“Indeed We created man from dried clay of black smooth mud. And We created the jinns before that from the smokeless flame of fire.” (Quran 15:26-27)
As a Muslim, the jinns of the Arabian lore for me has been rather different than the ones you may have grown up with. Of course, there is nothing like tooth-fairies, wizards, ghosts, or vampires.
Jinns are real. Or at least they are according to the Middle Eastern culture and beliefs. The term jinns in Arabic loosely translates to something that is hidden or invisible to the normal eyes. This does not necessarily mean that jinns are hidden. But rather, they may be named so because of their nature to inhabit dark and unoccupied spaces and inability to be seen in their true form.
Growing up, I have encountered several jinn stories of all kinds from my friends and family – and each source claimed them to be true. I have heard stories about the jinns that dwell on the trees and in washrooms and even in the abandoned building right across the street. I have heard about the stories of a jinn that fell in love with a human, about how jinn’s ankles were twisted with their feet backwards and about how if they get mad at you, they wouldn’t leave you alone.
As a kid, I have heard many adults say with a firm conviction that, even though we could not see jinns in their true form, animals could see them and that is the reason why sometimes at 3 am at night, we can hear a dog bark without any reason at all.
The most popular and perhaps the scariest stories were about the jinn possession. If a jinn actually wanted to cause trouble for you, the easiest way would be by possessing you. They would manipulate you to do things that you wouldn’t normally do, make you forget about things – and take control of your body and mind.
Being born and brought up in a Muslim household in an Arab setting, these stories are not uncommon. Needless to say, these stories were often the reason for my nightmares for a long time.
In the Arab culture, jinns are often believed to be poltergeists and are sometimes blamed for misfortunes and accidents. They are often described as shape-shifters who could take any form as their liking and hence frequently appeared as human-like, as discussed in different tales.
The first time ever jinns or genies appeared in written stories was in The Thousand and One Nights. There are references that show that the original manuscripts date back to as early as the ninth century. Jinns in those stories were depicted as evil and threatening creatures, much similar to the tales I have heard growing up.
Much later, in the movies and the cartoon series of Aladdin, jinns have been shown as creatures who grant wishes. The big blue genies as portrayed in Aladdin movies were totally different as compared to the ones from the stories I grew up with. They were funny, endearing, and helpful. This came as a stark contrast for someone like me.
That made me realize something, perhaps very profound- even folklore is subjected to fluidity. While spreading between cultures and lands, they get changed, adopted, and sometimes even commoditised.
Though the image we have of jinns right now may be good, likeable, and positive. But thousands of years ago, existence was not like today. It was very terrifying- filled with floods, droughts, and hardships of every kind. As a result, a few people may have perceived jinns as a bad omen and hence were scared of them.
Perhaps, it is a consequence of the thoughts about nature and hence by extension nature spirits were often revered and feared. Over the years, when the fear subsided, we go to know the carefully curated versions of the nature spirits – and perhaps that’s how jinns became genies in some parts of the world – while they still remained as the scary creatures that haunted the graveyards in the other parts of the world.
And I say this without meaning any offence to the jinn seated next to you while you read this.
How do you perceive Jinns – as scary mythical beings or super-friendly creatures?
About the Author
Fareeha Arshad is a forager of meaning, a reader by passion, a writer by choice, and a scientist by vocation. The Arab born, confused Desi lives on the Persian Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia with her parents and siblings, where she spends most of her time studying, teaching, writing or cooking.