A History of Djinn by P.B. Kerr

Although they have lived among men since the beginning of time, little is known about the djinn. And although they live on earth, few people actually see them. Most humans consider them to be inherently evil, which is far from the truth. Most people also believe that djinn, better known as genies, live inside lamps and spend their lives waiting for someone to set them free. That, too, is untrue.

In reality, djinn are the most interesting supernatural creatures. They first appear in Arabic mythology, around the year 1000, especially in the tales collected in the popular Thousand and One Nights. The djinn, those stories teach us, are beings of flame and air, mady by God out of smokeless fire just as he created humankind from cool clay. Djinn are free from all physical restraints, and can often assume the shape of humans or animals. They live mostly in secluded places, such as rocks, trees, ruins, and can be found underground, in the air, or in fire. Some Muslims believe that djinn are especially fond of unclean places, such as bathrooms, garbage dumps, or graveyards, and therefore recite a special prayer when entering those places to ward off the djinn's vengeance.

Despite such precautions, djinn are not always bad or harmful. In fact, what makes them fascinating beings is that, like humans, they are born with a free will and are able to choose between right and wrong. Therefore, while some djinn are mischevious and even malicious, others are friendly and helpful. In general, however, djinn tend to be easily irritable and demand proper respect from humans; often, that respect means saying a particular blessing or offering a small gift or token.

What complicates the relationship between humans and djinn even further is the fact that, according to Muslim tradition, every person is paired with a djinn. Although the two may never meet, they are nonetheless bound to and affect each other, whether consciously or not.

It is well worth the time, then, to learn more about djinn. The first important fact is that, much like humankind, the djinn, too, are divided into several classes. The ghul, for example are treacherous and fond of shape-shifting, and the si'la have variable from are equally deceitful. The two most important classes, however, are the ifrit and the shaitans.

The ifrits -- enormous, winged creatures who are made of smoke -- are usually older, stronger, and smarter than other djinn. They prefer to live underground, where they have built societies closely resembling those of men, with kings, tribes, and commerce. They also prefer to marry their own kind, although they are sometimes known to choose human partners.

Unlike ifrits, who can either be good or bad, the shaitans are almost always evil, so much so that their name is synonymous with that of the devil himself. The Arab writer al-Jahiz described the shaitans simply as "unbelieving djinns." which means djinn who do believe in or obey God. Arab folklore describes shaitans as extremely ugly creatures; although they can assume human form, their feet always remain hooved. They live on the border of darkness and light....and spread disease. The shaitans' greatest weapon is their power to try and tempt human to do wrong.

The shaitans' leader is Iblis, which the Muslims believe is another name for the devil. Iblis himself is a djinn, one of the earliest and most powerful. Although, legend holds that before the creation of man, paradise was populated by angels, which are creatures made of light. God allowed Iblis -- a creature made of fire -- to live there among the angels, as well. When Adam was created, God, according to Muslim tradition demanded that all angels bow down before the first man, to show them that humans were exquisite and superior beings. All of the angels bowed down, but the djinn Iblis refused. He was made of fire. He argued with God, while Adam was made of clay, and therefore, he thought himself better than Adam. Upon hearing this, God expelled Iblis from paradise. Vengeful, Iblis snuck back in and convinced Adam and Eve to defy God and eat the fruit of the forbidden tree. As Iblis was a cunning and persuasive djinn, they listened to him and were expelled from paradise.

This incident was the first in the long battle that both djinn and men would have to fight in choosing between right and wrong.

Arab tradition specifies that djinn, just like humans, are required to believe in God and obey his commands. An exception, the shaitans, following their leader, Iblis, do not, but other djinn do. Folklore tells use that Muhammad, the Muslim prophet, went out with a group of followers one day, headed for the marketplace of UKaaz. Still mad at Iblis fro his defiance and evil ways. God blocked the djinn from getting news from heaven, and sent out shooting stars against some of them. A group of djinn was therefore dispatched to go and investigate the situation, and they happened across Muhammad.

The prophet welcomed the djinn, and told them all about God and his commandments. Awestruck, the group came back and told the other djinn of the new prophet and his preaching. It was then that some djinn, realizing the great value of God's word, chose to become devout and good, while others, still defiant like Iblis, dismissed the prophecies as silly. And, just like humans, djinn will have to face the consequences of their actions. It is believed that the good djinn will be embraced by God and the evil one persecuted for eternity.

Despite many similarities between them, however, men and djinn are not of equal powers. The djinn have far greater powers than humans, powers that God gave them as a test, demanding that they not abuse their might and only use their strength to help those in need. Besides the ability to take on different shapes and form, djinn are also capable of taking over the minds and bodies of humans, thereby possessing them. Djinn can possess humans for many reason; some djinn do so because they feel they have been hurt by a human, while others simply fall in love with one. Often, djinn possess humans out of maliciousness. If a person does become possessed, citing the name of God expels the djinn.

While not as strong and versatile as djinn, humans were given a variety of ways to deal with their cunning counterparts. The djinn may be free of physical restraints, but they are not immortal; they possess bodily needs just like humans, and they can be killed in a variety of ways. Even more important is the fact that men can cast a number of spells to mislead, ward off, or even enslave a djinn. While strong faith and religious beliefs are usually the best defense against a vengeful djinn, spells also exist, usually involving binding a djinn to a talisman, or a good luck charm. This is partly the reason so many popular stories about the djinn involve them being captured inside bottles, lamps, etc. One of the most popular spells men use against djinn involves trapping them in a place from which they could not be removed unless released by a human -- in which case they remain in the human's debt. Furthermore, as in the popular story of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, from the Thousand and One Night, when a human discovers and releases a djinn from his imprisonment, often the djinn grants the human wishes.

Although most humans never encounter a djinn, that doesn't mean they aren't there. Understanding what djinn are and what they are capapble of is of the utmost importance, if humans are to live in peace with the djinn.