Saturday 26 September 2020

Dutch-Moroccan woman in court for exorcism-related abuse

A gavel in a courtroom.

Photo: Depositphotos

A Dutch-Moroccan woman will appear in court in Roermond on Thursday accused of the serious long-term physical abuse of her nine year-old son by ‘driving out spirits’, the Volkskrant reports.

The 39 year-old mother believed her son was possessed by a djinn, described in the Koran as a spirit made of smokeless fire. Many Muslims, including in the Netherlands, believe in the existence of such spirits, the paper writes.

The boy was placed in foster care in 2016.

According to the woman’s lawyer, there are mitigating circumstances because the mother believed she was healing her son. ‘Abuse means you are hurting someone on purpose, and that is not the case here,’ Anis Boumanjal told the paper.

But according to criminal philosophy professor Jeroen ten Voorde, abuse is abuse even if the mother was well intentioned.

‘The exorcism of djinns using violence which causes pain of injury cannot be justified. The person doing the exorcising may think differently but that doesn’t change things,’ he told the Volkskrant.

Boumanjal wants the phenomenon of exorcism among Muslims to become better understood and will put an anthropologist in the witness box.

Mental illness

This is the first case of its kind in the Netherlands. In 2016 a court in Antwerp sentenced an Islamic exorcist to 10 years for killing an 18 year-old Muslim girl.

The paper said research has shown 60 to 80% of patients with a Muslim background who have a psychosis believe they are possessed. Treatment usually involves medication but also a visit to the imam.

‘Therapists must find a way to connect to what the client is experiencing otherwise treatment will not work. It helps if an imam says there is no djinn,’ the paper quotes psychiatrist Anne-Marie van Dam of mental health organisation Arkin as saying.

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