While it might sound like The Onion lampooning Saudi authorities at first, the latest news about the Gulf kingdom training its religious police to fight against the dark arts is actually believable.
A UAE-based media website reports around 30 members of Saudi Arabia’s influential Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice — aka Haia or Hayaa — have completed a five-day course on how to combat magic at its headquarters situated in the capital Riyadh.
“They said the course covered theoretical and practical lessons on how to deal with magic, destroy black art work and identify magicians and sorcerers,” Emirates 24/7 reports.
As ridiculous as it may be, the country’s war on witchcraft is quite real — in fact, it’s nearly two centuries old.
Wahhabism is Saudi Arabia's dominant faith and as per this particular branch of Islam, sorcery — including performing of black magic, divination or astrology — is strictly forbidden.
It is punishable by death despite the fact that the country does not formally classify sorcery as a capital offense.
Even fiction based on magic is prohibited in the country. Case in point: The Harry Potter series by British writer J.K. Rowling was banned in early 2000s “due to objections claiming they contain an occult-Satanic theme, violence and have an anti-family attitude.”
A darker aspect of Saudi Arabia’s paranoia of the supernatural can be seen in the arrests of people accused of performing black magic.
Writers and analysts have often pointed out how Saudi employers use accusations of magic as an excuse to fire or punish domestic workers.
“Many employers actually fear the (perceived?) occultism of their domestic workers, but often the accusation is nothing but a tool to have her removed from the household instantly. Magic accusations are often used to expel women who are perceived as creating problems,” writer Antoinette Vlieger noted in her book, “Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates: A Socio-legal Study on Conflicts.”
Since there’s no reasonable way of knowing if a person has committed sorcery, Saudi authorities prosecute people on the basis of suspicion and judges – who are often just religious clerics with no understanding of the law whatsoever – “mete out capital punishments as they see fit,” according to the Atlantic.
International human rights have repeatedly condemned executions over allegations of sorcery but Saudi Arabia hasn’t budged once and continues to wage its so-called war on witchcraft.