Believing the impossible 7

Many stories like this one (dated April 19, 2012) can be found on the Internet:

A Sri Lankan woman is currently facing decapitation by sword on a witchcraft charge in Saudi Arabia

Who brought the charge, and why?

A Saudi man complained that in a shopping mall his 13-year-old daughter “suddenly started acting in an abnormal way, which happened after she came close to the Sri Lankan woman,” reports the daily Okaz.

After the local man denounced the Sri Lankan for casting a spell on his daughter, police in the port city of Jeddah found it sufficient cause to arrest the woman.

She was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death by decapitation.

For witchcraft.  

Witchcraft and sorcery imply only one measure in Saudi Arabia – beheading. And it works this way in practice: last year in the kingdom at least two people – a woman in her 60s and a Sudanese man – were beheaded on witchcraft charges.

Hugh Fitzgerald writes today at Front Page:

From Saudi Arabia comes the news that the mutaween, the feared religious police under the control of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, who patrol the streets and regulate the daily life of the populace, are now being given five-day courses in how to recognize, and then how to neutralize, a small army of wizards, witches, ghosts, demons, fortunetellers in the Magic Kingdom. Apparently it’s a big problem. Why, there have even been reports of leprechaun-like creatures – possibly they’ve wandered down from the Old Sod to end up in the Empty Quarter – who find it great fun to persuade innocent Saudis to break the rules of Sharia. All these dealers in the magical and supernatural will be hunted down, and dealt with sternly, by the Saudi religious police — “sternly” can mean anything from long prison sentences to decapitation.

Such worries are not new to the Saudis, however — the official anti-witchcraft unit within the Ministry of the Interior was first formed in May 2009.

The reason the Saudis are so worried about wizards and witches is that the Saudi people, like other Muslims, are especially vulnerable to the appeal of the occult. Muslims learn from the Qur’an that there exists an intelligent creature (the only other intelligent creature in the universe, according to Islamic doctrine, aside from humans and angels), called the Djinn (or Jinn), whose meddling with humans explains Evil, as well as health and illness, wealth and poverty, that Man as a creature of fate – where everything may be inshallah but is not necessarily hunky-dory — may enjoy or endure.

Evil djinn — not all djinn in Islam are bad – can take possession of people and cause them to behave in wicked ways.

This is not foreign to, but part of, orthodox Islam. Fortunately, there are those who, after appropriate training, can become qualified exorcisers of the evil djinn, using special Qur’anically-approved healing methods. There are also those who have not undergone training to be exorcists and who use methods which have not been approved, and this gets them into trouble with officials even if their methods prove effective. The Saudi witchcraft-hunt offers us a glimpse of the Bizarro-World that we enter whenever we penetrate the world of Islam.

In the West, we hardly bother to denounce those who claim to be witches and wizards, exorcists and fortunetellers, that is, all who lay claim to supernatural powers, because we know, as rational creatures, that they are frauds and fakes, they cannot possibly have these powers. And because we don’t believe any of that stuff, we don’t worry about them in this, our Western world, the dutiful child of the Enlightenment and rationalism. If we punish any fortunetellers or magicians at all, it’s only because they have charged for services we know are worthless and we want them to disgorge their ill-gotten gains. Witchcraft has not been taken seriously, i.e. as effective, since Salem, when outside it was 1692.

But in the Islamic world, magic (bad or black magic and good magic) is everywhere and taken very seriously – i.e., thought to be effective – indeed. In the Islamic world, belief in witchcraft, magic, sorcery of all kinds, is widespread. Fear of black magic is pervasive. Fortunetellers, witches and wizards, exorcists of bad djinn are to be found everywhere. And this is because Magic and the Occult are very much a part of Muslim teachings and Muslim life.

The Occult – the Djinn – transmitted by the Qur’an, helps to explain the widespread belief in other kinds of sorcery and magic in the Muslim world. But it is not the whole explanation for that belief. The heightened vulnerability of Muslims to the promise and threat of assorted wizards, fortunetellers, sorcerers, and exorcists, as compared to the sturdy resistance of rational Western man, is to be explained also by the more general effect of Islam’s encouragement of the habit of mental submission, and its punishment of skepticism. A good Muslim never questions any of the teachings of Islam, and the observant Muslim state (as Saudi Arabia certainly is) punishes those Muslims who dare to demonstrate the least display of skepticism (the end-point of that skepticism is apostasy, punishable by death). The result is that Muslims, even without the whole business of the Djinn, inhabit a mental universe of encouraged credulity.

Well, not all of that is true. While it is important to remember that the Enlightenment was confined to the West – and that it did not touch Islam – it did not abolish Western superstition. Christians continue to believe the impossible. They believe that a virgin gave birth; that God is both One and Three, and all-human at the same time as being all-divine; that “Jesus” walked on water, brought a dead person back to life, and performed various other impossible feats; that he himself came back to life after being dead for three days; that he now lives eternally in a physical heaven … The list of magic events and conditions in which Christians believe could be very long.

In addition to which, many Christian denominations, including Catholics, do practice exorcisms. So do most of the organized religions. Commonly, a ritual is performed, a priest says this and that, and at the end of it a claim is made (often if not always ) that “an evil spirit” has been expelled  from a person who was “possessed” by it.   

Christianity and Judaism draw a firm distinction between “magic” and “miracles”.

We fail to see the difference.

Posted under Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Religion general, Saudi Arabia by Jillian Becker on Thursday, February 25, 2016

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Bagging the Devil 1

In case you were thinking that it’s only in backward countries like Nigeria (see our post Children tortured by Christians, March 9, 2010) that priests try to exorcise evil spirits, here is a delicious story from the TimesOnline about similar (though presumably less cruel) goings on in the Vatican.

Enjoy!

Sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church are proof that that “the Devil is at work inside the Vatican”, according to the Holy See’s chief exorcist.

Father Gabriele Amorth, 85, who has been the Vatican’s chief exorcist for 25 years and says he has dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession, said that the consequences of satanic infiltration included power struggles at the Vatican as well as “cardinals who do not believe in Jesus, and bishops who are linked to the Demon”.

He added: “When one speaks of ‘the smoke of Satan’ [a phrase coined by Pope Paul VI in 1972] in the holy rooms, it is all true – including these latest stories of violence and paedophilia.” …

Father José Antonio Fortea Cucurull, a Rome-based exorcist, said that Father Amorth had “gone well beyond the evidence” in claiming that Satan had infiltrated the Vatican corridors.

“Cardinals might be better or worse, but all have upright intentions and seek the glory of God,” he said. Some Vatican officials were more pious than others, “but from there to affirm that some cardinals are members of satanic sects is an unacceptable distance.” …

Father Amorth said … it sometimes took six or seven of his assistants to hold down a possessed person. Those possessed often yelled and screamed and spat out nails or pieces of glass, which he kept in a bag. “Anything can come out of their mouths – finger-length pieces of iron, but also rose petals.”

He said that hoped every diocese would eventually have a resident exorcist. Under Church Canon Law any priest can perform exorcisms, but in practice they are carried out by a chosen few trained in the rites.

Father Amorth was ordained in 1954 and became an official exorcist in 1986. … He was among Vatican officials who warned that J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels made a “false distinction between black and white magic“. [So his own magic is … ? – JB]

He approves, however, of the 1973 film The Exorcist, which although “exaggerated” offered a “substantially exact” picture of possession.

In 2001 he objected to the introduction of a new version of the exorcism rite, complaining that it dropped centuries-old prayers and was “a blunt sword” about which exorcists themselves had not been consulted. The Vatican said later that he and other exorcists could continue to use the old ritual.

He is the president of honour of the Association of Exorcists.