The jinn, or genies, are spiritual creatures mentioned in the Qur’an and other Islamic texts who inhabit an unseen world in dimensions beyond the visible universe of humans. Together, the jinn, humans and angels make up the three sapient creations of God. The Qur’an mentions that the jinn are made of a smokeless and “scorching fire”, but also physical in nature, being able to interact physically with people and objects and likewise be acted upon. Like human beings, the jinn can also be good, evil, or neutrally benevolent and hence have freewill like humans and unlike angels. The jinn are mentioned frequently in the Qurʾan, and the 72nd sura is titled Sūrat al-Jinn.
Etymology and definitions
Jinn is a noun of the collective number in Arabic literally meaning “hidden from sight”, and it derives from the Arabic root j-n-n (pronounced: jann/ junn جَنّ / جُنّ) meaning “to hide” or “be hidden”. Other words derived from this root are majnūn ‘mad’ (literally, ‘one whose intellect is hidden’), junūn ‘madness’, and janīn ’embryo, fetus’ (‘hidden inside the womb’).
The Arabic root j-n-n means ‘to hide, conceal’. A word for garden or Paradise, جنّة jannah, is a cognate of the Hebrew word גן gan ‘garden’, derived from the same Semitic root. In arid climates, gardens have to be protected against desertification by the use of walls; this is the same concept as in the word “paradise” from pairi-daêza, an Avestan word for garden that literally means ‘having walls built around’. Thus the protection of a garden behind walls implies its being hidden from the outside. Arabic lexicons such as Edward William Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon define jinn not only as spirits, but also anything concealed through time, status, and even physical darkness.
The word genie in English is derived from Latin genius, meant a sort of tutelary or guardian spirit thought to be assigned to each person at their birth. English borrowed the French descendant of this word, génie; its earliest written attestation in English, in 1655, is a plural spelled “genyes.” The French translators of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights used génie as a translation of jinnī because it was similar to the Arabic word in sound and in meaning. This use was also adopted in English and has since become dominant.
In Arabic, the word jinn is in the collective number, translated in English as plural (e.g., “several genies”); jinnī is in the singulative number, used to refer to one individual, which is translated by the singular in English (e.g., “one genie”). Therefore, the word jinn in English writing is treated as a plural.
Jinn in the pre-Islamic era
Among archaeologists dealing with ancient Middle Eastern cultures, the spirits made after the angels and before mankind are often referred to as a jinni, especially when describing stone carvings or other forms of art.
Inscriptions found in Northwestern Arabia seem to indicate the worship of jinn, or at least their tributary status, hundreds of years before Islam. For instance, an inscription from Beth Fasi’el near Palmyra pays tribute to the “jinnaye“, the “good and rewarding gods”.
In the following verse, the Qurʾan rejects the worship of jinn and stresses that only God should be worshipped:
“Yet, they join the jinn as partners in worship with Allah, though He has created them (the jinn), and they attribute falsely without knowledge sons and daughters to Him. Be He glorified and exalted above (all) that they attribute to Him.” (Quran 6:100)
In One Thousand and One Nights, there are depicted several types of jinn that coexist and interact with humans: shayṭān, the ghūl, the marīd, the ‘ifrīt, and the angels. The One Thousand and One Nights seems to present ifrits as the most massive and strongest forms of jinn, and marids are a type of jinn associated with seas and oceans.
Jinn in Islam
In Islamic theology jinn are said to be creatures with free will, made from smokeless fire by Allah as humans were made of clay, among other things. According to the Quran, jinn have free will, and Iblīs abused this freedom in front of Allah by refusing to bow to Adam when Allah ordered angels and jinn to do so. For disobeying Allah, he was expelled from Paradise and called “Shayṭān” (Satan). Jinn are frequently mentioned in the Quran: Surah 72 (named Sūrat al-Jinn) is named after the jinn, and has a passage about them. Another surah (Sūrat al-Nās) mentions jinn in the last verse. The Qurʾan also mentions that Muhammad was sent as a prophet to both “humanity and the jinn,” and that prophets and messengers were sent to both communities. An appellation of Muhammad is Rasûl-üs-Sakaleyn. Because Muhammad met the jinn several times at night, a masjid (Masjid-i Jinn) is said to have been built in memory of this phenomenon.
Similar to humans, jinn have free will allowing them to do as they choose (such as follow any religion). They are usually invisible to humans, and humans do not appear clearly to them. Jinn have the power to travel large distances at extreme speeds and are thought to live in remote areas, mountains, seas, trees, and the air, in their own communities. Like humans, jinn will also be judged on the Day of Judgment and will be sent to Paradise or Hell according to their deeds.
Classifications and characteristics
The social organization of the jinn community resembles that of humans; e.g., they have kings, courts of law, weddings, and mourning rituals.A few traditions (hadith), divide jinn into three classes: those who have wings and fly in the air, those who resemble snakes and dogs, and those who travel about ceaselessly. Other reports claim that ‘Abd Allāh ibn Mas‘ūd (d. 652), who was accompanying Muhammad when the jinn came to hear his recitation of the Quran, described them as creatures of different forms; some resembling vultures and snakes, others tall men in white garb. They may even appear as dragons, onagers, or a number of other animals. In addition to their animal forms, the jinn occasionally assume human form to mislead and destroy their human victims. Certain hadiths have also claimed that the jinn may subsist on bones, which will grow flesh again as soon as they touch them, and that their animals may live on dung, which will revert to grain or grass for the use of the jinn flocks.
Ibn Taymiyyah believed the jinn were generally “ignorant, untruthful, oppressive and treacherous,” thus representing the very strict interpretations adhered by the Salafi schools of thought.
Ibn Taymiyyah believes that the jinn account for much of the “magic” perceived by humans, cooperating with magicians to lift items in the air unseen, delivering hidden truths to fortune tellers, and mimicking the voices of deceased humans during seances.
In Sūrat al-Raḥmān, verse 33, God reminds jinn as well as mankind that they would possess the ability to pass beyond the furthest reaches of space only by His authority, followed by the question: “Then which of the favors of your Lord do you deny?” In Sūrat Al-Jinn, verses 8–10, Allah narrates concerning the jinn how they touched or “sought the limits” of the sky and found it full of stern guards and shooting stars, as a warning to man. It goes on further to say how the jinn used to take stations in the skies to listen to divine decrees passed down through the ranks of the angels, but those who attempt to listen now (during and after the revelation of the Qurʾan) shall find fiery sentinels awaiting them.
A related belief is that every person is assigned one’s own special jinnī, also called a qarīn, of the jinn and if the qarin is evil it could whisper to people’s souls and tell them to submit to evil desires. The notion of a qarīn is not universally accepted amongst all Muslims, but it is generally accepted that Shayṭān whispers in human minds, and he is assigned to each human being.
In a hadith recorded by Muslim, the companion Ibn Mas‘ud reported: ‘The Prophet Muhammad said: ‘There is not one of you who does not have a jinnī appointed to be his constant companion (qarīn).’ They said, ‘And you too, O Messenger of Allah?’ He said, ‘Me too, but Allah has helped me and he has submitted, so that he only helps me to do good.’ ‘
In Muslim cultures
The stories of the jinn can be found in various Muslim cultures around the world. In Sindh the concept of the Jinni was introduced during the Abbasid Era and has become a common part of the local folklore which also includes stories of both male jinn called “jinn” and female jinn called “jiniri.” Folk stories of female jinn include stories such as the Jejhal Jiniri.
Other acclaimed stories of the jinn can be found in the One Thousand and One Nights story of the Fisherman and the Jinni; more than three different types of jinn are described in the story of Ma‘ruf the Cobbler; a mighty jinni helps young Aladdin in the story of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp; as Ḥasan Badr al-Dīn weeps over the grave of his father until sleep overcomes him, and he is awoken by a large group of sympathetic jinn in the Tale of ‘Alī Nūr al-Dīn and his son Badr ad-Dīn Ḥasan.
During the Rwandan genocide, both Hutus and Tutsi avoided searching in local Rwandan Muslim neighborhoods and widely believed myths that local Muslims and Mosques were protected by the power of Islamic magic and the efficacious jinn. In Cyangugu, arsonists ran away instead of destroying the mosque because they believed jinn were guarding the mosque and feared their wrath. The modern city of Deoband (Uttar Pradesh, India) is named on similar grounds. ‘Deo’ from Hindi, is a synonym of Jinn, while ‘Band’ means closed, but can be translated as captured in Hindi. The legend says, that there was a menacing jinn, and it was a elderly, who put a stop to him, by capturing him into a bottle, sealing him away forever. Another version, describes that there were two, not one jinn. This bottle/s are said to be sealed away in the dungeon of a mosque situated on a hill in the city itself, which has not been opened ever since. Additionally, the premier Islamic body of Darul-Uloom, Deoband is said to have a vibrant community of civilized jinns in its midst.
Relationship of Prophet Solomon and the Jinn
According to traditions, the jinn stood behind the learned humans in Solomon’s court, who in turn, sat behind the prophets. The jinn remained in the service of Solomon, who had placed them in bondage, and had ordered them to perform a number of tasks.
“And before Solomon were marshalled his hosts,- of jinn and men and birds, and they were all kept in order and ranks.” (Quran 27:17)
The Qurʾan relates that Solomon died while he was leaning on his staff. As he remained upright, propped on his staff, the jinn thought he was still alive and supervising them, so they continued to work. They realized the truth only when Allah sent a creature to crawl out of the ground and gnaw at Solomon’s staff until his body collapsed. The Qurʾan then comments that if they had known the unseen, they would not have stayed in the humiliating torment of being enslaved.
“Then, when We decreed (Solomon’s) death, nothing showed them his death except a little worm of the earth, which kept (slowly) gnawing away at his staff: so when he fell down, the jinn saw plainly that if they had known the unseen, they would not have tarried in the humiliating penalty (of their task).” (Qurʾan 34:14)
Difference in perception of jinn between East and West
There is a significant difference in how these beings are perceived in East (as jinn) and in West (as genies). Western natives moving to Eastern countries may experience a bout of culture shock when they are confronted with the perceived presence of jinn by people who believe in them, and two good examples of the struggle to adapt to a culture which believes in jinn are The Caliph’s House and In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah, which describe his family’s experiences in moving from London to a supposedly jinn-inhabited home in Morocco.
Existence and usage of jinn in other cultures
In Guanche mythology from Tenerife in the Canary Islands, there existed the belief in beings that are similar to genies, such as the maxios or dioses paredros (‘attendant gods’, domestic and nature spirits) and tibicenas (evil genies), as well as the demon Guayota (aboriginal god of evil) that, like the Arabic Iblīs, is sometimes identified with a genie.
Jinn in the Bible
In Judeo-Christian tradition, the word or concept of jinn as such does not occur in the original Hebrew text of the Bible, but the Arabic word jinn is often used in several old Arabic translations. In Isaiah 6, the seraphim (lit. “burning/fiery ones”) appear to the prophet Isaiah, with their six wings being use to cover, or hide, their body, face and feet.
In several verses in those Arabic translations, the words jinn (جن), jann (الجان al-jānn), majnoon (مجنون Majnūn), and Iblīs (إبلیس) are mentioned as translations of familiar spirit or אוב (Job) for jann and the devil or δαιμόνιον (daimónion) for Iblīs.
In Van Dyck’s Arabic translation of the Bible, these words are mentioned in Leviticus 19:31, Lev 20:6, 1 Samuel 28:3, 1 Sa 28:9, 1 Sa 28:7, 1 Chronicles 10:13, Gospel of Matthew 4:1, Mat 12:22, Gospel of Luke 4:5, Luk 8:12, Gospel of John 8:44 and other verses as well. Also, in the apocryphal book Testament of Solomon, Solomon describes particular demons whom he enslaved to help build the temple, the questions he put to them about their deeds and how they could be thwarted, and their answers, which provide a kind of self-help manual against demonic activity.
Protection from jinn
An amulet, talisman or what is referred to as a tawiz in Sufi circles is a form of protection against many forms of spiritual evil, including protection against the jinn. It is often worn around the neck in a pouch, close to the heart. One such popular amulet was said to have been given to Sheikh Abdullah Daghistani by Muhammad in a vision. In that vision he was instructed to give this amulet to people as a protection for them in the last days. The amulet contains a depiction of the Throne Room of Allah. The amulet contains theosophic names as well as the names of folk saints. It is widely held to be very miraculous and a protection to those who submit to Allah. The tawiz is allowed in Islam but anything to do with black magic is forbidden . Muslims believe that all protection and help only comes from Allah, as it is a central Islamic tenet to believe that there is no power nor might save God’s. These sorts of practices are widespread in the Islamic world. The Muslim faithful believe that reciting the Verse of the Throne (Qurʾan 2:255) and the final three concise chapters of the Qurʾan (chapters 112-114) are the most effective means of seeking protection from satanic whispers and evil creatures.