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City of Brass

“The Dark Arts are many, varied, ever-changing and eternal. Fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head even fiercer and cleverer than before. You are fighting that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible. Your defences must therefore be as flexible and inventive as the Arts you seek to undo.”  — Severus Snape

In these times when great evil threatens to return to menace the world, thankfully Saudi society has Aurors to engage in Defense Against the Dark Arts:

The Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Hai’a)
in Al-Ahsa arrested a sorcerer who dealt in magic and provided his
services to several men and women, who turned to him out of a lack of
religious motivation and ignorance, that sorcery became the talk of the
town.

Sheikh Adel Faqih, an expert in such matters and director of
the Hai’a branch of sorcery in Riyadh, said, “We are in an Islamic
country which is governed by Islamic law which prohibits polytheism.
Sorcery and magic are considered polytheism in Islam. Unfortunately,
sorcery is not a new phenomenon. It is a problem that has existed since
the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).”

Sheikh Faqih explained that a sorcerer can be identified when he asks
for the name of a patient and for the name of the patient’s mother or
if he is seeking to buy an animal with certain features. He can also be
identified if he asks for a sheep to be killed without mentioning
Allah’s name and asks to stain the body with the animal’s blood or if
he asks for similar unusual things.

Sheikh Faqih said, “Sorcery
cannot be divided into two branches. There is only one kind of sorcery.
There is no such thing as black or white magic. Allah said that magic
is infidelity and no one can be a sorcerer unless he offers sacrifices
to spirits and disbelieves in God.” “Sorcery deals with amulets and
talismans which lead people to believe that such things can help them,
but that Allah cannot,” he added.

It’s tempting to indulge in some cultural condescension (or at least some bad movie jokes) here, though it wasn’t too long ago that the West was engaging in much the same kind of thing (the Salem Witch Trials come to mind; so too does McCarthyism).   The silliness of the way a sorceror can be identified according to Sheikh Faqih aside, the broader theological argument is actually sound – belief in superstition, magic, and whatnot does undermine faith in Allah because it elevates these others supernatural forces to the same level as God. Often, purveyors of the supposedly supernatural are nothing more than con artists who prey upon the under-educated and weak-willed. Unfortunately, in Saudi society the bar for what constitutes criminal activity is set far too low, not just catching scam artists but also those who go against the religious grain. Freedom of religion has a long way to go, yet.

Superstitions and magic are not limited to Saudi, either. My own Indian/desi heritage is rife with various tales of “jadoo”, for example. And it’s not just muslim cultures, either – there’s a healthy and thriving magical subculture in the West, in the form of the New Age movement. Much of this is chronicled in the journal, Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft which is an actual academic publicatoin out of the University of Pennsylvania. You can even get a grimoire of everyday spells and enchantments downloaded to your Kindle!

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