Written by an Overseas Goer
You don’t need to go deep in Arabic studies before you begin to see the incredible prominence of the name of God in this language. The most common response to “How are you?” is “praise God”, the response to “goodbye” is “God is with you”, and phrases like, “God make you happy”, “God lengthen your days”, and “May God strengthen you” are sprinkled in almost every normal conversation. There are many reasons for this such as secularism’s lack of influence here, the belief that each saying of God’s name earns “merit” before Him, and the belief that we must protect ourselves from the Evil Eye.
This need to protect ourselves from the Evil Eye has definitely been one of the most foreign and hard to understand cultural concepts for us even though the Evil Eye is a worldwide phenomenon. We even noticed its influence in Mexico. Let me share how the Evil Eye plays into the culture here typically:
1. Someone sees another person’s blessings (i.e. loved ones, possessions, plans, talents) and feels envious and wishes for the other person’s blessings to be taken away.
2. In this moment, this envious person becomes a carrier of the evil eye (they most likely don’t even realize it; anyone could become a carrier).
3. Then this envious person says something nice to the person about the blessing that they possess.
- This is a true example we heard, “You, my niece, are growing so tall and beautiful. You’re already taller than my daughters.”
4. Then this blessing is taken away by the Evil Eye.
e.g. The niece from the above example didn’t grow another inch until now (many years later).
Why did this girl stop growing?
According to the worldview here, it’s not because of magic, evil spirits, God, or any other thing we had previously guessed. Belief in the Evil Eye is not a religious belief; it’s mentioned in the Quran only indirectly, perhaps in the same way that we can say that “gravity” is mentioned in the Bible. These bad things happen because that’s just how the world works in their worldview. Our local friends have answered this “why” question, the same way most westerners would answer the question “Why does gravity make things fall to the ground?”: “I don’t know. That’s just what we’ve seen and how it is.”
How do we prevent ourselves from being victims or conveyers of the Evil Eye?
According to this worldview saying the name of God breaks the power of the Evil Eye. Why? Perhaps, because it reminds us that we shouldn’t be envious or, what is more likely according to their beliefs, the name of God has a special “power” to stop the Evil Eye. Therefore, our local friends insert the phrase “Masha’Allah” (“this is what God has willed”) with almost every single nice thing they say about anything (which happens a ton).
Disclaimer: The above example is the “legitimate” way to protect yourself from the eye, however, there are also many locals here who use “superstitious practices” to protect themselves like wearing blue beads. Indeed, we’re sure that protection from the Eye varies around the world.
How we respond to the Evil Eye is serious business because it is very serious in this culture’s mindset. The Evil Eye can even cause death in their worldview. Most people don’t even post pictures on Facebook of good times they’ve had because they don’t want to fall victim to the Eye. However, knowing exactly how to respond is extremely complicated. Some of the tough questions that we face are:
1. Is this topic a “faith” topic or more just a “naturalism vs. supernaturalism” topic? Do we really need to try to convince our local friends that the Evil Eye isn’t why certain bad things happen. Is it even possible that the Enemy does operate using the Evil Eye in order to increase the use of God’s name in vain?
2. How can we convince people that we’re not conveyers of the Eye without saying the Lord’s name in a careless or superstitious manner? We really don’t want to leave room for our local friends to think that the bad things that happen in their lives might actually be our fault.
3. If a local enters the kingdom, is it urgent that we address this belief quickly? Or is this a very secondary issue?
Please be petitioning for us to navigate these hard subjects wisely.