Alarm as report suggests many Bahrainis are turning to witch doctors

Three in every four Bahrainis believe magic and envy cause illness, a survey published this week indicates.

MANAMA // A study released this week found that a high percentage of Bahrainis believe that magic plays a role in causing illnesses and that sometimes dangerous traditional remedies are still widely used.

The findings by the independent Bahrain Center for Studies and Research (BCSR) sparked concern that they reflect a larger social problem - a widespread belief in witchcraft exposes Bahrainis to fraud and exploitation. According to the study - which involved 259 men and women aged between 20 and 50 - 75 per cent of the respondents said they believed witchcraft and envy were the cause of illnesses. The percentage was higher among women, with 81 per cent of them holding such beliefs, against only 65 per cent of the men surveyed.

Dr Abdulrahman Musaiger, the chief researcher of the study and director of nutritional studies at BCSR, said: "The study focused on the medical aspect of how the participants viewed the impact and the role witchcraft played in their health, but there is a good chance that these figures could also reflect the percentage of how many people believe in it or use it." Sheikh Salah al Joder, a religious scholar and Muharraq Municipal Council member, said the study's findings were alarming.

"We have to differentiate between alternative medicine and witchcraft. The latter is prohibited by Islam and its consequences will be grave for those who practice it or use it," Sheikh al Joder said. But religious proscriptions of magic isn't the only reason to worry about the practice, Sheikh al Joder said. "It opens the door wide open for people to be misled and having their money embezzled under false pretexts. There were instances where women paid between 3,000 and 5,000 Bahraini dinars [Dh29,226-Dh48,710] for each session or alleged magic work that was carried out for them," he said. "The problem is that when people fall prey to these tricks it's hard for them to break the cycle because it creates a false sense of comfort."

He described the prevalence of witchcraft as a troubling phenomenon that the government must address. "It is the 21st century, people have reached the Moon and we still have others who still believe in and use witchcraft. The law should be implemented strictly to deal with this before it escalates," he said. However FS, a Bahraini witch doctor who wished to be identified only by his initials, said his practice was focused on "healing, bringing inner peace and conflict resolution". He denied that his work was illegal or misleading.

"People turn to us as a last refuge for help and if what we did didn't work and help them they wouldn't come back or recommend us to their relatives and friends. There are impostors out there, but I have people from across the Gulf coming here to seek my help," he said. "Some use verses from the Quran, others use different methods but you cannot label us all as one. Not all [medical] doctors are honest and not all of them are as qualified".

Traditional remedies are also highly popular in Bahrain, the study found. The problem, according to Dr Musaiger, is that such treatments have the potential to do more harm than good. "Many don't understand that use of traditional medication in search of a remedy is a two-edged sword and entails danger to one's health because of the chances that these medicines could be contaminated," Dr Musaiger said.

Honey and herbal medicines were the most popular traditional remedies among Bahraini families, with the medications used to treat such symptoms as abdominal pain, cough, constipation, and children suffering from diarrhoea. However, Khalil Ahmed, a Bahrain representative of the Saudi-based natural herbal products provider Golden Print, argued that imitators and those who market products under false pretences create the misperception that traditional remedies are dangerous.

"The natural healthcare products are regaining their popularity in Bahrain and across the Gulf because of the health benefits they offer without the side effects caused by chemical drugs. Our products are proven and tested [but] false claims by other products hurt the industry as a whole," he said.