Jinn in Islamic Texts and Culture

Jinn in Islamic texts and culture


A quick look at cyber space about exorcism, possession, and healing, Islamic exorcism in particular, provide one with loads of website, texts and videos related to the subject. This made me wonder if the concept of Jinn possesses any authenticity in Islamic texts. Also the ample number of verses of Quran in which the Jinn has mentioned (even a chapter in this name) shows the importance of this concept in Islamic doctrine. In this essay the number of chapters and verses of Quran have mentioned wherever the point referred to it rather than citing in bibliography. Information about possession by jinn and exorcism need another study and to be honest I am not competent to do the study as it is highly controversial, and most of Muslim scholars consider it as mere superstition. With these problems already in mind, let me concentrate only in the concept of Jinn itself.

Many people do not know that other creatures share this world with us. Among which are Jinn and Devils. They share our houses and they eat and drink with us. In fact, they are even capable of spoiling our thoughts and hearts. They drive us to destroy our own species. They can make us associate them (in worship) with Allah. Quran and the Sunnah (the sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad) reveal to us the secrets of their existence, about the details of their lives, and the enmity between them and mankind. Evidence is also found of the intriguing actions that they go through in order to mislead and destroy the children of Adam.[1]


Jinn (Arabic: al-jinn), also Romanized as djinn or Anglicized as genies (with the more broad meaning of demons), are supernatural creatures in early Arabian and later Islamic mythology and theology. An individual member of the jinn is known as a jinni, djinni, or genie (al-jinnī). They are mentioned frequently in the Quran (the 72nd chapter is titled Sūrat al-Jinn) and other Islamic texts.[2]

Jinn is an Arabic collective noun whose primary meaning is “to hide”. 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”), and janīn (“embryo”). Jinn is properly treated as a plural, with the singular being jinni.[3] 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. [4]

Some of the pre-Islamic polytheists claimed that the word ‘jinn’ meant the souls of the planets. Some philosophers (both modern and contemporary) claim that the jinn refer to those evil inclinations in the souls of mankind while the angels refer to the good intentions planned by mankind. A number of contemporary scientists, however, believe that the jinn are the microorganisms discovered every day by modern science. To some Muslim scholars, the jinn and angles are one entity; there are no distinguishing characteristics that can differentiate one species from the other. Their evidence is that both are invisible to mankind.[1]

Characteristics of the Jinn as mentioned in the Quran

The jinn possess some characteristics in common with human beings, such as the ability to think and reflect. However, they substantially differ from humans in one very important characteristic or rather property: their origin. In Islamic theology jinn are said to be creatures with free will, made from smokeless and “scorching fire”, by God (Arabic: Allah) as humans were made of clay, among other things [Quran 55:14-15, 55:15]. They are called ‘jinn’ because they are obscured from human sight [Quran 7:27]. The jinn were created before mankind [Quran 15:26-27]. They are also physical in nature, being able to interact in a tactile manner with people and objects and likewise be acted upon [Quran 15:27].

In the Quran (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 will 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 (Sura al Jinn verse 9), but those who attempt to listen now (during and after the revelation of the Quran) shall find fiery sentinels awaiting them.

Do Jinn & devils die? Undoubtedly, all species (including the jinn and the devils) do die [Quran 55:26-27]. Regarding the span of their lives, there is not certain knowledge except what Allah has said concerning the accused Satan who has been respite and life until the day of Resurrection [Quran 7:14-15].

The jinn have been given such power and ability to which humans have no access. Of these great speed is the most significant. For instance, a stalwart of the jinn promised King Solomon that it would only take him a shorter time than that taken by someone standing from his sitting place to bring the throne of Sheba to Jerusalem. Another one, yet, said that he could do within the twinkling of an eye [Quran 27:39-40]. The jinn have the ability to take on the shapes of humans and animals. Satan is able to flow within the human body as does the blood in vessels. However, the devils have no power over the pious and loyal worshippers of Allah. This means that the power granted by Allah to Satan and his tribe is not without limits [Quran 17:65 and 34:20-2l]. And as can be inferred from the verse of Quran [15:39-40], Satan him-self recognizes that fact and he acts in accordance with that knowledge. This mean that the sinful and wrongdoers among the believers may also be misled by Satan. Satan took advantage of the man’s disobedience, and seduced him (Quran 7:175). Like humans, the jinn cannot go beyond the limits set to them by Allah (Quran55:33).

Satan and the Jinn

Satan (‘Iblees’ or ‘Azaazeel’), which is recurrently mentioned in the Qur’an, belongs to the world of the jinn. He is one of the jinn [Quran18:50]. He lived among the angles and worshipped Allah. But ever since he refused to prostrate to Allah, out of vanity; pride, arrogance and envy, he was cast out of Heaven and out of Allah’s mercy. The jinn, including Satan, eat and drink, marry and reproduce [Quran 55:56]. Satan is an ugly entity and a repulsive-looking colossus of body. The branches of Zaggoom (a tree in Hell) are compared in the Qur’an to the heads of devils [Quran 37:64-65]. [1]

The jinn, humans, and angels make up the three known sapient creations of God. Like human beings, the jinn can be good, evil, or neutrally benevolent and hence have free will like humans and Iblīs (Satan) abused this freedom in front of God by refusing to bow to Adam when God ordered angels and jinn to do so. The Satan jinn are akin to demons in Christian tradition, but the jinn are not angels and the Quran draws a clear distinction between the two creations. For disobeying God, Iblīs was expelled from Paradise and called “Shaytān” (Satan).[2]

The Jinn are Responsible for their actions

The Jinn constitute a species on their own, different from angles or humans. They are intelligent beings. They are also responsible for their own actions, and they have received ordainments from Allah to perform certain deeds and abstain from others. We humans do not have the ability to see them. However, such animals as dogs and donkeys can see them.[1] Like humans, jinn will also be judged on the Day of Judgment and will be sent to Paradise or Hell according to their deeds.[2] Both the jinn and mankind were created for the same purpose; to worship Allah [Quran 50:56]. Therefore, the jinn are responsible for their own actions. They have been ordered to perform certain acts and to abstain from performing others. And on the day of Resurrection the jinn and mankind will be addressed by Allah and both will be held accountable [Quran 6:130].

Since the jinn are responsible for their own actions, there is no doubt that Allah’s Word must have reached them [1], but how? Did they have messengers from among themselves? Or were human messengers sent to them? The Prophet was sent to both the jinn and mankind. This is because the Quran posed to both of collectively, the challenge of composing a work similar to that of the Quran [27:88 and 72:1-2].

The verses of Quran [46:29-30] suggest that the jinn listened to the Quran as though the Prophet being aware of their presence. There are hadiths (the sayings of Prophet Muhammad) that in an occasion a delegation of the jinn met with the Prophet, to gain knowledge from him. The Prophet taught them what Allah prescribed for them. This incident took place in Mecca before the Prophet’s migration to Medina. It says that on that night the Companions missed the Prophet so as no trace of him was found in Mecca. They thought he was kidnapped by the jinn, or got killed. As dawn approached, they saw him towards them. He explained that he was invited by a group of jinn to recite the Quran and answer their questions.[1]

Jinn in Pre-Islamic Arabia

Archeological evidence found in Northwestern Arabia seems to indicate the worship of jinn, or at least their tributary status, hundreds of years before Islam. Numerous mentions of jinn in the Quran and testimony of both pre-Islamic and Islamic literature indicate that the belief in spirits was prominent in pre-Islamic Bedouin religion. However, there is evidence that the word jinn is derived from Aramaic, where it was used by Christians to designate pagan gods reduced to the status of demons, and was introduced into Arabic folklore only late in the pre-Islamic era. Such spirits were thought to inhabit desolate, dingy and dark places and that they were feared. One had to protect oneself from them, but they were not the objects of a true cult.[2]

The notion of Qarīn

A related belief is that every person is assigned one’s own special jinni, also called a qarīn, and if the qarin is evil it could whisper to people’s souls and tell them to submit to evil desires.[Quran 72:1-2, 15:18] The notion of a qarin is not universally accepted among all Muslims, but it is generally accepted that Satan whispers in human minds, and he is assigned to each human being.

A hadith 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.’ [5]

Jinn in Muslim cultures

Ibn Taymiyyah, an influential late medieval theologian whose writings would later become the source of Wahhabism, believed the jinn to be generally “ignorant, untruthful, oppressive and treacherous.” He held 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. [1, 2]

The jinn live on the earth as humans do, but most of them are found among the ruins and those places contaminated with ritual impurity such as bathrooms, cemeteries and animal yards. Many of them are also found in spots where money transaction (the root of the evil) takes place. Some animals such as the camels are usually accompanied by the devils.[1]

The stories of the jinn can be found in the One Thousand and One Nights story of “The Fisherman and the Jinni”;[6] more than three different types of jinn are described in the story of Ma‘ruf the Cobbler;[2, 7] two jinn help young Aladdin in the story of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp;[8] 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.[9] In some stories, jinn are credited with the ability of instantaneous travel (from China to Morocco in a single instant); in others, they need to fly from one place to another, though quite fast (From Baghdad to Cairo in a few hours).

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.[2]

Classifications and social organizations of the Jinn

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 [Quran 116:4]. The Quran 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 [Quran 51:56].

The social organization of the jinn community resembles that of humans; e.g., they have kings, courts of law, weddings, and mourning rituals. One common belief in Muslim belief lists five distinct orders of jinn — the Marid (the strongest type), the Ifrit, the Shaitan (Satan), the Ghul (or Jinn), and the Jann (the weakest type). 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 hadiths 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. [2]

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.[10] 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 marshaled his hosts, of jinn and men and birds, and they were all kept in order and ranks [Quran 27:17].

The Quran 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 Quran then comments that if they had known the unseen, they would not have stayed in the humiliating torment of being enslaved.[10] 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). [Quran 34:14]

Marriage between Jinn & humans and between the jinn and God

Islamic scholars have expressed their disapproval stories about the marriage between the Jinn and humans and of such copulation, deriving their evidence from the Quran [30:21] where it is stated that Allah has created for mankind spouses of their own species. However, what points to the possibility of marriage between the two species is the verse from the Qur’an mentioned above [60:56]. And in any case, if such marriages occurs toady or have occurred before, they are certainly rare and must be regarded as ‘strange.’ Besides, from an Islamic perspective, if one is said to be doing it, he is in a sense possessed’ and has no way to control it.[1]

There had also been stories that Allah took wives from among the jinn, and that the offspring resulting from that relationship consisted of the angels. This has been stated in the Quran [37:138-139] that Allah is free from what they attribute unto Him. As the jinn were created with the ultimate purpose of worshipping Allah (alone), the claim that there is some sort of lineage or affinity between them and the Almighty Allah must be a sheer fabrication. The Quran forbids their association with God, and advises men not to worship jinn instead of Him, Quran [37:158] Says: “And they (Pagan Arabs) imagine kinship between Him and the jinn, whereas the jinn know well that they will be brought before (Him)”.


[1] http://www.thejinn.net/into_the_world_of_jinn.htm

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jinn

[3] Edward William Lane. “An Arabic-English Lexicon”.. p. 462. (cited in [2])

[4] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/genie

[5] Sahih Muslim, Book 39, Hadith No. 6759 (cited in [2])

[6] http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/arabian/bl-arabian-jinni.htm

[7] http://www.wollamshram.ca/1001/Vol_10/tale169.htm

[8] http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/arabian/bl-arabian-alladin.htm

[9] http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/arabian/bl-arabian-nuraldin.htm

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_in_Islam

Paer authored by Morad Nazari