DUBAI // Police are working with Islamic authorities to fight what they fear is a trend towards seeking the power of sorcerers to cure problems - and find love.
The anti-economic crime unit at Dubai Police said people had been duped out of cash by magicians and sorcerers.
About 80 per cent of the victims were Arab women and nearly all of them were looking for love.
Brigadier Khalil Al Mansouri, the head of Dubai CID, said: "The majority seek the help of these people to cast spells on men, to either make them fall in love with them or to control their husbands."
Police registered 11 cases of fraud involving sorcery last year, with 10 registered in 2010. But officers warned that the practice was far more widespread.
They said the difficulties in catching offenders and proving their guilt meant the figures did not present the full picture.
"Many people who are tricked by these people do not want to report it to the police as they are ashamed," said Brig Al Mansouri. "The problem with sorcery is that it is difficult to decide on the charges and court of jurisdiction. In the majority of the cases you need to catch the perpetrator red-handed to have a strong case. It is a big challenge for us."
Some fraudsters use a mention of magic in the Quran to help them scam impressionable victims.
But Dr Omar Al Khatib, the assistant director general at Dubai's Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities, said that while magic was mentioned in the Quran, it had negative connotations.
"Islam has prohibited anyone to learn magic and a magician is considered an infidel as per many Hadiths," he said.
The victims last year included a Bahraini woman in her 20s. She visited Dubai after hearing about an African sorcerer in the emirate whose powers were said to be strong.
"She wanted to carry out a spell on her husband as he did not visit her a lot and spent more time with his first wife," said Brig Al Mansouri. "Instead, the magician 'cast a spell' on her and blackmailed her. He made her believe that she would fall ill if she did not pay him. She agreed and paid him three times before reporting him."
In another case, police arrested a student in his 20s, from an unnamed Arab country, who was marketing supposedly magical products online. Among the items he offered were stones that could make people fall in love and bones that could cure them of illness.
Last year, a 50-year-old woman from an unnamed African country was arrested for selling her services as a sorceress in the UAE and abroad for 28 years.
She was reported by an Emirati woman who complained she had been cheated when she asked the woman for a migraine cure.
"The first time the woman went to her she asked for Dh3,000 and asked her to return after three days ... and the next time she went for a consultation she asked for another Dh5,000," said Brig Al Mansouri.
An undercover female officer then visited the woman and asked her to treat an unspecified medical condition. She was charged Dh14,000 and handed two jars. Scientific analysis showed the jars to contain only cheap, everyday herbs.
The penal code mentions sorcery and magic only in relation to "fraud and scams". As such, the prison terms fraudulent sorcerers can face range from six months to three years, depending on the severity of the case.
Dr Al Khatib said his department was working closely with police and the Ministry of Interior to help fight the trend. The department does this by lecturing on the issue during Friday sermons, holding seminars and handing out booklets.
"People need to know that a person seeking those magicians is carrying out an unlawful act and that magic is forbidden in Islam," said Dr Al Khatib. "Those who fall victim to such a practice are usually weak people with weak faith.
"They seek sorcery as they think it is the way to achieve what they want ... but what they do not know is that once they enter this world, they are in a place of no return."