ZARQA, Jordan — It’s midnight in the slums just outside of Amman, and Mohammed al-Yafawi has a local man pinned to the ground. His sidekick, a local mosque leader named Imam Imad Adawi, shouts Quranic verse into the trapped man’s ear.
“He is stronger than four or five persons right now,” puffs Yafawi, who must use all his weight to keep the man down.
The struggling man hasn’t been coerced into this ritual. He believes he has been possessed by a jinn, a type of supernatural being that has been forged from a smokeless fire and the likes of which has existed since before the creation of mankind, according to the Quran.
Yafawi is an exorcist, called upon to liberate humans who, like the man (who asked not to be named) lying prostrate beneath Yafawi, have fallen victim to malignant jinns.
After a 40-minute struggle, during which the jinn threatens to possess other people in the room, the exorcism team manages to weaken the unseen presence with Quranic scripture, finally convincing it to leave the man’s body.
“For now, she has left. These are very strong words from the Holy Quran,” says Yafawi, moments after the jinn’s apparent departure.
Despite modernization in the Middle East, many people still turn to men like Yafawi to solve their problems. A self-styled fortune teller who claims he also has the ability to communicate with jinns, his list of clients includes doctors, CEOs and government officials.
Many, if not most, Jordanians cast a sideways glance at those who claim to have Yafawi’s abilities. They tend to be viewed as crooks and con men, which is often the case. Last month, two Jordanian exorcists were charged with molesting a 15-year-old girl in front of her family while they allegedly cleansed the house of a jinn.
For those who do believe, Yafawi is one of Amman’s trusted arrafs, Arabic for “knower.” While locals and foreigners come to him for fortune telling, the mainstay of his business is jinn exorcisms.
Yafawi says jinns are “like electricity, you can’t see them, but you can feel them.”
And they are not necessarily something to fear. “They are like human beings. Some are good, some are bad, and some are sometimes good, sometimes bad, exactly like human beings,” Yafawi says.
There are tales of good jinns who play with children, and bad ones who create problems with electrical equipment, hide odds and ends throughout the house, or, in some cases, possess people.
The Zarqa man’s case was a textbook encounter with an ill-behaved jinn, Yafawi says. The jinn, a female named Johyna, took a fancy to the man, and, as a bad jinn sometimes does, she took up residence inside his body. A jealous creature, she began creating problems with his wife.
Even more problematic, the possessed man said, she sometimes caused him to lose track of his finances during major business transactions. On the eve of the exorcism, his business partners forced him to sign over the deed to a parcel of his family’s land because of $280,000 that was unaccounted for in his company’s books.
If someone believes they’ve been possessed, removing a jinn can be a costly affair. A basic ritual that includes Quranic recitation and negotiations with the jinn costs about $150. However, in most cases, to ensure that the jinn is permanently removed, Yafawi says it is necessary to burn specialized incense that can cost thousands of dollars per gram.
The Zarqa man can’t afford the necessary type of incense, so over the last year he’s been repeatedly possessed by and exorcised of Johyna, the jinn, and requires the basic ritual usually about once every month.
On average, Yafawi estimates that he charges about $3,000 for most exorcisms, but he once billed a man $30,000 to remove a jinn king and its army that had occupied his home.
“He was one of the most famous Arabs and he was a multimillionaire,” he says. In this case, the jinn king was drawn to the man’s palatial home, which was often left empty on account of the owner’s busy travel schedule. Yafawi had to burn some of the most expensive incense available to eradicate the jinn.
For the most part, Yafawi says his customers understand the costs associated with his work and accept the high rates. The man who paid Yafawi’s biggest fee was so pleased with the results that, “He gave a bonus and this watch,” says Yafawi, holding up his arm to show off the silver timepiece.
Yafawi first became aware of his sixth sense as a teenager. On his way to take an exam the test questions appeared to him in a vision. To be safe, he double-checked the answers to the questions he’d seen when he got to school.
“When the teacher handed me the exam, I saw the same exam I’d seen in my head. I knew something was happening to me,” he says. “I told my mother and she said, ‘Maybe it’s a gift from god.’”
From there, he worked independently to develop his sixth sense, consulting magicians during a year abroad in India and reading extensively when he returned to Jordan. He spent years working for free to remove troublesome jinns and telling people’s fortunes. About nine years ago, he began to feel comfortable taking money for his services.
After years of working as an arraf, the exorcist easily sloughs off doubters’ skepticism.
“They say ‘I don’t believe’ because they’re afraid they might see a jinn,” he said.
More dispatches by Tom A. Peter: