On Monday a husband and three members of his family were jailed for life for the murder of his pregnant wife, in an apparent attempt to rid her of an evil spirit.
Mohammed Tauseef Mumtaz told police she tried to strangle herself while "possessed" by an evil spirit known as "djinn", and that he had been "similarly possessed".
Naila Mumtaz was 21 when she died
He claimed that a person was present at the house at the time, praying "to get the spirit out of her" and described his wife's death as "like a suicide".
Djinn are supernatural, invisible spirits mentioned in the Quran and Islamic mythology.
Also prevalent in Indian, Arab and Persian storytelling, the djinn are said to manifest in animal and human form at will and are largely hostile.
Brill’s First Encyclopedia of Islam 1913 – 1936 describes the djinn as “intelligent, imperceptible, capable of appearing under different forms, and of carrying out heavy labours”, About.com points out.
Methods of summoning the djinn were explained in The Thousand And One Nights tales, with probably the most notable djinn appearing in the tale of Aladdin – in which the spirit (in this case known as a "genie" by the Western world) is imprisoned in an oil lamp.
Sometimes spelled "jinn", the legend claims God made humans from mud and clay, angels from light and djinn from smokeless fire. It is claimed the djinn live in a parallel world where they can see humans but remain invisible to us.
The djinn spirit is know as a genie in the story of Aladdin. This 19th century Victorian magic lantern slide shows Aladdin riding aloft the genie
Yet, as the Naila Mumtaz case has revealed, what some view as harmless legend and scripture often spills over into violence and even death.
Pakistan’s Express Tribune reports the arrest of a man on charges of torturing a 19-year-old to death and severely beating his twin brother in order to exorcise a djinn from their bodies.
The boys’ father, Muhammad Arif, apparently told police the boys were mentally challenged, and that neighbours recommended he contact a faith healer (or "pir") named Naveed Ahmad, who could treat such conditions.
Arif said: “He said he will treat my sons by reciting Quranic verses as they were appeared to be under the influence of a djinn.”
The boys were taken to Ahmad’s house, where they were reportedly subject to a “brutal thrashing”.
The next day one of the boys died in hospital. Ahmed, who is said to have told police he was trying to protect the boys from the djinn, is in police custody.
In April this year, an 18-year-old Egyptian girl appeared on national TV shedding tears of blood - because, she said, she had been touched by a tribe of djinn.
The girl underwent a cleansing ritual as a Muslim scholar chanted verses from the Quran, Emirates 247 reported. The girl fell unconscious, waking 20 minutes later saying she could remember nothing.
Ali points out: "Such superstitions have not just been restricted to ordinary people with poor schooling," referring to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper carrying reports that President Asif Ali Zardari has a black goat slaughtered almost every day to ward off “evil eyes” and protect him from “black magic” – although his spokesperson later insisted it was only done for the “pleasure of God.”
Ali adds: "Looking at the big picture there are indications that younger generations of Muslims living in the West are less susceptible to believe the more outrageous claims about the supernatural which their elders may hold.
"Many instead try to opt for an approach to religion they perceive to be more in harmony with science.
"However, this doesn’t mean practising Muslims will stop believing in jinns, since they are specifically mentioned in the Koran, but certainly a more enlightened interpretation will stop more people from conjuring up these invisible beings in court cases or as excuses for marital problems."
However, not all modern experiences of djinn are as disturbing.
Writing in The Guardian in 2005, William Dalrymple described witnessing a djinn appeasement ceremony in Morocco.
He wrote: "As the volume grew, some of the women began to sway with a lost look on their faces, falling into the trance-like state that Moroccans believe to signal the presence and possession of the djinns.
"It certainly looked a little alarming, but was clearly a way of easing pent-up anxieties in a way that's acceptable in a deeply conservative society. It was a sort of safety valve - something like a rave, but with better, less monotonous music.
"By the time I left, towards five in the morning, with dawn breaking over the Atlas, I had no doubt that it was one of the most exciting musical evenings I have ever participated in."
Hollywood, however, has been unable to resist the lure of a good horror story, and a supernatural thriller entitled Djinn is set to be released in summer next year.
Directed by Tobe Hooper, of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame, the film is shot in Ras Al Khaimah, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) some years in the future.
The story follows a young Emirati couple who move into a luxury high rise built on the site of an abandoned fishing village called Al Hamra.
Movie Web describes the film as "A unique new take on the haunted house tale, Djinn explores demonic possession and uncovers the dark, nightmarish truth behind classic fairytales of the Genie."
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