Jinn in Arabic Mythology: The Creatures of Islam

Jinn in Arabic Mythology - The Creatures of Islam

What is a Jinn?

The Djinn (also known as Jinn, genie, according to Arabic and Islamic belief, are usually ugly and evil demons with supernatural powers. In pre-Islamic belief, the Djinn were nature spirits who were said to be capable of driving people mad. They roamed wild and lonely desert areas and, though usually invisible, they were able to take on any shape, whether animal or human. However, in Islamic lore, the Djinn was modified. They were intermediate creatures, coming between humankind and the angels.

The Origin of the Jinn

The Origin of the Jinn

Once thought to be supernatural creatures in pre-Islamic Arabia, the Jinn have since become well-known spirits in the mythos and theology of Islam, taking the shape of both benign and malignant forces.

The morality and the nature of the Djinn appear to differ depending on the source. In some variations, we see the Jinn as good-intentioned spirits or a neutral essence that exists alongside us. Other renditions of the Jinn see the creature take the form of demons, which of course seek to harm.

The winged genie in the bucket and cone motif, depicting a demi-divine entity, probably a forerunner of the pre-Islamic tutelary deities, who became the jinn in Islam. Relief from the north wall of the Palace of King Sargon II at Dur Sharrukin, 713–716 BCE. (Wikipedia)

Since the Jinn were never able to be defined as entirely good or entirely evil, it would appear that Islam adapted various spirits and supernatural creatures from what was once contemporary paganistic beliefs and incorporates them into the core religion. By this, the Jinn aren’t necessarily a specific group of entities but more so a cluster of very different beings that all fall under the same label.

Some see them as a varied mix of angels, demons, shapeless shadows, animals, invisible beings or the angular size genies which appear in many modern books, movies and TV shows.

Many Arabs worship the Jinn in the pre-Islamic period, but these jinns weren’t seen as gods as such, given that they were said to have a lifespan and, therefore, could not be infinite. Little is known about this type of worship or how the Jinn even came about, but there is some understanding that they originated as evil spirits that once lived in the desert, often taking the form of animals.

In some Middle Eastern folklore, the Jinn are often depicted as wicked and scary-looking creatures—but these renditions are generally considered to be fictional.

Interestingly, while the Jinn can take on many anthropomorphic forms, they are unable to take on the form of a wolf, because the wolf is a natural predator which is thought to represent a noble character. The wolf’s form therefore cannot be mimicked by the mischievous Jinn given that they lack such nobility.

The Meaning of Jinn

The term Jinn itself is sought to be derived from Semitic roots where it had the primary meaning of ‘hidden’ or ‘concealed’—quite fitting for a creature that many of the Islamic faith believed to be invisible or otherwise unperceivable to the human eye.

However, the exact origin of the term remains unknown. Others pointed to a Zoroastrian belief of the people of Iran as the source from which the term Jinn came from, whereby an evil female creature known as the Jaini was believed to exist.

it’s thought in some beliefs that the Jinn may have even been a part of the Mesopotamian myth in the form of demons and wind spirits, but while they were never identified as Jinn at the time, they were incorporated into Islamic teachings and the Quran.

The Creation of the Jinn in Islamic Belief

Going by what the Quran tells us, Allah creates the Jinn—an act told to us in several sewers of the holy book.

‘And the Jinn We created from scorching fire.’

We also told in Surah Ar-Rahman 55:15,

‘And He (Allah) created the Jinn from a smokeless flame of fire.’

The Prophet Muhammad in a 6th Hadith (Sahih Muslim) also confirms that the angels were created from light and the Jinn from smokeless fire.

The Purpose of the Jinn

The Purpose of the Jinn
Jinn building a wall for Dhul-Qarnayn to protect the civilized peoples from the barbarians Gog and Magog, sixteenth century. Chester Beatty Library, Dublin.

We understand from the Quran that the purpose of the Djinn is to worship Allah and that in this, they share the same purpose as humans. Allah even says in Surah Al-Dhariyat 51:56,

‘And I did not create the Jinn and mankind except to worship Me.’

It also gives us the idea that the Jinn, like humans, maintain the free will and that by this, there may very well be good Jinn out there who do follow the Quran and do recognize Allah as the Lord.

An example of this takes place in Surah 72, where we see a group of Jinn become Muslims after being compelled by the recitation of the Quran. We are told,

‘Say, [O Muhammed], it has been revealed to me that a group of Jinn listened and said, “Indeed, we have heard an amazing Qur’an. It guides to the right course, and we have believed in it. And we were never associated with our Lord anyone.”’ (Al-Jinn 72:1-2)

Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a clear-cut definition in Quran as to what the purpose of the Jinn is outside of worshipping God. In a way, you might argue that our purpose as humans is equally ambiguous and that the choices we make and the experiences we have determine the sort of person that we will be—one who is good or one who is bad.

The Jinn appear to live under this same notion despite some belief that the Jinn lives in a parallel world to us—one where they can live up to 1,500 years. Again, we are not able to perceive the Jinn, but it is thought that they can perceive us. Implying that they can traverse inter-dimensionally or somehow cross over into our world where the bad ones seek to lead men away from the righteous path.

It is believed that Jinn, despite being spirits, may possess similar physiology or biology to us; that they consumed food and water and that they can conceive children. As can be seen in the Quran, they too are subject to Allah’s judgment and will be sent to either heaven or hell, according to the life they have led.

The Appearance of the Jinn

Depiction of Shaitan in Islamic Tradition
Depiction of a Shaitan (a devil) made by Siyah Qalam between the 14th and the 15th century.

The Jinn appear to be made up of several different Islamic figures.

Some see them as Shaitan, which is more evil natured spirits, those are said to be a direct descendant of the entity known as Iblis. They are often referred to as the evil Jinn, or sometimes even fallen angels, those that did not prostrate before Adam and chose to follow their leader Iblis into banishment.

Others associate the Jinn with the Ifrit—yet another Islamic creature that dwells in the underworld and desolate places, as well as taking the forms of more powerful demons.

Another Jinn is thought by some believers to be spirits of wind and fire and that this is the form they take in our world.

But others believe that the Djinn are that powerful that they can take on whatever form they wish. As a form of wind, the Jinn are thought to appear in myths or sandstorms. but even then, maintain an ambiguous form like a gas, as opposed to a solid.

Jinn’s Influence in the World of Humans

Jinn’s Influence in the World of Humans

In some cultures, it is the Djinn who call sandstorms and higher velocity winds. Sandstorms are also thought to be the result of Jinn fighting one another, which goes to show how destructive these beings can be and what sort of power they behold.

Sometimes it is believed that the Jinn may appear as independent shadows that are cast upon surfaces.

For the most part, though, Jinn appears to be an abstract force that tempts Muslims against the way of God and lure them onto a path that shames society. It fits the notion that the Jinn can manipulate us should they appease our more carnal desires, but ultimately can be resisted through a strong mind and a strong belief in God.

Historically, the Jinn were thought to be responsible for fits and seizures—quite like how sorcery and witchcraft were blamed for the same emergencies in Salem Massachusetts in the 17th century.

Without the medical and scientific knowledge, we have now, many believed and perhaps still believe today that such conditions are a result of demonic or Jinn possession.

Those afflicted with other ailments are also thought to be haunted by a Jinn within some communities. While this notion is widely debated within Islamic communities, some believe that the Jinn can possess humans and cause a complete personality U-turn, goading them into violence and wicked deeds.

They are thought to be able to induce seizures upon victims, causing grievous pain and even have them speaking in tongues.

How to Get Rid of a Jinn

Much like in Catholic exorcisms, rituals can be performed to banish the Jinn which consists of reciting verses from the Quran.

In some beliefs, the Jinn are bound to certain areas in our world, particularly the kind of areas that have been abandoned or are desolate. Here, they dwell and seek to cause harm and mischief upon those who stumble into their midst.

Such areas include abandoned houses, sewers, ruins, garbage dumps, and generally anywhere you would think twice about stepping foot in.

However, many see the Jinn as more like a boogeyman story—something to frighten children into obeying their parents and to warn them of the perils of strain from Allah.

The Categories of the Jinn

Sinai Desert Cobra associated to being a Jinn
A Sinai desert cobra. Snakes are the animals most frequently associated with jinn. Black snakes are commonly considered as evil jinn, while white snakes as Muslim jinn.

We also see mention of the Jinn in the Hadith (Sahih) where they are furthermore categorized into three different groups.

  1. Those that can fly
  2. Those that can take the form of snakes and dogs, and,
  3. Those that are more nomadic and in a human form.

King Solomon and Jinn

King Solomon and Jinn

Whilst the Prophet Muhammad is thought to have brought the message of Allah to the Jinn in Surah 72 (Al-Jinn), where we see some Jinn express their desire to walk with Allah, there is another figure in Islam famous for his interaction with the creatures.

it is believed that King Solomon was granted a boon from Allah that allowed him to talk to Jinn and granted him the power to rule them for a time. During this time, Solomon had the Jinn build his first temple—a story reflected in several other tales including the Testament of Solomon, a pseudepigraphical text associated with the Old Testament.

Are the Jinn Superior to Humans?

Painting from a Herat manuscript of the Persian rendition by Bal’ami of the Annals/Tarikh (universal chronicle) of al-Tabari, depicting angels honouring Adam, except Iblis, who refuses. Held at the Topkapi Palace Museum Library.

Another common tradition regarding the Jinn is that they were created on a Thursday after the angels who were created a day before. The humans, on the other hand, were then created on a Friday but over a thousand years later.

Before the creation of humans though, the Jinn were thought to live in a very similar fashion to us and that each day, they crept a little closer to sin. Before long, most of the Jinn were corrupted despite having received several warnings from Allah about their wicked ways. As a result, Allah would send His angels to persecute the Jinn.

When the Prophet Muhammad acquired the Quran and the Jinn overheard the message in which he brought, a few of them were given a chance to redeem their sinful ways.

For the most part, though, we understand the Jinn are prideful creatures and because humans were created so long after them, they refused to listen to Muhammad’s words and saw themselves as above him and every other man.

Additionally, they are also thought to be stronger and faster than humans and quite chillingly choose to eat bones and rotten flesh.

Are the Jinn Real?

But, are the Jinn real? Well, many have since debated this very idea given the lack of any tangible evidence. Many believe that the old quote ‘the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist’ rings true here, for it allows one to become fully unaware of these dark forces and therefore susceptible to a Jinn’s manipulation.

Alternatively, many believe as aforementioned that the Jinn are not perceivable to the human senses and therefore it would be impossible to prove their existence. But it has been argued that the Jinn must take some sort of form, whether this is an ethereal form or a solid form.

If they are solid, we would be able to touch them and therefore perceive them through at least one of our senses, and if they were ethereal, then they would not be able to physically manipulate the world in which we live without defying some laws of physics.

A counterargument is that Allah can create whatever he wants and if he wants the Jinn to defy the laws of physics, then his Will shall be done.

Critics who subscribe to this idea believe that the Jinn as mentioned in the Quran are not spirits, but instead unruly and evil men.

As the Jinn are named in the Quran, some see it as a sin to deny their existence.

Another idea that may explain supposed sightings of the Jinn could be due to psychological causes. Sleep paralysis also plays a huge factor in potentially being an explanation for some sightings of mysterious creatures or Jinn.

Some believers see the effect of sleep paralysis as a Jinn attack and that many Muslims, particularly in the region of Egypt, who suffer from sleep paralysis believe this to be the doing of a Jinn. The sufferer might experience an intense fear during its moments of sleep paralysis. He may even proceed to panic and hallucinate, causing them to see what they believe are demons or Jinn.

The Jinn have also thought to have been used in witchcraft, usually pertaining to sorcery in the Middle East, supposedly practitioners of the occult can summon the Jinn and can manipulate them in a similar way to King Solomon where the Jinn becomes their servant and instrument for them to do wicked things.

A common idea is that the sorcerer will use the Jinn to possess their victims. Other ideas suggest that a Jinn are used by soothsayers or fortune tellers and that the Jinn travelled through time to supply them with the information they seek.

Unfortunately, there exist a plethora of ideas and stories regarding the Jinnee—most of which differ from culture to culture, where one community may maintain some specific ideas about the Djinn, another may disagree entirely.

Whilst many Muslims agree that the Djinn are present in the Quran and therefore should be regarded as real entities that should be cautioned against, many take the concept with a pinch of salt and perhaps see the Djinn in a more metaphorical sense.

Art Sources: Svetlin Velinov, Jenaro Pagan, Douglas Deri.

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