Deep in Oman’s parched interior, the ancient oasis town of Bahla abounds with myths of camel-eating, fire-mouthed hyenas and men turning into donkeys — a reputation for magic and mystery that persists to this day. Some superstitious Omanis shun the isolated desert settlement because of its stories of jinn, the spirits that have been part of Arab folklore since before the dawn of Islam.
Bahla, a quiet town of palm groves and eerie, abandoned mud-brick homes, lies about 200km southwest of the capital, Muscat, in Ad Dakhiliyah Governorate, with an imposing double-archway at its entrance.
Here, in one of Oman’s oldest inhabited settlements, belief is firm in jinn, which are described as supernatural beings distinct from humans and angels that live alongside mankind.
“We believe that jinn are among the creations of God ... so it is not strange,” said tour guide Hamad al-Rabaani at Bahla’s medieval fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Magical stories permeate Bahla, including the popular myth that supernatural forces built the 13km wall around the town in a single night, to protect it from invaders.
“The legend is of two sisters, both jinn, one of whom built the wall for protection ... and the other who created an ancient irrigation system for agriculture,” Rabaani, 55, said.
The concept of jinn predates Islam, but descriptions of the spirits feature in Islamic texts, which declare them subjects of God.
Few places are as strongly linked with jinn as Bahla, where “you hear stories of men who suddenly transform into donkeys and other animals,” Rabaani said.
One old woman often used to hear someone milking her cow after midnight, but whenever she went to check, she found no one there, he said.
“You hear, but you never see, because your mind couldn’t take it,” he added.
In Bahla’s old market, as silence descends after midday prayers, some residents are uneasy discussing the town’s reputation for spirits, fearing it might tarnish its image.
Mohammed al-Hashemi, a Bahla native in his 70s, said most of his life has been shaped by supernatural beliefs.
As a child he was told stories of hyenas hungry for camels and with mouths of flames that roamed the desert at night.
“They used to warn us not to go out after sunset because of magic,” he said in an air-conditioned supermarket.
Oral folklore and certain ancient texts say jinn are common in the Arabian Peninsula’s far reaches, said Ali Olomi, a professor of Islamic history at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
Oman and neighboring Yemen, the peninsula’s southernmost countries, “both earn a reputation as not only ancient places with great historical significance, but as lands of the jinn,” he said.
“In Bahla, there are stories of phantom blazes and fires, animated desert storms and even edifices built by supernatural forces,” said Olomi, who specializes in Islamic esotericism and astrology.
Part of the reason Bahla is rife with such stories is that it was a remote outpost in ancient times, surrounded by desert and the dramatic Hajar mountains.
“The presence of jinn in places like Bahla can tell us a great deal about the history and culture of the Arabian Peninsula,” Olomi said. “This is a history of a people living in far-off settlements, linked precariously to other human settlements, and who keenly feel the presence of nature all around them.”
Among younger Omanis, not everyone is convinced about jinn, including Mazen al-Khaterri, a 24-year-old math teacher in Bahla.
“These are just stories told by our grandparents,” he said at a cafe in the old market. “We don’t know if they are right or wrong.”
However, Hasan, a 30-year-old who lives in Muscat, said suspicions of Bahla remain commonplace all the same.
“My family would never let me go,” he said, asking to use only his first name to protect his privacy. “The rumors say it is a city of jinn, where they live and have more freedom.”
Apps and Web sites that use artificial intelligence (AI) to undress women in photos are soaring in popularity, researchers said. In September alone, 24 million people visited undressing Web sites, the social network analysis company Graphika said. Many of these undressing, or “nudify,” services use popular social networks for marketing, Graphika said. For instance, since the beginning of this year, the number of links advertising undressing apps increased more than 2,400 percent on social media, including on X and Reddit, the researchers said. The services use AI to recreate an image so that the person is nude. Many of the services only
IN ABSOLUTE CONTROL: About 80 percent of Russians approve of Putin, a survey shows, but that might be misleading due to his intolerance to criticism Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday moved to prolong his repressive and unyielding grip on Russia for at least another six years, announcing his candidacy in the presidential election in March that he is all but certain to win. Putin still commands wide support after nearly a quarter-century in power, despite starting an immensely costly war in Ukraine that has taken thousands of his people’s lives, provoked repeated attacks inside Russia — including one on the Kremlin itself — and corroded its aura of invincibility. A short-lived rebellion in June by mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin raised widespread speculation that Putin could be
TAKING STOCK: It was not yet clear how damaging the espionage, dating to 1981, has been, as authorities are still assessing the situation, the State Department said A former US ambassador to Bolivia has been arrested and charged with spying for Cuba over a 40-year span, the US Department of Justice announced on Monday, detailing a shock betrayal by a suspect who called the US “the enemy.” US Attorney General Merrick Garland laid out the allegations against Victor Manuel Rocha, a onetime member of the White House’s National Security Council now accused of using his positions within the government to support Cuba’s “clandestine intelligence-gathering mission” against the US. The charges against Rocha, 73, expose “one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign
As pro-EU parties prepare to take power in Poland, a new star has shot to fame: a parliament speaker whose wit has drawn thousands of new followers to the chamber’s social media channels. Polish Marshal of the Sejm Szymon Holownia is no stranger to a wide audience as a former TV personality who notably hosted the Polish edition of the Got Talent! franchise. The 47-year-old left show business for politics four years ago, and now enjoys the spotlight chairing plenary proceedings following his success in the Oct. 15 parliamentary elections. “Ladies and gentlemen, stock up on popcorn ... because I suspect there will