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'm no expert, of course, but I think their fear of "witches" is but another aspect of a misogyny borne of a desire to control chicks coupled with an irrational fear of female sexuality and what is seen as its potentially supernatural/demonic power.