Folk Islam

While it is common to hear how syncretism has crept into African Christianity, it is not alone. Islam’s rigorous teachings are also facing compromise. Lisa* works in an Islamic community on an Indian Ocean island.

Living among Muslims here you quickly realise that the way many of them live their lives doesn’t match up to the Islam taught in the mosques.

Where in the Qur’an does it teach you to protect your baby boy from evil spirits by placing a knife next to him in the crib? Or how about soaking a prayer from the Qur’an in water and using that water to protect your house from evil spirits? And did you know that the reason that man has a physical disability is because he talked while in the bathroom?


Many mothers will place a knife by their baby’s crib to protect them from evil spirts.

This is ‘folk’ or ‘popular Islam’; a world where if you comment on how well a baby is growing her grandmother will quickly utter a blessing and you’ll be told in no uncertain terms “such things aren’t said.”

Dancing with spirits

While not always spoken about, the clues are everywhere. You wonder why so many women carefully hide away any strands of their hair that came out after brushing. But when you realise that someone could use it to curse them it begins to make perfect sense. At other times it is much more overt, such as the special ceremonies where certain women ‘dance with’ the Madjini or spirits. In other families we find that there is a generational spirit that is passed down the female line. Whether hidden or overt, this mixing of classical Islam with more animistic beliefs is in reality a broad undercurrent that helps many cope with the trials and difficulties of everyday life. And it is the special domain of women.

…the spirit world adds yet another spiritual barrier that stops these women from coming to know Jesus.

Spiritual walls

Such practices have the strongest hold on those to whom the official teachings of Islam are least available and have the least to offer. With limited access to the mosque and little instruction in the Qur’an it isn’t hard to understand why many women don’t realise how far they are wandering from its teachings in their search for protection from evil spirits.

Our team continues to come up against constant walls as we try to reach women here. It seems that the existence of such dabbling (or even full immersion) in the spirit world adds yet another spiritual barrier that stops these women from coming to know Jesus. Pray for these women; pray that as they seek blessing and protection they would come to know Him who came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). And pray for us that we would be God’s instruments to bring His truth, His light and His power to these islands.

* Not her real name

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