The Magician

The Magician

Introduction

 

A morbid fascination with the occult doesn’t seem to be limited to a particular society or civilisation.  For some sections of the Muslim Ummah, the ‘supernatural’ occupies a place quite centre stage, at times with a perception that the ills of society are at root caused by the presence and activities of those practising Siḥr – magic.  Consequently, the view often regurgitated is that the practitioners of magic – Sāḥir, magicians, sorcerers, would in fact be placed within the remit of capital punishment under a lawfully constituted Islamic system of governance.  Similar vociferous calls though are noticeably absent from other magicians of a different kind: those willing to print money out of thin air with a fiat currency, or the those with a slight of hand who will conjure all manner of excuses to justify the modern Pharaoh’s throne.

Does the punishment fit the crime?  Do the texts of revelation, the Qur’ān and the Prophetic Sunnah, clearly establish that practicing magic is a capital offence?  To answer such questions, one must, whenever there is a disagreement or dispute, refer the matter back to Allah and His Messenger peace be upon him, as per the Qur’ānic injunction set out in 4: 59.

Narratives

As there is no explicit injunction set out in the text of the Qur’ān, we must turn to the Prophetic Sunnah to determine where and to what degree this is established.  There is one narration from the entire corpus of Sunnah that mentions this and requires some scrutiny.  In the book of Ḥudud, al-Tirmidhi cites the following ḥadith regarding the alleged Ḥadd (punishment) as it relates to a magician:

حدثنا أحمد بن منيع حدثنا أبو معاوية عن إسماعيل بن مسلم عن الحسن عن جندب قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم حد الساحر ضربة بالسيف

Aḥmad ibn Muneeh’ narrated to us Abu Mu’āwiya narrated to us from Ismā’il ibn Muslim from al-Ḥasan from Jundub he said the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said:

The Ḥadd of the magician is a strike of the sword.

Following this, al-Tirmidhi provides a detailed comment, both concerning the authenticity of the narration as well as how it is construed amongst some of the legal schools:

قال أبو عيسى هذا حديث لا نعرفه مرفوعا إلا من هذا الوجه وإسماعيل بن مسلم المكي يضعف في الحديث وإسماعيل بن مسلم العبدي البصري قال وكيع هو ثقة ويروى عن الحسن أيضا والصحيح عن جندب موقوف والعمل على هذا الحديث عند بعض أهل العلم من أصحاب النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم وغيرهم وهو قول مالك بن أنس وقال الشافعي إنما يقتل الساحر إذا كان يعمل في سحره ما يبلغ به الكفر فإذا عمل عملا دون الكفر فلم نر عليه قتلا

Abu Esa said: We do not know of this ḥadith to be marfu (raised) except from this pathway.  Ismā’il ibn Muslim al-Makki is aef (weak) in ḥadith due to his memory.  As for Ismā’il ibn Muslim al-‘Abdi al-Baṣri, Waki’ said: ‘He is trustworthy.’  It has been reported from al-Ḥasan as well. What is Ṣaḥīḥ is from Jundab in Mawquf (halted) form. This ḥadith is acted upon according to some of the people of knowledge among the Companions of the Prophet peace be upon him and others, and it is the view of Mãlik bin Anas.  Al-Shãfi’i said that the magician is only killed when the magic he practices reaches the level of disbelief, when his behaviour is less than disbelief, then he did not see that he should be killed.

The narration also appears in the following collections of ḥadith:

  • Mustadrak of al-Ḥākim [Vol. 4, no. 8073]
  • al-Sunan al-Kubra of Bayhaqy [Vol. 8, no. 16500]
  • Sunan al-Dāraquṭni [Vol. 2, no. 3179]
  • al-Mu’jam al-Kabir by al-Ṭabarāni [Vol. 2, no. 1665 and 1666]
  • Muṣṣanaf of Abdar-Razzāq [Vol. 12, no. 18752]

Analysis

All the narrations cite the same latter portion of the isnād, with Ismā’il ibn Muslim narrating from al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri from Jundub.  Only the second narration of al-Ṭabarāni [no. 1666] differs slightly with the narrator Ismā’il ibn Muslim omitted and Khālid al-‘Abd narrating this from al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri from Jundub.  The narration of Abdar-Razzāq, is mursal (loose), with al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri narrating directly from the Prophet peace be upon him.   While there is no reported variance in wording for this narration in any of the above collections, it is also noteworthy that this is in effect a unique singular channel of reporting – no other companion (or their established narrators) is on record as having narrated it upon the authority of the Prophet (peace be upon him).  The narrative also sits outside of the notable collections of Ṣaḥīḥ.

Abu Esa al-Tirmidhi is not the only scholar to mention the weakness of the narrator Ismā’il ibn Muslim al-Makki or this narration.  Al-Ḥāifz Ibn Ḥajar notes this narration as having a ḍaef isnād in Fatḥ al-Bāri [Vol. 10, p. 238].  In the chapter on the rituals of Ḥajj al-Nasā’i records the following tradition in his Sunan that he follows up with an important comment upon the narrator Ismā’il ibn Muslim who appears central to the reporting of this ḥadith.

أخبرنا أبو داود قال حدثنا مسلم بن إبراهيم قال حدثنا إسماعيل بن مسلم قال حدثنا محمد بن واسع عن مطرف بن عبد الله قال قال لي عمران بن حصين تمتعنا مع رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم

قال أبو عبد الرحمن إسماعيل بن مسلم ثلاثة هذا أحدهم لا بأس به وإسماعيل بن مسلم شيخ يروي عن أبي الطفيل لا بأس به وإسماعيل بن مسلم يروي عن الزهري والحسن متروك الحديث

Abu Dāwud reported to us he said Muslim ibn Ibrāhim narrated to us he said Ismā’il ibn Muslim narrated to us he said Muḥammad ibn Wāsih’ narrated to us from Muṭṭarif ibn Abdullah, he said ‘Imrān ibn Ḥuṣṣain said to me: We performed Tamattu` with the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him.

Abu Abdar-Raḥman said: There are three (named) Ismā’il ibn Muslim, this is one of them, and there is no harm in him. And Shaikh Ismā’il ibn Muslim who reports from Abu Ṭufayl, there is no harm in him. And Ismā’il ibn Muslim who reports from al-Zuhri and al-Ḥasan, he is matruk (discarded) in adith.

A similar comment is made in his work al-ua’fā wal’Matrukeen (p. 151, no. 36), although without mentioning al-Ḥasan there.  Dāraquṭni also has a cited entry for Ismā’il ibn Muslim in his work al-ua’fā wal’Matrukeen [p. 134, no. 77].  Al-Mizzi provides a detailed collection of the statements from scholarly authorities upon the narrator Ismā’il ibn Muslim in his work Tahdhib al-Kamal fi Asmā’ al-Rijāl, [Vol. 3, no. 483, pp. 201/203].  These include the following:

  • Abu Ṭālib said, Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal said: ‘Ismā’il ibn Muslim al-Makki, munkar al-adith.’
  • Abdullah ibn Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal said: ‘I heard my father saying, Ismā’il ibn Muslim al-Makki what he narrated from al-Hasan in terms of readings, comes similarly by way of ‘Amr ibn Dinār, and the channel of reporting from him is with aādith manakeer (pl. munkar, discarded). I see nothing in him, it is akin to his weakness. And with the channel of reporting from al-Ḥasan from Samura is with aādith manakeer.’
  • ‘Abbās al-Douri said from Yaḥya ibn Ma’een: ‘Ismā’il ibn Muslim, he isn’t anything.’ And similar was said by Uthmān ibn Sa’eed al-Dārimi, Abu Ya’la al-Mawṣali from Yaḥ’
  • Abu Zur’a said: ‘And he is Basran (but) settled in Mecca, aef in adith.’
  • Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn al-Barā’ and Abul’Abbās al-Qurashi said from Ali ibn al-Madini: ‘Ismā’il ibn Muslim al-Makki, do not write his adith.’
  • Bukhāri said: ‘Yaḥya and Ibn al-Mahdi abandoned him, Ibn al-Mubārak perhaps mentioned him.’
  • al-Nasā’i said: ‘Ismā’il ibn Muslim narrating from al-Zuhri, matruk al-adith.’ Elsewhere he also said: ‘He is not trustworthy.’

Ṭabarāni’s second line of reporting for the narration in Mu’jam al-Kabir [Vol. 2, no. 1666] doesn’t fair any better in this regard.  Although Ismā’il ibn Muslim isn’t in the isnād, Khālid al-‘Abd is, which is quite fatal given his fallen status:

حدثنا محمد بن يوسف التركي ثنا محمد بن الحسن بن سيار ثنا خالد العبد عن حسن عن جندب عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال حد الساحر ضربة بالسيف

Muḥammad ibn Yusuf al-Turki narrated to us Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan ibn Yassār narrated to us Khalid al-‘Abd narrated to us from Ḥasan from Jundub from the Prophet peace be upon him, he said:

The Ḥadd of the magician is a strike of the sword.

In al-Kamil fi Ḍu’afā al-Rijāl [Vol. 3, p. 447] Ibn ‘Adi records: ‘The Sheikh said: Khālid al-‘Abd has only ten or fewer adith narrated on the authority of Ibn al-Munkadr and al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri and he narrates his aādith with as much manakeer.’  In al-Ḍu’afā wal-Matrukin [Vol. 1, p. 247, no. 1070], Ibn al-Jawzi cites him as being matruk with similar said of him by al-Dāraquṭni. The statement from Ibn Ḥibbān is even more damning: ‘He used to steal the adith and adith from the books of people without actually hearing it.’  Moreover, while al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri does have the status of thiqa (trustworthy), it is also widely acknowledged that he has many maraseel (pl. mural, loose) and is known for tadlees (misrepresentation in reporting).

Taking all of this in the round, it is quite clear that the narration ‘The Ḥadd of the magician is a strike of the sword,’ is not Ṣaḥīḥ (authentic) nor can it be established beyond reasonable doubt that this is a Prophetic statement stemming from revelation.  Allah the exalted has expressly stated [Qur’ān, 15: 9] that it is he who has revealed the dhikr and is its protector.  Sound jurisprudence cannot be built upon traditions that are weak, faulty and not established to be stemming from the Prophet peace be upon him.

A Spanish Interjection

Ibn Ḥazm discusses at length the various narratives surrounding this as well as the wider topic in his seminal work of fiqh, al-Muḥalla bil’Athār [Vol. 12, pp. 410 / 421].  The indication that this doesn’t form part of the Ḥudud is quite evident from placing the discussion outside of that chapter and within the matters relating to the Ta’zir.  His summation is that after careful analysis of what the legal schools claim and the various narratives supposedly brought forth as justification, there is no established proof or evidence contained in any of it.  That also applies to the various athār which is often cited from the corpus collections [Sunan Abu Dāwud, the Muwaṭṭā of Mālik or the like thereof] purportedly to show statements of the companions and successors on this.  In reply he says: ‘And as for the adith of Ḥafsa and Ibn Umar?  Indeed, we say that there is no proof in the speech of anyone, other than the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him’ [Vol. 12, pp. 413/415].

In terms of the adith under discussion here, it seems Ibn Ḥazm only had the opportunity to assess the mursal narration of Abdar-Razzāq, which as a standalone narrative cannot be utilised as substantive evidence as it is not connected by isnād to the Prophet peace be upon him.  He comments upon this [Vol. 12, p. 415] with an insightful point regarding the actual reported wording too:

Then we considered the report which they mentioned concerning that and we found the report of al-Hasan to be mursal and there is no standing proof in relation to the mursal – if it was authentic, they wouldn’t have anything to substantiate it originally, because it is ‘Ḥadd of the magician is a strike of the sword,’ and there is not a mention in that (narrative) of executing him.  The blow delivered may be mistaken and only wound, not necessarily to kill, thus they have violated that report by necessitating the matter of execution therein.

Further into the discussion [p. 419] Ibn Ḥazm cuts through the haze of previous scholarly semantics relating to whether the magician is a kāfir (disbeliever) per se and whether there is textual precedence to argue the practice itself would warrant capital punishment under an Islamic authority.  He writes:

Thus, authentically established by the Qur’ān and the Sunnah, is that the blood of every Muslim is inviolate except by way of firm evidence or certain consensus.  So we looked to determine is there a fixed established text regarding magic and we found the following narrated from the channel of Muslim:

 

نا هارون بن سعيد الأيلي نا ابن وهب أخبرني سليمان بن بلال عن ثور بن يزيد عن أبي الغيث عن أبي هريرة أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قالاجتنبوا السبع الموبقات، قيل: يا رسول الله وما هن؟ قال: الشرك بالله، والسحر، وقتل النفس التي حرم الله إلا بالحق، وأكل مال اليتيم، وأكل الربا، والتولي يوم الزحف، وقذف المحصنات المؤمنات

Hārun ibn Sa’eed al-Ayli narrated to me Ibn Wahb narrated to us Sulaymān ibn Bilāl reported to me from Thawr ibn Zayd from Abi al-Ghayth from Abu Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said:

Avoid the seven mubiqāt. It was said: What are they, oh Messenger of Allah?  He replied:  Shirk with Allah, magic, the killing of one whom Allah has declared inviolate without a just cause, consuming the property of an orphan, consuming usury, turning back when the army advances, and slandering chaste women who are believers, but unwary.

This was a clear explanation that magic is not from the (matter of) Shirk, but it is one of the mubiqāt – grave sins, like taking the life of a soul without just cause.

The narration of the seven mubiqāt is resolutely established in both collections of Ṣaḥīḥ (Bukhāri and Muslim) as well as being cited in many others beyond those.  These Ṣaḥīḥ aādith demarcate Siḥr as a category after Shirk, not as being a part of Shirk.  Ibn Ḥazm also cites the adith of ‘Aisha found in the Ṣaḥīḥ of Bukhāri within book of medicine, where a Jew was found to have worked magic upon the Prophet peace be upon him [p. 420].  Not only did the Prophet peace be upon him say: ‘Allah has cured me; I dislike to let evil spread among my people,’ but the known culprit for this was not subject to capital punishment.

Placing a matter within the domain of capital punishment would require compelling evidence not only relating to the crime being committed itself, but also whether that has been properly established as a capital offence within the texts of revelation.

ولا تقتلوا النفس التي حرم الله إلا بالحق

And slay not the soul Allah has forbidden, except by lawful right [17: 33]

We ask Allah to save us from the iniquity of the seven deadly sins, including magic, but also to grant us the fortitude to carry forth the call for the return and resurgence of Islam based upon the final revelation sent to mankind.

 

Appendix: Listed narrations

  1. Jāmi’ al-Tirmidhi
  2. Mustadrak of al-Ḥākim [Vol. 4, no. 8073]
  3. al-Sunan al-Kubra of Bayhaqy [Vol. 8, no. 16500]
  4. Sunan al-Dāraquṭni [Vol. 2, no. 3179]
  5. al-Mu’jam al-Kabir by al-Ṭabarāni [Vol. 2, no. 1665 and 1666]
  6. Muṣṣanaf of Abdar-Razzāq [Vol. 12, no. 18752]

جامع الترمذي

حدثنا أحمد بن منيع حدثنا أبو معاوية عن إسماعيل بن مسلم عن الحسن عن جندب قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم حد الساحر ضربة بالسيف

Aḥmad ibn Muneeh’ narrated to us Abu Mu’āwiya narrated to us from Ismā’il ibn Muslim from al-Ḥasan from Jundub he said the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said:

The Ḥadd of the magician is a strike of the sword

المستدرك الحاكم

حدثنا علي بن حمشاد العدل ثنا إسماعيل بن قتيبة والحسن بن عبد الصمد قالا حدثنا يحيى بن يحيى أنبأ أبو معاوية ثنا إسماعيل بن مسلم عن الحسن عن جندب الخير قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم حد الساحر ضربة بالسيف

Ali ibn Ḥimshad narrated to us al-‘Adl narrated to us Ismā’il ibn Qutayba and al-Ḥasan ibn Abduṣ-Ṣammad narrated to us, they said Yaḥya ibn Yaḥya narrated to us Abu Mu’āwiya reports, Ismā’il ibn Muslim narrated to us from al-Ḥasan from Jundub al-Khayr, he said the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said:

The Ḥadd of the magician is a strike of the sword

هذا حديث صحيح الإسناد وإن كان الشيخان تركا حديث إسماعيل بن مسلم فإنه غريب صحيح وله شاهد صحيح على شرطهما جميعا في ضد هذا
تعليق الذهبي قي التلخيص صحيح غريب

(al-Ḥākim) This adith has a Ṣaḥīḥ isnād though the two Shaykh’s [sic. Bukhāri and Muslim] left the ḥadith of Ismā’il ibn Muslim; it is Ṣaḥīḥ, strange.  And it has authentic attestation upon both of their conditions against this.

Comment of al-Dhahabi in al-Talki: strange, Ṣaḥīḥ.

البيهقي السنن الكبرى

أخبرنا أبو سعد أحمد بن محمد بن الخليل الماليني أنبأ أبو أحمد بن عدي الحافظ ثنا عمران بن موسى ثنا أبو معمر ثنا أبو معاوية عن إسماعيل بن مسلم عن الحسن عن جندب قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم حد الساحر ضربة بالسيف

إسماعيل بن مسلم ضعيف

Abu Sa’d Ahmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Khalil al-Maleeni reported to us Abu Aḥmad ibn ‘Adi al-Ḥāfiz reports ‘Umrān ibn Musa narrated to us Abu Ma’mar narrated to us Abu Mu’āwiya narrated to us from Ismā’il ibn Muslim from al-Ḥasan from Jundub he said the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said:

The Ḥadd of the magician is a strike of the sword

(Bayhaqy) Ismā’il ibn Muslim: ḍaef

سنن الدارقطني

نا محمد بن أحمد بن صالح الأزدي الوكيل نا أحمد بن بديل نا أبو معاوية نا إسماعيل بن مسلم عن الحسن عن جندب الخير قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم حد الساحر ضربة بالسيف

Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Ṣāliḥ al-‘Azdi al-Wakil narrated to us Aḥmad ibn Budeel narrated to us Abu Mu’āwiya narrated to us Ismā’il ibn Muslim narrated to us from al-Ḥasan from Jundub he said the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said:

The Ḥadd of the magician is a strike of the sword

المعجم الكبير الطبراني

حدثنا علي بن المبارك الصنعاني ثنا زيد بن المبارك ثنا مروان بن معاوية عن إسماعيل بن مسلم عن الحسن عن جندب قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم حد الساحر ضربة بالسيف

Ali ibn al-Mubārak al-Ṣanā’ni narrated to us Zayd ibn al-Mubārak narrated to us Marwān ibn Mu’āwiya narrated to us from Ismā’il ibn Muslim narrated to us from al-Ḥasan from Jundub he said the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said:

The Ḥadd of the magician is a strike of the sword

حدثنا محمد بن يوسف التركي ثنا محمد بن الحسن بن سيار ثنا خالد العبد عن حسن عن جندب عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال حد الساحر ضربة بالسيف

Muḥammad ibn Yusuf al-Turki narrated to us Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan ibn Yassār narrated to us Khālid al-‘Abd narrated to us from Ḥasan from Jundub from the Prophet peace be upon him, he said:

The Ḥadd of the magician is a strike of the sword

المصنف عبد الرزاق

أخبرنا عبد الرزاق عن ابن عيينة عن إسماعيل بن مسلم عن الحسن قال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم حد الساحر ضربة بالسيف

Abdar-Razzāq reported to us from Ibn ‘Uyayna from Ismā’il ibn Muslim from al-Ḥasan he said the Prophet peace be upon him said:

The Ḥadd of the magician is a strike of the sword