By Aisha Al Qahtani
I still vividly remember the night I listened to an interview on an Arab channel with a woman who resorted to magic to marry the man of her dreams when I was younger. The woman said that she fell in love with a married man, and wanted him to divorce his wife and marry her. Since she did not know him personally and she knew of no way to get acquainted with him, she resorted to a self-described “sheikh rouhani” (a “spiritual sheikh”) who promised to get her this man even if he was in love with his wife and had children with her. Eventually, the woman married the man and had children with him, but soon she began to feel that her husband was with her against his will and did not really love her.
You must be wondering what the point of the interview was. The woman was desperate to get her husband to reciprocate her feelings for him out of his own volition. The presenter was surprised and the listeners were amazed at her story and of her feeling that she was the victim in this case. How could she have believed that she was the victim of her story, after she was the one that had broken her husband’s house, they wondered?
This woman’s story is not new. Across time, many people have resorted to witchcraft and sorcery when they felt that there was no other solution to their problems. People have practiced sorcery for thousands of years, and some countries like Morocco, Indonesia, Tanzania, India, Egypt and South America, amongst others, have a reputation for it. People have resorted to witchcraft and sorcery in various matters related to health, revenge, finding employment, financial abundance, undoing hexes and nullifying the effect of envy. But matters of the heart and love are perhaps the most popular “solutions” offered by “spiritual sheikhs.”
Across time, many people have resorted to witchcraft and sorcery when they felt that there was no other solution to their problems.
Not so long ago, to seek the help of “spiritual sheikhs” one had to visit them in their respective homes, which the media and movies have always depicted as isolated, dark and frightening places. But the situation today is very different, as people do not even have to leave their own homes to resort to them. In fact, nowadays they are the ones who resort to us and market their services as any business would on social media.
Two years ago, my colleague told me about the numerous requests she receives on Instagram from “spiritual sheikhs” who advertise their services on social media, which range from manifesting a lover, to reuniting an ex-husband with his ex-wife. My colleague, who was not married at the time, used to joke that perhaps these “spiritual sheikhs” had somehow known she was single and therefore wanted to reel her in as a customer because of her status. I used to think my colleague was exaggerating when she told me that she received almost daily requests on social media from “spiritual sheikhs,” but it soon happened to me too. From Umm so-and-so to Abo such-and-such, “spiritual sheikhs” – who usually do not use their real names – offer their services through professionally designed pages that include a link to their website, which provides more information, and an electronic and confidential payment method.
Umm Flan (a pseudonym) provides her services through her website, which is designed in a sleek and professional manner that enables customers to communicate with her directly through WhatsApp or through FaceTime. Umm Flan describes herself as a “spiritual sheikha” who specializes in the luminous sciences and practices a science that “conforms with Islamic law” (as she says). Among the services and spiritual remedies, she provides are “bringing a lover within an hour with proof”, undoing hexes and discipling a spouse. Umm Flan is so confident of her ability that she asks customers to pay her only after getting the guaranteed result. Service prices range from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the problem and the experience of the “spiritual sheikh.”
As for the “spiritual sheikh” Abu Fulan (a pseudonym), he is active on Twitter and has thousands of followers. The sheikh is proud of his ability to undo all kinds of magic and envy, to facilitate the marriage of spinsters and to solve all problems that disrupt marriages, and he provides his services through Whatsapp and Imo, and he shares with his followers on Twitter the success stories of his customers.
We may understand why people in ancient times resorted to witchcraft and sorcery, when ignorance was more rampant, but why do they resort to it now when there are many solutions and opportunities for various issues, such as treatments from diseases? And why do people still resort to magic and sorcery in matters of love?
In poor countries like Haiti, the causes may be money related. Some people resort to sorcery for treatment of diseases because it is comparatively cheaper to modern medical treatment, especially with regards to mental and mysterious diseases. When it comes to love, popular culture may be a major reason for this. A field study related to witchcraft and sorcery conducted in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates in 2014 by the Family Development Center of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs revealed that 92.7 per cent of the research sample did not mind resorting to witchcraft and sorcery as a means of treating incurable diseases. A number of people from the study sample admitted resorting to witchcraft to find love, attract a marriage and resolve marital issues. Regarding the reasons that lead people to resort to magic for a solution in the first place, the influence of popular culture came in at 84 per cent. Cultural beliefs, such as that witchcraft could help resolves issues, is popular in some Arab cultures, and amongst certain communities within them.
As for people who resort to “spiritual sheikhs” to attract a specific person or separate them from their spouses, Dr. Justin Thomas, professor of psychology at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, suggests the reasons behind this to be the “disease of love,” and reaching a stage of love that may lead to psychological disorders that could cause others harm. He adds that in some cases, love may exceed the health limits and turn into an obsession, and Dr. Justin adds that resorting to harming people through this method may provide a way for the perpetrators to salvation if the matter of their indictment reaches the judges, as they may try to blame their psychological state on their bad actions.
In an interview with the Emirati newspaper Al-Ittihad, Dr. Abdullatif Al-Azazi, a family and educational expert, attributed the reasons behind people resorting to “spiritual sheikhs” to people’s desperation and to their rush to get quick results.
It seems that despair, love and quick results are the main reasons why people turn to “spiritual leaders.” For example, how would the life of the woman whom I spoke about at the beginning of the article would have changed if she had met another person and lived with him a true love story in which the two parties exchanged sincere feelings without manipulation or juggling? This matter leads us to wonder if people would have gotten everything they had wished if they had not. If they were a little more patient or if they believed that there was enough out there for everyone in the world to enjoy, and that life was not limited to a specific person or thing, perhaps their lives would not have taken such a turn.
Aisha Al Qahtani is a Saudi writer and journalist.
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