In many cultures, we hear about evil spirits possessing people and exorcisms, and it seems like Islam has the same thing.
It's all developed in Muslim culture that if somebody has some sort of a mental issue, one of the first things that might be suggested is that this person is jinn possessed. That's our way of saying possessed by an evil spirit.
Some Muslim faith leaders would rise to the occasion by reciting some verses of the Quran and treating the person because it is thought that the evil jinns who are possessing people like this, do not like to hear the Quran. If the Muslim practitioner comes and recites the Quran, this will be torture for this evil spirit, and the evil spirit would exit the person. The person will be safe and sane again.
We've all grown up with stories about jinns possessing people. Every Muslim has heard these stories. They're told around campfires, and dark rooms and one gets scared when you hear them. How true are these stories? Are these just superstitions and fanciful ideas? Or is there some sort of legitimacy to them? Do jinns exist? Do they possess people?
According to the Quranic perspective, jinns do exist. However, the Quran doesn’t say that jinns possess people.
What are Jinns in the Quran?
This is difficult to pinpoint. There are modern theories about jinns. For example, the theory propounded by Muhammad Asad in his translation and commentary on the Quran, “The Message of The Quran.”
Muhammad Ali, another translator of the Quran, from the Ahmadiyya community, treats jinns as some sort of Arab tribe, but they were called jinns. This isn’t so convincing. Nonetheless, there are different viewpoints about jinns. It shows that in modern times, Muslims are struggling with understanding Jinns. Should we believe in some such creatures?
There’s one commentary saying it's like unseen things. Jinns could be referring to germs.
According to the Quranic presentation, one knows about the existence of angels. Some Muslim commentators on the Quran think that Jinns are a sub-category of angels.
It's not so far off the mark to believe in spirits. Christians and Jews believe in the existence of spirits because the Bible says that the spirit of God was there hovering over the waters of the deep in Genesis Chapter One.
In the New Testament, there was more mention of spirits. Some spirits might be evil, as much as there are some good spirits. Jinns might be considered spirits. Some of them are good and evil. Yet, can they possess individuals as by people across the world? The Quran is silent about that perspective.
On the other hand, it would seem from the Quranic perspective that for jinns to do this would be for them to have a certain power. It's unimaginable that God would have given the jinns such power to overcome human beings because human beings are described in the Quran as noble creatures.
The Quran stated, “We have honoured the children of Adam and carried them by land and sea.” Quran [17:70]. and “We create Man in the finest state.” Quran [95:4].
Truly, some people will degrade themselves. However, about evil spirits having some power over human beings, the Quran in many places tells us about God, addressing Satan, and saying to Satan that he will not have power over the sincere servants of God. The only ability that Satan would have been to whisper some ideas to the children of Adam. The faithful will refrain from following the devil's inspiration. Yet, others will succumb to the devil’s whisper. However, God is assuring the devil that he cannot have power over the righteous servants.
According to the stories about exorcism, is that sometimes it's the faithful Muslim who is often set to be possessed by the jinn. It’s very strange. For instance, one doesn’t hear that if there are hundreds of people frequenting nightclubs, one of them comes and says, "I was at this nightclub and the devil possessed me." In contrast, it's usually the person who is coming regularly to the mosque, praying, fasting, and doing everything that a good Muslim does that becomes a victim of Jinn possession.
This seems to be the opposite way around; one would think that the devil would possess the people who are accustomed to doing filthy things as opposed to the person who is accustomed to being in pure places. Why would the devil want to be in a person who's always coming to the mosque? It doesn't make any sense.
People can always justify their beliefs. One who believes that this happens may come back at us and say, “Jinn doesn't need to attack the person who is in the nightclub. The Jinn needs to attack the person who is like the evil spirits, Satan, and his entourage. They want to attack the people who are coming to pray because these are his enemies.” Consequently, it's often not simply an attack.
Sometimes they say that the Jinn is so in love with this person. For instance, a female Jinn has possessed a human man, or a male Jinn has possessed a female human. These are all strange stories.
Where do they come from? Is there a Hadith to that effect? How does it work?
First, it will start with the Quran.
The Quran stated, “Those who take usury will rise up on the Day of Resurrection like someone tormented by Satan’s touch.” Quran [2:275].
They conclude meaning that people might be possessed by Satan, staggering, and fall to the ground. Yet, that's reading a lot into the verse because the verse doesn't say all of that. It may be a metaphorical way that the Quran is if one thinks of a person who could be knocked to the ground by the devil. Since God is not going to knock the person to the ground. Yet, if one thinks of the devil knocking the person to the ground and how this person might be staggering from the blow of the devil. The person who takes an interest thinks of him. The Quran's message is for a person not to take interest in Jinns. It's not about Jinn possessing a human being.
Moreover, part of the Quran's outlook is that human beings have a responsibility before God for their actions. If one can claim that a Jinn possessed him or her at the time when one was doing some wrong, nobody can disprove that this happened. How would one apply Islamic law? Islamic law has some harsh penalties, that are not to be denied, at least in Classical Islamic Law. A person said that " I did that wrong thing, but it wasn't really me. It was the Jinn in me who did that." One said, "Show me the Jinn." He says, "Well, the Jinn has now left me."
How would one prove that he did it of his own volition? This is almost like the insanity plea but it's in a different form. About the insanity plea, one might need a professional psychiatrist to evaluate the person in modern times.
Yet, if one is talking about classical times, when a person says, "A Jinn possessed me." Who's going to be an expert in knowing whether this person had a Jinn? Applying Islamic law would not be possible. In fact, holding the person responsible before God is going to be highly challenging. This is how people try to justify by referring to a verse of the Quran. Also, they may refer to some Hadiths. Yet, those Hadiths are outside of the main bodies of Hadiths. Some examples of collections of Hadiths are Sahih al-Bukhari and Tirmidhi. For instance, one might go to a Hadith collection known as Abu Ya’la that finds a Hadith that shows that this happens. It’s more remote.
There is a Hadith in a collection known as Abu Ya'la. There are many different collections of Hadiths. One must think of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) saying his companions hearing him, transmitting what he said to the next generation, usually by word of mouth, until eventually they're put into writing. There are various scholars who had to go around to talk to different people and ask, "What do you know about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)? Is there anything you know from what he said?" They collect all these sayings, so we have met many major collections.
We have the collection of Imam Bukhari, of Imam Muslim, and these two are set by Muslims to be the topmost in authenticity, then we have another three, which are of lesser authenticity. Yet, usually widely used and taught to be somewhat reliable. They are the ones by Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, and Al-Nasa'I, which make five. There is a sixth, the one by Ibn Majah, which has some Hadiths which are widely recognized to be problematic. Yet, this is considered together with the other five to be six full collections. It is referred to as the Sihah Sitta, the six authentic books.
There are some other collections, Al-Darimi, Al-Tabarani, etc. One of such collection is known as Abu Ya'la, named after the collector, Abu Ya'la. This is the lesser known. Most Muslims have not heard the name Abu Ya'la. In that collection, there is a Hadith saying that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was traveling with his companions. They came to a place where a woman brought her son, who was suffering from something, and she complained to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Then, he performed Ruqayya. In Arabic, this refers to treatment usually by the recitation of some Quranic verses over the person, to bless the person, and to drive out any evil spirits. After Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) performed Ruqayya, a black dog came out of the mouth of this boy and ran away. That's the end of the story. The boy was cured. It doesn't sound very realistic. It seems surreal and incredible that this happened.
One who believes in God and believes in supernatural powers can say any of this is possible. However, if it happened like this, it is very strange that it didn't get recorded in the other collections, because a story like this would be so sensational that everybody would be repeating it. This is the strongest Hadith that points to Jinn’s possession.
This is the most graphic and clear example to show that Jinns can possess human beings. In this case, the Jinn was happily expelled by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), in the form of a black dog.
However, we don't find in the major collections like Bukhari, Muslim, especially that there is any strong indication that Jinns possess human beings.
According to the Quran, we were looking for positive statements. Yet, we should look for what is not there too. We’ll analyze the Hadith to see what is not included in the Hadith.
According to the Quran, there are many miracles of Jesus (AS). Jesus (AS) raised the dead back to life. He healed the blind and the leper. It even tells us about the miracles of Jesus that are not mentioned in the New Testament.
Yet, the Quran doesn’t mention that Jesus (AS) drove out an evil spirit. Whereas we see that in the Gospels, there are numerous times when Jesus drives out evil spirits from people. Recently, there was an episode on Mary Magdalene, and one will recall that seven spirits had been driven out from her, though not necessarily by Jesus. Yet, Jesus is set to go to one place. He finds a person who has an evil spirit. The person is going through among the gravestones and he's cutting himself, and Jesus drives out the evil spirit. It happens repeatedly.
The most telling story is Jesus is confronted by a man, obviously acting crazy. Jesus asked him, "Who are you?" He said, "I am Legion." Not the man speaking, but the Jinn inside of him, and why "Legion?” Since he is a whole Legion of them. Jesus is about to drive him out and the evil spirit, recognizing this, begs Jesus to cast the whole Legion, into the herd of pigs. When Jesus does this, the whole herd of pigs, rush off the cliff and fall to their deaths. Hence, this story wasn’t mentioned in the Quran about Jesus.
Also, we need to cover what is not included in the Hadith. There was one story about Abu Ya'la. Yet, in the main collections, one might expect that they will be many instances when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) drove out a Jinn from somebody, especially since those who championed the idea that Jinns possess people. For example, the Jinns like warm climates, and they're more likely to be around the warm climate. It's partly because the Quran stated, "And God created the Jinn out of smokeless fire." Quran [55:15].
Jinns like warm climates. We would expect many more Jinn possessions in that situation, in which Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) lived. Yet, there wasn’t an instance of somebody approaching Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the major collections of Hadith and saying, "Treat this person for a Jinn possession." As a result, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) expelled the Jinn.
Let's say somebody said, "I think I'm possessed by a Jinn." What should be the response?
First, we should distinguish between what the religious texts teach and what the human experience teaches. If somebody has an experience, somebody knows that they are Jinn possessed, then we can't argue against that experience because he doesn’t know what's in the person's mind. Also, he doesn’t know what this person has experienced. Yet, as an interpreter of the Quran and as an interpreter of the life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) can say that there isn’t in the Quran or in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that is authentic, that leads us to believe that Jinns possess people.
It's also important to seek whatever medical treatment is available. Let them start with seeing their family doctor. The family doctor can refer him or her to a psychiatrist because one can have mental issues and there's no shame in that. It can afflict anyone. The best of us can succumb to mental issues. However, one needs treatment and seeks the treatment where it is available. If the person is not going to be convinced, we can see that they're still insistent. Yet, is there somebody who can read something over me to drive out this evil spirit?
We may try to find out who in the community might be able to give this person that confidence that they are reciting something. Hopefully, the conclusion is that the person is rid of whatever evil spirits were bothering them. In addition, we would recommend for the person recite the last two surahs of the Quran. The 113th Sura is Surah Al-Falaq. Also, the 114th surah which is Surah An-Nas, because this was given these surahs were given to us for the purpose of seeking refuge in God, from all kinds of evils. Hopefully, that will help the person.
Yet, if the person is still insistent. we may do something for the person. If the person is inclined to say, "Okay, read something and blow over some water for me and give me that." If the person might feel cured by that, if this will give them even a placebo effect, then I would be glad to do that for them. Yet, we don’t want Muslims to keep thinking that Jinn possession is real because once one thinks that way, then one is going to interpret things in that light. If one interprets things in that light, then one will not seek the cures which are available.
In addition, one of the biggest books written on this topic is the book by Dr. Bilal Phillips entitled, "The Exorcist Tradition in Islam." There is also his translation of Ibn Taymiyah's Essay on “The Jinn Demons.” There are other books out there.
It’s interesting that Abu Ameenah in this massive study that he did on, “The Exorcist Tradition” looked at real-life cases. He would look at a case where a person has this. They get the exorcists to practice on the person. Consequently, the person feels cured, and the person relapses, etc. He documented these cases. His conclusion from all these cases is that the symptoms of Jinn possession, that people describe are the same symptoms of psychiatric illness.
If somebody has those symptoms, it is recommended that they should seek psychiatric treatment. If that treatment fails, that is when they will know that is really a case of Jinn possession.
We should conclude that it is still a psychiatric problem. However, we have not found a cure or it is such a complicated problem that wasn’t easy to cure. We should continue to work on it, from the medical perspective to reach a cure.