“I have been wearing this ‘taveez’ (talisman) since I was a child. I believe it protects me not only from dengue but every other illness,” says Ali Hashmi, pointing to a charm around his neck. Hashmi – in his late twenties, works in Lahore and has not contracted the dengue fever yet – believes that every time he takes off the talisman, trouble finds him.
“The pir (faith healer) I go to has done miracles in front of me,” he adds, saying medicine is only 20 per cent of the cure for any illness. “The rest is all faith. For me, my talisman is my ‘spiritual’ medicine.”
Like Hashmi, countless residents of Lahore are heading to faith healers to find cure for dengue.
Dengue and the faith healer
Most faith healers live at different shrines located around the city. Qamar is one such ‘pir’ who says he can ward off dengue.
He sits at the shrine of Pir Hazrat Shandi Qalandari. The tomb is located right in the middle of Lahore’s busiest road, Ferozpur. Many devotees flock to this shrine everyday to offer their respect and heal their pain.
“We can cure any disease. There is nothing that we do not have a solution for, even if it is dengue,” says Qamar, who sits majestically under a huge papaya tree next to the revered grave.
“I have cured many people. Be it cancer or anything else, people always come to me,” he says proudly.
Qamar’s fee depends on what people can give him happily.
“We have been healing people for centuries through this method,” Qamar reveals.
The process of healing
Qamar says he sees the ‘believers’ in a narrow one-room space right behind the shrine — the place where he also sleeps.
The room opens through a green painted wooden door. It’s a dark room with cement walls and a blanket spread out on the floor — on the blanket lies an ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts and a briefcase. Qamar sits down, pulling the briefcase close to him, and takes out a bundle of paper sheets. He takes out a single piece and starts drawing four lines horizontally, then cuts through them vertically with the same number of lines making a box with nine smaller boxes.
He starts writing numbers on top of three of the nine small boxes.
“This is the holy scripture that will protect you from dengue or any other kind of fever,” he explains while scribbling and overwriting on the text previously written.
“These three need to be put into a water bottle and each bottle needs to be consumed over a period of fifteen days,” he instructs as he tears the pieces of paper from the sheet. He writes the same instructions behind the numerical box. “These chits will last for 45 days and by then dengue will be gone from the city anyway,” he says solemnly.
According to medical research there is no proof that dengue fever or any other disease can be cured through faith healing, states Dr Rizwan Zafar Ahmad. He is a renowned practitioner and a professor at the University of Lahore, and was the chief speaker at a recent seminar regarding dengue and its treatment.
“Dengue fever needs to be tackled with medicine only and if the platelet count drops below a certain level, then platelet concentrate should be given to the patient,” he says.
“Faith healing is just a myth. Since 60-70 per cent of people are illiterate in Pakistan, they end up believing such things due to lack of education.
With respect to the pirs and their promises, Dr Ahmad concludes: “These people are taking advantage of this grave crisis in the country”.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2011.
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