I just got in the mail the abridged English translation of Ibn Taymiyah’s treatise on the Jinn, a light 135 pages with multiple appendices, from a shady Saudi Arabian bookstore.
I’ve already used the book some, and at this point I know it fairly well. It doesn’t look exactly scholarly, and the inclusion of a modern treatise on Jinn possession intending to verify the orthodoxy of Taymiyah’s theology on the Jinn is not very reassuring. Still, the translator, Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, has good experience at universities in the Arabic world as well as in the West and composed this translation as part of his dissertation at the University of Wales.
All doubts aside, this publication remains one of only a handful of sources, primary or secondary, available for English-speaking students concerning the theological aspect of the Jinn. Those interested purely in the literary aspects of the Jinn can jerk off over Burton’s translation of 1001 Nights or read an Orientalist’s novel. But those of us interested in intellectual history who understand that, yes, the subject actually is important even though Western scholars apparently think it’s frivolous nonsense, there is a disturbing absence. The book was worth the purchase just for that.
Belief in the Jinn is an actual factual part of Islam in the past and today. Ibn Baz’s refutation in this book, of course, proves that on its own. Ibn Baz, incidentally, reveals some interesting shifts in Jinn belief that bring those beliefs subtly more in line with Western ideas about demons: belief in the Jinn as living, individual beings with incredible power gives way inexorably to Jinn as possessing demons and not much more. (There is a slew of psychiatric journal articles waiting to be written from the postmodernist viewpoint as to how effective Islam actually is for the possessed.)
Taymiyah, in the 13th and 14th centuries, already put more importance on possession, visions, and exorcism than some other sources. But his case is derived perfectly from the Qur’an and the Sunna, so there’s no complaints to be had on that front. His treatise, in fact, often brings out the duality of the Jinn and mankind: the Jinn, spawned from Iblis who refused to bow to Adam, are the obverse of men, and as their invisible counterparts enjoy all the regular rights which a human does…except if they’re disguised as a black dog interrupting your Friday prayers. Then you have no choice but to kill them on the spot.
Of course, it should be assumed that Taymiyah would have supported the murder of a Jew or Christian of any color interrupting your Friday prayers. The guy was off his rocker. But this treatise is golden, and the book is an invaluable resource for studying Jinn.