In western cultures Genies are generally considered mischievous supernatural creatures. In many stories a Genie is freed from a bottle where he/she has been imprisoned, and will grant the liberator a wish or three as a way of expressing gratitude for being freed. The liberator’s excitement at discovering the Genie means wishes don’t always have the desired result. Traditionally western cultures have used Genies for great comedic effect, but this isn’t strictly correct. Their origins reveal a very different character…
The word Genie was first used when France published a translation of The Book of 1001 Nights. The Arabic Djinn was translated as génie, the French word meaning a supernatural spirit. This word was picked up by the English translators, and so the word Genie entered our vocabulary. The phrase “Lost in Translation” becomes very appropriate here when one learns the original meaning of the word “Djinn”.
Islamic mythology tells us Djinn are fiery spirits, originating in pre-Islam Middle Eastern folklore. The Djinn lived on earth long before man, and were created from smokeless fire; unlike man who is made from earth. Belief in Djinn was so strong that the creatures were incorporated into the Islamic faith. Although they are destructive creatures, Djinn can sometimes be useful to human beings. Djinn do not like daylight, and are believed to cause insanity and disease. Contrary to many evil beings, Djinn do have free will, and may even be redeemed through the Islamic faith.
Djinn, like their human counterparts, have organised societies and lifestyles, and interact within these exactly like people. They form relationships, raise families, eat food and die. Their longevity exceeds that of man, and like humans they have the ability to be good or bad. Although they can see humans we are unable to see them, unless by accident or when the Djinn chooses to be seen. The Qur’an states that Muhammad was a prophet to both “humanity and the Djinn”,
There are four types of Djinn:
Ghul – a mischievous shape-shifter associated with graveyards and cemeteries, Ghuls have a particular affinity to the hyena, their favourite metamorphosis. A Ghul consumes the dead, robs graves and preys on children. It also lures travellers into the desert wastelands to kill and devour them. The English word “ghoul” owes its origins to this name.
Sila – these Djinns can take on any shape they choose, and are very difficult to distinguish from human beings. They’re also the most intelligent of all Djinn.
Ifrit – an arrogant spirit symbolising fire, Ifrits resent mankind’s ability to control them through magic, because they were around long before man. The resentment makes them difficult to work with, and their bad attitude means they try very hard to undermine any orders received from their masters. An Ifrit may reveal him/herself as an individual of incredible beauty and superhuman strength.
Marid – representing water, Marids are the most powerful Djinns, with the arrogance and pride so typical of these creatures. Also known as “blue djinn” because their skin is either blue or green, a Marid’s hair always looks wet and wavy – as though swimming. This type of Djinn will grant a human’s wish, but at a price – perhaps a battle, imprisonment or various rituals to appease the Marid. A bit of flattery goes a long way!
The main Djinn is Iblis. Created by Allah, Iblis was forbidden from Allah’s presence when he refused to honour the creation of the first man, Adam. After encouraging Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit Allah cast him out, condemning him to live in Hell – Jarhannam – for eternity. Exhibiting typical Djinn behaviour Iblis told Allah he wanted mankind to fail, and to spend eternity with him in Jarhannam. To test the faith of both Man and the Djinn, Allah allowed Iblis to roam freely on Earth, doing his best to make people commit sins. While it may seem that Iblis the Djinn is to Islam what Satan is to Christianity, the Qur’an states that Iblis is not Allah’s enemy. All deeds – both good and bad – come from Allah, who is the only One who can save humanity from both the evils of His universe and that of His creations. Iblis was created by Allah, who is supreme over all His creations. Iblis’ enemy is Man, which is why he tries to prevent human beings from obeying Allah. The similarity between the Islamic and Christian faiths is that universal evil in every man’s personal life is usually experienced because of one being – Satan or Iblis.
Certainly very different from Genies in Western Culture… think "Aladdin" and “I Dream of Jeanie”!