Appendix Iv a Note On the Jinn
Seyyed Hossein Nasr
One of the least understood aspects of Islamic teachings in the modern world concerns that class of beings called the jinn and referred to several times in the Quran. The reason for misunder standing comes from the post-Cartesian materialistic conception of the Universe, which excludes the subtle and psychic world, where in fact the beings called jinn belong in the traditional schemes of cosmology. To understand the meaning of jinn one must therefore go beyond a conception of reality which includes only the world of matter and the mind (this paralyzing dualism which makes an understanding of traditional doctrines impossi ble) to an awareness of a hierarchic reality made up of the three worlds of spirit, psyche, and matter. The jinn can then be identified as beings that belong to the psychic or intermediary world, the barzakh, situated between this world and the world of pure Spirit.
In Quranic terminology and the hadith literature the jinn are usually coupled with ins or mankind and often the phrase al-jinn wa'l-ins (the jinn and men) is used as referring to that class of creatures to which God's commands and prohibitions address themselves. Man was made of clay into which God breathed (nafakha) His Spirit. The jinn in Islamic doctrines are that group of creatures which was made of fire rather than earth, and into which God also breathed His Spirit. Hence like man they possess a spirit and consciousness and have Divine commands revealed to them. on their own level of existence they are central creatures just as men are central creatures in this world. But in contrast to men they possess a volatile and "unfixed" outer form and so can
take on many shapes. This means that they are essentially crea tures of the psychic rather than the physical world and that they can appear to man in different forms and shapes.
Having been endowed with a spirit, the jinn, like men, possess responsibility before God. Some are "religious" and "Muslim. These are intermediate angels, the psychic forces that can lead man from the physical to the spiritual world through the labyrinth of thc intermediate world or barzakh. others are malefic forces that have rebelled against God. in the same way that some men rebel against the Divinity. Such jinn are identified with "the armies of Satan (junud al-shaytan) and are the evil forces which by inducing the power of apprehension (wahm) and imagination (khayal) in its negative aspect lead man away from the Truth which his intelligence perceives by virtue of the innate light that dwells within him.
In the religious cosmos of the traditional Muslim, which is filled with material. psychic. and spiritual creatures of God, the jinn play their own particular role. By the elite they are taken for what they are, namely, psychic forces of the intermediate world of both a beneficent and an evil nature: On the popular level, the jinn appear as concrete physical creatures of different shapes and forms against which men seek the aid of the Spirit, often by chanting verses of the Quran. The jinn and all that pertains to them hence enter on the popular level into the domain of demonology, magic. etc., and are a vivid reality for men whose minds are still open towards the vast world of the psyche in its cosmic aspect. The Muslim of this type of mentalitv lives in a world in which he is aware of God and also of both the angelic forces representing the good and the demonic forces representing the evil. He sees his life as a struggle between these two elements within him and about him. Although the jinn are of both kinds, the good and the evil most often in ilis thought he identifies them with the demonic forces that lead men astray. They are personifications of psychic forces that work within his mind and soul. On the theological and metaphysical level of Islam, the order of the jinn becomes understood as a necessary element in the hierarchy of existence, an element which relates the physical world to higher orders of
reality. The jinn are, moreover, especially akin to men in that, as was mentioned above, into them also was breathed the Spirit of God. And some of God's prophets, like Solomon, ruled over both men and jinn, as attested to by the Holy Quran.
For the Western student of Islam, the meaning of the jinn cannot be understood except through an understanding of tra ditional metaphysics, cosmology and psychology. Only through this understanding do these beings and their function, which in fact have their correspondences in other religions, become mean ingful. We cannot reduce the belief in jinn to superstition simply because we no longer understand what they signify.
If a traditional Muslim were asked to give his opinion concern ing all the interest in the modern world in psychic phenomena, the exploration of the psychic world through drugs and other means, and the phenomena of a psychic origin that become ever more recurrent nowadays, he would answer that much of this is con nected to what he would understand by the jinn. He would add that most of the jinn involved in these cases are, alas, of the ma lefic and demonic kind before whom there is no means of protec tion save the grace that issues forth from the world of pure Spirit.