Bedouin Bisha'h Justice

Ordeal by Fire

By Joseph Ginat

'Trials by ordeal,' a judicial practice in which the guilt or innocence of the accused is determined by subjecting them to a painful task, have taken place from ancient Mesopotamia until the present day. This volume focuses on a special type of ordeal by fire called the bisha'h ceremony, which originated in Bedouin societies. In Bedouin and Arab rural societies, when someone suspects another person of theft, property damage, murder, manslaughter, illicit sexual relations, rape, or witchcraft - and there are no witnesses to the crime - this individual can request the suspect or suspects to accompany him to the mubasha', a Bedouin notable who conducts the ordeal by fire. The bisha'h ceremony was previously performed in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. In Jordan, the late King Hussein banned the ordeal by fire in 1976. In Saudi Arabia, the mubasha' died in the late 1980s, without leaving a successor. Today, in Egypt, near Ismaliyya, a mubasha' continues to practice the ceremonial ordeal in which the suspect licks a ladle that is heated to between 600-900 degrees Celsius. If the suspect's tongue blisters, he or she is deemed guilty. If the tongue is clear, they are declared innocent. People who take part in the bisha'h ceremony not only come from various regions in Egypt, but also from other North African countries and several Middle Eastern countries, including the Gulf States. Most of the cases involve rural peasants rather than Bedouin, but there are also instances where city dwellers take part in the ordeal. Author Joseph Ginat has observed 169 of such ordeals, many of which are documented and illustrated in this volume, now available in paperback.


248 pages

Publication Date: 8/29/2012
Format: Paper
ISBN: 9781845195656

Available in other formats