Black magic takes sinister turn in Pakistan
Mother burns her two children to free them from evil spirits in a case that has shocked the country.
Simon Saleem (right) visits his children in Mayo Hospital in Lahore on June 22 after they were burned in a black magic ceremony. (Photo by Kamran Chaudhry)
Simon Saleem was visiting his family at a relative’s house when he noticed something unusual.
“I had brought fruit cake and juices but my two kids were not at the entrance. My wife had a strange attitude. I never saw that look in her in our six years of marriage,” Saleem, a Catholic tuk-tuk driver, told ucanews.com.
“You stay here. They are upstairs with my aunt,” wife Anita told him.
“She raced up, jumping as many stairs as possible, and I followed her to the upper floor,” he said.
The scene upstairs will continue to haunt the 32-year-old for the rest of his life.
“My 3-year-old daughter was tied to a bed with a rope around her little neck. My 2-year-old son was tied to a nearby sofa. They had cuts and wounds all over their bodies. Between them stood a red goat decorated with a shroud and flowers,” Saleem continued, his voice breaking as his eyes welled with tears.
“Her aunt was torturing them with a candle. The half-burnt clothes of my children were lying on the floor around diyas (clay oil lamps) and knives. It was like something pulled directly from a horror movie.
“I rushed towards the children trying to untie them. My wife joined her relatives in slapping me frantically and snatching the children. Holding them both in my arms, I kicked and butted the sorcerers trying to find a way out. They kept throwing bricks from above as I exited the building.”
Anita, her aunt and two other relatives were arrested that same evening on June 19. Anita told police that the children were possessed by evil spirits and that she had used black magic to try to set them free.
The children are slowly recovering in the burns unit of a government hospital in Lahore. According to doctors, they received minor injuries and are in a stable condition.
“They remain quiet most of the time and are still scared,” said Saleem, adding that his in-laws are threatening him with dire consequences.
Although black magic is forbidden in Islam, Pakistan has no specific laws or punishment for people who practice voodoo or black magic. The Prevention of Witchcraft Bill 2017, sent last year to the upper house, still awaits approval.
Anita and her relatives were charged with several offenses including wrongful confinement, acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention, exposure and abandonment of a child under 12 years by parents or caretakers, and cruelty to a child.
According to a survey carried out by Gallup Pakistan in 2015, 67 percent of Pakistanis said they do not have any item in their house to protect against ghosts or the effects of magic and envy.
However, motivational speakers claiming paranormal knowledge are often invited to schools, colleges and universities. Advertisements by spiritual healers, who specialize in warding off black magic, are common on roadsides and even on social media.
The centuries-old practice is rooted in mystic Sufi lore and has traditionally been the domain of pirs (saints) and aamils (sorcerers).
Amil Baba Boota offers solutions to marital problems, divorce, infertility and business complications on his Facebook page. “Husband or lover will follow your gestures,” claims his latest post, which features inscriptions on photos of a couple and a baby pierced by steel locks.
Other popular superstitions include writing verses of the Quran on paper and folding them into various patterns to be worn around the neck as a talisman, reciting the Quran and then blowing onto water or rosewater, which a follower then drinks, or asking followers to sacrifice a black hen or goat to ward off evils.
In 2016, the staff of national carrier Pakistan International Airlines sacrificed a black goat for sadqa (charity) near an aircraft after it was given clearance for take-off. Former president Asif Ali Zardari had a black goat slaughtered at his house almost every day on the advice of his spiritual leader. The ritual continued until he stepped down from office in 2013.
Rev. Riaz Arif at a meeting of Eternal Life Ministries of Pakistan in Lahore. (Photo courtesy of Rev. Riaz Arif)
Pakistan's First Lady Bushra Bibi was the spiritual mentor of Prime Minister Imran Khan before becoming his third wife.
Proponents of black magic claim that reciting the Quran or Bible in reverse and making sacrifices can please Satan. Another precondition of attaining mastery over spirits is to perform chilla, the 40-day retreat which involves spending time in a deserted area and reciting a particular passage from the Quran for a specific number of times each night.
Eternal Life Ministries of Pakistan claims to cast out demons from worshipers during a popular healing crusade every Wednesday in Lahore. Saleem has attended these meetings with his wife.
“Among more than 4,000 in attendance, more than 500 are either possessed by evil spirits or suffering from mental health problems,” said Rev. Riaz Arif, coordinator of the ministry.
“The practices of idol worship, black magic and sorcery are prevalent in society. People of all faiths visit shrines of Muslim saints to make religious vows. Similarly, many Muslims attend our prayer meetings. But rarely a mother becomes a witch to kill her own children. This is an extreme degree of cruelty.”
Caritas Pakistan Islamabad-Rawalpindi psychologist Iram Waris cites poverty and troubled marriages as the major reasons behind this trend.
“Such stories are mostly common in slums. Usually the depressed people develop a personal interest in learning this craft. Sadly, the children become their first victims,” she said.
Father Bonnie Mendes, former executive secretary of the Office of Human Development of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, says conservative societies like Pakistan are always plagued by occult and superstitions.
“Religious texts such as the Bible and Quran should not be associated with magic. It is time to move past the old beliefs,” he said.
“Punjab police are notorious for beating confessions out of suspects. The case of the accused mother [Anita] must be investigated fairly and transparently.”