The Qur'an contains the following:

... and [prohibited is] that you seek decision through divining arrows** ... -- Qur'an 5:3

O you who have believed, indeed, intoxicants, gambling, [sacrificing on] stone alters [to other than Allah ], and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid it that you may be successful. -- Qur'an 5:90

I'm curious as to precisely what "divining arrows" is referring to.

Question: What are "divining arrows" in Qur'an 5:3 and Qur'an 5:90?

Google suggests it's some kind of magic, fortune telling, or witchcraft. This post gives an example of someone throwing arrows into the air, and where they land resulting in a decision being made.

But I'm still not sure what this "divining arrows" is about.


The divining arrows (Al Azlam) is where pagans used arrows to make decisions which they deemed to be "divine answers" from their pagan gods.

IslamQA gives a good description of divining arrows:

"During the Jaahiliyyah, they had arrows or pieces of wood, on one of which was written “Do it”; on other arrows were written the words “Do not do it” and “Not clear (or try again)”. A person would draw one of them, and if he found the words “Do it” he would go ahead with what he was thinking of doing; if he found the words “Do not do it”, he would turn away from what he wanted to do and think that it was bad; if he found the word “Not clear (or try again),” he would try again. Thus he was seeking his share of the unseen by means of these arrows, so that if it was good he would pursue it and if it was bad he would forget about it" - IslamQA

From hadith we get a glimpse of how they were particularly used.

Used for making a decision.

"..when I approached them (i.e. Muhammad and Abu Bakr), my horse stumbled and I fell down from it, Then I stood up, got hold of my quiver and took out the divining arrows and drew lots as to whether I should harm them (i.e. the Prophet (ﷺ) and Abu Bakr) or not, and the lot which I disliked came out. But I remounted my horse and let it gallop, giving no importance to the divining arrows.." - Bukhari (3906).

Used for fortune-telling and "omens".

"...when Jarir reached Yemen, there was a man who used to foretell and give good omens by casting arrows of divination.." Bukhari (4357).

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Ref Belomancy and Divination.

والأزلام للعرب ثلاثة أنواع : منها الثلاثة التي كان يتخذها كل إنسان لنفسه ، على أحدها افعل ، وعلى الثاني لا تفعل ، والثالث مهمل لا شيء عليه ، فيجعلها في خريطة معه ، فإذا أراد فعل شيء أدخل يده - وهي متشابهة - فإذا خرج أحدها ائتمر وانتهى بحسب ما يخرج له ، وإن خرج القدح الذي لا شيء عليه أعاد الضرب ; وهذه هي التي ضرب بها سراقة بن مالك بن جعشم حين اتبع النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم وأبا بكر وقت الهجرة ; وإنما قيل لهذا الفعل : استقسام لأنهم كانوا يستقسمون به الرزق وما يريدون ; كما يقال : الاستسقاء في الاستدعاء للسقي . ونظير هذا الذي حرمه الله تعالى قول المنجم : لا تخرج من أجل نجم كذا ، واخرج من أجل نجم كذا ، وقال جل وعز : وما تدري نفس ماذا تكسب غدا ، وسيأتي بيان هذا مستوفى إن شاء الله .

The arabs had three types of divination by arrows:

[ The First] which a person used for himself. On one arrow it was written "Do it" and on another it was written "Do not do it" and one was blank and nothing was written on it. He kept these arrows in his quiver, when he intended to do a thing he used to put his hand in the quiver and draw an arrow: if the arrow with "Do it" was drawn then he used to act on it, and if the arrow with "Do not do it" was drawn then he would refrain from it, and if the third arrow was drawn then he would repeat the process. Suraqa bin Ju'sham used this when he pursued the Prophet and Abu Bakr at the time of the migration to Medinah ... the example of this is the saying of astrologers when they say go out because of the following star and don't go out because of the following star. And Allah said: And no soul perceives what it will earn tomorrow (31:34)

والنوع الثاني : سبعة قداح كانت عند هبل في جوف الكعبة مكتوب عليها ما يدور بين الناس من النوازل ، كل قدح منها فيه كتاب ; قدح فيه العقل من أمر الديات ، وفي آخر " منكم " وفي آخر " من غيركم " ، وفي آخر " ملصق " ، وفي سائرها أحكام المياه وغير ذلك ، وهي التي ضرب بها عبد المطلب على بنيه إذ كان نذر نحر أحدهم إذا كملوا عشرة ; الخبر المشهور ذكره ابن إسحاق . وهذه السبعة أيضا كانت عند كل كاهن من كهان العرب وحكامهم ; على نحو ما كانت في الكعبة عند هبل

The second type was that which was practised inside the Kaabah. Seven arrows were placed in front of the idol of Hubal on which affairs of men were written. On one was written "Blood money", on one was written "Of you", on one was written "Not of you", on one was written "Not of the tribe" and on some were written about water. These arrows were used by Abdul Mutalib when he had vowed to sacrifice a son when their number reached ten, and this is a famous story which has been mentioned by Ibn Ishaq [See account in Seerah of Ibn Kathir and Ibn Ishaq for details.] ...

والنوع الثالث : هو قداح الميسر وهي عشرة ; سبعة منها فيها حظوظ ، وثلاثة أغفال ، وكانوا يضربون بها مقامرة لهوا ولعبا

The third type was that used in gambling. There were ten arrows, on seven of them shares were written and on three nothing was written and they were used to gamble.

Tafsir Qurtubi

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