40 days in chains: Afghan shrine offers 'cure' for evil spirits

40 days in chains: Afghan shrine offers 'cure' for evil spirits

SAMAR KHEL, Afghanistan - All it took to land Din Muhammed in a cell at an Afghan shrine, chained up and living on bread for 40 days, was an argument with his father.

Muhammad was forced to undergo the traditional "cure" at the shrine of Mia Ali Baba, outside the eastern city of Jalalabad, to rid him of evil spirits.

Even after a decade of international funding and medical expertise pouring into Afghanistan, many locals still believe that the grim ordeal at the shrine will cure mental health problems - or as they see it, possession by malevolent "jinn" spirits.

"I had a big argument with my father," said Muhammed, a thin young man sitting on a dirty blanket with heavy chains around his ankles and wrists. "I took money from him to buy a motorbike.

"I am very unhappy and I am angry at him that he put me here."Muhammed, who says he has five war wounds after serving in the Afghan army, is incarcerated in a row of 20 miserable stone cells.

The ceilings are low and damp, and there are no fans in the summer or heating in the winter.

"The patient is kept in chains for 40 days on a diet of bread with black pepper," said Malik, the shrine supervisor.

"He is given this to make bad spirits goes away. When someone is infected by ghosts, we read verses of the Quran, and married women without children give them amulets to make the spirits depart."

"It has been the same for 360 years, and thousands of people have been cured."

At the end of the course, the "patients" are given broth made from goat's head to complete the cleansing process.

Those undergoing the gruelling regime appear in fast-deteriorating health and barely able to talk due to exhaustion.

"I did not want to come, my brother forced me," said Abdul, in his 30s, in a weak voice, unable to explain why he was sent to the shrine."

They told me they would take me to a doctor and they took 5,000 Afghanis ($90) from my pocket for that. I feel dizzy and have headaches."

Abdul's cell stinks of sweat and urine, and it is littered with trash and soiled linen. Children approach the cell to mock him, before running away laughing as he shakes in desperation.

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