Born of fire, from the latest Economist, describes the jinn, or genies, of Islamic folklore:
Although Somalia and Afghanistan have different religious traditions (Somalia being more relaxed), jinn belief is strong in both countries. War-ravaged, with similarly rudimentary education systems, both have a tradition of shrines venerating local saints where women can pray. Women are supposed to be more open to jinn, particularly illiterate rural women: by some accounts education is a noise, a roaring of thought, which jinn cannot bear. Sometimes women turn supposed jinn possession to their own advantage and become fortune-tellers. Among the most popular questions asked of such women is: “Will my husband take a second wife?” The shrines are often little more than a carved niche in a rock, with colourful prayer flags tied to nearby trees. Jinn are said to be attracted to the ancient geography of shrines, many of which predate Islam; as some have it, the shrines were attracted to the jinn.
Islam teaches that jinn resemble men in many ways: they have free will, are mortal, face judgment and fill hell together. Jinn and men marry, have children, eat, play, sleep and husband their own animals. Islamic scholars are in disagreement over whether jinn are physical or insubstantial in their bodies. Some clerics have described jinn as bestial, giant, hideous, hairy, ursine. Supposed yeti sightings in Pakistan’s Chitral are believed by locals to be of jinn. These kinds of jinn can be killed with date or plum stones fired from a sling.
Unbelieving jinn, those who resisted the Koran, are shaytan, demons, “firewood for hell”. Many Muslims see the devil as a jinn. Some reckon the snake in the Garden of Eden was a shape-shifting jinn. All this may yet play a part in the war on terrorism. Factions in Somalia and Afghanistan have accused their enemies of being backed not only by the CIA but by malevolent jinn. One theory in Afghanistan holds that the mujahideen, “two-legged wolves”, scared the jinn out into the world, causing disharmony. It is jinn, they say, who whisper into the ears of suicide-bombers.
Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, a Pakistani cleric connected with a jihadist group, Jamaat al-Fuqra, has given warning to America that its missiles will be misdirected by jinn.