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Saudi Arabia this week announced it will step up its efforts to combat sorcery in the kingdom.  To that end, the government has created an elite unit to go out into the field and round up “sorcerers and charlatans in all parts of the Kingdom.”   The Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), or religious police, says sorcery is on the rise. Nearly 600 cases have been reported in recent years. Sheikh Abdul Latif Al Shaikh, who heads the Commission, said those who are arrested will be referred to specialized authorities, who will apply “God’s punishment”  to end the practitioners’ “harmful deeds against Muslims.” In Saudi Arabia, many people charged with sorcery have been put to death by beheading.

Last December, Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar,  was arrested in the Saudi city of Qurayat on charges of “witchcraft and sorcery.”  The Saudi press gave few details about the case.  However, according to the American ABC News network, a source close to the Saudi government told the Arabic-language Al Hayat newspaper that in searching the woman’s home,  authorities found a book on witchcraft, women’s veils and bottles of  “an unknown liquid used for sorcery.” According to this report, authorities said Nassar claimed to be a healer and would sell three bottles of the liquid for 1500 riyals (about $400).

Three months earlier, the Saudi Gazette reported that a migrant worker from Sudan had been beheaded in the city of Medina.   Amnesty International had earlier intervened on his behalf, calling on Saudi authorities to halt this and future executions.  The rights group says that Abdul Hamid Bin Hussain Bin Moustafa al-Fakki had been arrested on 8 December 2005, accused of casting a spell designed to reconcile a divorced couple.

Saudi law does not clearly outlaw sorcery, but the country’s legal system is based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.  According to the Understanding Islam website,  belief in magic is integral to the Islamic tradition.  Christoph Wilcke, Senior Researcher for the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, tells Middle East Voices that many Saudis to whom he has spoken say the belief in sorcery, in jinn [supernatural creatures] and evil spirits is an integral part of Islam, and anyone who denies their existence is not a true believer.

I recall a meeting with the highest adviser to the Minister of Justice in Saudi Arabia a few years ago.  I asked him, ‘How do you prove sorcery or witchcraft in court?’ And the answer he gave me, after looking a little bit stupefied, was to point to the American justice system–how do Americans know what is pornography.  He basically said, ‘I know it when I see it.’ – Christoph Wilcke, Human Rights Watch

As it turns out, says Wilcke, sorcery is a fairly profitable business.  The poor, the ailing and the heartsick, believing in magic, turn to fortune tellers and herbalists for help.   Wilke says witchcraft cases in the Saudi kingdom fall into three basic categories.

“The first, in which both parties—the practitioner and the customer–believe in the supernatural,” Wilcke said.   “Then there are cases of money fraud.  And then the third type is a case of false accusation against a personal enemy.”

Visitors to the country are not always aware of Saudi laws.  In April 2010, the New York Times reported on the case of  Ali Hussain Sibat, a Lebanese television astrologer who hosted a psychic call-in show on Arab television.   In May 2008, he traveled to Saudi Arabia to perform a religious pilgrimage to Mecca.  Religious police  arrested him on charges of sorcery.  Sibat was condemned to death and his execution was scheduled for April, 2010.  However, pressure by human rights groups and the high profile of his case led the Saudi government to stay his execution.  Wilkes says he believes Sibat was released and allowed to return to Lebanon, though this cannot be independently confirmed.  As recently as last October, government officials were reported as saying  that while his execution had not taken place, Sibat had not been granted a reprieve.

Fast forwarding to the present, the CPVPV said this week the new efforts to combat sorcery will extend to all regions of the kingdom and will consist of lectures, training courses and stronger coordination between regional authorities.

In its newly-released report, Death Sentences and Executions in 2011, Amnesty International reports at least 82 people were executed in Saudi Arabia last year, more than three times as many as in 2010. The human rights group has condemned the kingdom’s reliance on capital punishment. (Watch this video - viewer discretion is advised.)

Here are some videos addressing the issue of sorcery in Saudi Arabia.

Here are some videos addressing the issue of sorcery in Saudi Arabia.

What are your thoughts on the Saudi policy toward what it calls “sorcery?”  We’d like to hear from you in the comments section, below.

Cecily Hilleary

Cecily began her reporting career in the 1990s, covering US Middle East policy for Dubai-TV English. She has lived and/or worked in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf regions, consulting and producing for several regional radio and television networks and production houses, including MBC, Al-Arabiya, the former Emirates Media Incorporated and Al-Ikhbaria. She brings to VOA and MEV a keen understanding of the region's top social, cultural and political issues.

7 Comments

  1. Joyce Dimaranan Del Rio

    June 15, 2013

    Just want to know any contact information where in I can bring up some concerns regarding nurse who has family here is having an illegal affair there in riyadh. I am not telling a lie. if need further investigation and need establish objective evidence I can give. Still this nurse is not stopping going with the guy.

    Reply
  2. Someone

    January 17, 2013

    Don’t be silly. Have you been a victim before? If you have, you will know that sorcery, or black magic destroys. Anyone that does it against another should be beheaded.

    Reply
  3. bartskibeat

    May 8, 2012

    There is no such thing as sorcery or magic or witchcraft , & to charge someone with such absurdities & deliver a death penalty, well into the 21st century, is the pinnacle of barbarism & primitive thinking. I understand the regrettable need for oil. We do like to heat our homes, schools, & hospitals. But I’d love to see the day when we finally have alternate & safe, sources of energy, & the last drop of petroleum is squeezed out of the Arabian peninsula. The religious & cultural practices in that, & other parts of the Muslim world , are odious & reprehensible.( I am not a religious person at all; nor am I a bigot.) But there has to be an unfathomable lack of hope for young people in those parts of the globe, when they are able to create a seemingly endless supply of suicide bombers.

    Reply
  4. Salfimest76

    April 4, 2012

    i meant we should slaying anybody trying to misguiding the innocent people by using enchanting & all enchanters are big lier   

    Reply
  5. Salfimest76

    April 4, 2012

    i meant we should slaying anybody trying to misguiding the innocent people by using enchanting & all enchanters are big lier   

    Reply
  6. Salfimest76

    April 4, 2012

    this best & right thing & all whom have mind should do like this

    Reply
  7. Salfimest76

    April 4, 2012

    this best & right thing & all whom have mind should do like this

    Reply

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