Kashmir being a conflict-stricken society has unleashed myriad mental and physical health agonies on its citizenry. Even as natives frequent healthcare specialists and faith healers to get going, a shadow of ignorance is only growing and becoming a new worry.
The room is lit with the morning rays of the sun filtering through the windows. A small group of women sit on the opposite side of the man, waiting for their turn, with 50 rupees notes crumpled in their fists.
“Assalamualaikum, peer saeb,” says an aged man, sitting in front of the peer, who listens patiently to his words and nods in understanding. “I’ve had excruciating pain in my ankle in the past week. I wasn’t able to walk properly but I still decided to come here to meet you. Please give me something to heal it.”
The peer picks up a piece of paper from a stack in front of him and writes a few words in Arabic. He cuts the paper horizontally halfway and encloses it with a small piece of newspaper. He then gives it to the man, stating: “Burn this with isband every night before going to sleep, for a week.”
He then takes a wooden calligraphic pen, dips it in saffron water and writes a few words in Arabic on a fresh new piece of paper. He bundles it up with another cut up newspaper piece and hands it to the man. “Put this in water and drink three sips in the morning and at night.” The man quietly places a 100 rupees note on the side of the peer and gets up, praising him.
The peer looks at him and says, “Don’t forget to visit the doctor too. It is important that you do so.”
The man nods and leaves the room.
Muslim culture, especially dominant in a Muslim-majority region such as Kashmir, underlines the concept of well-being through the eyes of religion. A religion such as Islam permeates every aspect of life, be it social, economic, physical or mental. This broad perspective of religion explains the logic of medicine and healing been regarded as part and parcel of Islam.
While religion seeks to address the spiritual and psychological needs of man, Z. Seebaway argues in his book, Muslim Healing: Theory and Practice, medicine and healing seek to address the physical and psychological needs.
The basis of medicine and healing in Islam is sought first and foremost in the Holy Book, the Qur’an.
The Qur’an is considered a guide and an answer to every possible problem that may arise in a Muslim’s life. The Qur’an is also believed to be the word of the Almighty that explains the nature and the way of this ‘transient life’. The Qur’an consists of 114 surahs (chapters) in which a variety of references are made to man’s nature and his well-being.
Seebaway states that one of the attributes the Qur’an gives to itself is Shifa (Healing). This may be understood both literally and metaphorically. These references, in the form of verses in the Book, point towards the treatment of ailments through an exoteric and an esoteric manner, such as:
“We send down (stage by stage) in the Qur’an that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe: to the unjust, it causes nothing but loss after loss.” (17:82)
Say: “It is a Guide and a Healing to those who believe; and for those who believe not, there is deafness in their ears, and it is blindness in their (eyes)…” (Extrapolated from 41:44)
-(Translated by Yusuf Ali)
Commenting on these verses, Yusuf Ali states: “In Allah’s revelation there is healing for our broken spirits, hope for our spiritual future, and joy in the forgiveness of our sins…”
Inside the peer’s home, the next interaction occurs with a woman complaining of shortness of breath. He provides her the Taweez (amulet) and again, advises her to visit a chest specialist.
“They [Doctors] don’t understand our spiritual worries, peer saeb,” she tells him in a tone of evident respect. “They think Islam has nothing to do with our body. How do I tell them what I fear? What if my bodily ailment is a spiritual test by the Almighty?”
“That may be, but the doctors are well equipped in diagnosing your problem,” he answers calmly. “Do not fret, and trust in Him. With the Almighty’s will, you will experience ease.”
She departs while praying fervently for the success of the peer.
Many verses of the Qur’an refer to the Almighty as the ultimate Healer and to the Qur’an as a means of healing.
“When I am ill, it is [God] who cures me.” (26:80).
“We reveal from the Qur’an that which is a healing and a mercy for the believers.” (17:82).
“If God touches you with affliction, none can remove it but He.” (6:17).
“Oh humankind! There has come to you counsel from your Lord and a healing for what is in your hearts; this is a guidance and a mercy for the believers.” (10:57).
The Qur’an also gives guidance that promotes good health:
“Oh people, eat what is lawful and wholesome from [the foods of] the Earth.” (2:168).
The Qur’an further counsels people to select the best foods (18:19) and enjoy them:
“Eat of the good things that we have provided for you” (7:160).
Moderation is stressed: “Eat and drink, but do not be profligate,” (7:31) as well as the avoidance of excess (20:81).
Muslims are also enjoined to fast from food and drink during the daytime hours of the month of Ramadan, to learn self-restraint (2:183).
The interactions of the peer with the people leave a huge question mark on the observer’s initial assumptions.
Although the locals prefer to visit the spiritual healer before they visit the doctor, the peer advises them to visit the latter for simultaneous treatment of the problem.
“The peer is a lover of Allah,” a revered faith healer, specializing in removing the influence of supernatural beings, bellows to the crowd of seated people anxiously awaiting their turn. They nod their heads and murmur respectfully in agreement.
“One should not go to a peer who himself isn’t a peer inside. You’ve come to me, and my love for Allah will cure you.” He looks at the next candidate, a middle-aged woman and clicks his tongue.
“A jinn has possessed you. Come here, let me remove it.”
Mubarak Ali Jilani, in his book details several testimonies and reports of his successful treatment of different psychological illness with the use of Quranic chapters and verses. He further discusses how people have been treated by listening to recorded Quranic chapters and verses.
Wahid Abdussalam Bali, in, “The Sword Against Black Magic and Evil Sorcerers” necessitates the existence of ‘Jinn’, sorcery and evil forces by their mention in certain Quranic verses.
According to him, strong faith and trust in Allah are the only conditions can save people from such forces. He believes that many illnesses are not natural, but are as a result of an “evil eye” and therefore cannot be cured with natural medicine.
Furthermore, he narrates several instances where his usage of Quranic chapters and verses treated such illnesses attributed to the “evil eye.”
He states that sometimes, he has to diffuse the magical effects of charms made by sorcerers, curses or harm afflicted on victims through the malefic effect of the “evil eye”. To him therefore, spiritual healing techniques are the only effective means in confrontation with spiritual illnesses.
“Say: I seek refuge in the Lord of the dawn. From the evil of what He has created. And from the evil of the utterly dark night when it comes. And from the evil of those who blow on knots. And from the evil of the envious when he envies.”(113: 1-5)
His right hand holds a rosary, slightly touching the forehead of the woman, as he closes his eyes and calls out for the Jinn to leave the body.
“I’m giving you three chances. Come out and leave this poor soul alone,” he says as the woman starts shrieking violently and her head touches her lap. He thumps her back and loudly proclaims: “One… tell me what your name is… two… tell me your name… three… come out and tell me your name,” he bellows in anger as he sees the Jinn staying put and skims over his rosary again.
A few minutes pass as the woman’s shrieking continues, dying down as the peer nods his head.
“How do you feel?” he asks her. The crowd watches, enraptured and shaken. Her head cranes upwards as she grasps his hand and kisses it.
“Much better, peer saeb. I am indebted to you,” she says.
He tells her to come next week for the final exorcism and calls the next candidate.
“Look at the peer saeb,” the woman seated next to me in the hall, holding a chubby baby, says in respect. “He was able to do what the doctors cannot even fathom. What’s the point of going to a doctor when he denies the existence of Allah? Only a lover of Allah can do what peer saeb just did!”
The women seated around her nod and pray in agreement to her claims, discussing their ailments and their unshakeable faith in this peer.
The purpose that Raheela’s story provides, therefore, is to actively engage in creating an environment of encouragement that is able to indulge in sadness without delving into its aspects of despair, deriving positivity from painful experiences and allowing oneself to move on from such ordeals.
Rather than siding with the diagnosis of the peer or the doctor, or placing the blame on either the prevalent flawed institutions or the narrow-minded approach of medical practitioners, one is pushed to do their best in accommodating that which has remained largely in the poisoned shadows of our past- empathy for our fellow human beings.
The practice of spiritual healing in the Qur’an, thus, attains a realistic significance while dealing with emotions that cannot be quantified or understood in mere medical terminologies.
The fusion of psychiatry with faith healing can help open up possibilities inevitably aimed at achieving a unique context-specific understanding of different mental issues that are rampant in a conflict-ridden region like Kashmir today.
Raheela’s still stares outside the window for days and roams around the city, every once in a while. Relatives still click their tongue upon seeing her face and her mother still speaks to the boiling pot of the atrocities committed against her poor daughter.
None of us may know Raheela intimately, but any one of us can become our family’s Raheela.
To be continued…