Genie is the English term for the Arabic جن (jinn). In pre-Islamic Arabian mythology and in Islam, a jinni (also "djinni" or "djini") is a member of the jinn (or "djinn"), a race of creatures. The word "jinn" literally means anything which has the connotation of concealment, invisibility, seclusion and remoteness.
Etymology and definitions
Genie is the usual English translation of the Arabic term jinni, but it is not an Anglicized form of the Arabic word, as is commonly thought. The English word comes from French génie, which meant a spirit of any kind, which in turn came from Latin genius, which meant a sort of tutelary or guardian spirit thought to be assigned to each person at birth (see genius). The Latin word predates the Arabic word jinni, and the two terms have not been shown to be related. The first recorded use of the word in English was in 1655 as geny, with the Latin meaning. The French translators of the Arabian Nights later used the word génie as a translation of jinni because it was similar to the Arabic word both in sound and in meaning; this meaning was also picked up in English and has since become dominant.
Amongst archeologists dealing with ancient Middle Eastern cultures, any mythological spirit lesser than a god is often referred to as a "genie", especially when describing stone reliefs or other forms of art. This practice draws on the original meaning of the term genie for simply a spirit of any sort.
Jinn in pre-Islamic mythology
For the ancient Semites, jinn were spirits of vanished ancient peoples who acted during the night and disappeared with the first light of dawn; they could make themselves invisible or change shape into animals at will; these spirits were commonly believed to be responsible for diseases and for the manias of some lunatics. Types of jinn include the ghul (night shade, which can change shape), the sila (which cannot change shape) and the ifrit(pronounced AYE-FRIT).
Jinn in Islam
Muslims believe that jinn are real beings. The jinn are said to be creatures with free will, made of smokeless fire by God (the literal translation being "subtle fire", i.e. a fire which does not give itself away through smoke), much in the same way humans were made of a metaphorical clay. In the Qur'an, jinn are frequently mentioned and Sura 72 of the Qur'an named Al-Jinn is entirely about them. Another Sura (Al- Naas) mentions the Jinn in the last verse. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad was said to have been sent as a prophet to both "humanity and the jinn."
The jinn have communities much like human societies: they eat, marry, die, etc. They are invisible to humans, but they can see humans. Sometimes they accidentally or deliberately come into view or into contact with humans.
Jinn are beings much like humans, possessing the ability to be good and bad. They have the power to transform into other animals and humans, and they are known to prefer the form of a snake. It is also known that they eat bones and their animals eat droppings, that is why it is forbidden to perform Istinja (washing) with those items. Jinns also have the power to possess humans, have much greater strength than them, and live much longer lives. In fact, according to some hadith, the great-grandson of Iblis, or the Devil (who was born before mankind), converted to Islam during the time of Muhammad, so he must have been thousands of years old. According to the majority of Islamic scholars, clear evidence exists in the Qur'an that the Devil was not an angel (as thought by Christians), but a jinn, citing the Quranic verse "And when We said to the angels:'Prostrate yourselves unto Adam.' So they prostrated themselves except Iblis (The Devil). He was one of the jinn..." Surat Al-Kahf, 18:50. According to Islam, angels are different physical beings, and unlike the fiery nature of jinn, they are beings of goodness and cannot choose to disobey God, nor do they possess the ability to do evil. Evil Ifrit in the The Book of One Thousand and One Nights are called "the seed of Iblis".
In Islam-associated mythology, the jinn were said to be controllable by magically binding them to objects, as Suleiman (Solomon) most famously did; the Spirit of the Lamp in the story of Aladdin was such a jinni, bound to an oil lamp. Ways of summoning jinn were told in The Thousand and One Nights: by writing the name of God in Hebraic characters on a knife (whether the Hebrew name for God, Yaweh, or the Arabic Allah is used is not specified), and drawing a diagram (possibly a pentagram) and strange symbols and incantations around it.
It is said that one could kill a jinn with the Inwa, a manner of throwing the stone of a fruit so hard so it could, in fact, kill something. The jinn's power of possession was also addressed in the Nights. It is said that by taking seven hairs out of the tail of a cat that was all black except for a white spot on the end of its tail, and then burning the hairs in a small closed room with the possessed—filling their nose with the scent—this would release them from the spell of the jinn inside them.
In the Qur'an, Solomon (Arabic: Suleiman) had members of his army belonging to the race of jinn. Solomon had the ability to communicate with all creatures, which allowed him to communicate with the jinn as well.
Evil beings from among the jinn are roughly equivalent to the demons of Christian lore. In mythology, jinn have the ability to possess human beings, both in the sense that they persuade humans to perform actions, and like the Christian perception of demonic possession.
Genies in Western culture
The [Western interpretation of the genie is based on the Aladdin tale in the Western version of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, which told of a genie that lived in an oil lamp and granted wishes to whoever freed him from the lamp by polishing it. The number and frequency of wishes varies, but typically it is limited to three wishes.
Many stories about genies tend to follow the same vein as the famous short story The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs, with the overriding theme of "be careful what you wish for"; in these stories, wishes can have disastrous, horrific and sometimes fatal consequences. Often, the genie causes harm to the loved ones or innocent people surrounding the wisher, making others pay for its master's greed or ignorance.
Exploiting loopholes or twisting interpretations of wishes is a classic trait amongst genies in Western fiction. For example, in one episode of wikipedia:The Twilight Zone, a poor shopkeeper who finds a genie wishes to become a leader of a great nation - and is transformed into Adolf Hitler at the very end of wikipedia:World War II. Often, these stories end with the genie's master wishing to have never found the genie, all his previous wishes never to have happened, or a similar wish to cancel all the fouled wishes that have come before.
Until 2005, the Djinn was one of many mythical creatures to be used as a Brownie patrol. When the wikipedia:Girl Guides of Canada updated the Brownie program in 2005, they decided that Djinns were an improper use of an Islamic cultural icon and made the decision to remove Djinns from the program.
Jinn in Popular Culture
Awareness about the origins of the genie myth, and the use of the original spelling djinn has become more common. Usually, the term djinn is used by authors who wish to convey a more serious interpretation of the mythical creature, rather than the comical genies the Western public has become used to, such as wikipedia:Robin Williams' character in Aladdin.