Islamic exorcism and psychiatry: a film monograph

What is it like to be a Muslim possessed by a jinn spirit? How do you find refuge from madness and evil spirits in a place like Denmark?

As elsewhere in Europe and North America, Danish Muslims have become hypervisible through intensive state monitoring, surveillance, and media coverage. Yet their religion remains poorly understood and is frequently identified by politicians, commentators, and even healthcare specialists as the underlying invisible cause of ‘integration problems’.

Over several years Christian Suhr followed Muslim patients being treated in a Danish mosque and in a psychiatric hospital. With this book and award-winning film he provides a unique account of the invisible dynamics of possession and psychosis, and an analysis of how the bodies and souls of Muslim patients are shaped by the conflicting demands of Islam and the psychiatric institutions of European nation-states.

The book reveals how both psychiatric and Islamic healing work not only to produce relief from pain, but also entail an ethical transformation of the patient and the cultivation of religious and secular values through the experience of pain. Creatively exploring the analytic possibilities provided by the use of a camera, both text and film show how disruptive ritual techniques are used in healing to destabilise individual perceptions and experiences of agency, so as to allow patients to submit to the invisible powers of psychotropic medicine or God.

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built up a conglomerate of analytical arguments and perspectives not entirely dissimilar to the vision described by Borges. While weaving in and out of Islamic exorcisms and psychiatry I have considered these treatments from multiple sides and angles. It seems as if these perspectives and the multiple and often disconnected fragments that constitute the experience of fieldwork have come to fit as nuts and bolts within an overall theoretical framework – an argument about exorcism and psychiatry as being essentially about the same thing, namely the dissolution

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agency, sometimes even too much of it, but both psychiatric healthcare and Islamic exorcisms seem mainly to be about redirecting the agency of patients and disrupting their capacity to destroy themselves. As pointed out by Mahmood ( 2005 : 8), the understanding of agency in academic debates is often framed within the idiom of resistance: ‘the capacity to realize one's own interests against the weight of custom, tradition, transcendental will, or other obstacles.’ In making this claim, Mahmood addresses a number of feminist studies that like

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suffering are often invisible. Psychiatric healthcare and Islamic exorcism offer different ways of giving the invisible a recognisable shape. Yet both psychiatric healthcare and Islamic exorcism also operate through a disruption of the immediately visible, thereby intensifying the experience of uncertainty and invisibility, of being powerless and in need of help. Both psychiatric healthcare and Islamic exorcism rely on a dissolution of human perceptual agency in favour of submission to external and essentially invisible healing agents – namely

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freely as they want. I hope nothing has followed me on the way home from the mosque. I know I shouldn't be afraid of the jinn. As I start to write this fieldnote my left index finger begins to vibrate. I know this feeling from before, but I don't like that it starts now. It stops. Thank you, God. Cinema fist I have suggested the term self-sacrifice as somehow useful in understanding healing in psychiatric healthcare and Islamic exorcism, but I have not specifically discussed how such

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with respect to medical motives, but also the construction of sacred reality with respect to religious motives’. This book and film examine the similarities and differences between how healing is pursued and understood in psychiatric healthcare and by Muslim shaykhs in Denmark. A key insight of my research has been to discover the ways in which the ‘sacred’ and what, with Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, and Kierkegaard, I have referred to as the ‘invisible’ play a role in both Islamic exorcisms as well as in psychiatric healthcare

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. I have tried to take seriously in precisely this way, but still I have been unable to actually see a spirit. Invisible spiritual substance appears to abound in some of my film recordings of Islamic exorcisms, yet all I can see are the visible facades. Below the facades things are happening, but the footage does not allow me to grasp precisely what they are. A few times I did have some strange experiences, but not of such a definitive kind that I could say afterwards that this was in actual fact a spirit. One evening, just before falling

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