KUALA LUMPUR, May 12 — The anti-hysteria kit sold by a university for RM8,750 demonstrates the continued existence of animism among local Muslims who still believe the psychological phenomenon is because of “possession by evil spirits”, a local scientist has said.
In an opinion piece published by The Star, Dr Shaikh Mohd Saifuddeen Shaikh Mohd Salleh from the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia’s (IKIM) Centre for Science and Environment Studies pointed out that such belief was rooted in the paganism that predates the arrival of Islam.
“As a consequence, we find that the Malay-Muslim community could not differentiate between the animistic concept of being possessed by evil spirits and the modern psychiatric understanding of hysteria,” he wrote.
The kit sold by Universiti Malaysia Pahang (UMP) is touted as being based on the Quran and hadith, though its makers did not elaborate how.
According to Shaikh Mohd Saifuddeen, the kit also ignores the science of modern psychiatry that he said was established by Islamic civilisation as ilm al-nafs or the science of the psyche, adding that modern psychiatry was historically demonstrable as being Islamic in nature.
“What is even more pertinent is that Islamic medicine is primarily about providing solutions and solving medical problems. It does not create problems or attract unnecessary controversies,” he added.
Pointing out the rejection of UMP’s so-called anti-hysteria kit by Federation of Islamic Medicine Practitioners' Associations (Gappima), Shaikh Mohd Saifuddeen said the kit was a disservice to the field due both to its unexplained high cost and claims of being based on science.
The anti-hysteria kit comprising everyday items such as chopsticks, salt, lime, vinegar, pepper spray, and formic acid is being sold for RM8,750 by the UMP, which it claims can ward off “evil spirits”.
UMP has also defended the kit following an outpouring of criticism that it was based on superstition, claiming that it was based on scientific research and has a proven track record in over 50 test cases.
It also urged to the public not to be sceptical over the efficacy and science behind the kit.
But Shaikh Mohd Saifuddeen pointed out that scepticism is one of the pillars of science, and that discouraging this prevents any form of research from being conducted.
“If the kit is indeed scientific as claimed, the ‘science’ behind it should be scrutinised by experts in psychiatry. The methodology must be examined thoroughly,” he said.
Besides opening the “science” of the kit to scrutiny, he said the results should also be readily replicable at any location that the experiments are conducted.
“There is no short cut in research, lest we intend to court controversies. When these controversies are linked to what is perceived as Islamic, it unfortunately becomes a disservice to Islam,” he said.
The UMP kit was developed based on a study on hysteria and possession carried out by three UMP researchers lead by a Dr Mahayuddin Ismail and with the cooperation of the Al-Manarah treatment centre.
It has come under criticism both from the public and medical practitioners who question both the price and efficacy of its methods.