There is no such thing as magic

This is horrifying and barbarous.

Saudi authorities have executed a woman convicted of practicing magic and sorcery.

There is no such thing as magic or sorcery, so this is murder for a crime the person couldn’t possibly have committed. But then, there’s a little clarification…

The London-based al-Hayat daily, however, quoted Abdullah al-Mohsen, chief of the religious police who arrested the woman, as saying she had tricked people into thinking she could treat illnesses, charging them $800 per session.

That’s still horrifying and barbarous, but quackery at least is a real offense. It’s an offense not deserving of execution, however.


  1. says

    Saudi authorities have executed a woman convicted of practicing magic and sorcery.

    For practicing Islam?

    Oh no, for being a competitor in the magic business. And hers didn’t work, so she’s dispatched. Watch out, imams…no, forget that, your magic doesn’t have to work, that’s the beauty of a dominant religion.

    Glen Davidson

  2. Gregory says

    Islam is today where Christianity was 600 years ago, so it is no surprise that the Inquisition is starting up again.

  3. alkaloid says

    In the kind of legal system that would charge people for witchcraft and blasphemy in the first place, how do we even know that she was guilty of anything, instead of just being accused because some man had a grudge against her?

  4. Akira MacKenzie says

    Once, just once, I’d like to hear one of these savages try to defend this shit. I’d like to hear them say that they really believe that this woman was casting spells. I want them to say that they believe in magic.

    I want these barbarians to show the world, from the faitheists to the “all-cultures-are equally valid” post-mod psuedo-intellectuals, just what they believe without the media filters or the threat of being called “racist” or “cultural imperialist” by those who live to make excuses.

    Just once…

  5. Zinc Avenger says

    Is their god really so weak that this “magic” is a threat? If you supposedly have the biggest sky-daddy of them all looking out for you there should be a serious bonus to magic resistance rolls involved.

    It reminds me of the fury over witches supposedly praying over Halloween candy. Is their god so powerless a lifetime of prayer and devotion is no protection from the damnation caused by a single magic candy corn?

  6. says


    such blatantly overgeneralising statements such as yours only contribute to the rise of Islamophobia in the West.

    There are moderate Muslims you know… Saudi Arabia does not equal Islam, even if they like to claim they do…

  7. says

    …. she tricked people into thinking she could cure illnesses…. so the very clear fact is that she wasn’t practicing magic (or her cures would have worked), and the authorities were perfectly aware of that. They executed her for the kind of confidence trick their imams perform daily (but with a licence I guess).

  8. dianne says

    Quackery is a serious crime and can lead to death in the victim, but execution is a little harsh.

  9. dianne says

    @8: And it happened in Afghanistan where, we are told, the US intervention has improved women’s rights soooo much…Of course, in the US, a woman was ordered to marry her abuser not too long ago, so maybe that’s just part of the common ground Christians and Muslims are supposed to find.

  10. janine says

    Islam is today where Christianity was 600 years ago, so it is no surprise that the Inquisition is starting up again.

    So, by this logic, Scientology is at the stage where christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire.

    Religions are not an entity that has a predictable timeline. The Middle East of the modern era is not in the same position as Europe was six hundred years ago. And even my statement about islam and the Middle East is a gross over simplification.

  11. says

    You know this story will turn on a bunch of Christian websites as an example of Muslim barbarity, websites run by the kind of Christians who’d do the exact same thing if they could.

  12. Lycanthrope says


    Just because some cultures made certain mistakes doesn’t mean that other cultures get carte blanche to repeat those same mistakes, under the guise of the “natural course of history”. Shouldn’t everyone learn from each others’ mistakes, as well as our own?

  13. says

    On the contrary, Janine. Religions go through very quantifiable phases if you know what to look for. There isn’t exactly a set timeline, but under X circumstances the afflicted will always behave in Y manner as a society. In the Dark Ages, Christendom felt threatened by Islam, so it turned inward and everyone went crazy–while the Muslims felt confident enough in their momentum that they allowed a certain degree of religious and academic freedom within their borders. It’s the same thing that’s happening now in Christian America and the Islamic middle-east–they’re both terrified of each other, and of modern science and humanism in general.

  14. Hairhead says

    The ugliness of Saudi Arabia reaches very far. My son is good friends with a charming little boy, the son of a Saudi physician who has been a practicing pediatrician in a local hospital. (I live in Vancouver, BC). This little boy (10 years old) was actually born in Canada. A year and a half ago his parents took him out of the local public school because he was losing his “Saudi-ness”, and since then he has been taught at the local Islamic school.

    Now this boy is a genuinely friendly, sweet-natured child, and he and my son get along superbly and love to play together. But recently while he was with us on an outing (without his family), he began ranting about how the imams at his school say that “All Christians should be killed.” And then he asked pointedly if we (my son and I) believed in the Christian God or the “true God, Allah”. He also went on and on about how the imams have told him that the “demons of Shaitan” are all about us, and how he, (formerly a well-balanced little boy) was certain he was now seeing “devils” out of the corner of his eye, and was very much afraid.

    I maintain my contact with him because I believe my son and I are a civilizing influence; I don’t talk to his very religious mother and father about this because I am sure that they would ban us from contact with him. I know that I am causing the poor boy some conflict, as he said to me recently, “How come you treat me so well, Uncle? For you are not Muslim!”

    And now his parents are threatening to move the family “back to Saudi”, where they will have a better life.

  15. Amphiox says

    On the contrary, Janine. Religions go through very quantifiable phases if you know what to look for.

    Every religion?

    All the time?

    And what’s your unit of quantification? (May I humbly suggest kilonazis and megachrists?)

  16. says

    ” It’s an offense not deserving of execution, however.”

    I don’t know about that. Some people end up dying because they went with the ‘magic’ cure instead of medical care that would really help. In my opinion, the ‘magic’ seller (who, lets face it, usually knows they’re selling a lie) is a murderer in these cases.

  17. says

    Without getting into the merits of the death penalty as a deterrent to murder (I’m anti, by the way, but would be prepared to change my stance in response to solid evidence in controlled trials done in countries that already have it that it caused a net saving of lives), I can’t help but feel that this is different. Most murders involve the premeditated or reckless killing of a person who wasn’t expecting to die, by a person who does intend to kill them (or doesn’t care if they kill them). Quackery, while it may result in the death from their illness of a person who might have survived if they had got proper medical attention instead, is often performed by people who actually believe that their treatment is effective. Not always, of course, but I would suggest that something like a ‘diminished responsibility by way of mental impairment’ defence should apply unless it can be shown that the quack knew full well that their treatment was no use.

    Given the staggering levels of credulity required to believe that the Koran is the literal word of God, it is not too much of a stretch to presume that some people genuinely believe sorcery to be effective.

  18. elwoodius says

    She tricked people into believing she could cure them, but she couldn’t – so she has no magical powers.

    Someone must have drawn that conclusion in the court, surely?

    “Burn Her!”

  19. joed says

    police in the u s summarily execute citizens every day.
    darker skinned peoples are executed out of proportion to population. u s prisons execute innocent people often.
    the u s govt executes innocent people daily in afghan/paki/libya/somalia, etc.
    saudia arabia has nothing over the u s. both are murderous and most citizens are not concerned.

  20. cswella says

    What a waste. They should’ve built a bridge out of ‘er

    Full of win. But still a tragedy.

    saudia arabia has nothing over the u s. both are murderous and most citizens are not concerned.

    Though I am against the death penalty in general, I would disagree.

    Our legal system, though not perfect, is much better than the ones in Saudi Arabia. No judge over here would ever find witchcraft grounds for execution.

  21. Gregory Greenwood says

    This sounds like a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t scenario. This woman is accused of ‘witchcraft’, and if found ‘guilty’* then she is executed as some kind of threat to Islam, but if she is found innocent of practicing witchcraft… then she is executed for claiming to possess healing powers that are fraudulant. Of course, the possibility suggested by alkaloid @ 4 that she never did anything at all, and was simply wrongfully accused by someone with a grudge, likely never came up at all, and if her accuser was male she was sunk anyway, what with the attitude toward women demonstrated by Suadi Arabia’s state sanctioned muder mandate legal code. It almost seems like the patriarchal clowns in charge over there are looking for any excuse to publicly murder a woman, so as to keep all the other women ‘in their place’…

    Either that, or it really was simply done to placate the bloodthirsty imams on whose abracadbra turf she was alleged to be trespassing. Either way, Christopher Hitchens was right; religion really does poison everything.


    * As PZ says, exactly how one can be guily of a self-evidently impossible crime remains a mystery.

  22. says

    There are moderate Muslims you know… Saudi Arabia does not equal Islam, even if they like to claim they do…

    It’s just that all those millions or billions of moderates seem to somehow be awfully silent most of the time. To the second sentence, Wahhabi Islam is a flavor of Islam just like Catholicism is a flavor of Christianity. You do not get to excuse Islam’s barbarity by giving it the no real scotsman treatment, and treating one sect that interprets the Koran literally as “no real Muslims”.

  23. anchor says

    She was convicted and executed for practicing magic and sorcery, not for tricking people into thinking she could treat illnesses and bilking them $800 per session.

    In other words, because of religion (doesn’t matter which) their thinking is all screwed on bass-ackwards. Their legal system acted on a completely fatuous belief in the supernatural, and it would probably have been perfectly fine and dandy of her to con people if she had complied with the fatuous religious beliefs sanctioned by the state (which is in turn sanctioned by the religion). Of course, that particular religion frowns on woman doing much of ANYTHING except receiving men’s penises and bearing men’s children, so she was skating on yet another dimensional level of thin ice. Besides, it is considered healthy for “justice” to be seen as being served every once in a while, never mind if it’s a tad off target. It’s a potent reminder, and it keeps the flock in good working order.

  24. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    cswella – #29:

    You don’t seem to have read the comment that you are actually quoting. Police executing != department of corrections doing an execution. Thus joed wasn’t talking about our “legal system” but our law enforcement. LE and the legal system are separate though they obviously have a relationship.

    Joed goes on to talk about actions of our military overseas.

    So when joed says that the US is murderous and that Saudi has nothing on us, the comment isn’t saying that executions under our system of justice are the same as executions under the Saudi system of justice. The comment is saying that the US engages in unjustified murder and that Saudi Arabia engages in unjustified murder. Nothing in the comment is saying both of it do it through the same methodology. **Never** in joed’s statement is there a mention of methodology.

    The truth is that the motivations and other practices are very different, but you can’t deny that the US has killed gobs and gobs of people. joed is calling this murderous. If you want to contest that, you’ll have to address his actual point.

  25. David Marjanović says

    And what’s your unit of quantification? (May I humbly suggest kilonazis and megachrists?)

    The kilonazi is already the unit of evil (or, presumably, its multiple by 1000).

  26. markwolstenholme says

    joed @ #28:

    Please don’t use “paki” as an abbreviation for Pakistan or Pakistani. It’s used in the UK as a racial epithet and is as offensive as the N-word.

  27. birgerjohansson says

    “If anything, the Wahhabis are “the real Islam”, because they aim to actually do what’s written in their holy book.”

    Yep. Similarly, the breakaway sects of polygamous Mormons practice a form of their religion that is closer to the original than the slightly watered-down stuff that allowed the mainstream mormons to join the union.

    And the crazy cults here and there are probably mostly closer to pre-industrial christianity than the mainstream churches (although the Southern Baptists stretch the definition of “mainstream”). Opus Dei (or the crazy catholic offshoot that Mel Gibson’s father in Australia is in charge of) is probably truer to the historical version of catholicism than even the ultra-conservative old farts in the vatican.

    — — — — — — —

    BTW…if this execution could be labeled as a “crime against humanity”, the prosecutor, judge and executioner could be arrested and charged if they travel outside Saudi Arabia.

  28. says

    Sadly, the death penalty is in fact reserved for some percentage of the victims, who fail to get proper treatment for things that then kill them. But, yeah, while I don’t like the idea of executing some idiot for this, I do not comprehend why the hell no one has laws describing the intentional misleading of people with bullshit, where it effects there health, as manslaughter, conspiracy to commit murder, wrongful death, or at least *something* other than merely fraud, and that goes for the idiots selling useless homeopathic crap, anti-vaxers, and the like. After all, real people, with real diseases, get “treated” with this idiocy (or refuse to be treated, in the case of the anti-shit that actually works crowd), and die from it.

  29. says


    I wasn’t trying to excuse Wahhabism, I was just pointing out that the excesses of Islamist theocracies are often used by racists in the West to oppress minorities. Thus, your analogy to Catholicism fails.

  30. says

    this “make Muslim immigrants apologise publicly whenever something gruesome happens in the Islamic world” thing is exactly one of the tactics of oppression employed by right wing extremists.

  31. interrobang says

    It’s just that all those millions or billions of moderates seem to somehow be awfully silent most of the time.

    That’s mostly because people like you are not listening, and/or scoffing at their protestations of moderateness.

    Islam qua Islam isn’t the problem per se, inasmuch as religion generally is ever not a problem; but the Gulf States have had a pretty screwed-up culture for a long time, longer than Islam has been around. I don’t seem to recall, say, Indonesian Muslims walking around in head-to-foot obscuring garments, or executing people randomly for imaginary crimes, for example. (I’ve even seen pictures of Indonesian Muslimas in short sleeves! *gasp*)

    The problem is that the Wahhabis have been very successful in promoting themselves to the non-Muslim world as the One True Muslims and their version of Islam (which isn’t as faithful to the actual book — as far as I can tell, in that I had to read it in translation — as they’d like you to believe) as the One True Islam, whereas a lot of what westerners think of as “Islam” is largely the pre-Islamic culture with a veneer of Qu’ranical justification. Which maybe sounds like a No True Scotsman argument, except that in this case, what laying it all on “Islam” is doing is ascribing a singular objective to something like two billion people. It makes only slightly more sense to talk about Muslims’ desires as a class than it does to talk about women’s desires as a class. I personally don’t believe in collective punishment.

    Incidentally, I don’t know what Qu’ran the anti-Christian/Jewish imams are reading; in my copies (which are in translation, admittedly), I read that Christians and Jews are “people of the book,” and to be respected accordingly. I also notice a heck of a lot of Christian influence on the Qu’ran. If any religion deserves that horrible epithet “Judeo-Christian,” it’s Islam, which is a syncretism of both. (FWIW, I own a recto-verso Hebrew-English Jewish Scholars Torah, too. Why? I did a degree in literature, and it interests me. Hebrew poetics are awesome.)

  32. says


    “people of the book” isn’t such a great deal either, since you get to pay the poll tax Muslims don’t have to (in an Islamic state). (I think the term also includes Zoroastriasm), so you still end up getting discriminated.

    IIRC (and correct me if I’m wrong), other religions were considered abominations, and if their followers did not convert to Islam, they were to be killed. So “if you pay the tax, we won’t kill you if you don’t convert” doesn’t sound like respect to me from our perspective today. 1000 years ago this kind of attitude was unheard of in the Occident, I’d say..
    Though, granted, the Moghuls (and other Islamic rulers) came up with all kinds of exceptions for the Hindus, Buddhists etc.

    Also, it isn’t just the Qur’an which is important for the question of deciding whether Wahhabism is “right” or not (a matter of only small importance for me personally): you have to look at the hadith, and the various schools of Islamic law (fiqh). But given the fact that Saudi Arabia hasn’t been able to replace Al-Azhar as the place of the most prestigious place where this kind of stuff is debates (excepting the Shiites of course), tells me that they’re not really seen as the true Islam within the Arab world.

  33. says

    I don’t seem to recall, say, Indonesian Muslims walking around in head-to-foot obscuring garments, or executing people randomly for imaginary crimes, for example. (I’ve even seen pictures of Indonesian Muslimas in short sleeves! *gasp*)

    actually, this kind of clothing has been on the increase in Indonesia, thanks to globalisation, you’d be shocked if you walk around in some Jakarta malls (also the TJ Busway has separate entrances for men and women, though the compartments themselves didn’t seem to be segregated (these things keep changing, so no guarantees). There are pretty radicalised groups now, and in the era of reformasi and demokrasi, the police no longer crack down on extremist Islamist groups like they used to (except for terrorist organisations such as JI of course)…