In bad faith By Zarrar Khuhro


LAST week, I received a message from a family friend pleading with me to get her an appointment with a renowned faith healer she said was visiting Pakistan. Her son had been diagnosed with a developmental disorder some years back and, despite being six years old, had yet to utter a single word. Distraught, she had consulted all manners of doctors and experts but the problem had persisted. This man, she said, was her last hope.

Then a few days later, I came across a tweet from Hamza Shafqat, the district commissioner of Islamabad, asking people to stop calling his office to arrange appointments with the said faith healer while explaining that his office had nothing to do with this man. Other journalists such as Adil Shahzeb, Naimat Khan and Israr Rajpoot also received calls begging them to use their contacts to get appointments with him.

The man in question is self-proclaimed faith healer Mala Ali Kurdistani who has taken Pakistan by storm. There’s a mad scramble to get appointments with Kurdistani who claims to be able to cure anything from blindness to deafness to even cancer with the power of faith and his healing touch. Thousands have thronged to his gatherings, desperation and hope writ large across their faces, eager to clutch at any straw in order to find a cure to whatever ails them or their loved ones.

But apart from the aforementioned masses, Kurdistani has also been feted by the leading lights of Pakistan’s political firmament, such as former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser, the prime minister’s special representative on religious harmony Tahir Ashrafi, the JUI-F’s Mufti Kifayatullah and, last but never least, the inimitable Firdous Ashiq Awan. With all these luminaries lending a semi-official stamp of approval, why would Kurdistani not believe that, at long last, he’s come to the right place?

There’s a mad scramble to get appointments with Kurdistani.

Kurdistani, whose real name is Ali Kalak, hails from the town of Kalak in the Erbil province of Iraqi Kurdistan. It was there that he first set up his ‘practice’ and quickly became so popular that people braved crossing insurgent-held territory to reach him, with some patients coming all the way from Europe. He didn’t rely solely on the power of faith and, according to one report, promised a woman that her terminal breast cancer could be cured if she followed his prescription of drinking a small cup of camel urine mixed with camel milk thrice daily. In no time at all, Kurdistani became a celebrity of sorts, amassing a large and loyal following on YouTube which, unfortunately for him, came at a cost: Kurdistani authorities began investigating him and his centre was repeatedly sealed by the Kurdistan Regional Government and he himself faced multiple courts summons and arrests from KRG officials.

Feeling the heat, he left Erbil and surfaced in Saudi Arabia in the city of Madina. Here he once again found himself in trouble when he posted a video in which he ‘cures’ a blind man by licking his index finger and touching the eyes of the blind man, apparently curing him. This display attracted the attention of the Saudi police who promptly arrested him and shortly after that the blind man in question appeared on regional TV channels claiming that Kurdistani was a liar and that he had never claimed he was blind to begin with. However, in the clip posted by Kurdistani, the man can be seen clearly stating that he was in fact blind, leading Saudi authorities to accuse Kurdistani of ‘importing’ people to act as patients who would then be ‘cured’.

Released after spending a short time in custody, Kur­distani headed over to Turkey where he set up shop in Istanbul district’s Basa­ksehir district where, once again, he attr­acted not just large crowds but also the attention of authorities who, once again, sealed his practice. While this was widely reported in local Turkish media, I also confirmed this with the Ankara bureau chief of Daily Sabah.

But now he’s finally come to the right place: the land of demagogues, of water-kit cars and false promises, where fakery is a life skill and hope is in short supply. And due to that last fact, it’s not the desperate masses that are to be blamed, but perhaps the ones who have brought them to such a pass that they will grasp at, not just a straw, but even the promise — the illusion — of a straw.

And that provides the most fertile of grounds for men like Kurdistani; men who understand theatre and have the charisma, narcissism and lack of conscience that typifies psychopaths who prey on the vulnerable with no qualms at all. No wonder then, that so many of our leaders are falling head over heels to validate him, when a simple Google search could have uncovered the truth. After all, in so many ways, they are kindred spirits.

The writer is a journalist.

Twitter: @zarrarkhuhro

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2021