What is Fortune-Telling?

Fortune-telling is about predicting future events, especially those that relate closely to a person’s life. There are various means by which knowledge of the future is supposedly derived. Palmistry, for instance, involves studying the lines on a person’s palm; astrology is the study of the positions and movements of the stars and other heavenly bodies in order to judge their influence on human affairs; and numerology is the use of numbers to predict events. Divination and soothsaying are other terms that also describe the practice of foretelling events or revealing hidden information.

Fortune-Telling in the Modern Age

While fortune-telling is an ancient practice, it has survived to this day in various forms. For example, it is fashionable in some cultures to have your palm read by an “expert”. Even more popular are the horoscopes available online or published regularly in tabloids and magazines these days. There are also books on the “art” of palmistry and related practices. Furthermore, astrologers and diviners appear on television shows where they try to predict the future or interpret people’s dreams. Some people indulge in these activities merely as a pastime, while others have a more profound belief in the powers of fortune-telling.   

Fortune-Telling in the Name of Islam

Today, various forms of fortune-telling, including astrology, are being associated with Islam through the media in many Muslim societies. Some individuals use certain so-called religious incantations, amulets, and other objects as a means of fortune-telling or divination. They may even lean on some Islamic concepts, such as those involving the jinn or predestination, in an attempt to mix up falsehood with truth, and try to confuse people. Those without knowledge of the Quran and Hadith in this regard may actually be fooled into believing such individuals. In reality, however, there is no fortune-telling in Islam, which prohibits all forms of fortune-telling in the strictest terms, regardless of whether it is disguised with religious ornamentation or not. Let us examine the detailed Islamic teachings on fortune-telling in the light of the Quran and Hadith.

Islamic Ruling on Fortune-Telling

One of the fundamental concepts of the Quran is that Allah alone knows the unseen. No one else has any share in this characteristic of His – not even the prophets, who were only informed of certain matters of the unseen that Allah chose to reveal to them. Allah says in the Quran, “Say, ‘None in the heavens and earth knows the unseen except Allah, and they do not perceive when they will be resurrected.’” (Quran 27:65) It is hence beyond the scope of human knowledge to predict the future with certainty, as Allah further says, “…And no soul perceives what it will earn tomorrow, and no soul perceives in what land it will die. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Quran 31:34)

Also Read: Islamic Perspective on Wealth

Various forms of fortune-telling have been derived from sorcery and occult activities. Practicing magic is one of the major sins in Islam, and subject to severe punishment in the hereafter. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Whoever learns a part of astrology has learned a part of sorcery; those who learn more are getting that much more [sin to their credit].” (Abu Dawud) While refuting the concepts underlying astrology, the Prophet ﷺ said, “Allah created the stars for three purposes: (1) as ornaments of the heavens; (2) as missiles against the devils; and (3) as signposts for the guidance of travelers. Whoever interprets otherwise is mistaken. Such a person is to lose his reward [for the good deeds performed], and takes upon himself that which is beyond his knowledge.” (Bukhari) Moreover, the Prophet ﷺ described the following forms fortune-telling as also being equivalent to magic:

  • Al-Iyafah – taking omens from the flight of the birds
  • Al-Tarq – Drawing lines on the earth to predict events
  • Al-Tiyarah – Considering sight upon some object or animal as a bad omen (Reported by Ahmad)

Difference between Astrology and Astronomy

It is important to differentiate astrology from astronomy – two terms that some people falsely use interchangeably. As opposed to astrology, which is the use of stars and their constellations to predict events, astronomy is a branch of science that deals with the study of heavenly bodies and the universe as a whole. Astronomy is based on observable facts, systematic studies, and the use of human intellect. Throughout history, it has facilitated navigation and timekeeping. Because astronomy has nothing to do with the impact of heavenly bodies on human destinies, it is permitted in Islam. In fact, several verses of the Quran allude to astronomy, on the basis of which, Muslim scientists made valuable contributions to the field of astronomy in the past.

Why Fortune-Telling is Not Genuine

It is true that in ancient times, a fortune-teller could predict some of the events correctly. The Prophet ﷺ was once asked about the fortune-tellers, and he replied, “They are nothing.” The people said, “O Messenger of Allah ﷺ, they sometimes tell something which turns out to be true.” He replied, “The word which turns out to be true is what a jinn snatches away by stealing [information from the heavens], and then pours it in the ear of the fortune-teller with a sound similar to the cackle of a hen; and then, they add to it a hundred lies.” (Bukhari)

However, since the revelation of the Quran, Allah has made it impossible for the jinn to eavesdrop on the angels and obtain information of the unseen from the heavens. The Quran quotes a group of jinn as saying, “And we have sought [to reach] the heaven but found it filled with powerful guards and burning flames. And [before this] we used to sit therein in positions for hearing, but whoever listens now will find a burning flame lying in wait for him.” (Quran 72:8-9) Hence, there is no question of any modern-day fortune-teller basing his predictions on information stolen from the heavens. These days, fortune-telling is little more than a means for charlatans to target gullible individuals. 

Consequences of Fortune-Telling

The Prophet ﷺ has described four severe consequences of fortune-telling, visiting a fortune-teller, or believing in the words of a fortune-teller, as follows. 

  1. It is equivalent to denying the Quran. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever visited a soothsayer and believed in his words has denied the Revelation to Muhammad.” (Abu Dawud)
  2. It debars a person from the community of Muslims. The Prophet ﷺ said “Whoever augers an ill omen, or the same thing is done on his behalf, who predicts the happening of something, or the same is done on his behalf, is not of us.” (Muslim)
  3. It leads to a person’s prayer being rejected for forty days. The Prophet ﷺ says, “Whoever went to a fortune-teller and asked him about some matter and believed him will have his prayer rejected for forty days.” (Muslim)
  4. It deprives a person of Allah’s help. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever puts his trust in something [such as the words of a fortune-teller], that will be his only supporter.” (Nasai)

Conclusion

The warning against fortune-telling is stern because, in addition to the element of lying and deluding others, fortune-telling implies that others have a share in Allah’s knowledge of the unseen which He has reserved for Himself. This leads to the association of partners with Allah, known as shirrk, which is the greatest wrong in His sight, and the only “unforgivable sin” if one does not truly repent from it, according to the Quran. For this reason, fortune-telling must be avoided even in a light-hearted manner; for instance, it is a common practice to read up horoscopes out of curiosity or just for fun without realizing the serious implications this seemingly little act has. It is, hence, imperative for Muslims to consciously avoid associating with all forms of fortune-telling, and eradicate it completely from their lives.