Magic is real in Saudi Arabia, but it’s no Disneyland

Saudi Arabia’s religious police force includes an “anti-witchcraft” unit responsible for pursuing and stopping magical crime.

The unit was established in 2009 to educate the public about the evils of witchcraft, investigate alleged sorcerers, neutralize cursed items, and disarm spells.

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In 2012, following a government-mandated training session on magic, the unit apprehended more than 200 witches.

Saudi Arabia has no legal definition for witchcraft, leaving agents to look for clues like incense, candles, nudity, talismans, animal sacrifice, and desecration of the Quran.

Saudi citizens are urged to report any magical misdeeds to the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

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In Saudi Arabia, magic is viewed as a direct affront to the cherished relationship one is supposed to share with Allah. According to the Quran, magic is associated with demonic beings called “jinn” that were created at the same time as man.

Unfortunately for foreigners, the practice of any religion other than Islam in Saudi Arabia is often deemed “witchcraft” and punished with lashings, prison time, or a death sentence.

“If they see these [folk practices] they immediately assume they’re some kind of sorcery or witchcraft,” says Adam Coogle, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

The courts in Saudi Arabia are controlled by religious clerics who have unlimited latitude to interpret the content of witchcraft accusations and can demand capital punishment.

Evidence in witchcraft cases is limited to witness testimony and the presentation of “magical items.”

In 2008, Human Rights Watch intervened to revoke a death sentence for Fawza Falih, a Saudi woman who was accused of using witchcraft to make a man impotent. “Magical items” found in her position included two robes and some herbs.

Falih was give no chance to question witnesses, was removed from the courtroom when the magical evidence was presented, and was denied legal representation.

She died in prison due to an existing medical condition.