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Imam Ali Conquers Jinn, unknown artist, Ahsan-ol-Kobar (1568) Golestan Palace

Jinn (Arabic: الجن‎, al-jinn), also romanized as djinn or anglicized as genies (with the more broad meaning of spirits),[1] 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 (الجني, al-jinnī). They are mentioned frequently in the Quran (the 72nd sura is titled Sūrat al-Jinn) and other Islamic texts. The Quran says that the jinn were created from "marijin min nar".[2][3] They are not purely spiritual, but also physical in nature, being able to interact in a tactile manner with people and objects and likewise be acted upon. The jinn, demons[4], humans, and angels make up the known sapient creations of God. Like human beings, the jinn can be good, evil, or neutrally benevolent and hence have free will like humans.[5]



Jinn is an Arabic collective noun deriving from the Semitic root JNN (Arabic: جَنّ / جُنّ‎, jann), whose primary meaning is "to hide". Some authors interpret the word to mean, literally, "beings that are concealed from the senses".[6] Cognates include the Arabic majnūn ("possessed", or generally "insane"), jannah ("garden"), and janīn ("embryo").[7] Jinn is properly treated as a plural, with the singular being jinni.

Some claim a Persian origin of the word, for in the form of the Avestic "Jaini", a wicked (female) spirit. Jaini were among various creatures in the possibly even pre-Zoroastrian mythology of peoples of Iran.[8][9]

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. It first appeared[10] in 18th-century translations of the Thousand and One Nights from the French,[11] where it had been used owing to its rough similarity in sound and sense.

Pre-Islamic ArabiaEdit

Archeological evidence found in Northwestern Arabia seems to indicate the worship of jinn, or at least their tributary status, hundreds of years before Islam: an Aramaic inscription from Beth Fasi'el near Palmyra pays tribute to the "ginnaye", the "good and rewarding gods",[12][13] and it has been argued that the term is related to the Arabic jinn.[14]

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.[15] 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.[15] Julius Wellhausen has observed that such spirits were thought to inhabit desolate, dingy, and dark places and that they were feared.[15] One had to protect oneself from them, but they were not the objects of a true cult.[15]

Islamic theologyEdit

In the Islamic sense, jinn is used in two different ways:

  • As the opposite of Ins (something in shape). Here it refers to spiritual beings, that cannot be perceived by sensory organs. Accordingly the interior of a human in opposite to his physical body or its Qarin is also Jinn.[16] In this sense Jinn also refers to angels[17][18] and other spiritual entities. Thus all angels are jinn but not every jinn is an angel.[19]
  • A separate intelligent species of invisible being predating mankind.

Jinn (and variaties of the word) are mentioned 29 times in the Quran: Surah 72 (named Sūrat al-Jinn) is named after the jinn, and has a passage about them. Surah 114 (Sūrat al-Nās) mentions jinn in the last verse.[20] 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.[21][22] Traditionally Surah 72 is held to tell about the revelation to jinn community.

Difference between Shayateen and JinnEdit

Islam did not assert spirits and deities of other cultures to be necessarily demons, but regarded them as Jinn, while demons in western usage refers to the concept of "shayateen".[23] Shaytan-Jinn, translated as demons or devils into English,[24] are akin to demons in Christian traditions. They can be classified into the following groups:[25]:141

  • Devils/Demons (Iblis and his descendants)
  • unbelievers among the ordinary jinn
  • threatening pagan deities (such as the deity Pazuzu)

Although Islam puts Shayateen and Jinn together when it comes to the issue of invisiblility, it generally distinguishes between those two as different beings.[26][27] [28] Unlike the Jinn, there are no believers among the demons and they just die, then the world perishes. The demons are often believed as being descendants or helpers of Iblis. The demons tempt humans to sin and cause despair and doubt. Among the Shayateen — the Marid and the Afarit are the strongest types.[29]

Yet some scholars like Ibn Taymiyyah, an influential late medieval theologian whose writings would later become the source of Wahhabism,[30] believed the jinn to be generally "ignorant, untruthful, oppressive and treacherous."[31] 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.[31]

Islamic legends concerning JinnEdit

Jinn as Pre-AdamitesEdit

According to early Sunni tafsir[32] from Tabari, the humans are successors (Arab: Khalifa ) to the Jinn, who are said to have inhabited and ruled the earth before. According to this tradition, the Jinn were similar to human society and governed by 72 kings.[33][34] Eventually they became infidels and started corruption, fought each other and shed blood. God sent admonishers to them, but the Jinn continued doing evil. They then became more impious, so God sent angels who drove away the Jinn and killed most of them, allowing for humans to replace them.

Solomon and the JinnEdit

According to Islam, Solomon was endowed with the ability to talk to animals and jinn and was therefore king over humans and jinn.

And before Solomon were marshalled his hosts, of jinn and men and birds, and they were all kept in order and ranks. (Quran 27:17)

With a ring, given by an angel, he enslaved demons and ordered them to perform a number of tasks, like building the first temple.[25]:141 According to Islamic belief, Solomon was accused of sorcery, but the Quran refuses this accusation. 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.

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). (Qurʾan 34:14)

Ibn al-Nadim, in his Kitāb al-Fihrist, describes a book that lists 70 Jinn led by Fuqtus, including several Jinn appointed over each day of the week.[35][36] Bayard Dodge, who translated al-Fihrist into English, notes that most of these names appear in the Testament of Solomon.[35] A collection of late fourteenth- or early fifteenth-century magico-medical manuscripts from Ocaña, Spain describes a different set of 72 Jinn (termed "Tayaliq") again under Fuqtus (here named "Fayqayțūš" or Fiqitush), blaming them for various ailments.[37][38] According to these manuscripts each Jinn was brought before King Solomon and ordered to divulge their "corruption" and "residence" while the Jinn King Fiqitush gave Solomon a recipe for curing the ailments associated with each Jinn as they confessed their transgressions.[39]

Islamic criticism and interpretations on jinn-beliefEdit

Modernist commentators, on the basis of the word's meaning, refer the jinn to microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses[40] or undetectable uncivilized persons.[41] Other early Muslims like Al-Jahiz and Al-Masudi criticised the jinn-belief, and stated they rather have their origin in hallucinations and imaginings.[42] But this view was opposed by the most hanbali theologians like Ibn Taymiyyah.[43]

Some scholars like Ibn Arabi suggested Jinn are indeed imaginal but not unreal, therefore regarded to be spiritual in essence. They truly exist but react to feelings and thoughts of humans. They came from the imaginal realm, the place where the unseen takes on visible forms. As a world where emotions become predominant, it affects our world through dreams and psychological functions. Therefore, jinn are not monsters or beasts, but thoughts, that were in the world before the existence of the men, taking on physical shapes in certain conditions.[44]

In Islamic folkloreEdit

The black king of the djinns, Al-Malik al-Aswad, in the late 14th century Book of Wonders

With the spread of Islam, spirits, fairies and deities of other cultures become Jinn, thus the term Jinn was extended to other beings, like in Persia, to Diw and Peris, while some scholars still made a distinction between the Jinn mentioned in the Quran and supernatural beings from Persia.[45] When jinns are called "fire spirits" it does not refer to their current nature, rather to their origin.[46] Developed from various traditions and local folklore, Jinn are said to be able to possess humans; especially Morocco has a lot of possession traditions, including exorcism rituals.[47] Jinn are often depicted as monstrous and anthropomorphized creatures with body parts from different animals.[25]:120 However according to Zubayr ibn al-Awam, who is held to have accompanied Muhammad during his lecture to the Jinn, Jinn are shadowy ghosts.[48] Originated from a few traditions (hadith), jinn can be divided into three classes: those who have wings and fly in the air, those who resemble snakes and dogs, and those who travel about ceaselessly.[49] They are described as creatures of different forms; some resembling vultures and snakes, others tall men in white garb.[50] They may even appear as dragons, onagers, or any number of other animals, but with an exception of 'udhrut from Yemeni folklore, not in wolves, since wolves are held to be foes to the Jinn,[51] disable them to vanish.[52] In addition to their animal forms, the jinn occasionally assume human form to mislead and destroy their human victims.[53] Therefore, Jinn are not considered to be purely spiritual, but resembling sapient beast, which may be empowered to shapeshift for a while or be able to mysteriously disappear.[54] Certain hadiths have also claimed that the jinn may subsist on bones, which will grow flesh again as soon as they touch them, and that their animals may live on dung, which will revert to grain or grass for the use of the jinn flocks.[55] Jinn are also quite willing to have amorous affairs with humans.[56] The social organization of the jinn community resembles that of humans; e.g., they have kings, courts of law, weddings, mourning rituals and practise religion (in addition to Islam, it can also be Christianity or Judaism).[57]

Seven kings of the Jinn are traditionally associated with days of the week.[58]

  • Sunday: Al-Mudhib (Abu 'Abdallah Sa'id)
  • Monday: Murrah al-Abyad Abu al-Harith (Abu al-Nur)
  • Tuesday: Abu Mihriz (or Abu Ya'qub) Al-Ahmar
  • Wednesday: Barqan Abu al-'Adja'yb
  • Thursday: Shamhurish (al-Tayyar)
  • Friday: Abu Hasan Zoba'ah (al-Abyad)
  • Saturday: Abu Nuh Maimun

In Muslim culturesEdit

A manuscript of the One Thousand and One Nights

The stories of the jinn can be found in various Muslim cultures around the world. In Sindh the concept of the Jinni was introduced during the Abbasid Era and has become a common part of the local folklore which also includes stories of both male jinn called "jinn" and female jinn called "jiniri". Folk stories of female jinn include stories such as the Jejhal Jiniri.

Other acclaimed stories of the jinn can be found in the One Thousand and One Nights story of "The Fisherman and the Jinni";[59] more than three different types of jinn are described in the story of Ma‘ruf the Cobbler;[60][61] two jinn help young Aladdin in the story of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp;[62] 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.[63] 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). Nevertheless, jinn figments from such stories are generally considered to be fictional, while jinn are considered to be part of the concrete world.[46]

During the Rwandan genocide, both Hutus and Tutsis avoided searching local Rwandan Muslim neighborhoods because they widely believed the myth that local Muslims and mosques were protected by the power of Islamic magic and the efficacious jinn.[citation needed] In Cyangugu, arsonists ran away instead of destroying the mosque because they believed that jinn were guarding the mosque and they feared their wrath.[64]

In scienceEdit

Sleep paralysis is conceptualized as a "Jinn attack" by many sleep paralysis sufferers in Egypt as discovered by Cambridge neuroscientist Baland Jalal.[65] A scientific study found that as many as 48 percent of those who experience sleep paralysis in Egypt believe it to be an assault by the Jinn.[65] Almost all of these sleep paralysis sufferers (95%) would recite verses from the Quran during sleep paralysis to prevent future "Jinn attacks". In addition, some (9%) would increase their daily Islamic prayer (salah) to get rid of these attacks by Jinn.[65] Sleep paralysis is generally associated with great fear in Egypt, especially if believed to be supernatural in origin.[66]

Other culturesEdit

Aladdin and the genie in Legoland Windsor.

Similarities to JudaismEdit

Besides angels, Jewish lore notices other types of supernatural creatures including Shedim, which are akin to the Islamic concept of Jinn. They are said to eat, drink, procreate, and die, are also mostly invisible and in some accounts, they inhabited the earth before mankind until human beings replaced them, similar to the Jinn in Islam.[67][68] In addition the Shedim are also mentioned helping Solomon building the first temple. Their king Asmodeus appears both in Islamic lore and in the Talmud as a rebel against Solomon.[25]:120


Similar to the Islamic idea of spiritual entities converting to One's religion can be found on Buddhism lore. Accordingly Buddha preached among humans and Deva, spiritual entities who are like humans subject to the cycle of life.[69][70]

In the Guanche mythologyEdit

In Guanche mythology from Tenerife in the Canary Islands, there existed the belief in beings that were similar to genies,[71] such as the maxios or dioses paredros ("attendant gods", domestic and nature spirits) and tibicenas (evil genies), as well as the demon Guayota (aboriginal god of evil) that, like the Arabic Iblīs, is sometimes identified with a genie.[72] The Guanches were the Berber autochthones of the Canary Islands before they were exterminated and enslaved by the Europeans who claimed the island for themselves.

Christian sourcesEdit

Van Dyck's Arabic translation of the Old Testament uses the alternative collective plural "jann" (Arab:الجان}; translation:al-jānn) to render the Hebrew word usually translated into English as "familiar spirit" (אוב , Strong #0178) in several places (Leviticus 19:31, 20:6, 1 Samuel 28:3,7,9, 1 Chronicles 10:13).[73]

In popular cultureEdit

Hungarian stamp representing an emerging Jinni (based on the One Thousand and One Nights)

The jinn frequently occurs as a character or plot element in fiction. Two other classes of jinns, the ifrit and the marid, have been represented in fiction as well.

Genies appear in film in various forms, such as the genie freed by Abu, the eponymous character in the 1940 film Thief of Bagdad.[74]

A Jinn makes a short appearance in the novel American Gods by Neil Gaiman, originally published in 2001. American Gods was also made into a TV series for the Starz television cable television network in 2017. The television adaptation also features a Jinn.

The protagonist of the Bartimaeus Sequence is a jinni, and the books have an established hierarchy that include other types of spirit: imps, foliots, djinn, afrits, and marids (to use the author's own spelling). In this interpretation, jinn and all other spirits are not physical beings, but are instead from another dimension of chaos called "The Other Place". To exist on Earth at all, magicians must summon sprits and force them to take some kind of form, something so alien that it causes all spirits pain. As a result magicians must put measures in place to force spirits to do what they want in a form of magical slavery.


See alsoEdit


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  2. ^ Benjamin W. McCraw, Philosophical Approaches to Demonology & Robert Arp Routledge 2017.
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  5. ^ El-Zein, Amira. "Jinn", 420–421, in Meri, Joseph W., Medieval Islamic Civilization – An Encyclopedia.
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  10. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "genie, n." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2014.
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  14. ^ Javier Teixidor. The Pantheon of Palmyra. Brill Archive, 1979. p. 6
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  19. ^ Richard Gauvain Salafi Ritual Purity: In the Presence of God Routledge 2013 ISBN 978-0-710-31356-0 page 302
  20. ^ Quran 116:4–4
  21. ^ Quran 51:56–56
  22. ^ Muḥammad ibn Ayyūb al-Ṭabarī, Tuḥfat al-gharā’ib, I, p. 68; Abū al-Futūḥ Rāzī, Tafsīr-e rawḥ al-jenān va rūḥ al-janān, pp. 193, 341
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  37. ^ Celia del Moral. Magia y Superstitión en los Manuscritos de Ocaña (Toledo). Siglos XIV-XV. Proceedings of the 20th Congress of the Union Européenne des Arabisants et Islamisants, Part Two; A. Fodor, ed. Budapest, 10–17 September 2000. pp.109-121
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Further readingEdit

  • Crapanzano, V. (1973) The Hamadsha: a study in Moroccan ethnopsychiatry. Berkeley, CA, University of California Press.
  • Drijvers, H. J. W. (1976) The Religion of Palmyra. Leiden, Brill.
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