foreign domestic workers

Hocus Pocus in Saudi Arabia

In a country that demands strict adherence to Sharia Law, any unfamiliar religious or folk law customs are seen as acts of sorcery or witchcraft. The severity of this issue is highlighted when in 2009 the Saudi government created a special Anti-Witchcraft Unit, which specifically deals with alleged witches.

One of the difficulties of this issue is the interpretation of ‘witchcraft’ through Sharia law. Wahhabism (a dominant form of Islam in Saudi Arabia) deems witchcraft as a slight to the teachings of the Quran. The Quran itself, touches upon the issue of witches, described as unseen spirits (jinn) and powerful darker forces: “I take refuge in the Lord of the Daybreak, from the evil he has created, from the evil of the darkness as it spreads, from the evil of those who blow on knots, and from the evil of the envious”. Religious clerics preside over trials such as those of witchcraft, and apply the interpretations of the Quran in context to the crime. In the case of accusing one of witchcraft, a witness is needed as well as the ‘magical’ artifact/s within the accused’s possession.

The severity of this issue is further demonstrated through the deaths, usually beheadings as per Sharia law, of numerous foreign domestic workers. Women from countries such as Indonesia, Africa, and Sri Lanka have been convicted of witchcraft and practicing sorcery and await death sentences. Human Rights Watch activists have stated that many women who have been accused of witchcraft are those who have made formal complaints to agencies against their employers; thus the counter-claims of witchcraft. These complaints range from beating to rape and highlight the lack of foreign domestic rights. While a treaty has recently been signed by the Saudi government, the rights of a foreign domestic worker is very basic. For example, under the new law workers are entitled to:

  • An agreed monthly salary (approx. $400)
  • Suitable accommodations
  • 9hrs of rest per day
  • Paid sick leave
  • One month paid vacation after two years of service.

Yet according to Labor Minister Adel Faqih, workers “do not have the right to reject a work, or leave a job, without a valid reason”.  A clear indication that while workers have some rights, they are still only very basic rights.

In addition, the aforementioned comments do nothing to illuminate the sheer scale of such a matter. Organizations such as Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch and Migrant Care, work tirelessly to prevent such atrocities, however this issue is far reaching, and is not limited to the Muslim world, or even just Saudi Arabia, or for that matter to only women and domestic workers. Cases of those accused of witchcraft have been found all over the world and will most likely continue to be due to various superstitious beliefs.

Woman beheaded for witchcraft