When it comes to talking about whether jinn possession is real and a valid belief, often people will cite their experiences.

Here are some points to consider:

1. The purpose of theologians is to establish what God has told us. The theological validity of something is not established by what people feel or any other emotions. Claiming you’ve experienced something is of course your perogative, but we must recognise that it’s not a theological argument, and has no evidentiary authority for claims about the unseen.

2. Experiences are a matter of perception, which is subjective. I’m not saying that people haven’t experienced something but what they make of it is a matter of interpretation. It’s logical that where a person has never been introduced to the notion of jinn possession, it’s not an explanation s/he’d fall on – and as I’ve very briefly covered, the Islamic sources (nusus shar’iyyah) cannot be credibly taken that way. Many people claim things: some Hindus will claim they’re touched by one (or more) of their gods, some Christians claim Jesus has spoken to them or that they’ve received the holy spirit. Some Muslims will visit shrines and claim to be literally “visited” by the dead saint buried there. And yes, tens of thousands (if not millions!) from each faith and tradition have made such claims, so based on claim and/or numbers, does that validate their interpretation of what they experienced? Of course not, and inherently their interpretation of an experience is shaped by their pre-conceived beliefs and ideas. A study (with limitations) offers some insight here. Now this is not to say that devils do absolutely nothing – as I’ve already stated (as so too have many other scholars past and present) the Qur’an explicitly refers to “touch” /المس – in the form of whispers (which everyone agrees on), but these whispers of a metaphysical nature do not in any way strip an individual of their autonomy. It’s simply not in the remit of the devil (see 14:22).

3. It’s an irresistible fact that only the people who believe in possession seem to experience it and interpret events in that way, just like only Hindus feel Shiva or Christians feel Jesus/holy spirit (and to argue that those who dismiss the idea also do but they don’t know it is an incredibly weak assertion). One of the things the Hasanat saga reveals is that sincere souls were duped into believing that Hasanat was relieving them of the jinn that had supposedly possessed them. Think about it, as the result of Hasanat’s so-called ruqyah, an agnostic non-Muslim who didn’t even believe in what he was doing and really just putting on a show, many of his patients felt the jinn possessing them had been exorcised. Either we accept that it was all a scam that relied on a mistaken belief in possession, or we accept that non-Muslim exorcism (and/or ruqyah by a non-Muslim as a form of ibadah) is valid and works. If you assert that maybe they were mistaken in their belief that they were possessed, then how do we ascertain when a person is actually possessed as oppose to a misdiagnosis? If you assert that maybe the jinn didn’t leave but pretended to, then what you’re suggesting is that we should accept their claims that they were possessed, but we shouldn’t accept their claims that they were relieved of that possession by a non-Muslim. You cannot have it both ways, and if you try to, then it’s clear confirmation bias.

4. “But I witnessed the jinn, my friend/family (etc) spoke a language they didn’t even know / spoke in a voice I didn’t recognise!” Such phenomena have been widely documented amongst all types of people (usually following some trauma) including non-Muslims who dismiss the idea that the jinn actually exist. Foreign accent syndrome and polyglot aphasia are specific conditions that come to mind, but the explanation you opt for will rely a lot on your preconceived ideas – and as I’ve covered, the Islamic sources cannot be compellingly read as offering an explanation that rests on jinn possession.

5. In my anecdotal experience and having spoken to literally hundreds of people about their ‘possession’ experiences over the years, the way in which they describe what’s happened always discloses how their preconceived ideas shaped their perception of the actual event. When I’ve probed into exactly what’s occurred, it’s been clear to see that the event could be taken a number of ways. What one learns pretty quickly in the realm of religious ministry is that for most people, religion doesn’t run on reason but on emotion. People follow their instincts and backfill arguments to fit them.