Dubai Ghosts: Djinn – Creatures that go bump in the night
By Rache Hernandez
November holds another tradition for many Filipinos; mostly of trading spook stories about creatures of the night – the tikbalang, the aswang and manananggal. In the Middle East, tales of the supernatural are dominated by the djinn. Rache Hernandez tells us more.
Filipinos love scary stuff – getting scared, scaring the wits out of other people and concepts so scary that they encourage the mind to forsake logic. The number of Shake, Rattle and Roll movies proves this. (Fourteen! In case you were wondering. Even Nightmare on Elm Street has only nine films in the series.) There are so many Shake, Rattle & Roll movies that, were the film inclined towards sports, they could play basketball all by themselves, with some acting as referees.
It is on All Saints Day and All Souls’ Day that the Philippine Scare Squad has a field day. On these days, the fright fest reaches its pinnacle, with horror stories told over loved ones’ tombs, more exchanged over drinks and the best ones told on evening talk shows and broadcast to the world. On these days, the best tales from the crypt are told, heavily populated by creatures that transcend generations such as the kapre, white lady, tikbalang, aswang, manananggal and more.
In contrast to the Filipinos’ endless list of creatures, which can be compared to a star-studded Halloween party, our brothers in the Muslim world have a one-man show, graced only by the djinn.
(scary sound effect here, please).
What are djinns?
The website Djinn universe cites the chapter entitled Surah Al Aaraf in the Quran, which decribes Djinns as created from fire, in the similar sense that angels were created from light and humans from clay1. All throughout the Quran, djinns and humans are mentioned together but in a manner that indicates that they are two different creations. And, although djinns can see humans, we cannot see them1.
Despite an independent existence, djinns have human-like characteristics. Billal Saeed, a graphic artist in Dubai Media City and a firm believer in djinns, expounds on the human-like aspects of djinns: “Like humans, djinns live in communities, get married, have children, etc.” Despite this, the Quran maintains that humans remain superior to djinns1. Backer Jamous, a devout Muslim who has been observing Islamic rituals such as fasting since he was seven, puts it to the extreme by believing that “djinns are nothing and so don’t deserve even to be thought of.”
The bad djinn
Djinns can be good or bad, and while other djinns remained firm believers of Allah, djinns who followed Shaytan (a djinn who fell from the grace of Allah because he refused to bow to Adam1 ) have made it their sole purpose to misguide humans from the path of holiness, which they accomplish through evil suggestions, beguilement and making evil appear good2.
Djinns in the modern world
Although they are the stuff of ancient doctrines and traditional folklore (Aladdin’s Genie from 1001 Nights is also a djinn), the existence of djinns has likewise captured the fancy of modern people. In mid-2012, the film Djinn was produced and shot in the UAE by Abu Dhabi Imagenation. Filmed in Ras Al Khaimah and directed by Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist fame, the supernatural thriller is set several years in the future and follows the story of a fictional young Emirati couple who move into an apartment, eventually discovering that their neighbours are not exactly human.
Even academics are equally enthralled. In 2011, Rosemary Ellen Guiley and Philip J. Imbrogno, scientists involved in the paranormal and supernatural, published the book entitled “The Vengeful Djinn: Unveiling the Hidden Agendas of Genies”, which presents their findings on the nature of djinns, their purpose and how to counter them. The book is startling because, in their investigations, the co-authors employed extensive methodologies including case studies, folklore, the Quran and even the latest theories on alternate realities and the idea of a multiverse (as opposed to a universe) in the Quantum Physics field3.
Djinns remain mysterious entities, however. And although there is a Quran chapter dedicated to them, it does not offer a plain definition of who they really, creating a thick shroud of mystery.
“I don’t really know what djinns are,” says Keltoum Ahfid, a Moroccan who works as an Arabic Copywriter in Dubai. “Except what the Quran mentioned about djinns being made from fire, I don’t know anything else that is concrete,” she adds.
Greatest danger to man
According to Guiley’s website, djinns may be one of the greatest dangers to ever present itself to the human race as they may be behind hard-to-explain events including UFOs, ghosts, poltergeists and the like[i]. Whatever they are, whatever it is they can do, their very existence cannot be doubted. And because of their mysterious nature, djinns will remain to be the sole stuff that horror tales, Middle-Eastern style, are made of.
Manifestations of djinns: Are they real? Some people day so, some say no
Mohammed Hamdan, a website administrator in Dubai, saw first-hand a mutawa (cleric) exorcising a djinn from a 40-year old woman’s body. “The mutawa was repeatedly asking the “friend” (djinn) to come out from the woman’s body. He was asking him questions, repeatedly forcing him to tell him his name. At one point, the mutawa brought out a needle and, with it, he pricked the woman’s index finger,” recounts Mohammad. “To everyone’s horror, particularly the woman’s, the finger elongated to abnormal proportions for an entire minute, a proof that the “friend” was finally getting out of the woman’s body. I saw with my own eyes that the finger started to grow longer. It was very scary. After all that, the woman became normal again.”
What Mohammad saw strengthened his belief that djinns are real. “Even non-believers, upon seeing that, would start to believe,” he declares.
Billal Saeed, a Dubai-based graphic artist, also retells his mother’s story: “When my mother was young, she witnessed an uncle during a visit suddenly becoming stiff, with foam coming out of his mouth, eyes turning red and speaking in a different voice.
“In the middle of the visit, the uncle asked my mom if she wanted sweets. When she answered yes, the uncle conjured up a platter of sweets from his shawl (usually worn during cold weather). The sweets were sizzling hot, as if they just came out of the oven. The entire family believed that he was possessed by a djinn so they asked an expert to exorcise him.
“During the exorcism, the djinn explained that she had possessed the man because she liked him. The uncle was “cured” and came back to visit several times after that. But one day, he simply disappeared. The family tried looking for him, but we have failed so far. We haven’t seen him for 30 years. We believe the djinn has something to do with his disappearance.”