There are No Such Things as Omens
Sheikh Muhammad b. `Abd Allah al-Qannâs
Abû Hurayrah relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “There are no such things as omens. A favorable auspice is the best there is.”
They asked: “So what is a favorable auspice?”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: “A good word that one of you hears.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (5754) and Sahîh Muslim (2223)].
This hadîth is one of the many which teach us that omens are un-Islamic.
As for the good word that the hadîth affirms, this is where one of us overhears something and draws personal comfort from it. It is a form of optimism. For instance, a person lying in the hospital with a serious illness happens to overhears someone walk by saying “Yâ Salâm” – an expression like “O Lord” using Allah’s name meaning “peace” – and that person takes encouragement from hearing it.
Another person might be looking for a lost item and overhear someone saying: “Praise be to God! What a find I had today.” From this, he takes heart that he might just find what he has lost.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to take heart when he heard people speak a good world or say positive things.
At the same time, the Prophet (peace be upon him) categorically prohibited the belief in omens and in portents of dread. He warned that the belief that omens and portents can influence our fate – positively or negatively – is a form of polytheism.
`Abd Allah b. Mas`ûd relates that the Prophet said: “Omens are polytheism.” He repeated this three times. [Sunan Abî Dâwûd (3411)]
We also have where Sahl b. Sa`d al-Sâ’idî relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “If there were anything that brought an evil foreboding, it would be in three things: one’s horse, one’s wife and one’s home.” [Sahih al-Bukhârî (2859) and Sahîh Muslim (2226)]
In another narration in Sahîh Muslim (2227), related from Jâbir, it reads: “If an ill foreboding were in anything, it would have been one’s residence, one’s servant, and one’s horse.”
Scholars of the past have differed in how they understood this hadîth. They have approached the hadîth in three ways:
1. Mental association: Some take the hadîth on its face value, understanding that sometimes a person, while living somewhere, or while in a certain marriage, or in possession of a certain means of transport, suffers a serious loss or misses opportunities. Of course, this all happens in accordance with Allah’s decree, but it can cause a person to hate the elements of his life that he associates with these negative experiences. What the hadîth is telling us is that it is lawful for a person to change these aspects of his life, as long as he knows full well that his prosperity and providence are with Allah alone, and not in the things in his surroundings when Allah brought about His decree.
There is support for this interpretation in the hadîth related by Anas where he tells us that a man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: “We used to live in a home where we were many in number and had an abundance of wealth. Then we moved to another home, and now we are few in number and have little wealth.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Leave it to its misery.” [Sunan Abî Dâwûd (3423)]
Ibn Qutaybah, in his discussion of this hadîth in Ta’wîl Mukhtalif al-Hadîth (99), writes:
They were only told to move from that house because they would be heavyhearted and restless to remain in a home where they suffered so much misfortune. So the Prophet (peace be upon him) told them to move. Indeed, Allah has placed in human nature the dislike of the places where they experience suffering, even though the place itself has nothing to do with it.
Al-Khattâbî, in A`lâm al-Hadîth (2/1379), explains why the hadîth makes specific mention of a person’s residence, wife, and mode of transport:
Good fortune and misfortune are merely what a person experiences in life of benefit and harm. This is all according to Allah’s will alone. These three things are mentioned only because they are the most ubiquitous and conspicuous factors of a person’s life. Though they so not directly cause the person’s fortune or misfortune, one’s home, one’s spouse, and one’s steed are the most prevalent and essential things in the person’s experience and surroundings. Therefore, these things can become associated most readily in a person’s mind with misfortunes that befall him. It is just like how people feel good about someone from whom they receive benefit, even if that person did not expressly intend to help them. They feel negativity towards a person who brings them harm, even if that person did not intend any harm.
2. Bad qualities in the things themselves: Bad effects can come about in a person’s life because of these three things, if these things are not good, because of how closely and strongly people are attached to them.
The evil foreboding in the home, for instance, might be because of its cramped size, abusive neighbors, or its being too far from the mosque. With respect to a man’s wife, it might be their inability to conceive children together or a lack of mutual trust – or due to her sharp tongue with him. In a servant, it could be bad manners or his having a lackadaisical attitude about his work.
3. These three things are among life’s essential blessings: Some scholars understand the evil foreboding in the hadîth to refer to the misfortune of a person who does not have a good home, a good spouse, or a decent mode of transport. It is related from Sa`d b. Abî Waqqâs that the Porphet (peace be upon him) said: “Three things are among the causes of human happiness: a pious wife, a good home, and a good means of transport. And three things are among the causes of human misery: an bad wife, a bad home, and a bad means of transport.” [Musnad Ahmad (1445)]
Al-Bukhârî pointed out how this understanding of the hadîth is reinforced by the verse of the Qur’ân which reads: ” O you who believe! Surely from among your wives and your children there are enemies for you; therefore beware of them; and if you pardon and forbear and forgive, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” [Sûrah al-Taghâbûn: 14]
And Allah knows best.