A painting of a green skinned Jinn.
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Very unlike the beneficent, joking Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, the Jinn, according to Muslim teachings, live in a sort of parallel universe to humankind. They were created before God created people, but out of fire instead of dirt. These creatures are invisible to humans, and are separated into three categories: Jinns with wings, Jjinns that look like dogs, goats, or snakes, and Jinns that endlessly wander the earth.
Shaytan (Satan) is a Jinn that used the free will given by God to disobey an order to bow to Adam and was banished into hell. This, of course, has made the Jinn lifelong adversaries to people. Evil Djinn often possess humans due to lust, infatuation, revenge, or as a favor to black magic practitioners, or pretend to be humans to trick them.
They set up elaborate deals with people, with ridiculously explicit and devious rules, and delight in punishing them when they inevitably fail to live up to the terms of the bargain. Also, each person is individually assigned a Jinn that whispers in their ear all their life, attempting to make them do evil deeds.
Etymology and definitions
Genie is the usual English translation of the Arabic term jinni, but it is not an Anglicized form of the Arabic word, as is commonly thought. The English word comes from French génie, which meant a spirit of any kind, which in turn came from Latin genius, which meant a sort of tutelary or guardian spirit thought to be assigned to each person at birth. The Latin word predates the Arabic word jinni, and the two terms have not been shown to be related. The first recorded use of the word in English was in 1655 as geny, with the Latin meaning.
The French translators of the Arabian Nights later used the word génie as a translation of jinni because it was similar to the Arabic word both in sound and in meaning; this meaning was also picked up in English and has since become dominant.
Amongst archeologists dealing with ancient Middle Eastern cultures, any mythological spirit lesser than a god is often referred to as a "genie", especially when describing stone reliefs or other forms of art. This practice draws on the original meaning of the term genie for simply a spirit of any sort.
Jinn in pre-Islamic mythology
For the ancient Semites, jinn were spirits of vanished ancient peoples who acted during the night and disappeared with the first light of dawn; they could make themselves invisible or change shape into animals at will; these spirits were commonly believed to be responsible for diseases and for the manias of somelunatics. Types of jinn include the ghul (night shade, which can change shape), the sila (which cannot change shape) and the ifrit(pronounced AYE-FRIT).
The Arabs believed that the jinn were spirits of fire, although sometimes they associated them with succubi, demons in the forms of beautiful women.
Jinn in Islam
Muslims believe that jinn are real beings. The jinn are said to be creatures with free will, made of smokeless fire by God (the literal translation being "subtle fire", i.e. a fire which does not give itself away through smoke), much in the same way humans were made of a metaphorical clay. In the Qur'an, jinn are frequently mentioned and Sura 72 of the Qur'an named Al-Jinn is entirely about them. Another Sura (Al- Naas) mentions the Jinn in the last verse. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad was said to have been sent as a prophet to both "humanity and the jinn."
The jinn have communities much like human societies: they eat, marry, die, etc. They are invisible to humans, but they can see humans. Sometimes they accidentally or deliberately come into view or into contact with humans.
Jinn are beings much like humans, possessing the ability to be good and bad. They have the power to transform into other animals and humans, and they are known to prefer the form of a snake. It is also known that they eat bones and their animals eat droppings, that is why it is forbidden to perform Istinja (washing) with those items. Jinns also have the power to possess humans, have much greater strength than them, and live much longer lives. In fact, according to some hadith, the great-grandson of Iblis, or the Devil (who was born before mankind), converted to Islam during the time of Muhammad, so he must have been thousands of years old.
According to the majority of Islamic scholars, clear evidence exists in the Qur'an that the Devil was not an angel (as thought by Christians), but a jinn, citing the Quranic verse "And when We said to the angels:'Prostrate yourselves unto Adam.' So they prostrated themselves except Iblis (The Devil). He was one of the jinn..." Surat Al-Kahf, 18:50. According to Islam, angels are different physical beings, and unlike the fiery nature of jinn, they are beings of goodness and cannot choose to disobey God, nor do they possess the ability to do evil. Evil Ifrit in the The Book of One Thousand and One Nights are called "the seed of Iblis".
In Islam-associated mythology, the jinn were said to be controllable by magically binding them to objects, as Suleiman (Solomon) most famously did; the Spirit of the Lamp in the story of Aladdin was such a jinni, bound to an oil lamp. Ways of summoning jinn were told in The Thousand and One Nights: by writing the name of God in Hebraic characters on a knife (whether the Hebrew name for God, Yaweh, or the Arabic Allah is used is not specified), and drawing a diagram (possibly a pentagram) and strange symbols and incantations around it.
It is said that one could kill a jinn with the Inwa, a manner of throwing the stone of a fruit so hard so it could, in fact, kill something. The jinn's power of possession was also addressed in the Nights. It is said that by taking seven hairs out of the tail of a cat that was all black except for a white spot on the end of its tail, and then burning the hairs in a small closed room with the possessed—filling their nose with the scent—this would release them from the spell of the jinn inside them.
In the Qur'an, Solomon (Arabic: Suleiman) had members of his army belonging to the race of jinn. Solomon had the ability to communicate with all creatures, which allowed him to communicate with the jinn as well.
Evil beings from among the jinn are roughly equivalent to the demons of Christian lore. In mythology, jinn have the ability to possess human beings, both in the sense that they persuade humans to perform actions, and like the Christian perception of demonic possession.
Genies in Western culture
The Western interpretation of the genie is based on the Aladdin tale in the Western version of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, which told of a genie that lived in an oil lamp and granted wishes to whoever freed him from the lamp by polishing it. The number and frequency of wishes varies, but typically it is limited to three wishes.
Many stories about genies tend to follow the same vein as the famous short story The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs, with the overriding theme of "be careful what you wish for"; in these stories, wishes can have disastrous, horrific and sometimes fatal consequences. Often, the genie causes harm to the loved ones or innocent people surrounding the wisher, making others pay for its master's greed or ignorance.
Exploiting loopholes or twisting interpretations of wishes is a classic trait amongst genies in Western fiction. For example, in one episode of The Twilight Zone, a poor shopkeeper who finds a genie wishes to become a leader of a great nation - and is transformed into Adolf Hitler at the very end of World War II. Often, these stories end with the genie's master wishing to have never found the genie, all his previous wishes never to have happened, or a similar wish to cancel all the fouled wishes that have come before.
Until 2005, the Djinn was one of many mythical creatures to be used as a Brownie patrol. When the Girl Guides of Canada updated the Brownie program in 2005, they decided that Djinns were an improper use of an Islamic cultural icon and made the decision to remove Djinns from the program.
Types of Jinn
There are different types of Jinn; the Qur’an mentions only three: Jinn, ‘Ifrit, and Marid. Other names include Jann, Ghul, Shaitans, Hinn, Nasnas, Shiqq, Si’lat, and a host of others. The names above vary depending on the region in the Middle Eastern country. Some of the best-known Jinn are:
The ghul (ghoul) are shape-shifting cannibalistic and blood-drinking creatures that feed on the flesh of human beings, especially travelers, children or corpses stolen out of graves. The oldest references to ghul in Arabian lore are found in The Book of 1001 Nights. There are several types of ghul. 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 ghul 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. Ghul also personify the unknown terrors held by the desert.
In Persian lore the ghul has the legs of a donkey and the horns of a goat.
The hinn are weak djinn, close to animals, and they especially like to appear as dogs.
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, it is evil and powerful, and difficult to control.
Jann are shape-shifters who lives in the desert, and take the forms of whirlwinds and white camels. They are open-minded about humans, and were among the first djinn 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 ghul.
The marid is unruly and rebellious, and the most powerful of djinn. The marida (plural) possess great knowledge of magic and have assisted kings and priests. They are also known as “blue” djinn and are the ones most often associated with wish-granting genies.
The nasnas is another weak form of djinn, hybrids of human-like and animal-like forms, and may account for some of our encounters with mysterious creatures. It is described in The Book of 1001 Nights as a half- human being, that is, it has half a head, half a body, one arm, one leg. It hops about on its single leg. The nasnas was said to be the offspring of a shiqq (see below) and a human being.
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 shaitan (shaytan) is a rebellious, malevolent djinni associated with demonic forces.
The shiqq is a lower form of djinn, a half creature,or literally only half-formed and thus monstrous in appearance.
The si’lat are expert shape-shifters and the smartest of the djinn. They can mimic human appearance with ease.
Djinn are also denoted by colors:
Older, intelligent djinn, often ambivalent about humans.
Leaders of families and small clans. Less powerful than Blue but more powerful than Green.
Young and immature djinn, ofter playful and mischievous.
Powerful djinn, thought to be kings. It is not known if there is one king or multiple ones.
Hostile and aggressive djinn.