This post, in a slightly different form, was originally a contribution made to Dr. Beachcombing’s Bizarre History blog, January 22, 2012: “What Religion did Fairies Follow?”


While reading Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar by Robert Lebling I couldn’t help comparing and contrasting the way Islam views their versions of fairies and the way fairies are often regarded in such books as Eddie Lenihan’s collection, Meeting the Other Crowd. The priests in those Irish stories tell of fairies being a rather sad lot, knowing they’ll never gain salvation (because they aren’t human). This makes them inimical to good Christians everywhere. Similar themes have been reported in the Icelandic tradition. I must say, if I knew that the accident of my birth (as a fairy) would mean I’d be condemned at the End of Time, I might feel rather peeved myself and tend to act out in unpleasant ways against “the lucky ones.”

In Islam the situation is somewhat different, as this passage from Legends of the Fire Spirits shows:

The earliest Muslim interpretations of jinn regard them as having free will, like humans, able to choose between good and evil. The Qur’an itself has a chapter devoted to these spirit beings: Sura 72, Al-Jinn. This sura begins by mentioning a group of jinn who listened to the recitation of the Qur’an and decided to accept Islam…

An ancient mosque in Mecca is dedicated to the jinn who accepted the Prophet’s message. Masjid al-Jinn (Mosque of the Jinn) is either the locale where the jinn actually listened to the Prophet recite the Qur’an, or the place where he received revelation of the sura called Al-Jinn….

Richard Burton visited this mosque and wrote of it in Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah.

Legends of the Fire Spirits again:

These jinn made a commitment to monotheism, the core of Islam. Other Qur’anic passages indicate that jinn had heard of earlier revelations, such as that of Moses and the Trinitarian doctrine of Christianity.

For Muslims, the beings we call jinn—however they may be conceptualised—are an integral and ever-present part of the language and theology of their faith. The existence of these creatures is assumed and reiterated numerous places in the Qur’an. The book, at its very outset, calls Allah rabb al’-alamin, ‘lord of the worlds,’ understood from the earliest days of Islam to mean all possible worlds that could exist, including the worlds of humans, of jinn and of heaven. The Qur’an often mentions mankind and jinn together as the two types of creatures capable of receiving—and accepting or rejecting—the divine message.

I’m also rather partial to the notion held in Morocco, and mentioned in The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah, that it is the djinns themselves who decide whether a person is going to believe in them or not.

Also, both djinn and jinn are accepted spellings for these marvelous creatures. Being a contrarian, I of course prefer the more complicated spelling of djinn. I don’t suppose the djinns themselves care…or maybe they do. They are beings of remarkable discrimination, taste, talent, and free will.