Dec 29, 2011

The Writing of Amulets

The most common and popular form of help Bosniaks in the village sought in times of personal stress (particularly when was believed to have been caused by negative influences such as sihir) was an amulet, popularly called zapis (note), written by a hodža. A zapis may more rarely be referred to as mušema (the Arabic word which describes the wrapper around the note). Then more general term hamajlija (from the Arabic term for amulet) is also used. A zapis is a small piece of paper with a verse or phrase from the Qur'an written in Arabic and carried as a charm or amulet. Worn for protection against spells and indirectly therefore against illness, it can also be worn as an amulet to secure happiness and good fortune, or to ease anxiety and physical pain (such as headaches). Such problems are not untypically brought on by life-cycle changes, such a marrying and becoming a bride and new member of a household, the birth of a child, or the death or illness of a close family member. The paper is wrapped into a triangle in a small piece of red cloth which has been oiled or waxed to make it more resistant. (The Arabic word mušema means oilcloth). The zapis is attached by a safety pin as close to the person's body as possible, usually to the undershirt. Only a trained hodža is considered competent to write zapis, the few who actually do so are well known is rural areas, especially among Bosniaks. The hodžas who write amulets must know to write Qur'an verses in Arabic, and to able to choose verses appropriate to each case. They are often retired religious instructors with long experience and good psychological insight into local life. Some hodžas, however, think the practise is not in the spirit of Islam and is immoral (because of the money involved). The official Islamic Association was rigorously against it and would teach young medresa students to preach against it if posted to rural areas.
The verses written on the zapis are chosen according to the problem it is supposed to remedy. After the zapis has been written and wrapped there are several possible procedured: it may be worn immediately without any further measures being taken, or it may be put through various magical treatments. (It is important that the zapis not be worn or left in unclean places such as the lavatory if unprotected, that is, not oiled.) The magical treatment also varies with the nature of the problem the zapis is supposed to protect the person from.
One of the hodžas told me that fewer people asked him to write zapis for them today than in his younger days, since „today there are more doctors around, so fewer people come and ask us (hodžas) to write zapis. Besides, young people nowadays do not believe in praying“. Villagers and hodžas alike told me that in the late eighties fewer hodžas practiced forms of faith healing and divination such as the writing of zapis. This was clearly related to the younger hodžas' more formalized and more shari'at-oriented Islamic training, rendering them critical of such practices. Nevertheless, judging from the number of case histories I collected of people who had sought the help of a hodža and who had had a zapis written for them at least once, it was still a much used strategy for coping with misfortune. However, people tended to seek the help of one of the more prestigious sufi hodža, in contrast to the local ones, reported an increase in the number of people who had come to them with health or personal problems over the last few years.