Jinns and Demons: A Rational Islamic Perspective


Source: Muslim Sunrise, the longest running Muslim publication of North America

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

I remember waking up in bed, one strange morning, or at least my eyes and brain turned on and started processing. But my body was frozen. I couldn’t move not even a finger. I wasn’t being restrained by anything. It was like the on/off switch that gave me control over my body had been flipped to “off.” I had no physical control over my body. I could hear and see but could not move at all.  This lasted only a minute but felt like eternity.

This is not my story but a typical account of sleep paralysis that any of my patients in my sleep disorders practice could offer me.  It affects almost 6 % of the population at some point in their life.

Many religions and cultures believe, or once believed, that what is now known as sleep paralysis was a form of physical contact with demons or Jinns.

Historically speaking, in the medieval societies, belief in Jinns, demons and witches was almost universal and was the explanation for many a neurologic or psychiatric maladies.

Generally what are called Jinns in the Muslim societies are called demons in the West, with some subtle differences in the detail.

One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of Asian stories and folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age. It is often known in English as the Arabian Nights, from the first English language edition (1706), which rendered the title as The Arabian Nights’ Entertainment.

The work was collected over many centuries by various authors, translators, and scholars across West, Central, South Asia and North Africa.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

Jinni, plural Jinn, also called Genie, Arabic Jinni,  in Arabic mythology, a supernatural spirit below the level of angels and devils. Ghul (treacherous spirits of changing shape), ifrit (diabolic, evil spirits), and sila (treacherous spirits of invariable form) constitute classes of jinn. Jinn are beings of flame or air who are capable of assuming human or animal form and are said to dwell in all conceivable inanimate objects—stones, trees, ruins—underneath the earth, in the air, and in fire. They possess the bodily needs of human beings and can even be killed, but they are free from all physical restraints. Jinn delight in punishing humans for any harm done them, intentionally or unintentionally, and are said to be responsible for many diseases and all kinds of accidents; however, those human beings knowing the proper magical procedure can exploit the jinn to their advantage.[i]

Such beliefs are common place even today.  A self-report questionnaire was given to a convenience sample of Muslims aged 18 years and over (n=111). The majority of the sample believed in the existence of Jinn, black magic and the evil eye and approximately half of them stated that these could cause physical and mental health problems and that these problems should be treated by both doctors and religious figures.[ii]

Most believing Christians do believe in demons as the belief in God and angels is tied with demons, as the Bible frequently mentions demons and exorcisms and present day commentaries or exegesis take the stories literally.  There are scores of mention of demons in the Bible.  For example we read:

On another occasion, a man knelt before Jesus, saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son,’ he said. ‘He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.’ ‘O unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.’ Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. (Matt 17:15-18)

And again:

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. (Mark 1:32-34)

So the writer of Gospel of Mark not only believes in demons but also that demons knew the identity of Jesus, which he did not want revealed and influenced the demons not to speak.

Exorcism is relatively common in Catholic societies.  The exorcism of persons possessed by demons is carefully regulated by canon law in the Roman Catholic church, and the elaborate rite is contained in the Roman ritual.[iii]

In a recent study in Switzerland, the author conducted a systematic investigation of the prevalence of demons, in 343 mainly Protestant out-patients of a psychiatric clinic in Switzerland, who described themselves as religious. Of these, 129 (37.6 per cent) believed in the possible causation of their problems through the influence of evil spirits, labeling this as ‘occult bondage’ or ‘possession.’ One hundred and four of these patients (30.3 per cent) sought help through ritual ‘prayers for deliverance’ and exorcism.[iv]

In this context, both in the East and the West, it is a great service of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to humanity that they have freed religion from such Jinns, demons and exorcisms.

There are several mentions of Jinns in the Holy Quran and actually a chapter is titled Jinn.  But, the devil is in the details.  Who are the Jinns?

Khalifatul Masih II, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mehmood Ahmed, who led the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community from 1914-1965, gave several reasons why Jinns are not the demons or the ghosts of popular imagination, in his commentary of Sura Hijr, the fifteenth chapter of the Holy Quran.  I will mention only two here for the sake of example.

He says that Jinns in the Holy Quran mean foreigners or aliens, for example, we read in the Holy Quran, “And of the Jinn were some who worked under him (Solomon), by the command of his Lord. … They made for him what he desired; palaces and statues, and basins like reservoirs, and large cooking vessels fixed in their places.” (Al Quran 34:13-14)  When we try to find out, who were these Jinns that built palaces for the Prophet Solomon, we find in the Bible that he had asked foreign kings to send him engineers for this purpose.[v] In the same chapter we read, “Solomon took a census of all the foreigners residing in Israel, after the census his father David had taken; and they were found to be 153,600. He assigned 70,000 of them to be carriers and 80,000 to be stonecutters in the hills, with 3,600 foremen over them to keep the people working.”[vi]

In Hadith we find mention that Jinns also believed in the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, but, when we try to understand these Hadith in the light of the Quran, we have no choice, but to understand Jinns to be some hidden groups of men, who did not reveal their identity for different considerations.  For example, in the Holy Quran we read, “Say, ‘O mankind! truly I am a Messenger to you all from Allah.” (Al Quran 7:159 )  Khalifatul Masih II argues that if Jinns were a separate species, different from the humans the Holy Quran should have said, “Say, ‘O mankind and Jinns! truly I am a Messenger to you all from Allah.”  So, many a use of the term Jinn in the Quran is for humans of one description or the other.

Jinn according to the Islamic tradition may also mean bacteria, which may cause disease or even archaebacteria, which emerged at least 3.5 billion years ago and live in environments that resemble conditions existing when the earth was young, which may have role in evolution of life on our planet, but, that is a subject for another day.

According to a 2009 Harris Poll of 2,303 adult Americans, when people are asked to “Please indicate for each one if you believe in it, or not,” the following results were revealing:1

82% believe in God

72% believe in angels

71% believe in survival of the soul after death

60% believe in the devil

42% believe in ghosts

23% believe in witches

As the Christian children grow up in the Western cultures, they learn that Santa Claus is only make belief and of only some historical significance, in the same vein, as the human society is maturing in our global village, we are increasingly realizing that Jinns and demons, in their influence on human minds and human lives, are only relics of the past and a result of lack of precise understanding, no one needs exorcism today.

Those who are suffering, only need physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists and better theologians.

Belief in Transcendent beings, who are not confirmed by our five senses and are beyond time, space and matter, God of the Abrahamic faiths, angels and Jinns and demons in the popular imagination, has to be based on sound reasons and proofs and such beliefs need to demonstrate utilitarian value or some benefit for human existence.

Belief in Personal God, who grants us our earnest prayers through the agencies of angels brings peace and serenity to our hearts and souls, but, a belief in malevolent Jinns, for which we do not find any good evidence, only brings chaos, irrationality, disease and suffering.

We can choose what we believe in and we have the choice to base it on reason and rationality.


[i] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/304033/jinni

[ii] Najat Khalifaa*, Tim Hardieb, Shahid Latifc, Imran Jamild & Dawn-Marie Walkere.  International Journal of Culture and Mental Health, Volume 4, Issue 1, 2011.  Pages 68-77.

[iii] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/198273/exorcism

[iv] Pfeifer S. Belief in demons and exorcism in psychiatric patients in Switzerland.  Br J Med Psychol. 1994 Sep;67 ( Pt 3):247-58.

[v] 2 Chronicles 2:7-14, New International Version.

[vi] 2 Chronicles 2:17-18, New International Version.

Read the article in the Muslim Sunrise: 2013 fall volume of the Muslim Sunrise

Suggested Reading

Possessed by Jinns: Many Medieval Muslim Scholars Need Exorcism

Angels, demons are mistaken for aliens: Russian Orthodox clergy


Categories: Fundamentalism, Psychology

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