Reminder: we are looking at examples that follow patterns of thought within folk-Islamic culture, which need careful appraisal if the kind of deep-level changes brought about by processes of power encounter are not to bring societal disintegration as well.
The evil eye has been presented in some of my postings as a strong part in the ordinary Muslim’s cosmological view. In comparison to my last post on baraka which seems to need a contact for transference, the evil eye works with just a glance.
Perhaps the evil eye syndrome expresses a response to fear. The fear becomes institutionalized and helps set boundaries, for example, as to who is considered an ‘insider’ and who an ‘outsider’.
The fear of the evil eye also helps society to handle ‘abnormality’. The duty of zakat (almsgiving) is reinforced by the fear of beggars throwing the evil eye on ordinary people if they don’t give them money.
The evil eye can sometimes be held responsible for conditions that may well have a purely medical cause. Addressing both the spiritual fear and the dietary need is one example that could be required of the Christian advocate.
Perhaps the evil eye syndrome makes the most sense from a socio/economic perspective. All such animals, humans and objects constitute a potential for increase of well-being in the families that own or acquire them.
The evil eye concept brings direction and sanction to a community that operates within the bounds of the ‘limited good’. If a family goes for ‘too much’, someone’s eye of envy will touch it somewhere, and the imbalance of that family within the community will be rectified.
In trades such as weaving or pottery, the evil eye enables an excess of tradesmen competing in a limited market to restrict their output to an agreed amount per day. The evil eye syndrome operates within the structure of such a trading network to discourage people from exceeding the limits of their socially prescribed roles.
In Christian witness to people for whom the evil eye is not only a surface belief, but also an expression of deeper assumptions or processes, the question is asked – what are the ramifications for the worldview, as the surface phenomenon is confronted? Is there an alternate sanction, in Christ, which will effectively regulate interpersonal behaviour?
Could the evil eye belief help explain why some development programs introduced by well-meaning Western missions meet with considerable lack of interest? Such seeming negative responses will possibly remain unexplained, unless an understanding of the function of the evil eye concept within the community is reached.