Malaysia to control faith healers as more seek spirit aid

KUALA LUMPUR Thu Oct 14, 2010 3:57am EDT

1 of 6. Malaysia's top Islamic faith healer Haron Din (L) recites Quranic verses onto his patient at his 'clinic' outside Kuala Lumpur October 5, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Bazuki Muhammad

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters Life!) - As Malaysia's top Islamic faith healer Haron Din began reciting Quranic verses, his possessed patient started to scream and fidget.

The exorcism at Haron's busy faith healing clinic on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital lasted for about a minute. The woman slammed her fists repeatedly on her lap and finally wept in submission.

Faith healing continues to find favor in this mainly Muslim country, underscoring the tension between tradition and modernity in Malaysia, a melting pot of Asian cultures with a long history of alternative medicine.

Though uncommon, the continued use of exorcists and bomoh, or faith healers, has in part led the government to draft a law to regulate practitioners of traditional and complementary medicine.

"Because our people use it, we felt the need for control to prevent abuse and ensure that practitioners are qualified," said Dr Ramli Abdul Ghani, head of Traditional and Complementary Medicine at Malaysia's Ministry of Health.

The Traditional and Complementary Medicine Bill, to be tabled in parliament next year, will require the country's 11,000 practitioners in fields ranging from acupuncture to homeopathy to register with and obtain practicing licenses from the ministry.

Muslim faith healers will also be subject to guidelines jointly drawn up by the country's Islamic Development Department and recognized practitioner bodies including Haron's clinic.

"Many faith healers claim to conduct Islamic treatments when they in fact are going against Islam, so we need the mechanism to control the practitioners," said Haron, 70, whose clinic draws up to 250 people a day.

There have been a steady number of complaints of cheats while others offer amulets, spells and curses using black magic, which is forbidden by Islam.

Malaysia's most infamous case was the gruesome ritual killing of a ruling party politician in 1993, in which his body was chopped into 18 parts.

Maznah Ismail, a bomoh who claimed to offer invincibility to her clients, was convicted and hanged for the murder.

Practicing black magic will not be listed as on offence under the proposed law, but those who go against the faith healers' guidelines could be stripped of their licenses, said Ramli.

OBSTRUCTING SPIRITUAL TRAFFIC?

Only Islamic faith healers will be initially subject to the proposed law, but Ramli said the government was open to the possibility of expanding its scope in future to include Chinese spirit mediums.

Famous for entering a trance-like state, mediums are believed to be able to act as intermediaries for deities to communicate with devotees seeking advice.

"In future we hope to cooperate with the relevant religious bodies so they can help draw up guidelines as well," said Ramli.

But the idea is a hard sell for some.

Wong Kin Tack, chairman of the Kau Wong Yeh Chinese temple in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, said licensing his mediums would obstruct the deities' work.

He said the mediums provided an important service to devotees, who included cancer patients seeking comfort in prayer and advice.

"After all, the spirit medium knows everything even before you ask, and if you have any problem the deities will help you to overcome it," said Wong.

(Editing by Elaine Lies)

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