Bahla, a quiet town filled with palm groves and uninhabited adobe houses, lies about 200 kilometers southwest of the capital, Muscat. This city in Al-Dakiliya province is known worldwide for its magnificent double gates and is a UNESCO world heritage site.
In this city there is an unshakable belief in jinn, who are described as supernatural creatures who are different from humans and angels but like to live side by side with humans.
Hamad al-Rabaani, a tour guide, is among those who believe. He even believed that supernatural forces built a 13 kilometer long wall around the city in one night, to protect the city from invaders.
Bahla Fort at the foot of the Green Mountain plateau, Oman, Bahla, October 5, 2023. ( Karim SAHIB / AFP)
“According to legend, there were two sisters, both jinn who lived in Bahla. One of them built a wall to protect the city from bandits, while another created an ancient irrigation system for agriculture,” he explains.
Because mysterious stories are often heard there, it is not surprising that many of those who have visited there have been affected.
“People tend to believe the legend of the genie in the city because there are so many stories. These stories even penetrate the minds of some people, especially those over 70 years old, or people who have not lived with modern science and technology. “They are the ones who generally believe the stories,” he added.
An elderly woman in the town of Bahla, for example, often heard someone milking her cow after midnight, she said. But every time he went to check, he found no one there.
A number of residents of the city are actually nervous about discussing the city’s reputation as a gathering place for spirits, for fear that it will damage the city’s image. But Mohammad al-Hashemi, a Bahla native in his seventies, is proud of it.
One corner of Bahla Fort, at the foot of the Green Mountain plateau, Oman, October 5, 2023. (Karim SAHIB / AFP)
He said much of his life was shaped by supernatural beliefs. As a child, he said, he was familiar with stories about hyenas whose mouths spit fire and who liked to prey on camels. Hyenas often roam the desert at night. “I heard the story but never saw it. Our parents always warned us not to leave the house after sunset. They said magic was widespread,” explained al-Hashemi.
Folklore about jinns is common on the Arabian Peninsula, according to Ali A Olomi, professor of Islamic history at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He said that Oman and its neighboring country, Yemen, which is the southernmost country on the peninsula, are famous not only as ancient places with great historical significance, but also as lands of jinn.
Because of the richness of the genie stories, many superstitious Omanis are reluctant to visit Bahla. They say the genies like to live in the city because it offers more freedom.
But many young people in Oman do not believe in jinn, including Mazen al-Khaterri, a 24-year-old mathematics teacher in Bahla.
“These are all stories passed down from generation to generation, from grandparents to parents. Currently we do not see any creatures that can fly from one area to another. This is just a legend.” (ab/ka)