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DIVINATION. The comprehensive term for divination in the Islamic tradition is Kihanah, a term derived from Semitic antiquity. It is connected to all aspects, practical and theoretical, of the art of knowing that which cannot spontaneously be known. Ironic as it may seem, divination remained a subject worthy of the attention of many a serious Islamic thinker despite the fact that a frequently quoted hadith had declared that “there is no kihanah after the Prophetic Mission.”

Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406) places divination at the lowest rung of prophetic attributes, a divine gift to God’s chosen individuals. And while the Qur’an condemned practices connected with pagan cults, and the institution of the diviners was officially abrogated in Islam, divination continued in various forms and disguises. Many sober sages spoke of “illuminated souls” who were blessed by the knowledge of the occult (ghayb); among them were prophets, saints (wall), physiognomists, and soothsayers. The knowledge of the unseen or of the future was sometimes revealed in dreams, and the art of the interpretation of dreams (ta’bir al-ru’ya) was elevated to a rank above that of divination, being considered part of prophecy.

Like much in Islamic culture, divination arose out of an innovative blending of Greek, Sanskrit, Pahlavi, and local sources, incorporating under kihanah methods pertaining to astrology and magic. Generally divided into the three categories of firasah (physiognomancy), sihr (magic), and ahkam al-nujum (judicial astrology), divination receives detailed classificatory treatment in the writings of many Muslim encyclopedists, biographers, bibliographers, and historians. Thus under the first category one finds `ilm qiyafat al-athar/al-bashar (divination by the observation of footprints/ by morphoscopic and genealogical lines), `ilm al-asarir (chiromancy), `ilm alaktaf (omoplatoscopy or divination by the observation of shoulder blades), and so on; under the second, `ilm da’wat al-kawakib (invocation of celestial bodies), `ilm al-khafa’ (making oneself invisible), `ilm al-`azaim (incantations), `ilm al-asma’ al-husna (science of the beautiful divine names), `ilm al-da’awa (science of Islamic personal prayers), and `ilm al-sa’badhah (conjury); and under the third, `ilm al-ikhtiyardt (catarchic astrology), `ilm al-raml (geomancy), and `ilm al -fa’l (omens). Here it is interesting to note not only the blending of so many disciplines, but also the imaginative grafting of characteristically Islamic elements onto an eclectic foreign base.

Indeed, a characteristic feature of divination in Islamic culture is its progressive divorce from the primitive oracular traditions, becoming over time a systematic art referred to as one of the sciences, ulum (sg., `ilm). This places it on an equal footing with mathematics, astronomy, or medicine, all of which were also called `ilm.

[See also Astrology, Geomancy; Magic and Sorcery; Numerology.]


A comprehensive account of prophecy in Islam is found in Toufic Fahd, La divination arabe: Etudes religieuses, sociologiques et folkloriques sur le milieu natif de l’Islam (Leiden, 1966), based on primary sources. See as well Fahd’s article “Kihana,” in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 5, pp. 99-101 (Leiden, 1960-). Alfred Guillaume’s Prophecy and Divination among the Hebrews and Other Semites (London, 1938) is a dated but still useful text. Other relevant entries in the new edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam include Charles Pellat’s “Anwa”‘ (vol. 1, PP. 523-524); “Djafr” (vol. 2, pp. 375-377), “Ikhtiyarat” \ 3, pp. 1063-1064), “Kiyafa” (vol. 5, pp. 234-235), “Malhama” (vol. 6, p. 247), “Nirandi” (vol. 8, PP. 51-52), and “Nudjum” (vol. 8, pp. 105-108), all by Toufic Fahd. A comprehensive treatment, invaluable for the serious reader, is D. B. Macdonald’s “Sihr,” in E. J. Brill’s First Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. 7, pp. 409417 (Leiden, 1987).


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/divination/

  • writerPosted On: November 6, 2012
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