What is Meant by Jinn?
by Dr. Basharat Ahmad (Translated and edited by Dr. Zahid Aziz, Nottingham, England)
The Light (Pakistan), 24th January 1980 Issue (Vol. 60, No. 2, pp. 18–21)
The late Dr. Basharat Ahmad (d. 1943) was one of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement’s most gifted commentators of the Holy Quran. He was also an incisive thinker, and a lucid expounder of religious topics. His numerous contributions to the Lahore Anjuman’s Urdu weekly Paigham-i-Sulh have been collected together in book-form under the title Bashaaraat-i-Ahmadiyya in three volumes. The accessibility of this material has been of the greatest benefit to members of the UK branch of the Lahore Anjuman, and to others as well, who did not have the opportunity to read the original Paigham-i-Sulh articles.
The great characteristic of his articles is that not only does he expound his topics in the light of scientific researches, but subordinates their conclusions to teachings of the Quran and the Hadith. Thus, he does not at all try to force such conclusions from the Quran as are in harmony with modern science, but rather sheds light on, and when appropriate, criticises and challenges, modern knowledge through Islamic sources.
Recently, one of his articles was rendered into English, with some necessary editing, for benefit of the UK Lahore Ahmadiyya Jamaat. It would, we feel, also be of interest to readers of “The Light”.
Literal Significances of Word Jinn:
The word jinn is applied to beings that are hidden from physical sight because its root, Janna, conveys the significance of covering, as in the Quranic words janna ‘alaihil lail, i.e., the night covered it. Thus, janain is the child still in its mother’s womb; janoon conveys the meaning of one’s person becoming obscured: and a shield is called junnah because it covers one from the sword.
So, the word jinn in Arabic is capable of carrying a wide variety of meanings. The Arabs also apply the word jinn to people inhabiting remote areas, and to wealthy and high ranking persons because they are only seen infrequently by the masses.
Germs also Called Jinn:
In Hadith, the word jinn has also been used for those microscopic creatures, known as germs, which cause many dangerous diseases. For the pre-morning prayer ablution, one is commanded to cleanse and clear out the nose thoroughly so that “the jinn” which collect in it at night are expelled. The meaning is, as modern medical research has shown, that germs which breed in the nose during sleep, due to the warmth and humidity of the breath, should be cleared out in the morning.
Similarly, diseases such as cholera and the plague are said to be produced by jinn, by which is again meant germs which are too small to be seen.
Jinn are also those ethereal beings, created from ‘fire’ which excite man’s animal desires, and which are called shaitaan (or devils) when they instigate these passions to an irregular and excessive degree.
Man has an animal side and an angelic side, or, in other words, there is a physical life and a life spiritual. Now, it is a recognised law in the physical world that higher evolution or development cannot take place unless there exist pairs of opposite, complementary qualities. There are, for instance, opposite sexes in humans and animals, and opposite pairs in nuclear particles. Similarly, in opposition to the jinn are the angels which are spiritual beings associated with ‘light’ just as jinn are associated with ‘darkness’.
By themselves, neither the angels nor the jinn have any capacity for development, but when they interact through man their complementary attributes enable him to progress and evolve spiritually.
Man’s Physical Desires:
In the Holy Quran, jinn have been stated to have been created from naar-i-ssamoom (The Holy Quran, 15:27), or a fire that penetrate things. In Hadith, it is said that the shaitaan circulates round the human body like blood. Both these statements convey the idea that the jinn in some way penetrate man’s inner self to perform their function of stimulating his desires.
It must be remembered that the jinn that drives man’s physical impulses is, when having a free hand, called shaitaan for this word contains the significance of destruction. The use of this word is meant to indicate that unless he regulates this jinn’s instigations, man will face destruction. For example, if a car’s speed is not kept under control, it will have an accident which will destroy it. Similarly, uncontrolled passions destroy man. But, as with the car’s speed, it is these very impulses which enable progress to be made. For instance, without the feelings of love, on the one hand, and those of anger, on the other, qualities such as sincerity and sociability, or courage and bravery, (which are the consequences of, respectively, love and anger) would all disappear. By channelling these driving forces along the right path, moral development — which is man’s progress in the Latter-Life — takes place.
If, however, these urges are left uncontrolled they materialise as greed, theft, murder and violence, depravity, etc. So, just as the jinn are a triggering mechanism for motivating man’s physical desires, there exists mechanism for regulating these impulses. It is called malak (or angel) and it stimulates man’s higher faculties to keep the desires within due bounds. The malak, owing to its creation from ‘light’, bears an affinity to the higher, angelic faculties of man.
Now, the very jinn that is termed shaitaan (or devil) because of the danger of its instigations surpassing proper limits and destroying man, is described as having become a ‘Muslim’, or obedient, when it submits to the control of the higher faculties. It was exactly for this reason that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said that his shaitaan had become a Muslim, i.e., all the Holy Prophet’s desires and emotions had become channelled along the right path of moral development.
Thus, the very jinn whose instigations lead man to ruin, and who is then termed devil, becomes the basis of man’s higher developments when it stimulates his desires within due bounds. Man has only to remember that this jinn is his enemy if left uncontrolled, and so it must be subjected to the higher faculties, in which case it becomes a ‘Muslim’ and aids man to progress.
Mumbo-jumbo of so-called Exorcists:
I have explained above what is really meant by jinns becoming Muslims. As for the so-called casting out of jinns from sick people, and conversing with these jinn to find out their names and religion, etc., all this is beyond belief. I would believe in the exorcist who converted my jinn into a Muslim rather than casting it out!!
The fact is that these are some quite extraordinary psychological and mental conditions in which the sufferer can assume other personalities, and even perform physical feats much beyond his normal strength. These are all manifestations of as yet unknown faculties of the brain which people mistakenly consider to be under possession by ‘spirits’.
The word jinn refers to ethereal beings that cannot be detected by man’s physical senses. This significance is given in the famous lexicographical work, the Mufradaat, by Imam Raghib. From this meaning, the term jinn is also applied in Arabic to the wealthy, who do not mix with the general public, and to some mountain tribes who remain hidden away in the hills. Thus, the word jinn has a very wide variety of meanings.
The Holy Quran has used this word to denote those ethereal beings who, when they excite man’s physical diseases beyond proper limits, are called shaitaan or devils. Hadith has applied the word jinn to those invisible creatures that cause diseases such as cholera, malaria, and the plague, etc. When modern investigations discovered these creatures by use of the microscope, they termed them germs. Thus, the jinn spoken of in some hadith as causing certain diseases, and given this name because of their invisibility, can now be identified with the germs of modern medicine. Of course, germs as one significance of the word jinn, does not occur in any old Arabic or Quranic dictionary simply because germs had not been discovered when these works were compiled.