In a bid to undo the competition, a section of Kashmir society has traditionally used Sihar. This encourages potential superstitious targets to seek protection from faith healers and thus a roaring business has emerged involving people using, misusing and abusing the metaphysical prowess to do and undo things for a cost, reports Syed Shadab Ali Gillani
When Italian explorer Marco Polo visited Kashmir in the latter half of the 13th century, he was not impressed by the beautiful women and the tradition of chaste people living in seclusion far away from society alone. “They have an astonishing acquaintance with the devilries of enchantment; insomuch that they make their idols to speak,” he wrote in his travelogue after spending some time in Keshimur. “They can also by their sorceries bring on changes of weather and produce darkness, and do a number of things so extraordinary that no one without seeing them would believe them.”
More than seven hundred years later, Kashmir may have changed a lot but sorcery and magic still rules the roost. Individuals claiming occult powers hold sway as superstition runs deep in Kashmir. Increasingly, people attribute their misfortunes to sorcery. Not all Peers, faith healers, practice malevolent sorcery; some claim to counter its effects. Yet, this belief in sorcery comes at a cost. Over the years, it has emerged as sort of an economy in itself, as good as medical science is.
Though a lot of people seek medical and “spiritual” help at the same time but there are many who abandon medical treatment for mystical solutions. Fake Peers exploit the gullible, tarnishing the reputation of those genuinely seeking to help. In Kashmir’s complex tapestry of beliefs, sorcery remains an enigmatic thread, weaving together hope, fear, and exploitation.
Had it been restricted to health alone, it may not set the tongues wagging. Now sections in the society seek help from sorcerers and black magic practitioners to undo and control people they wish to target. The emergence of this trend is tearing families apart, triggering mistrust and discord.
Surviving the Shadows of Death
While tidying her home’s pathway, Sadaf found a concealed paper near her neighbour’s residence. Her eyes widened in horror, transporting her back to 2015.
That year was marked by relentless trials for Sadaf’s family. Her daughter abandoned her studies; her son had health issues. “I was devastated. When I picked up the paper, I recognized its significance,” Sadaf recounted, trembling. “Taweez (amulet), lukh chenna joad karaan (people practice black magic).”
By the time the neighbours discovered the amulet, misfortune had descended, claiming their father’s life. Consequently, they left justice to a higher power. “Allah is the judge; they cannot return,” the youngest son remarked, tearfully. “Those wishing us ill will face consequences, In Sha Allah.”
Sadaf proposed a Niyaz (charity) to ward off evil. “I understand their plight; I have walked that path,” she said, sighing deeply. “Sometimes, empty hands are all you have left. They have lost everything.”
Sadaf lamented that black magic, known as Sihar, has become distressingly common. “People are misusing faith,” she sighed. She went on to explain that the practice of black magic goes directly against the tenets of Islam. “The Quran strictly prohibits the use of magic and sorcery to cause harm. Those who engage in such acts are committing a grave sin.”
An increasing number of black magic cases indicates a weakening of faith among followers. “When belief in God is not strong, individuals start looking for shortcuts to fulfil their desires, even through unethical means. This is a dangerous trend that must be curbed,” she said. “It destroys trust between people and communities. How can there be unity when neighbours suspect each other of using dark forces?”
Sadaf is not alone. Countless individuals seek help from sorcerers and faith healers resorting to Sihar, commonly known as Sihargar. “It has become a lucrative business for some unscrupulous people. But those who engage with them are equally complicit,” Sadaf noted.
Forbidden ‘Dark’ Love
Mahir, 23, recounted an incident that happened almost four years ago. “A girl did not notice me, leaving me heartbroken. My cousin suggested consulting a Peer to ignite affection between us. I asked if he knew someone who could help, and surprisingly, he did,” he revealed.
Eagerly anticipating a positive response, Mahir was initially disappointed, unable to meet the Sihargar. As days passed, his restlessness grew, and he insisted on visiting his residence. Eventually, his cousin relented. They visited his home only to find it “as if a set stolen from a horror movie, emitting a peculiar aura and odour”. They were respectfully received by his wife and escorted in.
Mahir vividly recalls the dimly lit room’s strange objects. “The spiritual leader asked for the girl’s details to assess compatibility, providing two amulets and verses to recite. Surprisingly, he requested no upfront payment, saying to contribute what I wished out of happiness,” he said.
Doubts gnawed at Mahir. “I felt it was wrong,” he admitted. Even a friend suggested Mahir to destroy the amulets.
While Mahir recognised his mistake, sadly, his cousin who sought similar help fell seriously ill before coming to his senses. “I regret letting my obsession for that girl cloud my judgment,” Mahir admitted. “Our desires can lead us down the wrong path if we let them consume us.”
Now, he is a changed man. “Some people think sorcery will resolve problems like attracting a person they desire. But there are always consequences, as I learned. Nothing good can come from distorting the natural course of life.” He has even distanced himself from his cousin.
Perils of Jealousy
While preparing for examinations, Asma encountered an ominous spider, inducing shock and fear. Her parents rushed over, mirroring her horror. The experience persisted until the examinations ended. Asma had nightmares of the spider and other disturbances.
“I constantly felt spiders creeping over me, struggling to study,” she shared. Tragically, during her final paper, Asma suffered a severe seizure, unable to write anything.
After examinations, Asma’s uncle took her to a faith healer. “When I met Peer Sahab, he determined someone had done black magic on me,” She remembers, insisting the revelation profoundly shocked her family. The Peer initiated a religious healing process, enabling Asma’s family to break free. However, damage remained. Asma lamented, “I have not slept alone since, and I had an academic backlog from that last paper.”
Asma’s family asserted that black magic carries profound consequences, with innocent individuals often suffering. They suspect the black magic was the work of someone jealous of Asma or harbouring enmity towards their family.
“It is devastating that people can wreck others’ lives due to personal grudges or envy,” said Asma’s father. He explained that the family preferred not to investigate further after his daughter healed. “We left justice in God’s hands; our focus was on helping Asma recover and move on.”
The family also started reciting prayers of protection against black magic. But Asma’s mother said the psychological scars remain. “My daughter’s confidence is shaken. Her examinations were ruined, and she now has this irrational fear of spiders.”
Whenever the Shah family’s youngest daughter wore her uniform, she would faint. People suspected she feigned illness. However, stranger events unfolded, with money inexplicably vanishing.
The family sought medical opinions, but doctors found no issues. Suspicion grew as these events only affected family. “Oddly, our money disappeared, yet guests’ funds remained untouched,” they said, refraining from carrying cash.
One day, crumpled banknotes were found, deepening bewilderment. Their daughter revealed family secrets she could not have known. Alarmed, they sought a faith healer’s help on friends’ advice. He told the family: “Sihr grips this family, but it’s formidable, and I am powerless.”
Determined, the family identified the perpetrator, and approached the same Sihargar, who told them point blank: “I cannot undo what I have done.” Even he could not break the curse. In despair, they sought another healer, to obtain relief. They now work to rebuild their lives.
The father disclosed that the Sehargar was an acquaintance who had seemed helpful initially but later refused to reverse the spell. “We do not know what provoked him. Maybe he felt slighted somehow or saw a chance to extract money.”
Even after the spell was removed, the family struggled to regain normalcy. Their daughter remained traumatised, often waking up screaming from nightmares. “Her childhood has been scarred. As parents, we feel angry and helpless,” the father said. Besides, he shared the family has been socially ostracised after word spread about the black magic attack. “There is stigma, as some view us as cursed. We are being punished for someone else’s crime,” he lamented.
The Shahs had to relocate to escape the stigma. “The psychological impact is lasting, but we are determined to move forward. Our faith in Allah keeps us going,” the father said.
The Peripheral Scene
Sehar is perhaps the only practice that has no rural-urban bias. People in the village visit the Sihargar’s in the city and vice versa. “If you prosper, it is the envy of the neighbour who dislikes it so he tried to undo it and uses the Sihar,” one south Kashmir resident said. He talked about armies of tiny insects emerging from his bedroom or even children falling and getting injured from heights where neither falls are possible nor are injuries imaginable. “To stay out of this harm, we have to have somebody who will take care of these issues.”
This race has effectively created a market. A harmer goes to a sorcerer to harm people and the victim also falls the suits for a different reason. Eventually, the two fight using a third person who lives on their earnings.
“My father was unwell and was admitted to the hospital where he passed away,” another resident said. “After he was laid to rest and the mourning was over, we started getting his clothes for washing and we traced an interesting slip in his pocket. It had a drawing and a few days later, a similar drawing showing an arrow passing through certain vital organs was iron-nailed on one of our trees in our apple orchard. I took it to Mufti Sahab and he said it was hugely harmful and we destroyed it as per his directions.”
The man, who in his early forties, said he does not believe that Sihar can kill because it is destiny but his own experience was seemingly different. “I hear interesting anecdotes. Recovery of dead fish carrying iron nails and paper pieces from streams and discovery of particular animal organs from pits with Taweez-type things tied to it,” he said. “Gradually, this society is getting to the dogs as people are going far away from their faith. Materialistic gains are dominating the generation now.”
Faith healing is so widespread that it has become a serious crisis to distinguish between a genuine person with spiritual capacity and a fake man abusing the evolved “institution” of faith healing. “I have been working with the spiritual persons in order to manage the stress and depression among people,” one senior psychiatrist said. “In one case, I got a patient who had been referred to me by a faith healer because he advised the family that the young lady was neither possessed nor trapped in black magic. She has genuine mental issues and when we treated her she was facing a rare disease and somehow survived.”
However, there are a lot of people who have landed in faith healing and are abusing the status they have acquired. “I went to a faith healer in city periphery with my nephew and when the man started treating him, he started using pliers and started pulling his nail,” a Srinagar resident, who does not wish to be identified, said. “I could not take it. I asked him to stop and then I took him to a good person who gave him a prescription and the boy is doing well.” This, he said, was done only after “we ruled out psychiatric and physiological issues”.
It was one such exerciser that actually led to the death of a South Kashmir lady. In August 2022, a young housewife in Kachdoora village was unwell and it was said that she had been possessed by a Djin. A faith healer was invited and he started his exorcism by harshly beating the lady. Though her parents had requested the man to not beat her with the stick, he paid no attention to their pleas. Eventually, she collapsed and was declared brought-dead in hospital. The Jammu and Kashmir Police finally arrested the fake faith healer and the unfortunate lady’s husband and brother-in-law in a murder case.
In Kashmir, some ‘faith healers’ have successfully created a cult of their own. In a Budgam village, one of them created a huge ‘hostel’ for women only. After many years some of the women inmates accused him of exploiting them and it became such a major issue that the police had to act. After many years of staying behind bars, he moved out and is back to business. Now, his videos on social media show him moving with huge crowds as women shower him with flower petals as he walks around.
The trend has given rise to a lot of misconceptions linking sorcery to certain sections of society. “These individuals exist everywhere; their actions should not be condoned,” Syed Abid Hussain, a scholar said when asked about the trend. “I don’t endorse anyone misusing the Quran or Duas maliciously. It transcends sects; religion should never be abused.”
“In every culture, sorcery existed in history. Using it to harm was prevalent in primitive cultures too. South Asia had long renown for such practices before Islam. I’ve heard Kashmir was infamous for this even before Islam,” another scholar Hakeem Raashid Maqbool said. “No Muslim sect considers it jurisprudentially appropriate. The Taweez tradition exists among Shias and Sunnis.”
Renowned Shia scholar Agha Syed Hadi Kashmiri asserted that from a Shia perspective, Sihar is a grave sin. Learning and practising is forbidden, however, studying it to find solutions may be permitted. Regarding taweez, he said, these typically contain Quranic verses or duas (prayers), not inherently wrong from an Islamic point of view, as the Quran has healing powers.
Sihar is the process of abusing supernatural and metaphysical powers to harm a target. It can lead to physical, and psychological issues and even impact routine life activities of education and business. All faiths have their own style and system of using magic, witchcraft and evil spirits and it is as old as human civilization. Science and logic lack any appreciation for this but it has always been around.
A Deoband graduate, who runs a seminary in south Kashmir, said the Sihar is so common in Kashmir that people do not wish to get into it have eventually to study and pick the skill simply to protect the people. “I am getting very interesting and intriguing cases,” the young cleric said. “Why should, for no apparent reason, insects start swarming a particular room of a particular house in a village? Why should the concrete foundation of a good house properly designed by an architect show cracks and after the Sihar is removed become normal?”
The Quran has explicitly mentioned that Bani Israel have been using black magic to create marital discord, a practice still in vogue.
Maulana Nadeem Nadvi said Sihar is condemned and Haraam. “Declining religious adherence may explain rising black magic,” he said.
Maulana Tawseef ur Rehman stated the Prophet of Islam condemned wishing and causing harm through Haraam means. He, however, said there is a psychology behind the use of sorcery. He said disenfranchised people sometimes see it as “empowering” – a way to control situations and get what they desire. “But this comes from a lack of tawakkul (trust) in Allah. We must nurture absolute reliance on Allah and avoid unethical means.” Eventually sorcerer also suffers for playing with the lives of the people. The Kashmir saying goes – Sihargaras Sihar Garas (The sorcerer’s home suffers with the Sihar).
(Barring scholars all names were changed to protect the privacy of people who talked to us)