Clad in a thick black coat, Tineenullah Fahad is sitting behind a desk in a room that resembles a psychiatrist's office with cold fluorescent lighting and a couch.
Fahad, 35, claims he heals people for witchcraft, demonic posession, and homosexuality. His exorcism clinic is above a dollar store and a shawarma stand in Islamabad, Pakistan.
“60 percent of the homosexual cases that come to me are the results of black magic and demonic possession,” Fahad tells VICE World News. He claims to have “treated” around 500 cases of homosexuality by reciting verses from the Quran, Islam’s holiest book.
For Fahad, homosexuality is an unnatural phenomenom that manifests under demonic influences. “When Satan was banished from Allah’s darbaar (court) he vowed to take revenge on mankind by making them reject God’s commands so that they fall into such unnatural activities,” Fahad explains his beliefs.
Fahad has been conducting faith based conversion therapy as a Raqi or spiritual healer since 2012. Conversion therapy refers to treatments that attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Fahad gives therapy on a case-by-case basis.
“One of the worst cases of my life involved a Hafiz-e-Quran (a person who has memorized the Quran.) For four hours — until two o'clock at night, I was on top of him beating him and he had no scars on his body.”
There is no centralised data on the frequency, scope and occurance of conversion therapy in Pakistan. However systemic discrimination against the LGBTQ community is pervasive and stems from societal attitudes about homosexuality as sinful or deviant behavior. Pakistan criminalises homosexuality under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that was imposed by British colonizers in 1860.
According to openly gay French-Algerian Imam Ludovic Mohamed Zahed the Quran does not explicitly condemn homosexuality or LGBTQ identities.
Fahad stands on the opposite end of the belief spectrum and considers homosexuality as a symptom of the influence of Ashiq Jinnat. The term is loosely translated to “demon lovers” and refers to possession linked to demonic infatuation.
Junaid Ehtisham,* 31, has been getting therapy from Fahad for the last seven years. He decided to meet with Fahad upon the recommendation of family friends after suffering from severe depression and anxiety which impaired his ability to complete his studies. In between treatments he discovered a spiritual healer based in the city of Gujrat who specializes in treatments for Ashiq Jinn cases. The healer diagnosed Ehtisham as being under the spell of an Ashiq Jinn.
“They had a questionnaire and one of the questions asked was if I felt like engaging in sexual relations with the same sex. I did feel like doing that,” said Ehtisham. “I had a problem with marriage and I couldn't feel sexually attracted to women.”
Since receiving conversion therapy from Fahad, Ehtisham says that slowly and gradually the treatments are working.
“If I talk about terminologies I think that I'm still bisexual. Before I couldn't imagine a woman's body. Now I can think of it and I feel some feelings of attraction towards the opposite sex,” said Ehtisham. “I’m still struggling in a sense. If I say I’m not getting those urges then it's not really the case but I'm pretty much in control and it doesn't bother me as much anymore.”
Lahore-based exorcist Farrukh Shah has conducted around four cases of conversion therapy. According to him his patients have recovered. “By the grace of God, they are now all right,” said Shah. “I have never heard them bring up this matter again.”
In 2007, the American Psychological Association conducted a research review on the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts and concluded that conversion therapy is unlikely to be successful. The organization also underscores a link between conversion therapy and an associated risk of harm.
Islamabad based Clinical Psychologist Salmaan Tahir has encountered numerous patients who have suffered devastating traumas as a consequence of conversion therapy.
“There are cases where under conversion therapy people have received beatings, corporal punishments and have also been hospitalized,” said Tahir. “The stories are absolutely shocking. We came across this one client where the practitioner tied him up and threw garbage on him.”
*Name changed to protect identity
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