As we discussed lived Islam one colleague talked about her community, explaining that it is more Salafi/Wahhabi and so very strictly against ‘folk-type practice’. She explained: ‘they don’t agree with using evil eye or hand of Fatima decorations. In their culture protection is done through invoking God’s protection “Audhu billah min ash-shaytan ar-rajeem”, prayer, reciting Qu’ran and importantly saying mash’allah A LOT to ward off the evil eye.’
One author, Doumatou, writing about the line between prayer and magic being “elastic” demonstrates that it can be hard to define which is which (prayer or magic). It seems that the evil eye inhabits a space that can fall into both camps.
A friend shared the story one of her friends had told her about a close who is very superstitious. She said: ‘she keeps family information very close to the inner circle of family and is always telling me not to tell other people about my children.’ This is contrary to the western habit of sharing their birthweight, mentioning how much they’ve grown, milestones reached etc. Not sharing about them, in this relatives belief is about protecting them.
She once said that she doesn’t go up to the third floor and roof of the house after dark because she thinks there are jinn around. When her daughter kept getting sick with a stomach ache at the same time every night she thought it was a spiritual thing. This is not an issue of education as this relative works in the medical science field.
These examples show how beliefs about jinn and evil leads to an uncomfortable disconnect at one level. Doumatou writes: “The Wahhabis designated the one true God as the only source of supernatural power, disenfranchising all the saints, spirits, jinn and angels”. But there is a question. As a strict Salafi Muslim what do you do when that one true God (Allah) is not a source of power to you? And, contrarily, you know that the supernatural world does have power over you?
It is interesting to note that amulets and charms were primarily marketed to women for purchase, and that women are seen as being more susceptible to magic and jinn. This seems to speak to the woman’s role in being responsible for her family and children, which includes their spiiritual protection.
Could the the evil eye be more commonly linked to women than men because of envy or jealousy, which are often seen as more female traits?
Westerners tend to assume everything has a psychological or psychosomatic root cause, and assume there are no supernatural causes. For example, an Arab ignores medical advice because they believe the (Western) doctor is wrong, that there is a spiritual cause. They think Westerners don’t understand those things.
For many Western Christians the default position in these things is to be sceptical. Their lens for seeing the world is very different to that of Muslim women.
Appreciating the spirit world, acknowledging the power of that world may be much more important in our relationships with women than our ability to address their theological belief system. Rereading our scriptures with an eye to see the spirit world is important as we live in contexts with a strong the belief around the effect of the evil eye.
When our friends seek protection through Qur’an readings or other words said to Allah; even saying one of the names of God or the Prophet’s name as protection, what will we do?
How much do the prescribed words/sayings/greetings (in Arabic there are many) function not just as social politeness, but also have protective power? How we can talk differently about protection from evil and ways to deal with jealousy?
How might my worldview be limiting my work in the communities of women who understand the spirit world so differently to me?
Featured Image: Unsplash, Police Kuzovkova.
(c) When Women Speak… June 2023
This articles comes from discussions in I-view courses run by When Women Speak…