Malaysia Muslim Ghost Buster

THURSDAY , 26 MAY 2005

KUALA LUMPUR: Like pilgrims drawn to a shrine, about 200 Malaysian Muslims, some in wheelchairs, queue from daybreak to consult a faith healer they call Ghost Buster.

Within the white stucco double-storey clinic, Haron Din recites verses of the Koran as his aides struggle to hold down a woman who is writhing on the carpeted floor, shrieking as if possessed. Then he blesses a two-litre bottle of drinking water, which she will use later to wash away evil spirits.

"These are people with spiritual problems, they have been possessed," the 65-year-old Muslim cleric, mystic healer and politician said later. "We get many such cases here."

Welcome to "Darussyifa", or "House of Remedy" in Arabic, where people go in search of cures for strange diseases or even to stop their spouses from straying.

Haron, deputy spiritual chief of the conservative opposition group Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), is also a real-life ghost buster, exorcising spirits from homes, offices and shops.

"There have been endless calls for us to go and 'treat' these places," the bearded Haron said between consultations. Without a trace of irony, he paused to swallow a conventional pill prescribed by his doctor for a heart problem.

"We don't chase ghosts per se," he continued, smiling. "We would visit the place, we perform prayers and read the Koran. From the feedback we received, we have been of help...But it came not from us, but from Allah." He denied being a "bomoh", a Malay witch doctor, and said his approach to healing was based on Muslim scripture and Hadith - the sayings of the prophet, Mohammad.

"Our healing is based on the holy book and the Hadith. We are not bomohs and we have no association with spirits," he said. "We only ask Allah's help."

Despite Malaysia's modernisation, traditional beliefs in possession, evil spells and "black magic" are prevalent among the it's 25 million people. Just over half are Muslims.

Even some socialites turn to bomohs. One bomoh recalled how he twirled the severed tails of black cows to exorcise demons from a factory belonging to the wife of a prominent tycoon, purportedly capturing the evil spirits in bottles, which he then tossed into the sea.

Haron, who studied Islamic sharia law at the respected Al-Azhar University in Cairo, picked up his skills from his faith-healer father, Lebai Din.

He set up Darussyifa 22 years ago, which opens seven days a week and now doubles as an academy for young faith-healers. He has dozens of faith healers working for him.

On a good day, 400 people turn up to see him. For many people, his treatment takes less than a minute or so and consists of blessing bottled water which is used later for drinking or bathing.

Haron said his service was free, but aides said his patients donated at least 1500 ringgit ($NZ553) a day.

His faith-healing business has helped him to enjoy a good life. He lives in a double-storey house next door to his clinic in Bangi on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. He has a fleet of nine cars and two boats, which he says were donated by people whom he had cured.

Although widely respected in Malaysia as an elderly Islamic scholar, Haron has detractors. Malaysia's outspoken former leader Mahathir Mohamad, a medical doctor by training, has scoffed at Haron's work.

Mahathir had asked why Haron turned to Western doctors for his heart disease when his blessed water supposedly had healing powers.

Astora Jabat, who runs an Islamic magazine, said he felt it was wrong for Haron to describe his work as Islamic medicine.

"I don't agree with him because he says that's Islamic medicine. How about the work of great Islamic scholars in the past like Ibnu Sina?".

Ibnu Sina, known as Avicenna, was a Persian physician at the turn of the 11th century and his Canon of Medicine was a standard medical text in Europe until the Renaissance.

Haron's clients include civil servants, housewives, students and children. One man said he had come to seek relief from an "unexplained pain" in his body each morning.

"I have been coming here for the past two years. I'm feeling better now," Ghouse Mohamad Mahadom Sa Marican, 57, said.