The Genie Killed My Girlfriend

If you're going to blame the deed on a supernatural beastie, you have to do it right


I Dream of Jeannie

If the East ever perfects its own version of the courtroom drama—Piri Mason, say—it will surely consist of dramatic moments like this: Koksal Sahin, a Turkish man accused of murdering his girlfriend, stealing her valuables, and fleeing from Istanbul to Izmir, pleaded not guilty this week and offered the court revelatory testimony of what actually happened. "As far as I understood," Mr. Sahin told the court, "a genie attacked her."

According to the defendant, when this genie saw an Islamic amulet that was hanging from Mr. Sahin's neck, the malevolent entity went berserk. Mr. Sahin realized what was happening because his late girlfriend was "saying something in Arabic" while attacking herself. The genie not only caused Mr. Sahin's girlfriend to stab herself in the stomach and cut her own throat, he testified, but it also grabbed Mr. Sahin himself and flew him off to Izmir, where he found himself registered as a guest in a hostel, apparently in possession of the girlfriend's valuables.

But Mr. Sahin's story is not as ironclad as it may seem. While several aspects of the story are consistent with the behavior of genies—or djinn—according to traditional lore and even some judicial precedent, others are previously unrecorded. Djinn are certainly believed to be able to possess human beings and to influence their behavior, and they have a long mischievous history of flying people about and depositing them in distant places, especially when the humans are asleep. And while cases of djinn killing people may exist in the lore, instances of djinn murdering their own human hosts unprovoked are highly unusual.

What Mr. Sahin  really needs, however, is not so much a better story as to have his case tried in a court applying sharia law, where at least some djinn-based cases have been listened to attentively. For example, last year a court in Dubai heard a divorce case brought by a man whose wife refused to have sex with him. Her family eventually explained that, despite numerous attempted exorcisms, she remained possessed by a djinn. The husband not only wanted a divorce, but also asked to be excused from paying any divorce allowance on the grounds that he had been defrauded.

"The woman and her family cheated my client," the man's lawyer told the Dubai Sharia Court. "They should have been honest and clear about the fact that the wife was possessed by a djinn. He was only told about the djinn after the problem escalated. The woman does not deserve any allowance." The judge granted the divorce but didn't like the djinn story and ordered a payment. An appeals court, however, canceled the allowance, agreeing that the husband should indeed have been told about the djinn.

An interesting case in the Saudi courts in 2010 involved a corrupt judge who admitted to taking bribes but who argued that he was acting under the spell of a djinn who made him do it. In fact, the accused judge even offered the djinn's own testimony as part of the defense, as gathered by an exorcist alleged to be able to communicate with such entities. That is, the exorcist interviewed the defendant, and the djinn allegedly confessed out of the defendant's mouth.

While this defendant could have taught Mr. Sahin, the Turk accused of murder, how to set up a djinn-based defense, the prosecuting attorney wasn't having it. He objected to djinn-hearsay; as the press account put it, no judicial sentence should be based on a "jinn's allegations." He even demanded that the court subpoena the djinn itself. Apparently, the prosecutor wanted (or pretended that he wanted) to establish in open court whether the djinn was Islamic or not (some are believers, according to lore; some aren't), because that might have affected the admissibility of the djinn's testimony. Unfortunately, there are no follow-up reports concerning actions by either the court or the djinn.

There are murder cases involving djinn as well, but these seem to be cases of exorcisms gone wrong, the equivalent of Western demon-possession murders where determined Christian  exorcists end up killing the possessed victim.

There are cases of possession in Judaism, too, involving restless spirits of the dead (dybbukim) who take up residence in the bodies of young women—and wonder-working tzaddikim who exorcize them. These cases rarely attract attention outside the closed religious communities where they occur. In 1999, however, a video-taped Israeli exorcism achieved real notoriety, with the result that thousands of people suddenly were convinced that their relatives were also possessed and greatly in need of exorcising. Moroccan Jews, for their part, have a different possession tradition influenced by Sufi mysticism, Ethiopian Jews have a possessing entity called the Zar, and so forth. Possessing spirits are everywhere, it seems; the problem is getting them to testify in open court.

That's where the Eastern courtroom drama comes in. If Koksal Sahin hasn't learned much from the djinn-related crime cases that came before him, perhaps the future producers of Piri Mason can learn something from his.