— Philip Golingai (@PhilipGolingai) April 18, 2016
A school in northern Malaysia has been forced to shut temporarily in order to deal with an outbreak of ‘mass hysteria’.
Both students and teachers have reported seeing a ghostly black figure, and screams were heard coming from the grounds of SKM Pengkalan Chepa 2 – a school in the highly traditional and religious state of Kelantan.
Pupils and staff believe they had seen spirits or had supernatural experiences and began behaving oddly after claiming they had seen a figure dressed in black. Authorities shut the school after the outbreak and called in Islamic traditional experts, scholars and even witch doctors to perform prayer sessions and ‘exorcisms’.
Kamariah Ibrahim, a teacher, told Malaysian news site Astro Awani:
I saw a black figure, like it was trying to enter my body, but my colleagues were surrounding me, reciting verses from the Al-Qur’an.
I felt like my head was bloating, I felt numb and tears kept pouring down my face.
School principal, Siti Hawa Mat, said all the victims claimed to have seen the same black figure during each incident, and in a press conference, she said the hysteria attacks originally involved 25 pupils, but when it happened again, 50 pupils and 11 teachers were affected.
Eight more pupils have been hit by the same hysteria since the conference, with one, Ina, telling the The Star: “I can’t explain how I got possessed, but I couldn’t move and fainted before I was revived by an uztaz (teacher).”
— Asian Correspondent (@AsCorrespondent) April 18, 2016
A senior school staff member told the BBC:
Our students were possessed and disturbed [by these spirits]. We are not sure why it happened. We don’t know what it is that affected us.
But the place is a bit old, and these children can be disobedient and sometimes throw their rubbish around the school grounds. Perhaps they hit some ‘djinns’ and offended the spirits.
Djinn are supernatural, invisible spirits that are mentioned in the Quran and Islamic mthology. They are said to manifest animal and human form and are very hostile.
Some people aren’t as convinced:
BBC News – Malaysia school shuts after 'mass hysteria' outbreak https://t.co/dw8X80u1pE
— Giovanni Giorgis (@gioitalia69) April 20, 2016
Malaysia in the grips of an outbreak of – can't believe i'm typing this – mass hysteria. https://t.co/G1krIrn6d0 Dora, are you there?
— Adam Minter (@AdamMinter) April 20, 2016
— IHEU (@IHEU) April 20, 2016
Sociologist Robert Bartholomew thinks it is much simpler than an evil spirit. Speaking to the BBC, Bartholomew said the incident was a ‘textbook outbreak’ of mass hysteria, which usually occur in small groups in enclosed surrounding such as schools, orphanages and factories. It’s defined as ‘the spontaneous and rapid spread of false or exaggerated beliefs within a population’, and is also called conversion disorder.
Bartholomew added: “Malays are susceptible because of their belief in an array of spirits.”
Whatever it was – an evil spirit or a textbook case of conversion disorder – it’s spooky.