Magazine article New Internationalist

Beyond Nature

Magazine article New Internationalist

Beyond Nature

Article excerpt

Maria Golia observes how 'other-worldly' powers can deflect some earthly problems.

My friend and lawyer Bassim is a knowledgeable man, whose repertoire includes the salient points of Egypt's history and legislation, every joke, proverb, conspiracy theory and fait divers worth repeating, not to mention the Qur'an that he committed to memory as a boy. jovial, sanguine, short and round, Bassim's wisdom is surpassed only by his generosity in distributing it. Like many Cairenes, he believes in god and the devil, as well as the power of invisible demons, or jinn. Also like many Cairenes, Bassim is obliged to hold down three jobs to survive, working for private clients in the morning, a state-owned bank in the afternoon, and playing the drums at night at parties.

Until recently, his spare moments were spent with his wife Afet, who suffered from diabetes, in addition, as Bassim often told me, to 'nerves'. The opposite of her extravert husband, she was terribly jealous, which weakened her health and strained their marriage. Bassim married Afet while recovering from a broken engagement with a woman who had proved unfaithful. Afet was the antithesis of a Jezebel: plain, plump and devoted. She wore a headscarf and was painfully modest. Their lovemaking sessions, from what I gathered, caused her to faint away in a swoon.

Shortly after marrying, Bassim related an incident that shed light on his relationship. He took Afet on honeymoon to Sinai. Back in Cairo, he began dreaming of women, with whom he would 'make love completely' and then awaken, 'very tired in the body'. One afternoon, drowsing at his desk while a colleague read the Qur'an aloud (a common pastime amongst civil servants) Bassim felt someone violently grab his tongue, and speak in an incomprehensible language., The colleague confirmed Bassim's suspicions of being possessed, and recommended a sheikh specializing in exorcism.

In Egypt, jinn have a place in religious belief (they're discussed in the Qur'an) while colouring the popular understanding of emotional states ranging from rage to infatuation. Everyone has a personal jinn that influences them, often in negative ways, aside from the envious freelance jinn that can trespass another's territory. Either way, jinn, like weaknesses of temperament, can and should be mastered; they're here to test us, to see how we act when the chips are down.

Bassim duly went about the business of conquering his demons, and visited the sheikh. …

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