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The major elements of Arabian mythology can, like many other mythologies, be broken down into Gods, monsters, festivals and folklore. Like many other mythologies in Eurasia, it deals with ideas and stories set down before the emergence of a monotheistic religion; in this case, Islam in the seventh century. Some elements have become obscured over time and under the dominance of a major religion, but some, like the Jinn or Genies, have become well-known worldwide.
Arabian mythology is not necessarily limited to the Arabian peninsula. The geographical and political boundaries of the peninsula blur over the land boundaries to the north, when the peninsular merges with the Syrian Desert and Mesopotamia. This means it is bordered with and merges with mythologies such as those of the Syrians, Egyptians, Babylonians and Sumerians. The peninsula itself is also quite mixed with differences between the Arabs and the Sabaeans of Yemen.
Like many other mythologies, Arabian mythology was passed down from generation to generation through folktales that were rarely written down. This is still the case in some areas such as Jama’ al-Fna in Marrakesh. Many of these mythologies are about folk heroes and daring tales of courage. These include “Sirat ‘Antara” and “Sirat Bani Hilal,” but the most famous folktale is “Alf Laylah wa Laylah,” better known as “The Thousand and One Nights.”
There are three major gods and goddesses plus a number of minor ones. Before becoming one of the key centers of Islam, Mecca was home to one of the most important Arabian goddesses, Al-Lat. Another chief goddess of Mecca was Al-Uzza, who was a fertility Goddess. The final one was Manat, the goddess of fate.
As with many other polytheistic religions, pre-Islamic Arabian mythology contains a whole host of minor deities. There are some worthy of note, such as Dushara and Al-Quam the Nabataean Gods. There was also Ta’lab, who was popular in Sheba, and Amm the Moon God of the Qataban.
One of the most famous creatures to come out of Arabian mythology is the Jinn, better known as a genie in the west. As well as in the cartoon “Aladdin,” the genie has been popularized in shows such as “Supernatural Season 2.” Jinns, also called Djinn, decide for themselves how they wish to deal with people; they can be benevolent or malicious depending on their mood. There are many types of Jinn including the Marid and Ifrit.
Other mythical monsters include the ghoul, roc, Nasnas and the bahamut. The ghoul is a creature, well-known in the West, that changes shape and feeds on human flesh. The roc is a giant white bird. The nasnas is a half-human, half-demon that comes in the form of literally half a human. Bahamut is a giant fish that is believed to be beneficial to the Arab world.