The Theme of the Jinn in the Quran

The Theme of the Jinn in the Qur’ān:

A Study with Reference to Language, Style and Translation into English

 

In a thought provoking article about the jinn, Jacqueline Chabbi contends that the Qur’ānic mention of these unseen beings is essentially a process of accommodation with pre-existing tribal beliefs, deposing them from the most important of the metaphysical roles that they had previously enjoyed, yet constrained by popular belief to admit their existence. Thus she states that, ‘they are reduced to sharing the eschatological destiny of humankind’, although seemingly troubled by the results of her analysis, she also calls the position of the jinn in the Qur’ān paradoxical, as they retain significant powers.[1] While there are certainly a number of pertinent comments that may arise in regard to Chabbi’s conclusions[2], it is her own admission of reaching a paradox in regard to the theme of the jinn, that most invites a review of the relevant evidence.

It will be argued in this study that an intertextual analysis of the jinn within the Qur’ān can be fruitful in developing a coherent understanding of the relationship of specific thematic content to the scripture as a whole.[3] Methodologically, this will involve two main types of analysis. Firstly, an etymological study will be made of the words jinn and jānn (which is significantly used in two verses alluding to the creation of these beings) to lay a foundation for discussing what is meant by them in the Qur’ān. The related, but semantically distinct term shaiṭān (pl. shayāṭīn) will also be briefly examined and an understanding of the two concepts will be presented that preserves the integrity of their distinct lexical meanings and respects their use in the Qur’ānic text. In scrutinising key Arabic vocabulary related to the jinn, the polysemous nature of the language of the Qur’ān will be highlighted, as will the fact that its rendering in translation can significantly influence thematic expression. Secondly, a close analysis of a key passage from ṣūrat al-jinn will be presented, in which the jinn are made to introduce themselves. Attention will be paid to how language and stylistic features, including rhetorical devices and modes of address, relate to the internal structure of both this ṣūrah and other Qur’ānic passages in order to generate meaning at the nexus of text and reader. It might seem that this focus on a single ṣūrah would make it difficult to capture the breadth of material about the jinn. However, on the contrary, it will be demonstrated that semantically, these passages are tightly interlaced and that it is even possible to conclude that ṣūrat al-jinn plays a special role in mediating their meanings in such a way that a cohesive Qur’ānic vision can emerge for the reader. From all the above, it should be clear that a fundamental assumption of this essay is that it is valuable in our quest for understanding to ‘enter a new world framed by the text and its devices.’[4]

Overall, it will be contended that the Qur’ān presents a consistent treatment of the theme of the jinn. It primarily declares that the jinn are a parallel creation to humankind, different in form, yet subject to the same moral responsibility and ultimate judgment. Secondarily, it announces that the jinn have entered into a new phase of their metaphysical existence with the advent of this revelation and have been entirely barred from their previously limited knowledge of the decree, in turn part of a renewed call for them to stop rebellious behaviour and accept the Qur’ān’s message. Thus from within the Qur’ānic worldview we will be able to see how the theme of the jinn fulfils purposes for both types of creation. These are informative, through clarification of their distinct nature and abilities, as well as exhortative, by directing them towards a particular state, islām.

The word jinn in Arabic, derived from the radicals j-n-n, has the basic lexical sense of concealment or something which is concealed from the senses. It is possible that the semantic origin of this word is its use for the intense darkness of night[5], a phenomenon which is particularly pronounced in the desert. It should be noted that the subtle shade of meaning here when applied to the Qur’ānic jinn is of beings that are real and present, yet nonetheless concealed, without specifying whether this is by virtue of their own ability, a deficiency in human perception, or otherwise.[6] It has, therefore, been argued, that in this linguistic sense, the angels can also be placed within the category of jinn[7], an assertion which is further complicated by scholarly disagreement over the status of Iblīs. While he is definitively considered to be from the jinn (Q18:50), there is a multi-faceted discussion in the tafsīr literature as to whether this term should here be understood as an angelic subgroup or a separate type of creation entirely. Abū Jaʿfar al-Ṭabarī, after summarising the opinions of the early exegetes on the matter, sides with the former view, which tends to be traced back to the teachings of Ibn ʿAbbās. [8] For the purposes of this essay, however, the latter view, that the jinn (including Iblīs) are an entirely distinct species, will be taken as being more internally consistent with the Qur’ānic data.[9]

In regard to the above point, it is extremely interesting that there are two verses in the Qur’ān that directly refer to the creation of al-jānn, a word almost synonymous with jinn.[10] Significantly, in each case this follows directly from a description of the creation of al-‘insān, a first instance of a parallelism that will be noted throughout this study, and a different use of vocabulary from the usual pair of terms, al-‘ins and al-jinn. It is possible to hypothesise, therefore, that just as one of the common meanings of al-insān is the human being, in an abstracted, almost ideal sense[11], as opposed to the more concrete meaning attached to al-‘ins (human/humankind), there is a similar relationship between al-jānn and jinn. Support for this line of thought comes from the common gloss of al-jānn as Iblīs, father of the jinn, insofar as he is to be considered their original template, just as al-insān in these verses can refer to Adam, father of humankind.[12] Thus, it may be useful to make the following analogous definitions: al-jānn as the ‘jinn being’ and jinn as ‘jinnkind,[13] while acknowledging that this does not prevent jānn from also being used as a synonym for jinn.[14]

The Qur’ān in Q15:27, after establishing that the creation of the jinn preceded that of the human being, goes on to state that they were created ‘min nār al-samūm’, which has been translated as ‘from the fire of scorching wind.’[15] Q55:15, asserts that they were made ‘min mārijin min nār’, which is usually translated as ‘from smokeless fire’[16]. These descriptions are interesting as they both follow on from the equivalent statement about the creation of the human being from clay or mud. Thus, in terms of constituents, there is a basic elemental opposition: earth and water against fire and air. This idea is echoed by Q38:76, in which Iblīs says, ‘I am better than him. You created me from fire and him from clay.’ However, the question arises: what are smokeless fire and the fire of scorching wind and how do they relate to the Qur’ānic theme of the jinn?

In dealing with such ‘metaphysical’ questions, the tafsīr literature has tended to be guided by a combination of earlier opinions and literature (including so-called isrā’īliyāt), linguistic understanding and intelligent guesswork.[17] While this exegetical approach has, without doubt, greatly enriched Qur’ānic studies over the centuries; the intertextual nature of our methodology, in this case, leads us to try to find an interpretation that relates to both Q15:27, Q55:15, the totality of the theme of the jinn and very importantly, the Arabian context into which these Arabic words were revealed. Considering nār al-samūm, we should allow ourselves the use of our imagination and think about what experience people living in a desert environment would have of the ‘fire’ of scorching wind. The image that comes to mind is a violent sandstorm which whips up the hot top layer of sand into the faces of everyone who is not sheltered. The concept is, therefore, that of concealment, which we have noted as the lexical root of jinn itself. Thinking about mārijin min nār on similar lines, it seems plausible to suggest that the significance of smoke in the desert is that it indicates the distant presence of a camp. Were a group to make a fire that did not give off any smoke, it would effectively become invisible to others, at least until close enough to see or hear directly. Therefore these descriptions of the material from which the jinn are composed seem to subtly reinforce the idea of them being creatures naturally hidden from sight, while at the same time pointing to a metaphysical (and in this sense unknown to us) rather than physical composition from fire.[18]

The word shaiṭān in Qur’ānic Arabic has been the subject of dispute, both in its etymology and textual meaning. The traditional view is that it is derived from either shāṭa ‘it became of no account’, or ‘it burned’ (in the form faʿlān), or shaṭana, ‘he became distant’ (in fayʿāl), which, given its usage as the word for ‘devil’, have both been seen as reasonable possibilities. However, there is a morphological advantage for the latter, because words taking fayʿāl are perfectly declined, as is witnessed with shaiṭān in the Qur’ān, while those taking faʿlān are diptotes.[19]

From the point of view of the Qur’ānic usage of the term shaiṭān in comparison to jinn, the key verse is Q6:112 ‘wa kadhalika jaʿalnā likulli nabiyyin ʿaduwwan shayāṭīn al-insi wa al-jinn…’ It is clear from this verse that the term shayāṭīn (as opposed to the use of al-shaiṭān as an epithet for Iblīs), is not exclusively reserved for the jinn, but can be applied equally to members of humankind. It is, therefore, utterly distinguished from the definition of jinn given earlier, as it is a moral category into which an individual falls based on their actions, rather than a type of entity in itself. It must be admitted that there are a number of Qur’ānic verses[20], in which the word shayāṭīn is used in reference to actions that are known to be carried out by jinn and that this fact seems to have been a source of confusion – such that some scholars have seen the terms as nearly equivalent in these cases.[21] However, the framework outlined above can easily accommodate this with the understanding that the use of the word shayāṭīn or jinn is not arbitrary, but very much depends on whether it is a description of the moral state or the type of entity that is being emphasised in any particular passage.

Having oriented ourselves terminologically to the Qur’ānic language in respect of the jinn, it is appropriate to consider the intertextual use of this theme in the scripture. Before giving a summary of Q72, sūrat al-jinn, which will be the focal point of our analysis, it is necessary to comment briefly on the significance of the modes of address that are used in the Qur’ān. In accordance with the dynamic nature of the Qur’ānic style, the jinn are variously spoken about, directly addressed and made to speak for themselves throughout the text.[22] In general, each of these modes serves a function, respectively: explaining and narrating about the jinn; specifically calling upon them in regard to a particular matter; and characterising them with greater personality and emotional depth. The appropriate utilisation of each of these modes in the context of Qur’ānic passages is one of the ways in which the theme of the jinn is brought to life for the reader.

Sūrat al-jinn is located near the end of the Qur’ān and has traditionally been regarded as Makkan, principally because of the related account in the sīrah literature of jinn listening to the Prophet’s recitation at Nakhlah.[23] Some modern scholars have, however, argued for placing it among the Madinan suwar based on its use of vocabulary.[24] In either case, it is an important point for this study to emphasise that it has a unitary structure of meaning, which essentially mirrors much of the theme of the jinn in the Qur’ān as a whole. The first concern is with asserting that the jinn, like humans, are divided into believers and non-believers, righteous workers for good and astray evildoers. Consonant to this is the message of tauḥīd, in particular in relation to emphatically denying that the jinn have any partnership in divinity, then the ideas of personal moral responsibility and resurrection. The other major aspect of the sūrah is the idea that the jinn have been restricted from any knowledge of the decree, of which previously they were allowed limited access, by travelling to certain heavenly stations and listening. While the first fifteen ayāt (excepting the first few words of the sūrah) present these themes from the point of view of believing jinn, who have accepted the Qur’ān’s message, the remaining ayāt reiterate them, directly addressing the Prophet and additionally clarifying his own position as a messenger. [25] Thus it could be said that the structure of this sūrah instantiates the very parallel that it makes between humankind and jinn.

The sūrah begins with ‘qul’, an imperative from Allāh, signalling for the Qur’ān’s audience that the following statement is to be said by the Prophet. Nevertheless, by the end of the ‘ayah the reported speech of the company of jinn has taken centre stage, providing the subject for the following verses. It should be noticed from this that as human listeners of the Qur’ān, we are being offered a doorway into a particular aspect of the unseen, the realm of the jinn, by means of entering into a particular ‘textworld’. [26] The emergence of the textworld of the jinn, which is thematically subordinated to the wider concerns of the Qur’ān, takes for granted certain linguistic and textual knowledge, in which its meaning is grounded.

At the end of Q72:1, the jinn say, ‘Indeed we have heard a wondrous[27] [ʿajaban] Qur’ān’, which in terms of impact reflects its audience’s understanding of the jinn as an intelligent creature, the Qur’ān as connoting ‘recitation’ as well as scriptural name and the word ʿajaban as more eloquent than the more common ʿajīb.[28] The distinctive quality of the fāṣilah, which is maintained throughout the entire ṣūrah, is the use of three syllable indefinite manṣūb nouns.[29] The manner in which these materialise at the end of the ayāt to supply meaning, adds to the sense of movement we receive in a number of descriptive verses: attempts to sit in the heavens (72:8); the danger of the flaming punishment for those who do this (72:9); the crowding of the Prophet (72:19) and the guard marching in front of a Messenger and behind him (72:27). Also in regard to the fāṣilah of this ṣūrah, the word ‘ahadan is used five times, each along with the negation of something in relation to Allāh.[30]

As the reported speech of the jinn continues in Q72:2-3 to include a statement of belief in the scripture, it becomes clear to the reader the extent to which this passage echoes Q46:29-31, which presents an account of a party of jinn who upon listening to the Qur’ān, ‘returned to their community giving warning.’ It is likely that this is another account of the same meeting[31], the difference seemingly being that in the first instance, the verses in ṣūrat al-‘ahqāf are directed towards the jinn’s own people, while those in ṣūrat al-jinn are mainly for humankind.

The other major point that is presented in the second and third verses of this ṣūrah is an affirmation of tauḥīd and an implicit rejection thereby of being worshipped themselves, as is mentioned in Q34:41 (…bal kānū yaʿbudūna al-jinn…). Also Q72:3 (‘…mā ittakhadha ṣāḥibatan wa lā waladan’) is a rejection by the jinn of the pagan claim alluded to in Q37:158 (wa jaʿalū bainahu wa baina al-jinnati nasaban wa laqad ʿalimat al-jinnatu ‘innahum lamuḥḍarūn). It should be noted that the last part of this verse also emphasises the accountability of the jinn to judgment, while the negation of attributing a ‘walad[32] to Allāh also applies to the jāhilī belief that the angels were the daughters of Allāh (Q37:149-53) as well as the well-known Christian belief about Jesus (Q19:35 etc.)

In Q72:4-5, the difference between believing jinn, such as the narrators, and those accused of straying through blasphemy emerges[33]. This contrast is heightened by the past continuous tense of ‘kāna yaqūlu safīhunā in describing the actions of the ‘foolish’ as if they had transgressed incessantly, whereas the construction of ‘ẓanannā ‘an lan taqūla al-‘insu wa al-jinn…’ makes clear the utter innocence of its narrators from this. Q72:6 extends the discussion of the deviant jinn to their relationship with humankind, using yaʿūdhūna to describe how men have, to their own detriment, sought refuge with them. It is interesting that it uses the same root word (ʿ-w-dh), to describe something that exactly opposes the instruction of Q16:98: (fastaʿidh billāhi min al-shaiṭān al-rajīm). Verse 7 continues enumerating the misdeeds of a portion of the jinn and humans, this time in relation to disbelief in the resurrection, which it is made clear, is shared between them alike.

The next part of surat al-jinn, verses 8-10 tackles a different and fairly complex thematic strand, the issue of knowledge of the decree. It is here that we may see in earnest that unravelling this aspect of the theme requires a deep intertextual awareness of the semantic links that exist with other parts of the Qur’ānic text. The first point to be made is that the basic idea of ‘listening in’ at the heavens is presented substantially in Q37:6-10, in which we are also given a better idea of the object of this activity, al-mala’u al-‘aʿlā or the Highest Assembly. Yet it is only in the context of Q38:69-71, and by extension, Q2:30, that we learn this is a gathering of angels who discuss future events after receiving information from God. The exegetical understanding of this process of ‘listening in’, which is also based on a ḥadith from Zuhrī, is that the jinn, specifically those who were shayāṭīn (as the references in the Qur’ān make clear), were able to take pieces of future information and relay them to their human associates from amongst the kuhhān, after first having added their own fabrications.[34] However, this pagan model of soothsaying was disrupted by the advent of the Qur’ānic revelation, which in verses such as 72:8-9 makes it very clear that a severe punishment awaits those jinn who still wish to take up such listening places.[35]

The thematic import of this guarding of the heavens, within the textworld, is not to demonstrate a lessening of the powers of the jinn, but a restriction of the avenues by which they can use them. It is clear from the Qur’ānic text that the jinn never had knowledge of the decree in and of themselves, as is attested by the parable related to the death of Prophet Sulaimān in Q34:14. This is further reinforced by their own ‘admission’ in Q72:10 (wa ‘annā lā nadrī ‘asharrun ‘urīda biman fī al-‘arḍ…) and the statement of Q72:26. The purpose of this restriction is twofold: firstly, in the words of Hawting, ‘to signal a new age in which true prophecy triumphs over the corrupted prophecies of the soothsayers who had relied on the demons for their powers’[36]; secondly as a part of the call for the jinn to leave their rebellious behaviour and believe, which is epitomised in Q46:31, ‘O our people, respond to the one who calls you to God.’[37]

The second half of surat al-jinn, while still connected to the theme of the jinn, is more concerned with clarifying the Prophet’s role as Messenger and warning the unbelieving humans about the consequences of their lack of faith. For this reason, we shall suffice ourselves with drawing out some key points that show striking parallels with the earlier ‘statements of the jinn’: tauḥīd is affirmed in verses 18 and 20; the omnipotence of Allāh, in the sense that He cannot be escaped (as mentioned in verse 12) is reiterated in verses 21 and 22; finally, it is stated in verse 25 that the Prophet does not know the decree and in verse 26 that God as ‘ʿālim al-ghaib’, Knower of the Unseen, does not make it manifest for anyone (although this is followed by an allowance for His Messengers).

It has been argued in this essay, that the structure and content of surat al-jinn provides a locus of meaning for the thematic use of the jinn within the Qur’ān. The aim has been to use a close intertextual study of key vocabulary, stylistic devices and passages to demonstrate that in dealing with the jinn, the Qur’ānic text is essentially consistent with its own broader message and that the suggestion of ‘accommodation’ with pre-Islamic tribal beliefs is thereby refuted. The conclusion that emerges from foregrounding this surah is that the theme of the moral accountability or ‘eschatological destiny’ of the jinn, which they uniquely share with humanity, is not accidental, but fundamental to their Qur’ānic presence.[38] Within this perspective, the idea of a ‘change in powers’ can be seen as inaccurate, as the shift that has taken place is actually in the jinn’s metaphysical environment, in order to alter their previous relationship to both the inhabitants of the heavens and the earth. This in turn is one of the ramifications of the Qur’an’s ‘final call’ and insofar as it may be used to prevent disobedience and ultimate punishment, may be viewed as a manifestation of God’s Mercy.

Bibliography:

Bell, R, A Commentary on the Qur’ān, (University of Manchester, 1991)

Bodman, W. S. The Poetics of Iblis: Qur’ānic Narrative as Theology, (UMI, 2005)

Chabbi, Jacqueline. “Jinn.” Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. ed. Jane Dammen McAuliffe, (Georgetown University, Washington DC. Brill, 2009, Brill Online, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), 02 January 2009 http://www.brillonline.nl/subscriber/entry?entry=q3_SIM-00237.)

Hawting, G, Eavesdropping on the heavenly assembly and the protection of the revelation from demonic corruption, in Self-Referentiality in the Qur’ān, ed. Stefan Wild, (Harrassowitz Verlog Wiesbaden, 2006

Hoffmann, T, The Poetic Qur’ān, (Harrassowitz Verlog Wiesbaden, 2007)

Ibn Hishām, al-Sīrah al-Nabawīyah, (Dār al-Fajr lil-Turāth, 2004)

Jeffery, A, The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’ān, (Oriental Institute Baroda, 1938)

Lane, E. W., Arabic-English Lexicon, (Islamic Texts Society, 2003)

Al-Rāzī, Tafsīr Mafātīh al-Ghaib, (05 January 2009, http://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=4&tSoraNo=15&tAyahNo=27&tDisplay=yes&Page=2&Size=1)

Saeed, A, Interpreting the Qur’ān, (Routledge, 2006)

Al-Ṭabarī, Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī, (Dār Hajr, no date)

Wansbrough, J, Quranic Studies: sources and methods of scriptural interpretation, (Oxford University Press, 1977)

El-Zein, A, The Evolution of the Concept of the “Jinn” from Pre-Islam to Islam (UMI, 2001)

Al-Zamaksharī, Al-Kashshaf, (Al-Maktabah al-Tijariyah al-Kubrā, 1953)

The Qur’ān, trans. M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, (Oxford University Press, 2008)

The Holy Qur’ān, trans. Yusuf Ali, (King Fahd Printing Complex, 1989)

The Koran Interpreted, trans. Arthur Arberry, (Oxford University Press, 1998)

The Message of the Qur’ān, trans. Muhammad Asad, (E.J. Brill, 1980)

The Qur’ān, trans. Alan Jones, (Gibb Memorial Trust, 2002)

The Holy Qur’ān, trans. M. M. Pickthall, (Millat Book Centre, 2001)

 


[1] Chabbi, Jacqueline. “Jinn.” Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. ed. Jane Dammen McAuliffe, (Georgetown University, Washington DC. Brill, 2009. Brill Online. School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). 02 January 2009 http://www.brillonline.nl/subscriber/entry?entry=q3_SIM-00237.)

[2] Principally: 1) The idea of the jinn being restricted, certainly present in the Qur’ān and usually referring to an inability to reach ‘stations’ in the heaven (e.g. Q72:8-10), is only an ‘accommodation’ under the presuppositions that such beings do not exist and thus cannot be restricted in reality and that the Qur’ān is a human product with a need to negotiate in such matters. Seen in this way, her explanation is logically no more compelling than the traditional account, which bases itself instead on belief in revelation. 2) It is not explained why the jinn would need to be given the ‘eschatological destiny of humankind’, as neither animals nor angels receive this in the Qur’ānic worldview. 3) The idea of accommodation seems to jar with the uncompromising position that the Qur’ān as a whole takes against the beliefs of the pagan Arabs, whose very gods are declared to be merely names.

[3] While the term intertextual can be applied in the sense of relating the Qur’ānic text to other literature, such as pre- Qur’ānic scripture, the scope of this study will restrict it mainly to the Qur’ān’s internal relations. See also Bodman, W. S. The Poetics of Iblis: Qur’ānic Narrative as Theology, (UMI, 2005), p. 51-2.

[4] Ibid, p. 36.

[5] Lane, E. W., Arabic-English Lexicon, (Islamic Texts Society, 2003), v. 1 p. 462.

[6] Asad, M, The Message of the Qur’ān, (E.J. Brill, 1980), p. 994.

[7] Ibid, v. 1. p. 462.

[8] For his evidence and reasoning see Al-Ṭabarī, Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī, (Dār Hajr), v. 1 p. 534-43, (tafsīr of Q2:34)

[9] Amongst other things, the fact that Iblīs and the jinn are given a different name to the angels and unlike them are generally associated in the Qur’ān with disobedience, procreation and being liable for judgment, seems to indicate strongly against Al-Ṭabarī’s conclusions.

[10] Q15:27, Q55:15.

[11] As it is a generic noun, or ism al-jins. There are many examples of this usage of al-insān in the Qur’ān, for instance, Q95:4, ‘laqad khalaqnā al-insāna fī ahsani taqwīm’.

[12] Ṭabarī, Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī, (Dār Hajr), v. 1 p. 539-40, (tafsīr of Q2:34), v. 14 p. 63, (tafsīr of Q15:27).

[13] On the authority of the tadhīb of Al-Azharī, from Abū ‘Amr it is narrated that al-jānn, is, or are, of al-jinn. (Lane, E. W., Arabic-English Lexicon, (Islamic Texts Society, 2003), v. 1 p. 462.). This could be taken in the sense of a sub-species, but the Qur’ānic evidence already adduced seems to support the distinction above, namely that al-jann is of al-jinn like the human being is of humankind. In this vein, it may be significant that in Q15:27, al-jānn is a singular noun as seen from the ḍamīr in ‘khalaqnāhu’, which leads to the conclusion it is either a veiled reference to Iblīs, a generic noun as has been suggested, or possibly both.

[14] Two examples are Q55:56 and Q55:74 in which jānn with the meaning of jinn is required to complete the verses’ fāṣilah.

[15] By Abdel Haleem and Yusuf Ali. Pickthall renders it ‘of essential fire’ and Arberry as ‘fire flaming’, which miss the connotation of ‘samūm’, which is conveyed by ‘scorching wind’.

[16] Asad gives ‘a confusing flame of fire’. [Asad, M, The Message of the Qur’ān, p.994.]

[17] Thus al-Rāzī, for instance, defines al-samūm linguistically as scorching wind that can arrive by day or night, associates this with the blaze of jahannam and states that the word also connotes a fineness that allows entrance into the passages of the body. After making these connections between certain aspects of the physical world that we have reference to from our experience, as well as other Qur’ānic texts, he quotes Ibn Masʿūd as a source of authority to the effect that this al-samūm that we know about is one of seventy parts from which al-jānn was created. (Al-Rāzī, Tafsīr Mafātīh al-Ghaib, (tafsīr of Q15:27), 05 January 2009, http://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=4&tSoraNo=15&tAyahNo=27&tDisplay=yes&Page=2&Size=1.

[18] Support for the above approach in understanding the Qur’ānic descriptions of the jinn can be garnered from al-Zamaksharī, who  writes that texts related to metaphysical concepts are conveyed ‘through a parabolic illustration, by means of something which we know from our experience, of something that is beyond the reach of our perception’. [Quoted in Saeed, A, Interpreting the Qur’ān, (Routledge, 2006), p. 91-2.

[19] Lane, E. W, Arabic-English Lexicon, (Islamic Texts Society, 2003), v. 2 p. 1551-2, 1630-1.

An alternative viewpoint is expressed by Arthur Jeffery, who agrees with the above argument about declination, yet finds fayʿāl ‘rather difficult’, so instead favours a foreign source for the word. He notes the attestation of shaiān for ‘a snake’ in ancient poetry and argues this is its initial example of Arabic signification, which due to a link between serpents and supernatural powers, has been assimilated to the same meaning as jinn. In the case of the theological concept of shaiān, he also asserts, with scant evidence, an influence from Abyssinian Christian usage. [Jeffery, A, The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’ān, (Oriental Institute Baroda, 1938) p. 187-90.] A major difficulty for Jeffery’s view is that the classical meaning of shaana [fī al-‘ar] is ‘it entered [into the earth]’, which is highly appropriate for a snake. Once this derivation is accepted, however, then the path has been cleared for a native Arabic meaning of shaiān as ‘one distant from God’.

[20] Such as Q38:37-38 (regarding shayāīn working for Sulaimān) and Q67:5 (shayāīn being driven away from heaven).

[21] See the reference to Jeffery’s work [footnote 17 above]. Also John Wansbrough, as part of an argument seeking to blur the distinction between revelation and devilish inspiration, makes a similar claim based on a report quoted by al-Suyūṭī that a woman taunted the Prophet for a delay in revelation by suggesting that his ‘shaiṭān’ had abandoned him. However, the same evidence that Wansbrough uses can be equally harnessed to support the sort of distinction argued for in this essay. Thus, the woman, identified by Ṭabarī as Umm Jamīl, wife of Abū Lahab, is known as a famous enemy of the Prophet and would be desperate to use the most disparaging language possible. Clear support for this interpretation is given by Q26:221-3, beginning ‘Hal ‘unabbi’ukum ʿalā man tanazzalu al-shayāṭīn’, which although obviously alluding to the jinn, makes plain the moral basis of Qur’ānic usage. [See Quranic Studies: sources and methods of scriptural interpretation, (Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 59]. It is, however, possible that it was actually the Qur’ān itself that developed the connotation of the word shaiṭān from its pre-Islamic signification. This is reported to be the opinion of al-Jāḥiẓ, who wrote, ‘In pre-Islam, shaiṭān is not yet clothed with all the attributes of rebellion that one finds in Judeo-Christianity. The word itself comes from a root sh-ṭ-n which means to be clever, to be cunning.’ [Quoted from El-Zein, A, The Evolution of the Concept of the “Jinn” from Pre-Islam to Islam (UMI, 2001), p. 70-1].

[22] The third person is most common: Q6:100, 6:112, 7:38, 7:179, 11:119, 15:27, 17:88, 18:50, 27:17, 32:13, 34:12-4, 34:41, 37:158, 41:25, 41:29, 46:18, 51:56, 55:15, 55:39, 55:56, 55:74, 114:6. Second person is of rare occurrence: Q6:128, 6:130, 55:33, and implied in the refrain of Q55. First person is also infrequent: Q27:39, 46:29-32, 72:1-15, note however, that this last passage is far longer than any other on this theme in the Qur’ān.

[23] See Ibn Hishām, al-Sīrah al-Nabawīyah, (Dār al-Fajr lil-Turāth, 2004) v. 2, p. 53.

[24] Richard Bell, for instance, believes the use of al-rushd (72:2), safīh (72:4), al-muslimīn, amongst other things, are signs of Madinan provenance. [See A Commentary on the Qur’ān, (University of Manchester, 1991), v. 2, p. 435-441.]

[25] Alan Jones in his introduction to sūrat al-jinn remarks, ‘The nucleus of the sūra is a series of short declarations addressed to Muhammad and introduced by ‘say’ (verses 1, 20, 21, 22, 25).’ [The Qur’ān, trans. Alan Jones, (Gibb Memorial Trust, 2002), p. 540]. While the importance of the verses beginning with ‘qul’ for Qur’ānic discourse should not be underestimated, it is crucial to recognise that in this sūrah, they gain their full effectiveness from their relationship to the jinn’s reported speech.

[26] The concept of a ‘textworld’ has been coined by Thomas Hoffmann to describe the conceptual reality that emerges when a person perceives and attempts to engage with a text. This is neither absolutely contiguous nor entirely detached from the ‘actual world’, but rather carries meaningful reference to it through language. The use of this idea is particularly highlighted in the case of the jinn, as it is only in this sort of environment that they can be readily apprehended. [See Hoffmann, T, The Poetic Qur’ān, (Harrassowitz Verlog Wiesbaden, 2007), p. 33.]

[27] Arberry and Yusuf Ali translate as ‘wonderful’, Pickthall uses ‘marvellous’ instead.

[28] Al-Rāzī, Tafsīr Mafātīh al-Ghaib, (tafsīr of Q72:1),

[29] It is very difficult to consistently render the powerful effect of this pattern in English, because of the customary style that resists separating a verb and its object in this manner. Arberry attempts to do this, going as far as to place the word of the fāṣilah on a separate line. By doing this, his translation of this ṣūrah captures stylistic nuances of the Arabic others are forced to relinquish, at the price of making a number of his constructions quite awkward.

[30] Three times this is concerned with negating shirk with Allah: 72:2, 72:18, 72:20; once with the unbelievers’ claim that He would not resurrect anyone: 72:7; and once with the statement that He does not reveal the unseen to anyone (next ‘ayah: except an approved Messenger): 72:26.

[31] As assumed by Ibn Hishām, al-Sīrah al-Nabawīyah, (Dār al-Fajr lil-Turāth, 2004) v. 2, p. 53.

[32] In classical Arabic, this can be used for either a male or female child.

[33] This dichotomy is reiterated with a range of nuance in Q72:11, 13-16.

[34] Hawting, G, Eavesdropping on the heavenly assembly and the protection of the revelation from demonic corruption, in Self-Referentiality in the Qur’ān, ed. Stefan Wild, (Harrassowitz Verlog Wiesbaden, 2006), p. 28.

[35] There is not space here to go into the significance of shooting stars seen in the times of jāhiliyyah and Islām. [See ibid p. 28-9.]  

[36] Ibid p. 35. Hawting does not believe that this theme appears explicitly in the Qur’ān, as the words kāhin and jinn are not mentioned together in this context. When, however, the Qur’ānic evidence adduced in this essay is put beside that of hadīth and contextual knowledge of pagan Arabian ritual practice, the conclusion that it is intentional is hard to escape. It should not be lost on all scholars seeking to research the Qur’ān, that the scripture often instructs by means of subtle allusion, opening the way to further research, rather than closing it.

[37] This is an interesting case of the Qur’ān addressing the jinn by means of their own kind.

[38] In this regard Q55:31, which states ‘sanafrughu lakum ‘ayyuha al-thaqalān’, can be interpreted as referring to the ‘weightiness’ of their judgment. [See -Zein, A, The Evolution of the Concept of the “Jinn” from Pre-Islam to Islam (UMI, 2001), p. 279.]

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s