Since we’re in the Muslim’s holy month of Ramadan, I thought it might be interesting to do something different on my blog and cover a Muslim topic. Specifically, I’d like to discuss interesting creatures I read about in the Quran called Jinn.
In the West most of us know about Jinn as genies from movies like Aladdin. But many people don’t know the complete story.
In Christianity, there are Angels, Humans and Demons. But in Islam, there are Angels, Humans and Jinn.
“Indeed We created man from dried clay of black smooth mud. And We created the Jinn before that from the smokeless flame of fire” (Quran 15:26-27)
“The Angels were created from light and the Jinn from smokeless fire.” (Saheeh Muslim)
Jinn are not directly analogous to the Christian concept of a demon. Where demons are all evil, the Jinn have free will (just like people). So Jinn can decide whether they want to be good or bad. Most are mischievous because of their fiery nature, but there are a small number of good Jinn. According to Islamic doctrine, the good Jinn are the ones who converted to Islam. Angels, on the other hand, have no free will.
Jinn have their own lives, just as humans do. They can get married, have families, get divorced, so on and so forth. But they are invisible and live in a sort of parallel world, or alternative dimension. They also have much longer lifespans than humans do.
Jinn is an Arabic collective noun deriving from the Semitic root jnn (Arabic: جَنّ / جُنّ, jann), whose primary meaning is “to hide”. Thus, they are physically invisible from man as their description suggests.
Like humans, the Jinn too are required to worship God and follow Islam. Their purpose in life is exactly the same as ours.
“I did not create the Jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” (Quran 51:56)
The Quran even discusses a group of Jinn who liked the Quran and decided to become Muslims.
“Say (O’ Muhammed): It has been revealed to me that a group of Jinn listened and said; ‘Indeed we have heard a marvelous Quran. It guides unto righteousness so we have believed in it, and we will never make partners with our lord’.”(Quran 72:1-2)
So Jinn can be Muslims or non-Muslims. But most of the Jinn are said to be non-muslims. And the army of the most famous Jinn, Satan, is composed of non-believing Jinn. The disbelieving Jinn are also called devils.
Unlike Christianity, Islam maintains that Satan (Lucifer) was from the Jinn and not an angel. Angels do not have a free will to disobey.
What clearly distinguishes the Jinn from mankind, are their powers and abilities. God has given them these powers as a test for them. If they oppress others with them, then they will be held accountable. And the powers of these Jinn are sometimes used to explain the unexplained mysteries in the physical world. Because Jinn are said to have the power to appear as humans, animals trees and anything else.
The ability to possess and take over the minds and bodies of other creatures is also a power that the Jinn are said to have. This however, is something which has been prohibited to them as it is a great oppression to possess another being. This concept has been popularly depicted in films like the Exorcist.
The Jinn possess people for many reasons. Sometimes it is because the Jinn or its family has been hurt accidentally. It could be because the Jinn has fallen in love with the person. However, most of the time possession occurs because the Jinn is simply malicious and wicked. According to the Islamic sites I’ve looked at, a person can recite the Quran frequently to prevent this from happening.
“Indeed, Satan flees from the house in which Surah Al-Baqarah (the 2nd chapter of the Quran) is recited.” (Al-Tirmidhi)
This is not all that different from Christian ideas of demon possession, that the best way to exorcise the demon is to read the bible, or recite the Lord’s Prayer, or simply just to say the name of God.
Humans and Jinn can also get married, although that is not typical.
Jinn Before Islam
Jinn also aren’t isolated to Islamic culture alone. The concept of a Jinn preceded Islam, and was simply incorporated when the religion came about.
The earliest evidence of the word, can be found in Persian, for the singular Jinni is the Avestic “Jaini”, a wicked (female) spirit. Jaini were among various creatures in the possibly even pre-Zoroastrian mythology of peoples of Iran.
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. So in the same way that European pagan Gods like Pan were personified as demons when Christianity became a central religion, many ancient Middle Eastern spirits of folk-lore became relegated to Jinn once Islam became a dominant religion. However, instead of making all these beings completely evil as Christianity did, it seems that the Jinn —while mainly evil —do have a bit of a more nuanced nature, in that they have free will.
The Different Types of Jinn
Marid (pronounced MAA–rid)
Large and imposing, the Marid are considered the most powerful tribe of jinn. They are the classic genies of folklore, often portrayed as barrel-chested men with booming voices.
Marids are mentioned in pre-Islamic Arabian mythology and inside the One Thousand and One Nights alongside the Jinn in the story of The Fisherman and the Jinni. The term marid is still used in Arabic to refer to giants.
Marids are often described as the most powerful type of jinn, having especially great powers. They are the most proud as well. Like every jinn, they have free will yet can be compelled to perform chores. According to folklore, they also have the ability to grant wishes to mortals, but that usually requires battle, imprisonment, rituals, or just a great deal of flattery. The Bahamut, the giant fish in the Qu’ran, is an example of a non-humanoid form of this particular Jinn.
This jinn is most familiar to the Western Stereotypical view of the Jinn, as muscular creatures imprisoned in magic lamps compelled to grant human wishes.
The ghoul are shape-shifting, cannibalistic, and blood-drinking creatures that feed on the flesh of human beings (a sort of vampire zombie?).
The oldest references to ghul in Arabian lore are found in The Book of 1001 Nights. There are several types of ghoul. The most feared is a female type (ghula) which has the ability to appear as a normal, mortal woman. According to lore, such a creature marries an unsuspecting man, who becomes her prey.
The ghoul are nocturnal creatures who inhabit graveyards, ruins and other lonely places. Sometimes they are described as dead humans who sleep for long periods in secret graves, then awake, rise and feast on both the living and the dead. Ghoul also personify the unknown terrors held by the desert.
In Persian lore the ghoul has the legs of a donkey and the horns of a goat.
The hinn are jinn, close to animals, and they especially like to appear as dogs.
In Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing (Arabic – كتاب عجائب المخلوقات وغرائب الموجودات), or The Book of Jinn, Zakarīyā’ ibn Muḥammad al-Qazwīnī claimed to have sighted these creatures in Arabia, Persia, and India. The book contains several pages dedicated to this particular Jinn.
The ‘ifrit (variation: afrit) is cited only once in the Qur’an, in reference to a djinni who fetched the throne of the Queen of Sheba at the command of King Solomon. In lore, the Ifrit is evil and powerful, and difficult to control.
The Ifrits are in a class of infernal Jinn noted for their strength and cunning. An ifrit is an enormous winged creature of fire, either male or female, who lives underground and frequents ruins. Ifrits live in a society structured along ancient Arab tribal lines, complete with kings, tribes and clans. They generally marry one another, but they can also marry humans.
While ordinary weapons and forces have no power over them, they are susceptible to magic, which humans can use to kill them or to capture and enslave them. As with the jinn, an ifrit may be either a believer or an unbeliever, good or evil, but it is most often depicted as a wicked and ruthless being.
Jann are shape-shifters who live in the desert, and take the forms of whirlwinds and white camels. They are open-minded about humans, and were among the first Jinn encountered by people. They have the power to hide or reveal oases in the desert, depending on whether they like or dislike a party of travelers. They are the enemies of the ghoul.
Throughout history, the Jann have protected armies they deem as righteous, while impeding those they deem unworthy. The entire course of history is affected when they help a side. As a result, many events vital to Islamic history have been attributed to the Jann.
The nasnas is a weak form of a Jinn-Human hybrid.
It is described in The Book of 1001 Nights as a half- human being. It has half a head, half a body, one arm, one leg. It hops about on its single leg.
Also, in Somali folklore there is a creature called “xunguruuf” “Hungruf” which resembles the “nasnās” as it has the same characteristics and features. It’s believed it can kill a person by just touching them and the person would be fleshless in mere seconds.
The palis is a vampiric foot-licker that lives in the desert. It has low intelligence and can be easily outwitted, according to lore. It attacks sleeping people and drains their blood by licking the soles of their feet. It can be fooled by two people sleeping end to end with their soles of their feet together or under each other’s head.
The shiqq is a lower form of djinn, a half creature,or literally only half-formed and thus monstrous in appearance. Muḥammad al-Qazwīnī included Kabandha, the creature from the Southeast-Asian epic, Ramayana, as a Shiqq Jinn.
The si’lat are expert shape-shifters and the smartest of the djinn. They can mimic human appearance with ease.
In Islam the Devil is known as Iblīs (Arabic: إبليس, plural: ابالسة abālisah) or Shayṭān (Arabic: شيطان, plural: شياطين shayāṭīn). In Islam Iblis is a jinn who refused to bow to Adam (ʾĀdam). The primary characteristic of the Devil, besides hubris, is that he has no power other than the power to cast evil suggestions into the hearts of men, women, and jinn. Although the Quran does mention appointing jinn to assist those who are far from God in a general context. “We made the evil ones friends (only) to those without faith.”
The shaitan (shaytan) is a rebellious, malevolent Jinn associated with demonic forces
Everyone is familiar with Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech.” But less familiar are some of his other brilliant sermons. One of which includes his sermon, “Questions that Easter Answers.” Whether you celebrate Easter or Ostara, the theme of the holiday is rebirth. Spring emerging from winter. Life restored after death. Or the transition from life into death, which is not an end, but the gateway to a new and more powerful reality.
The mythos of Jesus dying and returning from the dead is an archetype found in many ancient religions that preceded Christianity. Most similar is the Egyptian God Osiris who did the very same thing.
So in his speech, Martin Luther King addresses some of the questions raised by this holiday. Is there anything after death? Do we just die and cease to exist, or is there a greater reality? And then that brings up another question, is there an invisible spiritual reality that is even greater than this one. So great in fact that our current reality is but the shadow of an unseen, powerful, spiritual world.
Quote From MLK’s Easter Sermon:
You walk out at night, and you look up at the beautiful stars as they bedeck the heavens like swinging lanterns of eternity, and somehow you think you see all. But oh no, you can never see the law of gravitation that holds them there. You look at this building, and you look at its beautiful architecture, and you think you see all. You look out and you walk out this morning, and you look over at the beautiful capitol building and all of the surrounding buildings, and you think you see all.
The materialist would say that’s about all. But oh no, you don’t see. all You can never see the mind of the architect who drew the blueprint You can never see the faith and the hope and the love of the individuals who made this church possible. You can see the external bricks, you can see the building, but you cannot see the internal forces that brought it into being.
You look up here this morning and hear somebody talking and you cry out, “Yes,
I see you, M L King.” But I’m here to tell you this morning that you don’t see me.
(No) You look here, and you see my body. You see my external being. You see something
that’s merely a manifestation of something else. But the real me, you can
never see (Amen). You can never see that something that the psychologists call my
personality. ( Yeah) You can never see my mind. You can never see my ideas. You can
only see my body, and my body can’t think. My body can’t reason. My body only
moves at the dictates of my mind. And so this morning, Easter tells us that everything
that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see. The visible IS a
shadow cast by the invisible. Easter cries out to us that the idealists are right, that it
is ultimately mind, personality, spiritual forces that are eternal and not merely these
material things that we look about and see.
For, one day, the gigantic mountains will pass away. One day, even the stars that bedeck the heavens will move out of their course. One day, the beautiful building of Dexter will not stand here. But there is something that will stand. There is faith, there is love, there is hope, there is something beyond the external that will stand through the ages.
One source of debate in the pagan community is whether people should mix and match Gods.
Some feel that this is disrespectful to the Gods invoked.
My personal view is that the most important thing is to have a strong relationship and respect for whatever God it is that you are working with. Even if you invoke two Gods from the same pantheon, it is still highly disrespectful if you’re just treating them like errand boys for the sake of some spell you want to complete, as if they are nothing but ingredients called for in a recipe.
So the first most important thing is respect.
Secondly, it’s import to let the Gods come to you. Sometimes people will get approached by Gods from different pantheons. In my own meditations I have had different Gods appear to me, such as Brigid, Odin, and Krishna. All from different pantheons.
My own opinion is that the pagan traditions from different parts of the world shouldn’t be treated the same way that people have come to treat monotheistic religions. Before monotheistic religions like Christianity and Islam became the dominant religions in the globe, spiritual practice was more organic. People simply worshiped the Gods that were revered among their local area and folk.
But sometimes different populations migrated and merged. And so you even had mixing and matching of Gods in the ancient world. When more Gauls started living in the Roman Empire, and serving in the Roman Army, you had Roman soldiers praying to the Gallic Goddess of horses, Epona.
And during the reign of Augustus Caesar, worship of Near-Eastern Goddesses like Isis became so popular that the Emperor himself couldn’t even stop it. Augustus was known to call the worship of the Near-Eastern Gods pornographic. This is probably because of his antagonistic relations with Antony in Egypt at the time. However, the later emperor Caligula embraced the religion. Temples to Isis were permitted and Isiac festivals became a part of the public and civil calendar. (The Original Trinity Brought To You By Egypt).
So if people in the ancient world mixed and matched, I don’t see why it should be an issue today. Many people treat pagan-traditions from a certain part of the world as a complete package. The thinking is, “Well if the Norse only worshiped the Norse Gods, then there is some prohibition on me working with any other type of deities.” We must remember that people probably only worshiped a select group of deities because these were the deities revered in their area and by their ancestors. And also to counter this point, there is a lot of evidence that the Norse Gods themselves are actually a mixture of two different groups that merged together. (The original Scandinavians and the Germanic peoples who migrated to their lands). Some people say this is why the Norse Gods are referred to by multiple names, and why you have the Vanir and the Aesir (two different groups of Gods).
Then there is the Folkish argument that people should only work with the Gods in their bloodline. If this type of thinking is true, then what about a mixed person? Even many people in America who simply think of themselves as “white” have ancestors from a large number of different European countries. When I did one of those Ancestry.com DNA tests, I found out that I had ancestors from (going from largest percentage to least) Ireland, France, Germany, Britain, Scandinavia, Greece, Italy, Turkey and Iran. So if we’re using the Folkish argument, that actually encourages mixing and matching Gods among lots of folk.
In today’s world we are very diverse. We have access to the internet. We have access to many different types of thinking. So it is probably even more likely that polytheists may end up working with Gods of different traditions. Is that a bad thing? Personally, I don’t think so. Just be respectful and thoughtful in your approach.
“The Story of God,” starring Morgan Freeman, is documentary series on the National Geographic Channel that got started last year. In this series, Morgan Freeman explores various cultures and religions, and their take on religion-related topics, particularly about their belief in a God or a higher power.
The second season just got released recently.
Morgan Freeman’s voice is the perfect voice to narrate anything. I wish my whole life could be narrated by his voice.
The following “Song-Poems” are taken from the Cantares Mexicanos, a late 16th-century collection transcribed by a Franciscan monk, Bernardino de Sahagún – of Náhuatl-language (Aztec) poetry known as “flower and song” (” xóchitl in cuícatl “): stylized, symbolic poem forms composed and performed by nobles – including kings. These song-poems were believed to be carriers of sacred ritual energy. (Original Source: “War is Like a Flower“)
To the God of War: Huitzilopochtli
Huitzilopochtli, the Warrior,
He who acts on high
Follows his own path.
Oh marvellous dweller among clouds,
Oh dweller in the region of the frozen wings.
He causes the walls of fire to fall down
Where the feathers are gathered.
Thus he wages war
And subdues the Peoples.
Eager for war, the Flaming One descends,
He rages where the whirling dust arises.
Come to our aid !
There is War, there is burning.
Those Pipitlan are our enemies…
Explanation of Terms:
Huitzilopochtli: Aztec god of War, from the Náhuatl words for
“hummingbird of the left-side/south-side” – the hummingbird being
known for its aggression, daring, and persistence
Pipitlan: a people to the south of Tenochtitlan (capital of the
Aztec Empire, site of present-day Mexico City)
Heart, have no fright.
There on the battlefield
I cannot wait to die
by the blade of sharp obsidian.
Our hearts want nothing but a war death.
You who are in the struggle:
I am anxious for a death
from sharp obsidian.
Our hearts want nothing but a war death.
Sacred crazy flowers,
flowers of bonfires,
our only ornament,
How do they fall? How do they fall?
These hearts, ripe fruit for harvest**.
Look at them,
These fall, the hearts — oh our arrows
These fall, the hearts — oh our arrows.
Explanation of Terms: **These hearts, ripe fruit for harvest – a reference to the
human hearts that must be offered to Tonatiuh – the Sun god –
to ensure he will make his daily journey across the sky;
Tlaloc, the Rain god, also required human hearts – and
Waging War was the surest method to get them…)
Where are you going? Where are you going?
To war, to the sacred water.
There our mother, Flying Obsidian,
dyes men, on the battlefield.
The dust rises
on the pool of flame,
the heart of the god of sun is wounded.
Oh Mactlacueye, oh Macuil Malinalli!
War is like a flower.
You are going to hold it in your hands.
Explanation of Terms: Mactlacueye – volcano north of the present-day city of Puebla;
locally known as La Malinche
Macuil Malinalli – a friend of Aztec King Nezahualpilli (1465-1515)
Samhain is the ancient Irish festival that became Halloween as we know it.
“The Celts believed the year was divided into two parts, the lighter half in the summer and the darker half in the winter. Samhain, or Halloween as it is now called, was the division between these halves. The Celts believed that the veil between our world and the other world was thinnest at this time. Oíche Shamhna (October 31) is Halloween and Lá na Marbh (November 1) is the Day of the Dead, or All Saints Day, when those who have passed away are remembered.
According to the American Folklife Center at the U.S. Library of Congress, Celts wore costumes to confuse the spirits now roaming our world and to avoid capture. (Irish Central)”
Want to learn more about Celtic Halloween legends? Read the rest of the article at Irish Central.
“Try and contemplate the vastness and mind-boggling impermanence of the entire physical universe, Arjuna, and you just begin to gather an idea of My absolute permanence. By ruminating on the utter immensity of the cosmos you begin to receive hints of the incomprehensible scope of My omnipresence. I am present everywhere in all this vastness.” – The Bhagavad Gita (Purushottma Yoga)