In 21st century Islam it is not acceptable to blame evil spirits for torture and murder
A few years ago on a flight from the UK to Pakistan, I happened to be sat next to a mother and her teenage daughter. During the eight hours’ journey I had been looking forward to getting some sleep, but as bad luck would have it the woman I was sitting with turned-out to be one of those talkative types you always end-up with when travelling alone.
Now, I can’t quite remember the details of our conversation, but it was mostly talk of her family and enquiries about the reason for my trip. What did remain in my mind in a bit more detail was something the mother said which made me sit-up and look at my co-passenger in a whole new light. Apparently, the woman claimed her daughter (who looked pretty ‘normal’ to me) had been put under a magic spell by her daughter-in-law.
It transpired the parents had taken the daughter out of the UK to go and live in Pakistan, to which she had apparently not adjusted well. Now her mother was blaming magic. But what was really disturbing for me was the matter-of-fact way this woman talked about magic spells as if it was the most natural thing in the world, like talking about a walk in the park. The only other piece of our interaction I recall is the smiling daughter offering me some bubble-gum.
I was reminded of that extra long plane journey when I read the story about a pregnant woman, Naila Mumtaz, who had been smothered to death in Birmingham. Her family had alleged in court the 21-year-old woman might have been killed by a jinn – or evil spirit – sent from Pakistan. She had come to the UK only a few years ago after entering into an arranged marriage. The day before her death in July 2009 Mrs Mumtaz reportedly called her parents in Pakistan and told them she was “not at peace” with her in-laws.
Recently four members of the Birmingham family were convicted of the murder, so it is probably safe to rule out a jinn as a suspect in the killing.
For those not familiar with them, jinns are supernatural creatures which are a part of Islamic belief – although for obvious reasons they are less frequently dissected in the media compared to terms like jihād and shariah. The Koran says jinn were created from “smokeless fire.” It is a popular belief the jinns live in a kind of parallel world where they can see humans, although they remain invisible to us. Yet I have spoken to a number of people who have claimed to have seen jinns or known someone who has (similar to claims of ghost sightings.) The UK edition of a leading Pakistani newspaper often carries advertisements by pirs or babas (faith-healers) who offer cures for magic spells. Certainly belief in jinn possession and black magic has been around for centuries. However, such ideas have been challenged in recent times with rise in conservative Islam, along with more liberal strands of Islam, both of whom interestingly frown on such superstitious practises.
In Egypt earlier this year it was reported that an 18-year-old girl who cried tears of blood laid the blame on a tribe of 1,000 jinns touching her. In fact, there is a medical condition called haemolacria which causes a person to produce tears partly composed of blood. And in Saudi Arabia it was reported a couple living on the streets have blamed their poverty on a jinn. Apparently the man had lost his job on several occasions, and his wife also believed she was under a magic spell by another woman. More serious are reports of individuals being chained-up to exorcise them of jinns.
Such superstitions have not just been restricted to ordinary people with poor schooling. A couple of years back it was reported by Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper that President Asif Ali Zardari has a black goat slaughtered almost every day at his home to ward off “evil eyes” and protect him from “black magic” – although his spokesperson later insisted it was only done for the “pleasure of God.” And last year in neighbouring Iran, as part of a growing rift with the country’s supreme leader, several confidants of President Ahmadinejad were arrested and charged with being “magicians” and summoning jinns.
Looking at the big picture there are indications that younger generations of Muslims living in the West are less susceptible to believe the more outrageous claims about the supernatural which their elders may hold. Many instead try to opt for an approach to religion they perceive to be more in harmony with science. However, this doesn’t mean practising Muslims will stop believing in jinns, since they are specifically mentioned in the Koran, but certainly a more enlightened interpretation will stop more people from conjuring up these invisible beings in court cases or as excuses for marital problems.Tagged in: djinn, evil spirits, ghosts, islam, jinn, muslims, Religion, supernatural, theology
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter