Jinn: Tales of Wish Masters Throughout Time
In translation, the term jinn can be interpreted as hidden from sight or the hidden ones. In Arabic, jinn defines a collective number and it derives from the root jnn or gnn which means to hide or to be hidden - thus implying the fact that jinn are not necessarily spirits, but they are hidden in their status in time, in space, and in darkness.
Etymology of the Word Jinn
From the same root, the word Gannah is also derived which refers to another place hidden in space and time - the Garden of Paradise. In English, “genie” is a synonym for “jinn” and it is derived from the Latin “genius” which used to refer to a sort of protective spirit which each human was thought to have ever since the moment of birth.
The only resemblance between the two is the pronunciation, as jinn and genius are totally distinct entities. From the Latin “genus” the modern term “genetics” is derived with a certain resemblance to “jinn” as entities believed to be capable of determining familial features of resemblance. In Arabic, the singular for genie or jinn is “ginni”, while the plural is “ginn”.
Jinns and Precious Stones
Like many other beings, jinn can be either male and female. Also, jinn can exist independently or they can attach themselves to inanimate objects, especially old objects in which they can reside and together with which they can travel. For example, it was believed that jinn could become attached to precious or semi-precious stones such as opals.
A male genie (goodreads)
In the Middle East, archaeologists have found evidence from the pre-Islamic era which suggested that during that time, there was no clear distinction between spirits inferior to angels and jinn. In north-west Arabia, archaeological evidence has also clearly suggested the worship of jinn. In a region near Palmyra, an unearthed inscription called jinn “the good and rewarding gods”, but despite all archaeological evidence regarding jinn worship, the Quran rejects this practice arguing that Allah is the only one who is to be revered and worshiped:
“But they have attributed to Allah partners - the jinn, while He has created them - and have fabricated for Him sons and daughters without knowledge. Exalted is He and high above what they describe” - Quran, 6:100.
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Jinn in Arabian Nights and The Quran
Jinn are most commonly known from the tales contained in “Arabian Nights”, a writing which illustrates several kinds of jinn and spirits. According to the text, numerous spirits and entities exist alongside humans and they interact between one another just as they interact with humans.
Out of all these entities, the type of jinn known as Ifrit is described as physically larger than the rest as well as the most powerful. Another kind of jinn, the Marid, is said to live in seas and oceans as a spirit of water.
Arabian Nights illustrated by Milo Winter (1914) (Public Domain)
As the most well-known supernatural beings of the Islamic tradition, jinn are often mentioned in the Quran. They reside in the void between worlds, a parallel dimension different from the world of humans or from any world known.
Illustration of Aladdin Flying Away with Two People from the Arabian Nights (Public Domain)
Even though angels, humans, and jinn are the three types of sentient beings created by Allah, the latter are the most mysterious. The information regarding them is scarce, but it is said that they have come into being from the smokeless flame and that they can be good, evil, or neutral.
Still, jinn can be dangerous and hostile towards humans using every chance they get to twist the words and desires of humans against them. The “Suurat al-Jinn” is a surah contained in the 72nd chapter of the Quran which is dedicated entirely to jinn. Jinn are also mentioned in the Quran in the final verse of the “Suurat al-Naas”, but the classic image of jinn as wishmasters was first depicted in “Arabian Nights”.
The black king of the djinns, Al-Malik al-Aswad, in the late 14th century Book of Wonders (Public Domain)
Contrary to angels, but similar to humans, jinn enjoy free will, therefore they can make their own choices and they can also allegedly be judged during Judgment Day and sent to either Heaven or Hell. Jinn usually live in highly remote areas with clouds, waters, trees, and mountains.
They traditionally are said to live in their own communities and their existence can remain secret as they are able to travel over great distances extremely quickly. Also, jinn can make themselves invisible to the eyes of humans. Because of all this, stories say that humans can only get small, vague, and unclear glimpses of the existence of jinn without fully perceiving their reality.
From Jinn to Devil
It is said that, after Allah created man, he asked angels and jinn to bow before Adam. At that time, one jinn exerted his free will and chose to disobey the Creator. He was the Iblis. For his disobedience, he was banished from Paradise and he became the Devil, under the name of Sheitan. This change caused Allah sent prophets to both human and jinn alike in order to provide good counsel and show the righteous path.
Illustration of Iblis better known as the Devil. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
In this way, Mohammed was but one of these prophets and messengers. One of the differences between Christianity and Islam is that the Bible constitutes the word of God sent through the apostles, while the Quran is considered to be the word of Allah itself. As depicted in the Quran, the Iblis gained Allah’s favor through his devotion and he was granted command over the order of angels.
The Quran, in traditional Arabic text. (CC BY 2.5)
However, even though he had obtained a rank similar to that of angels and, just as the angels, he had to listen and obey to Allah’s orders, the Iblis refused to bow before Adam while stating “I am better than he: Thou didst create me from fire, and him from clay” – Surah 7, Al-A’raf, Ayat 11-12.
Until Qiyaamah, Judgment Day, Allah, in his mercy, postponed the destruction of the Iblis turned Sheitan. As for devils, the Islamic tradition states: “We made the evil ones friends only to those without faith” – Quran 7-27. In Christianity, Lucifer, an angel, became Satan - the Devil. In Islam, Iblis, a jinn, became Sheitan - the Devil.
The Power of Sheitan
When it comes to the power Sheitan has over men, there are two main aspects which he can exploit. The first is hubris which constitutes extreme pride and arrogance. The second is influence, which means that Sheitan can whisper and instigate people to do evil, but it is up to each human to decide whether he wishes to follow the suggested evil path or not. In this way, Sheitan lacks any kind of direct means of control over the lives of humans.
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‘Imam Ali Conquers Jinn’ by an unknown artist. (1568) Golestan Palace (Public Domain)
His power rests merely at the level of suggestion, balanced by the possibility of choice that is provided by free will. Partly, this explains why the name “Iblis”, coming from the root “balasa” means “he who causes despair”. In addition, the Quran argues that devils and evil jinn were created to help sorcerers who are, from a spiritual point of view, very far from Allah. Supposedly sorcerers can invoke these entities, force them into obedience through special rituals, and then send them out to accomplish tasks set by the sorcerer himself - or by those paying for his services.
Featured image: 1001 Arabian nights. Photo source: flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
By Valda Roric