Don't let fraudsters hold you spellbound, says GEA

Self-proclaimed magicians feed on people's insecurities to drive them to superstition.

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ABU DHABI // The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments (GEA) says it regularly receives calls from people who either blame sorcery for their problems or are considering using it to try to solve them. "When there is trouble in their lives, people unfortunately attribute it to black magic instead of using common sense," said Sheikha Radia Salem, an Islamic adviser at the GEA. "People search for quick answers and fixes to their problems, and instead of praying and patiently waiting for their prayers to be answered, they head to a witch or sorcerer."

Through sermons and lectures, religious authorities regularly warn people against seeking the help of so-called black magic practitioners and witch doctors, as both are forbidden in Islam. Today's Friday sermon, which concentrates on the role of modern medicine in healing illness, warns Muslims against seeking the services of sorcerers when afflicted by illness. Instead, it tells them to seek the advice of qualified health experts and recite verses of the Quran for the sick.

In its warnings against magic, the GEA often cites a passage of the Quran that says: "And throw that which is in your right hand; it will swallow up that which they have made. That which they have made is but the trick of a magician, and the magician will never be successful to whatever amount [of skill] he may attain." Sheikha Salem, a Moroccan, said nationals from the UAE and other Gulf countries often visited her country to seek help from black magic practitioners.

Many head to the Jemaa el-Fna Square in Marrakesh, known for its magicians, amulets and special spices and dried animal parts, which are used for everything from love and fertility potions to curses. Sheikha Salem said practitioners of black magic used "illusions" and a "person's insecurities" to fool people. "Women who didn't get married blame their bad luck on black magic that was put [on them] by a jealous friend or sister or aunt," she said. "But really, it was just naseeb [fate]."

In October 2008, two Emirati footballers were arrested on suspicion of practising black magic and casting spells against other players. The case has yet to reach court. Last year, two Africans were sentenced to a year in prison after the Dubai courts convicted them of fraud connected with sorcery in Ras al Khaimah. According to a judicial source, they duped people into believing they could multiply currency using a "magical potion".

Similarly an Egyptian man was arrested in Al Ain after claiming to be a "witch" with special powers and allegedly conning people out of as much as Dh7,000. The penalty for practising black magic is between six months and three years in jail. The UAE penal code mentions sorcery and magic only in relation to "fraud and scams", but the old Dubai penal code of 1970 listed sorcery and magic independently.

According to this code, anyone found to be making a profit from claiming knowledge of sorcery and magic, such as the ability to foretell the future, faced up to one year in jail and a 1,500 riyal fine. "This is the old Dubai law, which predates the establishment of the UAE, a time when the riyal was the currency in use," said Saeed al Ghailani, a lawyer in Dubai. "The law is still on the books and applies today as there is no equivalent federal law to replace it."

The penalties here are light compared with Saudi Arabia, where a conviction for practising black magic carries the death sentence. The kingdom's last execution for sorcery was in 2007, of an Egyptian man. Last month a Lebanese man who was condemned to death in Saudi Arabia for witchcraft, for fortune-telling on TV, had his sentence of death by beheading dropped at the last minute.