This is a brief summary of what I believe to be the most compelling position on Jinn possession. I’d like to believe it has little to do with trying to appease any camp or cohort and simply the product of deliberating on various shar’i sources and scholarly reasonings, all for a significant period of time. All of the following points can be greatly expanded on, as well as many more being added, but for brevity I’ll keep to what’s here.
In further posts, I’ll briefly breakdown some of the points I make here. There are things I believe the shaytan can do to humans (such as touch/المس) but I’ll not go into them since I’m specifically concerned in these posts with possession and exorcism.
1. I strongly advocate that Jinns do NOT possess human beings. By possession I specifically mean a spirit entering a body to take control of it, where the soul loses cognitive and physical autonomy to an invading sentient being.
2. These are matters of the ghayb (unseen). So if we aren’t informed about something then asserting it is highly questionable. The starting premise (asl) is that it’s not the case unless we can evidence, via revelation, that it is.
3. There is nothing in the Qur’an that explicitly mentions possession whilst there are verses that explicitly suggest otherwise and lay it all out:
a) God tells us that “Satan will say, ‘God gave you a true promise. I too made promises but they were false ones: I had no power over you except to call you.” (14:22) So the power of the devil is restricted to calling people to iniquity and misguidance.
b) This “call” occurs as whispers/الوسوسة and prompts/النزغ: “…the harm of the slinking whisperer who whispers into the hearts of people, whether they be jinn or people.” (114:4-6) The power jinn have in this context is similar to those that humans have; it is whispers and the power of suggestion that God defines as the fitnah of shaytan (7:27), exemplified by the devil’s whispers to Adam (20:120) and his wife (7:20).
c) The explicitly prescribed way to overcome this is through seeking refuge with God (الاستعاذة): “If Satan should prompt you to do something, seek refuge with God.” (7:200, 41:36) “And say: Lord, I take refuge with You from the goadings of the evil ones.” (23:97)
4. Everything else beyond these explicit verses is highly speculative and unconvincing since they seem inconsistent with what is explicit. Anything implicit ought to be understood in light of what is explicit, that’s our interpretational framework. The few verses that have been drawn on by past scholars are subjected to far-fetched interpretations and weak reasoning, and the interpretive methods employed by some of them contradicted the principles of exegesis (usul al-tafsir) they advocated – all of which I’ll explain later.
5. There is nothing decisively established from the Prophet on this (another reason why jinn possession is so speculative) – the ahadith that scholars draw on have very questionable asanid (chains of narrators) which they legitimise by citing other corroborating but questionable asanid (raising the ahadith to hasan li ghairihi – those scholars who see the problems surmountable in this way). As for the authentic hadith that scholars have cited, they have little to do with possession and mostly concern the ‘touch’ of the devil and its effects (which I affirm but will explain elsewhere). Just as with the Qur’anic verses, the authentic hadith are subjected to far-fetched interpretations and weak reasoning, especially in light of the decisive verses in the Qur’an.
6. During the prophetic era and closely after, jinn possession doesn’t seem to have been a notable social phenomenon nor widely acknowledged or discussed, nor has exorcism for possession been explicitly recorded as either conducted by the Prophet or the companions in his midst. No sahabi is recorded as having been definitively taken over and possessed, nor were the Prophet and his companions recorded as having performed ruqyah for possession (I’ll address the hadith of Uthman b. al-Aas later). It’s simply absent from the general picture of early Islam and their engagement with the unseen, yet today you’d think we’re under mass invasion!
7. People experience events/happenings. Their experiences are real and I don’t deny them, but what they make of the event is a matter of perception and interpretation, which is subjective. Two variant witnesses might interpret the same event in very different ways. I believe ruqyah can work for the afflicted, mainly as a source of comfort and as a supplication to God to relieve the person’s condition. But ruqyah to drive out an invading spirit that isn’t actually there doesn’t even make sense.
8. There are many issues with the position (which is why advocates tend to suspend reason on this topic, whilst inconsistently reasoning verses that seem problematic to their position). If reciting some verses (and a sprinkle of holy water/salt) ejects spirits, how is it that the many people purported to be possessed offer salah and attend Jumuah? If it’s claimed that the sahabah were possessed, how so when the Prophet was consistently exhorting them with the Qur’an? If ‘touch’ is possession, was the Prophet Job possessed by the devil (see: 38:41)?! Even if we accept the interpretation of advocates, how is it that an alleged phenomenon so widespread and debilitating was never directly addressed by the Prophet, and no explicit guidance offered? Furthermore, in our context the main challenge to faith is atheism, so why would the devil and his minions possess people only to reveal the unseen to them and prove that religious claims are accurate – it doesn’t seem like a solid strategy. And why is it that those who dismiss jinn possession (Muslims and non-Muslims alike) aren’t ever possessed and seemingly immune, yet those who take it seriously are the ones under the constant threat of invasion?
9. In this context I believe most raqis are charlatans and fraudsters who’ve found a way to benefit from the vulnerabilities and desperation of others. I believe some are sincere but ignorant and believe in what they’re doing, others acknowledge that they’re simply offering comfort to the afflicted and a supplication. Over the years I’ve personally met all these types who’ve respectively confided in me.
10. I can’t see any benefit to this belief (which is highly speculative to begin with). It does not increase godliness and instead causes people to obsess over supernatural spirits rather than focus on the Most High productively. It tends to promote a superstitious attitude and a preoccupation with the occult and supernatural, grant the jinn powers they don’t have whilst confusing the servant as to the cause of his/her tests. Many have seen how it proves a distraction from, and a convenient onus for, a person’s shortcomings. Overarchingly, it fosters a culture that demotes reason which then feeds into the general way we do faith. On the flipside, dismissing jinn possession means we seek constructive solutions rather than simply putting problems down to ghosts. It gives less succour to the devil, firstly by further undermining a culture of superstition, and secondly by rendering the devil irrelevant. In this vein the Prophet said: “Don’t say: ‘May Satan perish!’ for if you do he swells up with pride until he is as big as a house and says: ‘It is by my might!’ Instead say: ‘In the name of God’ and if you say this he’ll shrink until he is as small as a fly.” (Abu Dawud) Think about it, jinn possession offers the devil exactly what he loves, undue focus and attention, and for something the Qur’an tells us he can’t even do! Dismissing this idea diminishes the devil as a distraction whilst also placing culpability back in our own laps. Most significantly, it removes a major distraction from our focus on God and subservience to Him where we develop ubudiyyah built on His supreme glory and majesty, and we attribute all power to Him alone in thankful worshipfulness – and not because we’re just scared the spirits will get us. In this way, dismissing the idea that jinns possess humans is advantageous to glorifying God and engendering Abrahamic monotheism (hanifiyah) which is ultimately what God wants us to do.