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
When people typically think about interactions the vikings had with non-vikings, they think of what Christian monks wrote about the “godless” heathens and their spiky “horned hats” (vikings didn’t wear horned hats).
In this year dire forewarnings came over the land of the Northumbrians, and miserably terrified the people: these were extraordinary whirlwinds and lightnings, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air. A great famine soon followed these omens; and soon after that, in the same year, on the sixth of the ides of Ianr, the havoc of heathen men miserably destroyed God’s church on Lindisfarne, through rapine and slaughter. (The incident is dramatically recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles in the year of the Lord 793 AD: Source)
Fiery dragons eh? That’s some good historical accuracy right there.
But not all cultures and civilizations had the same reaction to the vikings.
The Norsemen during the “Viking Age” (the period between the 8th century to the 11th century) were a fairly sophisticated, sea-fairing people. While they did participate in raids, they also farmed, explored and engaged in commerce. They were prolific explorers for their time, exploring a vast region of territory, from the Americas to what is modern day Iraq.
In this incredibly prodigious age of exploration, the Norsemen met a variety of people (including Native Americans in what they called “Vinland”). And given that the Norsemen had trade routes in what we today know as Spain and Iraq, they had their fair share of encounters with Muslims. What is interesting is that the Viking Age (8th-11th century) also coincided with the Golden Age of Islam (8th-13th century.)
The Golden Age of Islam was a time when the Islamic world was ruled by various caliphates and science. This period is traditionally understood to have begun during the reign of the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid (786 to 809) with the inauguration of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, where scholars from various parts of the world with different cultural backgrounds were mandated to gather and translate all of the world’s classical knowledge into the Arabic language.
Unlike Western Europe during the dark ages, in the Near East, there was an explosion of science, scholarship, learning, philosophy, health care, poetry, cultural influence and wealth.
The Norsemen, who had a keen interest in trade, knowledge and exploration, had pretty active mercantile relations with Muslims during this era. In fact, aside from a few raids in Muslim Spain, a majority of Muslim-Viking interactions were dominated by commerce.
The proof of this is that Islamic goods have been found in ancient Scandinavian burial sites. A big find occurred in March, 2015, when a viking woman in a burial ground was found with a ring engraved with the inscription “For/To Allah.”
Why did she have this ring? Who knows. Perhaps she had no idea what the words meant, and it was merely a gift that ended up in her person as a result of trade relations with Muslim lands. Perhaps she herself was a Muslim. Maybe she just thought the ring was pretty. All we have is speculation. But the importance of the ring is that it shows that the Vikings were part of the Islamic trade network.
In fact, it is said that the Norsemen were obsessed with the silver dirham (Arabic coins). These were coins that had great value during the Viking Age. In Viking York and Dublin between the 10th-12th century, the dirham was used as a common currency (1001 Inventions).
This is highlighted by the discovery of King Offa’s (an Anglo-Saxxon King) coins in the British Museum engraved with ‘There is no other God but the one God. He has no equal,’ and on the outer margin of the coin “Mahommad is the Apostle of God, who sent him with the doctrine and true faith to prevail over every religion.” (Muslim Heritage)
(The Map above shows Viking and Muslim invasions in Europe. Source)
MUSLIM ACCOUNTS OF THE VIKINGS
So what did the Muslims think about their fair haired trade partners from the north? We can discover this in their writings.
The most famous account comes from Ahmad ibn Fadlān. In fact, the movie The 13th Warrior with Antonio Banderas is even based loosely on this historical account. Fadlān was a 10th century traveler who was a member of the embassy of the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad. On his way to meet with the Volga Bulgars, he wrote an account of his visit with the Volga vikings, who he called the Rus.
He mainly described them as being good looking, but crazy and unsanitary.
I have never seen more perfect physiques than theirs – they are like palm trees, are fair and reddish, and do not wear the tunic or the caftan.
Ahmad ibn Fadlan describes funeral rites which generally conform to the Norse rituals of Scandinavia, but were very exotic for an Islamic intellectual:
In the case of a rich man, they gather together his possessions and divide them into three portions, one third for his household, one third with which to cut funeral garments for him, and one third with which they ferment alcohol which they drink on the day when his slave-girl kills herself and is burned together with her master.
An account of the men:
Each man has an axe, a sword, and a knife and keeps each by him at all times. The swords are broad and grooved, of Frankish sort. Every man is tatooed from finger nails to neck with dark green (or green or blue-black) trees, figures, etc.
An account of the women:
Each woman wears on either breast a box of iron, silver, copper or gold; the value of the box indicates the wealth of the husband. Each box has a ring from which depends a knife. The women wear neck rings of gold and silver, one for each 10,000 dirhems which her husband is worth; some women have many. Their most prized ornaments are beads of green glass of the same make as ceramic objects one finds on their ships. They trade beads among themselves and they pay an exaggerated price for them, for they buy them for a dirhem apiece. They string them as necklaces for their women.
He described “The Rus” as being hospitable.
The Rus are a great host, all of them red haired
But also filthy
They are the filthiest of God’s creatures. They have no modesty in defecation and urination, nor do they wash after pollution from orgasm, nor do they wash their hands after eating. Thus they are like wild asses. When they have come from their land and anchored on, or ties up at the shore of the Volga, which is a great river, they build big houses of wood on the shore, each holding ten to twenty persons more or less. Each man has a couch on which he sits. With them are pretty slave girls destines for sale to merchants: a man will have sexual intercourse with his slave girl while his companion looks on. Sometimes whole groups will come together in this fashion, each in the presence of others. A merchant who arrives to buy a slave girl from them may have to wait and look on while a Rus completes the act of intercourse with a slave girl.
Is this entirely accurate? We don’t know. Such writings of course are always subject to bias. Because of his Islamic concepts of ritual washing, perhaps the sanitary practices of The Rus were dirty in comparison. There is also reason to believe that the vikings were much more open about sexuality than their Christian and Islamic neighbors, so having sex to a live audience may not have been a big deal. It is also said that the Norsemen traded furs, honey and slaves in exchange for the valuable silver dirham.
When a great personage dies, the people of his family ask his young women and men slaves, “Who among you will die with him?” One answers, “I.” Once he or she has said that, the thing is obligatory: there is no backing out of it. Usually it is one of the girl slaves who do this.
The rest of the account can be found at Viking Answer Lady
Ibrahim ibn Ya`qûb (al-Tartushi), an Andalusian man who was born into the Jewish community of Tortosa (Turtush) said about the Viking women that “they part with their husbands whenever they like. They also have an artificial make-up for the eyes; when they use it their beauty never fades, but increases in both man and woman.”(Muslim Heritage)
Ibrahim was probably referring to the fact that Norse women were free to divorce their husbands whenever they liked. Whereas in the Islamic religion, while women can get a divorce, the procedure is much more complicated. It is also believed that Norse men and women wore dark makeup around their eyes to protect their eyes from their glare of the sun off snow and water, just as the Egyptians did in the desert.
According to 10th Century explorer and geographer Ibn Rustah, the Vikings were “handsome, clean and well-dressed” and he praised them even further.
They keep their clothes clean and the men adorn themselves with armbands of gold… They are generous to each other, honour their guests and treat well those who seek refuge with them, and all who come to visit them. They do not allow anyone to annoy or harm these. And whenever anyone dares to treat them unfairlythey help and defend them.” (1001 Inventions).
More quotes on Viking dress and the treatment of servants:
I have seen the Rus [Vikings] as they came on their merchant journeys and encamped by the Itil…” (Ibn Rustah) “They [Vikings] treat their servants well and dress exquisitely because they are such keen traders” (Ahmed Ibn Fadlan) (1001 Inventions).
Accounts of Vikings who converted to Islam:
The possibility of some vikings converting to Islam is not that far fetched, considering that some vikings traded and settled in Muslim lands. After all, this is similar to how many vikings converted to Christianity because of trade relations and surrounding cultures.
Evidence pertaining to the Vikings converting to Islam includes a memoir recorded by the 16th century geographer from Muslim Civilisation, Amin Razi who is reported to have stated that:
They [the Vikings] highly valued pork. Even those who had converted to Islam aspired to it and were very fond of pork.”
Another written account is by Omar Mubaidin, whi states: “Vikings would make numerous raids against both Muslim and Christian states in the Iberian Peninsula. Eventually, a community of settled Vikings, who converted to Islam in southeast Seville, would be famous for supplying cheese to Cordoba and Seville.”
From what I’ve read, it seems that the relationship that the Vikings had with Muslims during the Viking era was predominantly one of trade, while there were a few raids here and there. However it seems that there were less Viking raids against Muslim lands than Christian lands. One, this is probably because of geographic proximity. The Christians were located much closer to Scandinavian lands. Two, this is probably because during the Viking Ages, the Islamic Near East was far more developed than Western Europe. So it was more difficult to raid Islamic lands. The Viking attempts at invading the Iberian peninsula were not very successful.
From the written accounts that I’ve read, it seems that many of the Muslims who documented their encounters with the Rus found them hospitable, brave, and lively, but also unsanitary and a bit crazy.
Is this entirely accurate? Who knows. But at least these accounts didn’t include fire breathing dragons.
Risala: Ibn Fadlan’s Account of the Rus (Viking Answers Lady)
5 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT VIKINGS AND MUSLIM CIVILISATION (1001 Inventions)
A Tale of Two Civilisations: The Viking and the Muslim World (Muslim Heritage)
Old Arabic texts describe dirty Vikings (ScienceNordic)
Muslims vs Vikings (Islam21c)