God's Other People, the Jinn

God's Other People, the Jinn

by Jimmy Dunn

Notation: Please excuse the graphics for this article. Jinn, being an Islamic tradition, were probably almost never if ever portrayed in paintings or other artwork, and though it is possible that some modern works exist, we might just as well provide a picture of a cat, dog or any monster being. ______________ Remember the popular television show, "I Dream of Jeannie"? Of course, that series was based, at least to some degree, on the classic book, "Aladdin and the Magic Lamp", about a genie who would spring from a magic lantern and grant wishes to whomever was lucky enough to posses the lamp. The Genie that most westerners associate with magic lantern is actually derived from the jinn, or ginn, which are known throughout the Arabic, as well as the Muslim world. In Egypt, as well as elsewhere, the modern concept of jinn have their basis in the Islamic faith. According to the Quran, Allah created man from clay, angles from light, and jinn from fire. However, there is little doubt that the belief in jinn, who themselves are believed to predate Adam, also predates the Quran. In the pre-Islamic era, they constituted the nymphs and satyrs of the desert, and during the era that the Quran was written, they were revered as a form of gods. Yet that was probably not much the case in Egypt. Dynastic Egypt had very established creation myths, and after the dynastic period, Egypt seems to have converted directly from their original pagan religion (modified for the Greeks and Romans) into Christianity. This is not to say that a few people who immigrated into Egypt might not have bought jinn folklore with them, but there is no real record of this believe in Egypt prior to the Arab invasion. However, once Egyptians did embrace the belief in jinn, they held it firmly. Some traditions surrounding the jinn refer back to a pre-Adamite period when it was believed to have been inhabited by a race of beings that were much more powerful then ourselves. Differing accounts refer to forty, or seventy-two pre-Adamite kings, each of whom bore the name of Sulyman (Solomon), who successively governed these people The last of these Sulymans was named Jann Ibn-Jann (Gann Ibn-Gann). Some think that the jinn derived there name from him, and indeed many believe that the jann, a word sometimes used interchangeably with jinn, were actually an evolutionary forerunner of the jinn. During this period of time, the jinn built great cities and their kind covered the earth. They were in God's favor but thy transgressed and offended Him, and made wickedness abound on earth, whereupon God sent an army of angels against them and they were forced to flee the regions they once inhabited. Other stories maintain that the jinn refused to bow down to Adam, and this is the rebellion which took place. However, tradition also holds that they will remain on earth after the demise of mankind. Various classes of jinn are said to exist, though finding some conformity on this matter is difficult. For example, Efreets (ifrit, fem. Ifritah) are almost always listed as a separate class, but then we have the si'la (treacherous spirits of invariable form), Ghul (Ghoul), Sheitans (Sheytans), who are evil jinn, Jann, who are a weaker, more primeval race of jinn, and the most malevolent of the jinn called the Marid. In any particular reference, all of these class are likely not to be mentioned.

Archaic Jinn Traditions of Egypt

Cairo is as modern as one wishes it to be, and just as sophisticated. But one is still able to take a step back in time, within this great city, or in Egypt's countryside, and find people of a bygone age, where ancient beliefs persist. In this context, the jinn who's singular form of jinni, or Ginni (fem. Jinniyah) still persist with considerable color beyond the scope they are given in the Quran. In fact, it would be impossible to single out all of the jinn-lore available in Egypt.

Though his actions may be in question, perhaps the genie from Aladdin was not so distant from our imagination of a jinn

During the period after the Arab invasion of Egypt and the enlightenment of modern Egyptology, many Egyptians actually attributed the building of their own pyramids and ancient temples to pre-Adamite race of jinn. Where nineteenth century concepts of the jinn continue to exist, they are seen as an intermediate class of beings between angles and men, but inferior in dignity to both. Though created by fire and usually invisible to humans (the archaic word probably means covered, or hidden), they are capable of assuming any number of forms such as monsters, brutes (dogs, cats, etc), or men. They eat, drink and propagate their species (like, or in conjunction with human beings). They are subject to death, though they generally live for many centuries. They mainly live in the chain of mystical mountains called Kaf (Qaf), which are supposed to encompass the whole of our planet, but archaic Egyptians also believe that they may reside in many other places, such as rivers, ruined houses, wells, baths, ovens and even latrines. For example, a form of the jinn were thought to protect the tombs of the dead. There may be good jinn, who believe in Islam, but the majority are nonbelievers. The latter are called Sheitans (Sheytans), of whom Iblis (Satan) is the chief, since it is believed that he was a jinni created of fire. Though perhaps relegated now to uneducated, backwater Egyptians, there was once a considerable body of customs surrounding the jinn. For example, it was common, having spilt some water on the ground, pre-twentieth century Egyptians to mutter, "Destoor", begging the pardon of any jinni that may have inhabited that piece of earth. These customs are suggestive of "The Thousand and One Nights", in which a merchant is described as having killed a jinni by throwing aside the stone of a date. In the same story, and in others of the same collection, a jinni is represented as approaching in a whirlwind of sand or dust, and it was in fact a general belief that the large whirlwinds that swept across the fields and desert of Egypt were caused by the flight of one of these beings. Some Egyptians, on seeing an approaching whirlwind, would shout, "Iron, thou unlucky", as jinn are supposed to have a great dread of this metal. And why not a jinn, this beast of a guy?Shooting stars (meteorites) also have connotations related to the jinn. They were believed to be a dart thrown by the angles at an evil jinn, and when the archaic Egyptians saw a shooting star, they might exclaim, "May Allah transfix the enemy of the faith!". These evil jinn are often termed Efreets, and were thought to be more powerful then other jinn, as well as always malicious. An evil jinni of he most powerful class was called a Marid (fem. Maridah). These malevolent jinn could be guilty of anything from tossing bricks off buildings, causing death or illness, or worst of all, leading people away from their Muslim faith. Efreets (ifrit, fem. Ifritah) were especially thought to inhabit the ancient tombs and the dark recesses of Egypt's temples. This term was also applied to other beings, such as the ghosts of dead people. As such efreets were the haunters of houses as well. Another type of evil jinn was the "Ghoul" (Ghul, or Gul, male Qutrub). They were believed to have taken the form of various animals and in many monstrous shapes, to haunt burial grounds and other sequestered spots, to feed upon dead bodies and kill and devour every human creature who had the misfortune to fall in their path. It was believed that during the holy month of Ramadan, the jinn were confined in prison, and hence, on the eve of the festival that followed that month, some of the women of Egypt, with the view of preventing these objects of dread from entering their houses sprinkle salt upon the floors while saying, "In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Cairo is grown up now, but in this archaic period, and perhaps still in some poor sections of the city, it was also believed that each quarter had its own peculiar guardian jinni, or Agathodaemon, which has the form of a serpent.

Jinn, the Quran and Hadith

Now, while the Quran gives credence to the jinn, it should also be noted that the western bible, including both the Old and New Testaments, also allow for some rather strange supernatural beings beyond God and the angels. Within those pages, we find references to demons and beasts, giants, and for example, in Genesis (6:2) the sons of God, who took human wives for themselves. From this union Nephilm were born. We also find strange creatures such as the seraphim, with their six wings. The Quran does state that the jinn predate Adam (some believe by about 2,000 years), but were made of fire unmixed with smoke from a scorching wind, as opposed to mankind, made from clay, and angels, made from light. However, mankind and the jinn seem to be very closely related in many respects. In particular, both are subject to Allah (God), and indeed may be followers or nonbelievers. They may both also die, and the Quran specifically and exclusively allows that men or jinn will fill hell, or find heaven. Even so, according to the Quran, there was a time that men worshipped the jinn, even though these same jinn had become Muslims.

Your common lamp genie

Prior to the advent of Islam, jinn were able to climb high in the atmosphere to eavesdrop on angels as they glorified Allah, hoping to hear some news which affected the world. They were prevented from doing so, just before the start of the revelation of the Quran. In various passage of the Quran, they do appear to interact with humans, though modern Muslim Imans advise that they are invisible to us, though the reverse it not true. They can see us. In fact, we humans are really encouraged not to involve ourselves with the jinn, who occupy our world with their own cultures, including different religions and all the other trappings of mankind. Perhaps the reason we are not encouraged by the Islamic faith to mingle with the jinn is due to, perhaps, their inherently evil nature. Though there are indeed good jinn who believe in the words of the Quran, it must be remembered the the devil is of their kind, and that shaitan work hard to cause man to be thrown out of heaven. For this reason, they are considered to be man's worst enemy. ( According to Muhaddithiin [scholars of hadith] hadith stands for 'what was transmitted on the authority of the Prophet, his deeds, sayings, tacit approval, or description of his sifaat (features) meaning his physical appearance. However, physical appearance of the Prophet is not included in the definition used by the jurists.'

Thus hadith literature means the literature which consists of the narrations of the life of the Prophet and the things approved by him. However, the term was used sometimes in much broader sense to cover the narrations about the Companions [of the Prophet] and Successors [to the Companion] as well.) Like mankind, Allah (God) made certain covenants with the jinn. A narrative hadith by Abdullah ibn Mas'ud states that: " A deputation of the jinn came to the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and said: O Muhammad, forbid your community to cleans themselves with a bone or dung or charcoal, for in them Allah has provided sustenance for us. So the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) forbade them to do so."

Genies and Jinn

What remains is when, exactly, did the jinn begin to ride magic carpets and reside in lanterns. The lantern seems as good as any place for a jinn to reside, but in early traditions there were few, if any wishes granted. One way or the other, in tradition or the orthodox religion of the Muslims, jinn live on even today, but don't go looking for them to get you that new Ferrari, or indeed, it may be your ride to hell.


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Cambridge Illustrated History Islamic World Robinson, Francis 1996 Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-43510-2
History of Islam, The Payne, Robert 1959 Barns & Noble Books ISBN 1-56619-852-6
Holy quran: An English Translation Various Translators 1977 Noor Foundation-International ISBN 0963206702
Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians Lane, E. W. 1836 East West Publications ISBN 0-85692-010-X
Venture of Islam, The (Conscience and History in a World Civilization) Volume One (The Classical Age of Islam) Hodgson, Marshall G. S. 1974 University of Chicago Press, The ISBN 0-266-34682-8