Saudi Arabia government to behead man for practicing witchcraft

Ali Sibat was convicted of sorcery in Saudi Arabia after he appeared on TV and gave psychic advice and predictions. As punishment, the government is going to behead him.

From Jennifer Clark writing for The Examiner:

201004091010 This Lebanese "sorcerer" is a 49-year old married man with five children.  His job entailed appearing on a television show and offering psychic advice and predictions.  When Sibat was arrested, the Mutawa'een (religious police) instructed Sibat to write down what he did for a living claiming he would be released after doing so.  He apparently believed them.  His written description of his job was used as evidence against him -- it became his confession to the sorcery charges.

His case in not unique. From The Telegraph:

Sibat is one of scores of people reported arrested every year in the kingdom for practicing sorcery, witchcraft, black magic and fortunetelling. The deeply religious authorities in Saudi consider these practices polytheism.
I have a psychic prediction of my own: We'll see comments that say "If he was a real psychic, he'd have seen this coming."

(Via Derren Brown)


  1. The deeply religious authorities in Saudi consider these practices polytheism.

    Does this mean that anyone confessing to be a Hindu could be executed? Or does the law only apply to those who claim to be Muslim?

  2. Does this mean anyone who confesses to believing in Hinduism is in danger of execution, or does the law only apply to Muslims?

  3. yikes. we (usa official policy) expressed concern over human rights abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, while shit like this goes on within the borders of our regional, Arabic ally.

    Brings to mind Chomsky’s discussion of worthy vs unworthy victims in “Manufacturing Consent.”

    1. So, of course, if we don’t comment on or intervene in 100% of the cases then we shouldn’t do anything. Just like if we can’t immediately end World Hunger then we shouldn’t, for the sake of consistency, feed any particular starving orphan anywhere.

      Did Chomsky discuss his dismissal of the victims of the Cambodian genocide because of their inconvenience to his clique?

      All of the -isms, particularly the twin monsters of the Right and Left, pick and choose as to whose suffering counts. On the Left the criterion is whether or not Jews or Yanks are immediately involved. If not then whatever happens is A-OK. If it’s a particularly large chain of rape-camps (say Mugabee’s) or a really big genocide (like the Soviet genocide in Afghanistan) then the CIA can be blamed using tortuous chains of logic that make the Saudi inquisitors seem like Mr. Spock.

      On the Right anything that might cause commodity prices to rise or interferes with the Very Important Gambling that goes on in the various
      financial exchanges is bad. So anyone who diverts any profits to health or education or nationalises anything is evil. Otherwise who cares? If it is thought necessary to explain why such activities are so popular (eg. Cuba, Nicaragua) then take a leaf from the Iranian government and blame it on outside agitators.

  4. Disregarding polytheism being a poor choice of conclusion to persecute, perhaps similar arbitrary discrimination and proceedings against charlatans and profiteering self-proclaimed psychics could benefit more “first world” societies.

    Science is another religion, except we have large hardon colliders and peer reviewed journals.

    1. I rather disagree with your statement that science is a religion. That’s a pretty large, general, all-encompassing statement. Certainly, you could probably label some politicized portions of science a near-religion. And I could agree that many atheists show striking signs of being very religious, albeit about a religion claiming there is no god (though atheism has nothing to do with science, I see “science” being thrown around as proof of the correctness of atheism all the time).

      But labeling the whole of science as a religion is preposterous. Science is about knowing, or at least being confident of the factuality of something to a very high degree of certainty. Religion is about believing in something that more than likely cannot be measured or known by science.

  5. To paraphrase Al Capone: You keep more followers with a crazy woo and a scimitar, than with crazy woo alone.

  6. The actual punishment aside, which is repellent and revolting, I’m struck by the fact that I’d like to see “psychics” punished as charlatans and con-artists whereas the Saudis want him punished as they think he’s the real thing.

    Its not a profession that wins friends in the skeptical or religious communities.

  7. “His written description of his job was used as evidence against him — it became his confession to the sorcery charges.”

    He could have written anything. Versus from the Qur’an? The demon behind his sorcery would be allowing him to write them. That he isn’t a sorcerer? He’s trying to cover up his crimes with lies. That the law doesn’t make sense? Additional crime of speaking against the government. And if he refuses to write anything we “let him think about he did” [read: torture him] until he does confess. The laws are just still somewhere in the late 1600s.

    Still, the only way to be sure is to build a bridge out of him.

    1. Wouldn’t work. George Burroughs was about to hang when he recited the Lord’s Prayer. A natural thing to do, since he was an ex-minister (the religious kind). Except this was the Salem witch trials, and it was thought that witches were not able to do that. The crowd was stunned. But they hung him anyway.

  8. This isn’t about witchcraft. It’s Saudi Arabia throwing its weight around in the region. Consider it a warning to Lebanon. Remember those Australians getting life in prison in China? Similar reasoning, a bit less justified though

    1. Because the “Saudi regime” is actually an line of kings going back over one hundred years. You know, they do things differently, but they offer stability in the middle-east. I know that from an American/Western/Democratic viewpoint thats a bad trade off, but there is something to be said for not worrying about being blown up.

      Personally I would think that eternal torment in Hell for making deals with Satan would be enough of a punishment for witchcraft, but such is life.

      1. You know, they do things differently, but they offer stability in the middle-east. I know that from an American/Western/Democratic viewpoint thats a bad trade off, but there is something to be said for not worrying about being blown up.

        Erm, yeah 9/11

        Terrorist breakdown:

        Iraqis = 0
        Saudis = 15

        Lovin’ that stability!

  9. The offense is for *practicing* witchcraft.. i.e. you don’t have to be either good or successful at it, or even a legitimate witch. Just trying to be one is bad enough, apparently.

  10. Of course at the bottom of the page is the link stating the Saudis gave him a stay of execution.

  11. f h ws rl pschc, h’d hv sn ths cmng.

    I figured I’d save someone the trouble and disemvowell it myself.

  12. Oh he is an idiot. Unless he just moved there from someplace else he should know better, and even if he did, when moving to a place like that, maybe do your homework…

    To invoke Godwin’s Law, its like moving to, or living in 1940’s Germany and starting up your Jewish Hat and Gypsy Scarf Store, and staring in your own commercial, and then when the Police show up, be honest about what you tell them.

    Then act undignified at the response you get…

    Or and All-American Pope Hat Emporium in Iran… (I don’t know what is with me and hats today)…
    These are not what you would call tolerant people.

    As much as I am making fun of this poor individual, it really is sad and silly all at the same time, and with a wife and kids its pretty horrible.

    Of course on the other hand, I don’t really believe in “psychic advice and predictions” and think they are all scam and con artists, but be-heading is a bit harsh. Of course I don’t really believe in any religion either and think of most are on about the same level, so there you go.

  13. The article says witchcraft is illegal in Lebanon, but it’s just a minor offense (apparently not enforced, if he does it on TV.) I take it he didn’t try to “practice witchcraft” at all while in Saudi Arabia, but they busted him anyway.

    Apparently the last conviction for “witchcraft” in England was in 1944.

  14. Criminal Code of Canada (s. 365):
    “Pretending to practise witchcraft, etc.

    365. Every one who fraudulently
    (a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,
    (b) undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or
    (c) pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found,
    is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.”

  15. I was confused at first, but his show was broadcast in Lebanon and he was visiting Saudi Arabia when he was arrested. Why was he there? He was going to Mecca.

    Maybe he just underestimated his own fame?

  16. Thank god my government doesn’t support such a barbaric crew of degenerate monarchs with unwavering support and military aid…….wait…what’s that you say? Aw maaaan…………..

  17. He could have just said he was an Entertainer. He needed one of those disclaimers…

    “This blah blah blah is FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY.”


  18. i’m predicting that someone will make a stage play of it… or something like it and that eventually, in 150 years or so, given my own law: we aren’t extinct for whatever reason, and that after the Muslim world has gotten over itself, bored school children will be yawning at each other complaining about why they didn’t get a vacation to America or Europe like their friends and having to relive the wretched old days when naive magicians were beheaded by the evil autocrats.
    I never did like the Crucible, seemed too melodramatic.

  19. Witchcraft exists in Islam.

    The concept of sorcery or witchcraft exists in Islam. In the Qur’an verse 102 of Chapter Al-Baqara states:

    And they followed what the Shaitans chanted of sorcery in the reign of Sulaiman, and Sulaiman was not an unbeliever, but the Shaitans disbelieved, they taught men sorcery and that was sent down to the two angels at Babel, Harut and Marut, yet these two taught no man until they had said, “Surely we are only a trial, therefore do not be a disbeliever.” Even then men learned from these two, magic by which they might cause a separation between a man and his wife; and they cannot hurt with it any one except with Allah’s permission, and they learned what harmed them and did not profit them, and certainly they know that he who bought it should have no share of good in the hereafter and evil was the price for which they sold their souls, had they but known this.

  20. Hopefully they’ll deport him instead of actually going through with it? I can’t actually understand a culture that would condemn someone to be executed for thinking the wrong thoughts.

        1. Invictus,

          Online petitions are useless because the signatures cannot be verified, therefore the powers that be ignore them.

          Since the signors of said petitions think they have done something useful, they neglect to do anything truly useful, such as writing a hard copy letter to their elected representatives. This makes online petitions less than useless.

  21. I don’t know the man or the cause ..

    but this is certainly less confusing than killing two dozens
    of people (including children) in video-game-like-war in Iraq ..

  22. I don’t know the man or the cause ..

    but this is certainly less confusing than killing two dozens of people (including children) in video-game-like-war in Iraq ..

  23. For what it’s worth, many things that today get pegged as ‘magic’ and ‘sorcery’ would have been perfectly acceptable across the Islamic world even a hundred years ago. The writing of dream manuals, for instance, as a way of predicting the future through dream interpretation, was not just accepted, but a common practice upon quite orthodox, mainstream Sunni ‘ulama (religious scholars and leaders). The production of magical talismans and charms was likewise a quite respectable practice. Even the fourteenth century hardliner ibn Kathir, a disciple of ibn Taymiyya, the progenitor of today Saudi regime, proscribes, in his great commentary on the Qur’an, a charm made from pages of the Qur’an soaked in holy water which can then be drunk to cure stomach-aches!

    The sweeping suspicion of ‘magical’ practices is much more of an import from the West. However, the pre-existing beliefs in magical practices remain alongside the Western, rationalist dismissal and hostility towards magical practice. The result is a hardline approach towards these sorts of things that would have seemed shocking even to conservative medieval (or even early modern) Muslims.

  24. Hindu’s are not allowed in Saudi, they only let in issue christians and muslims with a work visa. No jews, either. I read a great book that sheds light into the secretive country. It is called “Paramedic to the Prince” Written by an American Paramedic who spent ten years working in Saudi Arabia, he was even on the medical staff off King Abdullah. A great read. Opened my eyes to a country that plays a vital role on the world stage. check it out on

  25. Lebanon should drop a bomb on Saudia Arabia when the Saudi’s execute him (the stay of execution is just a delay — “if they don’t kill him this Friday maybe next Friday,” Ms Khansa told World Today”).

    You can’t let this sort of barbarism go unchecked. A nation needs to protect its people. If Lebanon cannot send in a rescue team, then retaliation after-the-fact is all they can do.

  26. I had a joke about the Russian kid who was sent back in the USSR, but I’m out of words for that one really. Nevermind the peanuts.

  27. I take it SA doesn’t have weathermen or economists.
    oblig.: “If he was a real psychic, he’d have seen this coming.”

  28. Please people, do you even google before you write..
    , try knowing whats a “sorcerer” is in Islam before joking around..
    regardless of whats the man cause ..
    but do you really know what sorcerers do in such a country

    It includes: fraud, rape, stealing .. blah blah blah ..

    ENTERTAINMENT is a far a way subject over here ..

    one thing. Google “Islam” then google “sorcerers” ..
    it is really easy

    1. I don’t think people were calling him an entertainer because of the word “sorcery” but because of the word “television.” And even in Lebanon, I don’t think he would be allowed to rape anyone on television.

  29. to noonon:

    So I followed your condescending advice to do a google search for “Islam” and “Sorcerer.” Sorcery seems to be an accepted part of Islam, as long as the practitioner is breaking spells instead of casting them. Thanks for encouraging the research, to make all of this seem so much more rational.

    Do you know what sorcerers/priests/clerics/ministers do in *any* country? “It includes: fraud, rape, stealing .. blah blah blah ..”

    1. to Robtuse:
      When you say the word “SEEMS” it means that you googled wrong.. try searching for facts..
      And to give a fact, Sorcery is not accepted in Islam (either breaking or casting.)
      Also I never said it’s rational.. this is an angry commenting thing from you called pre-assumptions ..
      lastly, priests/clerics/ministers/mutawa’een or whatever, their job description NEVER BEEN: fraud, rape, stealing .. blah blah blah..

  30. I want to know why there matwah police have the right to make these decisions? What law are they running since I never came across any of this in the Quran since Islam is based on the Quran also is it not Allah that has the right to judge this man? Who has that right to take a man’s life like that it is murder what they are doing. Murdering there muslim brother.

  31. What a fitting ally for the country with the 4th worst child mortality in the civilized world. You know, the one where 2/3 of its people don’t “believe” in evolution?

    1. As far as i know that “most” of the “civilized” and the uncivilized world don’t “believe” in evolution..

  32. “Oh he is an idiot. Unless he just moved there from someplace else he should know better, ”

    He was visiting Mecca for the Hajj, like any good Muslim.

  33. to noonon:

    I did research, and the fact is that there are many references in Islam to prophets who remove curses even though it is supposed to be a sin to believe in spells. Reading the Qu’ran is even recommended as a way to dispel magic. Basically, the sorcery that involves direct contact with demons is bad, but it’s okay to deliberately counteract magic… as long as you don’t believe in it.

    This existence of this logical inconsistency is a fact.

  34. Basically, the sorcery that involves direct contact with demons is bad, but it’s okay to deliberately counteract magic… as long as you don’t believe in it.

    Under JPII, the Vatican approved the Harry Potter series because it featured incantational, rather than invocational, magic. Since the current Pope was Prefect of that organization which used to be known as the Inquisition, that bit of liberalism is gone.

  35. “This existence of this logical inconsistency is a fact.”

    I always treat statements like this with extreme distrust. If the statement actually applied there would be no need to make it. The fact that its author feels compelled to spell it out implies that it is their own personal interpretation which they are attempting to force-feed the rest of us.

  36. to Terry:

    I agree that, in general, “it’s a fact” is a weak argument that should go without saying. My use of the expression was in response to noonon in #48.

    My main point was that religious leaders should not use self-contradictory texts to create an absolute framework for a harsh judgment of charlatanism. This is especially true in light of the moral relativism displayed by most religious leaders who appear in the press.

  37. to Robtuse:
    OK, did you complete reading those references that indicates clearly that removing curses and spells was by the help of God not the prophets/messengers themselves?

    Dispelling (or removing) magic in Islam is a form of healing, not an act of sorcery. Using sorcery, as I said before, is wrong both ways in Islam (breaking or casting). And of course you need to believe in something you are removing. And YES “reading the Qu’ran is even recommended as a way to dispel magic”.

    Moreover, Saudi Arabia has a king, not a “religious leader”.. it’s like the difference between the pope and the British Queen.

    There are a billion living Muslims right now, from nuclear scientists, doctors, to BoingBoing readers, and you somehow managed to find that the Qu’ran is a self-contradictory text by not even knowing Arabic!!!

    Please try looking at both sides of the scale, be fair to your self first..

    ”The existence of this logical inconsistency is a fact” only: FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT UNDERSTANDS THEM.

  38. Okay. Let’s see if I can get this through to you people:

    The Qu’ran, like the Bible, CANNOT be self-contradictory. This is because it is – directly – the words of an infallible being. It is simply not possible for it to contradict itself. If, with our fallible human brains, we think we find contradiction between its covers, we are necessarily mistaken. The explanation for the appearance of contradiction must be our own failure to understand it.

    This is the nature of faith. Either you believe in a religious text or you don’t. However, you do not – CANNOT – disprove one. This is simply because they are not subject to the rules within which proving and disproving take place. Claiming a religious text is somehow faulty because it fails to play by the rules imposed by ‘science’ or ‘logic’ is a conceit bordering on sophistry.

    This goes both ways. You cannot use religion to debunk science. In an opposite but similar fashion, any such attempt will be as vain and fruitless as an attempt to use science to debunk religion. And for pretty much the same reason – it plays by a different set of rules.

    Science deals in theory. Religion deals in truth. It is foolish to attempt to use either one as a tool to disprove the other. They pretty much just bounce off of each other.

    1. This is the nature of faith. Either you believe in a religious text or you don’t.

      But you can CLAIM to believe a religious text while cherry-picking which parts to follow and which ones to ignore. I’ve yet to meet a Christian who believes it’s OK to sell your daughter into slavery or a Jew who would kill another person for eating shrimp.

      1. I wrote (and you quoted) ‘believe in a religious text’. You, in turn, wrote ‘believe a religious text’. There’s a difference, and it’s an important one. This, coupled with your need to point to seriously out-dated behaviors cited in the Bible (at least the slavery one – the killing over shrimp is news to me, but it’s been a while since I read the Bible) leads me to think you’re still just not getting it.

        If you have issues with western religions, that’s your business. Please don’t try to validate them by quoting choice tidbits of scripture. The ancient world was full of atrocities that had nothing to do with religion.

        1. I don’t have problems with religion. I have problems with people who defend their positions by hiding behind choice passages of their sacred scripture while ignoring the parts that they don’t agree with. (For example: anyone who cites Leviticus to condemn homosexuality but has no problem with eating shellfish.)

    2. Terry, @60:

      I bid you good evening (for it is evening in the part of the world in which I am currently, sitting, writing you this missive).

      I find that, regrettably, I am forced to disagree with you on several points of your proffered argument. I hope this does not cause you any undue distress, and indeed none is intended.

      Nevertheless, I do disagree, and I find that — in the interests of full disclosure, honesty, and accuracy — I must delineate the particulars of that disagreement.

      You assert that both the Qu’ran and the Bible are the works — and words — of an infallible being. I take issue with this proclamation; but first, I find I must move onward to another point: Namely, your formulation of what is the essence, or nature, of Faith.

      You assert that the nature of Faith is to accept, in spite of the seeming evidence contradicting a given supposition, that the supposition (In your case, I take it to be that an infallible being — no doubt the deity of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions) is nevertheless true.

      I would offer a different — but not wholly different and not incompatible — definition of Faith: That Faith is knowledge that is held independently of evidence — including evidence for that knowledge or evidence against that knowledge.

      It may be observed, by some, that there is no difference in the two positions – I would respectfully disagree.

      That being said, I may now turn back to your first assertion — that the works of the Qu’ran and of the Bible are, as an article of faith, the words of an infallible being. You state yourself that they are not subject to the rules within which proving and disproving take place.

      In truth, were it an article of Faith – which is to say, knowledge known independent of evidence – whither would one speak in defense of it (I do apologise for the archaic terminology but poesy has always been a weakness of mine) – ? Thy Faith, having come to thee without the works – independent of the evidence, as it were – what works would transmit the Faith? There are none.

      That being established, I must now regrettably inform you that your stated position about Science is, in some ways, inaccurate. Science is entirely about Works — and completely devoid of Faith, both in the manner you originally used the word and in the manner I have now (hopefully) persuaded you to view such wonderful term.

      In this manner, we see that Science and Faith are mutually exclusive of their methodology.

      It does pain me to also inform you, however, that despite such independence of methodology, that it is plain that Faith may not be communicated between Men, and it may not be collectively wielded by a society towards the betterment of those involved; Having no way to communicate the authenticity of one’s Faith, it stands then that one has no way to judge the veracity of any other man’s Faith, and any attempt to do so must needs be met with utter frustration and — if attempted — doth signify to others that one’s own Faith is to be adjudged by them.

      Thus it becomes clear that Faith is an article that must needs be for the betterment and benefit of the man who has it, in a sense a gift entirely unto the one who possesses it – and only through Works might the benefits of Faith be shared with the world.

      There are some who hold, in Faith, certain articles. The one of the many varied I wish to elaborate upon is the article that Humans are Inherently Good Beings who Deserve Life, Liberty, and Prosperity. Science, being entirely about Works, cannot transmit this Article of Faith to others. However, it can perform the Works that would be brought about by the article.

      There are some religions that may have — at some point in time — been borne upon articles of Faith. There are some religions that are no longer borne upon articles of Faith. There are many religions that are borne upon the notion that there are many conditions to fulfill and that without those conditions, the Faith will disappear. They try to spread the Faith.

      Religions — when they deal with Works — set themselves into the realm where they are dependent upon evidence — thus, Science can (and often does) disprove those tenets involved (for the method of Science is the method of disproof).

      I am not a deity. I am not even a man – I am a written letter, written by a man, a man who has both Faith and who does Works. By my very presented argument, I cannot hope to sway your Faith – and would not ask that of you.

      I hope merely to sway your Works – such as the arguments you present to persuade the Works of others.

      In conclusion, I ask merely that you do not argue Faith – for to do so is a fallacy, as Faith — the Faith held by any man, regardless of what it is that he has Faith in — is inaccessible to argument.

      I do ask, however, that you observe the truth and the accuracy of my words regarding Works, and specifically the nature of the Works of Science, and I abjure and adhort you to learn the accuracy of what Science is, and what Science is not, that you may more ably persuade your own audiences with your own Works.

      And now, with all due regards and good wishes, I do bid you

      Good Evening


      Fair Travels –

      Your most humble and grateful servant,

      The Ovate Finn.

      1. Hey, thanks for sharing. I regret to inform you that you aren’t getting this, either.

        You, like so many others around here, seem to believe that YOUR opinions equate to ‘fact’ or ‘truth’. What you’re missing is that this state of affairs only occupies as much space as you do. In other words, your ‘facts’ and ‘truths’ have no tangible existence outside of your head.

        And what this means is that everyone else has their own ‘facts’ and ‘truths’ that are only tangible in their heads.

        The point here – and it’s an important point, so pay attention – is that their ‘facts’ and ‘truths’ (even the ones that directly contradict yours) are absolutely, 100% valid. Your beliefs are not more valid and/or important than anyone else’s simply because they are yours.

        And frankly, your personal beliefs sound like gibberish to me. Does this invalidate them? Personally, I don’t think so.

        1. Terry @67:

          Once more I bid you greetings! I do regret the amount of time it has taken to respond to your rejoinder.

          “The point here … is that their ‘facts’ and ‘truths’ … are absolutely, 100% valid.”

          “absolutely valid” – The facts and truths of many people, I daresay, are in some part as does follow:

          That I and my family ought to be slowly and painfully killed. This, then, is an assertion you lend credence to.

          That everyone who has a dark hair or dark skin ought to be slowly, and painfully, killed. This, then, is an assertion you lend credence to.

          That the world, here as we experience it, did not begin at some point in the distant past whereupon the available evidence does indicate, but nay! verily, they claim that the world hath begun last Tuesday, in a pub down Brighton High Street. This, then, is an assertion you lend credence to.

          That foot fungus may best be cured through the unspeakable relationship between a man and a sheep. This, then, is an assertion you lend credence to.

          Your statement lends credence to any number of plainly laughable and ludicrous, even dangerous notions that – if accepted as “absolutely valid” – your words! – would lead to the breakdown of civilisation and much evil.

          The guidant principle I believe you may be searching for in your absolutism is possibly thus: “Just because you can’t imagine it to be true doesn’t make it false.”

          This does two important things: First and foremost, it forces he who follows it to be humble, and to undertake a burden of proof for that which he wishes to bring to the world. Secondly, it allows for the proof or disproof of such a notion.

          “Your beliefs are not more valid and/or important than anyone else’s simply because they are yours.”

          My beliefs are of no importance. Indeed, what I was endeavouring to hold forth and elucidate upon is the maxim that no-one’s beliefs are of any importance, save how those beliefs – their Faith, if you will – may be Worked.

          And many Hands make light Work.

          I do not think that many will consider your assertion, once examined, to be a useful one.

          Good Morning,


  39. I’ve yet to meet…a Jew who would kill another person for eating shrimp.

    Maybe for eating all the shrimp at the buffet.

  40. “For example: anyone who cites Leviticus to condemn homosexuality but has no problem with eating shellfish.”

    Wow. I thought all those stories of Texan gay-bashing clam-bakes were just rumors. Imagine my surprise.

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