Compiled By Ahmed Aw Salawat
The Arab Journal of Psychiatry (2000) Vol. II No.1 Page (56 - 59)
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
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
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
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.