The Islamic Ruling on Omens and Charms

The creation, maintenance and eventual destruction of the universe and its contents are by Allah's command and both good luck and bad occur according to Allah's will. However, man, during all ages, has asked the question, "Is there any way of knowing before hand whether good times or bad times are coming?" For, if there is a way of knowing ahead of time, misfortune could then be avoided and success could be ensured. From the most ancient of times some individuals have falsely claimed access to this hidden knowledge and the ignorant masses of mankind have revolved around them, paying huge sums to gain pieces of this vital information. Some of the contrived methods for averting misfortune became common knowledge; and thus, a profusion of good luck charms like those mentioned in this article can be found in most societies. Some of the imagined secret ways of knowing one's fortune also became common knowledge, and thus various types of omens and their interpretation can be found in all civilizations. There is however, a body of this knowledge which has remained a secret, handed down from generation to generation; in the various forms of the occult arts of fortune-telling and magic. It is very important that a clear Islamic concept of these practices be developed because of their widespread occurrence in human societies. Perhaps even more important is the fact that if they are not clearly understood a Muslim could easily fall into the major sin of "Shirk" (lit. sharing; the association of partners with Allah), which, in Islamic terms, is in fact idolatry, which is at the root of these practices.


Pre-Islamic Arabs used to consider the direction in which birds and animals moved to be a sign of impeding good or bad fortune and would plan their lives around such signs. The practice of reading good and omens in bird and animal movements was referred to as Tiyarah from the verb Taara which means 'to take flight'. For example, if an individual set out on a journey and a bird flew over him and turned to the left, he would see in it a sign of impeding bad fortune, turn around and return home.

The principle of deriving fortune forecasts from bird movements has been rejected in its totality by the Sunnah (pattern of life set by the Prophet, PBUH). The ancient Arabs took their omens from birds and other nations take theirs from elsewhere, but, the principle involved is the same. Often when the origins of these omens are identified, the Shirk in them becomes most obvious. The following are only a few of the countless omens presently observed in Western society:

Knock on Wood

When someone is thankful for something and hopes that his luck will not change he says, "Knock on wood" and looks around for some wood to knock. The origin of this belief goes back to the time when people in Europe thought that gods lived inside trees. If the wish were granted they would touch the tree again to thank the god.

Spilling Salt

If salt is spilled, many believe that misfortune will shortly follow, so the spilled salt is thrown over the left shoulder to counter it. The origin of omen lies in the ability of salt to keep things fresh. This was believed by the ancients to be due to its magical powers. Thus, spilling salt became a warning of evil. Since evil spirits were thought to live on one's left side, throwing the spilled salt over the left shoulder was supposed to satisfy the evil spirits.

Breaking a Mirror

Many people believe that breaking a mirror accidentally is a sign of seven years of bad luck. Ancient people thought that their reflections in water were their souls. So if their reflections were shattered (e.g.; if someone throw a pebble in the water), then their souls were also shattered. When mirrors were made this belief was shifted to them also.

Black Cats

The crossing of a black cat in front of one's path signals the coming of bad luck to many. This belief originated in the Middle Ages when people believed that black cats were witches pets. Witches were supposed to make magic brews by the brains of black cats with parts of toads, snakes and insects. If a witch's black cat lived for seven years, without ending up in a brew, the cat was supposed to change into a witch.

Number 13

In America the number 13 is considered unlucky and thus, in many of the buildings the 13th floor is called the 14th. Friday the 13th is considered particularly unlucky and many people avoid travel or special engagements on this day. And if anything bad befalls them on that day, they immediately attribute it to the day itself. This phenomena is not restricted to the common people as some might mistakenly imagine. For example, the flight commander of the Apollo moonshot of 1970, which came near disaster, explained on his return that he should have known that something was going to happen. When asked why he replied that the flight took place on Friday the 13th, blast off was at 1300 hours (i.e., one o'clock), and that the flight number was Apollo 13. The origin of this belief goes back to the evening of Jesus's last supper as told in the Bible that there were 13 people. One of the 13 was Judas, the man who supposedly betrayed Jesus. Friday the 13th is supposed to be particularly unlucky for at least two reasons. First, Friday is the day Jesus was supposed to be crucified. And, according to medial belief, Friday is the day when witches held their meetings.

Allah's ability to cause good and bad fortune is being shared by His creations in these beliefs. Also fear of misfortune and hope for good fortune which should only be directed to Allah, is being directed to other than Allah. Knowledge of the future and the unseen is also being claimed, and this quality belongs only to Allah. Allah clearly pointed this out in His attribute 'Aalim al Ghayb, Knower of the unseen. Allah even has the Prophet confess Quraan that had he known the unseen future, he would have avoided all misfortune. (Quran: Al-A'raaf 7:188)

Therefore the belief in omens can clearly be classified as an act of Shirk in all of the major areas of Tawheed (Lit. 'unification' or 'asserting oneness').

This ruling is further substantiated by the Hadeeth reported by Ibn Mas'oud in which Allah's Messenger (PBUH) said, "Tiyarah is Shirk! Tiyarah is Shirk! Tiyarah is Shirk!"

Abdullaah ibn 'Amr ibn al 'Aas also reported that the Prophet (PBUH) said, "Whoever is prevented from doing something by Tiyarah, has committed shirk." The companions asked, "What is its atonement?" He replied, "Say: 'Allaahumma laa khayra illaa khayruk wa laa Tayra illaa Tayruk wa laa elaaha ghayruk.' ('Oh Allah, there is no good except Your good, nor birds except Yours, and there is no god beside You')." (Collected by Ahmed and at-Tabaraanee.)

From the preceding Hadeeths, it can clearly be seen that the Tiyarah was not in any way limited to birds. It includes all forms of beliefs in omens. These beliefs vary in form from place to place and from time to time but they all have the same common denominator of Shirk.

Therefore, Muslims are obliged to carefully avoid all feelings which stem from these beliefs. If they find themselves unconsciously acting on the basis of these beliefs, they should seek refuge in Allah and say the previously mentioned Du'aa (prayer).


It was the practice among the Arabs in the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to wear arm bracelets, bangles, beaded necklaces, shells, etc., as charms to avert evil and bring good fortune. Talismans and amulets can also be found in all regions of the earth in a variety of forms. Faith in charms, amulets and talismans contradict true belief in Allah's Ruboobeeyyah (Lordship) by attributing to created objects the power to avert evil and bring good fortune. Islam opposed all manifestations of such beliefs which appeared in Arabia during the time of the last Prophet (PBUH) in order to establish a foundation on the basis of which similar beliefs and practices would also be condemned and prohibited, whenever and wherever they later appeared. Such beliefs, in fact, provide the ideological basis for idol worship in most pagan societies and the charms themselves represent a branch of idolatry. This relationship can be easily seen in the Catholic branch of Christianity, wherein, Prophet Jesus is deified, his mother Mary and Saints are worshipped; and pictures, statues and medallions with their imagined likenesses are kept and worn for good fortune.

When people accepted Islam during the Prophet's (PBUH) time, they often carried with them faith in charms collectively known in Arabic as Tamaa'im (sing Tameemah). Consequently, there are many recorded statements of the Prophet (PBUH) in which he strictly forbade such practices. The following are only a few examples:

'Emrann ibn Husayn reported that when the Prophet (PBUH) saw a brass bangle on a man's upper arm, he said to him, "Woe be on you! What is this?" The man replied that it was to protect him from a sickness called al-Waahinah (Lit. weakness - possibly referring to Arthritis). The Prophet then said, "Cast it off, for verily it would only increase your weakness. And, if you died with it on, you would never succeed." (Collected by Ahmed, Ibn Maajah and Ibn Hibbaan.)

Thus, the wearing of copper, brass or iron bracelets, bangles, and rings by the sick or the healthy in the belief that they will avert or cure sicknesses is strictly forbidden. Such practices with Haraam (forbidden) cures about which the Prophet (PBUH) had said, "Treat each other's sicknesses, but do not treat sicknesses with forbidden things." (Collected by Abu Daawood)

Abu Waaqid al-Laythee also reported that when Allah's messenger (PBUH) set out for Hunayn (the last major battle between the Prophet (PBUH) and Arabian pagan tribes), they passed by a tree called Dhaatu Anwaar (Lit. 'That which has things hanging on it'). The idolaters used to hang their weapons on its branches for good fortune. Some of the Sahaabah who were new in Islam asked the Prophet (PBUH) to designate a similar tree for them. The Prophet (PBUH) replied, "Subhaanallah! (May Allah be glorified!) This is just like what Moses' people said to him; 'Make a god for us just like their gods!' (Quran: Al-Araaf 7:138). By the One in whose hand rests my soul, all of you will follow the path of those before you." (Collected by at-Tirmidhee, an Nasaa'ee and Ahmad)

Ruling on Charms

As was previously mentioned, the prohibition on amulets, talismans and charms is not limited to the Arabian forms opposed by the Prophet (PBUH). Wherever objects are used for the same purpose, this prohibition also applies. The use of a variety of charms is widespread in Western society today, in spite of its technological advancements and its scientific achievements. Many talismans have become so interwoven in everyday life that few people stop to think about them, yet, when their origins are exposed, the Shirk, which lies at their base, becomes quite obvious. The following are only two examples of popular talismans in Western Society:

The Rabbit's foot

The hind paws of rabbits or gold and silver replicas of the hind paws are worn on chains and bracelets as good luck charms by millions in the West. The origin of this belief is based on the rabbit's habit of thumping their hind legs on the ground. According to the ancients, they talked with the underground spirits when they thumped the ground. Hence, the paws were saved as means of conveying one's wishes to the spirits as well as instruments for bringing good luck in general.


Many houses in America have horseshoes nailed over their doors, miniature versions are also worn on charm bracelets, key chains or necklaces, in the belief that they will bring good luck. The origin of this belief can be found in ancient Greek mythology. In ancient Greece, horses were considered sacred animals. If a horseshoe was hung over the door of a house, it was thought to bring good fortune. The open end of the horseshoe had to point upward, though, so it would hold the good luck. If it pointed downward, they believed that the good luck would spill out.

The belief in charms gives created things the divine power to avert misfortune and thus, those who subscribe to such beliefs contend that Allah's Ruboobeeyah (Lordship) is limited by His creation. In fact, they consider the charms to be more powerful than Allah, because the charms are thought to be able to prevent misfortune which Allaah has destined. Therefore, the belief in charms is an obvious form of Shirk, as ibn Mas'oud had said in the previously mentioned Hadeeth. This ruling is further strengthened by the following Hadeeth.

'Uqbah ibn Aamir reported that when a group of ten men came to the Prophet (PBUH) he only accepted the oath of allegiance from nine. They asked, "O Messenger of Allah, why did you take the covenant from nine of us and refuse this man?" The Prophet (PBUH) answered, "Verily he has a talisman on him." The man then put his hand in his clock, pulled out the talisman and broke it. When the Prophet (PBUH) finished taking the oath from him he turned and said; "Whoever wears a talisman has committed Shirk!"' (Collected by at-Tirmidhee and Ahmad)

This area may seem quite insignificant for so much fuss to be made about it. Islam, however, puts stress on this area because it represents the seed from which Major Shirk may grow. The worship of idols, men, stars, etc, did not come about at one instant in time. Man's belief in Allah's unity, was gradually eroded as the seed of Major shirk took root and grew. Thus, Islam, by providing guidance in all aspects of human life, tries to root out the evils seeds before they can take root and destroy the very foundation of a Muslim's belief.


The Islamic Bulletin
P.O. Box 410186, San Francisco, CA 94141-0186

December 1994
Rajab 1415
The Wisdom in Islam
Letters to the Editor
Islam in Europe is
on the Rise
Do You Knock
on Wood?
Benefits of Honey
Women in Islam
Why I Embraced Islam
The Kid's Corner
The Miracles of
the Quran
Stories of the Sahabah
Qur'anic Science