Of Jinns & Shamanic Mullahs

As is the case with charismatic or evangelical forms of Christianity, some strands of Islam have a robust sense of supernatural agency that populates the world with all manner of malevolent spirits who are ostensibly responsible for real world afflictions.  In a recent article, psychiatrist Amir Afkhami reports on an Islamic “faith healer” in Iraq who traffics in these spirits or jinns:

The first patient to enter his reception room was a young woman in red flowing garb typical of the rural inhabitants of eastern Kurdistan. The mother explained that the day her daughter became engaged to a relative, she had developed fainting fits, nightmares, foul moods and an inability to walk. She continued to faint at the talk of marriage.

[Mullah Eskandar] explained that the young woman was possessed by a jinn, one of the race of evil spirits that the Koran blames for sowing mischief and illness in the world — in this case, spreading discord in the young woman’s family by disrupting her marriage.

To banish the jinn, Mullah Eskandar prescribed a regimen of prayers, daily bathing and rosewater perfume. And he counseled the patient on the responsibilities of a daughter to marry and the happiness that awaited her once she had a family of her own.

You do not need to be Freud to know that the young woman was being perfectly sensible and acting out in the only way available to her given what appears to be an “arranged” (i.e., forced) marriage to a creepy cousin.

The mullah’s healing technique, though couched in the language of folk Islam, is no different from ancient shamanic methods: “blaming the jinn allowed the family to see the young woman’s misbehavior as aberrant and shifted responsibility from her to a supernatural being.”

There is no report on whether these euphemisms and fictions resulted in “healing” for this unfortunate young woman.

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