The dialogues around the existence of jinn within Islam are significant to address and research because these entities give us several lessons to analyze and reflect upon in our life. We are often introduced to the jinn through scary stories of encounters in a dark room with friends. We try to see if they exist by repeatedly saying the word “jinn,” frightening others, as well as ourselves, with the occasional jinn possession video thrown in the mix. Rarely are they introduced in light of the Holy Qur’an or ahadith (a plural term for traditions from the Holy Prophet.) Stories narrated by parents and grandparents are held onto for generations about these creations of God.
What is jinn in Islam?
Jinn, or djinn (djinni for a plural term), are God’s creatures made out of “the flames of fire, unlike man, who has been created from Earth,” reports Sayyid Husain Husaini in his book, 180 Questions – Enquiries About Islam Volume 2: Various Issues. The Holy Qur’an further corroborates this statement in Surah Jinn, where God says, “and He created the jinn of a flame of fire (55:15).”
Across the Arab, Urdu, and Farsi languages, the term jinn comes from the root word that denotes, ” to hide” or “to be hidden.” Sheikh Faiyaz Jaffer, an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Public Service at New York University (NYU) and an Islamic scholar, points out interesting examples to compare other aspects of life and the universe that come from the same root word of invisibility.
He explains that the embryo inside the womb of a woman is known as “janin,” or, “something that cannot be physically sighted,” Jaffer said in a 2019 lecture at NYU, “And which is why we call Paradise, or a garden, Jannah. Not that it’s not physically visible, but because that a garden or Paradise in itself, you cannot actually see the floor because it’s so filled with trees.”
Jinn can use logic and reasoning to make decisions, gather knowledge, and choose whether they want to be believers or disbelievers.
Even though these beings are invisible and God has made them out of fire instead of clay, God has granted them similar intellectual characteristics to humans. Jinn can use logic and reasoning to make decisions, gather knowledge, and choose whether they want to be believers or disbelievers.
Mulla Sadra, a renowned philosopher and mystic in Shi’ism states, “jinn have substantial existence both in this corporeal realm and in the unseen or imaginal world.” Jinn can also be male or female, get married, produce offspring, and be mortal just like us; however, they can live much longer than humans. Just as how God can cast His judgment onto us humans, “jinn are legally accountable to Allah (SWT) and can choose to believe or disbelieve. They will be raised on the Day of Judgment,” Husaini said.
And by the way – there’s not just one species of jinn within Islam. According to certain scholars, some jinn can live inside animals, fly, find a home in the ocean, and yes, some also live in trees. Within the world of jinn, certain types are identified by various names. Some of the most well-known are the ghoul, ifrit, and marid. The ghouls would be the most widely recognized due to Hollywood’s grotesque depictions of such entities in the movies like Annabelle, The Conjuring, and even The Exorcist. The ghouls are described as having the ability to shapeshift, are cannibalistic, and feed on humans. Traditional Persian lore state that this type of jinn shares characteristics of both a goat and a donkey.
According to Al-Islam, “besides the jinn, Islam acknowledges the existence of demons (Shayatin.) The lines between demons and jinns are blurred, since malevolent jinn are also called Shayatin.” Yet many within the religion of Islam believe that because we can’t see them, they do not exist. However, the important role that they have within Islam is not only explained within the Holy Qur’an, but ahadith from the Ahlulbayt (as) have directly proved their existence.
Maulana Sayyed Mohammad Al-Musawi of Iraq says that “jinns are creatures like us, created by our Creator, Allah (SWT,) who created everything, but their world and situation, [are] not like us.” He further goes on to say, “jinn are not Satanic beings because we read in Quran about jinns saying: “there are among us that are righteous, and there are contrary, we are groups of different ways (72:11).” Within the same chapter, in verse six, God states that there were some humans who repeatedly crossed the threshold to enter the world of jinn, sought out assistance from them, and their ranks only increased “in sin and disbelief (72:6.)”
According to some scholars, the inability to see the jinn has been a simple command given by God. They say there are no verses in the Qur’an or mentions in ahadith that provide reasoning as to why we cannot see their realm. However, as Jaffer points out, eminent scholars such as Sheikh al-Mufid and Sheikh al-Tusi, explain that there are, “some opportunities for individuals who have a high spiritual connection with Allah (SWT) to be able to physically see the jinn and to be able to converse with them.”
The Story of Prophet Sulayman
To further understand the extraordinary role of jinn within Islam, the story of Prophet Sulayman (Solomon) serves as a great example of how the worlds of our great prophets have intersected with the world of jinn. Prophet Sulayman is an emissary of God, revered across all three Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. He was the youngest son of Prophet Dawood (David) and was made king at the mere age of 13, out of all his father’s 19 sons. God granted Prophet Sulayman a unique merit whereby ruling a strong kingdom he was also given the authority to rule over the jinn, birds, animals, and other creations of nature.
Since he could communicate with such creations, they would understand to assist him in creating a mighty empire. God has also revealed a chapter within the Holy Qur’an, Surah Naml (The Ants), where Prophet Sulayman was one day walking past an ant colony. The holy chapter then states, “an ant warned, “O ants! Go quickly into your homes so Solomon and his armies do not crush you unknowingly (27:18.)” Prophet Sulayman then stopped to reflect on the words spoken by the ant, and thanked God for the, “[favors] which You have blessed me and my parents with, and to do good deeds that please you (27:19.)”
Under the leadership of Prophet Sulayman, the jinn were instructed three main responsibilities: building houses of worship for the prophet; supervising the various architectures that were built in his country; building reservoirs. In the famous story of Prophet Sulayman and Bilqis, the queen of Sheba, he ordered his jinn to retrieve her throne. These species that told Prophet Sulayman that they could retrieve the throne before the eye could blink were known as ifrit, and they’re known to be cunning and strong.
What does the Qur’an and ahadith say about jinn?
Within the Holy Qur’an, the term “jinn” has been mentioned approximately 22 times: (72:1), (37:158), (34:14), (46:29), (114:6), (15:27), (55:15), (38:37), (55:31), (27:17), (51:56), (55:13), (55:74), (55:56), (72:7), (55:39), (46:31), (46:18), (21:82), (55:33), (22:5), and (72:6). Surah Jinn is the 72nd chapter of the Holy Qur’an and was revealed to the Prophet (PBUH) in the holy city of Makkah. When looking at Surah Ahqaf (The Sand Dunes), verses 29-32, we find a narration of a tradition where a group of jinn was sent to the Prophet (PBUH,) and they heard the recitation of the Holy Qur’an for the first time.
The story of these verses is that one day the Prophet (PBUH) traveled to Taif to further spread his prophetic mission due to the large number of people who would gather. When the Prophet (PBUH) began to deliver the message of Islam, no one accepted it. He then returned to Makkah but rested in the Valley of the Jinn for the evening. When he began to recite the Qur’an, a group of nearby jinn listened and immediately accepted Islam. They then returned to their community of jinn to speak on what they had just witnessed and heard. It was after the revelation of Surah Ahqaf that Surah Jinn was revealed.
According to his book, Commentary of Suratul Jinn, Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, an Iranian Shia religious scholar, states that, “the discourse, amongst other topics, covers the jinns’ belief in the Prophet of Islam and their humility and humbleness in relation to the Holy Qur’an.” The chapter narrates that the jinn indeed believe in the Day of Judgment, and are made aware that amongst them, there will exist believers and disbelievers.
As mentioned, humans cannot see the unseen world of the jinn unless they have achieved a high spiritual connection with God. Verse 26, of Surah Jinn, defends this statement by stating, “Knower of the Unseen, He does not disclose His unseen to anyone, except to an apostle He approves (72:26).”
Due to the several misconceptions surrounding jinn, many are unsure of how to stay protected from them. Ayatollah Shirazi points out two narrations from Tafsir Majma’ Al-Bayan, Volume 10, p. 365, and Tafsir Al-Burhan, Volume 4, p. 390 that explain the benefits of reciting this chapter.
In Majma Al-Bayan, the Prophet (PBUH) states, “he who recites this Surah (Surahtul Jinn) will be given the reward of freeing (from slavery) as many jinn and Devils that both believed in Allah (SWT) and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH.)”
In Al-Burhan, Shaikh as-Suduq, one of the excellent masters of Shi’ism, narrates from Hannan ibn Sadir, who narrates from Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (as) who says, “whosoever recites Suratul Jinn will never be touched by the evil eye, magic, witchcraft or the evil plots of the jinn while in this world, and that person will be in the company of Muhammad and will beseech the Almighty by saying, ‘O Allah! I do not want anyone besides him!’ nor will this person ever be pleased with anyone else.”
History Between Jinn and Ahlulbayt
There have also been significant moments within Islamic history between the Ahlulbayt (as), and the jinn. In Jung e Bair Al Alam (Battle With the Jinn), Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) went deep into the Valley of the Jinn to fight because a group of disbelieving jinn were plotting to go against the Prophet. After the Imam (as) succeeded in battle, the jinns accepted Islam. The arrival of Za’far Jinn with his army to the land of Karbala to aid Imam Hussain (as) is also another tradition that highlights the significant moment (some scholars debate on the authenticity of Za’far Jinn, but there is no denying that the Imam’s are the leaders of both man and jinn).
Within Shi’i traditions, many narrations show dialogues between the Ahlulbayt (as), and the jinn; however, more authentic sources can be found in al-Kafi. One well-known tradition is of Imam Ali (as), and the serpent. When the creature entered the mosque Imam (as) was sitting on the pulpit. He stretched his body and saluted the Imam (as) before saying, “I am Amr ibn ‘Uthman, your deputy among the Jinns. My father has died, and in his will, he has asked me to come to you and find out your instructions, and that is why I am here. What do you command me and instruct me to do?”
The Imam (as) then responded and said, “I ask you to be pious before Allah and go back and act as the successor of your father among the Jinn. I appoint you as my deputy over them.”
Which misconceptions About Jinn are true, and which are not?
Many misconceptions about jinn have either been spread through lore, or through elders in the family which has, unfortunately, given such a corrupted image to these creations of God. When debunking myths about jinn, it is important to note that nothing should be believed unless evidence has been provided within the Holy Qur’an or through the members of the Prophet’s (PBUH) family. Anything else is directly related to the power and command of God. After speaking to a few scholars, here are some of the myths that are just not true:
*The following information has been taken from the school of Shi’ism
- Jinn do not enter the mouth and possess you when you yawn
- Jinn do not enter our realm through mirrors
- Jinn do not shapeshift into cats
- Jumping from elevated places without uttering “bismillah” does not disrupt the jinn
- Jinn do not have backward feet
- Jinn do not live in/on flowers
- Jinn do not surround women when they read the Holy Qur’an out loud
- Jinn, angels, and demons cannot be seen by babies
- Jinn cannot appear simply by repeating “jinn” in a dark room
- There is no authentic evidence to suggest jinn swarming and harming women if they wear fragrance, have their hair open, or sing outside at dark
Jinn and Possession: Some scholars agree and disagree that jinn can possess human beings, but a common explanation throughout is that it would take a lot for possession of some kind to happen. God has intentionally kept the worlds of humans and jinn separate, yet we see in Islam, and the Holy Qur’an, that people have sought help from jinn, and often, the jinn only encourages mischief and disobedience towards God.
A believer would have to be quite low in imaan (faith), for a possession to happen.
Second, there have been many chapters within the Holy Qur’an that God has sent to be used as protection from the harm of jinn. A believer would have to be quite low in imaan (faith), for possession to happen. However, if one has consciously committed a grave sin, do not blame the jinn for your actions.
When it comes to voice distortion, some scholars say, in a metaphorical sense rather, that the incessant whispering to do certain wrong actions (by either Shaytan or the jinn), the person eventually becomes the voice. This is why scholars encourage believers to keep their surrounding areas tidy and to keep themselves in a state of cleanliness and purity to avoid the jinn.
Jinn and shapeshifting: The ability of jinn to shapeshift has been corroborated by the tradition of Imam Ali (as) with the story of the serpent
Humans controlling jinn: There are many people who may come forward and say that they work closely with jinn and have developed friendships, but such actions are highly forbidden in Islam unless the person has a high level of spirituality; meaning, such actions shouldn’t just be done by the average person, especially if they have negative intentions. God has concealed their world for a reason and has given us solutions to our trials in a way that would please Him.