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Witch Hunts: A Muslim Problem Only?

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Ali Hussain Sibat, a Lebanese national and fortune teller, was recently arrested in Saudi Arabia and charged with the “crime” of sorcery.  Many sincere human rights groups raised awareness about his case, and international outrage prompted the Saudi government to issue him a stay of execution.  Islamophobes, such as Robert Spencer, have chosen to exploit Mr. Sibat’s plight to demonize Islam and Muslims.  For those of us living in the West, the arrest of a “sorcerer” seems beyond insane, and it is quite easy for the Islamophobes to use this incident to reinforce negative stereotypes of Muslims: “wow, those Moozlems must be really backwards.”

Yet, few Westerners realize that witch hunts are now an international problem…and it is not an area of concern limited to Muslim majority countries like Saudi Arabia.  Would it interest the Catholic apologist Robert Spencer to know that witch hunts are much more prevalent amongst Christians than Muslims?  Some Evangelicals continue to take the Bible quite literally, following its commandment: “Thou shalt not allow a sorceress to live” (Exodus, 22:18), and “sorcerers amongst you must be put to death” (Leviticus, 20:27).  The Huffington Post recently wrote a piece on the upsurge of witch hunts in Africa brought on by hardliner Evangelicals:

African Children Denounced As “Witches” By Christian Pastors

…Nwanaokwo Edet was one of an increasing number of children in Africa accused of witchcraft by pastors and then tortured or killed, often by family members. Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of “witch children” reviewed by the AP, and 13 churches were named in the case files. [Exodus, 22:18]

…The idea of witchcraft is hardly new, but it has taken on new life recently partly because of a rapid growth in evangelical Christianity. Campaigners against the practice say around 15,000 children have been accused in two of Nigeria’s 36 states over the past decade and around 1,000 have been murdered. In the past month alone, three Nigerian children accused of witchcraft were killed and another three were set on fire.

Nigeria is one of the heartlands of abuse, but hardly the only one: the United Nations Children’s Fund says tens of thousands of children have been targeted throughout Africa.

Saudi Arabia has recently arrested one individual for the “crime” of sorcery (it seems about five people in the last few years), and the Islamophobes like Robert Spencer have expressed their ardent outrage.  Yet, there were “15,000 children [who] have been accused…and around 1,000 have been murdered” by Christians in Africa…Where is your outrage, Mr. Spencer?  If we must conclude that Islam is the most dastardly of religions due to the persecution of a handful of people in Saudi Arabia, then should we not conclude the same for Christianity when there were 15,000 who stood accused and 1,000 executed recently?

Christian witch hunts are not limited to Africa.  In Papua New Guinea, a country which is 96% Christian, the government passed the 1976 Sorcery Act, which prescribes imprisonment for the practice of black magic.  An article written in 2009 details how one hundred “witches” were executed in Papua New Guinea in just the last year.  Witch hunts have in recent years taken place in Haiti, again by Christians (in this case aimed against non-Christians); a human rights lawyer told the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that “literal witch hunts have been launched [by Evangelical Christians] against priests and practitioners of this [traditional Haitian] religion.” Similar witch hunts have been launched in Kenya, Nepal, and other regions, reaching a global stage:

Witch Hunts Are Now An International Epidemic

Yesterday a coalition of U.N. officials, NGOs, and representatives from affected countries addressed the United Nations asking for governments to face the full extent of witch hunts across the world. Far from being a localized phenomenon in “primitive” or isolated villages, witch hunts and witch killings are now global in nature and spreading.

“Murder and persecution of women and children accused of being witches is spreading around the world and destroying the lives of millions of people, experts said Wednesday … “This is becoming an international problem — it is a form of persecution and violence that is spreading around the globe,” Jeff Crisp of the U.N.’s refugee agency UNHCR told a seminar organized by human rights officials of the world body.”

According to some U.N. experts tracking the issue “at least” tens of thousands have died due to witch hunts, while millions have been beaten, abused, isolated, and turned into refugees. While economic hardship is given as a reason for the recent escalation in witch-related violence, experts at the UNHCR also claim that the rise can also be attributed to”religious practitioners” who exploit local fears and superstitions.

“Some religious practitioners make a living from exorcising alleged witches and charging exorbitant fees to those who request the ritual. In Foxcroft’s experience, the most vulnerable members of society – children and the elderly – are often the victims of these accusations.”

Who, exactly, are these “religious practitioners”? The IHEU is far more specific.

“Witchcraft is still widely practiced in many countries in Africa by witchdoctors who often use human body parts in their spells. Some witchdoctors employ gangs of young men to attack and kill victims, often young children, for their body parts, which are frequently removed while the victim is still alive. An estimated 300 people are killed each year in South Africa alone as a result of this practice. But horrific though this practice is, it is only part of the problem. In Nigeria, in both the Muslim North and the Christian South, witch hunts are not uncommon and this has led to a second form of abuse. Some unscrupulous pastors, many linked to Pentecostal churches, have a lucrative trade in making unfounded accusations of witchcraft against young children. [The pastors then agree to “cure” the witches for a substantial fee. Many children are being ostracized and abandoned by their parents as a result of these accusations.]“

These Christian pastors aren’t isolated to Africa, they tour churches in America bragging about their battles with the occult, and have established ministries in Ireland and the UK. Commingling with an increasing anti-occult fervor among some Western Christian groups. Meanwhile, actual modern Pagan communities in places like India and South Africa are facing the possible ramifications of intensifying witch-hunts and witch persecutions…

Reuters reports:

Reuters – Murder and persecution of women and children accused of being witches is spreading around the world and destroying the lives of millions of people, experts said Wednesday.

And community workers from Nepal and Papua New Guinea told the seminar, on the fringes of a session of the U.N.’s 47-member Human Rights Council, that “witch-hunting” was now common, both in rural communities and larger population centres.

The experts — United Nations officials, civil society representatives from affected countries and non-governmental organization (NGO) specialists working on the issue — urged governments to acknowledge the extent of the persecution.

“This is becoming an international problem — it is a form of persecution and violence that is spreading around the globe,” Jeff Crisp of the U.N.’s refugee agency UNHCR told a seminar organized by human rights officials of the world body.

Aides to U.N. special investigators on women’s rights and on summary executions said killings and violence against alleged witch women — often elderly people — were becoming common events in countries ranging from South Africa to India.

Witch hunts are of course not limited to Christians.  An article written in 2006 discusses how 10 witches were killed in India in the past year alone. Here is a CNN report that shows an Indian woman being punished by a Hindu mob, on grounds of her being a witch:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEI6qeOk0pY&feature=player_embedded 300 250]

The purpose here is not to bash Christianity, Hinduism, or any other religion.  It’s simply to point out that witch hunts are a problem throughout the world.  If you just follow Islamophobic sources like Robert Spencer, you’d come to think that the only “culprits” are Muslims, but like I said before: it’s simply not true.  The selective outrage of Spencer et al. shows that they don’t really care about human rights at all.  Their indignation is not principled, but political in nature.  Let me, however, not mince words: as a self-proclaimed progressive, I support human rights groups that seek to rid the world of witch hunts, be they in Muslim majority Saudi Arabia or Christian majority areas of Africa.

Addendum:

Islamophobes will claim that the Prophet Muhammad said: “The punishment for the magician is that he be struck by the sword.”  So, they argue, isn’t Saudi Arabia just following Islam?  Isn’t it Islam that is the problem?  Well, first off, I already reproduced what the Bible says about sorcerers, which is to kill them.  (Note: the Quran does not mention any worldly punishment for sorcerers.)  Therefore, we could use the same line of argumentation here: the Nigerian Evangelicals are just doing what the Bible commanded them to do, and as such, Christianity itself is the problem.  (Of course, I reject such a simplistic view.)

With regard to the saying (hadith) attributed to the Islamic prophet, it is found in Sunan al-Tirmidhi.  The compiler of said hadith, namely al-Tirmidhi, commented on this hadith as follows: “The correct saying is that it is mawquf .”  According to the Islamic science of hadith, this term mawquf means “stopped” and what this means is that the chain of transmission does not reach the Prophet Muhammad (but rather stops before it reaches him).  Said in simpler terms: the Prophet Muhammad is not the one who said it.

Yes, the Prophet forbade sorcery (in line with the Abrahamic belief of relying on God alone for any form of supernatural help–what Muslims refer to as tawhid) and called it a form of fraud.  However, not a single statement can be authentically attributed to him in which he calls for a corporal punishment against a sorcerer.  In fact, a self-proclaimed sorcerer by the name of Labeed ibn al-Asam tried to do black magic on the Prophet in order to hurt him.  When his wife asked him why he didn’t seek any retaliation or punishment against Labeed, the Prophet Muhammad replied by saying: “I hate to cause harm to anyone.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

After the Prophet Muhammad’s death, the early Muslims introduced corporal punishment for witches, but it never became nearly as big an issue as in the Christian world, where–according to an estimate by A.L. Barstow in Witchcraze–up to 100,000 witches were executed from the year 1480 to 1700.  Indeed, laws against sorcerers (or whatever you want to call them) fell into disuse in the Islamic world.  Today, aside from Saudi Arabia, it has become largely a non-issue.  One need only walk down the streets of Pakistan or Egypt to see this quite clearly: on every other corner sits some fortune teller or other occultist.

Videos:

While I was doing the research for this article, I stumbled upon this documentary, which depicts quite graphically the victims of witch hunts in Africa.  Clearly, the problem is not limited to Muslims.

Part 1:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbGzFN_NalI&feature=PlayList&p=CB1EE2F36DB76BDF&playnext_from=PL&index=0&playnext=1 300 250]

Part 2:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWSUAsC3ITg&NR=1 300 250]

Part 3:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgALUdzfs1s&NR=1 300 250]

Part 4:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNDgyp1M0Hg&NR=1 300 250]

Part 5:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zktMwd6xLg&NR=1 300 250]

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  • Dan

    I don’t believe this a case of religion, but more a case of culture differences. Witch hunts have long ben considered the domain of the distant past in the west, yet are prevalent in Africa and to a lesser extent in the middle east. Is this just corrupt despotism rearing its ugly head and hiding underneath religious disputes?

  • hellokitty kat 1001

    i never knew that chirtians where like that….And my BFF is christian

  • hellokitty kat 1001

    its very faninating to know abuopt this, I wold love to hear more

  • devil’s advocate

    Excuse me for saying lebannon instead of saudi arabia.

    Also I wanted to distinguish between:

    *legislation that discourages black magic (which could be justified – poison barb example)

    *scape goat witch hunting (which probably existed before Christianity)

    In other words you should compare apples with apples. Ie. only look at witch hunts that go through court, as in saudi arabia, not things that are done in the highlands by individuals.

  • devil’s advocate

    You didn’t show that countries such as papuan new guinea are have credible witch doctor threats. witch doctors will knock people out and insert infected barbs into their skin, so they will waste away. hence legislation against them is different to punishing a fortune teller.

    in short you are comparing different situations which makes the islamophobe look hypocritical when he isn’t. we should expect more from lebannon since it is not a 3rd world country with a recent colonization history.

  • siddik

    hi daniel,
    witchcraft has no real effects. it is the belief of quran.there is a fabricated hadees which says that prophet muhammad gor bewitched.this fabricated hadees made a wrong belief in islamic scholar,which lead which hunting in saudi arabia. believing in real effects of witchcraft directly contradicts with islamic monoethism.if you want proof for this contact me on sidddik@gmail.com. and aslo for the correct meaning of”from the evil of those who blow on knots”,

  • Danios

    Larry:

    Thanks for your question. In the initial draft of this article, I actually included a short discussion about this very topic. However, I opted to delete it due to the length of the article.

    First, I very much disagree with your statement with regard to Christianity. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Church has always believed in magic (and witchcraft), from the early times to the present day. The passage on “witchcraft” concludes that sorcery cannot be denied “in the face of Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Fathers and theologians”, whilst at the same time cautioning that “99 cases out of 100” are false accusations. However, I admit that I am not an expert in Christian theology, and what I say is based only on what little I have read. (Check out http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15674a.htm )

    As for the Islamic tradition, theologians debated the topic of magic, just as the Christians did…and a variety of opinions were held on the matter. It seems from my research that the majority opinion was very close to what the dominant Christian belief is. In fact, the discussion in that entry of the Catholic Encyclopedia–with regards to the various Biblical verses–could be applied to the Quran as well. The Encyclopedia says:

    In the Holy Scripture references to witchcraft are frequent, and the strong condemnations of such practices which we read there do not seem to be based so much upon the supposition of fraud as upon the “abomination” of the magic in itself. (See Deuteronomy 18:11-12; Exodus 22:18, “wizards thou shalt not suffer to live” — A.V. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”.) The whole narrative of Saul’s visit to the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28) implies the reality of the witch’s evocation of the shade of Samuel; and from Leviticus 20:27: “A man or woman in whom there is a pythonical or divining spirit, dying let them die: they shall stone them: Their blood be upon them”, we should naturally infer that the divining spirit was not a mere imposture. The prohibitions of sorcery in the New Testament leave the same impression (Galatians 5:20, compared with Apocalypse 21:8; 22:15; and Acts 8:9; 13:6). Supposing that the belief in witchcraft were an idle superstition, it would be strange that the suggestion should nowhere be made that the evil of these practices only lay in the pretending to the possession of powers which did not really exist.

    Similarly, one could conclude about the Quran, which in one verse advocates the believer to seek refuge “from the evil of those who blow on knots”, which would hardly make sense if it had no real effects.

    However, not all classical Islamic scholars agreed that magic or sorcery actually exists in its true sense. Rather, some of them–such as Raghib al-Isfahani, Abi Bakr al-Jassas, and (according to one source I read) Abu Hanifa–relegated magic to mere illusion, consisting of deceiving the eyes (sleight of the hand) or imagination (hypnosis). They discounted other understandings of magic as superstition, an argument they supported with numerous Quranic verses (7:116, 20:66). This was also the view of the entire Mutazzalite school of thought.

    But like I said, the general opinion was the same as the “99 cases out of 100,” which technically does not rule out the paranormal but only relegates it to obscurity not impossibility.

    Sincerely,
    Danios.

  • Larry (not Lawrence)

    Do Muslims believe witchcraft is actually possible? I know this was the debate within Christianity, with Christians in the Dark Ages simply believing it was not real, and Charlemagne even prohibited killing witches, on the grounds they weren’t really witches. It was only later in the early Modern Era (post-Reformation) that killing witches became popular. Do you think emphasizing that witches are just addled minded people would be a way to create a climate in which witchcraft isn’t punished in Saudi Arabia, since they tend to be lenient to those with mental illnesses (I’m not saying this is ideal)?

  • TYO

    Women or men sadly have been used as escape goats. This is why religion is not always a good thing. Too much belief in the supernatural. Governments should NOT arrest and execute anyone for something as ridiculous as sorcery or witchcraft. Vigilante mob violence is bad enough, but the mixture of religion and government is a real recipe for horror.

    This is why religion should ALWAYS be separate from the state in EVERY country.

    Countries that do already have it, must enforce secular CIVIL laws to protect ALL it citizens from crime, and science must be taught so people will quit being such idiots when confronted with the unknown. Secularism and science in schools and in public. Religion in private – with no ability to enforce crazy stupid things.

    I found the original CNN article, http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/03/28/india.beating/index.html
    The irony in the India incident is that the women was hired for her skills in magic to heal, but when the wife illness progressed she was blamed for exacerbating it. From the article it does not seem that in Hinduism witch craft per say is wrong. This is a surprising twist from the Judaism-Christianity-Islam stance of killing sorcerers/witches outright. Here is was not the fact that she was a witch that was the problem as much as she did not deliver the goods. Still stupid and wrong. The good thing is that the government here arrested those involved in hurting the woman. More proof that a better society is possible when the government has no state religion.

    But the other videos, where were they from? What is the original news outlet.

  • Ustadh

    Thank you for providing that documentary. Frightening stuff.
    I didn’t realize witch hunting was so pervasive in many parts of the world.

  • Jez

    Even Sarah Palin can recieve protection from witchcraft right in the heart of the so-called civilised west.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/max-blumenthal/the-witch-hunter-anoints_b_128805.html

    “Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters” Leon Trotsky

  • Have you ever seen the animals in the persuite of witch hunting of their own kind.We so called humans seem to be worse than the animals.We simply can not live at peace with one another.We lack compassion and humanity.Muslim always brag about the Koranic verse:If you have killed one human being ,it is as if you have killed the whole humanity and if you save one person,you have saved the whole humanity.They never quote the verse before which says that the Jewish people were given that commandment.It does not refer to the Muslims but they like to get the credit for that.Typical Muslim DECEPTION.Muslims have carried on witch hunt of Jews and Christians for the last 1400 years and is still continued in the Muslim lands.I hope it stops because enough is enough.

    Comment from Danios: The Quran says that the verse was revealed to the Children of Israel (not to the Jews), whom according to Islamic belief, were Muslims at the time it was revealed. And they believe this Abrahamic law is a universal principle taught by all of the prophets and thus applicable for all times. As for your second claim that witch hunts were carried out against Jews and Christians, this is simply false.

  • Sir David

    There was a famous case in the UK where a torso with out head hands feet or genitalia was found in London. This was eventually shown to be a young boy from the far south of Nigeria killed for Muti or magic .

  • Abdullah

    Great. But I think Spinster and demonic Geller represent hate, therefore you can’t expect hate to redeem itself. You can’t have hate reason and be good. Hate is evil and Spinster and his sidekick are evil. As simple as that. But it is also good to expose their certified hypocrisy for all and sundry so that many a duped men and women by these bigots may come see their shenanigans.

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  • I hope this plague of witch hunting stops around the world, and I applaud those who are fighting it. A lot of innocent people end up killed because of it.

  • Great piece Danios. LW reported on these Christian witch hunts some months ago. There was a spike in the murders of little children who were accused of witch craft in Nigeria.It is an epidemic there. Truly horrifying. Guess what, not a peep about if from Spencer-Geller and company.
    Hopefully this witch hunt madness is ended.

  • Karim

    Amen Danios.Amen brother.Lets put an end to ALL human cruelty,ignorance and superstition.

  • Omer

    Great job, Danios. That’s a very detailed treatment of an otherwise unknown issue. Hopefully this will raise awareness about the people being affected by such witch hunts.

  • Mona

    Hi

    Brilliant article, thank you.

  • Another greatly written article

    Good to see another great article by Danios. But Danios you must be aware that spinster and crazy geller (their favorite nicknames!) are internationally accredited, right? There works have spawned them awards and glorification’s by the biggest celebrities and writers alike. I heard spinster got a Pulitzer prize for “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).” So I think you should reconsider next time you bash the great writer robby spinster and his loony sidekick pamela geller.

    Oh wait…

    None of that is true =)

  • Robaby

    I can’t wait to see how lawrence the hypocrite and other Christian Islamophobes will respond to this!

  • iSherif

    Excellent article and interesting topic Danios… 🙂

    Once again, Spencer proves himself to be the poorest example of a scholar (his claim) we’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter.

    “The selective outrage of Spencer et al. shows that they don’t really care about human rights at all. Their indignation is not principled, but political in nature.”

    You hit the nail on the head there Danios…well done!

  • KnowingTheTruth

    As always Danios you’re doing a great job. Now I do think that the Saudi Government have to release this man because they are acting stupid here, but at the same time, Spencer the hypocrite has to admit that Christians and many other Non-Muslims have done the same thing as well. I’m not attacking these other faiths at all but only that Spencer is a hypocrite. No faith is perfect.

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