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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Opening cultural curtains, 17 Dec 2010
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This review is from: Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar (Hardcover)
This is a great book about fire spirits or jinn. It's about their possible origins, their families and religions, their interaction with humanity, their malevolence and kindness, likes and dislikes.

It appears that jinn don't like citrons (the fruit, not the Citroen car) although they probably don't like Citroens either because they dislike iron; they also dislike salt. Hence, perhaps the use of horse shoes above doors and various superstitions about throwing salt; in Japan, they throw salt to purify a sumo ring. The next time you meet a jinn please ask him or her why they don't like salt when they like the sea; they also like living at crossroads, in ruins, in sewers, down wells, in or beside rivers, in caves and in houses which have been empty for a while; which makes the excellent introduction by Tahir Shah relevant as he experienced jinn while renovating a house in Morocco.

Having read this book, there seem to be few qualities possessed by jinn that do not play on human hopes and fears. They live for a long time, yet most of us have puny life spans and fear death; they often have fabulous wealth or are able to produce it in an instant as in the tale of Maruf the Cobbler; they have incredible skills and can make jewelry which cannot be surpassed in beauty by human beings; they can travel at impressive speed. Yet, as Robert Lebling points out, they are very human; they have families, religions, although they live longer than us they are not immortal, they belong to large social groups and are tribal; but, whether or not they can enter paradise is disputed. Whether their leader, Iblis, is a fallen angel or was born a fire spirit is also disputed.

The real problem for would-be geni spotters is that jinn seem to be most visible to genuine sufis and prophets; in other words to men and women at the very top of the human pyramid who have the capacity to see them; the wise. It's perhaps not a coincidence that when King Solomon was asked which gift he would like, he chose wisdom and that he had power over the jinn who helped him to build his temple. The book also points out that humans can marry jinn and that Bilqis, Queen of Sheba (King Solomon's wife) was perhaps half jinn.

If asked, who lives in a ruined castle in desolate mountains? Who cannot be seen in a mirror? Who has lived for centuries? Who can cause a change in local weather and shape shift from human to animal? Who comes out at night and sucks human blood? You might answer Dracula and it's quite possible that Bram Stoker (author of Dracula) was inspired by the nineteenth century poet laureate, Robert Southey, whose eastern interests are explained by Robert Lebling; but if you asked these questions in the east the answer would almost certainly be 'a jinn'; and there are many fascinating cross-cultural aspects to this book.

But what are jinn? Are they real? Are they allegorical and symbolic of psychological behaviour? Are they cunning literary devices? Are they a means of reconciling happenings we don't understand? Are they mere superstition? Are they spirits from a parallel world? After all, they are mentioned in the Quran and the Quran informs us that Allah is Lord of the Worlds (note the plural: Worlds; which may include a world for the jinn). Or, are they all of these and more? Whatever they may be, having read this book, you'll be able to make a better decision. There's so much here, it's a great book, it will make your mind fly like the most aerobatic fire spirit.
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