Surah 72 (Al-Jinn/The Jinn): 1, 9-11

1. … A band of jinn attentively listened to the recitation of the Qur’an and then (went back to their people) and said: …

9. ‘We would take up stations in the heaven to try to hear, but anyone who now attempts to listen finds a shooting meteor in wait for him.

10. We do not know whether evil is intended for those on the earth, or whether their Lord intends to direct them to the Right Way.

11. Some of us are upright and some of us are otherwise for we follow widely divergent paths’…

[‘Towards Understanding the Qur’an’, translated by Zafar Ishaq Ansari in 2006 from a 1972 Urdu translation by Syed Abul A’la Maududi, an proponent for Pakistan becoming an Islamic state)]


Jinn are supernatural beings, who are recognised in Islam as a lesser order to angels, with a greater freedom to be disobedient.


In ‘Islam, Arabs and the Intelligent World of the Jinn’, Amira El-Zein suggests that in Arabic, the root j-n-n tends generally to convey ‘a meaning of invisible, unseen or hidden’, as for example in ‘Jannah’ (‘Paradise‘), ‘Jahannam’ (‘the Hellfire‘) or ’janin‘ (the foetus in the womb). Consequently although the word ‘jinn’ may refer to a particular species of creature, analogous to gnomes, elves and fairies, it may also be used as a collective noun for all such paranormal entities. El-Zein lists seven sub-categories of jinn from Arabic lore, and especially the Tales of the Arabian Nights, although only two are Quranic: the Irfit, one of who volunteered to bring the Queen of Sheba’s throne to Solomon in {27.39} 〈23.〉 and the Marid, the ‘defiant’ or ‘rebel’ shaytan (‘shaitan marid’) whom are chased from the edge of heaven in {37.7-8}. The existence of the Jinn was referred to in many pre-Islamic inscriptions, particularly in Palmyra. The word ‘jinn’ is the source of the English word ‘genie’, familiar to many from the story of Aladdin and his Magic Lamp, and as such is one of the strongest originally pagan elements in the Qur’an.


The Qur’an tells us that the jinn were created from a ‘smokeless fire’, {55.15}, or ‘scorching winds’, {15.27}. They cannot be the disembodied spirits, that remained of the angel-human offspring of 1 Enoch 〈14.〉, for we are told in the latter verse that jinn had existed prior to humans, and Iblis, who was present when life was breathed into Adam, is described as ‘of the jinn’, 〈16.〉 and 〈17.〉 Rather, the tenth century ‘Akhbar al-Zaman’ (‘The History of Time’) by Abu al-Hassan al-Masudi, recounts a Silmarillion-like mythology of the world before the creation of man to explain the existence of the jinn and the presence of Iblis in heaven, the recounting of which he attributes to Muhammad’s son in law. According to this backstory, the jinn, like the Nephilim after them, had been driven from the earth by an army of angels for rebelling against God.


As ‘hidden’ beings, jinn occupy a parallel realm to the earth that humans inhabit, possibly another of the multiple earths referred to in {65.12}. They can cross over into the physical world in subtle ways, that may be an encounter in the world of our imagination, such as in a vision or dream. In the Qur’an, a ‘majnūn’ is a person who is possessed by a jinn, and the Qur’an tells us five times that this was an accusation that had been levied against Muhammad, {15.6}, {23.70}, {37.36}, {44.14}, and {68.51}, the suggestion being pre-emptively refuted on a further six occasions , {7.184}, {34.8 & 46}, {52.29} , {68.2} and {81.22}.


Despite their usual existence as disembodied spirits, the jinn can, on occasion, manifest themselves in a corporeal form, as demonstrated:

in {27.39} and {34.12-14}, in each of which King Solomon compels jinn to labour for him to build his palace,

by the fact that houris, the supernatural maidens created for the pleasuring of male believers in Paradise 〈99.〉 are described as being those ‘whom neither man not jinn has ever touched’, {55.56 & 74}, (necessarily implying that jinn have both the desire and physical capacity for sexual intercourse, as well as the fact that receiving a jinn-defiled woman was a concern for the Qur’an’s original audience), and

in {72.11}, produced above, which describes how the jinn must be chased away from heaven with flaming stars: a celestial defence system also described operating against ‘shaitans’ (who may also be jinn, see 〈17.〉) in {15.17-18}, {37.6-10} and {67.5-7}.

In ancient Arabic lore, spirits are often thought to take the form of animals and in particular snakes, and although the Qur’an makes no reference to this ability, Iblis’s temptation of Adam in the Garden of Eden, puts him in the role of the serpent of the Book of Genesis.


{46.18} tells us that jinn are, like men, comprised of separate ‘communities’, and, consistent with this, the jinn of {46.29-31}, appear to be Jewish, since they refer to the Qur’an as ‘a book sent down after Moses’, whilst the jinn of {72.1-15} (the longest piece of recorded speech in the Qur’an, of which four verses are produced above) begins by renouncing his past error of believing that God had a ‘consort and child’ – suggesting he had previously been a pagan.


Jinn, like humans, were created ‘for no reason but to worship God’, {51.56}, and consequently, it seems that whilst their fiery nature may make jinn prone to a destination in Hellfire, (see also {7.179}) they nevertheless crave salvation which, for some of them, is possible. Whilst the Qur’an can be unclear where the divisions between men, jinn and shaitans 〈17.〉 lie, {6.112}’s reference to ‘shaitans from amongst mankind and jinn’ reinforces the notion that it is only some jinn that are doomed. In {6.128-130}, God rehearses a speech that He shall deliver to the jinn on the Last Day. During the course of this address, He will remind them that he sent prophets to jinn and men ‘from amongst yourselves’. Islamic scholarly opinion is divided as to whether this means that individual jinn may have, in the past, acted as God’s prophets, or merely that jinn have had opportunity to listen to human prophets. Certainly, they are capable of being rightly guided by listening to the Qur’an and taking its message back to their people as warners, {46.29} – indeed, they risk flaming missiles to do so – and ’when the servant of God rises to call upon (God)’ here on earth, the jinn are so eager to listen that they ‘well-nigh swarm upon him’, {72.19}. Surah 55’s refrain ‘So which of your Lord’s favours do you two deny?’ is even thought to be addressed specifically to both humans and jinn.


Every prophet, and possibly every person, is said to have a personal jinn set aside for them, alongside their guardian and two watcher angels, as a constant mischievous companion and a tempter, either through their ‘flowery discourse’, {6.112}, or as a ‘slinking whisperer’, {114.4}. Inevitably, there is a rich Islamic folklore concerning these impish figures.