Visiting witches, sorcerers, fortune-tellers, and astrologers is a dangerous phenomenon in any community. When it spreads, it is evidence of ignorance and a low level of education in a given society. If it is to ever disappear, then education must spread among an empowered people.
Unfortunately, Yemen is still considered traditional and primitive in this regard. Magic and sorcery spread widely as people consider it to be a part of cultural and intellectual heritage. It is also an accessible way for excluded people to attempt to solve their problems.
This is particularly true for Yemeni women. They are deprived of opportunities in education, and face a huge amount of systemic injustice and violence. As a result, Yemeni women have a great deal of faith in these practices. This report highlights some real stories which reveals the motives, and reasons, for people’s interest in magic and sorcery.
Um Hussein said that she doesn’t go to sorcerers in order to charm someone, or to predict the future, because only God knows the unseen. However, she has other applications, and emphasizes her belief that sorcery can work.
“I ask the sorcerer about things that have already occurred. For example, if an unknown person has stolen my gold, or if someone is making problems for me and my husband.”
“The sorcerer doesn’t tell me my enemies’ identities, exactly, but he gives me things that will protect me or help me find the answer. Once, he gave me incest costing 5000 Rails to make my husband stop believing that people are trying to destroy our life.”
Um Malak narrated her experience with sorcery happily, saying that in the beginning, when her mother told her to consult a sorcerer to help find the man of her dreams, she refused. In the end, though, her mother forced her to go.
“We went to the sorcerer without the knowledge of my father and brothers. My mother explained that no one has come with a proposal for marriage. The sorcerer started saying unclear words, with a thick smoke in front of him, and then he gave me a piece of paper written with strange letters and numbers. He asked me to burn some of them, and to put others inside my drinking water.”
She added that her mother gave the sorcerer tens of thousands of YR. The result was great, since after three months, a good man from an excellent family proposed to her. Today, Um Malak has three children. She lives happily with her husband, and advises her girlfriends to see that sorcerer.
Um Mua’ath believes strongly in sorcery. She says that her sorcerer gives her love magic which calms problems with her husband, who stops thinking about marrying other women. She emphasized that although she pays a great deal of money for the sorcerer, the effect is worth it, though only for a short time. The magic disappears quickly, and she has to go back.
“Going to the sorcerers isn’t forbidden because I don’t want to hurt anyone, just help and save my family.”
Somaia is an employee who says that she gets her tea leaves read for 3000 Rails.
“Having my cup of tea read helps me know about my problems, and good or bad things that will soon occur. Then, I can manage the situation, and be careful of my enemies.”
Psychologists and social scientists have a critical view of this practice. Dr. Safia Ahmed al-Ghazali, a psychiatrist, says that they consider it to be an unsafe custom and tradition. She said that this phenomenon has spread because of the weakness of religious faith and morality, since people go to them ignoring how this behavior angers God.
“Most believers are women because of their emotional nature. When they face any problem, they go directly to the sorcerer for help, forgetting that psychiatrists are the ones that can best understand the problem and meet their crises.”
Al-Ghazali emphasized that society needs to spread awareness of psychiatry as well as pass laws to punish sorcerers and their customers in order to remove this phenomenon.
Sana’a University Social Scientist Professor Hammoud Alawdi disagrees. He says that all societies have magic and sorcery. However, the development of scientific achievement, political and social empowerment, and the application of law and justice are crucial to ensure that the practice disappears. If women in particular were given their rights, according to Alawdi, they wouldn’t need to depend on sorcerers.
“No wonder women are the most interested in magic and sorcery. They suffer the most in society, and also depend on the man to make a living. We can see that women who are educated, and can depend on themselves, don’t care to believe in sorcery. They can get their rights and solve their problems by their own hands.”
The Islamic rationale for forbidding sorcery is that it causes many health and social problems, not the least because it is expensive, and avoids actually solving the issue. The Prophet Muhammad was clear about the intentions of those involved being irrelevant.
“Even if they are honest, astrologers have lied.”