The main source of confusion arises from the fact that secularly and Islamically trained physicians do not work together and so often present very isolated views of what is happening. What complicates things further is that within each group, there are many disagreements about cultural differences in diagnosis so it is difficult to give a definitive answer. This is further dependant on how Islamically aware psychiatrists are themselves. So the picture at the start is unfortunately not very clear. In sha ‘Allah, with the help of Muslim scholar, this issue will be clarified as simply as possible.

Dissociative Identity Disorder

According to Theodore Millon, an expert on personality disorder (of which DID is one), dissociative disorders in general are a type of disorder which are manifest by a fugue state (that is an actual emotional dissociation from a given situation), characterized by amnesia / ‘forgetfulness’. Some believe that dissociation is a symptom of a wider disorder whilst others see it as an isolated defence mechanism (i.e., a way to protect your self from a harmful situation). In Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) there is a failure to integrate traumatic experiences in to one integrated self. This means that the person may deny being present in a situation in which they were physically present because being there was emotionally too traumatic for them to deal with. (The trauma referred to has been commonly identified as some sort of abuse). The way the individual dealt with it at the time was to dissociate from themselves. In order to integrate the experience at an unconscious level (because to be conscious of it is too traumatic) they may actually take on characteristics of another personality in order to deal with the situation in a more effective manner (based either on real or fictional characters, male or female). These different personalities may allow the person to express feelings, actions and words that they may otherwise not feel able to. This difference in personality may continue long after the original trauma; until it is resolved. This is not to say that the person is never themselves and can never recover and re-integrate themselves in to an emotionally – stable individual. Cases of Dissociative identity disorder are extremely rare.

Jinn Possession

In understanding jinn possession, it is important to remember that Allah created man and jinn, and that religion and religiosity within jinns is as diverse as it is with humans (many jinns became Muslim at the hands of the Prophet (pbuh). An interested person may like to read “Ibn Taymiyyah’s essay “The Jinn” (translated by Bilal Philips). Ma sha ‘Allah it is excellent in its simplicity and will clarify many points. There Ibn Taymiyyah sets out the existence and reasons for possession. He highlights that jinn possession is possible (and this argument is later evidenced by the late Ibn Baaz in the same book). He states the cause of possession is not trauma and defence against trauma as with DID, but is usually due to

a) sensual desires on the part of the jinn,

b) anger by the jinn because something wrong has been (unintentionally) been done to them. He cites examples though the human may be blissfully unaware of what they have done, the jinn feels the act was done intentionally and the possession is a form of punishment by the jinn against the human. The difference is further accentuated by the more spiritual and supernatural aspects of symptoms which do not exist in DID. Thus, both exist in reality and have slightly different symptoms and widely differing causes.

The difference in classifications is in the subtle differences between symptoms, the cause and the relationship to ‘supernatural activity’ (for want of a better phrase). These factors determine the name the illness is given. However, what complicates things is that some of the symptoms do overlap and can therefore be seen as one and the same thing in certain instances. This leads to the obvious question; are dissociation disorders and jinn possessions two sides of the same coin – defined by differing cultural emphasis … ? Hence – the confusion in trying to find a clear answer!

Of course, the importance of the aetiology lies in the form of treatment required; either a psychologist or an Islamically trained physician. (Though this is not to deny Muslim psychologists can combine both skills and offer treatment – but this is rare.)

It is common for people to confuse DID, schizophrenia and jinn possession. DID is confused with schizophrenia because of its delusional aspects which are interpreted as dissociation but can sometimes be subtly different and may not be the result of trauma, but some form of thought disorder. There is also confusion between schizophrenia and jinn possessions, mainly due to occasional references -though obviously no evidence- of ‘supernatural’ activity in the experiences of patients with schizophrenia . However, the difference here is clear since with jinn possession, there is often clear physical evidence of this, unlike schizophrenia.

Psychologically speaking only, the impact of jinn possession on care-givers is significant (though one can not say whether jinns may affect more than one family member at a time). However, both the patients and the care giver will suffer from this experience, as we all suffer from anything unpleasant. Whenever anyone in the family suffers from any long term illness, there is always an impact on family dynamics. The question is whether it is acknowledged or not. Often, it is ignored and the disruption in relationships that the problem has caused goes unquestioned and relationships and worries are never resolved. These after- effects and so the need for therapy is also common. In my experience, patients do require some input after this experience, since jinn possession is in and of itself a trauma and that is has a psycho-spiritual aspect makes the trauma harder to accept, since of course our everyday life is generally limited to a physical reality. A fear of the unseen is of course quite common and the patient can be afraid of themselves and family members, especially young children can become afraid of the person who was possessed (this is also a common reaction with people when their relatives suffer from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and DID due to the negative press images). Remember it is not easy to recover from being possessed by something you can not even see, but is as real as other human beings, this idea in itself is a lot to adjust to and can often leave patients afraid of the intangible. Furthermore, since so much of the world is intangible, it means they can carry with them a fear of re-possession since they are not aware they contributed to the problem in the first place.