Away from our Hajj coverage, for which we are currently filming some feature reports to be released in the next week, I thought I would share something I came across in a leading English language Saudi daily The Saudi Gazette entitled ‘Magic Maids’.
This is how it opened:
“We must face up to the threats from some maids and servants and their satanic games of witchcraft and sorcery, their robbery, murder, entrapment of husbands, corruption of children and other countless stories of crime that have been highlighted by both experts and victims of these crimes.”
As I checked to see whether this was a The Onion-type satirical column I recalled the recent appeal by Amnesty International for Saudi King Abdullah to commute the death sentences of Lebanese national Ali Hussain Sibat and Sudanese national Abdul Hamid bin Hussain bin Moustafa al-Fakki.
The men were convicted to death for sorcery. And this wasn’t Saudi’s version of The Onion.
Part of the evidence used against Sibat, who was arrested in Saudi while on pilgrimage, were the predictions he made on a Lebanese TV programme.
It made me wonder how some of the political analysts and financial forecasters I’ve interviewed would fare if the same standards applied to them.
But given the title, The Saudi Gazette article was only interested in maids – and not any other alleged broomriding spell-casting deviants.
It spoke of foreign maids living in a “…strange world of spells and amulets.”
Rhetorically the writer asks: “Who does not know about Siti, the Indonesian maid who carried out more than 35 devilish acts? Siti was arrested and convicted and the services of a scholar specializing in Al-Ruqa’a Al-Shariya (treatment through recitation of verses from the Holy Quran) were requested. The scholar said the eldest son was suffering from a powerful magic spell affecting him from inside his body.”
LP Ariyawathie, a 49-year-old Sri Lankan maid didn’t have spells, but nails inside her body. Sri Lankan doctors confirmed 24 nails were driven into her flesh.
She claims this was done by her Saudi employers as punishment. Attitudes to foreign maids as evidenced in The Saudi Gazette may help provide an indication as to why the Saudi government “questioned her account”.
In October, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa made an appeal to King Abdullah to spare the life of a housemaid convicted of killing an infant.
Rizana Nafeek, who was 17 at the time, was convicted of killing a four-month-old child.
She originally confessed to killing the baby, but later retracted her statement saying it had been given under duress – and insisted the child’s death was an accident.
There are also unconfirmed reports that Saudi Arabia may soon impose a ban on Sri Lankan workers looking to find jobs there.
Over half a million Sri Lankans live and work in Saudi Arabia, many in low-income jobs as maids.
But back to The Saudi Gazette article: “Studies show that 60 per cent of these crimes relate to witchcraft and sorcery.” No further details of, or reference to, the studies were provided.
It proceeded to include testimony of a maid who confessed to being a sorceress, who only undid a spell she had cast on her employer at the behest of his crying mother.
Anti-witchcraft activist Fatima Al-Hasan advises fellow Saudis to search maids “for amulets, talismans or similar items” in the article.
Social science scholar Dr Abla Hasnain called for media to “raise awareness about this menace”.
Naif Abdulaziz Al-Saeed, interpreter of dreams, cautioned against “giving used clothing or food, particularly dates or meat, to maids or their companions such as drivers, who may have links to witchcraft and sorcery”.
I just couldn’t help but wonder why these maids didn’t have any spells up their sleeves back in their home countries?
It would save themselves the hassle of traveling to Saudi Arabia, performing heavy household work, receiving non-lucrative pay and facing authorities who seem quite well-prepared to prosecute them for their “satanic games of witchcraft and sorcery, their robbery, murder, entrapment of husbands, corruption of children and other countless stories of crime”.
Or maybe the spells only work in Saudi Arabia…