Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Anti-Witchcraft Squad Proves Deadly

When I last wrote about Saudi Arabia's anti-witchcraft squad my tone was mostly humorous, suggesting that the organization could be the basis for a television pilot featuring mismatched buddy cops who happened to be in the business of hunting down sorcerers and breaking spells. At the end of the article, though, I noted that since "witchcraft" is a capital offense in Saudi Arabia part of the squad's job is to round up people who could be killed simply for practicing their spiritual beliefs. Last week this is precisely what happened, as a Sudanese man convicted of practicing sorcery in 2007 was executed despite protests from Amnesty International.

A Sudanese man convicted of sorcery was beheaded by sword on Sept. 20, in Medina, Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Gazette says the Interior Ministry issued a statement saying the African had “’Practiced witchcraft and sorcery,’ which are illegal under Shariah law.”

Abdul Hamid bin Hussein Mostafa al-Fakki, a migrant worker from Sudan, was arrested in 2005 in Medina on charges of witchcraft, by the Mutawa’een, the religious police known as the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. His trial was held in secret in 2007 and according to Bikyamasr al-Fakki was found guilty of “Producing a spell designed to lead to the reconciliation of his client’s divorced parents.”

It doesn't surprise me at all that al-Fakki was a migrant worker from Africa and therefore had little status in Saudi Arabian society, since for centuries witchcraft persecutions have usually fallen upon those with few resources to fight back against the authorities. I'm also very glad that I live in the United States, because if I lived in a country like Saudia Arabia I could probably be charged and maybe even executed just for writing blog entries discussing my ongoing magical work.

For the sake of religious freedom I hope that attitudes in Saudi Arabia surrounding alternative spiritual beliefs change, but I can't say that I'm holding my breath. After all, this is a country where a woman driving a car is considered a serious criminal offense. In light of that, what chance do magicians really have any time soon?

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