From tomorrow’s edition of the Saudi publication Arab News comes the tantalizing bit of information that magic spells thrown into the Red Sea are the concern of a Saudi agency called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.
The commission is one of Saudi’s largest law enforcement bodies, with 486 centers and 10,000 members through out the kingdom. Their job is to “randomly enter malls, restaurants and local and private establishments to enforce proper moral conduct”, which includes enforcing shop closures during prayer times, prayer attendance, gender segregation and confiscation of pornography.
And now their members are hitting the beach:
Q: What is the commission doing to catch sorcerers in Saudi cities. And what is their fate after they are caught? Could you tell us how many of them were caught this year and their locations? And what about the magic spells that are thrown into the Red Sea? How are these spells broken?A: The commission plays a large role in capturing people who practice sorcery or delusions since these are vices which affect the faith of Muslims and cause harm to both nationals and expatriates. The commission has assigned centers in every city and town to be on the lookout for these men. As for their fate, they are arrested and then transferred to concerned authorities. The commission also has a role in breaking magic spells, which are found in the sea. We cooperate with divers in this aspect. After the spells are found, they are then broken using recitations of the Holy Qur’an. We do not use magic to break magic spells, as this is against the teachings of Islam as mentioned by the Supreme Ulema. But we use the Qur’an as did the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
This raises more questions than it answers. First of all, what are these spells found in the sea? What are they for, what do they look like, and who throws them in the sea? Why are the spells in the sea and not on the beach or somewhere else? How do you use Koran to break the spell? Do you have to recite a particular aya?
One possible hint comes from The Catalan Atlas from 1375 that shows the “world and the people who inhabit it”.
Navigational information is also recorded: “From the mouth of the river of Baghdad, the Indian and Persian Oceans open out. Here they fish for pearls, which are supplied to the town of Baghdad.” We learn that “before they dive to the bottom of the sea, pearl fishers recite magic spells with which they frighten away the fish” a piece of information that comes straight from Marco Polo, who mentions that the pearl fishers on the Malabar coast are protected by the magic and spells of the Brahmins. Various trading stations are indicated on the shore of the Indian Ocean from Hormus, “where India begins,” to Quilon in Kerala. There, pearl fishers are mentioned again with reference to magic spells.
If anyone is thinking that we in the west don’t do anything like that, think again about our practice of throwing coins in a fountain for luck, for health, or just to to make a wish. The practice goes back a long way–Roman coins have been excavated from very old fountains. But we don’t try to suppress the practice with anti-vice police. In fact, the person throwing the coins may be doing so in the knowledge that the coins will be fished out and donated to a particular charity.
I only know two magical uses of the Koran–one for sleep and one that uses a visitor’s empty tea glass to get them to return–and both use the “Corsi Aya.” And oh, yeah, getting rid of a Djinn in the desert by saying the word “Bismallah” (In the name of Allah). There must be more.