This is a perplexing question. Both mental illness and possession are grave matters and yet, unfortunately, neither is taken seriously in Pakistan.
MENTAL HEALTH IN PAKISTAN
In this country, mental health is often considered a taboo topic. Many patients don’t even get a chance to visit a trained specialist. They suffer alone in their misery. One of the reasons for this alarming situation is people’s inclination towards superstitious beliefs. This not only worsens the condition of the patient but is also burdensome for the victim’s family.
ISLAM, MENTAL HEALTH, AND SUPERSTITIOUS BELIEFS
In the past, there were many superstitious beliefs i.e. black magic, evil spirits, amulets, etc. As Islam began to spread in Asia, people did accept it, but they also started inculcating their traditional beliefs in religious practices.
Islam does highlight the presence of supernatural entities and their detrimental effects, but it never encouraged false believes and practices to deal with it.
Amalgamating mental health issues with possession narrows the acceptance of the poor victims. In several cases, patients keep silent and don’t share anything. This leads to severe depressive episodes in the later stages.
Every solution is present in the Holy Quran. When Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was himself in distress, Allah bestowed the verses of Surah Duha to lighten his heart. The pious prophet prayed rather than indulging himself in false practices.
The Quran has talked about the existence of jinns. They eat, marry, die, and reproduce like humans. The Holy Quran has highlighted how the Prophet Solomon commanded the jinns to complete the tasks, so we cannot deny their existence in any case.
The signs of possession include seizures, screaming, and incomprehensible language. Many mental health patients feel the same. This ambiguity needs to be addressed by a psychologist or a religious specialist. But beware, there are inexperienced and corrupt individuals in both fields. So choose your healer wisely.
Moreover, oftentimes in shrines, we have observed young women and kids who claim that they are possessed. Are they really possessed? Or are they confused about their life and struggles?
The above argument reminded me of a scene that I witnessed a few years ago.
A young girl with a shy countenance was deemed to be of sound mental health on her wedding day. But after a few months into her marriage, the girl started acting strange. People claimed that they saw her doing nonsensical actions. One day, the whole family witnessed her screaming and tearing out her hair for no apparent reason. The air was heavy with horror and confusion. A scholar and a psychiatrist were consulted. It was concluded that the girl was simply overwhelmed by her new role as a wife and daughter-in-law and was unable to adjust. But before this conclusion, a person claimed that she had been possessed by a jinn. And to dispossess her, he needed to perform a specific prayer.
People’s reliance on quacks and fake scholars has now become a curse for society. This curse has engulfed people from different spheres. But the mentally ill individuals are traumatized by them the most. Especially schizophrenic patients.
Such patients often claim that they hear voices in their heads. This is often confused as a naughty jinn trying to mess with their brain.
MENTAL ILLNESS – A PRODUCT OF SOCIETY
Nowadays, the economic and political situation, unemployment, rape, harassment, and advancing science and technology have also triggered humans’ emotions. Anxiety, depression, and eating disorders are now common. Every individual is affected by it to some extent but to associate it with possession is foolish.
We observe that people usually confuse mental illness with possession, but that is not always the case.
A woman from Iraq, with no previous mental or psychiatric history, one day stopped eating and drinking altogether. She withdrew from people and stopped communicating. Upon investigation, it was diagnosed that she had some depressive illness. The lady went through electro-convulsive therapy but showed no signs of improvement. Her family took her to a healer, who through prayers and dhikr healed her and she resumed her normal life. She has no explanation for what happened to her; although, she remembers the sequence of events. She mentioned that she was aware of her surroundings but was unable to control them.
In another case, a woman attempted to kill her children and later claimed that she was possessed by a jinn. But upon inquiry, the doctor concluded that she had postpartum depression.
All these discussions drown the human mind in a sea of ambiguity and questions. What is right and what is wrong? Every new individual exhibits a different trait and thus arises new questions.
Science has overcome several obstacles. The things that are now declared scientific phenomena were previously considered possession or the evil eye. But despite presenting this fact, we cannot deny the existence of non-human entities and how they interact with humans. So, if a person’s day-to-day attitude is aberrant, is it possession? Or a sign of depressive disorder? A normal human like you and me can only make guesses. Only a psychiatrist or a religious scholar can give a piece of suitable advice. However, the believers in possession and mental health are totally on the opposite sides of the spectrum. Will they accept any new ideas in it? Several questions need to be answered as it continues to be a mystery.
So what do you think, a change in normal attitude is possession or a sign of a mental disorder?
Laiba Zaman is an in-house writer at Perspective.