What is a jinni?

Religious Beliefs Read more from
Chapter Islam

You’ve probably heard stories about the magical powers of genies who appear when someone rubs a magic lamp just right. The word “genie” comes from the Arabic word jinni/jinn, which refers to creatures of smokeless fire who inhabit a mysterious realm somewhere between the human and the divine. According to popular lore in Muhammad’s time, the jinns would eavesdrop on the heavenly councils and offer to divulge their secrets to a soothsayer (called a kahin, pronounced KAAhin) who uttered the proper formula. Some of Muhammad’s early critics charged that he was not a prophet but just another majnun (pronounced majNOON), one possessed by a jinn. To call someone majnun is to question the person’s credibility as well as sanity. Countless jinns inhabit the world, some mischievous and some helpful and benevolent. King Solomon had the gift of “taming” the jinn and enlisting them for the construction of his majestic temple. Particularly troublesome are the frighteningly ugly jinns called ghuls (from which we get the word “ghoul”). For those who do not know how to handle them, jinns can make life unpleasant, but their powers are limited.


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