Posted on December 3, 2011 - by mira
The Arabic word for “crazy”, majnoon, has the word “jinn” as its root. In Islamic teachings, jinn are spirits that live in a parallel realm and can be good or evil. Therefore, perhaps a lost meaning of the Arabic word for insane is “with jinn”.
And it was spirits that we were seeking on the trip to Radaa, one of Yemen’s least safe places to be due to constant tribal battles.
Gunshots rang out in the distance. A wedding? It was an odd time for a wedding.
After lunch at a restaurant, where Yemeni men with wild Jimi Hendrix hair and bandanas casually kept their Kalashnikovs very close to them, it was time to go meet al-Obali, one of Yemen’s famed exorcists whose reputation had spread to other Arab countries.
He received “patients” at his Yemeni-style home, but I was not allowed to sit in on a session. So we waited in the living area with other guests. People came in and left. We were given soft drinks.
A Yemeni man who looked in his late thirties or early forties finally walked into the room. He was dressed simply, in Yemeni style. Nothing about him betrayed his profession. He was just a regular-looking man. He introduced himself. Obali.
I have to admit, I was disappointed. Blame it on my imagination, but I was hoping to see a more wizardly exorcist, with a Merlin hat, maybe, or at least a pointed beard. Mystic symbols should have been tattooed on his arm, or any kind of lucky charm around his neck. But he had none of it.
Obali talked about his background and explained that he’d taken courses in the UK on natural medicine and in psychology. He then said that 90 percent of his patients who thought they’d been possessed by jinns actually had psychological issues. Did he really believe that or was he just saying what he thought non-Yemenis wanted to hear? I didn’t want a scientific explanation; I wanted magic, sordid tales of how supernatural beings could wreak havoc in the natural world. I’d heard all kinds of stories from my students, and I wanted more of the same.
What about the rabbit that was actually a jinn who jumped out of the frying pot? And where was Um al-Sobyan, the female jinn who kidnapped children?
“Do you believe in jinn, teacher Mira?” my students often asked.
“I haven’t seen one,” I’d tell them.
They said if I could get a hold of a copy of an ancient book titled “Shams al Maaref” and read it in the dark in the light of a candle, I would certainly be visited by at least one. Would I dare?
I said I was quite satisfied with not being visited by any unearthly creatures, be they from other planets or other planes, thank you very much.
Sometimes our conversations would digress to age-old discussions on belief and sensory experiences, or the lack thereof, and philosophical skepticism.
But there was the 10 percent, Obali said, and those were cases of jinn inhabiting and taking over human bodies. He explained: People with jinn became superhumanly violent and had to be subdued by several men. They spoke in tongues. They threatened, they smashed things, they made everyone’s life miserable. To expel evil jinn from the body, Muslim exorcists recite verses from the Qoran in sessions. They ask the jinns questions like, what do you want? They order them to go back to their realm.
Obali said that he had clients in several Arab countries, including the Gulf countries, particularly among Saudi royals, and in Egypt and others. He wrote spells inside paper that would then be folded and placed in particular locations following his specific instructions.
It was time to go. We had to get back to Sanaa before dark.
I asked Obali, “Well, what about Lebanon? Don’t you have clients there?”
“All the Lebanese are majaneen,” he joked in Arabic.
All the Lebanese are possessed with jinn. Or maybe he meant, crazy.
Read more posts in the series: Yemen Journey: A personal narrative of my life in Yemen.
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