M agic carpet rides. Open Sesame! Genies that appear in a puff of smoke to grant you three wishes when you rub the magic lamp. Abra Cadabra! These thoughts conjure up images of the exotic lands of Arabia. Despite all those childhood visions I had of the Middle East, one thing that initially caught me by surprise when I moved here to Saudi Arabia a year and a half ago was the presence of these little “chotchkes” hanging in almost every home I’ve been in that are used to ward off the evil spirits. I guess I had naively thought that an ultra-conservative and ultra-religious place like Saudi Arabia would not have a problem with the likes of Black Magic and Evil Eyes. But apparently it is a huge problem here, and many Muslims do believe in sorcerers and witches with special powers like the ability to cast spells.
So much so, in fact, that earlier this year, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (the religious police here) unveiled their extensive plan to counteract the practice of magic within the Kingdom. The plan includes ways to more easily identify those who do engage in magic, to recognize magic symbols and signs, and to oversee the practice of genuine divine healing. Those found guilty of practicing Black Magic have been sentenced severely in the past. Some have been beheaded, some lashed, and some have been given jail time and then deportation. Most practitioners of Black Magic are from other countries like Egypt, Pakistan, or Indonesia.
There are references to Black Magic and Evil Eyes in the Qúran, and advice on how to avoid it, as well as instructions on how to remedy it. So the fact that it is mentioned in the Qúran explains why so many Muslims here believe in it. It also explains why there are religious clerics who specialize in ridding people or places of evil spells.
One close friend who is a Saudi woman told me about an extremely unpleasant experience that her family went through. Hiba is the wife of Azam. It is his third marriage – his first two ended in divorce. Azam’s children from his previous wife would come over to Hiba’s home to visit with their dad. Then weird things started happening. Hiba felt like there was an ominous presence in her home. Azam began to have mysterious ailments that no doctors could explain. Hiba and Azam began to argue constantly. She began to hate being in her own home. There were unexplained nasty odors and Hiba feared for the safety of her husband and their toddler son. One day Hiba found a tiny object hidden in a vase that she recognized to be a symbol of Black Magic. She showed it to Azam, who immediately went to find a religious man who specializes in the removal of evil spirits. As soon as this man stepped into their home, he confirmed their worst fears. Their home was toxic with Black Magic. He set about searching their home, and all in all, he collected about a dozen hidden little items that were representative of Black Magic. There were little papers with weird writing and symbols on them that were tightly folded up. There were tiny items with wire wrapped snugly around them. There were small personal items that Hiba recognized as hers or Azam’s that had been altered or broken or enveloped in stinky herbs or concoctions with hair and such.
The spiritual specialist then began his cleansing rituals, reciting verses from the Qúran, lighting incense and candles, and whatever else he does. I don’t know how long it took, but by the time he was done and left their home, taking all the wicked little charms with him, the evil feelings that had been dominating their household for weeks were gone. Instantly Azam’s strange medical symptoms disappeared and his health was restored. Their arguments over every little thing stopped. And Hiba felt safe and warm in her own home once again. She and her husband have no doubt that his own children planted those items in their home at the behest of his ex-wife. In fact, Hiba believes that they even put toxic substances in Azam's food to make him sick. From what Hiba has told me, the ex-wife was the one who initiated the divorce proceedings against Azam. He had had enough of her weirdness over the years, gave her the divorce, and soon after married Hiba. The ex-wife then had a change of heart and wanted Azam back, but it was too late. So she decided to use his own children to deliver the Black Magic spells into their home in an effort to break up his marriage.
I have another true story of Black Magic to tell you regarding another family that I know, but I’ll save that for a later post. It’s even more frightening than Hiba’s experience.
My husband says he thinks it’s all a bunch of hogwash, but then again - he does have one of those little chotchkes to ward off the Evil Eye hanging from his rear-view mirror in his car …
To read more on this fascinating topic:
Sand Gets in My Eyes Post “Magic in the Magic Kingdom”
Saudi Religious Police Get Tough on Black Magic, article from Jan. 2009