Atefa Jamal explains the origins and dangers of superstitions and describes the ways of overcoming them
In the days before the mankind turned to the science for explaining and predicting incidents of life, superstitions thrived. A broken mirror, spilt milk, and flying birds all foretold destruction and misfortune. Although today we are seemingly more ‘enlightened,’ we still are not completely free from the urge to wear ‘the lucky shirt’ or follow ‘harmless rituals,’ in order to attain good luck before important events.
What makes man turn to such objects in hope of good fortune? 18th century naturalist Gilbert White observes: “It is the hardest thing in the world to shake off superstitious prejudices; they are sucked in as it were with our mother’s milk; and, growing up with us at a time, when they take the fastest hold and make the most lasting impressions, become so interwoven with our very constitutions that the strongest sense is required to disengage ourselves from them. No wonder, therefore, that the lower people retain them their whole lives through, since their minds are not invigorated by a liberal education, and, therefore, not enabled to make any efforts adequate to the occasion.” Yet many of the liberally educated carry a charm, including the famous J. D. Rockefeller, an American icon of American capitalism, who was known to treasure a hollow stone (called an ‘eagle stone’) believed to protect one from shipwrecks and other disasters.
Fear of misfortune and ignorance about the cause of calamities still allows superstitions to thrive, just as they did during the Age of Ignorance. With the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment, kindled by Islam, Prophet Muhammad (sa) refuted superstitions, stating: “Whoever lets Tiyarah (superstition) stop him from doing something is guilty of Shirk.” His companions asked: “What is the Kafaarah (expiation) for that?” He said: “To say: ‘Allaahumma la khayra illaa khayruka wa laa tayra illaa tayruka wa laa ilaaha ghayruka (O Allah, there is no good except Your good, no portent except Yours, and there is no God beside You).'” (Ahmad)
Why does a harmless action, such as knocking on wood, fall into the sin of Shirk? Simply because it ‘innocently’ claims to protect us from harm, which, in truth, can be averted only by Allah’s (swt) Decree. Ibn Al-Qayyim said: “Tiyarah (superstition) is a kind of Shirk and a way, in which the Shaitan influences and scares a person. It is very serious for the one, who takes it to heart and pays too much attention to it, but it is insignificant for the one, who pays no attention to it and is not concerned about it.”
Nowadays, superstitions take on a ‘religious colour’ – charms have Allah’s (swt) names or Ayats from the Quran on them. No heed is paid to the extreme dislike of the Prophet (sa) towards charms (Taweez) of any kind. He would even refuse to take the hand of those, who wore a charm and wished to pledge allegiance to him, saying: “Whoever wears an amulet has associated others with Allah (Shirk).”(Ahmad)
How can one overcome the desire to perform the traditional rituals of predicting good luck?
Entrust yourself to Allah (swt): “And put your trust (o Muhammad) in the Ever-Living One, Who dies not, and glorify His Praises, and Sufficient is He as the All-Knower of the sins of His slaves” (Al-Furqan 25:58). There is nothing wrong in having a bad feeling and it is advised that one should take precautions, in order to avoid foreseeable disasters. The Prophet (sa) clarified this, when he explained: “That (bad feelings) is something that any of you may feel in himself, but it should not stop you from doing anything.” (Muslim)
Know that everything happens by the will of Allah (swt): “No calamity befalls on the earth or in yourselves but is inscribed in the Book of Decrees (Al-Lawh Al-Mahfooz), before We bring it into existence. Verily, that is easy for Allah.” (Al-Hadid 57:22) Thus, neither walking under the copy of the Quran nor staying indoors during an eclipse can alter your destiny.
Sheikh Munajjid prescribes Istikharah: “This is one of the greatest forms of worship and is complete Tawakkul or dependence on Allah (swt). It is the alternative to Tatayyur and Tiyarah (superstitions). The Prophet (sa) used to teach his companions to make Istikharah for all their affairs, just as he used to teach them the Surahs of the Quran.” Furthermore, one can find many Duas to be said during the morning and night, asking Allah (swt) to protect us and sort our affairs.
Avoiding things associated with good or bad luck. When an incident occurs, it is difficult to shake off the nagging thoughts (often Shaitan’s whispering) connecting the situation with superstitions. A person once related, how he moved to a house, where his wealth and the family numbers diminished; our Prophet (sa) suggested they move away from it. (Abu Dawood) Al-Baghawi explains: “They did not like it and did not feel comfortable; if they moved, the things they were feeling would go away. (He did not tell them to move, because the house was the cause of the problems).”
Remember that “no fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that.” (Bukhari) Free yourself from the hold of superstitions and Shaitan’s teasing and rest assured that your destiny is in Allah’s (swt) hands.