Since the time of the pharaohs and Babylonians, ignorant people have been trying to predict the future using supernatural means. The Maya of Central America made calculations based on numerical values attributed to the stars and the ages of human history. They were an advanced nation when it came to mathematics, but the astrology they applied it to was a baseless superstition.
No matter how much humanity advances, the uncertainty of the future remains, and people continue to try lift the veil on the unseen and get a glimpse of their fates as individuals and as nations.
Illiterate woman in our village used to ask about who they were going to marry and what home they were destined to live in. The ignorant soothsayers used to instruct them to ride a donkey and say “Guide me! Guide me! Where is my abode?” Wherever the donkey took them, they believed was the direction of their future home.
Today, in the Western world, educated people still consult with fortune tellers. There are star athletes who go to occultists before a match. There are celebrities and politicians who do likewise. During his time as president, Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy had an astrologer at the White House, who came to prominence with them after an attempt was made on the president’s life. It came to a point that he would not make any state decision without first consulting her.
He is not alone. French President Jacques Chirac and others have become victims of superstition, spending fortunes on consultations.
There are at least a quarter million of these charlatans operating in Egypt alone. Throughout the Arab world, five billion US dollars are wasted annually on soothsayers, astrologers, and fortune tellers, for things like palm readings, tea-leaf readings, and handwriting “interpretations”.
On the Internet, programs ask for your exact time of birth, down to the minute. Then it builds up a study connected with the positions of the stars and provides you with information mixing factual data with spurious conjecture, seasoned with some rather credible advice on interpersonal relationships.
Abū Hurayrah relates that the Prophet said:
When Allah decrees any matter in heaven, the angels beat their wings in submission to His Word with a sound like a chain beating on a smooth rock. When the fright leaves their hearts, the angels are asked: “What did your Lord say”
They respond: “The truth. And He is the Most High, the Most Great.”
So those who hope to hear something listen, and they are standing one above the other. Sometimes one of them hears something and passes it to the one below him, one after another until it is conveyed to the ear of a magician or soothsayer. It is possible that the flaming fire hits one of these listeners before he is able to convey what he has heard to the one who is beneath him, and he is burned up, or sometimes the fire does not hit him until he manages to pass it on to the one beneath him, so that after telling a hundred lies he gets something right, and the people say: “Did he not tell us that on such and such a day such and such would happen, and we found it to be the truth among the statements which were heard from heaven?” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī]
In the markets in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, you can see uneducated, poor women plying this trade in the road and alleyways, and you will see university professors, wealthy merchants, and professionals stop to consult with them.
I asked one of these people: “Why do you consult with the like of those soothsayers? If they could really tell the future, they would start by making better lives for themselves.”
Allah says: “(Say, O Muhammad): If I had knowledge of the unseen, I would have increased for myself all that is good and misfortune would never befall me.” [Sūrah al-A`rāf
If there were people who has knowledge of the unseen, they would logically make decisions in their own lives to ensure their success and avoid setbacks.
Prophet Muhammad decisively closed the door to astrology, because it is very harmful to believe that the stars and planets have a spiritual influence over human affairs, and it is one of the leading ways people go astray. This is why the Prophet said: “Whoever consults with a fortune teller on any matter will have their prayers rejected for forty days.” [Sahīh Muslim
Islam calls us to think and reflect, and prohibits pursing superstitious means to learn about the future. Islam provides legitimate alternatives, like consulting one another for good advice, beseeching Allah in prayer for guidance about our decisions, and studying the ways of the world to make sensible choices.
Astrologers are con artists, and they are often experts at their craft. They bring together many pieces of information about their victims, and during a session they study their clients’ facial expressions and reactions, so they can manipulate them effectively. Their victims can be presidents, kings, wealthy business people, ministers, and sports stars.
The Prophet’s family have honour and distinction; nevertheless when the Prophet’s nephew `Alī was asked if the Prophet had granted them and special knowledge, he said: “No. I swear by the one who splits the seed and sprouts the grain, there is nothing more than the understanding that Allah gives someone regarding the Qur’an…” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī
and Sahīḥ Muslim
In Islam, there are no individuals or groups of people who have been granted special knowledge. Allah may bless someone to have greater understanding on religious matters than most, like he blessed `Alī, Abū Bakr, `Umar, Mu`ādh, and Ibn `Abbās, but that is all.
The Islamic mindset is necessarily knowledge-based, one that is hostile to superstition, fables, and baseless claims. It is a mind that seeks to uncover, through research and investigation, true knowledge about the world around us, which Allah has enabled us to do.
The Qur’an is clear about matters of the unseen: “He (Allah) is the knower of the unseen, and no one else has any knowledge of the unseen, except those individuals He chooses to be His Messengers, and then He makes a band of watchers march before him and behind him, that He may know that they have conveyed the message of their Lord.” [Sūrah al-Jinn
Even when it comes to the Messengers, they only knew of the unseen what was specifically revealed to them of the Message, all of which is conveyed to the people.
We will not develop and progress as a civilization or advance in our scientific knowledge if we do not cultivate a mindset grounded in proper thinking, free from superstitions and myths, especially those misrepresented as being part of the religion.
We should recall all the media hype, and even a feature film, surrounding the idea that the world was going to come to the end in 2012. Many simple-minded people around the world lived in fear and dread on account of it. Of course, that year came and went, but the gullible are just as ready to accept a new date for the end of the world. When people wake up to the truth, they need to face how much they have lost and how much money they have squandered.
When NASA debunked that the rumours that it had announced there would be a solar storm which would set humanity back to the Stone Age, many people doubted NASA’s official announcement and continued to believe in the baseless rumour. Maybe that was because the rumour came first and people already believed it to be true, and suspected the official announcement to be a politically-motivated retraction.
Politicians traffic in its own kind of nonsense. There are the innumerable campaign promises offering the Sun in the one hand and the Moon in the other, taking advantage of the hopes of the poor and downtrodden. These politicians sell false promises in exchange for votes and they employ various means of deception throughout their political careers so the people never realise how they have been deceived. Whole nations have been steered on the basis of false notions.