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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Ancient Arabian Tale Of Jinn

Jinn is a supernatural creature in pre-Islamic Arabian and Islamic mythology. Jinn is said to appear in human and animal form and influencing people from either good or evil.


Most of us are familiar with the story of the Genie and the magic lamp who grants wishes. It even became more popular when a cartoon adaption was released. Does a Genie exist in a lamp or a bottle? Where did this creature come from? Jinn Anglicized term as Genie is an Arabic collective noun deriving from the semantic root JNN (Arabic: جَنّ / جُنّ‎, jann) which primary means to hide or to adapt, while in classical Arabic it may also appear as jānn جَانّ), with the singular being jinnī (جِنِّيّ). Some authors interpret the word as beings that are concealed from the senses.

Jinn, Genie
Image: Mythology

Some researchers relate the Arabic term jinn to the Latin genius; it resulted from syncretism during the Roman Empire’s reign. Many definitions, yet the origin of the word jinn, remain uncertain. It can be derived from Aramaic (a language originating in the ancient region of Syria) ginnaya (Classical Syriac: ܓܢܬܐ‎), which means tutelary deity (a spirit who is a guardian, patron, or protector of a particular place, geographic feature, person, lineage, nation, culture, or occupation) or also a garden. Some claim that it is a Persian word in Avestic Jaini, which means a wicked spirit.

In the 18th century, it appeared first in the translation of the Thousand and One Nights from the French, owing benevolent intermediary spirits, in contrast to the wicked spirits like the demons and heavenly angels in literature. It was mentioned in the Quran (central religious text of Islam) approximately 29 times. Jinn is said to exist in the void between worlds from humans or any known world.

Although many Arabs had worshiped jinn during the Pre-Islamic Period, it is not regarded as immortals like the Gods. Regardless of their being mortal, jinn had played importance in everyday life of pre-Islamic Arabs than the Gods.

Jinn, Genie
Image: Green Prophet

Jinn can be a male or female, and they can appear in different forms. The descriptions of their appearance may vary as well. Some may have a black tail or hairy body and have the legs of a goat. Exceptionally tall, and their eyes are set vertically in their head. They can live anywhere, but they prefer deserts, ruins, even places of impurity like graveyards, hashish dens, garbage dumps, or bathrooms. And like any other humans, they can live in a house and like going to the marketplace. Jinn was thought into different shapes but feared in their invisible form. Like humans, the jinn can be judged on judgment day as well.

Excavated writing in a region near Palmyra (an ancient Semitic city in present-day Homs Governorate, Syria) called jinn the good and rewarding Gods. Although some archeological records show jinn worship, the Quran daunts such practice. Stating that Allah should be the one to be honored and worshipped

“Yet they associate the jinn1 with Allah ˹in worship˺, even though He created them, and they falsely attribute to Him sons2 and daughters3 out of ignorance. Glorified and Exalted is He above what they claim!”-Quran 6:100

Jinn, Genie
Image: Britannica

The jinn is known from the tales in Arabian Nights. It illustrates several types of jinn and spirits. According to this, spirits do exist alongside humans. They intermingle with one another as they interact with humans.

An Arab prose writer Al-Jahiz categorized jinn in his work Kitab-al-Hayawan. “If he is pure, clean, untouched by any defilement, being entirely good, he is an angel; if he is faithless, dishonest, hostile, wicked, he is a demon. If he succeeds in supporting an edifice, lifting a heavyweight, and listening to the doors of heaven, he is a marid(a type of Shaitan in Islamic traditions, the Arabic word meaning rebellious, applied to such supernatural beings) and if he more than this, he is an ifrit(a powerful type of demon in Islamic mythology, often associated with the underworld)”. 

Based on some stories, jinn chose to disobey Allah to bow before Adam and said, “I am better than he: Thou didst create me from fire, and him from clay” – Surah 7, Al-A’raf, Ayat 11-12 and insisted on his freewill. He was the Iblis (a frequently occurring in the Quran, commonly about Adam’s creation and the command to prostrate himself before him). And because of his defiance, he was banished from paradise and became the devil and became Shayāṭīn or Shaitan (evil spirits in Islamic belief). The Shaitan will allure humans and influence them to sin and lead them astray or exploit humans to be arrogant and have excessive pride (hubris).

Allah then sends in prophets to provide adequate counsel and guide the humans and the jinn back to the right path. Mohammed was one of those prophets. As illustrated in the Quran, Iblis gained Allah’s favor and granted command over angels’ orders through his devotion. Nevertheless, he still needs to obey and listen to Allah’s ruling even though he has attained a similar rank to that of angels.

“We made the evil ones friends only to those without faith” – Quran 7-27. In Christianity, Lucifer, an angel, became Satan. In Islam, Iblis, a jinn, became Shaitan.

Good or evil, we all should practice kindness to one another until the day of judgment or qiyamah, wherein God or Allah will give the final assessment to us. We should follow the right things about what we do. Wishes do come true with the right amount of faith and perseverance.
By Kris De Vera Estrella, IFY Books

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