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What is a Genie?

Niki Acker
Updated May 16, 2024
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In Arabian mythology, a genie or djinn is a type of spirit. In Pre-Islamic thought, it had magical powers and was sometimes, though not always, wicked, or at least mischievous. In Islam, the genie has become more analogous to a demon, with the Devil as the most powerful of these spirit, while in Western culture, it is typically portrayed as a magical spirit with no religious connotations who is capable of granting wishes. The English word comes from the French for "spirit," which was used to translate djinn in the first French translations of the Arabian Nights.

The Western concept is drawn mainly from the tale of Aladdin in the Arabian Nights, in which Aladdin frees a genie from his imprisonment in a lamp and is granted wishes in return. A wider reading of the Arabian Nights reveals the spirit as a creature quite different from the modern Western version, however. There are different types with different sets of magical powers, and in some mythology, they are categorized by the element — fire, water, earth, or air — that governs them. Some types of genies are frightening, such as the ghul, which lends its name to the Modern English ghoul, and the succubus-like female versions.

In Islam, genies are believed to live among humans but to be invisible for the most part. They are said to have free will, like humans but unlike angels, and to have the capacity for good or evil. There are references to them throughout the Qur'an, and the Devil, called Shaitan in Islam, is the most powerful of these spirits. Evil ones are similar to demons in Christian thought and can possess people physically or tempt them into sin.

Though the genie in Western culture is usually benign, it is often mischievous and sometimes borders on the more frightening versions from the Middle East. Dangerous ones in the West often work by distorting the wishes of those they are supposed to serve or by taking their words very literally. This trope in Western folklore predates the arrival of the genie in Western consciousness and is summarized in the adage, "Be careful what you wish for."

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Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By anon982903 — On Dec 24, 2014

Genies, or the way we refer to them in Arabic and the Quran "al jinn," are made from smokeless fire and were created to serve Allah (god). They live normal lives among us. They too have children, wives, and etc. They can't be seen but they can see us.

There is also the believer jinn and the non-believer jinn who possesses and performs acts that are against god. Now I don't really know if genies really live in lamps and such, but I do know if you want to consult one you have to talk to someone who knows how to preform such rituals such as witchcraft and evil doing, which is totally against Islam and everything god says. They are real. Do your research.

By SarahGen — On Feb 15, 2013

@literally45-- I saw an Indian film recently, it's the modern version of Aladdin for kids. In this version also, the genie took the orders of Aladdin too literally and made Aladdin regret them.

For example, he was in love with a girl and he wished for the girl to love him as well and the genie made it come true. But the girl was literally throwing herself at Aladdin and knowing that the girl wasn't doing this out of free will but rather due to magic, made Aladdin regret his wish. He wanted her to love her on her own, not with the help of magic.

So the genie is not evil, but he is definitely mischievous. He appears as though he wants to help with magic, but I think his true goal is to encourage Aladdin to be courageous and accomplish things on his own.

By literally45 — On Feb 15, 2013

I know that the more recent cartoons about genies depict them as evil things. But the genie stories I heard as a child always gave me the impression that they are good and helpful. I don't know where all the negativity about genies came from.

I even had a genie costume for Halloween one year.

By candyquilt — On Feb 14, 2013

@anon166507-- There is a lot of fascination and also fear about genies in the Islamic world. I'm Muslim and I know many people who even refuse to say the word genie, thinking that it will attract genies near them.

The word genie is mentioned in the Qur'an. It is known that they are a sort of spirit that exist. The Qur'an says that they are made of fire. In fact, the devil was once an angel, but when he went against God, God punished him by turning him into a genie.

There are prayers in the Qur'an that can be recited to be protected from genies. I think they live on the earth, but at a different dimension so we can't see them or hear them, etc.

Those who engage in fortune-telling and black magic usually do these things through genies. But the Qur'an warns against this and says that genies steal bits of information from heaven, add lies to it and inform people as though it is the truth. It's best to stay away from such things all together.

By anon311374 — On Dec 31, 2012

Genies are not real. All these thing are just ancient mythology. Read more books people.

By anon275567 — On Jun 18, 2012

Wrong. In Islam, it only says that genies exist and we can't contact them. That has spawned many myths like genes live on another planet or that they live among us but are invisible and many many others.

By anon206013 — On Aug 15, 2011

It is possible that they are real. My husband opened a mason jar and a large black cloud mass came out and I swear it said he was going to protect me before flying out the open window. It was the strangest thing that has happened to me, and it was around the time my mothers neighbor had his sights on me, saying what the cloud had said to me. After the jar was open, was when her neighbor came out and said the same words as the cloud said, and has been trying to conquer me since. But also, the guy had taken on a task to get me away from my husband by my cousin. I have to say this is the strangest thing that ever happened to me.

By anon166507 — On Apr 08, 2011

I have an friend from Turkey and he was telling me about them. He refuses to dabble in this, but he has a close friend who has a Genie. This guy does it properly, and uses them for good (cures or something). If one is careless in doing it, the Genie can cause harm, be annoying, etc. They do not like to be disturbed. It was fascinating listening to him.

By umanggoel21 — On Apr 02, 2011

is it true that genies are real in this world?

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of...
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