What comes to mind when you think of Jinns….. perhaps fear, maybe that Jinn story your cousin told you as a child, black magic, the unseen world, maybe even genie from Alaadin.
Most Muslims and even Non-Muslims that are from Africa or Asia come from cultures were the belief in the unseen, spiritual world is the very present and important in everyday life. As a trainee therapist juggling between my Black, Muslim, Nigerian and British identity I’ve always been curious about the world of the Jinn. I mean I didn’t have much of a choice as my interest in psychology and mental health has at times between viewed with suspicion, fear and disregard.
I have had comments like….
“What will be the effect of spending time with too many “mad” people ?”
“All this psychology and mental health, it’s all white people stuff we don’t have those sort of issues ?”
“These people have demonic spirits in them”
Yet I couldn’t help notice that amongst Nigerians and other Muslim cultures when someone does experience mental distress they will go to a faith healer, get a deliverance, ruqya, go to a traditional healer it’s just not seen as medical or psychological instead it’s roots belong to an unseen world were only these healers can access. This does have an impact in real life as many mental health services find it difficult to engage with BAME populations as services are not designed to tackle these sort of complexities.
But for most Modern educated Muslims like myself that believe in the unseen world and the influence of Jinn although the degree of belief of how strong this influence is varies from person to person. On a whole most Western Muslims are able to have this belief along side their belief in biological/psychological/social-historical factors of mental health issues.
I knew I wanted to do research in the field of Jinn but I had many ideas racing through my mind. At first I thought about interviewing Muslims that have had experiences ruqya or even raqis themselves and gain an insight into their how they felt about it and if they found it useful. But then I was told my by tutor that getting ethical approval would be difficult and also it has to be more explicitly related to clinical practice. Then I started reading lots of papers any literature I could find about Jinn. I found that the field of anthropology has carried out a lot of research on Jinn, however it was mainly done through the lens of the white gaze going into another culture trying understand their “primitive” ways especially most of research done pre -1970s.
However I also found that there are Muslim researchers who were studying the prevalence of belief in Jinn within a UK context and why some Muslim decide to go to for ruqya treatment. Additionally I looked at psychodynamic/psychoanalytic theory that looks at possession through a lens of different internal objects and projections taking over the mind. Posssesion is also viewed as a defense mechanism that allows a person the ability to behave in ways that is usually unacceptable in that society i.e demanding certain goods and items that the “jinn” would ask for in order to leave the victim bodies.
This eventually led me to focus my research on how Muslim therapists using a psychodynamic approach work with clients who believe they are possessed.
I interviewed six therapist that composed of clinical and counselling psychologists, counsellors and psychotherapists working in public an private practice.
Using IPA analysis I found three main themes:
1.Being in two worlds: This reflected how therapists juggled their professional identities with their Muslim identity in the UK. There were many components, the therapist own belief in Jinn, the beliefs of the wider Muslim community views of possession and the support or lack of support they had within their workplace to work with Jinn. The therapists varied in how they integrated these parts of their identities some finding it easier than others. A lot of therapist mentioned the impact of Islamophobia on their clients and also on themselves in their professional environments especially because Jinn is a symbol of difference, a signifier of Muslim identity that is also much like Jinn viewed as dangerous and misunderstood. However, Jinn also represented a sense of mutual “muslimness” which Muslim therapists and their clients find meaningful, for some clients more meaningful than using Western mental health diagnosis.
2. Making meaning and integrating- This theme expressed how the therapists understood and worked with their client in the room. Some therapist understood the Jinn as a metaphor, as a cultural and/or religious way of expressing a sense of helplessness and powerlessness of feeling over taken. Rather than the belief in Jinn creating a rigid meaning, the therapists spoke about co-creating with their clients what the meaning of Jinn meant to them in the context of their lives and spirituality. Therefore the meaning of Jinn is unique and subjective.
3. Islamic faith as a source of healing- Most of the therapist worked with their clients by combining their Western training with their Islamic knowledge using duas, understanding the client’s spiritual self through using Islamic psychology looking at aspects of their nafs (self), qalb (heart) and the ruh (soul) . Examining the client’s relationship with God and if a rupture maybe the cause of their distress.
I believe my study shows that Muslim therapists have a clear advantage in working with these clients, as they can understand the psychological as well as the spiritual aspects of their client’s experience. Although it’s not all Muslim therapists that automatically feel confident in working with Jinn, as many of us have been told so many Jinn stories which compose of a mixture of folk tales, culture and Islam. Many of the therapists I interviewed spoke about having to do their own research, speak to scholars and attend programs on Islamic psychology in order to form their own style of working with Jinn as most training programs in the UK do not teach trainee therapist about how to work with spirituality yet alone Jinn.
I hope this is just the start and I would love to do further research on client’s experience of possession and what they have found helpful.
This article is just a brief reflection of my journey if you would like to read my full thesis please contact me.