Q. I hope you are able to give me some information and peace of mind about the entities we know as Jinns. I know the Qur'an was revealed to both Jinn and Mankind and there are many references of Jinn in the Qur'an. So the issue isn't one where I disbelieve in their existence, it's more of how they can affect or afflict our lives.

My issue mainly boils down to if we are 100% responsible for our actions and accountable for what we do, how can Jinns ever possess us and make us do something different? I am from the Southeast Asian Community and this idea of possession is extremely prevalent in our community. It is believed that these entities can afflict you so far as to stop you getting married or having children!

Currently a family member has been told that a curse has been put on our family where no one will ever have peace. She sought counsel from a Shaykh who confirmed her suspicions and exorcised a Jinn from her. What doesn't sit well with me is even though this Shaykh is using the Qur'an only to recite verses and bless oils and waters, etc., doesn't this practice mean that if one can be affected in such a way, this would mean you cannot be held accountable for your actions at all times? Surely on the Day of Judgment, all you need to say is: "It wasn't me!" I'm very confused as to the extent the unseen can affect our lives and would be very grateful for some logical advice and direction in this matter.

A. Your question is extremely important, and the answer is a difficult one, for it involves the unseen. I have to couch my words carefully because it involves a theory of religion and anthropology that does not sit well with most believers. Part of religion is to deal with reality at the time of revelation as people understood life as it was during their respective eras. As such, the Qur'an refers to seven heavens, and its depiction of heaven is in terms that are attractive to those from a desert environment. When Muslims -- and followers of other scriptures, mutatis mutandis -- fail to take these factors into account, the religion gets extremely skewed. There is no doubt that Jinns are mentioned in the Qur'an. The word is derived from that which means invisible, unseen. The concept exists in most religions in some form, including Judaism and Christianity, the most famous example in the latter religion being Jesus exorcising them from a man, and then sending them into pigs which then plunged into the sea.

Do they exist in reality? And if the answer is NO, then was the Qur'an lying? This is the problem that we face. We cannot, as Muslims, from a purely confessional point of view, deny that they exist. But the references in the Qur'an present a problem for us. We learn that Solomon dealt with them. But the stories of Solomon enter the realm of that which is legendary, and while faith adherents may accept the stories as literally true, many academics treat the stories as those which are told NOT for the purpose of simply recounting factual history, but rather using the stories to promote certain ethics. As such, we see there are traditions where Solomon was the only one given the power over the Jinns. One can extrapolate from this that the Muslims are being told NOT to deal with such things. In the Qur'an we are told, as you noted, about Jinns who listened to the Qur'an. But the concept is not developed to the point where we are supposed to have interaction with them, etc. It would seem that in the Qur'an, all that is being stressed is that the Divine Writ is acknowledged by all creation.

In academic theory, the thrust of research would seem to indicate that stories of Jinns are simply dealing with how the people of the Prophet's time understood things. The sura in the Qur'an that seeks protection against them can be seen to work on assuaging our fears against the unknown, for the Qur'an as scripture is not there to dictate whether or not there are such beings, but simply to deal with our views concerning them. It is of course possible for someone to say that if they do not exist except in our imagination, then the Qur'an ought to have stated that. The problem is that when a belief is deeply rooted in superstition or cultural norm, then one must weigh the possibility of it being rooted out, or being dealt with in a pragmatic manner. That answer varies according to the creedal ideas of the person doing such an assessment.

We do not see a line of demarcation between academic and confessional studies for to us, truth is what it is, and we are commanded to accept it regardless of its source, and what it may produce. While we therefore acknowledge that Jinns may exist, we hold that a Muslim who believes is free from them. For someone to claim to bless water, etc. is pure nonsense: if there are Jinns, then the recitation of the Qur'an ought to be enough. The Qur'an has a sura that specifically addresses the protection from them and there is no directive to use blessed water, oils, etc. That is just pure mumbo jumbo for the consumption of the masses.

Now to address your question more directly, a person can indeed say "It wasn't me," in the same way that a court will adjudge a person mentally free from culpability if a crime is committed while insane. This does not free the person from being restricted from interaction with the public, but merely from being blamed for his / her actions. We are responsible IN GENERAL for our actions and cannot blame them on anyone else; there are cases, however, of mental instability (read Jinn), or coercion. For this reason there is a tradition many jurists use that states, in various forms, that divine judgment is removed from three: the lunatic, the sleeping person, and the child until it becomes mature enough. Another tradition makes that freedom from blame due to error, forgetfulness, and coercion. The common thread in the two is lunacy and coercion, for in both cases, the argument may be made for an external factor. In coercion, this is obvious; in lunacy one may claim that Jinn forces compliance, or madness wherein the urge of a malfunctioning brain "forces" the victim into action.

While your question did not deal with this, we strongly suggest the involvement of competent medical personnel in this case given that many who claim to know about exorcism are charlatans preying on the gullible and naive. Please note that the opinions expressed here are in the realm of learned speculation, and not with any level of compelling certainty. For God knows best, and judges people according to their capability, intellectual and otherwise.

Posted July 19, 2013