What Muslims officially believe is widely known through diverse publications. Even German schools deal with the Islamic religion. In everyday life, we come across unofficial folk or popular Islam and the real fears Muslims carry. The peculiarities and expressions of folk Islam differ greatly. Visits to the tombs of Islamic saints are especially popular. When something good happens, an animal sacrifice is offered or some other good deed in the name of the “saint”.
Multiple Causes of Fear
When serious problems occur in daily life such as sickness, flooding, drought, crop failure, accidents and war, those affected seek help at places or from persons with special powers. Life naturally brings with it a range of other problems that can cause particular kinds of fear, like, for example, the fear of evil spirits.
Help in Animism?
The crucial issue is where the person in need is looking for help and what solutions he finds for his fear. In many cases animistic and not orthodox Islamic thinking comes to the surface. After all, God is very distant and so help can only come from someone who is or was a human. That person is often not a theologian or well educated but someone who enjoys special authority as a result of supernatural demonstrations of power. The means that are used to dispel fear show just how strongly animistic thinking is rooted in everyday life: Is the intervention of a saint sufficient, pronouncing certain oaths or is magic required?
Common Fears and Remedies
The evil eye is believed to be the cause of sickness; though directly accusing someone of being responsible is forbidden. A person with blue eyes and long blond hair may be the cause of misfortune because such a person draws the attention of evil spirits to something of value, which the spirits then want to destroy. In order to ward off the curse of the evil eye, a blue glass ball called a “nasar bondschu” (Turk. ‘Nazar boncuğu‘) is attached to vehicles, hung in shop windows or pinned to the clothing of young children. If the glass shatters then it has attracted an evil eye to itself. The beauty of small children should not be openly praised, because, again, the evil spirits would become aware and harm the child. Instead, praise is expressed by using a word containing God’s name: “Maschallah”. Various amulets or charms are worn to protect those afraid of harm. Fear of jinn (spirits) that can appear in the form of animals, persons or stones is widespread. The aim of the jinn is to encroach on the world of humans and other creatures and to entangle them in their own moods and wishes.
Talismans also render obvious magical powers ineffective and drive away diseases. Koran verses are carried around the neck in small leather pockets or sown into articles of clothing. If curses have been spoken, jinn or deceased saints are compelled by the curses to cooperate; otherwise the effects of the curse will come upon the jinn themselves. Magic and witchcraft are powerful forces in the Islamic world. Magic can be applied both to heal and to stimulate or destroy a love relationship. It can give supernatural power to parties in dispute.
“Spiritual Leaders” in Folk Islam
A large number of unofficial priests (male and female non-theologians) oversee the adherence to certain ritual practices in times of crisis. They have a remedy for every kind of fear and anxiety. Their functions vary, being subject to their respective skills:
Prayer writers: They process certain Koran verses to make charms and talismans
Witch doctors: For many years they effectively spread Islam in West Africa. They ‘helped’ people by providing herbal medicine, charms, amulets and exorcism, while promoting the Islamic faith.
Fortune tellers: They ‘find out’ the causes of sicknesses and treat them accordingly. They foretell future events coupled with instructions on what to do.
Exorcists: They play an important role in a society that sees human problems as a direct result of divine intervention.
Hoca: The Turkish religious leader in a village can at the same time be the village sorcerer.
Mullah: The Kurds turn to him for healing, exorcism and lucky charms.
Magicians: They specialize; e.g. in magic applied to love relationships. They can enhance or diminish sexual desire, or endeavor to bring a potential couple together. They also help remove an unwelcome husband in favour of another.
Midwife: In popular Islam she acts like a priest. She is asked to help in cases where the fertility level is too high or too low. In some cases she is also consulted as a healer to cure common diseases.
Fears related to Conflict Resolution
The Muslim male is seen as the defender of family honour. If a family member is insulted or injured by an outsider, the man, as head of the family, is obligated to respond. If he fails to take action, i.e. he does not uphold the honour of the family, he can easily be regarded as a coward. A conflict tends to heat up because no-one can terminate it without loss of face. The end result for all is sometimes a dreaded blood feud. The dispute can only be resolved by the mediation of a third party, without one of the two sides suffering loss of status.
Fear of Western Decadence
Some Muslims living in the Western world are afraid of us and our Western civilisation. Sex on television and the removal of taboos pertaining to all moral values are incompatible with a shame culture, in which similar things take place in secret. Women want to and are expected to enter marriage sexually pure. Their chastity is the core of their honour that distinguishes them from immoral women. Muslims rarely ask the following: In the Western world are Christians behind permissive T.V. programmes and magazines? Or are there also many ungodly individuals here who are only nominal Christians? Even when they live among us, many Muslims strictly avoid friendship with non-Muslims. You could say: the shorter their schooling often means the greater their fear. Some mullahs explicitly call them to distance themselves and to be reserved in their behaviour. They do not permit their members to celebrate any events with non-Muslims. In their view, many Muslims in West Europe can only survive if they and other Muslims form “culturally religious islands in a sea of decadent Western civilisation.” This mentality of taking matters into their own hands and isolation makes our daily dealings with them more difficult and causes them a range of problems as well.
Christians Encountering Muslim Fears
Muslims are afraid to pray to Jesus Christ, the Saviour sent by God. The strong feeling of insecurity caused by not addressing Allah himself, and the danger of committing the crime of apostasy from Islam, discourages many from taking this step. Nevertheless, in times of crisis Muslims are open for prayer in the name of Jesus. Many can testify of receiving help and the sense that Jesus answers prayer. That strengthens their confidence that one day they themselves will pray in the name of Jesus. It is important for the sake of relationships to research the relatively unknown world of folk Islam, and so be able to better understand their real fears. Fear of our Western life style can mainly be dismantled by developing personal friendships with them. In this way our faith in Jesus may become tangible and more visible to them.
Our three fold commission as Christians needs to be grasped in a new way: Preach, heal the sick, drive out evil spirits! (Matt. 10:8)
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