Saturday, 11 July 2009

Genie Jinx

The BBC has a story from Saudi Arabia - one of those "only in Saudi" stories - about a man taking a genie to court for "harassment".


They accuse the spirit of threatening them, throwing stones and stealing mobile phones, Al Watan newspaper said. The family have lived in the same house near the city of Medina for 15 years but say they only recently became aware of the spirit. They have now moved out...

"We began to hear strange sounds," the head of the family, who come from Mahd Al Dahab, told the Saudi daily. He did not want to be named. "At first we did not take it seriously, but then stranger things started to happen and the children got particularly scared when the genie started throwing stones."

He added: "A woman spoke to me first, and then a man. They said we should get out of the house."



It is said that a local court is looking into the claims, "despite the difficulty of doing so". Another, slightly fuller, report I found claimed that "the lawsuit accuses the genie of ... sending threatening voice messages through cell-phones to vacate the house."

Both reports imply that the djinn itself is being sued, though this strikes me as unlikely. Certainly, belief in such spirit-beings is strong in that part of the world - mandatory even, since the Djinn are mentioned often in the Koran. They are a third order of creation - after humans and angels - beings of "smokeless fire" that fill the roles traditionally allotted in European folklore to ghosts, demons, pixies and the like. The Saudi family was evidently plagued by what western ghost-hunters would interpret as a poltergeist infestation. Quite what the court is supposed to do about it is unclear - though the head of the Sharia tribunal concerned is quoted as finding it "interesting" that "that the complaint has come from every member of the family, and not just one". Not sure why.

In search of elucidation, I turned to the website of the Islamic Sharia Council. There wasn't much information about djinns, though it did provide an answer to that pressing question, "Can a human being marry a djinn?" The answer, since you ask, is No, a human being "cannot marry a djinn, since human-being is made for human-being and Jinn for Jinn". I Dream of Jeannie was clearly haram. Another illuminating article informs me that djinn are usually invisible - like electricity - and generally live in deserts, but some prefer to inhabit dustbins where they eat food that has been thrown away. They would seem very useful for recycling purposes - although it rather begs the question what the desert-based djinn survive on. Djinn are capable of taking different forms, often appearing as black dogs or cats, and while they are in corporeal form it is possible to injure or kill them. They have religious beliefs, just like regular people: "they can be Christian, Jewish, non-believers or Moslems". They also procreate. Like our own demons, they possess people. This girl is being exorcised of a djinn, with what degree of success I'm not sure:



One of the Hadiths of Mohammed warns against the kleptomaniac tendencies of the djinn:

The Prophet said, "Cover your utensils and tie your water skins, and close your doors and keep your children close to you at night, as the Jinns spread out at such time and snatch things away. When you go to bed, put out your lights, for the mischief-doer may drag away the wick of the candle and burn the dwellers of the house."

Bukhari 4.533, Narrated Jabi bin 'Abdullah


Today's story sounds a bit strange to our ears, maybe, but similar cases aren't unknown in the West. In 1999 a couple from Derbyshire, Andrew and Josie Smith, sued the vendors of their historic stone cottage for not warning them that it was haunted. They lost. "I do not accept that it is haunted now or has been at any other time," declared the judge. And last year a couple from Spoleto, Italy, threatened legal action against the former owners of their home after enduring "howls in the night and creaking staircases" for three years. That one seems to have been settled out of court.

The Saudi family, though, have been living in their property for 15 years, so it's unlikely they are trying to get compensation from the previous owner. Djinns are often in league with sorcerors, so perhaps the story has something to do with Saudi Arabia's crackdown on witchcraft. Or perhaps the victims hope the judge will give the offending spirit the djinn equivalent of an ASBO. But does the court have jurisdiction? I heard a story once about an American (real or apocryphal) who brought suit against the Devil - only to be told by the judge that, as Prince of Darkness, Satan was entitled to sovereign immunity.