Can Jinn Really Possess People?
Scholars differ in opinion concerning the question in hand. Some say that jinn may possess human beings and some say this is not true. In fact, this question will remain controversial. Those who do not believe in the jinn possession need to reasonably explain the symptoms that the said-possessed people suffer from. On the other hand, those who adopt the other opinion take the strange cases of the said-possessed people as concrete evidence of their view, exploiting the fact that people are psychologically prepared to believe that jinn can possess their bodies.
In this regard, we would like to cite for you the following fatwa issued by the eminent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi:
Jinn are a kind of being that we cannot see as they are in reality. Allah Almighty says about Satan: “Lo! He seeth you, he and his tribe, from whence ye see him not.” (Al-A`raf: 27)
However, jinn may appear in human form, as happened during the Prophet’s time when a jinn in a human form came to Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) while the latter was guarding the zakah of Ramadan according to the Prophet’s order. Seeing the jinn gathering food of sadaqah in his hands (without permission), Abu Hurayrah caught him and was about to take him to the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him), but he set him free when the jinn gave him a piece of advice. When Abu Hurayrah told this story to the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him), he (peace and blessing be upon him) said, “that was a jinn, and he was truthful about the piece of advice, though he was a liar in fact” ( Reported by Al-Bukhari).
There are many people who claim that they have seen jinn or that they have relations with them, and some may even say they are married to a jinn. In fact, many of these claims are false. Moreover, many of those who claim that they are possessed by jinn do, in effect, suffer from psychological disorders such as schizophrenia and the like, and jinn have nothing to do with such disorders.
Moreover, Sheikh Faysal Mawlawi vice-chairman of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, further states:
Scholars have differed regarding jinn’s possession of human beings and their ability to harm and afflict them with diseases and pains. Some scholars do believe that this may happen and cite as evidence for their view Almighty Allah’s words: “And make mention (O Muhammad) of Our bondman Job, when he cried unto his Lord (saying): Lo! The devil doth afflict me with distress and torment.” (Saad: 41)
This group of scholars have explained this verse literally and thus said that what afflicted Prophet Job (peace and blessings be upon him) in his body, possessions, and family was caused by the Satan.
On the other hand, some other scholars are of the opinion that jinn cannot possess human beings, nor can they harm them, for Almighty Allah says: “Feeble indeed is the cunning of Satan.” (An-Nisaa’: 76) According to this group of scholars, had jinn possession and jinn’s ability to harm people been true, people might have confused jinn’s deeds with Almighty Allah’s.
Moreover, those scholars have explained the verse concerning Prophet Job (peace and blessings be upon him) in a way that goes in line with the other verses and hadiths that indicate that Satan cannot harm or influence true believers. According to them, if this is the case with true believers in general, it should also be the case with prophets, with the more reason.
In Al-Jami` li-Ahkam Al-Qur’an, vol. 15, Imam Al-Qurtubi mentioned that Imam Ibn Al-`Arabi and other scholars have explained the verse in question as that what afflicted Prophet Job (peace and blessings be upon him) in his body, wealth, and family was destined by Almighty Allah, yet Prophet Job (peace and blessings be upon him) attributed it to Satan out of extreme politeness to attribute such afflictions to Almighty Allah.
According to At-Tafseer Al-Kabir by Imam Al-Fakhr Ar-Razi, some scholars also explained this verse on the same basis, that is, the afflictions that occurred to Prophet Job (peace and blessings be upon him) were destined by Almighty Allah. Yet those scholars were of the opinion that Satan would whisper to Prophet Job reminding him of the many blessings that Almighty Allah caused him to lose so that Prophet Job (peace and blessings be upon him) might lament his losses and become displeased with Allah’s destiny for him. Prophet Job would resist such evil whispers, but Satan remained whispering those evil thoughts to him in such a strong way that Prophet Job was afraid to succumb to them. So, he prayed to Almighty Allah to help him get rid of such whispers, and that is what is referred to by “distress and torment” in Almighty Allah’s words: “And make mention (O Muhammad) of Our bondman Job, when he cried unto his Lord (saying): Lo! The devil doth afflict me with distress and torment.” (Saad: 41)
There are two other verses in the Glorious Qur’an that tackle Satan’s influence on people; one deals with this influence indirectly and the other directly.
The first verse is “Those who fear Allah, when a thought of evil from Satan assaults them, bring Allah to remembrance, when lo they see (aright).” (Al-A`raf: 201)
The influence here refers to the Satan’s whispering to people so that they may commit sins; it has nothing to do with the jinn’s possession of human beings.
The second verse is “Those who swallow usury cannot rise up save as he ariseth whom the devil hath prostrated by (his) touch. That is because they say: Trade is just like usury; whereas Allah permitteth trading and forbiddeth usury. He unto whom an admonition from his Lord cometh, and (he) refraineth (in obedience thereto), he shall keep (the profits of) that which is past, and his affair (henceforth) is with Allah. As for him who returneth (to usury), such are rightful owners of the Fire. They will abide therein.” (Al-Baqarah: 275)
Imam Al-Fakhr Ar-Razi’s Explanation
According to Imam Al-Fakhr Ar-Razi, there are two explanations of this verse. The first is held by Abu `Ali Al- Gubba’ie (a follower of Al-Mu`tazilah). Al-Gubba’ie believes that Satan’s prostrating people by touch here refers to harming them via the evil whispers he tries to inculcate in their minds. It is this kind of harm that Prophet Job meant when he said, according to the Qur’an: “Lo! The devil doth afflict me with distress and torment.” (Saad: 41)
Such evil whispers affect people of weak faith and cause them to have epilepsy. This is because those people are too weak to resist Satan’s whispers; they are in this case like cowards who faint from fear when left alone in a dark place. In this sense, Satan’s whispers have no influence on people of strong faith.
Thus, Al-Gubba’ie, reasoning the issue and citing many bits of evidence from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, refutes the claim that Satan might have far-reaching influence on people. According to him, the only influence that Satan might have is through the evil thoughts he whispers to people.
The second explanation of the verse, according to Imam Al-Fakhr Ar-Razi, is presented by Al-Qaffal (a scholar from the Shafi`i school). Al-Qaffal is of the opinion that people used to attribute epilepsy to Satan and jinn in general. They also used to describe ugly things and unfortunate events as likened to Satan or attributed to him.
Based on this belief of people, Almighty Allah describes the bad condition of usurers as that of he who arises as if prostrated by the devil’s touch. In this sense also, Allah describes the Tree of Zaqqum that springs out of the bottom of the Hellfire saying: “Its crop is as it were the heads of devils.”(As-Saffat: 65; Tafseer Al-Fakhr Ar-Razi, vol. 7, pp. 88-89).
Az-Zamakhshari’s Explanation of the Same Verse
Az-Zamakhshari said in his Al-Kashaf, vol. 1, p. 399: The verse ‘Those who swallow usury …’ (Al-Baqarah: 275) likens the condition of usurers when they get up, to that of those hit by jinn. This comes in line with the Arabs’ belief that jinn may hit human beings and knock them down, and may even cause them mental disorder. There are many stories related by the Arabs about people seeing jinn with their very eyes. Hence, denying the people’s probability of seeing jinn is to the Arab like denying seeing concrete and material things around one.
Abu As-Su`ud was also of the same opinion as Az-Zamakhshari. This is obvious in his book: Tafseer Abu As-Su`ud. It seems to me, furthermore, that he borrowed such opinion from Az-Zamakhshari.
Al-Qurtubi’s Explanation of the Verse
Al-Qurtubi said, “This verse clearly refutes the opinion of those who deny the jinn’s capability of harming human beings” (Al-Jami` Al-Kabir, vol. 3, p. 355).
Al-Alusi’s Explanation of the Verse
The eminent scholar Al-Alusi said that usurers would rise up on the Day of Judgment like those who are strongly hit by jinn in this world.
Al-Alusi also quoted in one of his writings the scholar Ibn `Atiyyah as saying that the verse in question likens usurers’ keenness on accumulating money and their running after this end to the condition of unstable people who move in such great haste that one may call them mad.
Al-Alusi commented on this opinion saying, “It is obvious that this opinion contradicts what people in general hold in this respect.”
Al-Alusi also tackled the point of jinn’s beating some people and knocking them down and declared his agreement to this view. Furthermore, he strongly opposed the views of Al-Mu`tazilah and Al-Qaffal, who denied the jinn’s having any influence on human beings. They cite as evidence of their view what Satan said according to the Qur’an: “And I had no power over you.” (Ibrahim: 22)
Al-Alusi commented that Satan’s saying he has no power according to this verse refers to his inability to have thorough control or to enslave human beings, not to his inability to harm them in general.
According to Al-Alusi, there is much evidence from Shari`ah that contradicts this opinion of Al-Mu`tazilah and Al-Qaffal. For example, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “When any human being is born, Satan touches it and thus it cries.” Another version of this hadith goes “When any human being is born, Satan touches him at both sides of the body.” The only exception in this regard is Mary and her son Jesus (peace and blessings be upon both of them), because Mary’s mother prayed to Almighty Allah as reported in the Qur’ an: “Lo! I crave Thy protection for her and for her offspring from Satan the outcast.” (Aal `Imran: 36)
There is also a hadith reported to the effect that the jinn kidnapped some person during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and then returned him. Later that person reported, “A bird like a camel came to me and carried me on a small feather of it.”
According to Al-Alusi, the predecessors and Sunni people believe that what these hadiths refer to are true events, and explaining them in a non-literal way complicates matters. It is the strict school of Al-Mu`tazilah and the like that tend to resort to complex explanations of this kind. Reviewing hadiths reported about jinn proves true their capability to harm people.