In the Firestone reading he discusses how in the beginnings of Islam, the religion was so closely tied to the beliefs and customs of surrounding areas. Firestone explains, …The Sira, the Quran, and other early sources all openly acknowledge the major impact of Jews and Judaism on early Islamic history.” It seems that in the begging there was an open connection between Islam and Judaism, but as the religion began to develop concrete laws and social practices Islam started to draw a distinct boundary with Judaism. This can be observed in the dietary practices in both religious. In both Islam and Judaism dietary laws the animal is killed when a sharp knife is quickly drawn across their necks. Even though this practice in the same Jews and Muslims most will not eat each other’s meat.
Also in the Firestone article he explains how Muhammad, “…believed, the large Jewish Arab community, which had a long history of prophets and Scripture, would naturally flock to his divine revelations and prophecies.” Muhammad thought that the Jewish community would embrace him, but instead must did not follow him. Instead for supporting Muhammad the Jews in this period began to feel threatened by his rising power in society. It is interesting that instead of embrace Muhammad the Jews pushed him away. I wonder what would have happened in the Jews did begin to follow Muhammad and except him as one of their own. I think that if they had done this Judaism might have been a very strong force in the Middle East.
Although most of the Jewish community did not except Muhammad I found it interesting that before the boundaries between the two religions were set in stone many Muslims reached out to Jews to him understand the meanings of what Muhammad said. Firestone used to example of Ka’b Al-Ahbar. Ka’b was a scholarly Jewish man who came to Medina, a predominately Muslim town. After spending two years in Medina he converted to Islam. His conversion was questionable at times, because he still followed some Jewish traditions. During his first few years in Medina he used to Torah to teach inside the mosque. Ka’b would look to the Torah to explain verses in the Quran. I found it very interesting that after the formation of Islam, when people were still trying to understand the meanings of the Quran, the Muslims looked to Jews to help understand the messages. As Islam began to solidify as a strong empire they began to turn their backs on Jews. It seems that as the empire expanded Muslims did not want to have such great ties with Judaism. The Muslims began to forget how close of a relationship their religion had with Judaism.
While reading the articles about jinn, I started to think about the origins of jinn. The idea of jinn comes from the pre-Islamic world were these spirits were used to guide the communities everyday life. As I was reading the articles I notice that the belief in jinn could either explain things that are known or have a specific function in the community. To further explain this idea one may look at the interactions between jinn and humans.
In one way the jinn serve to explain the unexplained. In the El-Shamy reading he states, “until relatively recently, certain physical disorders were believed to be caused by jinn.” When something occurs that cannot be explained, in this case diseases, jinn are blamed. This reminded me how the ancient Romans and many other ancient societies explained the unknown through the belief that individual Gods controlled these unknown occurrences. For example the ancient Romans viewed lightening as the sign of Jupiter, since they could not explain the why lighten occurred they explained it by pointing to Jupiter as the one who caused it. In the Ameen article he articulates that, “Sometimes if a person develops a backache for which no medical explanation can be found, in the end he decides that it is because of the jinn taking revenge on him.” It is interesting that there have been so many medical advances since the beginnings of Islam and jinn are still used to explain unknown medical illnesses.
Jinn also have a functional purpose in these cultures. Some functions of the jinn are to keep people away from dangerous animals and places. Ashour says that, “they are frequently found in places where they can cause a lot of mischief and corruption, like markets.” Markets, in this context were probably, a place full of thieves, bargainer, and beggars. Here, jinn are used to keep people away from the market to keep them safe. In the readings there is also a lot about certain animals that are more likely to harbor jinn. The types of animals that jinn usually reside in are animals that are dangerous, like snakes. In this case the fear of bad jinn helps people stay away from snakes that could potentially harm them.
Jinn also create social behaviors. The use of jinn in this sense is to make people behave in certain ways that help them in the end. For example in this Islamic culture the children are taught to wash their hands and mouth after a meal so that the “she-sniffer” stays away from them. This jinn serves to make the children to clean themselves after a meal. This can also be seen in Western culture with the example of the boogey man. It is taught to young children that if they misbehave the boogey monster will come, therefore the kids behave because they are scared of the boogey monster. In most Western societies monsters like the boogey man are usually only believed in by children, but in these Muslim societies adults also believe in jinn. It is taught in this society that an unattended crying baby can attract jinn, therefore the parents always comfort the crying baby. These jinn are used to guide new parents in taking care of their child. There are many different kinds of jinn in this society it is amazing how the people go out of their way to tip toe around the bad jinn and in other cases embrace them.
After reading and discussing the El-Shamy article I found a deep connection between jinn and illness in this communty. I feel that in this society jinn are used to explain why people become ill. El-Shamy explained that there are two different levels of illness. The lower of the two levels is when a person comes into contact with a jinn. The illness that it causes is usually confined to a small area. The second type of illness is caused when a jinn “reside in the body of a person.” This type of illness is thought to cause the person to act abnormal. It is interesting even though there are both good and bad jinn most of the incidents with jinn are bad.
I found it interesting that jinn are associated with people who have mental illnesses. El-Shamy states, “the very concept of mental or emotional disorder is clearly related to belief in jinn’s ability to ‘possess’ humans body and mind.” Although a mentally ill person is very different from a health person the idea that the a jinn is the reason for the illness seems to lessen the separation between the healthy and ill. The jinn “possessed” the individual because, “…the intruding spirit gave ‘beauty’ and or ‘purity’ of the afflicted person as the reason for choosing to enter the body and affect the mind.” To me this seems to show that the reason they were “possessed” is because they were particularly good to begin, making people feel some sort of sympathy for them.
One question that has been asked in this society is: since jinn are responsible for mental illness can a person be blamed for their actions? For example in one Egyptian court a judge answered, ‘’a person under the influence of al-quwa al-khafiyyah (invisible powers/ forces, i.e., jinn) is, legally, not responsible for his own actions.” In Western society the same question is asked but the actions of a person are not blamed on jinn but the mental capacity and state of the individual. This shows that jinn are not believed in by a smart group of people, but that jinn is believed in so widely that judges take jinn into account before ruling on the case.