All about jinn: Creatures that dwell in dark places, caves, toilets, and now also in parliaments


Last week there was much furor in Iran and in other places across the world concerning the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s accusation that a top advisor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, was involved in the practice of black magic and the deployment of jinn. Mr. Ahmadinejad denied the accusations, of course, calling them bad jokes.

In popular culture, jinn have been immortalized by the tales of Aladdin and the romp of a musical movie by Disney and programs like “I dream of Jeannie.” But jokes apart, what are jinn – these shape shifting creatures we know so little about? What is their origin? Are they still in existence? And, can I keep one in a treasure chest or a lamp to help me with my household chores?

Armed with these questions I spoke to some serious and studious followers of Islam who don’t wish to be named. The following narrative is what I’ve gleaned from my conversations.

I was told that yes, jinn exist. But they exist in a parallel universe. We can’t see them (the word “jinn” itself comes from the Arabic root word which means “hidden from sight”) but they can see us. What they have in common with human beings is intelligence and understanding, which includes knowing the difference between good and evil.

In Islam, it is believed that Allah made three sentient creatures – human beings, jinn and angels. Human beings were made of clay, jinn of smokeless fire and angels of light. The purpose of existence of these beings is to worship Allah alone.

There are supposed to be three types of jinn. The shape-shifting jinn, who can take on different forms such as the forms of dogs and snakes. Jinn who are like flying the winds and have wings. And, jinn that can travel and rest.

Compared to human beings, the jinn certainly have more powers, such as the ability to move and travel quickly. But men who seek power have been trying to control and use the jinn since centuries, but that requires magic. The sorcerer calls upon the spirits, and commands them to harm or possess someone. This is very common among practitioners of the dark arts—and this apparently happens, even if one does not ask for it. Because when someone practices magic with a negative intent, or black magic, a jinn, or several, are typically involved whether the magician is aware of it or not.

What is a bit unsettling is that every individual among us is supposed to have a jinn who has is appointed to be his constant companion. It is believed that it is the jinn (or the devil) in us that drive us to do bad deeds as against the good ones.

It is believed that jinn live on earth. But chances of encountering jinn in a clean, bright environment are remote as their dwelling places of choice are ruins, dark and unclean places, caves, garbage dumps and toilets. The fragrance of frankincense is meant to drive them away.

Much like human beings, jinn could be followers of Islam or non-believers. In a legend, a jinn is supposed to have said: “There are among us some that are righteous, and some the contrary; we are groups, each having a different way.”

The jinn are not immortal and they have also been designated to meet their Maker on the day of reckoning. It is said, “… but the jinn know well that they have indeed to appear before Him (that is, they will be brought to account)” And that, “They will be brought to judgment.”

Whether jinn are brought to judgment or not, the judiciary of Iran has announced the arrest of two “sorcerers,” allegedly connected to President Ahmadinejad. If these “sorcerers” have jinn at their command, getting out of their predicament should not prove difficult.

(Umita Raghu Venkataraman, a writer for Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: Umita.venkataraman@mbc.net)