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 bishah ceremony, which originated in Bedouin societies and continues to be practiced in Egypt today. In Bedouin and Arab rural societies, when somebody suspects another person of theft, property damage, murder, manslaughter, illicit sexual relations, rape, or witchcraft, and there are no witness 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 and in Saudi Arabia as well as in 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 suspects tongue blisters, they are deemed guilty.
If the tongue is clear, they are declared innocent. The author observed 169 of such ordeals, many of which are documented and illustrated in this volume. 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 from 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.