Turn to doctors, not faith healers, religious scholars urge UAE patients

One doctor said that, before coming to see him, Arab patients tended to turn to a faith healer first, leading to a deterioration in their condition.

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ABU DHABI // Religious scholars and physicians have warned people from turning to faith healers as an alternative to scientifically established medical practice.

They agreed faith healing was a part of religion, but said it could not be turned into a business as that would result in a misuse of religion.

Dr Yousef Abou Allaban, a medical director and consultant psychiatrist at the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology in Abu Dhabi, said that, before coming to see him, Arab patients tended to turn to a faith healer first, leading to a deterioration in their condition.

It was easier for some Arab patients to say they were possessed by a djinn than be told they were suffering from a psychiatric disorder, he said.

“Usually that’s what people do in the Arab world – go to a faith healer first,” he said. “Going to non-medical people and shopping from one faith healer to another is a way to worsen the condition, run away from the treatment and wait for further complication, whether medical or psychiatric, until medical intervention.”

This year a Federal National Council member, Hamad Al Rahoomi (Dubai), called on the Minister of Health, Dr Abdul Rahman Al Owais, to allow faith healing in hospitals, in the form of clinics.

Dr Al Owais agreed there was a need for faith healers, as they are referred to in the Quran and Sharia science, but said the ministry would not introduce them to state hospitals as they were not scientifically based.

Mr Al Rahoomi also publicly asked Dr Hamdan Al Mazroui, head of the General Islamic Authority and Awqaf, to allow licensing to mosque sheikhs to perform faith healing.

Mr Al Mazroui said that, without a law to introduce faith healing, he was powerless.

If it were allowed, he said imams could be put in a vulnerable position if someone who turned to them for help became even more ill because they ignored doctors’ orders.

Dr Abou Allaban said both ideas could lead to abuse, and Dr Ahmed Al Mosa, first preacher at the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Awqaf, agreed.

He said Awqaf would not offer anyone claiming to be a faith healer any form of licensing and they did not encourage anyone to turn to someone claiming to be a faith healer.

“In Islam, the Prophet told us of ways to ‘ruqeya’ (faith healing), they are easy and simple for anyone to perform on themselves,” Dr Al Mosa said. “They just read parts of the Quran with the intention of them to heal.”

He added that someone claiming to be a faith healer could have bad intentions. Anyone who turns to them or any other form of charlatan had “weak faith”.

Rather than turning to unofficial channels, he said people should go to see a psychiatrist.

“If that doesn’t work, then go to a religious scholar,” he said.

Salim Al Ameri, an Abu Dhabi FNC member, agreed.

“Ruqeya is words, and that person says them to himself, like prayers,” he said. “They do not need someone else to do this for them.”

For years cases have surfaced of people claiming to be able to heal through religion but most of these people have ended up in legal battles.

This year, a blind man drowned at Jumeirah Open beach after a man said he could cure him of epilepsy – or what he referred to as demons – by reciting verses from the Quran and then submerging the victim in the sea.

Ahmed Al Minhali, an Emirati in Abu Dhabi, fell victim to a similar charlatan.

After inviting a Sudanese faith healer to live with him to help cure his medical issues, and remove djinns from his home, he became suspicious of his methods.

“I took his paper to Awqaf, they said this was sorcery and he was a charlatan,” Mr Al Minhali said. “I then asked him to leave my home and go back to his country. I took him to Dubai where he said he would go to the airport on his own. Then he robbed me.”

He said the man had stolen Dh6,000 from his car when he was not looking. In court, Mr Al Minhali did not win the case and the man was set free.

Dr Abou Allaban stressed that faith healing should not be used by anyone other than a physician, who would first perform all medical procedures needed, before possibly providing emotional support through faith. He said it was not an alternative to medicine.

osalem@thenational.ae