It is clearly mentioned in Islamic texts that unlike in the Christian belief, Iblis was never an angel. He was a jinn and will remain so throughout his extended life. The word jinn has many meanings, including concealed in darkness, covered in mystery or the unknown. Jinns have the amazing quality to influence humans and envelop their senses using the weapon of waswasa (doubt). They can easily overpower humans unless the latter are God-conscious and recite the Quran to ward them off. As jinns are descended from the spices of Iblis, they are more likely to be his evil mates than good guys. They are also described in the Quran as qareen. The word shaitan is interchangeable with jinns unless they accept the divine message and become Muslims.
The fundamentals of Islamic faith constitute belief in the oneness of Allah, the existence of Heavenly Angels, the Holy Scriptures, the Divine Messengers, the Last Day and Divine Destiny, including the good or evil in it. Belief in jinns is not a part of this code, but their existence is irrefutable. We learn from the holy Quran and the sayings of prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be on him, that jinns are creation of Allah and exist side by side with humans. The reference to jinns in the Quran is, however, mostly in the context of shaitan because pagan practices encouraged invoking the help of jinns in worship and making them partners with Allah. The holy Quran says: “They associate the jinns with Allah [in worship] even though He created them, and they falsely attribute to Him sons and daughters out of ignorance. Allah is Glorified and Exalted and He is above what they claim” (6:100). Islam condemns idol worship and declares that those jinns who become agents of shaitan will burn in the fire of hell together with Iblis, who lived with angels in Paradise prior to his fall but was from the species of jinn (18:50).
The association between jinns and shaitan is unavoidable in any Islamic theological discourse on jinns. On the Day of Judgement Allah will gather jinns and humans together and say: “O assembly of jinns. You misled humans in great numbers. And their human associates will say: “Our Lord! We benefited from each other’s company but now we have reached the end of our term which You laid down for us [and we can see that we were in the wrong].” [Then] Allah will say: “The Fire will be your everlasting abode, except whoever Allah wills to spare.” Surely your Lord is all wise and all knowing (6:128). In another verse, the punishment of jinns and humans who go astray is mentioned as follows: “Indeed, We have destined many jinns and humans for Hell. They have hearts they do not understand with, eyes they do not see with and ears they do not hear with. They are like cattle. In fact, their capacity to accept guidance is worse than cattle. Such [people] are [truly] heedless. (7:179). As jinns are the progeny of Iblis, they are mostly his followers. Iblis is on a lifelong mission to send humans to hellfire. Allah has promised in the Quran: “I will surely fill up Hell with you [Iblis] and whoever follows you from among them [humans] all together” (38:85).
The Quran also tells Muslims how to defend themselves against the plots of shaitan. Muslims are advised to ask seek “refuge [in Allah] from the temptations of shayateen” (23:97). Allah also informs Muslims: “We have made for every prophet enemies, evil humans and jinns, whispering to one another with elegant words of deception. Had it been your Lord’s Will, they would not have done such a thing. So beware of them and their deceit (6:112). The last chapter of the holy Quran is a complete supplication (Dua) to take refuge in Allah from the false invocations of shayateen and jinns (114).
With advancements in science and medicine, it has become difficult to argue about the existence of jinns because they are hidden from the naked eye and undiscovered by human knowledge. A number of Muslims, while believing in jinns as part of their faith in the holy Quran being the word of Allah still harbour doubt about jinns. They also deny that jinns have the power to influence or possess humans and use their minds and corpus as mediums. However, this verse from the Quran clearly indicates that jinns have the ability to overpower humans and drive them crazy. “Those who eat Riba (usury) will not stand [on the Day of Resurrection] except like the standing of a person bitten by shaitan leading him to insanity’ (2:275).
The stories of jinns are not only part of the rich folklore of Biblical history but also an integral fabric of the cultural and religious heritage of the global monotheistic community. The belief that jinns can possess a person and gain control of his cognitive mechanisms has led to terms like Majnoon used alternatively both for lunatic or lover. It is also common in Muslim societies to associate mental illness with the influence of jinns.
To understand the existence of jinns it is important to know that our universe is not the sole abode of humans. Although man has not yet succeeded in identifying extra terrestrial life in the outer space, we do know that on earth there are many worlds coexisting with humans. To put it simply there is a world of living beings comprising the insects, animals, plants and marine life; and there is a parallel world of the supernatural, the unseen and spirits. To the latter world, religion adds angels and jinns who do not live on earth but visit it frequently and sometimes also interact with humans in ways that are best known to Allah.
Muslims believe in three living creations of Allah who are placed on the top of the hierarchy of all creations. In the descending order, they are humans followed by angels and then jinns. All the angels in heaven prostrated before Adam, which is a testimony to the fact that they accepted his ascendancy. This is not denying that their name (malak for singular and malaik for plural) refers to power and control, but they are under the command of Allah and have no free will. In virtue and ability, angels may appear better and more capable than humans. But this is because they don’t live on earth and are not bound by its natural laws of gravity, ageing and depreciation of faculties. The story of two angels Haroot and Maroot shows it is not easy to live in the world and earn salvation (2:102). According to Ibn Taimiyyah “Angels appear to be better than humans in the mortal life, but in the hereafter as human beings will enter paradise, they will be better than angels.”
Iblis defied Allah and did not prostrate before Adam because he claimed he was better than Adam (7:12). But his claim was rejected by Allah. In the story of prophet Solomon when he asked who could bring Queen Sheba’s throne to his court, a powerful jinn, Ifreet said he could do so in the blink of an eye. But someone who had more knowledge brought the throne sooner. This parable contains three messages bout the superiority of man over jinns: one, that the one who ordered the throne to be brought to him was a human; second, that Ifreet was left behind by someone who did not have the strength of a jinn but he had knowledge that is superior to strength; and third, that Adam had been given knowledge by Allah which has been passed on to his progeny.
In the order of creation, humans were created the last. According to the narration of Abdullah bin Umar bin Al-Aas the Almighty created jinns several thousand years before Adam. In the Christian belief Iblis was a fallen angel. Islam denies this and maintains that Iblis was always a jinn throughout his life cycle.“He was one of the jinns, and he disobeyed the command of his Lord. Will you then take him and his progeny as protectors rather than Me?” [18:50]. People who have been influenced by Christian belief that Iblis was originally an angel who was later demoted to jinn because of his disobedience point to the verse in the Quran in which Allah asked the angels to prostrate before Adam (2:34). They point out that Allah did not ask both the angels and Iblis to prostrate before Adam. They use the absence of angels’ creation in the Quran to make the point that both angels and jinns are created from the same material, i.e. light. They ignore the clear verses in which Allah has said that Iblis was from the jinns. They also ignore that when Iblis offered his defence to Allah for not prostrating before Adam, his did not use the plural tense to speak on behalf of all angels. He did not say we the angels are made from fire. He used the singular noun to say I refuse to prostrate because you (Allah) created me (Iblis) from fire and him (Adam) from clay (7:12). This first person singular narrative contrasts sharply with the first person plural narrative in an earlier verse (2:30) in which the angels mention their glorification of Allah and point out to Adam shedding blood on earth. It is important to mention this point because the origin of Iblis is questioned by some Muslims who are influenced by comparative religious thought on the creation of human life. For them the challenge posed by the theory of evolution is more formidable than the finer differences in the Abrahamic faiths about the origin of Adam and the original sin. For Muslims, Iblis always was and remains until the Last Day a jinn separate from angels.
It is narrated from Abdullah Ibn Abbas that before the creation of Adam, jinns lived on earth and angels lived in the heavens. Jinns can travel at the speed of light. They are physically very strong and knowledgeable. They live for thousands of years. When Iblis misguided Adam and Eve and caused them to commit the original sin, jinns were told by Allah that the earth would be the new abode of Adam and Eve and their progeny, and they will be enemies of man. The jinns were told to live in a subtle, immaterial or subtly immaterial space. Prior to this the jinns had uninhibited access to the heaven. But after Iblis’ condemnation (Quran 7:18; 15:38 & 38:77), their free access to heaven was withdrawn. Quran inform us that whenever they try to cross their limit they are chased away by shooting stars. Allah mentions this in the Quran in three places. 1) “Earlier we [jinns] tried to reach the heaven [for news] only to find it filled with stern guards and shooting stars”. (72:8). 2) “Indeed, We [Allah] adorned the lowest heaven with lamps [stars] and made them [as missiles] to chase away the [eavesdropping] devils for whom We have also prepared the torment of blazing fire” (67:5). 3) “O assembly of jinns and humans. If you can penetrate beyond the realms of the heavens and the earth, then do so [but] you cannot do it without [divine] permission” (55:33).
According to Islamic theology, Allah created angels from light, jinns from fire and Adam from clay. While the origin of Adam from clay (7:12; 15:26; 32:7 & 55:14) and jinns from fire (7:12,15:27, 38:76 & 55:15) are mentioned in the Quran, the origin of angels from light is mentioned only in the Hadith (Muslim). Allah created angels, jinns and humans for his worship but he gave no choice to the angels whose sole function is to glorify Allah and obey His commandments (6:93, 21:20, 35:1 & 66:6). Humans and jinns, on the other hand, have been given a choice of either obeying Allah or following their own desires. In doing so they also take full responsibility for the consequences of their actions. These consequences are either immediate, i.e. their results become apparent in this world, or are postponed until the Day of Judgement.
The jinns and angels have the ability to change form and see humans but humans do not have the capacity to see angels or jinns unless the latter manifest them in human or animal form. Quran tells us that angels visited prophets Abraham and Lot in human form. “They reassured [Abraham] not to be afraid and gave him good tidings of a knowledgeable son” (51:28). “When the messengers came to the family of Lot, he said, “You are surely people unfamiliar to me” (15:61-62). The angel Gabriel visited holy Mary in human form to give her news of Jesus’ birth. “He appeared before her in the form of a man in all respects” (19:17). We also learn from Hadith that when Gabriel accompanied the prophet to the heavens at the time of Asraa wal Meraaj, Gabriel appeared in his original form.
In the Islamic religious literature there is mention of shaitan also appearing in human form before prophets and men of faith to prevent them from carrying out Allah’s commands. One of the fundamental rituals of Haj is throwing of pebbles (Rami) at the three designated pillars, which symbolise the locations where shaitan had appeared as an old man to persuade Abraham not to take his son Ismail for sacrifice. Shaitan also tired to frustrate prophet Job when he was afflicted with an incurable illness.
Jinns live an active social life just like humans. They have their leaders and communities. They ride, get married, bury their dead, quarrel and celebrate. Some of them follow organised religions and some are atheists like humans. Jinns are concealed from our senses. We cannot see or hear them except when they themselves appear in human form or speak to humans through a medium. Jinns are not unreal or non-existent, but they remain concealed because humans have not fully discovered the mysteries of the universe. A century ago we were not aware that bacteria existed or that viruses had the ability to change human cells. We need a medium such as a radio receiver or modulator to hear those unheard sounds in ether whose frequencies cannot be picked up by our ears naturally. It is the same with the existence of jinns.
Like humans jinns also have dietary restrictions. The non-believing jinns or shayateen consume the same food as humans, which are forbidden for Muslims and on which Allah’s name is not invoked. The Muslim scholar, Ibn Al Qayyim says that this is supported by the verse of the Quran which says: “O you who believe, alcoholic beverages and games of chance and idols and divining arrows are an infamy of shaitanʼs handiwork. Leave it aside in order that you might succeed” (5:90). According to Sahih Bokhari and Muslim, the food of believing jinns is bones (the source of calcium and phosphorus) from animals on which the name of Allah has been cited.
Believing jinns are given the same divine message as given to our holy prophet and the prophets before him. But after the completion of Deen and the revelation of the Quran, the code of law of jinns (sharia) is the same as that of humans who are Muslims. In Surah Rahman the verse which is repeated 31 times: “Then which of your Lord’s favours will you both deny?” is addressed to both humans and jinns.
Human beings have not been given sufficient information about the parallel universe in which jinns live in the same way that Allah has kept the full knowledge of Ruh (spirit) to himself. Perhaps their world coexists with our world, which we can only feel but cannot see because jinns have no body mass or corporeal existence. Some people claim that they have seen jinns but the experience of each human is different. Their accounts show that jinns can adopt human or animal forms.
It is believed that jinns live in abandoned homes, thick forests, old trees, deserts, mountains and places less frequented by humans. If a jinn establishes territoriality by living in a place for hundreds of years, he would establish his claim on it and resist if anyone else challenges his possession. Bilal Ibn Harith says: “We were on a journey with the holy prophet. I heard a noise and I thought some people were arguing. I asked the prophet what kind of noise is this? The prophet replied that two groups of jinns, the Muslim jinns and the polytheistic jinns were quarrelling over houses.”
If a good jinn moves into someone’s long-term vacant house, or visits a mosque for prayers, he would adopt a human form in order not to be detected. But he would choose his timings differently from humans to stay away from them. There have been reports of jinns and humans living peacefully in old homes without disturbing each other. In such coexistence, the humans know about the presence of jinns but they are not harassed by them. In fact the jinns in such a situation provide added security and protection to their hosts. This relationship is not permanent. It ends when the old jinn dies or when his offspring leave town to set up their own households.
Jinns like to travel. During the prophet’s journey on the way to Taif, a party of jinns listened quietly to the recitation of the holy Quran and returned to their fellow jinns as warners (46:29). When they reached their clan, they declared: “O our fellow jinns; we have truly heard a scripture revealed after Moses, confirming what came before it. It guides to the truth and the straight way” (46:30). A mosque was later built at the place to which this verse refers and was named Masjid Jin. It is located in Makkah. A chapter in the Quran is also named after jinns. It is known as Surah Jin. In this surah, this incident is narrated as follows. “Say [O prophet], It has been revealed to me that a group of jinns listened [to the Quran,] and said [to their fellow jinns] indeed, we have heard a wonderful recitation (72:1). It leads to right guidance so we believed in it, and we will never associate anyone with our Lord [in worship] (72:2). [We now know that] our Lord, who is exalted is His Majesty, has neither taken a partner nor He has an offspring (72:3). And, that the foolish among us used to utter [outrageous] falsehood about Allah (72:4). We certainly thought that humans and jinns would never speak lies about Allah (72:5). And, some humans used to seek refuge with some jinns, so they increased in wickedness. And those [humans] thought, just like you [jinns] that Allah would not resurrect anyone for judgment (72:7). [Earlier], we tried to reach heaven [for news], only to find it filled with stern guards and shooting stars (72:8). We used to take up positions there for eavesdropping, but whoever dares eavesdrop now will find a flare lying in wait for him (72:9). Now, we have no clue whether evil is intended for those on earth, or their Lord intends for them what is right (72:10). Among us are those who are righteous and those who are less so. We have been of different factions (72:11). [Now] we truly know that we cannot frustrate Allah on earth, nor can we escape from Him (72:12). When we heard the guidance [of the Quran] we [readily] believed in it. For whoever believes in the Lord will have no fear of being denied [a reward] or will be wronged (72:13). And, among us are those who have submitted [to Allah] and those who are deviants. So [as for] those who have submitted, it is they who have attained right guidance (72:14). And, as for those who are deviants, they will be [made the] fuel of Hell” (72:15).
Jinns can move between their space and ours but they cannot move between their world and heaven. Like humans, Jinns do not know the future and cannot change their destiny but unlike us they live longer, are strong and have extraordinary powers. They are dependent on the forces of nature in the same way as humans are dependent for their living. This is illustrated in the story of prophet Solomon in the holy Quran. The jinns who were commandeered to build the Solomon Pools did not know that their master (Solomon) had died until his staff on which his weight rested was eaten away by termites causing him to fall down on earth from his station.
Like humans, jinns are also given the option to choose between good and evil. Both are created for no other end except to worship Allah (Quran 51:56). Jinns are also followers of different religions and creeds. There are stories of Jewish, Christian and Muslim jinns in their respective religious literature. The evil jinns or shayateen defy their moral code and engage in lewdness and illicit sex. The evil jinns also sometime cross the species barrier and establish illicit relations with humans, using their overpowering but unfair ability to subdue humans. This is supported by the verse in Surah Rahman: “In both gardens of Paradise there will be maidens of modest gaze, whom no human or jinn has ever touched before” (55:56).
Evil minded humans who follow their wanton desires on the behest of shaitan attract evil jinns and befriend them to cast a spell on other humans. For this they engage in evil deeds, devil worship, voodoo and black magic. But as jinns have no power of life over death or can foretell future, their human disciples are also unable to change anyone’s destiny or prevent anyone from escaping his time of death. Quran condemns these practices (2:102; 6:128 & 72:5). This knowledge and way of life is the shaitan’s way. In contrast to that, good humans who follow the commandments of their Lord and are men of faith are endowed with spiritual power to counter the effects of evil jinns and their human mediums. These people employ their firm faith in God, purity of mind and body, self-sacrifice, deep reflection and service to humanity to heal the ill, ward off evil and purify nature of the harmful effects of evil. This knowledge and way of life is the sufi way.
Followers of the Abrahamic faiths who believe in the existence of jinns have developed a protocol to ward off evil eye and influence of evil jinns by cultivating good jinns. They put emphasises on purity of body and soul. The Christian belief that body is the temple of God and the Muslim belief that cleanliness is next to godliness illustrate this to a point. Muslims are required to wash their face, hands and feet before each of the five time obligatory prayers. There are also requirements for cleaning the body with a full bath or shower after halal sex or after the monthly cycle of women. Muslims believe that reciting the name of Allah is the best way to ward off shayateen and jinns in the same way as Christians flash the cross to ward off evil. The most popular Muslim prayer for warding off evil jinns is called Ayat Al Kursi. It is the longest verse in the holy Quran whose wordings are as follows: “Allah, there is no deity except Him, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsistent Fountain of all being. Neither slumber overtakes Him or sleep. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth. Who is there that could intercede with Him without His leave? He knows all that lies open before men and all that is hidden from them; whereas they cannot attain of His knowledge except what He wills. His eternal power overspreads the heavens and the earth, and their upholding wearies Him not. And he alone is truly exalted and tremendous” (2:55).
The Quran also advises believers to seek Allah’s protection from the devil when reading the Quran (16:98) or when fearing that Shaitan will exploit their weakness to do some wrong. “And if it should happen that a prompting from shaitan stirs you [to blind anger], seek refuge with God: behold, He is all-hearing and all-knowing. (7:200).
Friendship between humans and evil jinns is nothing short of destruction of mankind. From the Quran we learn that shaitan has sworn to Allah “to attack man openly, as well as in a manner beyond his comprehension, and from their right and from their left; and most of them you will find are ungrateful” (7:17). Shaitan also threatens man with the prospect of poverty and urges him to be miserly (2:268). In the biblical story of the fall of Adam and Eve, Shaitan was successful in robbing them of their modesty and exposing their private parts. He and his tribe try to do the same with the children of Adam by luring them into doing lewd and abominable things. “O children of Adam! Do not allow shaitan to seduce you in the same way as he caused your ancestors to be driven out of the garden of paradise: he deprived them of their cover in order to make them aware of their nakedness. Verily, he and his tribe are lying in wait for you where you cannot see them. Verily, We have placed [all manner of] satanic forces near unto those who do not [truly] believe ( 7:27).
On the Day of Judgement the wrongdoer will bite his nail and say: “It was he [shaitan] who truly made me stray from the Guidance after it had reached me.” And shaitan has always betrayed humanity (25:29). The evil jinns are shayateen because they are agents of Iblis. They have the same common objective to lead humans astray. “Verily shaitan is an enemy to you, so treat him as an enemy. He only invites his adherents so that they may become dwellers of the blazing fire” (35:6).
Humans occupy the middle ground between angels and jinns. Their constituent material, clay has the flexibility to withstand extreme variations in temperature. When it is too hot, it becomes molten lava and acquires the characteristics of fire. When it is too cold it freezes and wears a layer of ice, which is reminiscent of celestial light, the essence of angels. This illustrates why humans are capable of becoming like the blessed angels in their height of spiritual piety and good deeds, or on the contrary, capable of becoming like the evil jinns by their fall into the abyss and bad deeds.
The jinns and angels stand far apart from each other because none of them can acquire the characteristics of the other. But human beings have the capacity to become angel like or jinn like by exercising their freedom to choose between good and evil. In the story of the fall of Adam and Eve we learn that Iblis created doubt in the mind of Adam and Eve that they might become angels or live forever in heaven. Iblis said: “Your Lord has but forbidden you this tree lest you two become angels, or lest you live forever (7:20). This unique quality of clay (55:14) that makes man the viceroy of God on earth (2:30), as well as the lowest of the low (95:5) comes as a stark warning that freedom of choice and accountability for action run parallel. As the most honoured of God’s creations, every single son of Adam is saddled with a jinn companion (qareen) who keeps working hard to bring his downfall to avenge the fall of Iblis. “And whosoever blinds himself from the remembrance of Allah, the Most Beneficent, We appoint a Shaitan to become his intimate companion [43:36].
London: 16 January 2021
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