Magicians of Pharoah and Refutation of the Mutazilah Who Deny Magic
Ibn al-Qayyim (rahimahullaah) clarifies the reality of the magic of the magicians of Pharoah in the course of his explanation of the mu’awwadhatayn (last two Surahs of the Qur’an) in his most excellent work “Badaa’i al-Fawaa’id” and so he says, (Dar Aalam al-Fawaa’id, tahqeeq, Ali bin Muhammad Imraan, p. 747 onwards):
” And He the Exalted had said about the magicians of Pharoah that “They bewitched the eyes of the people, and struck terror into them, and they displayed a great magic.” (7:116). So He, the Sublime, explained that their eyes had been bewitched and this occurs either by
a) an alteration of what is observed which (in this case) was ropes and sticks, such that the magicians sought aid by way of (unseen) spirits that caused them to move and they are the devils, and they (the people) thought that they moved by themselves, and this is like when someone who you do not observe, drags a mat or a rug, and you see the mat being dragged by itself, and you do not see the one dragging it despite him being the one who drags it. And such is the state of the ropes and sticks, the devils occupy them and turn them like the turning of a snake, and so the observer thinks that they turn (move) by themselves, yet the devils are the ones who turn them. Or,
b) the change occurs in the observer such that he sees the ropes and sticks moving although they are actually stationary in themselves.
And there is no doubt that the magician does both this and that (i.e. uses both ways). So one time he will engage with the observer himself and his perception until he begins to see something upon other than what it really is and another time he will engage with [the entity] being observed by seeking aid from devilish spirits until he is able to effect (his magic) therein.
As for what the deniers (i.e. the Mu’tazilah) say in that they (the magicians) did that with the ropes and sticks what necessitated their movement and motion, such as using mercury and other (such things) until they expanded (and appeared to move), then this is falsehood from many different angles. For if it had been like that, this would not have then been imagination (of movement) (khiyaal), rather it would have been an actual true and real movement, and hence, this would not then have been bewitching the eyes of the people, and that is not called magic (sihr), rather merely an art (skill) from the shared arts, and the Exalted had said, “Then behold, their ropes and their sticks, by their magic, appeared to him as though they moved fast” (20:66), and if they had moved by way of a type of (illusory) trickery – as the deniers say – then this would not have been magic at all, and the likes of this (observation) is not hidden at all.
And also, if it had been by way of trickery – as those (the deniers) say – then the way to nullify that (trickery) would have been to take out the mercury that was placed within (the ropes, sticks) and thereby explain how that (seemingly) impossible thing took place, and he (Moosaa) would not have been in need of throwing down his staff in order to swallow (the magician’s ropes and sticks).
And also, the likes of this trickery is not in need of seeking aid from the magicians (to achieve it), rather it is sufficient to use skilled engineers (craftsmen), and in this, the Pharoah’s veneration of the magicians and submitting to them (being in need of them) and (his) promising them nearness and reward is not needed therefore. And also, it would not be said (in such a situation) [by Pharoah], “Verily! He [Moosaa] is your chief who taught you magic.” (20:71), for the learning and teaching of the arts are (matters) in which the people share with each other.
In essence, the refutation of this is so manifestly clear that does away with one burdening oneself to refute it, so let us then return back to our intent (in our topic)…”
Compiled by Abu Iyaad