[ by Charles Cameron — Corbin on Queen Bilqis, Qur’an and hadith regarding jinn, Pew statistics on belief in jinn — with some earlier Natsec implications & a non-serious suggestion from contemporary physics ]
I’ve been “fond” of the jinn (djenoun) since first encountering them in the brilliant short stories of Paul Bowles, and notably his A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard.
But that’s a literary fondness, neither science nor belief-based on my part. In my view, that’s only right and proper, since djenoun belong in the realm of imagination — or better said, the Imaginal, as Henry Corbin terms it — see note 16, p, 326. of his Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, where he speaks of the Sheikh’s Bilqis Queen of Saba in his poetry as a being “born from a jinn and a woman” — it’s a fascinating passage, connecting Bilqis with Jesus in terms of the (unorthodox) angelology that Corbin envisioned uniting the Abrahamic faiths at a visionary level.
Here are two of the mentions of jinn in the Qur’an:
And the Jinn race We had created before from the fire of a scorching wind. [Sura 15, 27]
Say: It has been revealed to me that a company of Jinns listened (to the Qur’an). They say ‘We have really heard a wonderful Recital! It gives guidance to the Right and we have believed therein: We shall not join (in worship) any (gods) with our Lord. And exalted is the Majesty of our Lord: He has taken neither a wife nor a son.’ [Sura 72, 1-3]
And here is a tale of the Prophet and a jinn, as narrated by the Companion Malik ibn Anas:
The Prophet said to the jinni: “This is the stride of a jinni, as well as the tone of his voice!” The jinni replied: “My name is Hamah ibn Laqqis ibn Iblis.” The Prophet said: “Only two generations seperate you from him [Iblis].” He replied: “True.” The Prophet asked: “How long have you lived?” The jinni replied: “Almost all of time. I was a small boy when Abel was killed. I believed in Noah and repented at his hands after I stubbornly refused to submit to his call, until he wept and wept. I am indeed a repentant — God keep me from being among the ignorant! I met the prophet Hud and believed in his call. I met Abraham, and I was with him when he was thrown in the fire. I was with Joseph, too, when his brothers hurled him into the well—I preceded him to its bottom. I met the prophet Shu’ayb, and Moses and Jesus the son of Mary, who told me: ‘If you meet Muhammad, tell him Jesus salutes thee!’ Now I’ve delivered his message to you, and I believe in you.” The Prophet said: “What is your desire, 0 Hamah?” He said: “Moses taught me the Torah, Jesus the Gospels, can you teach me the Qur’an?” So the Prophet taught him the Qur’an.
Literal vs metaphorical, let alone imaginal belief is not something the interviewers who conducted the Pew poll had the leisure to distinguish — but for the record, here are their findings as to the Muslim belief in jinns:
According to the Quran, God created jinn as well as angels and humans. Belief in jinn is relatively widespread – in 13 of 23 countries where the question was asked, more than half of Muslims believe in these supernatural beings.
In the South Asian countries surveyed, at least seven-in-ten Muslims affirm that jinn exist, including 84% in Bangladesh. In Southeast Asia, a similar proportion of Malaysian Muslims (77%) believe in jinn, while fewer in Indonesia (53%) and Thailand (47%) share this belief.
Across the Middle Eastern and North African nations surveyed, belief in jinn ranges from 86% in Morocco to 55% in Iraq.
Overall, Muslims in Central Asia and across Southern and Eastern Europe (Russia and the Balkans) are least likely to say that jinn are real. In Central Asia, Turkey is the only country where a majority (63%) of Muslims believe in jinn. Elsewhere in Central Asia, about a fifth or fewer Muslims accept the existence of jinn. In Southern and Eastern Europe, fewer than four-in-ten in any country surveyed believe in these supernatural beings.
In general, Muslims who pray several times a day are more likely to believe in jinn. For example, in Russia, 62% of those who pray more than once a day say that jinn exist, compared with 24% of those who pray less often. A similar gap also appears in Lebanon (+25 percentage points), Malaysia (+24) and Afghanistan (+21).
The survey also asked if respondents had ever seen jinn. In 21 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, fewer than one-in-ten report having seen jinn, while the proportion is 12% in Bangladesh and 10% in Lebanon.
Two markers concerning National Security concerns regarding Pakistan, nuclear weapons and those who believe (literally, energetically) in jinns — from the early 2000s, but dating back by implication to the era of Zia ul-Haq:
Just after the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., Pakistan’s intelligence service detained two retired nuclear scientists who had met with senior members of al Qaeda, including Mr. bin Laden, during charity work in Afghanistan. One, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, was a former director at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and a controversial Islamic scholar who had postulated that energy could be harnessed from fiery spirits called djinns.
But as a subscriber to a brand of what is known to practitioners as “Islamic science,” which holds that the Koran is a fount of scientific knowledge, Mr. Bashiruddin Mahmood has published papers concerning djinni, which are described in the Koran as beings made of fire. He has proposed that these entities could be tapped to solve the energy crisis, and he has written on how to understand the mechanics of life after death.
— together with a Pakistani critique:
If a scientist is European or Hindu he will be restricted in his vision by reason. A Muslim scientist has unlimited scope; he will relate his science to miracles, mostly performed by himself. Sultan Bashiruddin, our top enrichment expert, believed he could draw electricity from a captured jinn. (For Pakistan’s needs just one jinn would suffice.)
There are times when beliefs have, or might just have, consequences.
Jinn are significant not only for their own sakes, so to speak, but also for their etymological implications. To quote again from the Tasneem Project:
One saying of the Prophet (aws) mentions that, “God divided the jinn and the humans into ten parts. One part makes up the human race, and the other nine parts is made up of the jinn.” The invisible is everywhere. The Arabic language itself bears witness to how the invisible realm insinuates itself on everyday life. In Arabic, each time the two letters jeem and nun occur together, as in jinn, they convey the meaning of invisible or hidden. Thus, paradise is jannah because paradise is hidden from the human sight; janin is the foetus in the womb; the expression ajannahu al-layl means the night covered him.
The jinn, like paradise itself, are among the hidden secrets…
And how large is the universe, that it might encompass the angels and jinn? Hugh Everett III quite brilliantly argued for what has come to be known as the “many worlds” hypothesis in quantum measurement while still a grad student:
Hugh Everett III was a student in his mid-twenties in 1957 when he presented his revolutionary formulation of quantum mechanics in his PhD thesis. Everett himself called his theory variously; pure wave mechanics, the relative-state formulation of quantum mechanics, and the theory of the universal wave function. His theory, however, came to be popularly known as the many-worlds interpretation, because it predicts that everything that might happen, does in fact happen. As the physicist Bryce DeWitt later described it, Everett’s theory predicts that our universe is composed of countless parallel universes that are each constantly splitting into yet further copies, and in the process, creating copies of each observer, each of which subsequently observes a different quantum universe and splits into further copies.
While a science fiction fan might embrace such a theory simply by dint of how cool it would be if something like that were true, one might naturally wonder what good scientific reason one might have for believing that our universe is in fact composed of countless parallel splitting universes.
The whole article from which that quote was taken, The Quantum Measurement Problem and the Everett Interpretation, is indeed worth reading. But whereas physicists and (most) science fiction writers might confine their “many worlds” to physical, “materialist” universes, students of the imaginal are under no such restriction, as the same Tasneem Project article suggests:
The Muslim universe has always been made up of multiple worlds – the Qur’an itself refers to “universes” in the plural, in its open chapter al-fatihah. According to prophetic tradition, the cosmos consists of 18000 universes. …
So the jinn when summoned might come — somewhat unexpectedly — from one of Everett’s more hidden “many worlds”, perhaps?