isn’t because there are more witches.
“The Atlantic” magazine takes a look at the aggressive stance the Saudi government takes when it comes to allegation of the black arts. The article helpfully puts in context with a discussion of how the ‘wahhabi’ sect of Islam arose during an 18th C. reformation of Islam, attempting to purge it of pagan practices that had crept into it over the centuries. It goes on to note that superstitions are fairly widespread in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia is a bit schizophrenic about it, though. Most talismans, for instance, are forbidden — which goes to explain why Christians are forbidden to wear crosses in public, but so too is the public wearing of the “Hand of Fatima” and other Islamic wards against magic. But wearing pieces of jewelry that contain Quranic verses is not rare, nor is it punished. Casting a curse or blessing on someone is illegal, except when it’s not. Clerics curse various countries and peoples and rarely receive criticism. It’s all in how it’s done… and, of course, where the ‘witch’ comes from.
The article is good, but could be much better. But then, it’d probably take a book, not just an article.
Saudi Arabia’s War on Witchcraft
A special unit of the religious police pursues magical crime aggressively, and the convicted face death sentences
The sorceress was naked.
The sight of her bare flesh startled the prudish officers of Saudi Arabia’s infamous religious police, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), which had barged into her room in what was supposed to be a routine raid of a magical hideout in the western desert city of Madinah’s Al-Seeh neighborhood. They paused in shock, and to let her dress.
The woman — still unclothed — managed to slip out of the window of her apartment and flee. According to the 2006 account of the Saudi Okaz newspaper, which has been described as the Arabic equivalent of the New York Post, she “flew like a bird.” A frantic pursuit ensued. The unit found their suspect after she had fallen through the unsturdy roof of an adjacent house and onto the ground next to a bed of dozing children.
They covered her body, arrested her, and claimed to uncover key evidence indicating that witchcraft had indeed been practiced, including incense, talismans, and videos about magic. In the Al Arabiya report, a senior Islamic cleric lamented that the incident had occurred in a city of such sacred history. The prophet Muhammad is buried there, and it is considered the second most holy location in Islam, second to Mecca. The cleric didn’t doubt the details of the incident. “Some magicians may ride a broom and fly in the air with the help of the jinn [supernatural beings],” he said.
The fate of this sorceress is not readily apparent, but her plight is common. Judging from the punishments of others accused of practicing witchcraft in Saudi Arabia before and since, the consequences were almost certainly severe.