For a look at the Queenslander who says he's Jesus, or the Japanese cult that allegedly detonated a nuke in WA, check out Your 2017 Guide to Cults and Fringe Religions.
For six months I've been hearing about a rogue Islamic Sorcerer peddling black magic in the suburbs. The rogue mullah has been ripping off women around Melbourne, charging exorbitant fees for love spells that don't work and magic that won't bring riches. My uncle, who'd just been released from prison, decided to visit the munafiq and "put the hard word on him." He returned with his (and his wife's) money, a bloodstained fist, and the names of women who have been helping out with the scam.
The black magic racket works by recruiting "spies" from within the community. People receive commission by providing family histories and personal secrets so the magician's sessions seem impossibly intimate, and therefore valuable.
Of course, that's a very clinical perspective on why black magic holds such sway over the Afghan community. I keep wondering if there's something else. The guy must be pretty charismatic. Or, maybe, there might be something to his claims. I was curious, so I decided to see if he'd put a spell on my girlfriend.
WATCH: Meet Lizzy Rose, Australia's suburban exorcist
Initially, the sorcerer was hard to get in touch with. That, or he was just paranoid, as most Islamic mystics are. See, the punishment for practicing sihr (black magic) is death. I called him several times for advice on how to convince my British girlfriend to consider converting to Islam, but he didn't respond. So I added some rubbish about how I get sleep paralysis and dream about snakes choking me and dogs resting on my chest. These are classic images of evil Jinns that are reported in the Hadiths, and I figured that stuff might get his attention.
I wasn't wrong. He called me back straight away and told me I was in a lot of trouble and that he'd dealt with these incarnations before. He needed my mother's maiden name, a sweaty article of clothing, and something that belonged to my girlfriend. I told him I wasn't comfortable sharing my girlfriend's sweaty clothes with him. He said mine would do.
I arrived at his office in a corporate part of Dandenong, wedged between a legal firm, an accountant, and a kebab shop. I brought along a pair of sweaty kickboxing shorts and an antelope skull my taxidermist girlfriend had given me. After walking up several flights of stairs, observing my absurd reflection in the windows with skull and kickboxing shorts in hand, I had an epiphany. It was the one Nietzsche had when he witnessed the beating of that horse in Turin. I realised that faith is stupid, surreal, or both.
Then I knocked on the door.
"Come, come, please enter beta," came a voice. He wasn't calling me beta as though I was some cosmic software in its testing phase. It just means child in Urdu, as I was told later by my mother. His office was actually really corporate. He had a Persian rug, some candles, a desk likely purchased from IKEA, rotating tasbih in his right hand, plenty of books, and some dim lighting. In fact, the shadowy orange lighting was the only mystical aspect of his office.
I placed the skull on his desk and with an absolute poker face wrapped my kickboxing shorts around its mouth. He asked me what I was doing. I told him I didn't know. He told me to stop, and then he broke the tense silence with Arabic murmuring that I couldn't place. Maybe it was Surah or maybe just gibberish.
I told him I needed help. I told him I was scared. "I found witchcraft satanic books in my girlfriend's house," I told him. "I want to help her become Muslim." The magician's murmurs became louder and louder. His eyes began rolling back into his head; undertaker style. I was fucking terrified. This joke had gone too far. He stood up and started to pour sand on top of the antelope skull. Then he threw some sand into the air. Then poured some on himself. This went on for about two minutes, and it was way too much.
Maybe it was all the Muslim conditioning from my childhood. I vividly recalled a story my cousin once told me when I was about eight. It was a story about a woman who mocked the Quran and had turned into a dog, and it really freaked me out. I snapped out of the memory and the sorcerer was sitting in front of me with a "told you so" air of arrogance.
He told me to whisper my mother's maiden name into the ear of the antelope skull. I really didn't want to bring my mum down with me, but I was in too far. I didn't want this guy to work out that I was lying, get angry, and turn me into a dog. So I began whispering and he stood up and got two small pieces of paper and a piece of meat. He told me to wrap the spells in lamb's flesh, tie it tight, and bury it in my girlfriend's backyard. "Once it is buried, wait a week and return. But you will surely see the signs immediately."
Then he disappeared into the back again, and I asked where he was going. "Looking for an envelope for your money," came the reply. The show, it seemed, was over.
My girlfriend doesn't have a backyard to bury spells in, but she has a small patch of grass beneath her clothing line. The earth was hard, but I eventually planted my seed, and went inside to observe her behaviour. Nothing extraordinary happened. Or, at least, not immediately.
But a few days later I was helping her unpack her books because she moved house. I noticed an alarming amount of Islamic literature on her desk. The Quran in English, stories of the prophet, Attar's Conference of the Birds, and books on sufism. My girlfriend is a taxidermist and used to be a professional kickboxer. We're both oddballs who like spending our time reading giant books, so it's not a total surprise that she had them but still… the timing was weird.
Remember in Grand Theft Auto, when you would jack your favourite car and all of a sudden you'd see the same car everywhere? Was it the game's algorithm, or just placebo? Because suddenly everything my girlfriend did made me think the magic had worked. Coincidence? Probably. But what did Einstein mean when he said, "coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous"?
Follow Mahmood on Instagram