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The Concept of Superstitions (Khurafa) in Islamic Civilization

“And within the books of these people there exist certain reports which I have not written, as they are far from the truth and are impossible as they go against the habit of nature, or they were transmitted incorrectly due to forgetfulness, and due to the passage of time they have been readily accepted…”

Kharaf (خرف) linguistically means ‘corruption of the ‘aql (reason) due to old age.’ However, the word has been used in meanings that convey similar concepts, such as stupidity and nonsensical. One of the closest concepts to this meaning is the phrase ‘ḥadīth of Khurāfa’, regarding a man named Khurāfa from Banī ‘Udhrah or Juhaynah who had gone in the midst of a group of Jinns. When he returned back, he transmitted many stories and these stories came to be popularly known as the stories of Khurāfa.

In a narration, ‘Aisha asks the Prophet (p) regarding some of these stories and the Prophet (p) affirms them and considers them to be true. In reality, the stories were so incorrect that eventually people began to use the terms khurāfa or khurāfāt (pl.) to describe a matter which was a lie, but was pleasant to listen to. [1] Ibn Ḥajar recalls the story of Khurāfa and transmits the narration of ‘Aisha as well, who asks the Prophet (p) to tell her the story. The Prophet (p) tells her how Khurāfa went to the Jinns and deems it to be a true story. [2]

Despite the above narration of the Prophet (p), the word khurāfa has been used to describe any matter which is not acceptable. Tha‘ālabī (d. 429) in his Thimār al-Qulūb says:

“Khurāfa was a man from Banī ‘Udhrah. The Jinns had taken him and once they let go of him, he would go to his people and tell them strange stories regarding the Jinn. Thereafter, when the Arabs would hear stories that had no basis, they would say this speech is like the story of Khurāfa … The word then became widespread amongst the Arabs and any nonsensical and hoax speech was called khurāfāt.” [3]

Zamakhsarī (d. 538) when discussing the poetry uttered by Ibn Zab‘arī against the Prophet (p) after the battle of Uḥad in which he compares the day of Judgement and Resurrection with the ‘ḥadīth of Khurāfa’ says: “He was a man who the Jinns had taken, then he returned and would tell people strange stories, attributing them to the Jinns. Thereafter, the word was used so abundantly that any nonsensical and hoax speech was called khurāfāt.” [4]

However, Zubaydī in his Tāj al-‘Urūs gives another explanation for the word khurāfāt. He writes, “The Arabs say, ‘So and so has told us fabricated narrations, and these are khurāfāt from amongst the contrived narrations.’” Zubaydī links the word khurāfāt to fabricated narrations. Alongside the word khurāfa, there are also other terms that are of significance and worthy of investigation.

For example, the word asmār is used for false historical tales, or delusions of love, and is often used in tandem with the word khurāfa. In Tāj al-‘Urūs the word raṭāzāt is defined similar to a khurāfa but within the domain of poetry. The word hals is also defined as a synonym for khurāfa, and other words like hadhayān and turrahāt are often used interchangeably with khurāfāt.

The Meaning of Khurāfa Based On Its Usage in Classical Works

The question we want to address is, what role did a khurāfa (superstition) play in the formation of knowledge within the Islamic civilization, particularly in the earlier centuries after the demise of the Prophet (p)? In other words, alongside concepts such as ‘ilm, ‘aql, and ma‘rifah, what role did a khurāfa have and how was it used? Part of the answer to this question is rooted in determining how the word was used in the earliest extant sources, and to what extent was it used in contrast to the word ‘aql.

The fact that certain historical stories, or a certain view held amongst the laity, or even popular tales like Layla and Majnun or Kalila and Demna, are excluded from the domain of the reason and are placed within the domain of superstitions is something that is to be reflected upon. The precise point demarcating between superstition and knowledge can help us understand the framework of thought and knowledge within the Islamic civilization. Did the Muslims – for example – in first-century hijri really understand a khurāfa to be something which the reason rejects?

To take the discussion even further, we ask whether a khurāfa even had an agreed-upon definition amongst the Muslims? Even if the word khurāfa had an agreed-upon definition and concept which is something that is incorrect but pleasant to hear, who is to say that all would agree upon its instances? It is possible for someone to consider a certain speech or belief to be a khurāfa, but another may not. This would depend on the methods by which knowledge was evaluated in any given society, the kind of common wisdom that was upheld by people and their capacity to understand matters.

Perhaps one can define khurāfa as a belief or a fairy tale that has no rational argument for its truthfulness, but generally pleasant and interesting to listen to, and even at times accepted by people. Many beliefs upheld by the laity are often recognized as religious or cultural beliefs of a group and no one amongst them doubts them. If someone were to argue against these beliefs with rationality, they will immediately respond by saying, ‘whose rationality?’ ‘Whose rationality cannot justify these beliefs?’

When Abū Rayḥān describes the beliefs of the Hindus as khurāfa, what rational principles was he relying on to give such a judgment? What was it that allowed the collective wisdom and rationality of the Indians to accept certain beliefs, but the rationality of Abū Rayḥān rejected it? What is it that would make both the Indians and Abū Rayḥān come to an agreement upon something as a khurāfa?

This matter is also true amongst the Muslims themselves. Many different groups amongst the Muslims refer to the beliefs of other groups as khurāfāt. The philosophers would often refer to some of the beliefs held by scholars of ḥadīth as khurāfa and vice-versa. ‘Allāmah Majlisī – whose whole worldview was based upon the Shī‘ī hadith corpus and transmitted knowledge – writes:

“Know that in those discussions the philosophers (ḥukamā’) have held views that are khurāfāt which lead them to believe in impossibilities, then heresy and then departure from the schools of the followers of revealed religion.” [5]

Elsewhere, he speaks about the khurāfāt of ‘riyāḍah’ (spiritual exercises) and the khurāfāt of the Sufis. [6] We have mentioned a number of times that a khurāfa can be a belief or a transmitted story or narration, but regardless of what it is, it is considered a kind of knowledge. As such, the concept of khurāfa can be extended to disciplines outside of the history of theological beliefs, for example, geography, zoology, ontology, and many other disciplines.

The question is, what makes a certain piece of knowledge an instance of khurāfa? Is it the source that is being relied upon that makes something superstitious? Is it the type of argumentation and syllogism being employed? Is it when something goes against the intellect? What exactly is the intellect to begin with?

The differences of opinion on this matter can be quite extensive. It is possible for some to go such extremes and deem all religion as a superstition, while others will deem those beliefs as superstitions that cannot be proven or correctly attributed to religion even within that religion’s very own epistemological framework. Some others may go to another extreme and consider everything attributed to religion at any given time in society as truth and reality.

It is interesting to note that some frameworks of thought or a group of beliefs that were considered knowledge in one era, sometimes come to be seen as superstitions in a later era. In other words, the passing away of time can also play a role in how a group of people perceives something to be a khurāfa. Is this because of the increase in knowledge of the community or is it because the criteria by which something was considered true are altered? For example, paradigms that were considered correct during the Constitutional Revolution were seen as superstitious ideas during Reza Shah’s political reformation process.

Amongst contemporary philosophers, some who divide the intellect into a universal and particular intellect, accuse a certain type of rationalism to be a product of Western philosophy and an instance of the particular intellect. In other words, they consider modern rationalism which often considers certain beliefs and ideas as superstitious, as an instance of the particular intellect which is not an acceptable epistemic method in philosophy. Critics portray this type of criticism of theological beliefs to be rooted in the particular intellect and hence incorrect.

What we want to see is how the concept of superstition was understood and used roughly between the 4th and 6th centuries hijri within the Islamic civilization, when it was at its peak. What we find is that scholars from different camps would describe various concepts and ideas as superstitious. These could range from historical events, beliefs of other nations, ancient tales, astrological beliefs, magic, and other similar cases that would be rejected.

Khurāfa in Classical Texts

Anyone who writes and compiles history will encounter a point where they will deem something to be a superstition. The criterion for this must be identified.

Abū ‘Amr Jāḥiẓ (d. 255), the famous Mu‘tazalī Basran scholar, is someone who described some of the stories and tales from the Era of Ignorance as khurāfā as it was impossible for such events to have occurred in real life. As an example, there is a story regarding Mughīra b. Fazar and Mardawayh in which it is said that Mughīrah struck Mardawayh with his sword so quickly and right through the middle that Mardawayh did not feel anything and instead said, ‘you didn’t do anything!’ Mughīrah responds to him, ‘If you think you are right, try moving.’ When Mardawayh moved, his body fell apart in half right through the middle. Jāḥiẓ says someone who has reason will not believe this story and that, ‘this is from the superstitious stories. It is not possible for one to assume this strike took place in real, except someone who has no knowledge.’ [7]

He mentions a number of other superstitious stories that he believes no one except an ignorant person would believe in. Jāḥiẓ is a figure who has an unusual obsession with pointing out superstitions and was unique in his era for doing so. He mentions some superstitious stories and narrations as sarcasm while making fun of some contemporary colleague who ‘claims to have knowledge of all things.’ [8] Some of these narrations are regarding maskh (metamorphosis) and he says how can these narrations be from Ibn ‘Abbās? He attacks these reports and says is it really possible for these to have been narrated by Ibn ‘Abbās?

Then he speaks about old wives’ tales and says womenfolk and those who resemble women in this regard have many such superstitious tales. [9] The work al-Ḥayawān by Jāḥiẓ is like an encyclopedia work regarding animals and as animals were a subject of many superstitions, he tends to mention them in this work. He also refers to some stories and describes them as the ‘khurafāt of the pre-Islamic Arabs’ [10] and ‘a khurāfa from amongst the khurāfāt of the Arabs.’ [11]

These superstitious beliefs and stories widespread amongst the Arabs also caught the attention of Ḥamzah Iṣfahānī (d. 360). In his work Sawā’ir al-Amthāl ‘ala Af‘al, he cites thirty examples of animal-related superstitions that were popular amongst pre-Islamic Arabs. [12] Rāghib Iṣfahānī (d. 502) is also attentive towards superstitious within Arabic literature that were based on dreams. In his Muḥāḍarāt al-Udabā’ he mentions a number of examples of superstitions that the laity believed in but were based on dreams [13] or astrological predictions. [14]

Tanūkhī (d. 384) mentions the word khurāfāt alongside some aspects of history, tales, and other disciplines such as the study of sīrah and the Prophet’s battles. He writes:

“…and from those who had Shī‘ī tendencies (lit. mutashayya‘īn) who we saw, was Abū al-Faraj al-Iṣbahānī, who would memorize poetry, songs, reports and past remnants, attributed traditions, literature, genealogy, in a way that I have not seen absolutely anyone else do so like him. Other than that, he would also memorize knowledge of other disciplines, such as language, grammar, superstitions (khurāfāt), Prophet’s biography and battles…” [15]

In the mind of Tanūkhī, superstitions were a collection of tales that he places alongside the discipline of language, grammar, sīrah, and battles.

Mas‘ūdī (d. 346) at least in one place uses the word khurāfāt to describe false beliefs of other religions. He writes, ‘The reader will find in our books, the Akhbār al-Zamān, and the Kitāb al-Awsaṭ, a number of anecdotes respecting these sects, and an account of the superstitious and man-made stories which they tell, and of their laws which they assign to God. We have also treated these sects in our book al-Maqālāt fī Uṣūl al-Diyānāt (on the various opinions on the principles of religion).’ [16]

Elsewhere he considers some of the Persian stories translated into Arabic as an example of superstitions and the book One Thousand and One Nights as an instance of that. He says:

“Regarding the book One Thousand and One Nights: Many people who have knowledge regarding the reports have said that these stories are fabricated and man-made superstitions, which were composed to seek closeness to the kings by narrating them.

“The people of the time began to obsessively memorize these tales and discuss them, such that the books which have reached us in translations from Persian, Indian and Greek, such as the book of Hazār Afsāneh, a title which translated from Persian into Arabic means ‘the thousand tales.’ This book is popularly called One Thousand and One Nights and contains the story of the king, his vizier and of his daughter Shīrazād and her slave girl Dīnāzād. Other books of the same kind are the book of Firza and Sīmās, containing stories of Indian kings and viziers, the book of Sindibād, and many other similar works…” [17]

Mas‘ūdī also transmits some historical reports regarding the origin of the Nile river and its like, and refers to them as the superstitions of the literalists. [18] Iṣṭakhrī (d. 346) in his al-Masālik wa al-Mamālik recollects some superstitions of the Persians such as Mount Damavand and writes:

“…and one of the mountains mentioned in this village is Mount Damavand, a high mountain that appears to be as high as fifty-parasang, and I have not heard of anyone who has climbed it. From amongst the superstitions of the Persians which are spoken about regarding this mountain is that Zahhak is living on these mountains and that magicians from all places of the earth take shelter there.” [19]

Ibn Nadīm (d. 385) dedicates the eighth section of his al-Fihrist to night-stories and superstitions. He writes:

“The Eighth Chapter, with three sections, about evening recountals, fables, exorcisms, magic, and juggling. The First Section, which accounts of those who tell stories at night, tellers of fables, and contrivers of illustrations, with the titles of the books of stories and fables which have been composed. The Second Section, which accounts of the exorcists, jugglers, and magicians, with the titles of their books. The Third Section, about books composed on various subjects, the compilers and authors being unknown.” [20]

In the aforementioned chapter, Ibn Nadīm writes:

“…the first to create superstitions, who would make stories up regarding animals, were the ancient Persians. The Parthians who were the third generation of Persian rulers began this practice and the Sassanids continued on with it. Later on, the Arabs translated these them and these stories came to the disposal of eloquent ones, who refined these and constructed similar stories. The book Hazār Afsāneh was one of those books and translates into ‘a thousand superstitions.’” [21]

He then gives a description of the book One Thousand and One Nights, speaks about the efforts of Jahashyārī (d. 321) or those before him like Ibn Muqaffa‘ (d. 139 or 142), Sahl b. Hārūn (d. 215) and ‘Alī b. Dāwūd – the scribe of Zubayda (d. 216), and as well as the book Kalila and Demna. Thereafter he begins to recount the remnants of the night-stories and superstitions of the Persians and Indians, and their works which had been translated into Arabic. He makes references to examples of some of the stories of Arabs who had fallen in love which are worth reading. Some of these are romantic tales of people whose beloved ones were from the species of Jinns, or vice-versa.

Ibn Nadīm uses the word khurāfāt to refer to these stories which were pleasant and interesting to listen to, but were not real. He says, ‘the bookmen were [known for making up] evening-stories and superstitions. They were in great demand and desired in the days of the Abbasid caliphs, especially during the days of al-Muqtadir. So the bookmakers would compose and fabricate them.’ [22] He then mentions books that were written on the strange phenomenon of the oceans and also places them within the genre of superstitious literature. He continues on with the second section of the eighth chapter which concerns the exorcists, jugglers, and magicians.

Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī (d. 440) was one of the most prominent rationalists and a critical thinker of the Islamic world. When he encounters historical reports transmitted from the ancient Persians regarding their kings, he writes:

“Regarding the chronology of the first part, the lives of the kings and their famous deeds, they relate things which do not seem admissible to the mind of the reader. However, the aim of our undertaking being to collect and to communicate chronological material, not to criticize and correct historical accounts, we record that on which the scholars of the Persians, the Herbadhs and Maubadha of the Zoroastrians agree among themselves, and which is received on their authority.” [23]

The concept of ‘criticizing historical accounts’ shows his tendency to critique reports as an external observer, using intellect and reason. In his work Taḥqīq Mā lil-Hind min Maqūlah Maqbūlah fī al-ʿAql aw Mardhūlah (A Critical Study of What India Says, Whether Accepted by Reason or Refused) he speaks of the ‘superstitions of the masses’ [24] and as well as the ‘superstitions of Pythagoras’. [25]

When speaking of superstitions that were widespread in Indian thought, he says the Indians did not have scholars like the Greeks and so they did not have anyone to refine their knowledge. He says it is for this reason you will rarely find anything of substance amongst them that is not obscure, unorganized, and full of superstitions that are often widespread amongst the masses as tradition. He says that superstitious beliefs of the Hindus such as idol-worshipping are something the masses engage in, while the learned people of their society are far away from such superstitious beliefs, and in fact were monotheists who worshipped no one other than Allah. [26]

Abū Rayḥān’s attention to how superstitions are generally held by the masses, while the learned and intellectual ones do not hold such belief is important to keep into consideration. He emphasizes this point elsewhere in the book and says, ‘the hearts of the masses incline towards superstitions,’ [27] and after mentioning a few superstitious reports, he says, ‘the path of reason is detached from these superstitions.’ [28]

During this same period, Muṭahhar b. Ṭāhir Maqdisī (d. 381) says that he wishes to write a history book that is free from old-women superstitions, ornamented tales of the story-tellers and the fabricated narrations of those ḥadīth scholars who were accused of such. [29] The phrase ‘old-women superstitions’ is interesting and tying the concept of superstitions and made-up tales with fabricated narrations is significant, particularly during a period where there was a strong presence of scholars who believed all true knowledge is only to be found in the ḥadīth literature, yet accusations against some scholars of ḥadīth for inserting superstitious historical reports into the ḥadīth literature were also being raised.

Bal‘amī (d. 329) in his history work cites three versions of Prophet Musa’s (a) death and then says, ‘all three narrations are superstitions and it is not appropriate to this book and those who possess reason do not accept them. The correct report is the one we mentioned earlier and Musa (a) died at the age of 120. And Allah knows best.’ [30]

Stories of the Persians regarding their past kings which we often refer to as myths or epics were described as superstitions by Ibn Miskawayh (d. 421). When speaking of certain Persian stories he says, ‘and over here the Persians have superstitions, and they think that the demons imprisoned Kay Kāvūs’. [31] In Mujmal al-Tawārīkh wa al-Qaṣaṣ written in the mid-sixth century, the author cites a number of reports regarding the Persian kings which he considers to be reliable, and then transmits another report and says these stories were found in books that contain superstitions:

“And within the books of these people there exist certain reports which I have not written, as they are far from the truth and are impossible as they go against the habit of nature, or they were transmitted incorrectly due to forgetfulness, and due to the passage of time they have been readily accepted. Some of these reports are:

Fereydoun was Nimrod and some say it was Kay Kāvūs, Abraham was Siyāvash and that it was he who went into the fire, Soloman was Jamshid, Noah was Nariman, Lohrasb was Nebuchadnezzar II, Rustam was an Arab, Afrasiab was Zahhak …

However, given that we had seen these reports amongst the superstitions and certain books, we have mentioned them, however, they are not true. What is true and the transmitters are agreed upon regarding historical events are those matters which we have already explained – and Allah is more knowledgeable to their secrets and He is a Witness upon them.” [32]

From amongst the prominent rationalists of the fifth century was Bayhaqī (d. 470) who was inspired by Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī. Bayhaqī’s attempts to show superstitions in history and how the masses love to listen to them is exemplified in these lines:

“Historical reports may be divided into two forms: either it must be heard orally or it must be read from a book. The condition for it is that the narrator ought to be trustworthy and truthful, his narrative should be compatible with reason and it should not be against the Speech of Allah, as it has been said, ‘do not affirm the reports which the reason does not accept.’ Exactly is the case of the written book, whatever you have read should not be rejected by reason, and its listener should be able to believe in it and the reasonable ones should accept it after hearing it. The majority of the people like fairytales, such as tales of demons, fairies, giants that live in the wilderness, mountains and seas, which the fools make up and a group similar to them gather around them to hear these stories. They tell them that in such and such sea I saw an island where five-hundred people resided, and we landed on that island, baked bread and put them in pots. As the heat got more intense, the pot disappeared, and we saw a fish there. Or that on such and such mountain we saw certain things, or that an old woman cast a spell on a man, and then again, another old woman magically dipped his ear in oil until he became sane again, and many other superstitious stories that are used to doze people off during their nights. While those who care for trustworthy records are very few, and they abandon the detested reports. Abu al-Fatḥ al-Bustī has put it wonderfully in a poem when he said:

The intellects have standards by which / they reach the correct affairs and these are experiences

“I who have undertaken this history, have been so particular as to record that either I am an eyewitness of, or what I heard from a reliable person. Long ago I had seen a book by Abu Rayḥān, a unique man of letters, mathematician and philosopher of his day, who never wrote nonsense. The reason for his digression is to show how painstaking and scrupulous I have been, even though most scholars of this calibre are now gone and a very few of them remain – and this is the truth.” [33]

Ibn Athīr (d. 630) also recounts the reports of ancient Persians as an example of superstitious history. He mentions some of the reports regarding the King Jamshid ad says:

“This chapter is regarding the details of King Jamshid, which I have brought in its complete form, even though we initially wanted to leave it out due to things they contain which the ears reject, and the intellects and disposition refuse to accept. They are from the superstitions of the Persians, amongst other things which have appeared already. We have only mentioned them here so that one becomes familiar with the ignorance of the Persians, for they often defame the Arabs for their ignorance, but it had not reached this extent. Furthermore, if we were to leave this chapter empty, we would not have had anything left to say regarding their history.” [34]

According to Yāqūt Ḥamawī (d. 626), the belief in a statue that existed in Baghdad was an example of a superstition:

“As we have mentioned, Manṣūr had constructed the round city (of Baghdad) and constructed its palace and main mosque in the center. He constructed a green-dome on top of the iwan and its height was 80 arm-lengths. On top of the dome was an effigy of a horseman carrying a lance in his hand. When the caliph would see that effigy turn its lance towards some direction and extent the lance towards it, he would know that some of the enemies are approaching from that direction. It would not be long before he would receive the report from his informants that the enemies have indeed attacked from that direction.

“I said: This is what al-Khaṭīb has mentioned, but this is impossible and a blatant lie. Rather, these talks are similar to what is relayed about the magicians of Egypt and the talismans of Apollonius of Tyana, who the fools have delusionally come to believe over the course of time and think that these historical persons were not humans. As for the Islamic creed, then it is far too lofty to accept such superstitions.” [35]

Under the entry of Mount Damavand, Yāqūt alludes to a few stories transmitted by the Persians and says:

“The Persians have astonishing superstitions and strange stories. I tried to write down some of them here, but I abstained from it due to their irrational nature and so I abandoned them. I can summarize them as such, that they think that when King Fereydun captured Bīvar Asp (Zahhak) he imprisoned him on this mountain in chains in a strange way, and that he is still there alive. No one can climb the mountain to see him and that smoke can be seen from the mountain rising up to the clouds in the sky and that this smoke are the breaths of Bīvar Asp, and that he has placed guards around him who continue to hit their hammers on anvils until today. I have not recorded these types of things and have abandoned them.” [36]

He later mentions a place by the name of Nāwūs al-Ẓabyah situated near Hamedan and attributed to Bahram V whose details he cites from the Kitāb al-Buldān of Ibn al-Faqīh. While Yāqūt explicitly states this is a superstition of the Persians, but since Ibn al-Faqīh has said this place still exists, Yāqūt also decides to mention some of the tales regarding the city in his work. [37]

Ibn Khaldūn (d. 808) also uses terms such as ‘superstitions of the laity’ [38] and ‘superstitions of the story-tellers’. [39] It is better to see some examples of how superstitions from understood from other works related to philosophy, history, ontology, and soon.

Superstitions in Astrology

To know how superstitions were understood in different disciplines requires an extensive study, as much of it is all over the place in different works and within books of different genres, and this is also because instances of superstition can be found in various areas of human knowledge. Despite this, it can be said that in studies dealing with magic and astrology, and as well as books related to describing abnormalities and strange aspects of creation, one can find many instances of superstitions.

The distance of the stars from us, their magnificence, the impact of the atmosphere on earth, and many other related matters, were the cause of strange beliefs regarding stars amongst humans in general. A significant number of these beliefs were also held by some Muslims and their veracity has always been a subject of debate. The use of stars in daily life was a normal part of all nations in the past, and hence many superstitions ended up being formulated concerning stars.

The rationalist Mu‘tazalis considered the contents of the treatises by the Brethren of Purity who combined philosophy, mysticism, sharī‘a, astrology etc. together and as well as the philosophical views of the Neoplatonists as superstitions. [40] Some deemed the acts of magicians to be completely superstitious such as Maimonides in his Dalālah al-Ḥāizīn (The Guide for the Perplexed) where he cites certain magical acts of some women and says:

“Many of these superstitions and deliriums require the act to be done only by women and that in magical spells one must observe the motions of the planets. I mean, they claim that a certain plant is a division of certain a planet. Likewise, they attribute every mineral and every animal to a certain planet, and they think that the acts performed by the magicians are a form of worship towards the planets, and that the act, statement, or burning incense satisfy these entities and therefore do for us whatever we wish.” [41]

Ṭabrasī (d. 548) in his I‘lām al-Wara describes the Ismailis as superstitious for using astrological proof to prove the Imamate of their Imams, and critiques them:

“They rely on solitary reports and allegorical interpretations of numbers and compare those numbers with the skies, the lands, the stars and other matters such as the months, days, which are all superstitions.” [42]

Superstitions in Hadith Sciences

To investigate the use of superstitions in ḥadīth studies, we must see which scholar uses the term and from what perspectives. In the earlier centuries of Islam, one thing that was considered a superstition was a fabricated narration. [43] This use continued and when Dhahabī (d. 748) is investigating an absurd narration attributed to a specific individual, he describes it as a superstition and fabrication based on the baseless claims of the laymen amongst the Sufis or the extremists among them. After mentioning a fabricated narration from an individual who lived around 600 hijri who claims the narrations to be Prophetic narrations, Dhahabī considers the content to be an instance of superstitions made by the Sufi laymen. [44]

The beliefs of the literalists and the Ahl al-Ḥadīth were also considered instances of superstitions by some of their Shī‘ī critics. After mentioning a number of their beliefs, the author of Tabṣirah al-‘Awām says that the literalists believe in so many similar beliefs that if we were to gather all of them they would not fit in one volume alone. [45] He repeatedly mentions various superstitions and after transmitting a narration regarding Musa and ‘Uzayr, says that there are various superstitions in this entire story and not mentioning them is better. [46] Elsewhere he says, ‘and such superstitions were constructed by madmen who would attribute them to the messengers and prophets.’[47]

Supernatural Wonders, Mystical Visions, and Superstitions

Ibn Kathīr (d. 744) who is considered one of the prominent opponents of the Sufis, when describing the details of one of the Sufis of Damascus whose life was terrible, yet people admired him and transmitted stories about him, considers these stories to be superstitions. He says:

“He would sit upon impurities and filth, he would wear bedouin clothes while they would rub off on the impurities in the streets. The people admired, loved, and obeyed him, and the laity would exaggerate in their love for him and in their faith towards him. He would not pray, nor stay away from impurities. Whoever would come to visit him, the Sufi would sit near the door of the furnace upon the impurity. The masses would attribute a lot of mystical visions and supernatural wonders about him, and all of them are superstitions made up by the laity and people of delirium, similar to how they believe in these matters when uttered by other insane and confused people.” [48]

This article was first published on Iqra Online, found here


Footnotes

1. Lisān al-‘Arab, vol. 9, pg. 66.

2. al-Iṣābah, vol. 2, pg. 232-233.

3. Thimār al-Qulūb fi al-Muḍāf wa al-Manṣūb, pg. 120.

4. Rabī‘ al-Abrār wa Nuṣūṣ al-Akhbār, vol. 4, pg. 350.

5. Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 54, pg. 365.

6. Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 64, pg. 121; vol. 60, pg. 313.

7. Al-Burṣān wa al-‘Urjān, pg. 378.

8. Al-Ḥayawān, pg. 203.

9. Ibid., vol. 3, pg. 259.

10. Ibid., vol. 4, pg. 356.

11. Ibid., vol. 5, pg. 279.

12. Sawā’ir al-Amthāl ‘ala Af‘al, pg. 473.

13. Muḥāḍarāt al-Udabā’, vol. 1, pg. 191.

14. Ibid., vol. 2, pg. 564.

15. Shadharāt al-Dhahab, by Ibn al-‘Imād al-Ḥanbalī, vol. 4, pg. 292.

16. Murūj al-Dhahab, vol. 1, pg. 111.

17. Ibid., vol. 2, pg. 251.

18. Ibid., vol. 1, pg. 140.

19. al-Masālik wa al-Mamālik, pg. 119.

20. al-Fihrist, pg. 11.

21. Ibid., pg. 369.

22. Ibid., pg. 373.

23. Al-Āthār al-Bāqīyah ‘an al-Qurūn al-Khālīya (The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries), pg. 116.

24. Pg. 21.

25. Pg. 49.

26. Pg. 79.

27. Pg. 196.

28. Pg. 397.

29. Al-Bad’ wa al-Tārīkh, vol. 1, pg. 6.

30. Tārīkhnāmeh Ṭabarī, vol. 1, pg. 370.

31. Tajārib al-Umam, pg. 75.

32. Mujmal al-Tawārīkh, pg. 38.

33. Tārīkh Bayhaqī, pg. 1099.

34. Al-Kāmil fī al-Tārīkh, vol. 1, pg. 61.

35. Mu‘jam al-Buldān, vol. 1, pg. 459-460.

36. Ibid., vol. 2, pg. 436-437

37. Ibid., vol. 5, pg. 254.

38. vol. 1, pg. 15.

39. vol. 1, pg. 48.

40. al-Imtā‘ wa al-Mū’ānasah, pg. 163—164.

41. Pg. 614

42. I‘lām al-Wara, pg. 295.

43. See for example, al-Masā’il al-Jārūdīyyah, pg. 35.

44. al-Iṣābah by Ibn Ḥajar al-Asqalānī, vol. 2, pg. 438.

45. Tabṣirah al-‘Awām, by Jamāl al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Ḥusayn b. Ḥasan al-Rāzī pg. 85.

46. Ibid., pg. 156.

47. Ibid., pg. 160.

48. al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah, vol. 13, pg. 348.

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