Despair and clairvoyance in Morocco
In the working-class district of Hay Nahda in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, a woman named Touda claims to provide counselling to people in need. Though she is not a licensed therapist, she sees about ten clients a day, and has for many years. Touda is a psychic, and tells all newcomers that she “inherited the job” from her aunt some 20 years ago. Wearing her usual green dress and red scarf, she starts each new consultation with the same phrase: “I shall try to dispel the evil spirits torturing you so that you can find happiness once more.” A cloud of incense hangs heavy in the air, spreading its penetrating aroma. The lighting is subdued.
Like many in her line of work, Touda has achieved some measure of success. On the day Magharebia visited her “practice”, there were eight women patiently awaiting their turn in the lobby. One could easily think they were waiting for a renowned medical doctor. Some seemed uneasy and tormented. Others chatted away calmly.
“Fate plays some clever games. I’m at the edge of a chasm, and no one realises,” one disoriented-looking woman who refused to give her name said. “All I hear is words that hurt and leave gaping wounds.” At 42 years of age, she is not yet married. The pitying looks of her friends and neighbours cause her daily suffering, she said. Success in her career as a bank official has failed to bring the serenity she has sought so fervently. “At the moment, it is despair that guides me. The most ridiculous thing is that I know full well that clairvoyants cannot do anything. But all the same, they manage to give me some new hope. I need, at least, to be heard.”
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Next to her, El Hajja Zahra came to Touda for her son. “My son is 30 and has not yet worked, even though he has a French literature degree. I’m in anguish. Perhaps Touda will comfort me and give me something to thwart the bad luck,” she said, her eyes filled with tears.
He explains that clairvoyance has always had an important part to play in society because it helps to maintain “hope and stability”. He adds that when it comes to earning easy money, nothing is simpler than setting oneself up as a clairvoyant. All that it requires is to learn the art of speaking.
Touda the clairvoyant has learned all the tricks. Indeed, sometimes she does not conceal the fact that she tries to play the role of psychologist, helping her clients to make strategic choices or telling them what they want to hear. “At the start, I found it very difficult because I didn’t have any experience. But after 20 years in the job, I know how to respond in each case,” she said.
Like her, Souad, a young woman who is barely 18, is trying to follow the same path, although with a different aim and methods. Still in high school, she thought about “earning an honest living”, as she puts it. Most of the girls at her school believe her to be a confirmed fortune teller. Her techniques are simple. She infers certain details from what her clients say, and then she feeds them back without them realising. In other words, she says what the person wants to hear. “I predict events which have a great probability of occurring, and I push girls into acting in such a way that the prediction will come true,” she says.
Souad has another ambition, however. She wants to create her own website, and is already thinking about her slogan: “I’ll be there for you to help you move towards your destiny, and so you will be able to learn your future with confidence.” She says all you need to know is how to manipulate the dreams people have. And so she plans to study psychology at university: “You have to plan your future way ahead, as even with a degree I can’t dream of finding work easily.”
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It is easy for psychics to practice their trade, as there is no law against clairvoyance. Ahmed Sami, a professor of Islamic studies, says that Islam calls on Muslims not to believe in clairvoyants, even if they sometimes appear to be right.
But some girls are ready to believe anything, said Souad. “It’s not as if the few pathetic Dirhams they pay me will ruin them,” she added.