By Laila Mostafa
“Make sure you’re home before maghrib (sunset), okay? That’s when the djinn come out, you know.”
“Don’t take too long in the shower; the djinn will see you.”
“Don’t step into that house after midnight! The djinn are everywhere then.”
Although we cannot see them, djinn, or evil spirits and demons, and their stories have very much been a part of our lives for generations. For many of us in the Arab region (and beyond), djinn have represented all that is bad and evil about the world. Our ideas about and fear of the djinn were formed by the horror stories and cautionary tales we grew up with as children, whether it was the stories of Umm al-Subyan, a djinn who is believed to abduct children that are left alone, or Khattaf Rafay, a djinn who is believed to drown people at sea. As an Egyptian who grew up in the UAE, the folk tale that I heard time and again in my childhood in my family was that of El Naddaha or “The Caller,” a modern legend and female-like djinn who is said to call men to the Nile River in Egypt and lure them to their death.
Other than the fact that each of us has heard stories about them from our families and family friends, djinn have also dictated many of our lives and determined the way we live them. Personally, I know that the djinn still dictates the way my friends and I live our lives as we are forced to be back home and not go out during sunset, and this is just one instance out of many. And some of us have grown to resent this.
Of course, I cannot blame our parents and families for believing such stories about the djinn as these tales were passed down from our grandparents and the multiple generations before them. But whether we like it or not, these horror stories and late-night campfire tales make us what we are; they tie us together as a culture, and form a part of our oral heritage. Taking this into account along with arts, music and other forms of oral traditions, these stories are part of what make us Arabs, so why should they bother us?
While we could argue that these superstitions are limiting our lives and surrendering them to the mercy of a few stories, we could also choose to look at the bright side and notice how positively they impact us as an Arab community. We could focus on how djinn-related stories shape our culture and expand our minds’ creativity and logic. We could see how such stories inspire us as creators and cause us to feature them in horror movies, short stories, movies and more. Personally, I feel proud whenever I see our horror-related tales featured in Arabic movies and shows like Netflix’s “Paranormal,” that was based on a series of short stories by the late Egyptian author Ahmad Khaled Tawfik. I also feel happy whenever I read that tourists have come a long way to take a look at our alleged haunted houses or spooky palaces. I feel empowered whenever I see articles and stories being written about Arabs and our culture.
Of course, I also understand why some people would hate to see djinn stories being spread around and represented as a part of our culture. For one, it may cause people to see us as a “backward-thinking” community. The fact that they negatively dictate a lot of our lives is no picnic either. Nevertheless, I think we should understand that no matter how they affects us, djinn and their tales form a big part of our folklore and without them, there would be a huge chunk missing in the big puzzle that is our identity. For that very reason, I believe that we should celebrate our grandparents and the past generations for passing their stories down to us, impacting the world and shaping us into the culture-packed community we are today.
Laila Mostafa is an Egyptian writer and a literature student at the American University of Sharjah. Her passions include arts and culture, theatre and contemporary literature.
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