Faith healers have no shortage of believers

Saeed Mehmood ul Hasan was hired by a villager in Khurrianwala, Pakistan, to resolve a money matter. But now he stands accused of raping his client’s daughter. (Alex Rodriguez / Los Angeles Times)

KHURRIANWALA, Pakistan — Villagers in this small textile town thought Saeed Mehmood ul Hasan had a pipeline to God. They believed that his Koranic maxims — sometimes scrawled onto wadded scraps of paper, stuffed into a leather pouch and worn around the neck — could cure headaches, mend an ailing kidney or patch up a family rift.

Allah Wasaya was among those who believed, and last year he hired Hasan to resolve a family spat over money. He and his family stopped believing, Wasaya said, when they determined that Hasan’s remedy was a diversion for darker pursuits. After sending Wasaya’s wife to a butcher to buy a black goat’s head that he said was needed to work his magic, Hasan raped the couple’s 15-year-old daughter, who was alone in her bedroom, Wasaya recently recalled.

Hasan then threatened to curse the family with a dose of black magic if she told anyone what had happened, Wasaya said. Hasan, in custody awaiting trial, denies the allegations.

“Almost everyone in Khurrianwala believed that Hasan could cure people and solve everyone’s problems,” said Wasaya, a driver and father of two. “It’s just the way we think here.”

The penchant for faith healers and black magicians spans Pakistani society, from the moneyed landlords of the Punjabi plains to the slum dwellers of litter-strewn Karachi. Pakistanis from all walks of life routinely turn to them to remedy various health problems, from abdominal pain to epilepsy, avert marriage meltdowns and pocketbook crises and even fend off the powers of other healers.

When the national cricket team geared up for its 2011 World Cup match with archrival India, thousands of Pakistani youths streamed into a stadium in Karachi for a collective prayer session aimed at shielding their heroes on the pitch from any black magic conjured by the Indian side. Regardless, Pakistan lost.

President Asif Ali Zardari regularly had black goats slaughtered at his official residence to deflect any black magic directed his way, according to a 2010 article in the English-language newspaper Dawn. Zardari’s spokesman later said the practice was designed to distribute meat to the poor.

“The main belief is that this practice invokes the pleasure of God,” the spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, told the British newspaper the Guardian. “The corollary is that bad things will not happen, of course, but that’s a matter of interpretation.”

Even some academics believe there’s room for demons and spirits. [More]


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