Troubled Pakistanis turn to exorcism for help

Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:56am EST
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By Rebecca Conway

KARACHI (Reuters) - A girl in a long black shirt screams incoherently, banging her head against a wall at a Sufi shrine in the Pakistani city of Karachi. Sania Haneef's family says she is possessed by a demon.

Doctors could not help, so they brought the college student, kicking and screaming, to be exorcised by the spirit of a saint.

The West mostly associates Pakistan with Taliban militants who force women to cover from head to toe, blow up girls' schools and carry out suicide bombings. But Islam in the South Asian nation of 180 million is far more diverse.

Many flock to shrines like the one where Haneef's relatives seek solace in the Sufi strand of Islam abhorred by militants and considered more liberal in its philosophy than other branches followed by Shi'ites and Sunnis.

"Sania has been possessed since she was six years old," her brother, Mohammed, said, describing how an evil spirit, known as a jinn, would speak through her in a man's voice.

"The shrine has captured the spirit. Sania will be cured soon. None of us is leaving until that happens."

Pakistanis are beset by problems -- violence, crippling power cuts, poverty and dilapidated hospitals are but a few.

The government, seen as inept and corrupt, offers little relief.   Continued...

<p>A woman walks at the Abdullah Shah Ashabi Sufi shrine in Thatta district, in Pakistan's Sindh province, November 25, 2011. REUTERS/Rebecca Conway</p>