Photo credit: Hossam Art of Design
Previously, we discussed the Bani Israel mentioned in Surah Al Baqarah and various examples were given about how they caused the displeasure of Allah. By reading this, we gain an understanding of how not to displease Allah, and how to try to gain His pleasure instead.
Every era has something that is special and specific to their time. So for example, in this era, it is science and technology, where the scientific achievements have been higher than any other time. Similarly, the Prophet (SAW) lived in a culture where poetry and language had a big influence on people, and so we can see that the Quran as well was written in a poetic style, to appeal to the people. The era of Hazrat Musa (AS) was of magic, so he was given the miracle of magic. In Hazrat Isa (AS)'s time medicine was very popular, so he was given the miracle of curing. In the next few verses, the time was of when black magic became popular and widely practiced, and this was during the time of Sulaiman (AS).
This issue begins with verse 102, "They followed what the Shayâtin (devils) gave out (falsely of the magic) in the lifetime of Sulaimân (Solomon). Sulaimân did not disbelieve, but the Shayâtin (devils) disbelieved, teaching men magic and such things that came down at Babylon to the two (angels,) Hârût and Mârût, but neither of these two angels taught anyone (such things) till they had said, "We are only for trial, so disbelieve not (by learning this magic from us)." And from these (angels) people learn that by which they cause separation between man and his wife, but they could not thus harm anyone except by Allâh's Leave. And they learn that which harms them and profits them not. And indeed they knew that the buyers of it (magic) would have no share in the Hereafter. And how bad indeed was that for which they sold their ownselves, if they but knew."
This verse could have been revealed because
i) The Jews thought that Sulaiman (AS) was associated with sorcery and magic. The Quran made sure to deny such a vile allegation against Sulaiman (AS).
ii) These verses condemn the Jews for indulging in black magic themselves
iii) The Jews knew very well that practicing black magic was not only a sin, but it also involved kufr. They also knew that activities of this sort will not benefit them in this world, unless Allah will the black magic to work. This is why the ayah states that they "knew" it, but also states, "if they but knew", because they did not act upon what they knew, making them no different form the ignorant.
iv) There was a time in which black magic was widely practiced, particularly in Babylon. Seeing its results, ignorant people began to confuse its effects with the miracles of the prophets. some began to think of magicians as holy people, and some began to learn black magic, thinking of it as a divine practice.
Magic had become a source of misguidance, and Allah sent two angels, Harut and Marut, to inform people about its true nature and its different forms, so that people could distinguish it from the miracles of the prophets. The angels informed the people what they should be careful about and avoid. They also told them that the information they are giving the people about magic should be used as a means to protect their taqwa, and not misused with an evil intent. However, although there were some people who were true to their promise and didn't use magic to harm others, there were others you fell into this evil.
There are many different kinds of magic. There's one which we are familiar with, where people do "tricks" based on their skills, such as pulling a rabbit out of an empty hat. These are done by quick movements and mechanisms which can be learnt. This is not the magic the Quran is referring to. Another type of magic is one where one of the five senses are casted a spell on. An example is during the time of Musa (AS), where Pharaoh's men had cast a spell on the eyes of people, and they saw something that wasn't there (snakes). This is similar to hypnosis. Another type is black magic, and this is done with the help of jinns and devils. This is when an individual steps into the world of jinns and uses their powers on mankind. Sometimes they have a chant that they repeat many times in a dark, impure place, and they eventually get these beings to come to their side. Impurity is something that attracts evil jinns. That is why when we enter the bathroom we are told to recite the dua, "O Allaah, I seek refuge with You from the male and female jinns". So the people who want to attract the evil jinns use chants, they worship others apart from Allah, which is kufr, and they use najas (impurities) such as blood. Combining these three things together, they call on the evil. After calling on the jinns, they interact with each other and then harm people. Fortunately, such practice is not common in this day and age.
Then there are miracles. Miracles of the prophets are called mu'jizat and miracles of saints are called karamaat. These are not to be confused with magic. All miracles are acts of Allah. The people who are able to perform miracles are connected to Allah, and we should be careful about not mixing up miracles with magic.
Verse 103 then ends off this topic with "And if they had believed and guarded themselves from evil and kept their duty to Allâh, far better would have been the reward from their Lord, if they but knew!"