Tag Archives: Islam


Background: The informant (A) is my roommate, the daughter of two Pakistani immigrants. She grew up in the US and frequents Pakistan during breaks from school. She is Muslim and participates in many of the religion’s practices.

A: So the like…background of this is that in Islam there are these other creatures that exist and one is called a Jinn. It’s made of fire and like…exists between our human realm and where angels or heaven and hell are….those are called Jannah and Jannath in Arabic. And Jinns can like…..kind of like possess you, and my mom would always tell me this one blessing to say to get rid of Jin. And then that one night I had sleep paralysis and I saw this like…creepy human man figure next to my bed. And obviously I was scared and like….frozen…or paralyzed so I couldn’t move but I started like…whispering the blessing my mom had told me but the Jinn started getting closer and I just kept saying the blessing. And then eventually it just went away and I fell asleep. But when I told my mom she was like, “There’s definitely something bad around you.”

Me: So where’d you learn about Jinns?

A: I heard about them in the Quran and stories of like…personal experiences with them are passed down a lot. Like my grandma believes that Jinns are really attracted to her and will follow her around, I can’t think of any specific stories she’s told me but I know she’s thought that for a long time.

Context: This was told to me during a recorded in person interview. The informant presumed that the figure she saw during sleep paralysis was a Jinn and that it was visiting her due to some sort of evil energy or happenings near her. The informant was recounting the story she had told me at an earlier date.

Afghanistan: Mullah Joke and Religious Rigidity

Context: TA is a 71 year old clan head in Afghanistan and served as the Minister of International Relations for a previous president of Afghanistan. In this joke, he mentions Mullahs, which are educated Muslim men who often teach the religion. In the joke, TA discusses differences in religious rigidity.

Main Piece: The following joke was told to TA about six or seven years ago from some students he encountered in an Afghan village. He told me that the joke is primarily about religious rigidity, and it makes fun of how some people are too rigid with religious beliefs. 


TA: Some boys, their fathers send them to the temple on Fridays to listen to some recitation from the Holy Book. And then the Mullah also tries to teach them religion. And he was telling the boys, “If at any time you have a crush on a woman or someone, you must go and take a bath because you’re not clean and you have to be clean to offer worship… you won’t be able to do that if you have a crush on the woman or you see her in a dream. But the thing is even if you have a dream, you’re dreaming of another woman and you’re dreaming of having sex with her. You must go, even if you don’t have any intimate relations with her, just go and tell her so that she also takes a bath.” So some young guys, they’re smart guys, and they wanna make fun of him. So the next morning he goes and he knocks on the Mullah’s door, he says “I’m sorry to say this, but last night I had a dream, and I had your wife with me in the dream. If you could please ask your wife to take a bath.” So the guy is very angry, but he can’t say anything because that’s what he taught them. And the next day he goes and talks to him again, and the Mullah says “what now?” And the guy says “Well, Mullah, you take a bath please.”

[Laugh together]

HR: Do you know, where did you first hear that joke?

TA: I was in a village in Afghanistan just a few years ago, 6-7 years ago, these were students I was talking to, and they told me this story…

HR: Do you think that this was a joke told to make fun of religion in general? Like how in the US we like to make fun of Catholic priests for some of the same things?

TA: Not so much in general, but it’s just about the rigidity… some people see religion as very rigid, and others don’t.

Thoughts: I think that the humor in it is similar to the humor in making fun of Western religious teachings. Whenever religion is so rigid that it locks people into hard rules for their lives, it invites them to challenge that authority through humor. This joke provides a divergence from religious culture while tying into the direct punchlines of other Afghan jokes.

Muslim Traveling Superstition

Main Piece (direct transcription):

Mom: Before dad and I went on our honeymoon to Madrid, dad’s mom held up the Quran, and so did his grandmother, and we actually had to walk underneath the Quran to prevent anything evil from happening to us in our travels.

Me: It wasn’t just for the plane; it was for all of your travels?

Mom: Well, they didn’t state it, but I felt it was like their way of confirming that our trip would be as safe as possible.


Context: The informant, my mother, is a pharmacy administrator living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  She was originally born in New York but moved to New Mexico with her family at a young age.  Her father, a playwright and artist, was invested in his Native American heritage.  From her travels around New Mexico, moving from place to place when she was young, and also hearing stories from her father and my father, who is from Iran, she has gathered a variety of folktales.  My dad is originally from Iran, and all his family members are also from Iran, so my mom and I were talking about Iranian superstition and folklore that my mom has experienced while being married to him.  Since my grandmother is heavily Muslim, and is a very superstitious woman, my mom has learned about most Iranian superstitions through her.



My Thoughts: This is interesting because it is my mom’s, who is American, viewpoint on Iranian superstition.  Even though my grandma and my great-grandma did not explain to my mom why they wanted them to walk under the Quran before their travels, my mom was able to guess the purpose of it.  Although different cultures have their own superstitions, I feel like many feelings of superstition and fear are universal.  This superstition made me think about how different individuals express different feelings of things such as fear, excitement, and happiness.  People in America might say, “Have a safe flight!” or “Safe travels!” before a major trip such as a honeymoon; however my Iranian family wanted my parents to walk underneath a Quran to express this sentiment.

Jinn in Zanzibar


Stanley Kalu was raised in Nigeria. Since then, he and his family have lived in various African countries. He currently studies screenwriting at the University of Southern California. He is a friend of mine, and he has often told me stories about growing up in Nigeria. I asked him for folklore, and without even needing to ask for Nigerian folklore, he offered up several pieces, including two proverbs. When I asked why he gave me two proverbs, he said that his mother often said them to him, and that mothers and their proverbs are so infamous that there are meme websites dedicated to them that he visits when he feels homesick.


Stanley: So, I was going, my name is Stanley Kalu. I was going on a trip to a beach in Zanzibar and a Muslim friend of mine told me to watch out for Jinn. And I was like, “what’s a Jinn?” And she was like, “Yo, Jinns are like these people that look like people but aren’t people, they’re like more genies and they walk backwards and what they’ll do, what they do is they’ll trick you and steal your soul. So when you’re in Zanzibar living it up, sipping Mojitos on the beach, do not, if a person comes up to you walking backwards, run the fuck away.


In Muslim tradition, Jinn are spirits that can appear in human and animal form to possess humans. Often, Jinn require sacrifices and a commitment to them in order for them to be kind in return. In my previous understanding of Jinn, they possess humans or ask for tasks from humans. Stanley’s explanation of them “stealing souls” could be a simplification of their purpose. It could also show the particular folk beliefs about Jinn in Zanzibar–that perhaps they are used as a scare tactic, something to avoid at all costs.


My informant talked about the world of jinn. In Arab culture, but mostly from Islam there is mention of the jinn. They are kind of like ghosts that live in their own world. They are not necessarily bad. My informant described the jinn as just a spiritual being that existed in another world next to ours.


What I found interesting about this being is the definition my friend gave on what a jinn is. It was not what I had heard before. I had heard jinns being synonymous with genies. It was also interesting to see that these superstitions can be found within the pages of the Quran. (For another version of this spiritual being see “jinn de” in the USC Folklore Archives)