Islam and the supernatural

Can jinns possess objects or show themselves?

assalamu alaykum, can jinns posess inanimate objects like dolls?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

As I explain in my answer The Islamic Case for Scientific Empiricism and Skepticism toward Supernatural Phenomena, the Quran’s theology strongly supports having a skeptical view toward supposedly supernatural phenomena, because the Quran often suggests that we will never see evidence for the Unseen world until the Day of Judgment. Anything that is provably supernatural can be said to be evidence for the Unseen, which contradicts the Quran’s position that the Unseen will remain, well, unseen, until the world ends.

From what I gather, jinns have only one power: to inspire thoughts in humans. They have no power over the physical world. In the story of Prophet Sulayman we have mentions of jinns/devils building things for him and carrying out other tasks. That appears to have been an exception that was specifically made for Sulayman, similar to magical-sounding powers he was given by God. There is not the slightest hint in the Quran that jinns can interact with the physical world as a general rule. There are many hadith narrations of varying authenticity that mention the jinns. Some of them fit the Quran’s view that jinns can only interact through inspiration, while others mention them doing physical things. Such hadith narrations should be treated with great skepticism since hadith scholars like al-Bukhari used lax criteria when dealing with hadiths that did not contain legal doctrines. On the issue of jinns interacting with the physical world, since this is apparently against Quranic doctrine, we should demand extremely high standards of authenticity before believing in them (one high standard is to require three separate Companions to transmit the same hadith). I have not done a thorough study in all the main books of hadith, but my short study of some sources did not turn up any hadiths that mention jinns interacting with the physical world that matched the three-Companion standard.

Their ability to inspire thoughts is counterbalanced by God and the angels who protect faithful humans from such thoughts. The farther that a person strays away from God, the more unprotected they become and the more vulnerable to evil inspirations.

The devils inspire their followers to argue with you; but if you obey them, you would be polytheists. (The Quran, verse 6:121)

God is the Lord of those who believe; He brings them out of darkness and into light. As for those who disbelieve, their lords are the evil ones; they bring them out of light and into darkness... (The Quran, verse 2:257)

Some He has guided, and some have deserved misguidance. They have adopted the devils for patrons rather than God, and they assume that they are guided. (The Quran, verse 7:30)

11. They will say, “Our Lord, you made us die twice, and twice you gave us life. Now we acknowledge our sins. Is there any way out?”12. That is because when God alone was called upon, you disbelieved; but when others were associated with Him, you believed. Judgment rests with God the Sublime, the Majestic. (The Quran, verse 40:11-12)

The Islamic Case for Scientific Empiricism and Skepticism toward Supernatural Phenomena

In answer to questions regarding people observing miracles

I would explore all possible scientific explanations for seemingly miraculous events before thinking of supernatural causes. Even if there is no scientific explanation now, one may find such an explanation one day. As I mention in my essays on why God allows evil to exist and on reconciling Islam and the theory of evolution, one of God’s self-imposed rules is the principle of plausible deniability: God never performs anything provably supernatural for us to see.  God always wants Himself to be hidden from us. That is what His dual attributes of al-Ẓāhir al-Bāṭin (The Clearly Visible, the Hidden) refer to. God is everywhere to be seen for a person who has faith in Him. But He is also completely hidden from direct observation.

We hear stories about some person’s friend’s relative who saw a clear and obvious miracle but miraculously failed to take a video of it. Rather than believing such stories, if we were to take the Quran seriously, we would be as skeptical about them as an atheist is. We fully believe in the miracles mentioned in the Quran, but we also believe the Quran when it says God will no longer show us any miracles that force us to believe in Him.

God is involved in our lives every moment of every day, but, and this is a very important point, He never provably involves Himself in our lives. He will always leave sufficient room for doubt so that when He answers a prayer we can always later say it was actually just an accident that the prayer came true. God does not want us to see Him or see effects of His actions directly. He wants our faith in Him to be a completely free and unforced choice. He wants us to proactively appreciate Him and love Him. He does not want us to passively be forced by external evidence to submit to Him.

I occasionally get messages from Muslims asking what “proof” there is that God exists and that Islam is the true religion. They have the mistaken idea that it is the job of Islamic scholars to prove Islam for them. They got it backward: It is their job to seek God and seek proofs of the correctness of Islam. Islamic scholars can help, but ultimately the business of faith is a personal business between each person and God. God has zero need for people. A person who fails to do their homework of proactively seeking God has no one to blame but themselves on the Day of Judgment.