By Dr. Jamal Badawi
When we talk about God’s creatures, let’s classify them into two main groups, the seen and the un-seen. Now the creatures that are seen can be classified into two major groups, humans and others. By others we mean animals, animate and inanimate objects.
Angels and Jinn: Unseen creatures
For the unseen creatures there are again two basic groups that the Quran mentions. One is the angels and the second is the Jinn. Some people may wonder what the word Jinn means and if it has an equivalent in English. To my understanding there is no single word in English that would give the proper and complete meaning of Jinn as understood by Muslims except to say that they are unseen creatures. However to understand it better in English we can subdivide Jinn into two main groups, believers and unbelievers. (Click here to read about angels.)
Believing Jinn would be just as good as angels or as good as human believers. The unbelieving Jinn, however, are the ones that we usually refer to as Satan and also a term that appears in the Quran about the first of those unbelieving Jinn, Iblis. When we use Satan or Iblis we are talking particularly about the first Satan, the one who tempted Adam and Eve in Paradise. Now, the league of Satan, his descendants, and helpers until today are called Satans or devils.
Jinn are created from smokeless fire according to the Quran and it appears in Chapter 15, verses 26-27. When we talk about smokeless fire, nobody knows what the exact nature of this fire is, as we don’t know the exact nature of light from which angels are created. But of course it signifies the fact that they are non-material and that they have capacities and abilities which far exceed those given to humans in terms of the speed of their movements etc. just like angels have.
Jinn have free will, just like humans
In fact the Quran indicates that like human beings the Jinn, both believing and unbelieving, have free choice. They can choose to obey God or to rebel and in that sense they are similar to human beings except for the fact that they are non-material.
Because they have free will, some might turn out to be good and some might be evil. Jinn are not evil by definition. In fact, we find that in the Quran it talks about the Jinn receiving messengers coming to guide them just like human beings also received prophets (6:130).
Let me quote from the Quran: “Behold, We turned towards thee a company of Jinns (quietly) listening to the Qur’an: when they stood in the presence thereof, they said, “Listen in silence!” When the (reading) was finished, they returned to their people, to warn (them of their sins). They said, “O our people! We have heard a Book revealed after Moses, confirming what came before it: it guides (men) to the Truth and to a Straight Path. O our people, hearken to the one who invites (you) to Allah, and believe in him: He will forgive you your faults, and deliver you from a Penalty Grievous. If any does not hearken to the one who invites (us) to Allah, he cannot frustrate ((Allah)’s Plan) on earth, and no protectors can he have besides Allah. such men (wander) in manifest error.”” (46:29-32)
So, in that sense, one can say they are just like humans in a sense of being warned and urged to use their free will in the right direction.
While angels are the pure sinless spirits that are encouraging us to do what is good and to avoid what is evil, Satan relates to our life in a sense that he is doing the opposite job. He is trying to destroy what the angels are urging us to do.
He is constantly urging us to do commit evil and to sins to violate the teachings of God. And, we have to be aware of all the tricks played by Satan. Seldom does Satan come to one and say, “This is an evil thing. Do it!” He always tries to present it in a way that looks attractive and somehow seductive, drawing us in bit by bit.
In case we sin or disobey God, or follow the footsteps of Satan as the Quran puts it, we should not throw our hands up in the air and say there is no hope. The Quran says that we should continue to remember God and try to correct ourselves. Even the first mistake done by Adam and Eve, according to the Quran, has already been forgiven and that is why there is no original sin. Whenever we fall, we have to remind ourselves that we must resist these evil promptings. (Read more: Forgiveness and God’s Mercy)
As human beings, we are both material and spirit and we have the capability to be good or bad. The angels are prompting us towards good. Without the Jinn, Satan or evil creatures in particular, because not all Jinn are bad, we would not be tested, we would not have any challenge. Ultimately it is our decision as human beings to use our God given choice and God given spirituality to overcome evil promptings and follow the right path.
Excerpted and adapted, with permission, from the transcribed audio lectures of Dr. Jamal Badawi (www.jamalbadawi.com).