Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Who you gonna call?

This story comes too late for Halloween, unfortunately. But it does go to show that the notorious Saudi religious police can sometimes perform a valuable social service.

"Family saved from magic spell" proclaims the headline on the Gulf news website Emirates 24/7. Quoting reports in the Saudi press, it tells the story of a family, unnamed, who "suffered from psychological and health problems because of a magic spell cast by their housemaid before departing from the Gulf Kingdom." Happily, for them, they discovered the malefic incantation, which was "wrapped in a small old piece of paper carrying unreadable language and hidden inside a deserted bathroom."

Whether they found it by accident or went searching for it isn't clear. But they "realized that it was the cause of all their sudden troubles", which included a daughter-in-law walking out on her husband and another son having mental health problems. So they took the scrumpled paper to the police, who knew exactly what to do, having a dedicated spellbusting division, and it was swiftly deactivated.

There, the Commission experts dismantled the spell and destroyed all its contents, using Koran verses... Once they did so, the mother fell unconscious and when she woke up later, she felt much better…the son who had mental problems said he does not remember he had any,” the paper said.


The family then took the elder son to his wife’s parents and asked for her return….the family was surprised that the wife and her parents welcomed the idea and she did return to her husband.


If she was indeed been responsible for casting the spell on her employers, this housemaid would seem to have made good her escape before her occult activities were discovered. Others haven't been so fortunate. Indeed, Indonesian maids would seem to be responsible for a veritable crimewave in the Kingdom. The Emirates website lists several related stories:

On October 6th, it was reported that an Indonesian maid had been apprehended by Customs after her employer told the religious police that he suspected she would cast a magic spell on his family. When they opened her luggage, police found "a small bag containing bread, spice, hair and underwear belonging to her employer’s family members." The maid hadn't yet cast any spell, they concluded, but she plainly intended to do so. "The man was assured that he and his family were saved from magic."

In July, another Indonesian housemaid was arrested an entire family of ten to fall ill through the power of magic. "The family members had all been well before they have started over the past six months to have bad headaches, joint pain, breathing difficulty and shivers." Unable to find a medical explanation, the father went to the religious police, who immediately suspected witchcraft and searched the family home. The search resulted in the discovery of "talismans and other magic-related items in the housemaid’s room." They also found nails buried in the garden. "Some family members screamed as the spell was broken...the maid was arrested but she has not explained why she had done this to the family."

Back in March, an Indonesian maid was convicted of sorcery and sentenced to five years in prison. The complainant "believes the housemaid is responsible for all problems that have befallen the family, including her divorce from her husband, the divorce of her daughter from her husband and her elder son’s decision to leave the house on the grounds he no longer stands the family." The maid confessed to spellcasting but later withdrew her confession. A standoff ensued in which the victims refused to allow her deportation to Indonesia until she had lifted the spell, while she apparently told the religious police that she would only be able to undo the magic once she had returned to Indonesia.

Also in March, a Saudi man went to the religious police after his Indonesian housemaid had left the country and his son had soon afterwards fallen ill. "The unnamed man was tidying up his house when he found talismans and other pieces of papers carrying strange writings concealed under a bed", the report noted.

Last November, yet another Indonesian housemaid was arrested for allegedly using magic "to control the life of her Saudi employing family for nearly two years." This one was a seriously kick-ass witch, it appears: "The parents and their children in the central town of Barida had been almost hypnotized by the maid’s powers while they were also so frightened of her that they could not report her to the police all that time." With the aid of magic, this maid inverted the master/servant relationship such that "the mother began to serve her, prepare her meals and make coffee and tea for her."

Fortunately, the victim's sister stepped in when she saw the maid bossing the family members around and realised something was not quite right. She brought in the police. "Members of the Commission [for Virtue and Vice, aka the religious police] who sneaked into the house at the request of the mother’s sister could not believe their own eyes when they saw her give orders to the family…they quickly arrested her" realising that that only possible explanation was witchcraft.

These cases are just the tip of the iceberg. As the rest of the Arab world is convulsed by political crisis, revolution and upheaval, the Saudi kingdom is in the enviable position of being able to indulge in a bizarre moral panic about witchcraft. Arabia Felix indeed.