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Superstitions

at the
Speed of Light
Sheikh Salman al-Oadah
Copyright © 2008 by IslamToday

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Contents:

Belief in the Unseen 1

On the Interpretation of Dreams 6

Cries from the Grave 17

Superstitions at the Speed of Light 25


Superstitions at the Speed of Light Sheikh Salman al-Oadah

Belief in the Unseen

Belief in the Unseen is central to the message of the


Qur’ân. Allah says: “This is the Book; in it is guidance
sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah; who believe
in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of
what We have provided for them.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 2-
3]

This verse establishes for us that belief in the Unseen is


the basis for certainty of faith. Indeed, all six of the
articles of faith are built upon belief in the Unseen.

This is why, in this verse, Allah mentions belief in the


Unseen as the first characteristic of a believer. We are
not supposed to limit our belief to those things that we
can apprehend with our senses. We are not supposed to
allow our observation of the physical world to blind us to
our faith in what is beyond it.

Allah gives us the balance that we are supposed to strike


when He tells us: “On the Earth are signs for those of
assured faith, as also in your own selves: Will you not
then see? And in heaven is your sustenance, as (also)
that which you are promised.” [Sûrah Dhâriyât: 20-22]

In these verses, Allah mentions matters of the Unseen in


conjunction with matters that are subject to our empirical
scrutiny. The world of the Unseen is the domain of faith.
The proof for our faith, however, is in the tangible world,

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the world wherein we carry out our daily lives.

A Muslim believes in the existence of that which is


beyond human perception. A Muslim believes in Allah
and His attributes. A Muslim believes in the angels, the
scriptures, and the Prophets. A Muslim believes in the
Hereafter and what it entails of the Resurrection, Heaven
and Hell, the Balance, the Bridge, and other details
mentioned in the Qur’ân and the authentic Sunnah.

This also entails belief in the Jinn, for Allah says: “Say (O
Muhammad): It is revealed unto me that a company of
the Jinn gave ear, and they said: ‘Lo! we have heard a
marvellous Qur`ân, which guides unto righteousness, so
we believe in it and we ascribe no partner unto our Lord’.”
[Sûrah al-Jinn: 1-2]

Allah says: “Behold, We turned towards you a company


of Jinn (quietly) listening to the Qur`ân. When they stood
in its presence, they said, ‘Listen in silence!’ When the
(reading) was finished, they returned to their people to
warn them. They said: ‘Our people! Lo! we have heard a
scripture which hath been revealed after Moses,
confirming that which was before it, guiding unto the truth
and a straight path’.” [Sûrah al-Ahqâf 29-30]

Therefore, it is a matter of certainty in a Muslim’s faith


that the Jinn exist and that they are accountable to their
Lord and Creator, that the message of the Prophets is for
them as well, and that among them are believers and

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unbelievers. Our belief in these matters requires no


empirical proof. We must simply concede that our minds
and our faculties are limited, and that some things in
Allah’s creation have not been subjected to our scrutiny.

Consider the human soul. Though it has a vital


connection with the human body, its nature is a complete
mystery to us.

Allah says: “They ask you about the soul. Say: the soul is
from the affair of my Lord, and of knowledge you have
been vouchsafed but little.” [Sûrah al-Isrâ: 85]

Belief in the Unseen gives the mind scope that it


otherwise would not have. Without belief in the Unseen,
life would become depressing and claustrophobic. This is
why, regardless of their religious convictions, people
show a general tendency to need their Lord and Creator,
especially in times of hardship.

Allah describes this tendency in the Qur’ân: “Now, if they


embark on a boat, they call on Allah, making their
devotion sincerely (and exclusively) to Him; but when He
has delivered them safely to (dry) land, behold, they give
a share (of their worship to others)!” [Sûrah al-`Ankabût:
65]

Islam places belief in the Unseen within the framework of


our acceptance of the scriptures. Outside of this limited
scope, Islam gives humanity wide berth for the exercise

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of reason and the pursuit of empirical knowledge. Islam


encourages us to study the world around us and uncover
its secrets.

This is why Islam demands that any claim we make


about a matter of the Unseen must be strictly supported
by scripture. Otherwise, the Unseen should not be
invoked.

Allah instructs us in the Qur’ân, regarding a claim that


people made about the Hereafter: “Say: Bring your proof
(of what you state) if you are truthful.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah:
111]

This gives us the criterion between belief in the Unseen


and belief in superstition. The Unseen refers to matters of
faith that are beyond our rational powers to apprehend.
Superstitions, by contrast, are the consequences of our
failure to exercise our rational faculties where they should
be applied.

The matters of the Unseen that Islam calls upon people


of faith to believe – they are all matters we can never
learn about by way of human reason. At the same time,
they are not contrary to the dictates of reason.

Ibn Taymiyah explains this as follows:

Islam asserts matters that transcend the limits of human reason


– matters that the human mind is incapable of resolving on its

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own. Islam does not assert matters that run contrary to the
dictates of reason, things that our rational faculties clearly show
us to be impossible or wrong.

Reason does not deny the existence of the Unseen. To


the contrary, reason acknowledges that necessity of the
Unseen for the success of human life in this world and for
our fate in the Hereafter.

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On the Interpretation of Dreams

When people try to interpret dreams or guess at their


significance, they need to keep in mind that their
interpretations might be wrong just as easily as they
might be right. In Islam, no one besides the Prophets are
guaranteed to interpret dreams accurately. It is a mistake
to think that anyone else can be like the Prophets in this
matter.

There are a number of reasons as to why such a


comparison is false:

1. The Prophets (peace be upon him) are the only people


protected from error in what they convey to others.

2. The claim that a certain person does not err in


interpreting dreams is a claim without any proof from the
Qur’ân or Sunnah to back it up. In fact, the Prophet
(peace be upon him) put a lie to that idea when he said:
“Every descendant of Adam is prone to make mistakes.”
[Sunan al-Tirmidhî (2499) and Sunan Ibn Mâjah (4251)]

3. The Companions and the leading scholars of Islam


made mistakes regarding the understanding of matters of
Islamic Law, though the texts of the Qur’ân and Sunnah
were before them. How can anyone hope to do better
with interpreting the more tenuous and vague evidence of
dreams?

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4. The Sunnah tells us that a dream interpreter who is not


a prophet will get some things right and some things
wrong. Once, after Abû Bakr interpreted a dream, the
Prophet (peace be upon him) told him: “You were right in
some of it and wrong in some of it.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî
and Sahîh Muslim]

This was the case for Abû Bakr, the most knowledgeable
Muslim after the Prophet (peace be upon him). What can
we hope for anyone else?

5. Dreams, when it comes to the Prophets (peace be


upon them), are a portion of prophecy. Therefore, a
Prophet’s interpretation of a dream is always true, since it
is revealed knowledge. This cannot be the case with
anyone else.

It is a wonder of the Lord when something a person sees


in a dream subsequently comes true for that person in his
or her waking life. It also constitutes part of the
miraculous proof of Muhammad’s prophethood, since it
confirms what the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“Dreams are three categories: the good one that is a glad


tiding from Allah, a bad dream from Satan, and a normal
dream which exposes what the person is thinking about.
If you see what you dislike, get up and pray and do not
mention it to others.” [Sahîh Muslim]

What we need to concentrate on is giving our waking

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lives a proper assessment. This is critical to us if we wish


to improve our outlook, our thinking, and our behavior.
We should ask ourselves: Are we using our waking hours
effectively? Are we pleased with how we are spending
our time? Are we reading what will give us blessings or
useful knowledge? Are we engaged in productive work or
fruitful dialogue? Or are we just whiling our precious
hours away?

If we are using our waking hours poorly, then what is


more important for us to reinterpret – our sleeping
experiences or our waking ones?

With certainty, we can say that our waking lives are more
important. Allah will hold us accountable for what we do
when we are awake. As for when we are asleep, the pen
is lifted from our accounts. This makes sleep of
secondary importance to us. Therefore, the
circumstances, the rulings, the thoughts, and the
activities of our waking hours are what deserve our
critical attention.

A great deal of the conversations that we engage in with


our friends, in person and online, is superfluous and
unimportant. Admittedly, we need recreation and such
conversations have a role to play. However, this should
tell us something about our dreams. Do we really think
that everything that speaks to us within ourselves during
sleep is important and deserves to be critically analyzed
and interpreted in earnest?

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Quite often, people look to their dreams to escape from


the difficulties of life. People who are going through trying
and painful times are generally more likely to pursue the
interpretation of their dreams.

They see their nightly visions as part of Allah’s relief for


them, relying upon the hadîth: “When the last days draw
nearer, a believer’s dream will almost never lie. The most
honest of them in dreams will be the most honest of them
in speech.” [Sahîh Muslim (2263)]

Their dreams, however, might be from Satan, who takes


advantage of their anxieties, their pain, and their
difficulties to make things worse for them by increasing
their tensions and their sorrows.

Allah tells us: “Secret counsels are only (inspired) by the


Evil One, in order that he may cause grief to the
Believers; but he cannot harm them in the least, except
as Allah permits; and on Allah let the Believers put their
trust.” [Sûrah al-Mujâdalah: 10]

Alternatively, their dreams could just be a natural


consequence of what is preoccupying their thoughts.
Their problems are already weighing down their minds,
and they interpret their dreams according to the changing
state of their problems.

In Arabian society, women tend to be more concerned

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than men are about their dreams. This is because of


social factors. Arabian women tend to suffer from greater
impositions – from their fathers, brothers, or husbands.
This, compounded by the greater degree of emotional
sensitivity and openness that their society allows them,
makes them more easily affected by their dreams than
their men folk are.

For the same reason, we see that people who are


incarcerated are more closely concerned with their
dreams.

Sâlih b. `Abd al-Quddûs has this well-known poem to his


credit, though some have attributed it to `Abd Allah b.
Mu`âwiyah:

While of its folk, the Earth's a place we have departed from,


Neither dwelling with its corpses nor among the living.
On those strange occasions when the jailors do their bidding
We gasp in awe: "O! It is from the world that they have come."

In dreams we do rejoice, and nearly all our conversation


Comes upon our waking when we speak of where we'd been.
If fair had been the dream, it would remain a thing unseen
But if the dream were ill, then swift would be its realization.

The crises that afflict our nations – like war and civil strife
– give birth to their fair share of dreams. The tragedy that
took place in the Holy Mosque twenty-five years ago was
started by a dream and was accompanied by more and
more dreams all the way to its unfortunate end. This is a

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good example to show us how Satan – or our own


powers of suggestion – can inspire in us dreams that
lead us to sorrowful consequences. Moreover, a true
dream might show us certain things that indeed come to
pass; but then again, such dreams only show us that
those things are going to take place. They do not indicate
the lawfulness or of those events and cannot be
construed as a sign of approval for them.

The man behind the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait supposedly


had a number of dreams, and he had those dreams
interpreted. This is because, when a person finds himself
confronted by a new set of circumstances, he does not
know what to do, so he resorts to dreams for guidance.

Interpretation is, by nature, speculation. Allah says about


Joseph (peace be upon him): “And he said to him whom
he thought would be delivered of the two: ‘Mention me to
your lord’.” [Sûrah Yûsuf: 42]

Though Joseph (peace be upon him) was a prophet, we


still see the word “thought” being used to describe his
interpretation of the dream. Therefore, we who are not
prophets should never speak with certainty about a
dream interpretation.

A dream interpretation is also like the issuing of a verdict.


Allah quotes Joseph as saying: “Thus is the case judged
concerning that about which you inquired.” [Sûrah Yûsuf:
41]

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This tells us that a person should take care and not rush
into interpreting or analyzing his dreams. Hastiness and
presumption can bring harmful consequences. Mâlik b.
Anas became angry when he heard people hastily
interpreting dreams and would say: “Are you playing at
prophecy?”

Too often, we give dreams more weight than they


deserve. Maybe a certain dream is the truth from Allah.
However, this does not mean that a person cannot go
wrong by overemphasizing its importance – maybe
fancying that the fate of the world rests upon his dream.
This causes him to act in an injudicious and inappropriate
manner. He interprets his dream as having great global
and historical ramifications. He strives for political change
on the strength of his dream, or at the very least, makes
radical and unnecessary changes in his own life.

Had such a person asked a scholar of Islamic Law, he


would have been told that the implications of a person’s
dream do not extend beyond the person who sees it.
Therefore, if someone who witnesses the end of the
world in a dream goes forth and preaches his vision to
the world, he will be causing no end of trouble for himself
and others. Maybe his dream was true… but maybe it
really meant that his watch had stopped. This shows the
deficiency of thought of someone who allows the mind's
nightly visions have an undue influence over the
decisions of waking life.

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Then you have the dream interpreters who peddle their


all-purpose dream interpretations to a credulous public.
Like palm readers, they have answers that will safely
apply to any of their customers, regardless of who they
are. For who does not have problems, concerns, goals,
and unresolved issues in their lives?

He says: “Your dream means that you have a concern


that needs resolution.”

The customer answers: “You have spoken the truth.”

He says to a young woman: “You will get married.” To the


new bride: “You will have a child.” To the middle-aged
housewife: “There are problems in your marriage.” To
anyone he might say: “You have plans.”

The answer will be: “How true!”

Sometimes, a keen-eyed interpreter who notices


subtleties and picks up on hints, can offer interpretations
that are more custom-tailored to the customer.

Generally, dream interpretation relies upon standard


metaphors and similes, and upon the associations that
are commonplace in people’s experience. This is the
easiest way for people to understand things.
Interpretations that are innovative and unprecedented are
more difficult for people to identify with.

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This is why we find milk is often interpreted to signify the


natural lifestyle, in that both are a mainstay of nourishing
the self and that a child on its own knows to drink milk.
This is why it is interpreted to represent the Islamic way
of life that Allah has predisposed his creatures to live by.
Likewise, this is why a cow in a dream is often interpreted
to signify people of religion and righteousness, since they
– like the cow – are a source through which civilized life
is nourished and sustained, and they are like the cow in
that they bring no harm but many benefits. Likewise, a
dead tree in a dream is seen to signify the hypocrites,
since they are likewise devoid of inner life, of beneficial
shade, and provide no fruit to the public.

In this way, a dream is like a parable and the interpreter


compares it to that shares with it some quality. Were it
not for the fact that we give rulings to new things by
comparing them to familiar things that resemble them,
this kind of dream interpretation would not prevail and
would not rest upon any basis.

Allah cites parables in a number of places in the Qur’ân,


calling us to listen to them and ponder their implications.

However, a person’s interpretation can be affected by the


meddling of Satan who can suggest some interpretations
to the person’s heart while he is unaware. Though the
personal state of the interpreter is not a reliable measure
of the accuracy of his interpretation, the more

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knowledgeable and truthful a person is, that farther he is


from Satan’s tricks.

The same can be said for seeing the Prophet (peace be


upon him) in a dream. It is not necessary that everyone
who thinks he has seen the Prophet (peace be upon him)
in a dream has really seen him. It is necessary that the
Prophet (peace be upon him) is seen as he is known to
appear, as stated in the hadîth regarding seeing the
Prophet (peace be upon him) in dreams. When people
came to Ibn Sîrîn or al-Hasan claiming to have seen the
Prophet (peace be upon him) in a dream, they would ask
that person to describe him to them. If the person
described him by other than his well-known description,
then he had not seen the Prophet (peace be upon him).

No one should ever interpret seeing the Prophet (peace


be upon him) in a dream to be an admittance pass into
Paradise. This is a serous self-deception. Moreover, the
one being seen in the dream must never command the
dreamer to do something sinful. The dreamer should be
aware that Satan can appear to him – awake or in a
dream – representing himself as God or as any one of
the prophets – even Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon
him), just not upon the Prophet’s true appearance.

Ibn Taymiyah quotes the following account from`Abd al-


Qâdir al-Jîlânî [Majmû` al-Fatâwâ (1/173)]:

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I was once deeply involved in worship, and I saw a great throne


endowed with light. It spoke to me: “O `Abd al-Qâdir! I am your
Lord, and I have made lawful for you what I have forbidden for
others.”

I said: “Be gone, you enemy of Allah!”

Then that light was rent apart and was replaced by darkness. It
said: “O `Abd al-Qâdir! Your knowledge and your understanding
of the religion have saved you. For indeed, I have deceived in
this way seventy men.”

Someone asked `Abd al-Qâdir: “How did you now that it was
Satan.”

He said: “By his saying: ‘I have made lawful for you what I have
forbidden for others’ – because the Law of Muhammad (peace
be upon him) will never be abrogated or replaced. ’

The only true safeguard from error is Allah’s protection.

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Cries from the Grave

A bizarre news item has been circulating throughout the


Internet. It comes with an audio file full of strange
recorded sounds. These sounds were supposedly
captured by a team of Russian geologists in the deserts
of Siberia while recording plate movements and are
purported to be the screams of men and women being
punished in the grave.

We much choose to reject such a claim for a number of


good reasons.

1. The punishment of the grave is something true,


established by the Qur’ân and Sunnah. This matter has
been thoroughly discussed by the scholars, who have
presented all the direct and indirect evidence that
establishes this fact, and who have answered all of the
objections of those who might wish to deny it.

However, the punishment of the grave is part of the


knowledge of the unseen. It is not part of the observable,
empirical world in which we live. If we were to concede
that these voices are those of people being punished in
the grave, then the matter becomes one of empirical
certainty and not one of faith. It would be a matter of
agreement. The wisdom behind Allah trying us with faith
in the unseen would be lost.

The accounts mentioned by scholars like Ibn `Abî al-

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Dunyâ and al-Suyûtî, as well as occasionally by Ibn


Taymiyah and Ibn al-Qayyim are – when authentically
reported – no more than the accounts of individual
experiences. They were neither heard nor seen except
by the individuals who claimed to experience them. They
were not general experiences and observable
phenomena, the likes of which could wind up on an audio
recording.

In any event, when it comes to disagreements in matters


related to Islamic teachings, we take our evidence from
the Qur’ân and Sunnah.

2. It is the right of every person on Earth to reject suchs


claims unless they are substantiated with evidence.

Yes, during the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him)


we have where Abû Hurayrah relates:

We were with Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) when he


heard a loud sound. The Prophet (peace be upon him) asked:
“Do you know what that is?” They replied: “Allah and His
Messenger know best.”

He said: “This is a stone that had been thrown into the Fire
seventy years ago and it had reached the bottom now.” [Sahîh
Muslim (2844)]

The Companions, of course, did not pursue or investigate


the matter. They left it to the one who had knowledge of
such things and said nothing until the Prophet (peace be

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upon him) informed them about it.

So today, where is the source that is privy to revelation


from Allah, upon whom we can safely rely to tell us those
sounds are indeed the sounds of the dead being
punished in their graves?

3. Then we have the hadîth in Sahîh al-Bukhârî and


Sahîh Muslim, related by Anas, that the Prophet (peace
be upon him) said:

When the servant is put into his grave and all his fellows turn
away to leave him, he will hear the sound of their footsteps. Two
angels will approach him and ask him: “What do you say about
this man Muhammad?”

He will say: “I bear witness that he is the servant of Allah and


His Messenger.”

It will then be said to him: “Look upon your place in the Fire.
Allah has supplanted it with a place in Paradise.” Then he shall
see both places.

As for the unbeliever – or hypocrite –he will reply: “Oh, I do not


know. I used to say what the people said.”

It will be said: “He did not know and he did not say.”

He will then be struck with an iron bar upon the head and he will
scream with a voice that could be heard by everything save for
human beings and Jinn.

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This is proof that the screams of the people being


punished in the graves are – as a rule – inaudible to
human ears.

4. Allah says: “And how many a generation before them


have We caused to perish! Can you see a single one of
them, or hear from them the slightest sound?” [Sûrah
Maryam: 98]

The verse was understood by Ibn `Abbâs, Abû `Âliyah,


Ikrimah, al-Hasan al-Basrî, Sa`îd b. Jubayr, and al-
Dahhâk to mean that not the slightest sound can be
heard from them.

The obvious meaning of this verse is that none of us who


are being addressed by this verse can hear those who
have passed away.

5. Tampering with sounds and images has become


child’s play these days. We find this technology behind
many attempts to discredit religion and dupe the
religious.

How many stories have we heard where people claim to


have seen things taking place in graveyards? Someone
mentions that a grave was opened up for one reason or
other and flames were found inside. Someone else
claims that the body had been mysteriously turned away
from the direction of prayer. There is no end to such
tales.

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When anyone attempts to verify such stories, they are


always traced back to unknown sources at best, or more
often to dubious informers and known liars. Sadly, such
stories are often repeated by preachers who do not care
to verify their sources.

How may graves have been exposed to the public eye by


flood or by other causes without ever once showing any
evidence of the pleasure or pain of the deceased?

The reason for this – and Allah knows best – is that the
affairs of the Barzakh (the state of existence after death
often referred to as the “grave”) are not part of our
physical world. They are closer to the affairs of the
Hereafter. The physical laws that we know do not apply
to the Barzakh and our sensory abilities cannot perceive
it. So even though the denizen of the grave may be
experiencing a time of comfort or a time of pain, those
who might happen to be in the vicinity of the physical
body will not perceive it at all.

6. A person might have a dream about someone in


particular who has passed away, a dream that seems to
indicate the state of the deceased. A dream can be from
the remaining one-forty-sixth share of prophecy, and as
such, it may give someone a glimpse of the unseen
world. However, it is never definitive or certain. The
Prophet (peace be upon him) said to Abû Bakr when that
eminent Companion interpreted a dream: “You got some

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of it right and some of it wrong.”

Ahmad b. Hanbal said: “A good dream pleases a believer


without beguiling him.”

At best, a dream has something to tell to the one who


experiences it. However, it does not apply to other people
and they are not supposed to believe in it. They can
never be certain of the state of the one who claims to
have seen the dream. Often, they cannot assess the
integrity or truthfulness of the person who is relating his
dream.

7. These tales are dispensable. Allah says about the


Qur’ân: “Then what Message, after it, will they believe
in?” [Sûrah al-Mursalât: 50]

The Qur’ân is sufficient as a proof and a lesson for us.


Likewise, we are content with the true words of His
Prophet (peace be upon him). These are the best
sources of inspiration. The stories and exhortations of the
Qur’an have the strongest pull upon our heartstrings.

They enrich us far beyond needing such tales that any


one of us can easily dismiss without blame.

I appeal to the Muslim mindset that can distinguish


between what are truly matters of the unseen and what
are mere fables. Matters of the unseen are what we know
of Allah’s creation by way of the sacred texts regarding

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things that are not subject to our empirical observation.


At the same time, those things do not defy the dictates of
reason. Rather, the dictates of reason bear witness to
such matters in general terms. As for superstitions and
fables, they are just contrivances of the imagination that
are neither supported by the sacred texts nor by reason.

Though a believer believes in the unseen, he is not


gullible. He only accepts such matters on the basis of
sound scriptural evidence.

We must consider Abû Bakr’s reply when some Quraysh


tribesmen chided him by bringing him the following news:
“That friend of yours claims that he traveled to Jerusalem
and then ascended into the sky…”

He replied: “If indeed he has said so, then indeed he is


telling the truth.”

For this, he earned the honorary title of siddîq “the one


who believes fully”.

Consider how Abû Bakr made his answer contingent on


the Prophet (peace be upon him) having actually said so,
saving himself from the possibility that the Quraysh
tribesmen might have been lying to him.

No one should argue that, because the recording might


have a positive effect on some people, we should not call
its veracity into question. It might happen that a sinner

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repents and reforms his ways after hearing some


fabricated hadîth. In this case, we praise his repentance
and still clarify the falsehood of the hadîth.

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Superstitions at the Speed of Light

It would be hoped that the Muslim mind would have some


natural resistance to falsehoods and superstitions, since
the Qur’ân establishes for us an approach to knowledge
founded on factual information and evidence.

Allah says: “Say: Bring your proof (of what you state) if
you are truthful.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 111]

A Muslim believes in empirical evidence and in the


knowledge gained through accurate observation and
experimentation. A Muslim believes in reason and the
conclusions that the rational mind arrives at when it is
free from the influence of personal desires and vested
interests. A Muslim believes also in the truth of Divine
Revelation.

Therefore, proof as a Muslim sees it is either empirical,


rational, or – in matters of the unseen – scriptural.

This is clear from Allah’s words: “Allah brings you forth


from the wombs of your mothers knowing nothing, and
He provides you with hearing, sight, and a heart, that
perhaps you might be thankful.” [Sûrah al-Nahl: 78]

In this verse, Allah defines the sources of knowledge that


can bring a person forth from the snares of ignorance.

Allah says: “And pursue not that of which you have no

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Superstitions at the Speed of Light Sheikh Salman al-Oadah

knowledge; for every act of hearing, or of seeing, or of


the heart, will be enquired into.” [Sûrah al-Isrâ’: 36]

This verse prohibits us to follow or subscribe to that


which is unsupported by evidence. It also defines for us
what the sources of evidence are.

By way of our hearing, we learn about revelation. By way


of our sight, we acquire empirical knowledge. By way of
our hearts, we are able to reason and make sound
determinations.

It was by employing this methodology that the Muslims of


old were able to emerge from the age of ignorance that
they had been living in and move to the vanguard of
history, leading human civilization forward.

They did not suffer from any conflict between rational


knowledge and spiritual belief. Theirs was a perfect
harmony between the two, a synergy that brought about
a full realization of their human potential.

This is in stark contrast to the pitiful state the Muslims are


in today. Muslims are practically cut off from the empirical
sciences which are now witnessing, at the hands of
others, startling transformations and discoveries at a rate
unprecedented in history.

Muslims societies are instead plagued with fables and


superstitions that stifle their intellectual output and bring

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Superstitions at the Speed of Light Sheikh Salman al-Oadah

about nothing but confusion. For some, the distinction


between superstitions and revealed knowledge has
become utterly obscured. Ready acceptance of strange
and unnatural claims is seen as piety, as a natural
extension of a Muslim’s belief in the unseen. Some
people are eager to accept the flimsiest of claims and the
most unsubstantiated of reports. By contrast, they meet
beneficial and sound empirical knowledge with suspicion
and stiff resistance.

Fables and strange tales can spread around today at the


speed of light. Indeed, the speed with which rumors and
fables spread through society might very well become a
new figure of speech to indicate fantastic speed. Sheikh
Muhammad Rashîd Ridâ wrote something once about
the visionary bequest of Ahmad, the bearer of the
Ka`bah’s keys, foretelling the end of the world.
Thereafter, Sheikh `Abd al-`Azîz bin Bâz wrote a specific
response to this fable, though some people were
surprised that he saw it worth his effort to refute such a
ridiculous tale. Alas, despite Sheikh bin Bâz’s efforts, we
still see the tale in its various guises resurface year after
year.

Modern technology has allowed such stories to spread


and circulate faster than ever. The Internet, satellite
broadcasts, cell phones, and other advancements in
communication have exposed to us how weak Muslims
are in the skill of sorting and verifying information. We
can see how easy they are willing to absorb ideas that

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Superstitions at the Speed of Light Sheikh Salman al-Oadah

are contrary to both the teachings of Islam and to good


sense. Modern communications have shown us the
simple-mindedness and gullibility of a wide section of the
population.

How often do reformers have to waste time combating


false reports that spread like viruses, lethal and insidious,
unchecked by any immunity.

Religious people are often the victims of myths about


saints, the Mahdi, and the Hour. Sick people are
susceptible to quick diagnoses about magic curses, with
cures that are often ridiculous and contrary to Islamic
teachings. Many wives are plagued by superstitions
involving curses, Jinn, magic charms, and the
interpretation of dreams.

People looking to get rich quick are often taken in by the


tempting promises of mediums who claim that with the
assistance of Jinn or other people, they can help uncover
for them buried treasure.

The general public seems to have neither the patience


nor the will to try and understand things or to acquire
accurate knowledge. They are not sufficiently prepared
for critical thinking. They are attracted to the new and
strange. A person might attend a lecture or hear a
sermon and remember nothing that was said except for a
strange and unusual anecdote. The same can be said for
reading habits. Some people have no interest in the

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Superstitions at the Speed of Light Sheikh Salman al-Oadah

newspapers or periodicals except for those articles that


have the least benefit or value, but that provide them with
strange and attention-getting anecdotes for conversation.

However, Allah directs us as follows: “Those who hear


advice and follow the best thereof, such are those whom
Allah guides, and such are people of understanding.”
[Sûrah al-Zumar: 18]

It never ceases to amaze me how an erudite scholar or


scientist is able to employ his mind to great effect within
his field of secular study, but in another setting you find
him with his head reverently bowed down, awaiting the
arrival of Khidr or the appearance of one of the
Companions or prophets who is to participate in their
gathering. It leaves us to wonder how so much good
sense can reside in the same mind with such foolish
superstition.

Does a Muslim’s faith in the unseen – in matters that


cannot be subjected to empirical scrutiny – give him
license to discard sense and discretion in what he
accepts to be true?

When superstitions takes hold of people’s lives, their


mental powers are weakened, making them incapable of
critical thinking. Superstitions blacken the image of Islam.

Superstitions strip people of their self-confidenceand


cause them to doubt their own abilities. It is this

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Superstitions at the Speed of Light Sheikh Salman al-Oadah

confidence which is so vital to the pursuit of knowledge,


to inventiveness, and to excellence.

Healthy civilizations have no respect for superstitions.


We must make it a priority to reform our approach to
education. We need to develop critical thinking skills. No
one who is concerned with the future of Muslim society
can fail to see the importance of this. We should not
allow our problems and our weak circumstances distract
us from the task of educational reform. Indeed, only in
this way will we be able to develop a strong basis to meet
the challenges that confront us.

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