Monday, April 02, 2012

The ‘Roqia’ (Islamic Healing) Scams

This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah and is the author of Islam's Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science.
‘Roqia’, which I’ve translated above as “Islamic healing”, is the tradition of having some Qur’anic verses read over a sick person in order to achieve some betterment, most people assuming it to be medical. There are hadiths relating that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) practiced it, and it is still widespread in many Muslim communities around the world, including ones in the west (more on that below).
I do not intend to get into the controversy of whether one should believe (or accept) that prayers do produce healing of some sort. First, it depends on whether we’re talking about a spiritual or a medical effect. Secondly, it makes much difference (in my view) whether the praying is done by the sick person himself/herself or whether someone is praying for them. Thirdly, it comes down to whether one believes that spiritual effects within a person can and do lead to a physiological effect or not. I will leave all these issues hanging, although if people want to debate them in the comments section, I’ll gladly oblige.
The problem today is that this practice has turned into a widespread scam. First, there is a social phenomenon to be investigated, namely the strong return of tradition “Islamic” medicine, including bloodletting, “Prophetic”/herbal medicine, and ‘Roqia’/healing through prayers performed by a sheikh. A year ago, I had written a post on this effect, focusing on Muslims’ (and to some extent other peoples’) current infatuation with herbal medicine. Indeed, there is today a huge social trend toward old, medieval medical procedures, such as bloodletting. For Muslims, it is on the one hand because the Prophet practiced that and sometimes recommended it (what else could he have recommended?), and on the other hand, because modern medicine is western and suspect with all its secondary effects and (perceived) disregard for human “wholeness”.
More importantly, however, this social shift toward traditional medicine has been noticed and taken advantage of by the charlatans. There are now “roqia clinics”, both in the Muslim world and in Europe, where charlatans administer “roqia treatments” to ignorant and gullible patients who suffer from anything ranging from “evil eye” to cancer, not to mention sexual problems, which are easier to explain (through allusions) to a sheikh than to a physician. They charge anywhere between $2 for a quick consultation and prayer (in poor places in Algeria) to 100 euros in France, and oftentimes the “healers” ask their patients to undergo regular treatment sessions (weekly or 2-3 times weekly), and to pay for the “medicine” (often in the form of a bottle of mineral water which has been “infused” with the proper verses), hence increasing their scammy wealth… Oh, and some have come up with “group roqia” procedures to multiply the income in each session.

Some of these charlatans have even opened up satellite TV stations, taking international orders for their medicines, which usually consist of herbs, oils, and honeys, and cost up to $150. Others have set up 900-type phone systems, making money just through the calls.
Finally, and most shockingly, a series of cases have recently appeared (at least in Algeria and in Saudi Arabia), where charlatan “raqis” were charged with raping innocent and naïve young women, in one case as many as 30 (sorry, the links are in Arabic and French)!
This is turning into a social catastrophe, combining ignorance, abuse of religious tradition, and multiple frauds and crimes. This needs to be denounced and exposed. Educators and sincere and clear-minded religious scholars need to speak up and address this, in the classrooms and in the mosques. It is truly painful and depressing to see Muslim communities even in the west succumb to this kind of socio-cultural corruption. We must, however, remain steadfast and hardworking in our ongoing efforts to educate everyone at various levels and from many perspectives.
We have a long way to go…


Gary said...

I have seen the catastrophe of people who claim to perform roqia. I know of one Muslim doctor who brings this into his "practice". I use inverted commas because he badges himself as an integrated therapist. This means his white coat, stethoscope and sphygmomanometer are all for show. I have never seen him use them. Instead he prescribes medicinal honey, yoghurt tablets and herbal medicines. He told one patient not to use her asthma puffer because that kept the congestion in. I worked him out at the first visit when he told me that a chronic illness I suffer from was caused by my western diet. I know the cause, it is well established in the medical literature and diet is not the factor. He plys his trade in a South East Asian country and his basis for the diet claim is that all his Asian patients who have it have lived in the west and adopted a western diet. The disease is rare among anglo-celtic people such as myself, (many GPs have to look it up in their medical dictionary) it is even rarer in Asians. As if this is not bad enough he has a number of cancer patients who are naturally afraid of surgery and chemotherapy and he recommends herbal medicine and hydrotherapy instead.

In another instance and Indian Muslim woman who believed a Hindu women was using black magic against her sought help from a part-time Indian Muslim healer. His full time job was driving a bus. His prescription was for her to carry out a religious ritual normally performed by Hindu wives in the mornings and evenings. He also told her to prostrate and perform dzikr in front of a pile of burning incense used by Hindus in their cremation rites. The black magic clearly worked. It turned her into a Hindu, left her house reeking of burning cow dung, and resulted in her needing multiple surgeries for illnesses associated with inhaling vast quantities of incense smoke in an enclosed room.

The only ones I have seen practicing anything like genuine ruqia tell people to do the dzikr and keep up their prayers but to keep up their medical treatment because in the end all healing is from God. You are right we do have a very long way to go.

Nidhal Guessoum said...

Thanks, Gary; you have many interesting stories to tell; not surprising with the people and places you've dealt with... :-)

There are many charlatans who take advantage of people's (Muslims and non-Muslims') strong preference for anything "herbal", "organic", "natural", "traditional", etc. Those need to be countered with solid science, and though this sounds simple, it's an ongoing educational struggle.

More dangerous still are those who take advantage of people's simple faiths and simplistic understanding of their religion/tradition (e.g. the practice of 'roqia'). More dangerous because this combines abuse of medicine with abuse of religion and human trust. Those crooks need to be exposed even more strongly, lest Religion/Islam turns into a carried-on primitive practice of old 'sunnas' (habits/traditions).

Ali said...

"... Religion/Islam turns into a carried-on primitive practice of old 'sunnas' (habits/traditions)."

Why blame religion for such practices?
Aren't these culturally acquired practices?
Muslims, like any other religious individual, belong to a culture. Sometimes, what is practiced as a result of culture and tradition are mistaken as religion.
Islam will not turn out into a primitive practice of tradition. Islam will remain as Islam. But cultural influences may give a false perception of Islam. Thats a different issue.

Anonymous said...

Ali thats a great point. Allahu Alim

Nidhal Guessoum said...

First, you left out the word "lest" from the sentence you quoted, and I don't need to point out that it changes the whole intention of the statement. In the future, let us please not distort people's views by quoting partial sentences.
Secondly, 'roqia' is based on hadiths and prophetic practices. So even though it is not exactly a "religious" practice (it is not required in Islam; you can be a Muslim and not once do roqia your entire life), I don't see how we could refer to that as "culturally acquired practices".
And yes, the "practiced Islam" should not be confused with the real Islam, but what I am denouncing is those practices. Nowhere did I criticize Islam itself.

Ali said...

My apologies if I have misunderstood what you said.
"Those crooks need to be exposed even more strongly, lest Religion/Islam turns into a carried-on primitive practice of old 'sunnas' (habits/traditions)."
Leaving the word 'lest' OF the above sentence in the bit I quoted, for me, does not alter anything.
'Lest' according to means:
"for fear that; so that (one) should not (used negatively to introduce a clause expressive of an action or occurrence requiring caution)"
You've said "...Religion/Islam turns into ..."
My objection was to this bit.
What i meant was that Islam is not going to TURN INTO anything.
Islam will remain Islam.
It is the preception of Islam that might get altered because of such cultural and traditional practices.


Thanks, Anonymous

Zohaib Hassan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MadamSplash said...


Not sure why I ventured across your article, but feel I should comment.

I have been an intuitive healer for many years, and learned this at at time I was very ill myself over a decade ago.

These days I merge it with a more grounded regular western business life.

What I wish to say is that faith healing on any level taps into the belief system of he recipient ... because they have not learned for themselves how to access the mysterious forces of the Universe, that is what most of the religions call God, so in essence their belief system is used to bring about a healing.

Anything could be used, from drugs to smoke in mirrored rooms.

If there is healing ... it cannot be evil.

With Love