In the name of Allah, Most Merciful, Bestower of Mercy.
Here are some English language (British) definitions of the usage of the term omen that help us to understand the intent of the usage:
Oxford English Dictionary: An event regarded as a portent of good or evil.
Collins English Dictionary: A
Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus: Something that is considered to be a sign of how a future event will take place.
Good Signs and Bad Omens
Shaikh Ahmad An-Najmee (rahimahullaah) explains that الفأل (al-fa’l) is to see a good sign that makes one optimistic that good will occur in the future (inshā’ Allāh), and this optimism comes about by hearing the mention of a good word or a good name. And then he uses as an example the incident of Suhail Ibn `Amr when he came to negotiate the treaty of Hudaibiyah (see below).
I have used the term “good omen” as an approximate English translation, and I believe it suffices in light of the above definitions. See point 3 at the end of this article.
Looking to good omens and having good thoughts regarding Allah is from the matters that a believer is required to pay attention to because that gives him the motivation to act and look forward to what lies ahead, and to be optimistic. Ibn Atheer (rahimahullāh) mentioned examples of a good omen (al-fa’l):
“… a man who is sick becomes encouraged when he hears the speech of a person who calls out: “Oh Saalim!” Or the one who is looking for something he has lost and he hears a person calling out: “Oh Waajid!”. So it occurs to him that he will be freed from his sickness or he will find what he has lost.” (An-Nihaayah fee Ghareeb al-Hadeeth, 3/406, slightly adapted)
( Saalim is a name of a person which means ‘the one in sound health and condition.’  Waajid is a name of person which means ‘the one who finds.’)
The Prophet (salallaahu alaihi wassallam) was often surrounded, restricted, boycotted, harmed, expelled, his companions were killed and six of his children died – yet alongside all of this he would remain optimistic, see good omens in things, and become pleased upon hearing good names. Who is there who bore suffering like him, yet remained optimistic?
Bukhāree (5756) and Muslim (2224) report from Anas Ibn Maalik (radiyallaahu `anhu) that Allaah’s Messenger (salallaahu `alaihiwassallam) said:
لاَ عَدْوَى وَلاَ طِيَرَةَ وَيُعْجِبُنِي الْفَأْلُ الصَّالِحُ وَالْفَأْلُ الصَّالِحُ الْكَلِمَةُ الْحَسَنَةُ
“There is no spreading of infection [except if Allaah wills it] and no evil omen, and I am pleased by a good omen – and a good omen is a good word.”
And Imaam Ahmad reports in his Musnad (2328) from Ibn `Abbaas (radiyallaahi `anhuma):
كَانَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَتَفَاءَلُ وَلا يَتَطَيَّرُ وَيُعْجِبُهُ الاسْمَ الْحَسَنَ
“The Prophet (salallaahu `alaihi wassallam) would seek good omens and not evil ones and he would become pleased by a good name.”
أَنَّ جَدَّهُ حَزْنًا قَدِمَ عَلَى النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَ مَا اسْمُكَ قَالَ اسْمِي حَزْنٌ قَالَ بَلْ أَنْتَ سَهْلٌ قَالَ مَا أَنَا بِمُغَيِّرٍ اسْمًا سَمَّانِيهِ أَبِي قَالَ ابْنُ الْمُسَيَّبِ فَمَا زَالَتْ فِينَا الْحُزُونَةُ بَعْدُ
Imaam Bukhaaree (6193) reports from Sa`eed Ibn Al-Musayyab (d.94H) That when his grandfather, Hazn visited the Prophet (ﷺ) the Prophet (ﷺ) said (to him), “What is your name?” He said, “My name is Hazn.” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Rather you [name is] Sahl.” He said, “I will not change my name with which my father named me.” Ibn Al-Musayyab added: So that roughness (in character) has not left us since.
Bukhaaree (2731) reports that during the negotiations of peace at Hudaibiyah, Suhail Ibn `Amr came forward to negotiate with the Muslims on behalf of the Mushriks. Upon hearing his name, the Prophet (ﷺ) said to his Companions: “May Allaah sahula (make easy) your affairs for you.”
Ibn `Abbaas (radiyallaahu ‘anhumaa) stated: “The difference between a fa’l (good omen) and a tiyarah (evil omen) is that a good omen is from the means of having good thoughts about Allaah – and a bad omen is not except in evil matters.” (See: Fat-hul Baaree, 10/215)
The Prophet (salallaahu `alaihi wassallam) also said: “An evil omen (tiyarah) is that which causes you to carry out an affair or that which turns you back from doing it.” (Ahmad in Al-Musnad, 1824) He (salallaahu `alaihi wassallam) also said in a hadeeth reported by Ahmad in Al-Musnad:
“Whoever is turned back from fulfilling his need because of an [supposed] evil omen has committed shirk.”
Al-`Allaamah Ahmad an-Najmee (rahimahullaah) stated: “The ruling on believing in evil omens is that it is haraam because the Sharee’ah forbids evil omens and censures those who seek them. There is no exception to be made at all in at-tiyarah which a pessimistic omen – rather all of that is prohibited and blameworthy.” (Sharhul-Moojaz al-Mumahhad, p. 213)
Ibn Hajr stated in Fat-hul-Baaree (10/215) that Al-Haleemah said: “The Prophet (ﷺ) would become pleased at a good omen (fa’l) – that is because belief in evil omens entails having bad thoughts about Allaah. And believing in good omens (tafaa’ul) entails having good thoughts about Allaah – and the believer is obligated with having good suspicion regarding Allaah in every situation.”
Imaam Al-Baghawee (rahimahullaah) said: “Indeed the Prophet (ﷺ) loved good omens because a good omen instills hope of good and benefit – and hoping for good is better for a person than despair and better than cutting oneself off from hoping for the best.” (Sharhus-Sunnah 12/175)
Imaam Ahmad reports in the Musnad (9076 – saheeh) from Abu Hurairah (I) that the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
يقولُ اللَّهُ عزَّ وجلَّ أنا عندَ ظنِّ عبدي بي إن ظنَّ خيرًا فلهُ وإن ظنَّ شرًّا فله
“Allaah, the Mighty and Majestic, said: ‘I am to my slave as he thinks of Me. If he has good thoughts of Me, then that is good for him, and if He has bad thoughts then that is bad for him.”
Ibn Maajah reports in his Sunan (3822 – saheeh) Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:
يَقُولُ اللَّهُ سُبْحَانَهُ أَنَا عِنْدَ ظَنِّ عَبْدِي بِي وَأَنَا مَعَهُ حِينَ يَذْكُرُنِي فَإِنْ ذَكَرَنِي فِي نَفْسِهِ ذَكَرْتُهُ فِي نَفْسِي وَإِنْ ذَكَرَنِي فِي مَلإٍ ذَكَرْتُهُ فِي مَلإٍ خَيْرٍ مِنْهُمْ وَإِنِ اقْتَرَبَ إِلَىَّ شِبْرًا اقْتَرَبْتُ إِلَيْهِ ذِرَاعًا وَإِنْ أَتَانِي يَمْشِي أَتَيْتُهُ هَرْوَلَةً
“Allah says, ‘I am as My slave thinks I am, and I am with him when he mentions Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assembly better than it. And if he draws near to Me by a hand-span length, I draw near to him a forearm’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him in racing.”
Imaam Muslim reports in his Saheeh (2877) from Jaabir (radiyallaahu anhu) that he heard the Prophet (salallaahu `alaihi wassallam) say three days before his death:
لاَ يَمُوتَنَّ أَحَدُكُمْ إِلاَّ وَهُوَ يُحْسِنُ بِاللَّهِ الظَّنَّ
“None of you should approach death except that he has good thoughts regarding Allaah.”
Imaam An-Nawawee mentioned in his Sharhu Saheeh Muslim (6/210) that the scholars stated: Having good thoughts about Allaah means that a person believes that Allaah will be merciful with him, and pardon him.
When a person ponders over the situations that the Messengers found themselves in, and likewise the righteous and pious ones after them. you will find that they were always hoping for the best and were optimistic in the most severe of situations and times of hardship. Look at Moosaa (`alaihis-salaam) and those with him when they were pursued by the Pharaoh and his army, and there appeared in front of them a vast sea! And behind them is the enemy – and Moosaa (`alaihis-salaam) remained optimistic and maintained ardently good suspicion regarding his Lord. Allaah mentions in the Qur’aan this incident:
لَمَّا تَرَاءَى الْجَمْعَانِ قَالَ أَصْحَابُ مُوسَىٰ إِنَّا لَمُدْرَكُونَ
قَالَ كَلَّا ۖ إِنَّ مَعِيَ رَبِّي سَيَهْدِينِ
“And when the two groups saw one another, the companions of Moses said, “Indeed, we are about to be overcome!” [Moses] said, “No! Indeed, with me is my Lord; He will guide me.”” (Ash-Shu’araa 61-62)
Then there is Umm Ismaa’eel Haajar (radiyallaahu `anhaa) when she was left in Makkah by her husband the noble Prophet of Allaah Ibraaheem (`alaihis-salaam) – and there was not a single person living in Makkah at that time, no homes, no food and no water! Yet he left her there with nothing more than a water skin and some dates. Then Ibraaheem (`alaihis-salaam) turned to leave, so Umm Ismaa’eel followed after him calling out: “O Ibraaheem! Where are you going?! Will you abandon us in this valley where there not a single person or anything else?” She repeated these words to him several times, but he would not turn to look at her. Then she said to him: “Is Allaah who has commanded you with this?” Then he responded by saying: “Yes.” So then feeling comforted, she said with optimism: “In that case, he will not let us down.”
And there is the ‘mother of the believers’ Khadeejah bint Khuwaylid (radiyallaahu `anhaa). When revelation first came to the Prophet (salallaahu `alaihi wassallam), her husband, he came to he in fear saying:
لَقَدْ خَشِيتُ عَلَى نَفْسِي
فَقَالَتْ خَدِيجَةُ كَلاَّ وَاللَّهِ مَا يُخْزِيكَ اللَّهُ أَبَدًا، إِنَّكَ لَتَصِلُ الرَّحِمَ، وَتَحْمِلُ الْكَلَّ، وَتَكْسِبُ الْمَعْدُومَ، وَتَقْرِي الضَّيْفَ، وَتُعِينُ عَلَى نَوَائِبِ الْحَقِّ
“Cover me! Cover me!” They covered him till his fear was over and after that he told her everything that had happened and said, “I fear that something may happen to me.” Khadeejah replied, “Never! By Allah, Allah will never disgrace you. You keep good relations with your kith and kin, help the poor and the destitute, serve your guests generously and assist the deserving calamity-afflicted ones.” Khadeejah then accompanied him to her cousin Waraqah bin Nawfal (I). (Bukhaaree, 3)
Our Prophet Muhammad (salallaahu `alaihi wassallam) was the most optimistic of all people, seeking good signs in things and having only good thoughts of Allaah. Imaam Muslim reports (1795):
أَنَّ عَائِشَةَ، زَوْجَ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم حَدَّثَتْهُ أَنَّهَا قَالَتْ لِرَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ هَلْ أَتَى عَلَيْكَ يَوْمٌ كَانَ أَشَدَّ مِنْ يَوْمِ أُحُدٍ فَقَالَ لَقَدْ لَقِيتُ مِنْ قَوْمِكِ وَكَانَ أَشَدَّ مَا لَقِيتُ مِنْهُمْ يَوْمَ الْعَقَبَةِ إِذْ عَرَضْتُ نَفْسِي عَلَى ابْنِ عَبْدِ يَالِيلَ بْنِ عَبْدِ كُلاَلٍ فَلَمْ يُجِبْنِي إِلَى مَا أَرَدْتُ فَانْطَلَقْتُ وَأَنَا مَهْمُومٌ عَلَى وَجْهِي فَلَمْ أَسْتَفِقْ إِلاَّ بِقَرْنِ الثَّعَالِبِ فَرَفَعْتُ رَأْسِي فَإِذَا أَنَا بِسَحَابَةٍ قَدْ أَظَلَّتْنِي فَنَظَرْتُ فَإِذَا فِيهَا جِبْرِيلُ فَنَادَانِي فَقَالَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ قَدْ سَمِعَ قَوْلَ قَوْمِكَ لَكَ وَمَا رَدُّوا عَلَيْكَ وَقَدْ بَعَثَ إِلَيْكَ مَلَكَ الْجِبَالِ لِتَأْمُرَهُ بِمَا شِئْتَ فِيهِمْ قَالَ فَنَادَانِي مَلَكُ الْجِبَالِ وَسَلَّمَ عَلَىَّ ثُمَّ قَالَ يَا مُحَمَّدُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ سَمِعَ قَوْلَ قَوْمِكَ لَكَ وَأَنَا مَلَكُ الْجِبَالِ وَقَدْ بَعَثَنِي رَبُّكَ إِلَيْكَ لِتَأْمُرَنِي بِأَمْرِكَ فَمَا شِئْتَ إِنْ شِئْتَ أَنْ أُطْبِقَ عَلَيْهِمُ الأَخْشَبَيْنِ فَقَالَ لَهُ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ” بَلْ أَرْجُو أَنْ يُخْرِجَ اللَّهُ مِنْ أَصْلاَبِهِمْ مَنْ يَعْبُدُ اللَّهَ وَحْدَهُ لاَ يُشْرِكُ بِهِ شَيْئًا
`Aa’ishah, the wife of the Prophet (ﷺ) said to the Messenger of Allah (may peace he upon him):
“O Messenger of Allah, has there come upon you a day more terrible than the day of Uhud. He said: I have experienced hardships from your people (i.e. the Arabs) – the hardest treatment I met from them was what I received from them on the day of `Aqabah. I went to Ibn `Abd Yaaleel b. `Abd Kulaal with the purpose of inviting him to Islam, but he did not respond to me as I desired. So I departed with signs of (deep) distress on my face. I did not recover until I reached Qarn al-Tha`aalib, where I raised my head, and lo! near me was a cloud which had cast its shadow on me. I looked and lo! there was in it the angel Jibreel who called out to me and said: Indeed Allaah, the Mighty and Glorious, has heard what your people have said to you, and how they have reacted to your call. And He has sent to you the angel in charge of the mountains so that you may order him whatever you wish with regard to them. The angel in charge of the mountains (then) called out to me, greeted me and said: Muhammad, Allaah has listened to what your people have said to you. I am the angel in charge of the mountains, and your Lord has sent me to you so that thou may order me whatever you wish. If you wish that I should bring together the two mountains that stand opposite to each other at the extremities of Mecca to crush them in between the two, I will do that. But the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said to him: I rather hope that God will produce from their descendants such persons as will worship Allah, the One, and will not ascribe partners to Him.”
There is a report in Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree (3905): When the Muslims were put to test (i.e. troubled by the pagans), Abu Bakr set out migrating to the land of Ethiopia, and when he reached Bark-al-Ghimaad, Ibnud-Daghina, the chief of the tribe of Qaarah, met him and said, “O Abu Bakr! Where are you going?” Abu Bakr replied, “My people have turned me out (of my country), so I want to wander on the earth and worship my Lord.” Ibn Ad-Daghina said, “O Abu Bakr! A man like you should not leave his homeland, nor should he be driven out, because you help the destitute, earn their livings, and you keep good relations with your Kith and kin, help the weak and poor, look after guests generously, and help the calamity-stricken persons. Therefore I am your protector. Go back and worship your Lord in your town.” So the people of Quraish could not refuse Ibn Ad-Daghina’s protection, and they said to Ibn Ad-Daghina, “Let Abu Bakr worship his Lord in his house. He can pray and recite there whatever he likes, but he should not hurt us with it, and should not do it publicly, because we are afraid that he may affect our women and children.” Ibn Ad-Daghina told Abu Bakr of all that. Abu Bakr stayed in that state, worshipping his Lord in his house. He did not pray publicly, nor did he recite Quran outside his house.
Then a thought occurred to Abu Bakr to build a mosque in front of his house, and there he used to pray and recite the Quran. The women and children of the pagans began to gather around him in great number. They used to wonder at him and look at him.
Ibn Ad-Daghina went to Abu- Bakr and said, “O Abu Bakr! You know well what contract I have made on your behalf; now, you are either to abide by it or else release me from my obligation of protecting you, because I do not want the Arabs to hear that my people have dishonoured a contract I have made on behalf of another man.” Abu Bakr replied, “I release you from your pact to protect me, and am pleased with the protection from Allah.”
1. So having these good thoughts about Allaah, and being optimistic prevents a person from depression, despair, dark thoughts and feelings that he finds difficult to explain and cope with. I have come across Muslims who ‘self-harm’, addicted to anti-depressant drugs, and even on the verge of suicide because they have despaired over their lives and their situation. But when confronted with what has been stated above, and the fact they do not live in isolation, that there is One who watches over them and has mercy for His creation, and that “there is not an illness except that there is for it a cure”, I quite often find that they re-evaluate their situation and instead of despairing, they seek a way out with Allaah’s aid and kindness.
2. Having good thoughts of Allaah and seeking good omens leads to happiness and joy in the hearts and the expelling of anxiety and grief. Bukhaaree (2893) reports from Anas Ibn Maalik (I) that Allaah’s Messenger (salallaahu `alaihi wassallam) would supplicate with:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْهَمِّ وَالْحَزَنِ وَالْعَجْزِ وَالْكَسَلِ وَالْبُخْلِ وَالْجُبْنِ وَضَلَعِ الدَّيْنِ وَغَلَبَةِ الرِّجَالِ
“O Allah! I seek refuge with You from distress and sorrow, from helplessness and laziness, from miserliness and cowardice, from being heavily in debt and from being overcome by men.”
3. Seeking and being pleased with good omens (as defined above) and being optimistic should not be confused with “good luck charms” and “amulets” which are forbidden in Islaam – or having superstitious beliefs similar to those held by other religions wherein the flight of a bird in a particular direction, for example, denotes for them a “good omen” – these ideas and beliefs are not Islamic, and they contradict the pure monotheistic message of Islam.
4. In being optimistic it strengthens one’s resolve and strength to overcome difficulties and hardships. This optimism entails trusting in Allaah, knowing that He can aid you, give you comfort and tranquillity – lift the anxiety and remove the depression and bring you happiness, and the results can be immediate for the one who turns to His Lord and acts:
الْمُؤْمِنُ الْقَوِيُّ خَيْرٌ وَأَحَبُّ إِلَى اللَّهِ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِ الضَّعِيفِ وَفِي كُلٍّ خَيْرٌ احْرِصْ عَلَى مَا يَنْفَعُكَ وَاسْتَعِنْ بِاللَّهِ وَلاَ تَعْجِزْ وَإِنْ أَصَابَكَ شَىْءٌ فَلاَ تَقُلْ لَوْ أَنِّي فَعَلْتُ كَانَ كَذَا وَكَذَا . وَلَكِنْ قُلْ قَدَرُ اللَّهِ وَمَا شَاءَ فَعَلَ فَإِنَّ لَوْ تَفْتَحُ عَمَلَ الشَّيْطَانِ
Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:
“A strong believer is better and is more lovable to Allah than a weak believer, though there is good in both. And seek out that which gives you benefit and seek help from Allah and do not lose heart. And if anything (in the form of trouble) comes to you, don’t say: “If only I had done that, it would not have happened”, but instead you should say: “It is only the decree of Allah, and whatever He wills, He does,” and saying “if only…” merely opens the door for the acts of Shaitaan.” (Muslim 2664)
5. In being optimistic and having good thoughts about Allaah, and being hopeful of good, thinking “there is good around the corner, inshaa’ Allaah” is in accordance to the Sunnah and by thinking like that, you are following the Sunnah of the Prophet (salallaahu `alaihi wassallam) because this is what he used to encourage: “Do not be sad, indeed Allaah is with us!”
لَا تَحْزَنْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَنَا ۖ فَأَنزَلَ اللَّهُ سَكِينَتَهُ عَلَيْهِ
“Do not be sad, indeed Allah is with us.” And Allah sent down His tranquillity upon him…” (At-Tawbah: 40)