The image of the genie in a bottle has become pervasive in popular culture, but few recognize the actual mythical origin of such characters. Very different from the fairy tale representation that Disney gave them, the jinn are creatures made from smokeless fire, originally described in the Qur’an and later incorporated into various Islamic mythologies. According to the Islamic texts, God originally made humans out of clay, angels – from light, and the jinn, the hidden ones – out of fire. While angels (known as malayka in Islamic tradition) are genderless, and have no free will, the jinn are exactly the opposite. Having male and female genders and a free will of their own, they are more similar to humans.
The most powerful and commonly known jinn is Shaytan, or Satan, who instills corrupt thoughts into men. Having free will, it was easy for him to disobey the orders of God and become his arch enemy. The jinn are most prolifically discussed in the 72nd sura (chapter) of the Qur’an, known as Surat-al-Jinn (Sura of the Jinn). It is from that particular sura that we learn about the free will of these creatures, and the fact that they too will be judged by God when Judgement Day comes.
Various descriptions of the jinn were given in different parts of the Qu’ran. Some of them suggest that these creatures may at times become invisible to humans, and that humans also appear strangely in their eyes. Other sources say that the jinn may assume the shape of humans and various animals.
Another popular myth relating to the Jinn has to do with the prophet Solomon, and his rule as the third king of Israel. According to Islamic literature, the prophet ruled over the learned humans, which in turn commanded the Jinn. King Solomon died leaning on his staff, and both jinn and human believed he was still alive and supervising them. It wasn’t until a worm misplaced the king’s staff that the creatures were liberated from their oppression.
A notion exists that each human is assigned his own jinn, called a qarin, or “companion”. Shall this creature be evil, it might tempt the human it accompanies to do behave in a bad manner. This notion is not universally accepted in all Islamic cultures, even though all of them share the idea that the Shaytan whispers bad intentions into every human’s soul.
The jinn are said to live in tribes, with each tribe having a different type of the creatures. The most commonly recognized types are said to be these:
This type of jinn is most commonly described to appear as a big-chested man with a loud, deafening voice. Maarid are said to prefer wide, open and desolate spaces, which is why sometimes it is claimed that they occupy the ocean waters. They are powerful, but not socially advanced and find a difficulty in communicating, even between each other. When the western image of the “genie” appeared in popular culture, it resembled the classical description of the Maarid jinn.
Described as intelligent creatures, the efreet are similar in looks to what most would call a demon – covered in flames and bright colors. They live in complex societies, much alike to those which humans have created. Despite their original demonic description, they may, out of their own free will, decide to cooperate with humans and be good. In the story about King Solomon above, the jinn under the king’s command were likely efreets.
Predominantly female, these are mentioned in very few places, but are known to be talented shape-shifters which can integrate seamlessly in human societies, presenting themselves as sorcerers and magicians. The silah are mentioned in the Qur’an by the Prophet Muhammad, and are also described by desert dwellers who were not born into the Muslim faith but later converted into it.
It is not hard to understand why the name of these jinn became a part of the English language. Pronounced with a sharper “h” sound, the original ghouls are known to be predominantly male, haunting grave sites and eating human flesh. Some sources mention them to be nocturnal, while others don’t. Still, the ghoul are considered to be evil and incapable of being benevolent.
In translation, Aamir means dweller, which is a type of jinn that occupies a human’s house, often in the shape of an animal. As the prophet Muhammad has stated, if one encounters a black snake in his home, it’s likely to be an Aamir, but if that animal is encountered three times, one should kill it. Three appearances mean that it’s not a regular jinn, but the Devil, the Shaytan himself.
Meaning “spirit” in translation, the Ruh interact with children. They’re commonly reported to be associated with the particular fears of the child. For example, should the child fear being in water, it is likely to say it has seen a Ruh in the ripples.
Al-Nasnas or Shiqq
Strangest of all the jinn, these are originally described in a hadith by Al-Sahih. They are said to have a halved human body – with only one arm and one foot. These hideous creatures are described to have been forged by Allah himself as punishment for a certain rebellious group’s insolence. To this day, there are arguments if they should be in the category of the jinn or not.
The most powerful of all the jinn, an analog to the Devil in the Muslim faith, the Shaytan defied God’s will to bow to Adem, and made it his goal to cast temptation into the hearts of men. Though “shaytan” can be used to describe the one particular Devil of the religion, in several religious texts it can also refer to the people who have been tempted by him, or the demons that follow his will.
Some of these creatures have been mentioned in the holy book of the Islamic people – Qur’an, while others come from later religious texts written to be used in Islamic teachings. Whether they exist, or have existed is, and will likely remain a mystery.