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Islamic Exorcisms Aim to Cast Out LGBT Demons in World's Largest Muslim Country

An Islamic exorcist on a couch shouting at a woman in a full burqa

Police in one of the 20 biggest cities in Indonesia recently apprehended 18 couples in an attempt to "cure" their LGBT identities through Islamic exorcism. According to the local Muslim belief, homosexuality and transgenderism come from spirits known as "djinn," who are cast out in an Islamic exorcism, known as "raqyah."

"There's been a number of cases who have reacted [to Islamic exorcism] meaning they're not pure and that there's a supernatural interference inside their bodies pushing them to commit [homosexual acts]," Islamic cleric Aris Fathoni, from the Ruqyah Association for Sharia in Indonesia, told ABC News Australia.

Fathoni insisted that raqyah can address all ailments "whether medical or non-medical," including encouraging homosexual and transgender people to resist their sexual orientations and identities. The cleric suggested that LGBT identities result from mental illness and an Islamic form of demon possession.

According to ABC News Australia, police in Padang — Indonesia's 19th largest city, located on the island of West Sumatra — are working with the Islamic exorcists, rounding up 18 couples for "psychological support and rehabilitation."

Ruqyah has become more popular thanks to the influence of Islam in the world's largest Muslim country and thanks to the presentation of Islamic exorcisms on national television.

The TV show "Ruqyah" broadcasts Islamic exorcisms to a national Indonesian audience. According to ABC News Australia, one episode — "Djinn Interference in the Sodom Community" — featured a gay man crying, screaming, and shaking uncontrollably as an Islamic exorcist reads from the Quran.

Fathoni, the Islamic exorcist, said he performs raqyah by reading verses from the Quran and hitting his patients with a sapu lidi — an Indonesian broomstick — on their backs.

Fathoni also reported having cast out the djinn responsible for a man's homosexuality in the early 2000s. That man went on to get married to a woman and have children.

Indonesia does not have a national law against homosexuality, but local by-laws penalize those who identify as LGBT. A new by-law in the city of Pariaman in West Sumatra will fine people up to 1 million rupiah ($96) for homosexual acts or publicly presenting as transgender, which are deemed immoral or disturbing to public order.

Such laws are broadly popular. Thousands in Padang recently came out to demonstrate in favor of the new initiatives from the local government.

Yet Indonesia is a tremendously large place, and opinions on LGBT identity vary. Some cities, like the capital Jakarta, are much more accepting of those who identify as LGBT, although stigmas naturally persist.

While the LGBT debate in the West often pits religious conservatives — often Jews and Christians — against more secular LGBT activists, the Muslim world is far more hostile toward those who engage in homosexual activity or identify as transgender. The Islamic State (ISIS) throws gay people off of buildings, and many Muslim countries still carry out the death penalty against LGBT people.