It’s a story that exists in the folklore of many cultures throughout the world: a great evil disguised as a beautiful woman. Perhaps it has something to do with the incredible power of a beautiful woman to disarm her adversaries with her looks and grace. Or perhaps it’s a not-so-subtle cultural expression of the sexist view of women as seductresses who lure men in with their beauty only to lead them to their demise. Either way, many cultures seem to have a story similar to this. And the Emirati version of this story is the legend of Umm Al Duwais.
If you happened to see the 2013 Emirati horror film Djinn, then you’re probably already familiar with the lore surrounding Umm Al Duwais because the film was based on her. But, interestingly, despite the fact that this film was directed by Tobe Hooper (the same man who directed the 1974 version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre as well as the 1982 film Poltergeist, two of the most influential horror films of all time), this film received awful reviews. So, chances are that you haven’t seen it. However, if you get to the end of this article and find that you’re fascinated by the legend of Umm Al Duwais, you might want to check it out.
Anyway, this legend dates back far before this lackluster movie ever made its way onto the silver screen. In fact, it’s believed that this story has been around for several generations. Today, Umm Al Duwais is the most well-known jinn in Emirati folklore. What is a jinn, you ask?
What Is a Jinn?
Before you understand how Umm Al Duwais fits into the Emirati belief system, you need to understand the role that jinn play in the Muslim faith. Jinn are essentially invisible spirits that live on Earth but (usually) can’t be seen by humans. These spirits are not inherently good or evil, but can choose their own path and are judged by God just like humans. They also have their own societies that are structured as tribes.
However, these days, jinn are most often heard about when they’ve been bad. On occasion, jinn will take a physical form that’s visible to humans. Most often, they’ll take the form of a scorpion or a lizard or a snake. However, sometimes, they’ll turn themselves into a human. And that’s where Umm Al Duwais comes in.
Umm Al Duwais is an evil (or, according to some, misunderstood) jinn who takes the form of a gorgeous woman. She uses her attractiveness to lure men to their demise, much like La Siguanaba from Central American folklore.
What Does Umm Al Duwais Look Like?
In most accounts of encounters with Umm Al Duwais, it’s nearly impossible to resist her charm. She appears as a woman with long, black hair and beautiful legs. However, according to most, the most enticing thing about Umm Al Duwais is her scent, which is said to be sweet and almost intoxicating.
She will often appear to her soon-to-be victims as a beautiful young traveler who’s lost and in need of help. Who would refuse to help out a young woman in need, especially a young woman who’s so stunningly beautiful and who smells so delicious?
Umm Al Duwais is most often seen at night and is said to prey on unscrupulous men who roam the streets looking for women to sleep with. She will flirt with these men and draw them close to her body. Then, in an instant, she will transform into an old woman and slice off their heads.
How to Scare Away Umm Al Duwais
Like most legends, the legend of Umm Al Duwais was most likely created for a purpose. And, in this case, the purpose was probably to scare men into being faithful to their wives and avoiding the sin of adultery. Think about it: if you think that a potential mistress might slice your head right off of your body, you’ll probably think twice about approaching her.
In fact, there’s a saying in Emirati culture: “The night is not for humans.” This saying was probably meant to scare people into staying home at night rather than going out after dark and committing sinful acts under the veil of darkness. Indeed, the legend of Umm Al Duwais was probably born of this same sentiment.
So, it would make sense that the best way to avoid being brutally murdered by Umm Al Duwais is to act morally and be faithful to God. First and foremost, if you want to avoid her wrath, you shouldn’t talk to strange women on the street at night that try to tempt you. Second of all, apparently, saying the name of God can scare her away.
In one reported account, there was a man in the United Arab Emirates several years ago who encountered Umm Al Duwais and lived. He was walking home from a feast when he started to hear footsteps behind him. The first time he turned around, he saw nothing. However, the second time he turned around, he saw a very beautiful woman standing very close to him.
According to the story, this man was initially drawn toward her by her scent and her beautiful eyes. However, when he regained his composure, he realized that it was very suspicious that a woman would be out there all alone at that time of night. So, he began to chant the name of God repeatedly at the woman. The mysterious woman began to cower and run away. The man’s life was spared because of his allegiance to God.
As I mentioned, while Umm Al Duwais is certainly the most famous jinn in the United Arab Emirates, she is certainly not the only jinn that people believe in. In fact, many people believe that there are jinn living around them at all times.
Some people even believe that jinn have the capability to possess humans. In 2016, there was widespread mania among Pakistani women that many people believed was due to jinn possession. While doctors and scientists would probably otherwise, there are Pakistani people out there that will tell you that their relatives were possessed by these spirits.
Whether or not you choose to believe in Umm Al Duwais or other jinn, these spirits have certainly had a profound effect on the behavior and worldview of many Muslim people. And, just to be safe, you may not want to talk to women walking alone on the street at night if you’re ever in the United Arab Emirates.
If you want to learn more about jinn, you might want to consider checking out the 2021 horror movie The Djinn as an introduction. It doesn’t suck as much as the other movie mentioned in this article.