First off I want to say that I’m female, and I suffer from really bad anxiety. I see a therapist but this is so culturally/religiously specific I don’t think she would understand how anxiety provoking this is for me.
My family (mostly the women) lowkey believe in witchcraft/s7r and the evil eye. Some of them have visited “witches” and stuff.
The way this has affected me is that sometimes I truly believe my family and I are cursed. Bad things keep happening to me and my family one after the other that it’s hard to believe it’s coincidence.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a practicing Muslim. But I can’t get over this fear and want to do something about it.
What would you do and what do you think? Do you believe in witchcraft and the evil eye?
I would like to thank you for reaching out to me. It is difficult to talk about things that are so specific to your religion or culture, sometimes it can be embarrassing or you just know the other person will not get it.
Your question is very interesting. I don’t think I know anyone who has explicitly said that sorcery is a source of anxiety for them, but the concept is very real. I grew up myself being warned about witchcraft and ways to ward off the evil eye or black magic. Many Muslims (knowingly or unknowingly) perform rituals that have no basis in Islam and are considered by some as sinful. How many of those blue evil eye talismans have you seen in your life? Probably a lot!
Sorcery and witchcraft has a long history in most cultures and religions. Even today, stories about magic and wizardry can capture the imagination (think Harry Potter or even Game of Thrones). Many people around the world believe in magic and many too still practice it.
The word “magic” is derived from the Latin word magus, which originated from the Ancient Persian word maguš. It meant “magus” which was the term used for priests in Zoroastrianism (one of the oldest religions in the world and the religion of Ancient Persia). We still use the term “magus” and “magi” in English to refer to astrologers or wise men. The word maguš is also translated as “fire worshipper” (Zoroastrians worshipped fire).
In Old Persian, the word was pronounced Magūsh (مگوش). The Arabs pronounced it Majus (مجوس), due to the absence of the “g” sound in Arabic. The word appears in the Quran at 22:17, the word is believed to be referring to the Zoroastrians.
The concept of magic and sorcery is prevalent in the Quran. We only need to remind ourselves of the story of the Prophet Musa (A.S.) (or Moses) and how he turned his wooden staff into a snake in the confrontation with the sorcerers at the Pharaoh’s court to show the power of miracles over magic. The Quran refers to the power of the magicians as fake, trickery and bewitchment. It is very clear that all magic, witchcraft, fortune-telling and sorcery are forbidden because as Muslims, we believe that Allah alone has the power to control our world and is the only One who can know the future.
So if it is haram in Islam, why are these practices still prevalent in Muslim communities as you have described in your question?
I could probably write several pages about supernatural beliefs that exist in pretty much all Muslim communities. In my Islamic studies at school, my teachers emphasised that Islam is very clear on how to approach the supernatural. As an example, one Hadith says:
`Uqbah ibn `Amir Al-Juhani (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that a group came to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) to pledge their allegiance (bay` ah) to him. He accepted the allegiance of nine of them but not of one of them. They said, “O Messenger of Allah, you accepted the allegiance of nine but not of this one.” He (the Prophet) said, “He is wearing an amulet.” The man put his hand (in his shirt) and took it off, then the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) accepted his allegiance. He (peace and blessings be upon him) then said, “Whoever wears an amulet has committed shirk [the sin of idolatory].”
The sin of idolatry or believing in any other God is a very big sin in Islam. Ascribing any kind of supernatural powers to amulets, objects and spells is argued to be committing a sin as you believe there are things other than God that have divine powers.
We can see why this is important. Even if you are not Muslim or do not believe in God, believing in the supernatural and in magic leads to anxieties such as the ones you have, M. We fall into fatalistic lines of thinking, “I’m cursed, I can never live a normal life,” “I’m so unlucky” or “why do bad things only happen to me?”.
The Wikipedia page for the evil eye is 10 sections long! Many cultures and communities believe in the concept that envy (someone “eyeing” what you have and wanting it for themselves) can cause misfortune and loss to the one being targeted. That’s why many Muslims tend to be secretive of their achievements or good news – we don’t want someone to give us “the eye”. I think like that myself and try to limit what I tell people until the relevant good event becomes a “sure thing” because I am afraid of “jinxing” it or losing it.
My eyes were really opened to the supernatural rituals in Muslim communities when I went to India. I saw many dargahs on my travels to different parts of the country. A dargah is a tomb or a shrine built over the grave of a Muslim “saint” or religious figure. People make pilgrimages and visits to the dargahs, they believe that their wishes and prayers can be granted if they offer prayers at the dargah. As far as I know, this practice is very limited in the Arab Muslim world but is prevalent in other countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iran.
The most amazing thing about the dargahs is that I saw many non-Muslims attend and provide offerings and prayers (you can buy scarves or flowers and other items to leave on the shrine). I saw Hindus visiting and providing offerings. It was an unbelievable sight, especially when you know about tensions between the religions in India – it seemed like people believed the power of the saint of that shrine to be so strong it transcended their own religious beliefs.
The popularity of the dargah points to something else as well: the power of the belief in the supernatural. People, many of whom have little resources, will spend so much to be able to make pilgrimage to a shrine or will spend their money on different offerings to place on the shrine. There is no basis in Islam for these practices, many Muslims will say this is shirk and will berate such people for these beliefs. I think it actually shows how ingrained the concept of the supernatural is in our cultures.
My grandmother would burn a special blend of incense before special occasions or when visitors had come from abroad to ward off the evil eye. For Muslims, we are supposed to believe that having faith in Allah and reciting certain prayers and phrases can ward off the evil eye. We are not supposed to believe in such practices, but many do. It often comes down to a matter of “education”. But it also is a natural and human desire – partaking in it can be harmful (as it has been to you M), but some people are deeply invested in these cultural practices and it is hard for them to understand why they are wrong.
Do I believe in the supernatural? I want to say I don’t because there isn’t a scientific or rational way to explain or quantify it. But I do believe in the evil eye. It is a very ingrained part of my culture and tradition and it is hard to let go of it. It is also a real concept in Islam. When I compliment someone, share good news or hear someone else’s good news (with a non-Muslim), I always touch wood. I look for it and I do it softly or I say “touch wood.” Is it rational? No. Does it have any basis in my beliefs? No. I shouldn’t, but I do it anyway. It is a reflex and I automatically think that if I don’t do this, I may be inviting “bad luck”. Muslims use the term “mashallah” (whatever God wills) to prevent the evil eye. I would use in these circumstances with other Muslims, but when speaking to non-Muslims (especially those unfamiliar with these terms), I need a replacement! It is that important to me.
As to sorcery or witchcraft, I do not really believe they are real. I don’t think a mortal human can have the power to change someone else’s destiny. Whether you believe in a God or not, believing that someone can curse you for life is not a helpful belief or even rational. We all have the power to make our lives to some extent – yes somethings are beyond our control and bad things will happen whether we allow them to or not. But doesn’t that mean then that everyone is cursed? If you described your life to someone worse off than you, they would probably think you are blessed!
Pain and suffering are relative. The world is so large and so full of misfortune, we can usually find someone worse off than ourselves. We also have to think of things as they are in reality. Bad things happen and there is nothing we can do about it. What we can do is accept our circumstances and learn to work with them. We shouldn’t ascribe more “power” to things than they have – this leads to feelings of helplessness and repeats the cycle.
Am I Cursed?
To summarise: I don’t believe in witchcraft, but I do believe in the evil eye. That said, I don’t think the evil eye can be powerful enough to “curse” anyone. The concept of the evil eye helps us try to avoid envying the lives of others. Whether you are religious or not, I think you can agree that jealousy and envy are detrimental flaws. Personally, I work very hard not to be jealous of others. It is very very difficult for me, but belief in the evil eye helps me pay attention and work through those feelings. Whenever I have felt most unhappy with my life, it was because I compared myself to others.
The concept also reminds us to recognise our blessings. It reminds us to appreciate and protect the good things in our lives and most importantly to humble ourselves. Unfortunately, many people “misuse” the concept and focus too much on it. Yes, the evil eye is a thing, but do you think it can be strong enough to curse you in the manner you described?
When bad things happen, some of us tend to focus on the bad and none of the good. I can say I am guilty of this sometimes. It can feel like we are experiencing disaster after disaster, but the reality is different. The act of looking negatively at your life is referred to as “mental filtering”. It is described as “an irrational thinking characterized by filtering out positive information but retaining the negatives”. When you’ve suffered trauma, it can feel even more negative. Trauma leaves deep scars and subsequent negative events will feel even worse.
The idea of being “cursed” is a manifestation of these negative thought patterns. You filter out the good events, so you lead yourself to believe you are cursed. As I touched on above, I am sure there are elements of your life which are very good and which many other people wish they had. Once you believe in something like this, it is hard to see those positive things because you have ignored them. When we start thinking negatively, we develop “confirmation bias” and start looking for any information or events that prove that our belief that our lives are cursed (and we ignore anything that contradicts it).
M, I would really recommend reading this article about believing bad things always happen to us. The authors make a very helpful observation: negativity can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
According to cognitive behavioral theory, thoughts impact our feelings, which in turn influence how we behave, ultimately having big implications for our filters and potential biases. If a person has a skewed way of thinking about the world, whether through a particular filter or bias, it’s inevitable that feelings and behavior in that subject area will be affected as well. If someone thinks they will not succeed, they will feel as though they have already failed, and will not take the appropriate steps to become successful. As a consequence, they will not be successful. This is called a self-fulfilling prophecy.najwa awad and Sarah sultan, yaqeen institute for islamic research
You say you are not a practicing Muslim, but you are scared of the effects of sorcery or evil eye. If you believe that it is possible to get the evil eye or be cursed, maybe trying the methods to ward them off may work? Prayer, reading Quran and putting your faith in Allah are all religious ways to protect yourself.
Apart from that, you need to look at the big picture. You are in a negative headspace, your mind is trained into thinking that only bad things are happening to you. Try to think of what good things you do have in your life. I actually think this is something you can discuss with your therapist, s/he should be able to understand these fears. Sorcery and the supernatural transcend culture and religion. When they create anxiety, there is always a lot more going on behind the scenes that they can see but you can’t.
I think you can start breaking out of the pattern by picking the things in your life you are grateful for. You must have heard this a thousand times (I have), but it really does work. Start with, “I have a roof over my head” or “I have access to food” and build up from there. In a previous post, I talk about daily gratitude lists. Write 5 things a day that you have accomplished. It can be as simple as “I got out of bed on time”. It doesn’t seem like it works, but if you keep doing it, it brings you back down a bit and helps you realise that things may not be as bad as you think.
Life is hard and it sounds like you are going through a lot. You have to remember these beliefs in witchcraft and sorcery are cultural but incorrect. Try to separate yourself from it and ignore it if it is brought up. Clearly it has had a harmful effect on your life, so you need to be wary when it comes up or if someone tries to force these beliefs on you. I believe you can overcome this fear, but it will take some time and “unlearning”.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of mysticism in our cultures and it can pervade the way we think. If you believe in Allah, you need to trust that He will make sure not to give you more than you can take and He knows what you do not. If you don’t, then you need to remember that bad times will pass eventually. We have no choice but to keep going on, so try to make it easier on yourself. Take each day as it comes, try not to dwell on the past and look forward. Be kind and love yourself, trust that you are strong enough to get through and remember you are not alone.
I hope you find peace and relief from your fears.
Until next time,