Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
The Muslims, generally speaking, believe in the existence of the unseen world, which generally includes besides Allah, angels, Satan, the hereafter, heaven, hell and jinn. This belief in Jinn is based on many verses from the Quran, which mention that Jinn are one of Allah’s creations, for example: “And the Jinn He created from the flame of fire.” (Al Quran 55:15) In fact, followers of other major religions also believe in the effect of demons, witchcraft, and the evil eye.
It is not an exaggeration to say that approximately 90% of the world’s societies believe in demonic or Jinn possession.
Such possessions is the common understanding of Jinns among the Muslim masses. and I have observed that many a psychological maladies get labelled as demon or Jinn possession among the Muslims, even in the Western countries and among otherwise, very successful and well educated families.
However, despite their belief in the existence of Jinn, Muslim religious scholars and thinkers have differing opinions on their effect on human beings. This is because there is no text from the Quran or the authentic tradition of the Prophet that clarifies this explicitly. According to some, it is impossible that Jinn can possess someone’s body, affect him with any sickness, or cause any harm. To them the real Satan is a person’s own soul and thinking. Hence, they conclude that there is no link between humans and the Jinn. On the other hand, the second group believes that Jinn can possess people’s body, affect them and cause them sickness. Jinn also can possess human for love and sex and they can even marry each other and have children. According to this group, due to Ibn Taimiyyah and his modern followers’ opinion, anyone who denies the belief in Jinn’s effect on humans is denying what Allah said and as such he or she is an atheist.
We believe such accusations are a little stretch. We have to read the different mentions of Jinn in the holy Quran and try to understand the meaning in the context.
Jinn is an Arabic collective noun deriving from the Semitic root jnn (Arabic: جَنّ / جُنّ, jann), whose primary meaning is “to hide” or “to conceal”. Some authors interpret the word to mean, literally, “beings that are concealed from the senses”. Cognates include the Arabic majnūn (“possessed”, or generally “insane”), jannah (“garden”, also “heaven”), and janīn (“embryo”). Jinn is properly treated as a plural, with the singular being jinnī.
The origin of the word Jinn remains uncertain. Some scholars relate the Arabic term jinn to the Latin genius, as a result of syncretism during the reign of the Roman empire under Tiberius Augustus, but this derivation is also disputed. Another suggestion holds that jinn may be derived from Aramaic “ginnaya” (Classical Syriac: ܓܢܬܐ) with the meaning of “tutelary deity“, or also “garden”. Others claim a Persian origin of the word, in the form of the Avestic “Jaini”, a wicked (female) spirit. Jaini were among various creatures in the possibly even pre-Zoroastrian mythology of peoples of Iran.
The Anglicized form genie is a borrowing of the French génie, from the Latin genius, a guardian spirit of people and places in Roman religion. It first appeared in 18th-century translations of the Thousand and One Nights from the French, where it had been used owing to its rough similarity in sound and sense.
My best exhibit is a detailed quote from Surah Sheba, which shows that in the holy Quran the word “Jinn,” is mostly used for powerful men. I am presenting the translation of M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published by the Oxford University’s press, to give you the whole context:
The disbelievers say, ‘We will believe neither this Quran nor the Scriptures that came before it.’ If only you could see [Prophet] how the wrongdoers will be made to stand before their Lord, hurling reproaches at one another. Those who were oppressed will say to the oppressors, ‘If it were not for you, we would have been believers.’ The oppressors will say to them, ‘Was it we who prevented you from following right guidance after it had reached you? No! You yourselves were sinners.’ The oppressed will say to them, ‘No, it was your scheming, night and day, ordering us to disbelieve in God and set up rivals to Him.’ When they see the punishment, they will fall silent with regret, and We shall put iron collars on the disbelievers’
necks. Why should they be rewarded for anything other than what they have done? Never have We sent a warner to a community without those among them who were corrupted by wealth saying, ‘We do not believe in the message you have been sent with.’ They would say, ‘We have greater wealth and more children than you, and we shall not be punished.’ Say [Prophet], ‘My Lord gives in abundance to whoever He will and sparingly to whoever He will, though most people do not understand. Neither wealth nor children will bring you nearer to Us, but those who believe and do good deeds will have multiple rewards for what they have done, and will live safely in the lofty dwellings of Paradise, whereas those who work against Our messages, seeking to undermine them, will be summoned to punishment.’ Say, ‘My Lord gives in abundance to whichever of His servants He will, and sparingly to whichever He will; He will replace whatever you give in alms; He is the best of providers.’ (Al Quran 34:31-39)
These verses, in addition to submission to the Divine message and the prophets, set the stage for two groups of people, the leaders and the led, the powerful and the meek, the rich and the relatively poor. The Quran describes the human psychology and vulnerability, that the ‘have-nots’ are often mislead by the ‘haves’ and it is for them that the Quran uses the word Jinn. Read the verses that follow:
On the Day He gathers them all together, He will say to the angels, ‘Was it you these people worshiped?’ They will reply, ‘May You be exalted! You are our supporter against them! Really, they worshiped the Jinn – most of them believed in them.’ (Al Quran 34:40-41)
The majority of the Muslims are good Monotheists and only worship Allah. They don’t worship demons or for that matter the angels. But, hero worship, celebrity worship and worship of religious leaders, past and present, is not uncommon among the Muslim masses and in that sense they are often misled by them. This is what is implied by the Quranic expression: “Really, they worshiped the Jinn – most of them believed in them,” above. Of course, the masses do not literally worship the heroes, but undue deference is implied here, which leads to them being misled.
The Quran is telling us that often the masses worship the Jinns or the powerful among them. The Quran is saying that each human is an independent agent and is accountable for the gifts and responsibilities afforded to him or her, in this context we should refuse to be misled and use our God given wisdom to find the truth or the best reading and the commentary of the Quran and put it into our daily lives.
The verses that follow, after the above quoted verses in Surah Sheba, state:
‘So today neither of you has any power to benefit or harm the other,’ We shall tell the evildoers, ‘Taste the torment of the fire which you called a lie.’ When Our messages are recited to them, clear as they are, they say, ‘This is only a man who wants to turn you away from what your forefathers worshiped,’ and, ‘This Quran is nothing but lies he has made up.’ When the Truth comes to the disbelievers, they say, ‘This is just plain sorcery,’ (Al Quran 34:42-43)
These verses highlight that not having independent thinking, sticking to the old ways and idolizing our forefathers, often becomes a human vulnerability and handicap.
From Surah Sheba, I have explained one instance of the use of the word, “Jinn,” in the holy Quran, where it cannot be reasonably translated into demons, rather means powerful and misguided men.
I suspect, the main opposition of the ideas presented here, will come from those, who would insist that we want to interpret and understand these verses as our ‘forefathers’ have and ‘we are not open to new insights.’ Incidentally, the Quran has already covered this nostalgic bias in these verses.
There are at least a score or more mention of the word ‘Jinn’ in the holy Quran and other instances will be focus of the future articles. So long!
Bibliography and suggested reading
- Jinn and its Effects on Muslim Society: Jinn possessions