Many people have a lot of problems, reservations and queries about the Evil-Eye phenomenon recognized in Islam. Some say it is an outright superstition of the old and many others simply doubt anything like this having an effect on another being. Frankly, until recently I also had no clue about what all this may be. But I searched and in this episode I share the same.
I shall try to deal with the well known Hadith narrations on the topic saying briefly about each of them.
Evil-Eye is a fact:
The Messenger of Allah -may Allah bless him- said: “The influence of an evil eye is a fact.” (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 5299)
The same Hadith is found in many other narrations. So undoubtedly the idea and influence of evil eye is recognized as a fact in Islam.
On the nature of evil eye:
This is the actual question I tend to draw the readers’ attention to. Firstly I give as to what a celebrated classical Muslim scholar commented on it and then we turn to some modern findings.
Classical Muslim exegesis:
Hafiz Ibn Hajr (d. 1448 C.E.) wrote the following in his commentary to the Hadith in Sahih Bukhari;
“Some people raised an objection/query on this and said: How does the evil eye affect someone from a far distance to the extent of causing harm? The response to it is that the nature of people is different. So to say, the evil eye doer possesses this ‘poison’ of evil eye that will flow in the air and eventually hit the body of the one on whom it acts upon. One of those who affect with evil-eye once said, “Whenever I saw something that I liked, I would immediately feel a fire surge in my eyes.” …. In his commentary Al Khattabi said, “It was mentioned in the prophetic tradition that the “evil eye” negatively affects oneself. This negates the naturalists’ claim that there is nothing but what the five senses observe, and that everything else is unreal. Al-Mazzari commented on this saying: some naturalists say that the evil eye doer emits harmful radiation from his eyes that hit the body of one who is target of the evil eye inflicting his body with harm similar to the sight of the snakes that have poison on their tongue tip.” (Fath al-Bari 16/264)
Modern research and its prospects:
Now considering the above, is it actually possible that what those men from the medieval era said in line with their belief in the words of the Prophet –may Allah bless him- turns out to be true? Western scientists generally respond in negative. However a certain researcher Dr. Colin A. Ross published a paper with a hypothesis hinting at the “Electrophysiological basis of the Evil Eye beliefs.” The paper was published in Anthropology of Consciousness vol. 21 Issue 1 pp.47-57 March 2010.
His basic contention in the paper is that “Evil eye beliefs must be validated if there is to be electrophysiological support for the extramission theory of vision.” (p.49) He then gives the findings of his experiment in support of the extramission theory of vision (p.52). Without going into any details, let me quote the conclusion in his words.
“In terms of the anthropological study of evil eye beliefs, then, there is now a testable scientific hypothesis about the electrophysiological basis of evil eye beliefs, because there is a detectable electromagnetic signal emerging from the eyes.” (p.53)
He then answers several possible objections to his hypothesis. Suggesting lines for further research in this field he writes;
“… members of some cultures have lower average thresholds for the sense of being stared at than members of other cultures, which could in part be a function of local variations in the earth’s geomagnetic field, or, in the modern world, the amount of ambient electromagnetic pollution in the area. The decay of evil eye beliefs when people emigrate to an urban Western culture might in part be due to the signal for extramission sinking below threshold in the electromagnetically polluted environment of a big city.” (p.54)
In short, the hypothesis of Mr. C. A. Ross at least readily shakes the notion of outright rejection of the evil-eye phenomenon or calling it a mere superstition. I am confident with further research into this field and on the lines suggested by the author of the above mentioned paper, humanity can come to a more profound understanding of the concept, not only widely recognized in various cultures but also supported by the sayings of the most truthful person ever to have walked this Earth –Muhammad, on whom be the peace and blessings of Almighty Allah.
Other Hadith narrations on evil-eye:
Now let me briefly touch upon a couple of other reports from the Prophetic tradition about evil eye thing.
The Messenger of Allah –may Allah bless him- said: "The influence of an evil eye is a fact; if anything would precede the destiny, it would be the influence of an evil eye …" (Sahih Muslim, Hadith 4058)
In this narration only the validity of evil eye phenomenon is stressed. Hafiz Ibn Hajr writes about it;
“The Hadith is by the way of exaggeration to uphold the evil eye phenomenon. Not that anything can (actually) precede destiny for predestination refers to the prior knowledge of Allah and not to His will … To sum up, if it is assumed that something can precede destiny it is evil-eye. But it does not, then how can anything else precede it?” (Fath al-Bari 16/268)
In another narration ‘Aisha –may Allah be pleased with her- reported: “The person with the evil-eye is ordered to perform wudu (ablution), and the man affected by the evil eye is washed with that water.” (Sunan Abu Dawud, Hadith 3880. Classified as Sahih by Albani)
While discussing this kind of treatment, Ibn Hajr writes;
“Ibn Al Qayyim said: This attitude does not avail the one who does not believe in it, or the one who suspects it, ridicules it, denies it or the one who does (believe in) it without believing its effect. Insofar, nature bears many unexplained phenomenon that doctors fail to prove, infact they believe that their reasoning is beyond perception and they occur in special ways. So why then they do not acknowledge these characteristics known through divine authority? Treating this with bathing is not something that causes consternation with people of sound intellect, just like using the antidote for the snake's poison taken from its body. It is like an outraged soul which becomes calm and tranquil when patted. The impact of this evil eye is like a surge of fire that reaches a body. In bathing is the treatment to this fire surge … water will exhaust this surge of fire and its impact will be annulled.” (Fath al-Bari 16/268)
So the treatment suggested in the above mentioned narration is akin to the idea of vaccination (akin in the sense of fighting the disease through its own source). But remember the whole phenomenon is from the extra-sensory realm. And as yet science needs to make a lot of progress to completely fathom ideas of this nature.
Indeed Allah knows the best!