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Magic and Revelation
Tariq Haashmi

One of the major objections raised by the Idolaters of Arabia against the Holy Qur’ān was that some satanic spirits revealed the Qur’ān upon the Holy Prophet (sws) or he fabricated the verses of the Qur’ān with the help of some Satanic Jinn and presented these before the people in the garb of divine inspirations. The Holy Qur’ān mentions these charges at various places and then answers them. It refers to the divine arrangement for the protection of the revelations at the time they were being sent down and invites the addressees to ponder over the difference between the characteristics of the poetry of the Arabian poets and the message of the Holy Qur’ān, and also to compare the attributes of the common poets of the time and the Holy Prophet (sws). This article presents the Qur’ānic stance on the subject as presented in Sūrah Shu‘arā of the Holy Qur’ān.

First of all, it should be appreciated that the Holy Qur’ān does not comment on poetry in general. It has dealt with the issue with particular reference to the charges alleged against the Holy Prophet (sws) by his adversaries. These comments should be seen in this background alone since they are prompted by a special condition and concerned particularly with the poets of Arabia and their characters at the time of the revelation of the Qur’ān.

When the Quraysh noticed the deep effect of the Holy Qur’ān on the hearts of the people, they sought refuge in making false allegations against the Holy Prophet (sws). They maintained that the reason why Qur’ān appealed to people was not that it was revealed by God but because the Holy Prophet (sws) possessed such a strong eloquent expression as their poets did. He had a charm in his expression as these poets had which appealed to others. They held that the right placement for the Holy Prophet (sws) would be that of a great poet. There was no reason to regard him among the Prophets of God. Moreover, the Arabs commonly believed that a jinn accompanies every poet and reveals eloquent expressions to him. Thus, they tried to make people believe that the Prophet (sws) was not true in his assertion of being an appointed messenger of God and as such he was not receiving revelation from the Lord. It was only a jinn or Satan which accompanied him like other great poets who revealed eloquent ‘poetic’ verses to him. The Holy Qur’ān negated this allegation and substantiated its claim by citing the difference between poets and Prophets and thus mentioned its observation in this regard.

The Qur’ān substantiates its assertion and counters the allegation by pointing to the fact that the poets live in a totally different world as compared to the Prophets of God. A picture of them and their followers and an analysis of their poetry and its purpose will establish the difference between the two.

There is a vivid difference in the objectives of the message as well as in the characters and personalities of prophets and poets. It describes three measures to differentiate the poets from the prophets by portraying only poets and leaving the reader to decide for himself whether their poetry can be compared with the Magnificent Qur’ān presented by the Prophet Muhammad (sws). Let us look into the relevant verses of Sūrah Shu‘arā:

And those who are strayed follow the poets. Did you not notice that they wander everywhere? And they say what they practice not. Except for those who professed faith and did good acts and much remembered God. (26:224-27)

According to these verses, the first decisive fact is that the poets are commonly followed by those who are deceived or strayed. What kind of people were attracted to their poetry? If seen with unbiased eyes, it becomes clear that the companions of the poets are those who love evil, are transgressors, lascivious, and have a bad character. On the contrary, the Qur’ān attracted those who are pious, righteous, and noble. The notable point is that the poets occupied a very important position among Arabs. Whenever they set fire to their passions by their fiery poetry, the common folk would follow them without ascertaining the consequences of such vehement adherence. A look into the poetry of Imrā’ul-Qays will suffice to ascertain the true nature of the message enshrined in the works of such poets as well as its affects on the hearts and minds of men. Obviously, those who love to indulge in vile themes of the sorts reflected by the poetry of Imrā’ul-Qays would follow the poets of such character.

The second point that the Holy Qur’ān mentions is that these poets poke their noses in every matter that comes to their mind. They indulge in all kinds of topics and issues. In other words, they generally do not have any specific purpose before them. Whatever ideas enter their heads they express them in the best possible style according to their abilities, regardless of whether the matter in question is satanic or spiritual or materialistic etc and irrespective of whether their works would incite people to do good or evil? If one reads a few poetic verses from the works of these poets, one can easily see that one verse leads to good while the other stimulates base emotions. People would listen to them only because of their eloquent expressions. Since man can easily be lured towards evil things, therefore people would love these poets and hold them in great esteem. If any good is packed in these poetic compositions it is suffocated by the overpowering evil filled in them. On the contrary, if we study the Qur’ānic verses, we find that they speak of a single purpose. Each and every verse complements toward the accomplishment of this purpose. There is no contradiction in its contents.

The third point according to the referred verse is that the poets say things which they themselves do not act upon. The poets depict themselves in their poetry as heroes in their activities but in fact they do not possess such qualities. On the contrary, the messengers of God are themselves the paragon of the ideals reflected in their teachings. They are the first to fear and worship God. The devotion and sacrifice they invite towards is present in their personalities in its ultimate form. Even their worst enemies cannot pinpoint any of their acts as contrary to their teachings.

Finally, the Qur’ān, alluding to the believing poets who spread the word of God in their poetry, has declared them an exception. Although these poets did not constitute the majority of the well-known poets in the prevalent environment, the Qur’ān has acknowledged their fear of God and strict observance of righteousness.

Now take the question of the relationship between the poets and the soothsayers during those times.

It is known that the Arabs attached a lot of importance to the poets and soothsayers. They believed that a Satanic Jinn accompanies every grand poet. According to their beliefs, these Jinn revealed to the poets ideas and eloquent expressions. The Satan accompanying the great poet A‘shā was allegedly named ‘مسحل’ (mishal) and the one accompanying ‘مخبل’ Mukhbil was ‘عمرو’ (‘Amr).1 The reason of this deep relationship between the two is discussed by Ahmad Hassan Zayyāt in his book History of Arabic Language and Literature under the chapter regarding birth and development of Arabic poetry. He writes:

Musajja‘ (rhymed prose) is the first form of poetry. The soothsayers used to pray before the gods, record their wise sayings in this style and give response to people in riddles to fill the audience with awe. Like Roman soothsayers they were the first to utter poetry. They claimed inspirations from and communication with the gods. They used to offer their supplications before these deities in rhymed prose and sought revelation. Then they used to present the information which they allegedly received from the deities before people in rhymed prose and named it Saja‘ (lit: rhymed expression). This Saja‘ was a form of discourse which later developed into poetry.2

This probably led the Arabs to form the belief that a Jinn accompanies every great poet. This provided the Quraysh with an opportunity to claim that the Holy Prophet (sws) was not truthful in his claim, that is, he did not receive revelations from God. The Holy Prophet (sws) is a soothsayer and a poet. He fabricates pieces of literature supported by some Jinn and Satan who reveal to him such inspirations. Perhaps the most comprehensive and detailed discussion in this regard occurs in Sūrah Shu‘arā; the Qur’ān negates this allegation in the following words:

Satan [Jinn] did not reveal anything to the Holy Prophet (sws)—neither does it suit them nor are they able to do so. For they cannot hear [from the heavens]. (26:210-12)

The words ‘neither does it suit them’ imply that Satan would not do something against his own mission. This is the same kind of argument, as was adopted by Jesus Christ (sws) in response to the Pharisees. According to the Gospel of Luke:

He was driving out a devil from a dumb man. When the devil had come out, the dumb man began to speak. The people were astonished, but some of them said, ‘it is by Beelzebub, prince of devils, that he drives the devils out.’ Others, by way of test, demanded of him a sign from heaven. But he knew what was in their minds, and said, ‘every kingdom divided against itself goes to ruin, and a divided household falls. Equally if Satan is divided against himself how can his kingdom stand? (Luke 11: 14-8)

The second point is that they could not produce such a discourse. It has repeatedly been challenged to the Quraysh and their allies to produce even a sūrah like the miraculous Qur’ān. They were not able to meet this challenge and hence the words ‘nor are they able to do so’

The third point that the Holy Qur’ān asserts is that Satan did not have any access to the throne of the Almighty. The Qur’ān has mentioned in more than one place that during the days it was being revealed there was strict surveillance around heavens. Any jinn or Satan who tried to overhear a matter decided in the heavens was bombarded with meteors. Hence the Qur’ān says that the Jinn are impeded from overhearing anything from the heavens. 

After some verses, the Qur’ān goes on to depict the despicable character of those on whom jinn reveal their sayings. It says:

Let me tell you on whom do the devils come down. They come to inveterate liars and sinful people to reveal upon them. And most of these [soothsayers] are liars. (24:221-23)

The Devils do not come to the people like the Holy Prophet (sws); they reveal to the soothsayers who in turn attribute these revealed inspirations to God. These people are those who indulge in exaggeration and untruthfulness. Those who eagerly look up to these Satan and Jinn are often liars. Thus the soothsayers revered by the Quraysh are portrayed. The Qur’ān has exposed their attributes. The first attribute, according to the Qur’ān, is their being ‘affāk’ (chronic liars). They fool the simple folk by concocting exciting stories about their receiving messages from the Jinn. Their second attribute is Athīm’ (sinful). It means that they indulge in all kinds of moral sins. This is a depiction of their style of presenting their so-called experiences. They used to pretend doing some meditation to profess that they received it from the Jinn and thus would present their false ideas in poetic expressions and tell others that they had received it from such and such Jinn. They used to sit in meditation as they were concentrating on an unseen source, which would reveal to them information about the unseen. This kind of meditation has been common among all polytheistic nations.

The Qur’ānic words ‘and most of them are liars’ allude to the fact that some of these soothsayers were true in the sense that they really received something from the Jinn but most of them were liars. They did not even have such satanic experiences as were portrayed by them to their followers and ‘customers’.

(Adapted from ‘Islāhī’s Tadabbur i Qur’ān’)







1. Rāghib Al-Tabbākh, Tārīkh Afkār-u-‘Ulūm-i-Islāmī, 4th ed., vol. 1, (Lahore: Islamic Publications, 1989), p. 43

2. Tārīkhu’l Adab al-‘Arabī, Ahmad Hasjan Zayyat, Urdu translation by Tahir, Abdurrehman Sourti, Sheikh Ghulam Ali and Sons, Lahore Pakistan, 1972, p. 17

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