"Our Dialogue" 6th Edition Rev

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• Charms and the spread of Islam

You have spoken in the past about charms and pronounced them as a form of polytheism. However, in our homeland, we find that Islam was spread by the great Sufis like Khawaja Moinuddin Chishtie, Nizamuddin Aulia and others. These were, no doubt, the true believers in Allah and the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. They adopted the way of Tareeka to spread Islam. When needy people came to them with their personal problems, they provided them with charms, explaining the facts that such charms contained verses from the Qur'an and the name of Allah. People found them effective and were influenced by the power of the name of Allah and the words of the Qur'an. As a result, they embraced Islam. Millions of people in our homeland owe the fact that they are Muslims to this method which induced their forefathers to embrace Islam. In view of the above, could you please explain to what extent is this correct? How could the ways of Tareeka and Sharee'ah concerning charms be reconciled?

I am not very familiar with the history of the spread of Islam in your part of the world. Indeed, you will find that this is a particularly weak area in the curricula of many institutes which teach Islamic studies. However, I have recently asked an authority on this particular subject, Maulana Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi, and he tells me that Khawaja Moinuddin Chishtie was a dedicated servant of Islam who spread its message in all parts of India and that countless people embraced Islam through his efforts. He concentrated his efforts on teaching people to renounce the temptation of this world and concentrate on repentance and purification of their souls through night worship, fasting and devotion.

In volume II of his priceless book, Saviors of Islamic Spirit, Sheikh Nadwi devotes a very long chapter on Nizamuddin Aulia in which he illustrates the type of work undertaken by this [noble] guide [of Islam]. He quotes from the work of celebrated historians of that age, Ziauddin Barni that "Sheikh-ul-Islam Nizamuddin" encouraged the sinners to repent on their sins; and allowed all, the rich and the poor, the king and the slave, the learned and the illiterate, to cleanse their souls through his spiritual guidance. Everyone who pledged allegiance to the Sheikh considered himself spiritually attached to him and gave up many of his vices. If anybody ever committed a sin, the Sheikh allowed him to offer penitence. Thus, all those who took the pledge to walk along the passage of purity were saved from many vices and were gradually led, through emulation of the Sheikh-ul-Islam, to prayers. Every man and woman, whether lean in years or bent with age, regularly offered obligatory prayers and vied with each other in the performance of voluntary devotions. From the city to Ghiyaspur, people had made arrangements for the wayfarers to take rest and offer their prayers. Machinations of the devil were eschewed by the people who took more interest in ascertaining the number of rak'ahs performed on different occasions and the chapters of the Qur'an recited to them by their spiritual mentors. Numerous people have enthusiastically taken to memorize the Qur'an.

Sheikh Nadwi devotes 110 pages to the history of Nizamuddin Aulia. At no point, does he mention that Aulia resorted to giving charms to people in order to prove the message of Islam. Had he done so, he would not have achieved the great results with which he was blessed. That is because the writing, using or wearing of a charm is forbidden in Islam. Allah is in no need of proving the power of His name in such a primitive method. Indeed, His power is manifest to everyone who uses his mind. We can see its effects in everything around us.

The Qur'an is a cure, as Allah has described it. However, we do not get such benefits from the Qur'an by simply writing down some of its verses and attaching them to our clothes or to our bodies. The Qur'an cures us from doubts and gives us reassurance when we carefully contemplate the meaning of its verses and understand its message.

What those two learned gentlemen did was to concentrate on the purification of the soul through prayer and devotion. It is not difficult to understand why they had such a wide appeal. Such a devotion meets a real need in the constitution of human beings, the needs of the spirit. Moreover, the message of Islam gives the human mind a consistent and logical explanation of human existence and the purpose of human life. It helps men understand the nature of Allah, the world and their own nature. When you add this to the spiritual elevation advocated by the two Sheikhs, no wonder that the results of their efforts were tremendous.

I can say without hesitation, on the basis of what I have learned from Maulana Nadwi that there is no truth in what you say about the use of charms by these people. They appear to have acquired a good standard of knowledge of Islam. As such, they cannot challenge the Prophet's teachings and earn any favor with Allah. Devoted to the cause of Islam, as they were, they would have clearly abided by its teachings.

You speak of the variance between Tareeka and Sharee'ah, I can tell you that any Tareeka, or method, which is not subject to the laws and rules of Sharee'ah is totally unacceptable. If a particular Tareeka allows the use of charms, then it is false and any one who follows it is plainly in error. Tareeka is simply a method of self purification, devotion and renunciation of worldly temptation. All that must be governed by the rules of Islamic law. If it is not, then it indulges into excesses which Islam rejects. When we realize that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, has forbidden the use of charms, then we have to reject them and reject any teacher who advocates their use. What we have to realize is that a great deal of distortion has crept into the teachings and heritage of people like Moinuddin Chishtie and Nizamuddin Aulia. For example, you have the celebration known as "Urs" organized annually at the grave of Khawaja Moinuddin Chishtie. Scholars of repute in your home country, such as Sheikh Nadwi, denounce these practices. We cannot blame Khawaja Moinuddin Chishtie for what generations of ignorant people have invented and continued to practice at his grave.

We blame those who have introduced such practices, because they are un-Islamic. We take from the teachings of any person only what is in total agreement with the Qur'an and Sunnah. Whatever does not seem to have sound basis in the Qur'an and the Sunnah, we simply ignore.

• Charms used to cast spell or to neutralize

1. After a family dispute, a relative of ours threatened to place a charm to prevent the marriage of my younger sister. Several years have passed since then and she is still not married. What is worse, my mother has been going to an astrologer to try to break the spell she claims to have been placed on my sister. My brother and I have tried hard to persuade my mother that this is not acceptable in Islam, but she would not listen to our advice. This has delayed our own marriages. We have tried to take some action and threatened to stop writing home, but our mother is still continuing to see the astrologer and says that she will not stop until our sister gets married. What advice do you have for us? How should we deal with our relative?

2. A few months back, some members of my family died in a car accident. Investigation of the accident has proven that there was no mechanical fault, nor was there any carelessness or negligence on the part of the driver. It seemed that the driver could not turn the steering wheel and the gear box was jammed and the brakes failed, leading to the accident. A later check up on the vehicle showed none of these faults. Some people suggest that this is the work of evil spirits or black magic. How does this explanation fit in the Islamic teachings? If it is true that such an event could be caused by such a spell or evil spirit, how can these be countered?

Allah has mentioned black magic in the Qur'an more than once. He mentions that two angels were sent down at the time of Prophet Suleman and taught black magic to some people who asked to learn it. The angels warned them that such learning will lead them to disbelieving in Allah. What they taught those people could achieve the results of bringing about an estrangement between a man and his wife. But Allah says in the Qur'an that those who learned black magic could not harm anyone with it "unless Allah so wills."

Allah also mentions black magic in the story of Prophet Moses and his encounter with Pharaoh. When Prophet Moses called on Pharaoh to relinquish his claim to being the lord of mankind and to believe in Allah as the only God in the universe, Pharaoh challenged him with his magicians. Moses accepted the challenge and people were gathered to see the combat; Moses invited them to demonstrate their powers and they threw their ropes and staffs which appeared by magic as if they were snakes. Moses told them that all that they could master was magic which had no reality. He threw his staff and by Allah's will it was transformed into a real giant snake which swallowed what the magicians had produced. At that moment, the magicians realized that Moses had the backing of much superior power than theirs. They declared their belief in the Oneness of Allah, prostrating themselves in submission to His will.

Some people suggest that black magic could be brought about by charms, spells and certain invocations using hair or old bones and the like. I very much doubt that this is so. If a charm of any sort could bring about such bad effects as black magic is said to produce, then it should be possible to counter one charm with another. It would have been permissible in Islam to resort to wearing some charms in order to dispel the effect of others. But the Prophet has categorically forbidden wearing any charm of any sort and for any purpose. I am, therefore, more inclined to say that black magic does not operate with anything that has real substance. This is not a mere personal opinion. I am guided by the Qur'anic statement describing what Pharaoh's magicians produced. When Moses invited them to produce their trick, their ropes and staffs, as Allah says: "So appeared to him as if they were moving." In other words, it was all a mental trick. The staffs and ropes did not move, but Moses and all those gathered to witness the challenge thought so. Similarly, the magic taught by the two angels in the story of Solomon produced estrangement between man and his wife. This could easily be the result of a mental trick.

In his well-known book "In the Shade of the Qur'an", the late Sayyid Qutb writes: "Magic is the production of illusions, subject to a magician's desires. It does not offer any kind of new facts or alter the nature of things... Through it, one is capable of influencing other people's minds, causing them to think and act according to one's suggestions." He then states clearly that he is not prepared to go further than that in explaining what black magic is.

In the light of the foregoing, I do not think that the marriage of a woman can be delayed through black magic, especially when the magician does not even know who would propose to her. It is more likely that prospective suitors would think twice before making a proposal to this young woman, if it is rumored in her locality that she is under the spell of black magic.

Nor could the car accident mentioned by the second reader be caused by black magic, since magic may affect the mind of a human being but could not jam the brakes of a car or its steering wheel. I wonder whether the investigations of the car accident had looked into the possibility of the driver dying a natural death before the accident occurred. It may be that he lost the ability to move his hands and legs as he was in the throes of death, and thus lost control of the car and the accident happened.

Whatever the case may be in these two incidents, I am extremely reluctant to accept that they are the result of magic. Perhaps I should add that magic can be countered only by reading the Qur'an and seeking Allah's help and protection. Nothing else need or could be done to counter the effects of magic, if it happens at all. Most probably magic has disappeared. Pharaoh's magicians gave it up and submitted themselves to Allah and taught it to no one else. Had it been practiced on a wide scale, anyone who had a grudge against another would have gone to a magician to place a spell on his enemy, or kill him in an accident or in some other way which will ensure that he himself would escape punishment. The fact is that criminals find it necessary to commit crimes themselves, risking being caught and punished. If you look around you, you will find that no one is possessed by an evil spirit and no one falls victim to magic. Those who are said to be possessed may be suffering a mental illness which can be treated by psychiatrists.

As for the Islamic view on magic, it is very clear-cut. It is forbidden for a Muslim to learn or practice magic. Indeed, when a person has learned magic, he is deemed to disbelieve in Allah. It is also forbidden to wear a charm in order to protect oneself against magic. Similarly, it is forbidden to go to an astrologer or fortune-teller or indeed anyone who claims to be able to talk to the jinn or influence their actions or put a magic spell on someone else or break a spell to release a person from its effects. The Prophet is quoted to have said: "A person who goes to an astrologer or a fortune-teller disbelieves in what has been revealed to Muhammad, peace be upon him."

On the basis of the above, my advice to the brothers who have written the first letter, is that they must make it clear to their mother and sister that they cannot in any way sanction or approve the mother's trips to the astrologer. She must stop and trust Allah to bring about what is best for her daughter. Most probably, the mother will not listen to words of sense. Therefore, they should exert whatever pressure they can without offending their mother. For example, if they contribute to the finances of the family, they should obtain a promise by the mother not to go to the astrologer again if she wants their contributions to be continued. If that is taken very badly by the mother, then at least she should promise not to spend a single unit of what they pay into the family budget in order to pay the astrologer. Moreover, they should practically demonstrate that they do not believe that it is magic that has caused their sister not to get married. I strongly advise them to go ahead and marry themselves, without waiting for their sister. Why should they, when the Prophet encourages young people to get married? If this will create a problem within the family, then they should make it clear to their parents that their sister will not be the first girl to remain single and that they believe that the publicity that has surrounded her case is preventing her marriage. They should not suffer as a result.

As for the writer of the second letter, I strongly advise him not to pay any attention to hearsay. He should accept the accident as something that has happened by Allah's will. No one dies before his time. Let him remove from his mind any thought of magic being the cause of the accident.

• Charms with verses from the Qur'an

Some people wear a charm or 'taweez' which contains some verses from the Qur'an, assuming that it protects them from other peoples' evil eyes and the designs of wicked people and devils. Some people attach charms to their children, newly constructed houses, cars and animals. Yet others believe it would improve their vocation and enrich them. What does Islam say to this practice?

It does not need a scholar to define for us the purpose of the revelation of the Qur'an. Anyone who knows anything about Islam will tell you that the Qur'an is a book which provides guidance for mankind so that they may follow Allah's instructions and build a happy human life. It is implicit in this definition that the Qur'an is meant for implementation. Allah has not sent down the Archangel Gabriel with His message, the Qur'an, so that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, His last messenger, should convey it or recite it in melodious voice to enchant his audience, or to make of it a charm to wear in the hope of accomplishing a particular purpose. If we use Qur'anic verses in such a way, we are guilty of degrading Allah's words.

The thought behind using Qur'anic verses in charms for the purpose to which the question has referred to comes simply from the fact that people do believe that verses are Allah's words. Since Allah is able to accomplish any purpose He likes, then His words, - as people mistakenly think - must have a secret power of their own. That is a twisted argument. It is not the word used in a verse, or the verse itself, which has a secret of its own. The Qur'an consists of words which we use everyday in our own language. The fact that these words occur in the Qur'an does not impart to them any special secret or power. The Qur'an brings out its power and its goodness when it is implemented in practical life. It is then and only then that people realize how much happier they become as a result of implementa­tion of Allah's law. The words themselves and the ink with which they are written are not different from any other words or ink.

The Qur'an provides for us a code of practice. If we follow that code and implement it, we lead a happy life because that is the purpose of Allah's code. Moreover, we earn reward from Allah for carrying out His orders. If we turn away from such an implementation, reduc­ing the Qur'an to a mere book through which we seek to have some blessings or the accomplishment of particular purposes, then we displease Allah and achieve nothing.

I can tell my readers in the clearest of ways that wearing a charm does not achieve the pur­pose for which it is worn. It does not matter what is written in it; wearing it is a sin for which the wearer must repent and seek Allah's forgiveness. Moreover, it is sure that the pur­pose for which it is worn will not be achieved.

That is due to the fact that the Prophet has made a supplication to that effect. He says: "May Allah not accomplish the purpose of a person who wears a charm." (Related by Ahmad). The Prophet is also quoted as saying: "He who wears a charm is guilty of associ­ating partners with Allah." We know for certain that Allah answers every prayer or supplica­tion that the Prophet has made in the clearest and widest of fashion. Hence, the surest way of not getting what one aims for is to wear a charm for its accomplishment.

In some charms and amulets, Qur'anic verses are written. Some of those who write such amulets and charms ask the people to whom they give one to soak it in water until the ink (or saffron) has dissolved and then to drink it. That does not give him any blessing. It may give him a stomachache.

The Qur'an may be used in order to bring about a good effect. Allah describes the Qur'an as "a cure for that which is in people's breasts." It is permissible to read the Qur'an and then make a supplication to Allah for any good purpose, whether it relates to the hereafter or to this life. Allah answers prayers at all times, but a prayer said after an act of worship, such as the recitation of the Qur'an, is more likely to be answered. Why should one need to use a charm when he can use Allah's power and the Qur'an, His words, in the manner approved by Him.

• Children: Accountability and the misjudgment of parents?

It is often said that the followers of any religion other than Islam will be questioned on the Day of Judgment for following that religion. A Buddhist may give such an answer: "I was born in a Buddhist family and surroundings, by Your will. My parents taught me the religion they were taught by their own parents and in which they themselves grew up, so I worshipped You with full faith and devotion according to what I have been taught by superiors, teachers and parents. It was not my choice to be born in that community or family, so where is my fault?" Please comment.

It is true that in the majority of cases, people tend to follow in matters of faith, the direction set for them by their parents and their communities. Indeed, the same argument was put to the Prophet by the idolaters of Makkah when he called on them to abandon the idolatrous practice they inherited from their forefathers and to accept the faith based on the Oneness of Allah. However, the Qur'an denounces them for making such an argument and rejects it altogether. It replies to them with another question: "Say. What if your forefathers have been devoid of knowledge and had no guidance?"

This brief Qur'anic answer is highly significant. It points out the course of action worthy of man, on whom Allah has bestowed the greatest honor of giving him an independent mind and granted him the intellectual faculty. This aspect of Allah's grace which distinguishes man from all His creation is not meant to be used only in improving man's material well-being and to be disregarded when a person chooses the faith to follow. We may accept the traditions and practices we inherit from our parents in all material things, but we constantly try to improve them and accept new ideas and new practices. Why should matters of faith be confined to what is inherited or what is socially acceptable?

Indeed, religion and spiritual matters are far more important to human well-being than other human affairs.

However, the mind must have its own say in these. It is the consistent Islamic argument that when a human being uses his mind, free from traditional and social shackles, he is bound to accept the basic principle of the Oneness of Allah as the cornerstone of his faith. That will inevitably lead him to submit himself to Allah's will and this is the essence of the Islamic message. Someone may protest that a person born in a Muslim family has thus an advantage over others. The answer is that Islam requires everyone, even those born to Muslim parents, to accept its message on the basis of personal, free choice after deep thinking and serious questioning. When a person accepts Islam merely because he has been brought up in a Muslim family, he has not done his Islamic duty of proper thinking and deep questioning.

Moreover, Muslims are required to convey the message of Islam in the clearest and most lucid form to all people in the world. If they do not do so, they have not fulfilled their duty and they are accountable for their shortcomings. They bear the blame for all those who remain ignorant of the message of Islam throughout their lives.

Having said that, I must add that Allah is the most fair of all judges. He does not condemn any person to suffer in hell unjustly. When He determines the faith of any person on the Day of Judgment, He takes all factors into account. He then makes His judgment allowing His mercy to supersede His displeasure.

• Children: Caring for the financial needs of kids of a widow

My husband’s brothers and my nephews were taking care of the financial needs of my young children after his death. A few months back I got married again, but my children’s support was stopped both by my late husband’s brothers and my nephews. May I ask who should be looking after my children — my late husband’s brothers and their children or my present husband?

It seems to me that both their uncles and your nephews were prepared to look after the financial needs of your children when it was clear to them that there was no one else to support them. But when you got married, they were ready to give the responsibility to someone else. If your husband is able and willing to look after your children, he will be doing a great act of kindness. He is not responsible under Islamic law to provide that support or to look after your children, but looking after them is a great act of kindness which will not go unrewarded by God. It is often the case that when a man marries a woman with young children from an earlier marriage, he looks after her children. That gives him satisfaction in this life, so the children grow to love him, and a general reward by God in the Hereafter.

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