Sorcery (As-Sihr)

The meaning of As-Sihr in the Arabic language is that whose cause is subtle or invisible. In the terminology of Islam, the meaning is various forms of spells, incantations or knots (or other physical items) which have effects on the heart and the body. They can cause illness, death or separation between husband and wife.

The Mu'tazilah (one of the groups who deviated in issues of Aqidah) rejected the existence of sorcery and sometimes ruled with kufr against anyone who claimed its existence. They claimed it is nothing but hallucination and imagination. As for the mainstream Muslims (Ahlus-Sunnah wa Al-Jamaa), we say that sorcery is real, it really takes place and when it occurs, Allah creates whatever He wishes. Thus, its effects do not come from the stars, the talismen, the knots or the sorcerer, rather Allah brings about whatever He wishes upon the occurrence of those things. Allah said speaking about the Jews:

{And when a Messenger came to them from Allah verifying that which was in their possession a group of those who had been given the book before threw the Book of Allah behind their backs as if they did not know (101) And they followed that which the devils had taught to the kingdom of Sulaiman. Sulaiman did not disbelieve but the devils disbelieved teaching the people sorcery and that which was sent down to the two angels Harut and Marut. And those two did not teach anyone until first saying: "We are nothing but a test for you so do not disbelieve." And they learn from them that with which they separate a man from his spouse. And they bring harm to no one except by Allah's permission. And they learn that which harms them and does not benefit them. And they know that whoever made this transaction has no share in the hereafter. How evil is that for which they have sold themselves, if they only knew.} Al-Baqarah: 101-102

And, in Al-Falaq:

{And (I seek refuge) from the chanters over the knots.} Al-Falaq: 4

This is a reference to one of the methods of sorcery in the time of the Prophet (sas) - the tying of knots and the reciting of incantations over them. If there was no real effect from this, we would not have been ordered to seek refuge in Allah from it. The verses from Al-Baqarah make it very clear that Allah has allowed for these things to have real effects.

Furthermore, the Prophet (sas) himself was affected by sorcery which was done against him, but Allah aided him against it.

On the authority of Aisah (raa): Allah Messenger was bewitched such that he thought that he had done something but had not really done it and he said to her one day: "Two angels came to me and one sat by my head and the other at my feet and one said: 'What ails this man?' The other said: 'Sorcery has been done against him.' The other said: 'And who is the sorcerer?' The other said: 'Lubaid ibn Al-A'sam with a comb and and object in the well of Dhi Arwaan."

Sorcery is forbidden in the unanimous opinion of the scholars - not just in Islam, but in the messages of ALL of the messengers of Allah. See the previous verses from Al-Baqarah for this.

{And they know that whoever made this transaction has no share in the hereafter. How evil is that for which they have sold themselves, if they only knew.}

{And the sorcerer will never succeed no matter what they achieve.} Taha: 69

And, in a hadith found in both Muslim and Bukhari, the Prophet (sas) said: "Stay away from the seven which destroy..." and he mentioned among them shirk against Allah and sorcery.

Rulings regarding the Sorcerer

There is no difference of opinion that the sorcerer - if he commits during is sorcery that which removes one from Islam - deserves the death penalty as an apostate. There is also no difference of opinion that if he kills someone with his sorcery that he is to be killed for murder. The difference of opinion which exists is in the absence of both if these issues.

Some among the salaf (the righteous first generations) said that such a one is a disbeliever and is to be killed for apostation. This is the opinion of Malik, Ahmad and Abu Hanifa.

Ash-Shafi'i said: When someone learns sorcery we say to them: "Describe to use your sorcery." So, if he describes something which is disbelief such as believing in appeasing the seven stars or that the stars are the source of what is being sought, then he is a disbeliever as above. Even without this, if he believes that sorcery is lawful in Islam, he is also a disbeliever.

Also, some scholars in the Hanafi school differentiated between one who learned sorcery in order to avoid it or to defend against it as opposed to one who learns it believing that it is lawful, believing that he can get some benefit from it or believing that the devils will do his bidding - this latter one is definitely a disbeliever.