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Possession And Exorcism An Illustrative Case
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Compiled By Ahmed Aw Salawat

The Arab Journal of Psychiatry (2000) Vol. II No.1 Page (56 - 59)
Case Report
Yahia O. Younis

It is a common belief in our culture that jin is the main causative factors in mental disorders. This leads to apply practices such as exorcism to heal it. A case illustration is presented and discussed.


The belief than Jinn (demon) enters human bodies and causes mental disorders is wildly held in several contemporary Arab countries!. This belief is based on anecdotes of Jinn heard talking through patients' mouths. Hence, often mentally disturbed patients in such communities are taken to faith healers for treatment. Such a belief and such a practice have wide implications for the course of illness and its consequences in these patients.

The following is a description of a case in which Jinn was thought to be the cause of mental disturbance, because the faith healer was thought to be able to make the Jinn confess through the patient's mouth. The patient was then subjected to physical torture to drive the Jinn away.

Issues related to this are highlighted and discussed.


A young female in her early twenties, a citizen of one of the Arab countries, married and has children was brought to hospital in excitement. On admission, she was screaming, signing in a loud voice, clapping or throwing her hands sideways, restless and potentially aggressive. She had to be physically restrained before she was sedated by drugs. When she calmed down, two hours after admission, she was examined physically; she had bruises of different shapes and sizes on the skin of her back, chest and neck. No other physical abnormality was detected.

Her elder brother said that she had two similar episodes of mental disturbance before. The first one occurred four years ago; on the third day of her first delivery. She remained in hospital for about a month and was discharged in a satisfactory condition. She was then taken to several faith healers. In-between the attacks, she remained well though on no medication. In this last episode she was taken to a faith healer before she was brought to hospital.

She is the youngest of six siblings. Her father died several years ago and her mother is alive and well. There is no known psychiatric illness in the family. She had a normal and a healthy childhood. She had ten years of successful schooling and she left school to get married.

After the initial dose of parenteral Haloperidol, she was maintained only on Clonazepam 2 mg. t.d.s. orally. On her second day in the hospital, she became calm. She continued to improve and in a few days, her mood was appropriate and both her talk and behavior were rational. Relevant investigations including blood count, ECG, Chest x-ray, Thyroid function test were normal. She remained well until she was discharged from hospital with the diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder and a maintenance dose of Clonazepam. After six months she was taken off drug treatment and at one-year follow-up she was maintaining good health.

The patient was able to give a very lucid history of her condition and the various methods of treatment she had. She talked with bitterness about her experience with particular faith healers. She described in detail and in a clear manner her encounters with the faith healers. She said she recovered from her first episode of illness in hospital and was discharged in satisfactory condition to continue treatment at home. A few days after her discharge, her family decided to stop the prescribed medicine and took her to a faith healer.

There, the faith healer made her lie down on the floor and asked the accompanying family members to hold her body firmly. There were four of them who held her legs, hands and shoulders. Then the healer gripped her neck and pressed tightly and was shouting repeatedly:

"confess, confess". She said, she felt suffocated and was frightened. She struggled to free herself but over-powered by those holding her. The healer let go a little and she could ask him what to confess. He said, "0 Jinni, confess who you are" and again he pressed tightly on her neck and was demanding a confession. She found herself obliged to "confess" or she would suffocate and in a shrieky voice, she said, "I am Abdul Salam". The healer released his grip and she thanked God for the relief. Soon after, the healer took her by the neck and again pressed and shouted; "from where are you?" She said, now having learned the trick how to free herself, she quickly replied, "from Morocco". At this point, the healer was triumphant and told the relatives that the patient was truly possessed by a Jinni who just identified himself.

She said she was conscious all through and she deliberately produced these "confessions" to escape the suffering caused by the faith healer.

She had subsequent visits to that and other healers. In all these visits, she was physically tortured by the healers. In her last visit, she was beaten and bruised.


The present patient was diagnosed by the faith healer as a case of possession. To cast out the demon the faith healer squeezed the neck of the patient intermittently but for prolonged periods. The patient deliberately faked the name and place of the supposed Jinn in order to save her life, which was under great threat. She was fully aware of circumstances and was in full control of her acts.

Much of the confusion in the issue of Jinn (demon) possession and exorcism as due to the indiscrimination between the belief in the existence of Jinn as a matter or religious faith and the practice of exorcism as a healing method influenced by custom and tradition. This issue has several aspects: First, the belief in the existence of Jinn as independent beings sharing this universe with humans.

Secondly, the idea than Jinn enters the bodies of humans influencing their behavior and causing ill health. Thirdly, the practice of exorcism by using harsh physical methods. It is useful to consider these aspects separately.

The first aspect is a matter of belief shared by many followers of various religious faiths. For Moslems, it is one of the fundamental issues of faith. It is mentioned in the Holy Quran and no true Moslem denies the existence of Jinn as one of the creations of Allah. Hence, for us this is not a subject of debate.

The second aspect that Jinn can enter human bodies and cause mental disorder is not like the first one. Moslem scholars are not at one heart as far as this is concerned. Opinions are divided according to their interpretation of the Prophet sayings (Hadith). Contemporary supporters of the idea that Jinn enters human bodies and cause mental disorder often base their idea on anecdotes that Jinn is hard talking through patient's mouths. They also quote some scholars of religion2. The present case casts a heavy shadow of doubt on the truth of this king of Jinn talk. What are thought to be Jinn talk may in fact be conscious efforts by patients to free themselves from torture by exorcists. On the other hand it may be that some patients are suggestible and under the influence of the exorcist or faith healer utter what they think the healer wants them to say. Another plausible explanation is that the surroundings created by the healer make these patients act out their inner feelings like what goes on in psychodrama or zar parties.

The third issue of possession and exorcism concerns the treatment of the supposedly possessed. Faith healers in the Arab world usually use physical and non-physical methods. Non-physical methods like invocations, which are based on the Prophet tradition, are religiously sanctioned. Religious beliefs and values may be used to enhance the effect of psychotherapeutic techniques in non- psychotics3. It instill self-confidence in- patients and give them emotional support. On the other hand the use of harsh physical methods with the pretext of inflicting pain on the Jinn inside the human body is harmful and may be life threatening. Such a practice is not wholly a matter of religious belief. It is a custom where amateurs and quacks can do more harms than good.

In some western countries there is a movement towards opening a dialogue between experts in religion and in medicine to clarify issues related to possession and exorcism for the ultimate good of the psychologically disturbed patients4. In the middle East there is even a greater need. Well-informed individuals from both fields need to come together to discuss the issue. They need to ferret out facts from fiction so as to preserve the right and good and to weed out the wrong and bad.


1. Rakhawy, Y.T. (1996). "Recent Development in the Uses and Abuses of Traditional Healing of Psychiatric Patients in Egypt and the Arab World". The Egyptian Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 19 (No. 1&2),7-10.
2. Philips, Abu Ameenah Bilal (1996). fun Taymeeyah/s Essay on the Jinn (Demons). Abridged, Annoted & Translated by Philips. Third Edition.
International Islamic Publishing House, Riyadh. Saudi Arab,ia.
3. Axhar, M.Z., Vanna, S.L. & Dharap, A.S. (1994). "Religious Psychotherapy in anxiety disorder patients". Acta Psychiatr. Scand., 90, 1-3.
4. Cox. J. (1994). "Psychiatry & Religion: a genernl psychiatrist's perspective". Psychiatric Bulletin, 18, 673-676.


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