Answered by Shaykh Faraz A. Khan
Question: I was told that going to a fortune teller and believing what they say will make you a kafir then i found this hadith –
“Whoever went to a fortune-teller and asked him about some matter (i.e. of the unseen) and believed him, will have his prayer rejected for forty days.”
Some scholars maintain that what is intended here is that he who believes the words of a fortune-teller has committed an act of disbelief.
Do all scholars unanimously agree that believing the words of a fortune teller will make you a kafir, or is there difference of opinion (ikhtilaf)?
Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,
I pray this finds you in the best of health and states.
The short answer to your question is that believing in the words of a fortuneteller entails disbelief only in certain cases; otherwise, it is a major sin.
There are several hadiths on going to fortunetellers, all of which clearly indicate the immense gravity and seriousness of this sin.
The hadith you cite is related by Sahih Muslim, and the punishment mentioned therein is that one’s prayer will not be accepted for forty days. Imam Nawawi explains that what is meant is he loses out on the reward of those prayers, yet he does not need to make them up later. Imam Nawawi also states that there is scholarly consensus that going to a fortuneteller is unlawful. [Sharh Sahih Muslim]
There are other narrations though that explicitly mention disbelief, such as, “Whoever goes to a fortuneteller or soothsayer and believes in him, then he has disbelieved in what was revealed to Muhammad.” [Musnad Ahmed; Tabarani Awsat; Sunan Bayhaqi]
The ulema mention that it is actual disbelief only if the person deems the act to be lawful, or if he believes that the fortuneteller actually conveys from the unseen realm (ghayb).
If neither is the case, then the person would not have committed disbelief but rather a serious enormity. In such a case, the use of the word ‘disbelief’ is understood as an indication of the immense gravity of the sin. [Mubarakpuri, Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi; Azimabadi, `Awn al-Ma`bud; Munawi, Fath al-Qadir]
Legal Ruling in the Juridical Schools
Ibn Humam, the great 9th century Hanafi jurist, states that magic is categorically unlawful (haram), without any disagreement among scholars, and that deeming it to be permissible entails disbelief. [Fath al-Qadir]
Ibn Abidin adds that according to the Hanafis, Imam Malik and Imam Ahmed, a person falls into disbelief by learning or engaging in magic, regardless of whether he deems it unlawful or not. Imam Shafi`i, however, said he is not deemed a disbeliever unless he actually deems magic as lawful.
As for a fortuneteller, some scholars said he is a magician [and hence the same rulings would apply], while others disagreed.
Imam Ahmed said the ruling of the magician applies to the fortuneteller as well. Imam Shafi`i said the fortuneteller is deemed a disbeliever only if he believes in that which would entail disbelief, such as having control of planetary bodies or the like. The Hanafis said the fortuneteller is deemed a disbeliever only if he believes that the devils do for him whatever he wishes, but not if he merely considers his work to be sleight of hand.
[Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]
Finally, it is important to keep in mind that when the schools of law discussed issues of disbelief or apostasy, those rulings were meant to be applied by the state authority, not by individual Muslims, who have no authority to accuse fellow Muslims of disbelief.
And Allah knows best.
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani