a spell over the people’s eyes and caused them to fear them. They produced a powerful magic.” and “… it seemed to him under the effect of their sihr that their ropes and staffs were sliding”. The word seemed indicates hat the sliding was not real, it only seemed that way to Moosa (‘Alayhis Salaam). That is magic, not black magic. For those of you who are lost, please read this post on Magic.
We do not deny that illusion and trickery is magic but what then is black magic? It cannot be denied that black magic does exist. As we have previously mentioned the aayah on “Haaroot and Maaroot”, we learn that black magic was a science that was learnt and unfortunately, still is today. If this were not the case, Allah would not have mentioned it in Surat-ul Baqarah, aayah 102. Another proof is from Surat-ul A’raaf, aayah 115 “… and they produced a mighty sihr”.
Ibn-ul Qayyim has stated that sihr (black magic) exists based on the verse from Surat-ul Falaq “… And (Say, I seek refuge in the Lord) from those who blow in knots”. That refers to the black magic done on Rasoolullah (Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) by the Yahoodi (Jew) Labid bin al-A’sam.