Muslim Astrology, Jinns (Spirits), Ghosts and Superstitions

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Exorcism in the Muslim world

Many Muslims believe in the Evil Eye, sorcery, devils, “shaytans, magic charms and potions. Until fairly recently it was widely believed that astrology (the idea that stars and planets control the human world) controlled a person’s destiny. Sometimes the throats of sheep are slit and the dead animals are hung beside a house of building or vehicle to ward off misfortune and attract go luck.

Muslims scholars have said: "Black magic is mentioned in the Qur’an. But it also mentioned that it only makes things seem to happen...To practice black magic is categorically forbidden...To wear a charm to protect oneself against black magic is not allowed." Horoscopes can be read for fun but consulting a fortuneteller is forbidden. [Source: Arab News, Jeddah]

According to Sir James Frazer, the author the Golden Bough, a book on comparative religion, some Muslims celebrated the New Year well into the 20th century with children and unmarried men leaping over fires shouting, "We shake out upon thee, O bonfire, fleas and lice and sickness of heart and bones."

Up until a few years ago pharmacies in Istanbul sold snake skins, which were burned as incense to drive off evil spirits already occupying a house. Today, teachers are sometimes told not to grade their papers with a red pen because red ink symbolizes blood.

Turkish fortune tellers predict the future by turning over a finished cup of coffee and reading the dregs. The coffee cup is turned upside down in the saucer. The fortuneteller predicts health and stress levels by examining the grounds in the cup. Money matters are checked by placing the grounds in the saucer, tipping the saucer and observing how the grounds flow off the saucer. If there is a line it means you will be short of funds The way the grounds drips off indicates how much.

During the August 1999 eclipse in Egypt, Muslim clerics told Muslims to stay inside as the eclipse was sign of the power of God. "The solar eclipse is only a sign that the sun will disappear one day or another and proves that the universe is in the hands of a strong creator."

Websites and Resources: Islam IslamOnline ; Institute for Social Policy and Understanding; ; Islamic City ; BBC article ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam ; Islam at Project Gutenberg ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary frontline

Jinn (Djinns, Genies)

Jinn in the Book of Wonders

Many Muslims believe in jinns, mostly malevolent spirits that occupy dark places. Jinns are widely believed to have bodies of flame or vapor and often take the form of animals. Jinn (Arabic: al-jinn, also romanized as djinn) are supernatural creatures, equated with genies, spirits and demons, found in Arabian and Islamic mythology and theology. Many people in the Middle East believe in them. Jinn are said to be beings created by and exist in a position between angels and humans, Although invisible by nature, jinn can assume visible form. Like human beings, they are to be rewarded or punished in the afterlife. Jinns be can be either good or bad. They are often portrayed as magical beings, such as genies, as in the story of Aladdin and his lamp. [Source: John L. Esposito “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

Dr. Bilal Philips wrote in “The Jinn may first be divided into three broad categories in relation to their modes of existence. The Prophet said: “There are three types of Jinn: One type which flies in the air all the time, another type which exists as snakes and dogs, and an earthbound type which resides in one place or wanders about.” (At-Tabaree and al-Haakim) [Source: Dr. Bilal Philips,, December 13, 2010 ~]

“The Jinn may be further divided into two categories in relationship to their faith: Muslims (believers) and Kaafirs (disbelievers). God refers to the believing Jinn in Soorah al-Jinn as follows: “Say: It has been revealed to me that a group of Jinn listened and said, ‘Verily we have heard a marvelous Quran. It guides unto righteousness so we have believed in it. And, we will never make partners with our Lord. He, may our Lord’s glory be exalted, has not taken a wife nor a son. What the foolish ones among us used to say about God is a horrible lie.” (Quran 72:1-4) “And there are among us Muslims and others who are unjust. Whoever accepts Islam has sought out the right path. As for those who are unjust, they will be fuel for the Hell fire.” (Quran 72:14) ~

“The disbelievers among the Jinn are referred to by various names in both Arabic and English: Ifreet, Shaytaan, Qareen, demons, devils, spirits, ghosts, etc. They try to misguide man in various ways. Whoever listens to them and becomes a worker for them is referred to as human Shaytaan (devil). God said: “Likewise, we have made for every Prophet an enemy, Shaytaans from among mankind and the Jinn.” (Quran 6:112) ~

Jinns and People

Jinn are believed to have a mischievous nature and get a kick out of making trouble with humans and thus an effort must be made to protect oneself from them. In Islam, devils and demons are fallen angels or jinn that tempt human beings torn between the forces of good and evil. Satan (shaytan, or Iblis) is the leader of the devils. He represents evil, which is defined as disobedience to God. Satan's fall according to Muslim tradition was caused by his refusal to prostrate himself before Adam upon God's command. [Source: John L. Esposito “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

According to According to Muslim belief, each individual is given free will, including the opportunity to submit to Allah's will. The process of submitting is not easy because of the efforts of evil spirits that lead people to forget their creator and give in to evil temptations. Among these spirits, called jinn, a word that means "hidden" (and that is the source of the stereotypical "genie" in a bottle), is one in particular called Shaytan. This name is remarkably close to the Western word Satan, or the devil.

Shaytan and other evil jinn corrupt people by playing on their desires, emotions, and fears. In doing so, they persuade people to forget their fitrah, an inborn tendency to seek their creator. A person who sins is required to go through a process of repentance (atonement or shame) called tawba, which consists of feeling remorse or guilt, repenting by saying, "My Lord forgive me," making restitution (that is, compensating or paying back an injured party); and promising Allah never to sin again.

Dr. Bilal Philips wrote: “Every human has an individual Jinn accompanying him referred to as a Qareen (i.e. companion). This is a part of man’s test in this life. The Jinn encourage his lower desires and constantly try to divert him from righteousness. The Prophet referred to this relationship as follows, “Everyone of you has been assigned a companion from the Jinn.” The Sahaabah asked, “Even you, O Messenger of God?” And the Prophet replied, “Even me, except that God has helped me against him and he has submitted. Now he only tells me to do good.” [Source: Dr. Bilal Philips,, December 13, 2010]

Dreams have long been thought to convey messages of spirits, jinns and devils. Many people have traditionally sought interpretations of their dreams for insights into their soul and the spirit world. "Zar" is mental disorder found in North Africa and the Middle East characterized by shouting, laughing and head banging associated with the belief that one is possessed by a spirit.

Quran on Jinns

King Solomon and Two Demons

The Quran has devoted a whole chapter — Soorah al-Jinn (Chapter 72) — to Jinns. By relying on the literal meaning of the word Jinn which comes from the verb Janna, Yajunnu: “to cover, hide or conceal”, they claim that the word Jinn really refers to “clever foreigners”. Others have even stated that a Jinn is a human who does not have a true mind in his head but he has a fiery nature. But, the reality is that the Jinn represent another creation of God, which co-exists with man on the earth. God created the Jinn before He created mankind, and He also used a different set of elements than those used for man. God said: “And We did certainly create man out of clay from an altered black mud. And the jinn We created before from scorching fire.” (Quran 15:26) [Source: Dr. Bilal Philips,, December 13, 2010 ~]

“They were named Jinn because they are hidden from the eyes of mankind. Iblees (Satan) was in the company of the Angels who were commanded by God to prostrate to Adam. When he refused to prostrate and was asked why, he said: “He said, ‘I am better than he is. You (God) created me from fire and You created him from clay!” (Quran 38:76) Aisha reported that the Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, said, “The angels were created from light and the Jinn from smokeless fire.” (Saheeh Muslim) God also said: “And when We told the angels to prostrate to Adam, they all prostrated except Iblees. He was of the Jinn.” (Quran 18:50) Therefore it is incorrect to consider him a fallen angel or the like. ~

“Prophet Sulaymaan (Solomon) was given miraculous control over the Jinn, as a sign of his prophethood. God said: “And, we gathered for Sulaymaan his army from the Jinn, mankind and the birds.” (Quran 27:17) and they were all kept in order and ranks. But this power was not given to anyone else. No one else is allowed to control the Jinn and no one can. The Prophet said, “Verily an Ifr-eeit from among the Jinn spat on me last night trying to break my Salaah. However God let me overpower him and I wanted to tie him to one of the columns in the masjid so that you all could see him in the morning. Then, I remembered my brother Sulaymaan’s prayer: ‘Oh my Lord, forgive me and bestow on me a kingdom not allowed to anyone after me.’ (Quran 38:35)” ~

Evil Eye

Fear of the "evil eye" is a superstition found in many cultures.Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: The evil eye is essentially a kind of low-level curse inflicted on you by those who wish you ill through direct eye contact. The desire to protect oneself from it is something that ancient Greeks, Romans, Jews, Christians, and Muslims (to say nothing of other Asian, African, Caribbean, and European groups and peoples) all hold in common. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, June 30, 2018]

In modern parlance, we use the expression “evil eye” to refer to the superstition that someone can put a hex on you, but in the Bible the phrase “evil eye” can actually refer to a few different things: stinginess, jealousy, and coveting other people’s property. As scholars W. D. Davies and Dale Allison point out in their work on the subject, for ancient Jews the evil eye was the opposite of generosity. It was associated with greed and desiring the things that others have and, as such, was the literal opposite of Jesus’s commandment to care for others. According to the popular wisdom book known as Ben Sira, “an envious and evil-eyed person begrudges bread and it is lacking at his table.” Many scholars think that when Jesus warns his followers to make sure that their eyes don’t grow dim (Matt 6:22-23) that what he really means is that they should try not to be envious. And the tenth commandment, “thou shalt not covet,” is arguably a blanket prohibition against using the evil eye.

For classical authors the evil eye was a power that certain individuals—and sometimes whole tribes or groups of people—possessed to inflict harm upon others. Around the Aegean less common eye colors were often associated with the evil eye. Thus, those with green and blue eyes were often suspected of having cast the evil eye, if only unintentionally. For the Romans it was the inhabitants of Pontus (Turkey) and Scythia (a large region that stretched from Turkey to the Ukraine) who possessed this power. The Roman-era moralist and biographer Plutarch writes that those who lived on the Black Sea had the ability to enchant anyone upon whom their gaze fell, their breath touched, and even those to whom they spoke. Plutarch actually attempted to explain how the evil eye works, and combines ancient theories about optics to explain how it was that the eyes could give off a fiery beam that affects those who received it. The basic idea was that eyes were deeply affected by what they looked at, so if you looked at something disturbed you yourself could become disturbed. This same theory led an author pretending to be Aristotle to explain how it is that consumption, eye infections, and skin mites are so infectious: they come in at the eyes, apparently.

The most potent wielder of the evil eye, however, as any reader of Harry Potter knows, is the Basilisk. In antiquity the basilisk was not a large snake; it was apparently only “twelve fingers” long and sometimes had the head, legs and wings of a rooster. According to the Roman writer Pliny the Elder, anyone who looked into the eyes of a basilisk would die immediately. Trying to spear the creature, he adds, is futile: the poison from the creature could travel up the lance and kill you. A simpler solution was to throw it in a hole with a weasel. Apparently the smell of the weasel would kill it. Perhaps the simplest way to ward off the evil eye, for those for whom social graces are irrelevant, is to spit at (or pretend to spit at) “evil” three times. Practiced by both Jews and Romans, this method is almost guaranteed to ensure that those nearby flee your presence.[Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, June 30, 2018]

Evil Eye in the Islamic World

Roman-era "House of the Evil Eye" from Antioch ( Antakya, Turkey)

Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: In Islam, belief in the evil eye is based on a statement of Muhammad in which the prophet says, “The influence of an evil eye is a fact.” The potency of the evil eye and its potential to harm you by making you sick, lovesick, or just plain unlucky explains why across time and cultures there were so many devices designed to protect people from it. Apotropaic objects, as they are known (apotropaic literally means “to turn back” in Greek), have been used all over the world, but the best known today is the Turkish nazar, a handmade glass object (often a bead) that features concentric circles in dark blue, white, light blue and black. This is frequently combined with the symbol of a hand or adapted into the shape of an eye. The Qur’an compared fear of the evil eye to idoltry. According to the Qur’an (113:1,5): “Say, I seek refuge in the Lord of Daybreak...And from the evil of the envier when he envieth.” [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, June 30, 2018]

On the Muslim Turkmen, Paul Theroux wrote in The New Yorker: “Turkmen have a horror of the evil eye. Perhaps a lingering feature of the shamanism that was once part of the spiritual life of the region, this anxious reflex is apparent in every sphere of Turkmen existence. Trinkets for warding off the evil eye were on sale in many of the stalls in the bazaar—staring glass eyes, carved wooden talismans, and a sheep-horn symbol that Merdan said was effective against maledictions. Some Turkmen believed that evil could come as a withering blast from thin air, a kind of diabolical death ray. [Source: Paul Theroux, The New Yorker, May 28, 2007]

Wariness of the evil eye is found in most Mediterranean countries. A Danish scholar told AP, “The evil eye is an ancient tradition which has survived millenniums in Anatolia. It is a very strong belief which is held in a very conservative way.” The tradition endured despite objections from the Qur’an, which compared fear of the evil eye to idolatry.

Evil Eye Protection

evil eyes protection ornaments hanging from a bush in Cappedochia

Turks keep blue glass discs with eyes at their center as amulets to ward off the evil eye. These blue glass beads can be found everywhere: on rings, pendants, necklaces, bracelets, dinner plates, wall hangings, door emblems, key chains, rear view mirror ornaments and in submarine control rooms. They are sold at shops and kiosks along with things like lighters, pens and snacks. Evil eye bead stickers are found on cell phones and the handgrips of police revolvers.

Evil eye amulets are not just worn by superstitious villagers. They are also worn by doctors, engineers and scientists. A Turkish geologist told AP, her evil eye key chain absorbed evil powers and projected her from the envy of a friend who had “jealously” and praised her beauty.

The glass blue eye originated in Turkey but is also used by other Mediterranean people such as the Greeks. The blue eye is believed to be a representation a fish eye. In the eastern Mediterranean plucking out a fish eye and stamping on it is regarded as a countermeasure against the evil eye.

Most of the evil eye beads are made in the Izmir area by descendants of Arab bead makers who migrated to the region in the 18th century from Hebron, a glass making center in the West Bank of Palestine. The glass in colored blue by copper oxide and the eyes are made from white and yellow glass pasted in the center in the form of an eye. The opaque white glass is often made from melted bottles of Old Spice aftershave or Malibu liqueur. One glassmaker told Ap that his company made 60,000 evil eye beads a month. He said he is so busy trying to keep up with demand he had no time to make anything else.

On Turkmen efforts to keep the evil eye at bay, Paul Theroux wrote in The New Yorker: “The most common antidote to this bedevilment was a charm that broke the ray into pieces, a sort of prism made of colored wool, which one wore as a necklace or a bracelet, or hung over a bed or a doorway. Some of them looked like the kind of multicolored lanyards I had made at camp when I was a boy. Still, the things worked, or so I was assured by Merdan, who bought me a length of brown-and-red rope to get me through to Uzbekistan. (Bashi was as superstitious as his countrymen; he kept an evil-eye amulet over the door to his office, and always wore an evil-eye tie tack, first a blue eye and, in his last months, a diamond.) [Source: Paul Theroux, The New Yorker, May 28, 2007]

Protecting Newlyweds from the Evil Eye

George P. Monger wrote in “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons”: “ The notion of the “evil eye” suggests that there are malevolent influences that will bring bad luck, or even worse, to people, and that there are specific times when these forces can be most active and effective. Transitional times are believed to bring specific vulnerability, and a wedding is certainly a transitional time. The evil eye or evil influences range from malevolent spirits that will enter and do harm to the newly married couple to simple bad luck.[Source: “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons”: “ by George P. Monger, 2004 ^]

There are, according to tradition, three main methods of protection from the evil eye: deceiving the malevolent spirits; using protective amulets, charms, or clothing; and frightening the spirits by firing guns or making a huge noise. Veils to hide the bride and dressing the bridesmaids in a similar way to the bride are used to protect the bride from bad luck, malevolent spirits, or magicians. The Berbers of Morocco keep the marriage time secret for fear of witchcraft.

Pearls form the main element in the traditional bridal outfit of the Fassi of Morocco. The costume is known as el-jawbar, the “dress of pearls” because it is believed that the shiny surface offers a defense against the evil eye. The bride’s head and chest, vital parts of her body, are covered with pearl decorations. The extremities are considered by some to be very susceptible, and hands and feet are to be protected by decoration with henna.

Islamic Astrology

In "Astronomy and Astrology in the Medieval Islamic World", Marika Sardar wrote: “Astrology seeks to predict the influence of the heavenly bodies on events on earth, relying on understanding the movement of the planets and the ability to calculate their positions in the future. In this way, astrology was considered a branch of astronomy, and serious scientists such as Abu Macshar al-Balkhi (787–886), al-Biruni, and Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (1201–1274) all wrote astrological treatises. The number of medieval theologians, jurists, and philosophers who wrote anti-astrology tracts, however, indicates that it was controversial and not universally accepted as a scientific or ethical practice. Many believed it was against the tenets of Islam to suggest that forces other than God could determine human events. [Source:Sardar, Marika. "Astronomy and Astrology in the Medieval Islamic World", Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

orb of heaven from Iznik

“This did not stop the practice of astrology—in fact, astrologers offered their services in bazaars, where anyone could pay for horoscope readings and predictions; and they were employed at royal courts, to help rulers decide such matters as when to announce an heir or launch a military campaign, or to predict the future state of their kingdoms. Horoscopes were also devised at the foundation of capital cities, such as Baghdad, capital of the Abbasids, and al-Mahdiyya, capital of the Fatimids, to foretell their futures.\^/

“The three tools of the astrologer were the astrolabe, used to determine the time by measuring the altitude of the sun or any visible stellar object (91.1.535a–h); the ephemeris, a table that gives the positions of astronomical objects in the sky at a given time; and the dust board (takht), a tablet covered with sand on which calculations could be made and erased. Most astrologers learned their practice by studying with a master, acquiring a basic knowledge of astronomy and mathematics and the ability to use astronomical instruments.\^/

“After taking the measurements and making their calculations, the astrologist would then interpret the signs and what they meant for the patron's future. These interpretations were based on the large body of literature associated with astrology, from manuals for interpreting signs to treatises that ascribed certain personality traits to those born under each Zodiac sign. These in turn influenced the artistic iconography of each sign, and so sample excerpts from the Kitab al-Mawalid (The Book of Nativities) by Abu Macshar al-Balkhi, translated by Stefano Carboni, are included here with the objects bearing zodiacal imagery. Abu Macshar (known as Albumasar in Europe), who also worked out a complex system of chronology, was considered a master of the discipline by later Arab scientists, and his works were later translated into Latin.” \^/

Zodiac in Muslim Art

In "Astronomy and Astrology in the Medieval Islamic World", Marika Sardar wrote: “Because of the popularity of astrology in the medieval period, it became common to decorate objects with personifications of the planets and the Zodiac constellations. This reflected the belief that objects with astrological decoration had talismanic powers—that is, they were capable of influencing the occult power of the planets and stars, and thus protected the owner from sickness, bad luck, or defeat. [Source: Sardar, Marika. "Astronomy and Astrology in the Medieval Islamic World", Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

“The symbols the Arab and Iranian astronomers used to represent each Zodiac constellation were derived from the images ancient Greek astronomers had used to describe them. These were a ram (known as the sign Aries, 44.15); a bull (called Taurus, 19.68.1); twins (called Gemini, 91.1.530); a crab (called Cancer, 59.69.2a,b); a lion (called Leo, 68.215.10); a female figure (called Virgo, 44.131); scales (called Libra, 57.164); a scorpion (called Scorpio, 91.1.553); an archer (called Sagittarius, 91.1.604); a kid goat (called Capricorn, 27.13.9); a water-pourer (called Aquarius, 91.1.543); and two fish (called Pisces, 91.1.605). Objects such as these were especially popular from the late twelfth to the fourteenth century in Egypt, Syria, and Iran. Several are inscribed with the names and titles of rulers, and it is believed that on objects so closely associated with a particular ruler, representations of the sun, planets, and stars also symbolized the power of that patron (91.1.605).\^/

“In representing the Zodiac constellations, artists of this period mostly copied Greek models. The personifications of the planets, on the other hand, had few iconographic precedents, and so imagery for each evolved from the characteristics each was attributed in the Islamic astrological writings, including a color, an occupation, and a day of the week. Thus Mercury was a scribe, depicted as a young man writing on a scroll of paper; Venus was a female musician, shown playing an instrument; Saturn was a dark-skinned old man holding a pickax; Jupiter was a sage or a judge, wearing a turban; Mars was a warrior, holding a sword and a severed head; and the Sun and the Moon were human figures holding a sun disk and a crescent, respectively (57.36.4). In addition to the seven traditional planets, it was believed that there was an eighth, invisible planet, named in Arabic al-tinnin ("the dragon"), or Jawzahr. Depicted as a figure flanked by snakes with dragon heads, Jawzahr appears on objects alone and with the signs of the Zodiac (91.1.527a,b).” \^/

Ottoman-era celestial map with Signs of the Zodiac and lunar mansions

Islamic Amulets and Talismans

Amulets, charms, magical arrangements of words or figures, incantations and exorcism are all widely practiced in the Muslim world. Women have traditionally worn talismans and amulets made of glass beads and semiprecious stones. Women are thought to be more superstitious than men partly because they are excluded from the religious life centered at mosques. In some parts of the Sahara, diviners throw ritual objects pulled from a bag and make divinations based on how close the objects fall to one another. The ritual items have included dried human intestines and the body of a murdered child. Henna is believed to offer some protection against evil spirits and is used to stain parts of the body. After a baby boy has died in infancy it is not uncommon for parents to name their next child Shahhat, or "beggar," to keep the Evil eye and bad spirits away.

Beads, birds feathers, rams' horns and other objects are believed to be able to drive away evil spirits, summon good spirits and protect their owners from various troubles and misfortunes. Charms and amulets made from these things may be in the form of an eye, heart, snake head, small shells or scarab beetles. Amulets and talismans — and images associated with them — are found in carpets, embroidery and clothes as well as jewelry and lucky charms. [Source:]

The belief in talisman has been around a long time. A dime-sized, 1,000-year-old clay amulet found in Jerusalem in 2018, belonging to a man named Kareem, is inscribed with the words “Kareem trusts in Allah, Lord of the Worlds is Allah.” Yiftah Shalev of the IAA told Haaretz that “The purpose of an amulet like this is to gain personal protection.” “Since time immemorial, the purpose of amulets like these is to seek protection from the evil eye.”[Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, June 30, 2018]

Some Muslims still wear pendants with small boxes with verses from the Qur’an to bring good luck and protect them from bad luck. In "Amulets and Talismans from the Islamic World", Yasmine Al-Saleh wrote: “A talisman is any object that is imbued with protective powers, and all cultures have manifestations of such objects. In the world of Islam, they bear Qur'anic inscriptions as well as images of prophets, astrological signs, and religious narratives. Many Muslims believe that an object that is inscribed with the word God (Allah) will protect the person who reads, touches, or sees it and that the word of God has the power to ward off evil. The surface of a talismanic object can be covered with prayers, signs, numbers, and decorative motifs, and the object is carried in a pocket, or rolled and placed in an amulet case; some talismans are worn as clothing (1978.546.32; 04.3.458; 1998.199). [Source: Al-Saleh, Yasmine, Harvard University"Amulets and Talismans from the Islamic World", Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

“Talismans that contain inscriptions with the names of prophets and religious heroes have the power to protect an individual from hardship and danger by acting as a conduit between the two. The most efficacious talismans are those that are inscribed with prayers that evoke the name of God and the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. The ninety-nine names of God, verses from the Qur'an, and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (hadith), for example, are appropriated and regenerated into texts that are meant to be good omens. Talismans that contain inscriptions with the names of prophets and religious figures (1984.504.2; 2003.241) have the power to protect an individual from hardship and danger by acting as conduits between these holy figures and anyone carrying the talisman. This is also true of devotional manuals by religious leaders (shaikhs) with passages stating that whoever reads them will be protected from demons and supernatural beings (jinn) (1975.192.1). The written story about a prophet can be protective as well, with pictorial representations of that prophet and of the omens associated with him (35.64.3). \^/

amulet case

“The representations of certain prophets are more efficacious than others, with Solomon's as the most powerful of all. Solomon had the ability to talk to animals and supernatural beings (jinn), and was renowned for his wisdom; Bilqis, Queen of Sheba, was converted to monotheism by witnessing that wisdom (1979.518.1). The Qur'an states Solomon's authority in a number of verses (Qur'anic verse 27:17) (36.25.1297; 12.224.6), and his apotropaic seal, a six-pointed star or hexagram, occurs on many surfaces, such as a wood panel (33.41.1a–e), a blade (36.25.1293), and a scroll (1978.546.32).\^/

“Many other religious narratives also carry talismanic powers. The story of the miracle of the seven sleepers of Ephesus (ashab al-kahf, or "people of the cave") (35.64.3; 2003.241), which is the subject of a chapter in the Qur'an (Surat al-Kahf), has particular powers for many Muslims. The act of reciting the story of the seven Christian men and their dog Qitmir who, fleeing persecution by the emperor Decius (r. 249–51 A.D.), found a cave and slept for several hundred years, protects the reader from harm, just as the seven sleepers and their dog were protected all those years.\^/

Kinds of Islamic Amulets and Talismans

Yasmine Al-Saleh wrote: “Images of the Prophet Muhammad's cousin cAli ibn Abi Talib (1976.312; 1984.504.2) and those of Imam cAli, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, with his two martyred sons Hasan and Husayn, also carry apotropaic properties (1984.504.2; 55.121.40). cAli's miraculous sword (Dhu'l fiqar) becomes a relic and talismanic object in Islam, and is represented across various media (1976.312). [Source: Al-Saleh, Yasmine, Harvard University"Amulets and Talismans from the Islamic World", Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]


“Talismans not only shield but guide their wearers; they are objects that reflect occult practices. Amulet cases (15.95.137), mirrors (1978.348.2), boxes (91.1.538), weapons (36.25.1293; 36.25.1297), talismanic shirts (1998.199) or banners (1976.312) are capable of shielding a person or group of people from the forces of evil. When a person is confronted with an ethical dilemma, all he needs to do is consult the Qur'an or one of these objects for guidance.\^/

These imbued objects are also used as tools for scientists or as cures prescribed by physicians for various ailments (2004.244a–c). The Abbasids (r. 750–1258) played an active role in the transmission of knowledge and science from the Greco-Roman world, and Arabic translations of medical and astrological texts were integral to Islamic court and daily life. Historically, the stars and the Qur'an were consulted for almost every action and medical condition, and stars and talismanic objects became interconnected; and just as the stories of the prophets found in the Qur'an acted as talismans, the stars, too, would guide a person on his/her journey in this life and the afterlife. Eventually, elaborate horoscopes and a science of letters that broke down the ninety-nine names of God (ilm al-huruf) to their individual letters were created at court to predict whether a ruler was to have an auspicious reign (1998.199; 91.1.538). (Sometimes these letters can be found on the clasp of a casket; 91.1.538.) The objects discussed here demonstrate the ways in which science, magic, and religious belief work together to endow objects with talismanic powers and protect individuals from harm.\^/

Mystical Islam in Indonesia

In Indonesia there is a long history of religious practice associated with more mystical and often highly syncretistic beliefs. Drawing variously on Hindu-Buddhist ideas about self-control and intellectual contemplation, as well as more animistically inclined ideas about the spiritual character of nature, and often based on miraculous revelations, various kinds of hybrid Islamic beliefs flourished in Java until a presidential decree in 1965 urged consolidation under the rubric of the main scriptural religions (agama), including Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Several of the more mystical varieties of Islam continued to flourish under the Suharto regime, and some continued to struggle for autonomy and recognition by the government, eventually receiving recognition in 1973 as keper cayaan (faiths), albeit under the umbrella of one of the scriptural agama. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Indonesian image of Muhammad riding a mythological beast

Among the more prominent of these faiths was kebatinan. Only nominally Muslim, kebatinan is an amalgam of animist, Hindu-Buddhist, and Muslim, mostly Sufi, spiritual practices concerned with harmonizing the inner self with the outer material world. Spirits are believed to inhabit natural objects, human beings, artifacts, and grave sites of important wali (Muslim saints). Illness and other misfortunes are traced to such spirits, and if sacrifices or pilgrimages fail to placate angry deities, the advice of a dukun, or healer, is sought. While it connotes a turning away from the militant universalism of orthodox Islam, kebatinan moves toward a more internalized universalism. In this way, it seeks to eliminate distinctions between the universal and the local, the communal and the individual. *

There are also cults like Salamullah that is headed by a woman who claims to be the Holy Spirit and delivers messages she says are personally given to her by Gabriel, the archangel who delivered the Qur’an to Muhammad. Frida Mebius Önnerfors, who wrote a dissertation on the group for Centre for Theology and Religious Studies at Lund University in Sweden, wrote: “Salamullah, established in Jakarta at the end of the 1990s, has no ready-made ideology but is open towards impulses. The movement, led by Lia Aminuddin, is from its outset Muslim but has during the years adopted a more 'indonesian' style: Salamullah combines the religions officially accepted in Indonesia to a unique mixture. To the same extent, political and social events as well as Indonesian mythology are integrated into the teachings. Religious content is developing very dynamically and the movement has during the years been in open conflict with religious authorities and institutions.”

Ghosts and Folk Beliefs in Muslim Malaysia

Belief in hantu-hantu (spirits, demons and ghosts) remains strong despite the strong imprint of Islam on Malaysia. As is true elsewhere in Southeast Asia, people go out of their way to avoid, appease and overcome evil spirits and occasionally call on guardian spirits or dead ancestors for help.

Malaysians often seek spiritual aid from an assortment of faith healers, mediums and witch doctors to solve personal problems and work issues. Authorities periodically crack down on unauthorised sects including ones involved in exorcisms and other weird stuff. Belief in the supernatural has long been entrenched among Malaysia's main Malay, Chinese and Indian ethnic communities, though occult rituals have waned in recent decades. Beliefs in ghosts, demons and goblin is strong despite the fact that Islam forbids Muslims from having anything to do with such beings. Shamans (known in Malay as dukun or bomoh) are said to be able to make use of spirits and demons for either benign or evil purposes. Although Western writings often compare this to the familiar spirits of English witchcraft, it actually corresponds more closely with the Japanese inugami and other types of shikigami, in that the spirits are hereditary and passed down through families.


Julia Zappei of AFP wrote: “Malays were animist before Islam's 15th-century arrival, but belief in the existence of spirits separable from physical forms and black magic still persist. Claims of real-life "sightings" remain common. In January 2012, local media reported residents of a suburb of the capital Kuala Lumpur patrolling streets after two "orang minyak" were spotted. Meanwhile, reports of school classes being disrupted by suspected cases of "possessed" students are regular. In one publicised incident in 2008, when 35 students were gripped by hysteria in a school in eastern Pahang state, school authorities reportedly held special religious recitals and prayers and engaged a spiritual healer to "cleanse" the school. [Source: Julia Zappei, AFP, March 20, 2012]

One Malaysia wrote on a bulletin board for The Star: “I believe ghosts exist and they call the forest their home. I love the Supernatural Survival Tips [See Below] that you had. It’s better to be safe than sorry. I just want to add another tip: if you see anything weird in the forest or on a lonely stretch of road at night, don’t acknowledge it or point it out. It might end up following you home. A Malay custom is to take a bath (wudu) when you return home at night before playing with your children. I would also like to further clarify on the term “buang hantu”(discarding ghosts). Some modern readers may have no clue as to what this means. Some people believe in acquiring ghosts for witchcraft, to improve business or for whatever greedy/selfish/evil intentions they may have. After a while, these beings may turn on them or be passed on to their children when they die, so the act of “buang hantu” means literally getting rid of the ghost/s.[Source: The Star, April 22, 2006]

Haruspicy (searching for omens in the entrails of animals) to predict the future has been practiced in Malaya. The job of Haji Ahman Haji Abdullah, who was in his 80s in the 1990s, was preventing rain. His services are most sought for sporting events, especially golf tournaments.

Pontianak and Vampire-like Female Demons

The Pontianak is the most famous Malaysian ghost. Also known as matianak or kuntilanak, it is the ghost of a stillborn female and a type of vampire in Malay folklore. According to the legend, a Pontianak (pronounced "pone-tea-ah-nark") is either the restless spirit of a dead pregnant woman or the vengeful spirit of a woman murdered by her own lover. The former version generally does little harm except probably scaring the heebie-jeebies out of you. She would usually be found standing by the side of a road cradling her tombstone like a baby and asking for a ride to her graveyard. The later is very violent, known to go on a blood lust until she either kills her lover or the male ancestor of her lover. The classic Pontianak would have very long hair flowing down to her hips, usually covering her face, full white dress sometimes with bloodstains, long fangs and long fingernails. When she's near, you will smell a very strong flowery smell. [Sources: Wikipedia, Revathi Murugappan, the Star; See also squidoo ]


To prevent a stillborn baby from becoming a pontianak—as with its mother the lang suir—a needle is placed in each of the corpse's hands and a hen's egg under each armpit. Depicted as an ugly woman wiith sharp nails and a white dress, the pontianak can also take the form of a beautiful young woman or a night-bird. When she is close, she gives off a strong smell of frangipani. It is usually encountered by the roadside or under a tree, and attack men and drink their blood. The Indonesian kuntilanak, however, typically uses its bird form to attack virgin women. The bird, which makes a "ke-ke-ke" sound as it flies, may be sent through black magic to make a woman sick, the characteristic symptom being vaginal bleeding. A pontianak can be made into a good wife, by placing a nail into the hole at the nape of its neck (called Sundel Bolong). Modern popular culture often confuses the pontianak with its mother the lang suir. However, traditional myth is clear that the pontianak is the ghost of a dead baby and not a pregnant woman. A similar ghost called tiyanak exists in Philippine lore.

The penanggalan is a flying head with its disembodied stomach sac dangling below. Another type of female vampire, it is attracted to the blood of newborn infants and uses entrails trailing behind her head to grasp her victims There are several stories of her origins. One is that she was a woman who was sitting meditating in a large wooden vat used for making vinegar when she was so startled that her head jumped up from her body, pulling her entrails with it. Another has her as a normal woman during the day, whose head and entrails leave her body at night. If a baby is expected, branches from a type of thistle are placed around the doors or windows to protect the house, since her entrails will be caught by the thorns.

The penanggalan is known in Thai as krasue and a similar Philippine ghost called the manananggal which preys on pregnant women with an elongated proboscis-like tongue. The manananggal is spirit of an older, beautiful woman capable of severing its upper torso to fly into the night with huge bat wings to prey on unsuspecting pregnant women in their homes. The hantu kum-kum is the ghost of an old woman who sucks the blood of virgin girls to regain her youth.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons except hantu-hantu, Sriwijaya Post, Pontianak, Pinterest

Text Sources:Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: ; Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art,, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Library of Congress and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2024

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