Mental Health & Jinn Possession Amongst Muslims

Tales of jinn posession are never far from where Muslims are concerned. We all know of at least a few people who have either had an encounter with a jinn themselves, or know of someone (a friend of a friends aunty) who has been overcome by a jinn. More people are readily more comfortable to propose jinn posession as opposed to having mental health problems, with many being masked as a result. We may never know the “true” number of cases where mental illness if the cause of their ill health -not pseudo jinn/spirit possession. This alternates readily between jinn possession and black magic – both of which frankly largely mirror one another anyway.

Often when the term “mental illness” is used a picture of a ravaged person, withwild eyes, laughing manicly with the tendency to become violent is conjured up. Much of this owes to stereotyping of the media of what a mentally ill individual looks like – give them an axe and let them wield it about a bit: the image is complete! Pandering to these images does nothing but further distort and villify those who have mental health problems which range from depression, anxiety to the other end of the spectrum of schizophrenia and psychosis.

A factor of interest with regards to this issue is that mental health problems may be seen as something which the individual is being “punished” with or that he/she is deserving of it in recompense for some ill doing. Jinn possession doesn’t carry this baggage – it is often seen as being outwith the control of the individual who falls circumspect to it. There is a plethora of research which points to “it being a test”, “I’m being punished for sinning” type attributions to their mental health problems which in turn leads to short bursts of religuous fervour. This can result in “burn out” due to the desperate state in which some individual being to absorb themselves into prayers and other faith based solutions in the hope of “becoming better” quicker.

Some faith healers are understood to provide a service though one wonders how shoddy some of these services truly are (one only needs to flip through any ethnic newspaper and faith healer advert’s hit you square in the face with their claims of resolving anything from sexual impotency to acquiring unrequited love).

On the other hand, some psychiatrists aren’t immune from making blunders due to their lack of “people skills”, unwilling to have a dialogue with the patient instead choosing to talk “at” them rather than discussing their care plan and the inherent imbalance of power which exists in the doctor/patient dyad.

Many studies over the years point to this phenomenon of ethnic groups to disregard mental illness as a factor of their poor health. They will resort to traditional healers to alleviate their ailments. That is not to say that religion is obsolete when it comes to recovery or dealing with mental illness – but there draws a fine line between dual treatment options (traditional healing such as recitation of Quran and other religious methods and the use of medication) and denial of the existence of mental ill health altogether.

This is partly due to disillusion with the Eurocentric model of psychiatry where little scope or acceptance of anything which falls beyond the comfortable niches of the Western notions of x symptoms = y diagnosis exists. Most of this directly related to the proponents of models – predominantely white middle class men from the West.This is readily being acknowledged and accepted as a contributory factor in the stoical stance some psychiatrists take towards other “models” of mental ill health – including those from an Eastern outlook.

Due to the expanding field of cross cultural psychiatry, slowly things are shifting. Recently a conference on the topic of Spirit Posession and Mental Health was held in London and much was discussed about various cultures and their understanding of mental health, their attributions to it and their approaches to treatment which ranged from indulging in religion/faith seeking behaviours (such as prayers) to seeking out a combination of medical treatment and faith based healing. There is a ready admittance of the Eurocentricity of psychiatry, and a more willing approach to engaging in dialogue with faith healers, religious leaders and even the patient him/herself as to their viewpoint on the mental health problem. However, this approach boils down largely  to the individual psychiatrist and team members rather than an overall approach by the MH sector.

What is the incidence of mental health problems (from depression right through to enduring MI such as schizophrenia) amongst Muslims in the UK? We’ll probably never know for sure, and hazarding a guess as to the numbers in the Muslim world is even more of a mystery – although it is often proposed that mental illness (the incidences) is largely an issue faced by people overwhelmingly in the West compared to the East (possibly due to myriad of reasons: detection of MI in the East compared to the West, the support network available to individuals in the East compared to the West etc)

We would do well to move away from the belief of jinn possession as a factor in someone’s poor health as the likelihood of their behaviour being as it is, their physical deterioration, withdrawal is more down to mental health issues rather than a jinn occupation and/or black magic. Rational thinking is needed here, not mere hysteria.

Posted on November 20, 2009, in Jinns, Mental Health, Muslims, Psychiatry and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. السلام عليكم

    I remember Abdullah Hakim Quick talking about this issue in his lecture “The Minhaj of Shaikh Uthman Dan Fodio”. He said that, while serving as an imam in Toronto, he had had many men come to him and complain of jinn-related problems, and on one occasion he could see that the guy was just suffering from stress and overwork, and on another, a guy thought that the downturn in his business (just after Christmas!) was because of someone going back to Pakistan and getting a “shaikh” to put a jinn in his shop. But some Muslims will blame mental illness (and a whole lot besides) on jinn activity.

  2. By the way, you have an obvious spam trackback on this post.

  3. Unfortunately superstition prevails our communities.

    Also there is a scholarly difference of opinion within Islam regarding jinn possession, that is whether jinns can physically possess a human being impairing the senses. However Islam recognises and has a tradition of well developed sciences (although very old) addressing human spiritual needs and healing the soul called Tasawuff. But I am not too sure how effective it would be considering how far we have come away from even basic spirituality into the fast material world.

    I am sure causes of mental illnesses are far more complicated than we are traditionally trained to envisage (something I learnt after marrying a psychologist).

  4. Salaam I think that I have a mental problem and the worst is that I’m married with three kids and it is getting worst, as I’m starting to fail in providng them.My symptoms are as follow, failure to persevere,cannot stick to planned schedules,continuasly recalculating tasks to be done, sort temperd with loved ones,judgemental,dont truely know what I’m doing any more, what ever I do with the best of intentions turns into !!!!!!!!!! and I’m just hurting everybody I love.

  5. Good read. Was wondering if you’d like to contribute something for teens on our website >>> http://www.muslimteensclub.com.

  6. Couldn’t mental illness, the way we see it in the west have a ‘spiritual/spirit world’ element to it? For example, couldn’t somebody be (for example) possessed by a jinn and perhaps anti depressants will help the person. At first, it may just cover up the sypmtoms and then with time when the person is starting to feel better they do what they need to do to become spiritualy stronger so when they come off the meds they are possibly cured. Or, instead of the meds they could, sometimes, depending on the persons streghth, self-help, praying more, making more dua, dikhr etc and cure themselves THAT way? Because quite frankly, contrary to what was written, though some people use ‘having a jinn’ as a passive problem they aquired there is, within Islam, much to be said about ways to cure yourself from it, because we do have some control over such things. A third option could be Rukiya with somebody who IS trustworthy (a good lecture to listen to is Jinn and Magic, it discusses such things).

    I just get really turned off when people start to say that talking about jinns and magic are the ignorant person’s way to discuss what is “clearly” a mental illness when I personally, view the two things as often being the same but being looked at from two different points of view. It’s a pitty it’s always west vs. east in everything instead of coming to some place in the middle.

    • For example if a person believes he/she is possessed, then the medication (which is there for a neurobiological purpose) won’t do much as the person doesn’t believe they have a medical illness – they believe something unwanted is controlling them. Most often any medications they are prescribed won’t be used – and they will solely seek out alternative forms of treatment such as ruqya, dhikr etc which is encouraging and of course dua is a great weapon but ignoring their mental state which may need medical intervention also isn’t going to help in the long run.

      However if a person believes they are depressed (not due to jinns) and recognises this, acknowledges it and uses medication to aid them out of the helplessness and feelings of lethargy, no motivation etc then that person IS addressing their problem and not jumping to conclusions about jinn possessing them.

      There are many, far too many, people who look at jinn possession as the issue as, ironically, there is less stigma attached to this than having a mental health problem. Why people believe jinn are out there purely to pester humans is anyones guess.

  7. I am a Quranic Therapy practitioner with PISANG, a registered not-for-profit organisation, and I also taking MSc in Psychotherapy Studies from University of Sheffield. I have dealt with hundreds of Mental Health cases and can differentiate between jinn possession (yes, there is such thing as jinn possession) and other form of Mental Health disorder.

    I think it is better for everbody to look at available empirical evidences first before making any judgement on jinn possession.

  8. It is never wise to fall into stereotypes. The obvious stereotype here is that the Muslim community conveniently puts many blames onto jinnkind for problems ranging from mental health illnesses to other problems such as marital or economic problems. As someone mentioned, it IS far easier to lay blame on entities we cannot see and apparently can do little about than to take ownership of our own lives.

    The second emerging stereotype is the bashing of long-held beliefs within the Muslim communities by the more learned Muslim population. A jinn possession is more easily explained by stress and overwork, psychosis or paranoia is schizophrenia rather than black magic.

    Einstein said something that is aptly fitting in these times. “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” Overwork and repressed emotions often manifest themselves in disturbances or deviances from normal health. Many people have emotional stress responses where they become depressed or angered following a stressful period in their lives. Other people manifest their stress symptoms more physiologically, with illnesses such as panic disorder where the heart races continuously for hours without any external aggravating stimulation and the individual feels sure they are going to die from a heart attack.

    However, western science is incomplete, at best, at providing any solution to mental health problems. Note how I do not use the word ‘cure’. That is because, western medicine cannot cure mental health illnesses. The reason for that is, we don’t understand the causes for many MH illnesses such as schizophrenia (there is a theory that considers that a virus acquired during infancy may contribute to it). We also don’t understand how many of the Western treatments work. No one knows how Lithium helps a manic patient. It is not metabolized in the body, and leaves the body through urine unchanged. Yet, it does help to manage maniacal symptoms in Bipolar patients. Much of Western medicine does exactly this: controls symptoms, often without understanding how (called idiopathic effect).

    A schizophrenic patient taking Haldol, or a Bipolar patient taking Lithium are never cured. These people have to live the rest of their lives on these medications with subdued or relieved symptoms while feeling the effects of these powerful antipsychotics. Too much of many of these medications often cause permanent disabilities such as Tardive Dyskinesia (TD), where several muscles in the body become aroused without the person intending them to. This causes things like licking lips constantly, flicking of eyelids, spasms of muscles including laryngeal muscles. There is no cure TD. While our friends at the Big Pharma make billions of dollars selling these products, the lives of these people on antipsych medications will never be the same.

    A close friend of mine has Bipolar. When she stopped taking her medications, she went on a rampage, tore everything in her house, didn’t sleep for two weeks and was finally hospitalized. When she started taking her meds again, she was fine. She’s now happily married.

    The point I’m trying to make is, our knowledge is imperfect. Western medication is good at symptom control, which is essential for people who become are a threat to themselves or others. However, for many with ‘mild’ MH illnesses such as panic disorder or depression, antidepressants or anxiolytics are just not the answer. The nausea makes you want to throw up, you feel like sleeping all the time, you cannot suddenly stop taking the medications because of withdrawal symptoms, and if you take too much you might have something called Serotonin Syndrome, which if not recognized and treated on time, could be fatal.

    The Qur’an says, upon Iblis’ challenge to Allah, he was given the ability to affect humankind in many ways. The phenomenon of blowing on knots is interpreted as witchcraft. Many hadiths confirm this. A verse in the Qur’an mentions this explicitly (113:4). If anyone is concerned about the authenticity of this information they should engage in their own personal research as Allah instructs us not to accept anything as true until we verify it for ourselves (17:36). However, there are knots in the body as well that affect the human body in powerful ways. When neurons terminate and begin to form junctions with other neurons, they form what is known as a synapse. This synapse looks something like a knot (google it for pictures). The synapse is the point where neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine etc. are transported from one neuron to another, thus passing along the electrochemical signal of the brain. This is how neurons communicate. It has been observed that patients with what is known as clinical depression/major depressive disorder (MDD) have persistently low levels of serotonin circulating in the synapses. The most common antidepressant used today are a class known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). In other words, this medication stops the serotonin from being absorbed/’reuptaken’ by the neuron. The serotonin as a result accumulates in the synapse. This accumulation of serotonin is believed to decrease the symptoms of depression. The SSRI neither cures nor prevents depression. It does however manage depression symptoms.

    In essence, anything that can affect our neurotransmitters has the ability to affect our bodies and our wellbeing in very powerful ways. As Iblis (a jinn) has the ability to affect humans physiologically, he can do so by manipulating the neurotransmitters and the endocrine organs in our bodies. Therefore, many reports of MH illnesses can indeed be caused by the shayateen (the rogue jinns). And many other cases of MH illnesses can be effects of physical stress that is not being addressed.

    If I’ve bored you to a good night’s sleep, it’s only because the cause and cure for illnesses is not as easy as popping pills. Anyone in the healthcare field knows now more than ever before that the Western medical system is failing, with costs higher than ever before, but quality of life is not improved. My perspective of health is that Allah has created the human body perfectly. He has equipped it sufficiently to be able to compensate for many imbalances in health. However, slow poisoning with heavy metals over many years, or the effects of things we cannot see and understand little, can throw us off balance to the point where the body can’t compensate. This is when disease occurs. As disease is a physiologic thing, it is the wise that will seek medical treatment promptly as prayer should not be the first mode of treatment for pneumonia or tuberculosis. However, as it is Allah that has created the good and evil in the world, it is the wise that will familiarize themselves with this knowledge and seek protection from He that has Perfect knowledge of all created things.

    Sources: Al Qur’an, hadith, http://web.me.com/zaidquran/banner/banner.html, internet, undergraduate education in nursing and self-reflection.

    • Your comment was interesting, and I acquiese with most of it.

      Of course psychiatry recognises its limitations in treating MI – medications are simply there to manage the symptoms and other forms of therapies such as CBT provide a further step in helping to cope with their condition.

      Back in Islamic history, depression, melancholy and general distress was thought to be a result of man’s distance with religion and demonstrated a weakness. Can we say the same these days?

      Turning to dua, dhikr, ibadat for comfort, relief and ease is always recommended and sometimes just this very step can help with emotional distress, stress, anxiety, panic.

  9. It is extremely difficult to reach a juste balance between the paranormal and material reality.
    but for those who believe the paranormal is a parameter that could and indeed should be taken into account, my guess is that a wise sage is needed to advice and guide. Like some Raqia say try and rea dQur’an (surat el baqarah) pray a lot (a natural reaction in dire times) and if nothing happens than seek other help. My guess is that psychiatry is often of little help like much of modern medicine that seem to primarily serve the purposes of Big Pharma.

  1. Pingback: Indigo Jo Blogs

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: