Woman Murdered by Family Exorcising Genie

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A man in England who murdered his wife because he allegedly believed she was possessed by a genie has been sentenced to life in prison.

Mohammed Mumtaz was found guilty along with his parents and brother-in-law of killing 21-year-old Naila Mumtaz.

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According to a BBC News story, "Birmingham Crown Court heard Mrs. Mumtaz's in-laws thought she was possessed by evil spirits. The trial heard evidence that Mrs Mumtaz was killed during attempts to render her unconscious as family members attempted to drive out a harmful 'djinn' spirit." The trial judge, Justice Keith, said that "Naila was smothered the defendants believed that Naila had been possessed by a djinn, which had been sent from Pakistan by Naila's parents, and that they… smothered her in order to get rid of the djinn."

Mumtaz, who was six months pregnant, was found dead in July 2009; she had come to England a year earlier, moving from her native Pakistan as part of an arranged marriage. Mr. Mumtaz claimed that his wife's injuries were self-inflicted (i.e., she had strangled herself); the court rejected that defense, and sentenced other members of the family to between 13 and 15 years in prison.

While the idea of jinn (also spelled djinn or genie) possession seems bizarre to many people, it is actually common in many parts of the world, including Pakistan, where the family was from.

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Jinn are described in the Koran, the Muslim holy book, as creatures made by Allah of smokeless fire. There are parallels between Christian angels and Muslim jinn, and many Muslims believe in the literal existence of jinn, just as many Christians believe in the literal existence of angels. Both can and do interfere with the affairs of mankind (sometimes for good or ill), though in Christian theology it is typically demons — not angels — that possess humans.

In his book Legends of the "Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar," scholar Robert Lebling writes, "In the Islamic world the belief is fairly widespread that jinn can possess humans, speak through them and direct their behavior. Like their demon analogues in Christianity, they can also be exorcised through rituals. ….Today, jinn possession is taken quite seriously in a number of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, where [revered Muslim scholar] Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz… wrote about his own participation in numerous exorcism rituals."

As in Catholic exorcism rituals where Bible passages are read to the possessed person in order to drive the spirit from the human body, Islamic rituals often involve having sections of the Koran recited to the afflicted person. The symptoms of possession in both Christianity and Islam are similar, including fits and seizures; speaking unknown or strange languages; violence; and blasphemy.

The death of Naila Mumtaz reminded many Britons of the tragic death in 2010 of Kristy Bamu, a 15-year-old boy killed during a days-long exorcism in which his murderers (including his older sister) tried to drive demons from the boy's body. Both defendants and the victim were from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where belief in magic and demons is widespread.

Though there are no international databases that specifically track exorcism-related injuries and deaths, one web site, www.Whatstheharm.net, lists dozens of cases where people have been harmed by belief in demons and evil spirits.