BBC Two 19 November 2012
UK health and social workers and those in the criminal justice system are increasingly having to understand belief in spiritual possession among ethnic minorities, with new research highlighting a particular issue with some sections of the British Asian community blaming mental health problems on the supernatural.
The exorcist Abou Mohammed sits cross-legged on the floor of a back-room in his home in Ilford, East London. He is surrounded by copies of the Koran, containers of olive oil and a spray-bottle of water which he uses on the Jinn, the supernatural spirits, that he says possess many of his clients.
Mr Mohammed, who goes by the title of Raqi, has a waiting list several months long and charges £60 for a one-hour session.
One of his clients is Mudasar Khan, 41, who says he has been possessed by a Jinn for years. He describes it as something that surrounds his body, buzzing, making him unwell and even stopping him sleeping.
Mr Khan has been on anti-depressants in the past and suffered panic attacks, but he says the Jinn prevented medication from working and that it is only coming to Abou Mohammed that has provided some relief.
"I had to go to the doctors and the hospitals too, to prove it to my family, because if I didn't do that side of it as well they'd think it was in my head," he says.
For five years Mr Khan has been treated by Mr Mohammed, who he says summons up the Jinn inside of him and speaks to it directly, easing its effect.
'Power to cure'
Mr Mohammed knows what he does is controversial - while we are filming his work he also films us, concerned that we will distort what he does - and he says that there are many charlatans in his field.
The exorcist believes some illnesses are unnecessarily dealt with by doctors when they are actually spiritual problems. He even says some people have operations they do not need because the Jinn has tricked doctors.
"I cure them by this book [the Koran]. You have to have a faith in it and it will work. So yes, anxiety, depression, heart problems, many, believe me, many problems get cured by this healing."
Despite this, Mr Mohammed admits he does have some clients come to him who are seriously ill and need medical attention, particularly those who are mentally unwell.
When 20-year-old Nadeem (whose name we have changed) became ill he and his family thought he had a spiritual problem, that he was also possessed by a Jinn:
"I was at home and I was with my family and their faces looked different to me, my senses changed as well," he recalls. "I tried to lie down to sleep, but too many things were going through my mind and I felt my head is getting narrowed getting tight. My thinking is big; I'm thinking a lot of things."
He says that in the night he went down stairs and told his father how he was feeling:
"My parents got worried, they said don't worry we'll call a certain guy and he'll sort it out... so they called a person who's got the power to control these things and take them out."
'Writhing on the floor'
Nadeem's parents took him to an exorcist for treatment:
"I was physically fidgeting and flinching all over the place. I was on the floor in my house and I was screaming and the Jinn was trying to come out of my mouth," he says.
Nadeem says he felt better for his treatment, but that he did not recover and was eventually taken to hospital. He is now diagnosed with schizophrenia and takes daily medication.
Cases like Nadeem's, in which his illness was instantly attributed to possession, are not entirely uncommon and are a cause for concern among mental health professionals.
Professor Swaran Singh, head of the Mental Health and Wellbeing division at Warwick Medical School, has just completed a five year study, funded by the Department of Health, into why patients from ethnic minority backgrounds were often reaching mental health services in a more severely ill state than the rest of the population.
"We found that in the very early stages when people have depression or anxiety, they seek help through their GP because it looks like a psychological problem. When they become seriously unwell, like when they develop delusions or start hearing voices, then the groups diverge.
"The Asian groups, particularly the British Pakistanis, then attribute their problem to a religious cause, for instance, possession by a Jinn. So they seek help through the Imams, through the mosque," he says.
Among British Asians the belief in evil spirits is not uncommon. It can be concepts like black magic or the evil eye, it can also be that the body can be possessed causing physical harm.
British Muslims in particular are brought up learning of the existence of Jinn in the Koran, though what the Jinn actually are is not universally agreed upon.