Demons in the Muslim Culture

by John Green, studioD

Besides being mentioned in the Quran, evil spirits have also been a recurring theme in Muslim theology and literature since the time of Muhammad. While the Islamic tradition regarding demons has had significant influence beyond the Muslim community, not all Muslims believe that such beings actually exist.

The Spiritual World of Islam

As "The Encyclopaedia of the Quran" notes, Islamic teaching includes a range of spiritual entities, all of which were created by God. The Muslim spirit world includes angels, malevolent creatures and an additional type of spirit being called jinn. According to the Quran 15:26-27, God made the jinn out of smokeless fire before he created human beings out of clay. Like humans, though, jinn can be Muslim, submitting to the divine will or they can be willfully wicked.

Shayatin and Iblis

Many demons in Islam are jinn that have gone bad. While there are many demons in Islam, there is also a Muslim devil, who is known both as Iblis and al-Shaytan, or "the Satan." According to Islamic belief, Iblis is either an angel or jinn who rebelled against God's command to bow in respect to the first human, Adam.

Other Demons

Other demons also appear in the Islamic spiritual realm. The biblical king Solomon, for instance, is described in the Quran as having the jinn under his control, but a later story recounts how an demonic shape-shifting jinn named Sakhr impersonated the king and took the ring that gave Solomon his power. In addition, some Muslims believe that everyone has a spirit qarin, or double, who tempts them to do wrong. Another demon, the Ghul, is said to live in the desert, where it lures travelers to their doom.

Cultures in Conflict

Whether demons and other spiritual beings truly exist has been a matter of dispute within the Muslim community. For some, evil jinn are real entities that can be responsible for a range of problems, such as epilepsy, depression, anxiety and temptation to sin. Some Muslim communities have their own distinctive rituals for exercising jinn. Nonetheless, there are also Muslims who have sought to rationalize the faith by arguing that references to jinn are simply metaphors. For example, physicist Nidhal Guessoum notes that modernist Islamic scholars have suggested that references to evil jinn could actually be an ancient way of describing bacteria.

Muslim Demons and Cultural Influence

In addition to appearing in the Quran and Islamic religious teaching, Muslim demons also appear in such widely read narratives as the "The Arabian Nights." Terms for spiritual entities from Muslim culture have migrated into English as well, such as the word "genie," from jinn, and "ghoul," which in Western literature originally referred to a horrific creature that eats dead human bodies. In American popular culture, the Arabic "Ghul" was also the basis for the Batman villain Ra's al Ghul, whose name in English is typically translated as "Head of the Demon." Similarly, a monstrous creature known as Iblis is a villain in the Sonic the Hedgehog comic and video game universe.


About the Author

John Green is an attorney who has been writing on legal, business and media matters for more than 20 years. He has also taught law school and business courses in entrepreneurship, business enterprise, tax and ethics. Green received his J.D. from Yale Law School and his Ph.D. in religion from Duke.

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