The Evolution of the Jinn in Middle Eastern Culture and Literature from Pre-Islam to the Modern Age
Date of Graduation
Bachelor of Arts in Arabic
World Languages, Literatures and Cultures
Committee Member/Second Reader
Committee Member/Third Reader
The legends of the jinn, romanized as djinn and anglicized as genies, have long been a part of mystical story telling tradition. The modern-day genies of Western film are lovable and comedic tricksters who grant wishes to the master that uncovers them, but this depiction is a far cry from their origin point in the Ancient Middle Eastern region known as Mesopotamia. Here they began as powerful nature spirits inspiring poets, soothsayers, and philosophers by sharing messages of the unseen world. The modern Western depiction of the jinn is devoid of cultural and historical context. The very name “jinn” is an Arabic term, derived from the triliteral root جنن (j/n/n) which can roughly be translated to “to hide, cover, conceal or veil”. Its cognates include مجنون (majnūn) translated as possessed, obsessed or insane, جَنَّة (jannah) which is the name of Paradise and the Garden of Eden, and جَنِين (janīn) an embryo or a hidden spirit. The nature of the jinn has been altered considerably since their origin, as it evolved alongside the various civilizations that inhabited the region currently known as the Middle East through the centuries. How, then, did these creatures first come to light? More importantly, why have they changed so much from their original conception?
Modern academic discussions of the Middle East have largely been dominated by Western political scientists who seek to examine the patterns of violence and social upheaval in the region. After the events of September 11, 2001, the West shifted towards unpacking the ideology of radical Islamist movements and the necessity of military intervention. In discussions of culture, however, the academic field has gone to great lengths in recent years to correct the stereotypes perpetuated by the work of the early Orientalists and return to a more accurate depiction of the peoples and cultures of the Middle East. Nonetheless, the re-centering of scholarship can only do so much when representations in the media are still dominated by problematic tropes that represent the region in an unflattering and fantastical light. Even now, as Europe struggles with an influx of immigrants fleeing conflict in the Middle East, fear based in generalizations and cultural differences, perpetuated by the media, has led to anti-immigrant violence, protests, and discrimination. These media tropes demonstrate a lack of consideration towards the history and traditions of the region. Of the many manipulations that exist, legends of the jinn are at the forefront, and serve as a placeholder for all things “Oriental”. We need look no further than Disney’s Genie in the 1992 and 2019 films Aladdin to see this representation. However, if we examine the history of the jinn and their evolution, it is possible to place them back into their appropriate context and establish that the modern genie trope is a product of the West rather than a reflection of the jinn as imagined in their root cultures of the Middle East.
 A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (Arabic -English), 4th ed. Wehr, Hans (2001) “جنن”
 Hans Wehr “جنين”
 In which members of an Islamist Radical group, Al-Qa’eda, crashed planes into New York City’s twin towers.
Jinn, genie, Aladdin, The Middle East
Ford, C. (2023). The Evolution of the Jinn in Middle Eastern Culture and Literature from Pre-Islam to the Modern Age. World Languages, Literatures and Cultures Undergraduate Honors Theses Retrieved from https://scholarworks.uark.edu/wllcuht/8