Sunday, March 24, 2013

Jinns and Islam

Jinns: Real or Myth?
By Harmony Sutherland

            For many people of the West a jinn ( also known as djinn or genie) is envisioned as a large blue figure that has been imprisoned in a lamp. Yet, in the Middle East these supernatural beings have a greater role than being a character of One Thousand and One Nights. Mentioned in the Qur'ran twenty times and having a surra[1]  dedicated to them, the jinn are believed to be the only rational beings other than humans. For some westerners the thought of a genie, a mythical creature, to actually exist is absurd. The pages written below disagree. Jinns have existed for a long time. According to tradition, the jinns have been around longer than man himself. Below, one may read how the lore and the surras of the Qur'ran tell how jinns could have been real  men and women, they being the savage part of our being, and/or unknown to the message of the prophet, people of jahiliyyah[2]. To understand this, one must first understand what exactly is a jinn.
            The jinns are believed to be invisible beings that live in the dark parts of deserts, caves, and as mentioned above, the only other being able to think for itself. They are not angels, for angels, according to tradition, do not have rational thought. Angels only function are to serve God, they cannot do anything else. Just as angels are made from light and man is created from clay, jinns are believed to be created from a smokeless fire. These beings, generated from a pure, perfect flame are said by some to have been created one thousand years[3] before man and worshiped as deities of preIslamic peoples. To imagine that anything created from fire and being here before man is illogical for most, but if considering that jinns are actually uncivilized human beings that do not know Islam, these ideas can act as metaphors.
            Jinn has many possible root words. One such root is the word ins, meaning settlement[4]. The preIslamic people of the Arabian Peninsula were nomadic, polytheistic culture. People who lived within the cities thought them to be uncivilized or savages.  Thus came the word jinn, meaning just the opposite of ins.[5]  The idea of jinns being invisible can also be explained with the root words. All of the terms that jinn derived from have something to do with being hidden, such as ijtinan. This word means invisible eye. There are other terms like jannah, meaning a garden with trees and janeen, which translates to fetus; as a fetus that is hidden in a mother's womb.
            Jinns are supposed to haunt old buildings, dark caves, forgotten parts of the deserts, and shadowy bathroom corners. All of  these places have allowed them to easily hide and be forgotten about through time. All of these terms about being hidden relate to the fact that these uncivilized, preIslamic peoples are hidden from the revelations of the Prophet Muhammad. These people were in the dark ages of Islam, they unable to see the light, which leads us to the concept of being created by fire.
            The majority, if not all Muslims will agree that God created all living and non living things. Three beings are mentioned in the Qur'ran: angels, jinns and man, each created from a different material. Mentioned before, angels are made from light, jinn from a flame that gives off no smoke and humans are made from clay. These materials can almost be viewed as a hierarchical view and or a time line of creation. The angels were created out of light, they being closest thing to God. The next would be the first man, the jinn, created from a flame, which also emits light. These ancient  peoples of Arabia once followed God, his light shining like a fire in their hearts. However these people created from the flame turned away from God, becoming polytheistic, their flame growing dimmer. So God had to “create” a new man out of clay (Muslims) to bring monotheism back to the world. It is interesting to think of these two rational beings as a pot and kiln. If one thinks of a clay pot, the pot representing man, it is first mushy and flimsy. To get this clay to be made into a pot, the clay must be placed in a kiln, the large oven being the jinn. The kiln must have a clean, hot flame in order to keep the pot from exploding but when everything works together a wonderful work of art is created. With this visual in mind, if it wasn't for the jinn and their uncivilized, polytheistic ways, Islam would not be around. Gabriel would have no reason to revile God's word to Muhammad in order rekindle monotheism's flame. The jinns savage ways lead to the enlightenment, the rise of Islam. Though the barbarous jinns may of rose awareness to Muslims of the pagan and polytheistic religions in the nomadic tribes in the desert, it did not make the Muslims believe that the uncivilized beings were gods.
            The Qur'ran mentions a few times how preIslamic people's worshiped jinns as dieities, however only two are going to be mentioned.  Surra 6:100 reads: ...they assigned the jinn as associates of God though He created them; and to their ignorance have they falsely ascribed to him sons and daughters.[6] If one can think of jinns as human beings, hidden from the light of Islam and not magical beings that can grow so small they can get killed by a date pit[7], this can easily be viewed as a god king. In earlier civilizations and centuries afterwards, there were countless cultures around the world that believed their kings to be of divine origin. There were the Egypt's pharaohs who were considered to be god on Earth. Though not considering themselves as gods, a majority of the kings of Mesopotamia, rulers of Ur and Assyira were worshiped almost as idols.[8]  The idea of worshiping an object just created by God, be it a man or beast or plant instead of its creator was considered paganism and idolatry. Also if we look at Islam as a social act against the leading tribe of Mecca during the time of the Prophet, the Quraysh, this surra can be viewed as saying that all man are equal before God. The other surra, 34:40 reads ...they worshiped the jinn: it was in them that most of them believed. On this day the one of you shall have no power over others for help or hurt....this is merely a man a who would fain pervert you from your father's Worship[9].  This surra says that these divine jinn, the god kings are just impostors. He is just another man that has no real power that will try to keep you from knowing the word of God. This could be why jinn are sometimes thought to be as devils.
            There are many types of jinns. Jinns come from all over the world, and each having the choice to believe in what they want. There are Jewish jinn, Hindu jinn, Christian jinn, etcetera. Jinns also have the choice to believe in nothing, they being kuffar jinn. And then there are momin jinn, jinns who are believers. The Qur'ran states, in surra 46:29, that the jinns over heard the Prophet preaching his revelations, and spread it to their own people. There are the jinn that live among men (amaar), a civilized savage. Jinns called arwaah live among and bother children, which seems to question a uncivilized man's intelligence. And then there are the evil ones called devils, shaitan, or Satan. These devils are mean, the most savage of the jinn. It is interesting to note that the term satan was used as a derogatory term to call arrogant rebels[10]. In tradition, there was a jinn, sometimes called Ibless, that was commanded by God to aid Adam. This jinn hated humans and tricked Adam into disobeying God. And hence the downward spiral to paganism and multiple gods until the birth of Islam.
            There is debate that Ibless is an angel, a jinn, or something else. There is the possibility that he did not even exist anywhere besides the inside of Adam's own mind. It is believed that for every human born, a jinn is born and vise versa, acting as the other's companion. This is called qarn[11] (horn). It is up for the human qarn to help the jinn accept Islam.[12] If the human succeeds, both human and jinn are accepted into heaven, if not, both are damned to hell. Ibless could of possibly have been Adam's qarn.           It would be easy to think of the concept of the qarn as being a psychological one. A human is not only born with a jinn qarn but also an angelic qarn. The qarns of the human almost act as the good (the angelic) and the bad (jinn) choices humans make in their day to day lives. The qarn act almost as the angel or the devil that sits either shoulder giving you advice. It would make since that the human would have to try to convert his savage jinn, his or her uncivil part of their brain to follow Islam. If the human can get this part of his or her brain to comply with Islamic values, they have completed one of the biggest challenges they had to face: getting over their ego, material goods, and just obeying God. One could also view the qarn jinn as a human figure.
            It is allowed to marry a jinn.[13] As long as the traditional marriage rituals are performed and there is a wali[14] present. If you married a jinn and managed to pull him or her away from their savage tendencies you are granted a place in Heaven. So if you can marry a one, what else can you do with a jinn?
            Jinns act just as humans. They get jealous, vengeful, angry and even fall in love. According to tradition, jinns can interact with humans and because humans are porous creatures, can enter into a human and possess them by going to the control center of the human body, the brain. Jinns possess people, usually humans of the opposite gender of the jinn, when they feel the human has wronged them, or have fallen in love with a human. Jinns can also possess humans when the human is scared, stressed, vain, or unconscious. Just as the idea of the qarn as a metaphor for being rational and having the choice of making bad or good decisions, the concept of being possessed by jinn can mean the same thing. The jinn only react to humans when feeling wronged or in love, both things of which can make one act differently. When a human is possessed by a jinn, it is that human giving into that savage part of their brain. On a different note, the possession of human by a jinn may be early Muslims way of explaining mental illness. Just like the possession of a demon in Christianity, the possessed act like a different person, act violently and even sound different, the savage mind showing itself.
            According to traditions, however, some humans did not need fear the jinns. Some were considered friends of the invisible beings, the humans just as savage as they are. Poets and soothsayers were believed to be friends of the jinn. The soothsayer would make a deal with the jinn, to give the jinn something it wants in return for information about the future. According to the Prophet, the jinn would then whisper in the soothsayer's ear divinations, it resembling the sound of chicken clucking.[15]  The sayer then must translate this clucking. The Prophet then warns the the jinn tend to lie. The jinn considered here can even just be the soothsayer him/herself.
            Such acts of divination are a sin in Islam and other Abrahamic religions. It mentions in the Qur'ran in surra 26:221-23 that those that listen to a soothsayer are going against God, listening to words of a jinn or a jinn who was eavesdropping on angels. Having to translate the clucking of a chicken into something relevant shows that there is nothing to be gained from divination. A soothsayer partaking in the act, an act used in preIslamic times, would then be considered a uncivilized person and should just trust in the will of God.
            Not all jinns are bad. There are Muslim jinn. The Qur'ran reads, as mentioned above, in surra 72, the surra dedicated to jinn, that some jinn listened to Muhammad. They spread the word of the Prophet to their people and they became Muslims. These jinns, these savage people that live out in the deserts, caves, trees, people that live far from any city or town, accepted God. Surra 51:56 states that God had created the jinn and humans for no other duty but to serve him. God does not care if the jinns are uncivilized peoples, they are his creation. But as time goes on, concepts and principals of a civilization change, as well as the concept of what a jinn is.
            As the Islamic empire continued to spread, towns and cities were built with great libraries and mosques. As result of the empires progress, the uncivilized beings started to disappear, so the concept of the jinn evolved into this supernatural entity. Like many religions and theologies, they were created for that time period and place. As time moves forward,  religions and theologies move with it, causing the beliefs of the past to be inadequate. The jinn may at first been a name for the nomadic tribes that lived in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, their uncivilized nature setting them apart from the average Muslim. These beings eventually become something of a boogie man, something you tell around a campfire at night. And as time even continues, the jinn made their way around the world, making appearances in the West, becoming kid friendly sidekicks. No matter what the jinns really are, they play a major role in Islam today as way to explain the supernatural and harass or aid humans on their path to God.


            Abu-Rabia, Aref. “The Evil Eye and Cultural and Cultural Beliefs Among the Bedouin Tribes of the Negev, Middle East”. Folklore 116, No.3 (2005): 241-254.

            Adams, Kate and  Bulkeley, Kelly and Davis, Patrica M. Dreaming in Christianity and Islam: Culture, Conflict, and Creativity. New Jersey: Rutgers University, 2009.

            Ali, Maulana Muhammad. Holy Quran., 2011.

            Ansari, Moiz. Islam and the Paranormal: What Does Islam Say About the Supernatural in the Light of the Qur'ran, Sunnah and Hadith. Nebraska: iUniverse, 2006.

            Ashqar, 'Umar Sulayman, The World of the Jinn and Devils. Islamic Books, 1998.

            Baljon Jr., J.M.S. The Reforms and Religious Ideas of  Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan. Brill Archives, 1949.

            Beaumont, Daniel. “'Peut-On...”: Intertextual Relations in the Arabian Nights and Genesis”.  Comparative Literature 50, No.2  (1998): 120-135.

            Calderini, Simonetta “Tafsir” of “alamin” in “rabb al-alamin,” Qur'an 1:2”. Bulletin of the School of  Oriental and African Studies, University of London 57, No.1 (1994): 52-58.

            El-Zein, Amira. Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of the Jinn. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press. 2009.

            Frankfort, Henri. Kingship and the Gods: A Study of  Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of  Society and Nature. Chicago: Univeristy of Chicago Press, 1978.

            Khalifa, Rashid. Quran- The Final Testament- Authorized English Version of the Original. California: United Community of Submitters, 2007.

            Lebling, Robert W.  Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies From Aabia to Zanzibar. London: I.B. Tauris, 2010.

            McCaughrean, Geraldine, and Stephen Lavis. One thousand and one Arabian nights. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

            Meri, Josef  W. and Bachrach, Jere L. Medieval Islamic Civilization, Volume 1: An Encyclopedia. New York: Taylor and Francis Group, 2006.
            Rodwell, Alan, trans. The Koran. Vermont: Everyman, 1994.

            Toorawa, Shawkat M. “Seeking Refuge from Evil: The Power and  Portent of the Closing Chapters of the Qur'an”. Journal of Qur'anic Studies 4, No.2 (2002): 54-60.


[1]A chapter of the Qur'ran.
[2]Considered the Islamic dark ages, people ignorant of Islam.
[3]   Ashqar, 'Umar Sulayman, The World of the Jinn and Devils (Islamic Books, 1998) 7.
[4]   Baljon Jr., J.M.S, The Reforms and Religious Ideas of  Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan ( Brill Archives, 1949) 58.
[5]Baljon 58.
[6]   Rodwell, Alan, trans, The Koran, (Vermont: Everyman, 1994) 88.
[7]A tale from One Thousand  and One Nights, the Merchant and the Ifrit (a bad jinn), consists of a merchant who killed the son of a jinn by tossing a date pit into a field, the pit unknowingly piercing the chest of a very tiny son of a giant jinn.
[8]Frankfort, Henri, Kingship and the Gods: A Study of  Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of  Society and Nature (Chicago: Univeristy of Chicago Press, 1978), 300.
[9]Rodwell, 287.
[10]Ashqar 13.
[11]Derives from the word hqareen, meaning counterpart.
[12]   Khalifa, Rashid, Quran- The Final Testament- Authorized English Version of the Original (California: United Community of Submitters, 2007), 422.
[13]However, some disagree due to the fact that the material used to create humans and jinns is different.
[14]Someone who has authority over someone else, can be used in the since of being an “authority of God”;  a administrative title.
[15]   Ansari, Moiz. Islam and the Paranormal: What Does Islam Say About the Supernatural in the Light of the Qur'ran, Sunnah and Hadith. Nebraska: iUniverse, 2006.


  1. Extremely interesting reading. It seems imperative that we excavate the material roots of this ideological system.