After the huge destruction in private and governmental media and educational institutes in Arabic speaking countries, we are currently witnessing new phenomenon: religious superstition satellite channels.
Satellite channels which promote deceitfulness, fraud, magic and pseudoscience are not a new phenomenon; they started to spread after 2005. Iraqis for example didn’t know Abu Ali Alshaibani1 until he appeared on Diyar satellite channel, hosted by Sami Qaftan – a famous and respected Iraqi actor – in a TV show which specializes in deceitfulness. He claims having adventures with CIA and MOSSAD , and possessing abilities that allow him to manipulate the international events. In his live shows, he claims to know the secrets of the caller who seems to be honored to speak to him.
Dubai satellite channel which is more important and famous than the Iraqi channel, Diyar, has also showed what is meant to be a debate in 2013 between “spiritual healer”, Izzat Ibrahim, and another cleric who is against exorcism. However, the show “Nashwa show” was enough for Izzat to show his abilities of exorcism, especially that the debate was centred around religious texts, not scientific skepticism which is never hosted by Arabic media.
Not only Dubai channel hosted this “healer”, other channels like “Shabab”, “ONTV” have also gave him the chance to teach us about the worlds of demons and their secret effects on our world, which requires special skills from someone like him to be revealed.
The term “spiritual healer” has publicity today, thanks to Arabic TVs. TV influence on people has been proved before by studies about persons’ opinions toward science and superstition by viewing two different types of TV messages.2
An interesting study in West Lafayette, Indiana in 1994 was done to test the effect of UFO beliefs by two types of media messages: one-sided messages which show only the supporting opinions and two sided messages which show the skeptical opinion as well. Taking in consideration the number of documentaries that are promoting paranormal powers and pseudoscience like “X-Files”, “unsolved mysteries” or “behind reality”, as well as the contributions of Hollywood like “Ghost” movie (1990) and other similar movies. The study involved showing subjects a movie about UFOs by using the same two types of messages: one sided and two sided messages. The results were very interesting; the subjects got significant increase in believing UFO conspiracies after watching the one sided messages and the average change in their opinions has changed to totally agree with the pseudo-scientific content after watching one sided messages while they had significant decrease in believing UFO conspiracies and the average change was under disagree levels when they watched two sided messages.
Another study that shows the effects of media on children’s opinions of scientists was held in the United States in 1994 by two researchers from University of Oklahoma. Children who watched cartoons more often had less respectful opinions about scientists, while those who watched less cartoon had a more respectful opinions about the scientists.3
By considering the previous studies we may think of how far the effects of watching these Arabic TV shows could go despite proofing its false success in exorcism; when the actors fall to the floor while making strange sounds, it makes the naïve watchers think that it’s empirical enough to be accepted. How far would exorcism, reading amulets, spiritual healing, talisman, traditional herbal medicine, dream interpretations and others go?
We saw how the children’s opinions about scientists differ because of watching cartoons, then how will all these TV programs and channels affect its audience’ outlook to the world?
Iraqi channels which specializes in this nonsense are: Diyar channel (قناة الديار) which has other types of programs despite its deceitful show that is the most popular one in the channel; Ahalna channel (قناة أهلنه) presents religious superstition like exorcism and Ruqya along with other religious materials and it can be considered as a religious channel; Dama’a channel which is owned by the famous swindler Shiekh Ahmad Al-Waili, who started with Diyar but decided to run his own channel as his income was growing rapidly.
When you watch Najah (means success) channel showing a female presenter without headscarf (which gives an impression about a secular, not religious channel) discussing spiritual healer called Sayed Atya, you may think that hosting those healers have started to be some type of income source in countries like Egypt. Egypt has an illiteracy percentage reaching 29.7% according to government officials in 20164 while illiteracy in Iraq reaches 18% according to the ministry of planning in 2015.5
Anwar (means illuminations) satellite channel is an Iraqi Shiite religious channel; occasionally it presents discussions hosting spiritual healers like Abu Ridha Al-Ramahi. Hayat (means life) satellite channel from Egypt is not a religious channel; however, it promoted someone called “Al-Sheikh Al-Yamani” , meaning “The sheikh from Yemen”, while he displays his skills of exorcism.
For those who wonder how these exorcism rituals happen, owners of channels or those who financially bribe satellite channels can hire actors easily to show some strange moves and sounds, pretending that some demon has entered into their body. Those actors are not ashamed of appearing in this way before their families because it’s socially accepted and those spiritual healers have even started to intervene in medical issues as well.
Tony Khalifa – Christian secular presenter – has also hosted a guest who claims to stop magic effects, exorcism and evil eye. Tony was giving the healer a sarcastic smile but at the end of the day he also supported him indirectly by giving him the time to speak in a satellite channel and receive many supportive phone calls.
The other related phenomenon in Arabic satellite channels is when swindlers speak to debunk other swindlers. Sayed Atia from Egypt gives us a lecture about wizards and quackery whilst a famous cold war erupted when Abu Ali Al-Shaibani threatened and criticized Ahmed Al-Waili in Iraq, which many Iraqis had witnessed on Facebook.
Ruqya is a chanting of religious texts like Quran, Hadith or some prayers and for some Shiite and Sunnis, there are even talismans and special charms to protect people. The main use of Ruqya is to heal and protect against the evil eye, diseases or demons’ effects. Ruqya is done by the cleric (Sheikh) when he puts his hand on your head and starts chanting for a while and then you should feel better due to the placebo effect.
Ruqya has its channels and famous celebrities who usually do other magical actions but with Ruqya they add a special holiness because Ruqya has clear description in Islamic texts.
There is a satellite channel called Ruqya that displays chanting for 24 hours and it also shows advertisements and SMS services for people who are willing to ask about Ruqya or to contact others who do Ruqya. Another satellite channel that does the same thing is Azhari. Furthermore, a famous Kuwaiti cleric, named Mashari, has his own satellite channel that shows his Quran chanting, Ruqya and prayers for 24 hours.
Shanqit channel from Mauritania (illiteracy percentage is 40%)6 offers Ruqya chantings in addition to services like protection and cure of magic, exorcism and evil eye along with dreams interpretations. All these services are provided to a nation that needs to learn reading and writing more than anything else.
Similar superstition channels include: Maw’itha channel (means preaching); beauty and health channel ( don’t be deceived by the name, the channel shows advertisements about alternative herbal medicine, unapproved medications and dreams interpretations, by SMS and by special show for that, for 24 hours); Jamila channel (self-development, Ruqya and preaching); Sultan channel (for Ruqya and false sexual performance- enhancing drugs); Ayat; Wisal, Alnas, Sraidi and Iqra ( general religious channels that also have programs for dream interpretations and Ruqya).
A dark image for the future
In many programs we see some “open-minded” cleric hosted to have a debate with the spiritual healer, the cleric usually tries to prove his views according to Islamic texts; however, the end result is always the same: the spiritual healer wins. For Islamic clerics, it’s not about refusing ideas of demons, evil eye, magic or dream interpretations, but about the effects of these things and how deeply they can affect us. Nonetheless, no TV show presenter dares to discuss these subjects from skeptical point of view.
About a year ago, one FM program agreed with real sciences website to host one of the members on weekly basis to discuss common superstition subjects. He did it for the first time and it was about dreams interpretations; however, the presenter was uncomfortable and never called for hosting us anymore. Another bad experiment with TV show, we told them that we will talk about astrology, but the surprise was that the presenter does believe in astrology and she didn’t predict that we may talk against astrology.
With more than 20 satellite channels in Arabic language for spreading ignorance in that way, it cannot become any worse than that.
- Famous Iraqi fortune teller, cleric and deceitful celebrity who is known for allegedly having magical capabilities to know the future, the unseen events and information, cure diseases and solve romantic and relations problems and of course deactivate magic effects.
- Sparks, Glenn G., Marianne Pellechia, and Chris Irvine. “Does television news about UFOs affect viewers’ UFO beliefs? An experimental investigation.” Communication Quarterly 46.3 (1998): 284-294.
- Potts, Richard, and Isaac Martinez. “Television viewing and children’s beliefs about scientists.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 15.2 (1994): 287-300.
- Seventh day newspaper, “Statistics department: illiteracy percentage in Egypt is 29.7% and 27.1% in whole Arab countries”, 7th September 2016.
- Sumaria channel, “Ministry of planning: Iraq illiteracy percentage is 18% most of them are females”, 8th September 2015.
- Hurra channel, “Mauritania’s illiteracy percentage is 40%”, 8th September 2016.