by ISHRAQ ALIM
My father and I often have little talks in our car about life, religion, politics and everything else under the sun. During one of our regular discussions my father suggested that there should be more funding for physics research, particularly towards studying the light spectrum. He hypothesized that it could lead to the discovery of angels and jinn (demons). I agreed with him that there is a need for more funding towards physics research although I disagreed that jinns would be found in the light spectrum. I suggested instead that perhaps they existed in an alternate universe. Since neither of us are physicists, our conversation seemed to be based more on science fiction and outlandish hypotheses than on solid science, but I still felt it was important to share our ideas.
“Borrowing from both the pre-Islamic and Islamic sources, there has been an immense development of the
jinn in Islamic mythology. One particularly area of interest is the idea of being “possessed” by a jinn and having it control your body or guide your conscience. Even if it was possible that some may suffer from jinn possession, there is no way to determine who was in fact “possessed.” Hence, unfortunately, due to the lack of knowledge of mental illnesses and other mental health problems, many undereducated communities have diagnosed mentally ill people with jinn possession, even people who suffer from seizures.”
The origin of the jinn is rooted in pre-Islamic Arab societies, even prior to the arrival of Judaism and Christianity in the Arab peninsula. Pagan Arabs would refer to jinn as demon-like creatures, considering them to be lower in ranking than angels, or even lesser deities. The Arabic word jinn, found in classical Arabic Bibles and even in non-Christian and non-Judaic texts, comes from the root J-N-N, which means “concealed or hidden,” similar to the Arabic verb janna meaning “to conceal, hide.” However, the Islamic theological basis for the belief in the jinn comes from the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) life and the Qur’an, wherein they are described as beings made of “smokeless fire” and possessing free will (and hence being able to turn away from evil and toward good). Christian and Islamic theology differ on this aspect since in Christian theology, demons are angels who have been thrown out of Heaven, the most famous being Lucifer, and are all almost exclusively evil.
On this point Islamic theology differs from Christian theology, since in Islam Iblis or Shaytaan (also known as
Lucifer, Satan) was always considered a jinn (not an angel), but one who was allowed to rise to the ranks of angels due to his good deeds, but eventually fell from grace due to his pride. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was reported to further categorize the jinn into three categories: those that have wings; those that are similar to snakes and dogs; and those who travel ceaselessly. This hadith has been described in many ways and has also included other descriptions, such as dragons and vultures. But, for the sake of simplicity, let’s just think of the Islamic categorization of the jinn as: those that fly; those that are land-based; and those who constantly move (perhaps similar to sharks that require constant motion to survive).
Borrowing from both the pre-Islamic and Islamic sources, there has been an immense development of the
jinn in Islamic mythology. One particularly area of interest is the idea of being “possessed” by a jinn and having it control your body or guide your conscience. Even if it was possible that some may suffer from jinn possession, there is no way to determine who was in fact “possessed.” Hence, unfortunately, due to the lack of knowledge of mental illnesses and other mental health problems, many undereducated communities have diagnosed mentally ill people with jinn possession, even people who suffer from seizures. The jinn have also been blamed for unfortunate events that may occur in one’s life. One of the most popular developments of the jinn mythology in Islamic culture has been from the classic collection of short stories in One Thousand and One Nights.
The famous collection One Thousand and One Nights has led to the introduction of the mythology of the jinn
into Western pop culture, referring to them as “genies.” Perhaps the most popular genie in the West is Robin William’s character “Genie” from Disney’s animated film, Aladdin. In television shows, genies have been depicted as being anything from a beautiful blonde woman in I Dream of Genie to a rapping Shaquille O’Neal genie in Kazaam. The jinn found in Aladdin, I Dream of Genie or Kazaam portray the idea of the “good jinn”, which is closer to the Islamic belief that the jinn are able to convert from evil to good . Overall, the Western perspective seems to highlight the Islamic belief that the jinn can be good and even help humans.
Now, the idea that the jinn could be found by studying the “light spectrum” is interesting to say the least. In
our discussion I will expand the “light spectrum” to include the electromagnetic spectrum, which describes the characteristic distribution of electromagnetic radiation from a particular object. My father’s hypothesis would suggest that jinn exist in our universe and give off an thus far undetectable form of radiation. This is certainly within the realm of possibility, but the frequency of this “jinn radiation” would be extremely difficult to discover because in principle the electromagnetic spectrum is infinite and continuous. My hypothesis takes a different approach. I think there are a set of possible universes (including our own) and the jinn may exist in one of these alternate universes. In the field of physics there has been a lot of discussion about the possible existence of a multiverse, and has been studied in Tegmark’s classifications and the string theory.
Unfortunately, physics mostly focuses on the changes in matter found in other universes, while science fiction suggests possible beings in these alternate universes. Since we have classified the jinn in three categories, it is possible that these categories represent three different species in another universe or perhaps three separate sentient species from three separate universes. The major question we need to ask is how and if these jinn can travel to our universe? Interdimensional travel right now is mostly a thing
of science fiction. But there isn’t a lot we know about the jinn and what we do know is often exaggerated by stories and myths. Currently we don’t know if further research could discover the jinn, but we could still try. Or perhaps they are meant to always be concealed or hidden away from humanity as the etymology of the Arabic word jinn suggests. All that I know is that my father and I had a very interesting discussion and, insh’Allah (God willing), we will have plenty more in the future.