Fortune, misfortune and omens – the Islamic perspective
by Shaykh Ahmed Abdul Mujeeb Qasmi Nadvi (translated by Muhammad Owais Jafrey)
According to the Islamic calendar the current month (when this lecture was delivered) is called “Safar”, which was considered a period of ills and misfortunes in the pre-Islamic era. In those days of ignorance, it was believed that each man had a serpent in his stomach, which caused hunger pains. Imaam Navawi (RehmA) writes that before the advent of Islam, it was believed that Safar was a collective name of infectious stomach worms causing pain, jaundice and at times death. There was yet another superstitious custom, which Bedouins had introduced to their calendar. It was to change the order of months and shuffling their logical sequence to suit their agenda of loot, plunder, and war of vengeance. So at whim they could name Safar as Muharram and Muharram as Safar. Islam considers it as disbelief. Verse 37 of Surah Towba says:
“Postponing sacred months is another act of disobedience by which those who disregard [Allah] are led astray: they will allow it one year and forbid it in another in order outwardly to conform to number of Allah’s sacred months, but in doing so they permit what Allah has forbidden. Their evil deeds are made alluring to them: Allah does not guide those who disregard [Him].”
Unfortunately superstitions are rampant in our society in one form or the other. People attribute good or bad luck to things and incidents betraying all logic and common sense. Some days and months are considered auspicious and good over other days and months. If a black cat crosses your path, or you see or hear an owl, you are considered to be in for bad luck, which is nothing but superstition and absolute ignorance.
Our beloved Prophet (SAW) not only guided us to the true faith and righteous code of conduct, but also trained us to negate fallacies, fantasies, whims and superstitions. It was in the light of his (SAW)’s teachings that the month of Safar is called Safar-ul-Muzaffar, i.e. the month of blessings and success as against doom and failure. Things happen according to the will of Allah (SWT), and are also the direct result of our actions or inactions. Hafiz ibn-e-Rajab (RehmA) says that it is not right to associate omens with days or months as all these are Allah’s creations. They can be turned into blessings by spending them in Allah’s remembrance and using them productively and virtuously; one can ruin their auspiciousness if spent in non-productive acts, negative thinking and disloyalty and disobedience to Allah (SWT). Ibrahim bin Adham (RehmA) said: “Anyone who wants to seek real repentance and salvation should avoid injustice, extortion, arrogance, and the company of disobedient people; that is the only way to reach destination.”
In the pre-Islamic days, people used to take good or bad omens in many ways. When prompted if a deer ran or a bird flew towards the left, it was considered a bad omen, and if it turned to right, it was considered to be a sign of good luck. That was the way they decided whether to embark upon a journey, perform an act or not. As quoted in Bukhari and Muslim, Prophet (SAW) said that the interpretation the good outcome from an omen is a sign of positive attitude. What he (SAW) meant that one should expect the best and Khair from Allah (SWT). To believe a bad out come from something is nothing but shirk, i.e. attributing partnership to Allah. A Momin believes that every thing good or bad, success or failure is subject to Allah (SWT)’s will and command. Failures and hard luck should be attributed to one’s own shortcoming, inaction, or bad action.
Prophets and Messengers are the spring source of virtue, wisdom and blessings, but the followers of Pharaohs considered Prophet Musa (AS [Moses]) and his companions as inauspicious. Verse 130-131 of Surah A’araaf says:
“We inflicted years of drought and crop failure on Pharaoh’s people, so that they might take heed, then, when something good came their way, they said: ‘This is our due!’ When something bad came, they ascribed it to the evil omen of Moses and those with him, but their evil omen was really from Allah, though most of them did not realize it.”
The people of Thamud (AS) had leveled the same accusation against Swaleh (AS) as told in verse 47 of Surah Naml:
“They said: ‘we see you and your followers as an evil omen.’ He replied: ‘Allah will decide on any omen you may see; you people are put to the test.”
The Arab polytheists thought on the same lines about Prophet (SAW). Verse 78 of Surah Nisa says:
“When good fortune comes their way, they say, ‘this is from Allah, but when harm befalls them, they say, this is from you [Prophet]. Say to them [Rasul Allah], both come from Allah, anything bad is [ultimately] from yourself. We have sent you as a Messenger to people; Allah is sufficient witness.”
Verse 30 of Surah Shura says:
“Whatever misfortune befalls you [people], it is because of what your own hands have done – Allah forgives much.”
Tirmizi quotes Abdullah bin Masood (RA) that Prophet (SAW) said that believing in bad omens is shirk, i.e. attributing partners to Allah (SWT).
The notion that if some one sits close to, or eats with a sick person gets the patient’s disease is also a notion of the pre-Islamic days of ignorance. Prophet (SAW) corrected this concept and said that falling sick is according to the will of Allah, the person who attends to the sick can fall sick like the sick person whom he attends. The believers should remember this fact that it is only Allah (SWT), Who governs our affairs, and everything is subject to His supreme will. Use Allah (SWT) given wisdom in making decisions and judgments.
The pre-Islamic Arabs also believed that a bird, most probably owl comes out of the body of a murdered person demanding water and tries to avenge the death of the victim and disappears after the death of the murderer. As quoted in Bukhari, Prophet (SAW) rejected these notions of passing one’s disease to another, taking bad omens, the superstition about the owl, and the association of bad luck with the month of Safar.
Prophet (SAW) said that disregarding Allah (SWT)’s will and decisions and indulgence in whims and superstitions by attributing good or bad with His (SWT)’s creations is a gross disbelief and has no relationship with Islam. He (SAW) added that calling “time” as bad by Ibn-e-Adam (son of Adam) displeases Me, as I am the Time. I have made the day and the night and I cause them to follow each other. And yet according to another narration he (SAW) said that time and space and all that is there in the universe is subject to Allah (SWT)’s scheme and laws and to His command. So we as Muslims should focus only on His supreme will, submit to Him, obey Him, seek help and guidance from Him, do our best to achieve a goal, expect the best from Him and leave the result to Allah (SWT) alone.
Poet, philosopher Iqbal (RehmA) summarizes this concept in a couplet and says:
“He, Who is eternal; you are His divine hands, expressive of His might through action.
Instill Faith in Allah alone, O’ you forgetful, overpowered by doubt and distrust.”
May Allah enable us to realize the importance of the gift of life and the countless blessings we have been bestowed with and utilize our time prudently and wisely and the way it pleases Allah (SWT) and His Messenger (SAW). Aameen!
SWT = Subhanahu Wa Ta'Ala
SAW = Sallallaho Alaihe Wasallam
AS = AlehisSalam
RA = Radhiyallaho anhu
RAnha= Radhiyallaho anha
The Friday Khutbahs are published to enhance your knowledge of Islam. The references of Quran and Hadith are the approximate translation of the Arabic text. The editors have not verified the accuracy of the the English translation. The scholarly reader is encouraged to refer to the original Arabic script if there is any doubt. Kindly notify us if the translation can be enhanced.