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The Evil Twin: On the Concept of the Qarīn, Our Personal Satan (Shaitan)

Updated: Jan 9

By: A. W. Finnegan


Recently, I have devoted much time pondering and researching a very intriguing concept due to my interest and work with the jinn, and that topic is the concept of the Qarīn or personal shaitan spoken of in the Qu'ran, a spiritual companion or double that has dominion over the lower natures and ego, acting like a personal satan or devil. This is not strictly an Islamic concept, however, it was known in pre-Islamic Arabia, but like the topic of the jinn, the most notable source for its existence is the Qu'ran. However, it may go by other names depending on the age and region of the world throughout history.


The story goes that all humans are accompanied throughout their life by two spiritual companions of an opposing nature, on the one side, the Guardian Angel, ruling our beneficent and divine nature, on the other side, our personal satan, known in Islam as the Qarīn (Qareen, قرين), which in Arabic, can refer to a "companion" and, more specifically, a jinn-like companion assigned to each human at birth and remains with them throughout the entirety of their life. The purpose of this companion is to act as the personal Satan (Shaitan), tempting and persuading one to act through the lower natures predisposed to sin and turning away from God.


One description from the book "Religion and Folk Cosmology scenarios of the visible and invisible in rural Egypt," describes the qarīn as follows:


The double (qarīn) is what can be labeled as the "invisible iconic double." The Arabic word qarln is derived from the root "q-r-n," meaning to tie or compare something with something else. In daily life, a friend or spouse is known as qarīn (fem, qarīnah). Although the nature of the invisible double is portrayed differently by individuals in various contexts, there are some common attributes ascribed to it. On the one hand, the double (qarīn) is identical to the person in every aspect, including gender and temper, except that it is invisible. It represents the mimetic image or unseen replica of the body or person.20 On the other hand, the double is not just an imagined iconic figure, but rather is an invisible constituent of the living person that metaphorically resembles the image or reflection of that person within a mirror. Physical, moral, and social attributes of the person are refracted in the double. If a person is left-handed or one-eyed, his or her double would be the same. Another view implies that the double is associated with the convention that everything animate or inanimate, except for jinn, has a shadow. The double is viewed as an invisible shadow or image that can make itself visible. Like a shadow, the double accompanies the person wherever he or she goes.21 The double is born with the person and feels, thinks, and does whatever the person does. It dies immediately after the person's death and is resurrected with the person on the Day of Judgment, where it will serve as a critical witness confirming or denying the person's claims about him- or herself. [1]


This personal shaitan, acting as a companion assigned to each person seems to imply that it is serving God's plan in tempting and testing the human, and brings them a personal Hell when the human turns away from God and the Divine.


In the Qu'ran, Chapter 43: 36, it states:


"And whosoever turns away from remembering and mentioning the Most Beneficent, we appoint for him a Satan to be a Qareen to him." [2]


In Qu'ran, Chapter 4: 38, it states:


Likewise for those who spend their wealth to show off and do not believe in Allah or the Last Day. And whoever takes Satan as a companion —what an evil companion they have! [3]


According to Abu Amina Elias, from the Daily Hadith Online, citing Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2814, all humans are accompanied by a personal satan from among the jinn:


Abdullah ibn Mas’ud reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Each one of you has a devil-companion from the jinn over him.” They said, “Even you, O Messenger of Allah?” The Prophet said, “Even me, yet Allah helped me against him until he embraced Islam. He does not order me to do anything but good.” [4]


Information on the qarīn is scarce, sometimes contradictory, while other times may have been called other names in other regions and periods. The Greek may have called it the personal Daimon, the Romans, the personal genii.


Barbara Drieskens gave some intriguing insight in a chapter 06 of the text, Standing Trial: Law and the Person in the Modern Middle East. In this chapter, the concept of the qarīn is addressed in more depth, and seems to show its existence in other civilizations like the ancient Egyptians, and in some cases, brought inspiration to the poets of the pre-Islamic period :


In the stories of the elder Cairene women and men, spirits appear to be more like companions and allies. Although they are always unpredictable and dangerous to a certain degree, they are not enemies that have to be driven out of the body with threats, beating or burning. If you know how to treat them well, they provide protection and companionship. The qarîn is the most striking example of such a spirit. Most Egyptians believe that every human being is accompanied by a qarîn from birth until death. Their descriptions of these qarîn are much more diverse and contradictory than those of the djinns. As with all matters, the ultimate reference for knowledge concerning the invisible world is the Qur’an, but although qarîn are mentioned a few times in the Holy Book, the information on them is limited and not very clear.25


The qarîn has a double origin in Egypt. The Islamic concept is identified with the representation that the ancient Egyptians had of persons and their doubles.26 We can see bas-reliefs on the wall of the temple of Luxor representing the god of creation, Khnum, modelling the Pharaoh out of clay. On the potter’s wheel, we can see not only one small person in clay but two: it is the Pharaoh Amenhotep and his double. In the first place, the persistence of pharaonic practices and concepts, especially in the life-world of local Egyptian women, is real27 and these ancient representations probably lie at the basis of the idea that the qarîn is made out of clay like us and lives below the surface of the earth, mirroring our actions. The qarîn is often referred to as ukht min taht al-’ard (sister from under the earth).


Second, some consider this double more like a kind of djinn living amongst us, made out of fire and invisible to most of us, but accompanying us in everything that we do and everywhere we go. This idea can be traced back to the pre-Islamic Arabian understanding of the word qarîn and, as such, the term is mentioned quite a few times in the Qur’an. Qarîn in old Arabia was also the djinn who accompanied a poet and brought the poet’s verses; this use has been transferred in Islam to the angel who was with the Prophet and who brought him his revelations. The double inspires his brother or sister in many different ways; this inspiration is an important aspect in the context of this research and we will demonstrate the compulsivity of this inspiration in cases of spirit possession. The first commentators on the Qur’an spoke of two angels accompanying a person and inspiring him or her in his choices: one who tempts that person into evil and the other who induces him or her to do good,28 and it is in this moral sense that the word is used by some Egyptian people with a more specific interest in religious matters.


There is also no agreement from the different sources on the sex of the qarîn. Some say that every woman has a spirit brother as a reversed double, others say she has a sister mirroring her in all her actions, marrying when she marries and giving birth when she gives birth. The sexual connotation in many of the stories about humans and their double is evident. In suburban Cairo, people are well aware of the bad influence of a jealous qarîn. Sometimes the relation between a human and his or her double is so intimate that the qarîn would not permit him or her to marry or to have contact with his or her spouse. When a qarîn is unsatisfied with the behaviour of its human counterpart, it can harm him or her through nightmares, headaches, or loss of weight and energy. There is also the question of whether the spirit is an integral part of the person or if it is to be considered as alien, a different and separate being, a person in itself. The case of the qarîn is particularly interesting in this perspective, because it seems to occupy an intermediate position. The qarîn is the other self: somewhere between the idea of the person and the spirit as separate entities and the idea of the spirit as an integral part of the person. [5]


Some sources may have simply used the term "personal jinni" rather than "qarīn," but much confusion has abound over the centuries, where many terms could be used to describe the same thing, or the same term could be used to describe many different things. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the term jinn itself, derived from the root J-n-n, as this was originally to mean "to be veiled, to be covered" [6], which included angels, demons, as well as the beings with free will distinct from both as ancient counterparts of the human race, today known as the Jinn.


Over time, the terms Jinn and demon have often been used interchangeably, along with shaitan. This is probably similar to how some might call a troublesome human a demon, in an adjective sense, though some use that term to also describe an evil, supernatural entity in a literal sense. Shaitan has been used also to describe a special class of Jinn. To further obscure distinctions, the names of different classes of jinn can also be used as adjectives, take on multiple meanings and denote different concepts, meaning different things to different people, depending on the ages and regions. It makes sorting out such distinctions extremely difficult if not impossible. However, Ibn 'Arabī, a Sufi mystic who wrote a chapter on the Jinn in his Chapter 9 of the Futūhāt al-Makkiyya, says of the term shaitan:


The one who rebels amongst the jinns is a satan (shaytān), that is to say, he distances himself from the Mercy of God.[54] The first of the jinns to be called Satan was Hārith: God made him into a devil (ablasahu),[55] that is to say, He drove him away from His Mercy and drove Mercy away from him. From him all the demons (satans) have sprung. There were some of them who had faith, such as Hāma b. al- Hām b. Lāqīs b. Iblīs, who is known as a believing jinn; those who remained as non-believers were demons. [7]


This idea of rebel seems to be reflected in a 2016 textbook, "Living and Dying in the Contemporary World : a Compendium," in a chapter contributed by Sylvain Perdigon about a jinn-like female demon, al-Qireyne, and its discussion among refugees in refugee camps in Palestine, where the comparison to the qarin is made, describing it as an evil impulse and shaitan companion, not a jinn, but from the jinn:


Exegetes of the Quran typically interpret these passages so as to confine its relevance purely to the domain of personal ethics. In this reading, al-Qarin is described as the demon (al-shaytan) individually appointed to each human being and tasked with tempting and misguiding her with its whispers. Muhammad Asad takes this ethical interpretation to the limit by translating “shaytan,” in the Quranic aya mentioned above, as “evil impulse,” and “qarin” as “his other self,” thus also enclosing al-Qarin definitely into the subject. Such interpretations stand in tension with alternative, orally based traditions that, on the contrary, emphasize the relative exteriority of al-Qarin (often in the feminine form al-Qarina) to the self, and endow it with attributes such as a sexual identity and personality traits—including, most prominently, jealousy (e.g., Drieskens 2008, 151–54).


These ontological debates, however, do not resonate strongly with the concerns of everyday life in the camps in Tyre. My Palestinian interlocutors who either were them selves afflicted by al-Qireyne or attended to the anguish of others seemed to adhere to a shared understanding of al-Qireyne as a reality intermediate, and mediating, between the jinn and the self (al-nafs). When asked, many of them described al-Qireyne as “mush jinn, bas men al-jinn” (literally, “not a jinn, but from the jinn”), in a phrase that in some respects echoes the words of the Prophet in the aforementioned hadith. But that’s about it. [8]


There seems also to be parallels here to the idea of a personal 'ifrit, though distinct from the the class of jinn known by the same name. This personal 'ifrit was said to act as the ghost of a person, depending on how they died, which may be a troublesome spirit left behind after death and may be the essence people see as ghosts. It seems to be comparable to the qarīn:


On the other hand, 'ifrīt is considered to be a component of the person insofar as it refers to the ghost of the dead person. The ghost is most often described in negative terms, depending on how the person died. A person who died naturally does not have an active or dangerous 'ifrīt. People who are killed, however, are believed to have very dangerous and active 'afarīt. In short, the 'ifrīt leaves the body at death; however, it is mortal until resurrection. After the person's death, his or her 'ifrīt lives in the cemetery or, if the person was killed, wanders in the street and around places where the dead person used to frequent. Other perspectives suggest that the 'ifrīt is the frustrated double (qarīn), whose image is identical to that of the victim at the moment of death. It is worth noting that people metaphorically associate a person's bad emotional temper with that of the 'ifrīt. I heard Shaikh Tsa, a prominent medicine man known for his power of blessing, say that the violent and agitated mood of the self renders the person vulnerable to evil jinn to ride him (yarkabu) but not to possess him. Intense and disruptive emotions generated by an inflamed self suggest that the fire (nār) of which the 'ifrīt is made is metaphorically used to depict the destructive aspect of the person. For instance, when a person becomes angry with somebody else, he usually threatens or warns him or her by saying, "Do not let me unleash my 'ifrīt " (attalla' 'ifrītī 'alayk) or "My 'ifrīt is coming out" ('ifrīt tāhi'). Moreover, an energetic, sometimes troublesome person is depicted as 'ifrīt [.] [9]


The term qarīn as "companion" seems to have also been used to describe both the guardian angel and the personal shaitan, just as the term daimon, seems to have been used in the context of a good daimon and a bad daimon.


For example, chapter 50: 23 of the Qu'ran seems to use the term qarīn denoting "companion" to describe the guardian angel, which keeps the records of the deeds of a persons life:


And one’s [qarīn]-angel will say, “Here is the record ready with me.” [10]


The concept of "qarīn" is also compatible with the idea of our shadow, the dark, subconscious, imaginal side given to us from the jinn, though in this context it was as a tempter or personal shaitan with a predisposition for the side of us that is animalistic and always creating illusion. This reflects one of my earlier articles I had published, The Trickster Self: Avoiding Our Truth by the Lies We Tell Ourselves. The qarīn as trickster further complicates the idea that not all jinn are evil or considered a shaitan, but the personal qarīn from the jinn had this role. We must remember that in both jinn and humans, the free will brings both good and bad among us, being exactly parallel.


God willed that the personal qarīn should act as a rebel and tempt us. It brings forth a profound Truth about the Great Mystery of Creation, that the personal shaitan as a qarīn is actually faithfully serving God's will and plan, to act as the evil impulse in order to test, one might say, train, our adherence to God/Divine Law and to bring those who disobey Divine Law a personal Hell.


Perhaps this too gives us a clue about the origin and nature and origins of Iblis. For it is told that Iblis was one of God's most faithful, a jinn raised amongst the angels, comparable to Lucifer's former ranks in heaven. There was much theological debate as to the origins of Iblis and his relation to angels. [11] If the jinn were the pre-Adamite man, God's prototype of man, it is likely they were created from amongst the angels, eventually giving them free will, knowing what the result would eventually be, paving way for the human race. I believe Jinn are also their own race of beings still existing and not merely a side of the human mind, though it seems part of their blueprint went into the creation of humans and we have also a companion or side to us inherited from the jinn. Free will was God's gift to his Beloved Creations, that would be ever growing toward perfection but never reaching it.


It brings us to another profound Truth; what would be the purpose of existence if we were all perfected beings without any need for improvement? What would it mean for growth? What would it mean for further purpose or the need to nurture and love Creation? It is one of those fundamental, intrinsic Mysteries about God's plan, and only the Heavenly Father holds the unknowable secret to its Great Mystery


References

[1] El-Aswad, el-S. (2002). Chapter 04. The Hierarchical Microcosm visible and invisible aspects of the person. In Religion and folk cosmology: Scenarios of the visible and invisible in rural Egypt (pp. 101–102). essay, Praeger.


[2] Surah Az-Zukhruf - 43: 36. Quran.com. (n.d.). Retrieved January 3, 2023, from https://quran.com/43?startingVerse=36


[3] Surah An-Nisa 4: 38. Quran.com. (n.d.). Retrieved January 3, 2023, from https://quran.com/4?startingVerse=38


[4] Ask A Scholar. (n.d.). Jinn comrade (Qareen): How to get rid of it? Islam Awareness. Daily Hadith Online. Retrieved January 2, 2023, from: https://www.islamawareness.net/Jinn/fatwa_comrade.html


[5] Dupret, B., & Drieskens, B. (2004). Chapter 06: The Misbehaviour of the Possessed: On Spirits, Morality and the Person. In Standing trial law and the person in the modern Middle East (pp. 152–154). essay, I.B. Tauris.


[6] El-Zein, A. The evolution of the concept of the jinn from pre-islam to Islam . Georgetown University. (1995).


[7] Ibn 'Arabī. (n.d.). On the inner knowledge of spirits made of an igneous mixture (jinn) : [Chapter 09 of the Futūhāt al-Makkiyya]. Internet Archive. Retrieved January 5, 2023, from https://archive.org/details/IbnAlArabiFutuhatChapter9OnTheInnerKnowledgeOfSpiritsMadeOfAnIgneousMixtureJINN/mode/2up


[8] Das, V., Han, C., & Perdigon, S. (2016). Chapter 07. Bleeding Dreams: Miscarriage and the Bindings of the Unborn in the Palestinian Refugee Community of Tyre, South Lebanon. In Living and dying in the contemporary world: A compendium (pp. 145). essay, University of California Press.


[9] El-Aswad, el-S. (2002). Chapter 04. The Hierarchical Microcosm visible and invisible aspects of the person. In Religion and folk cosmology: Scenarios of the visible and invisible in rural Egypt (pp. 103–104). essay, Praeger.


[10] Surah Qaf - 50: 23. Quran.com. (n.d.). Retrieved January 4, 2023, from https://quran.com/50?startingVerse=23


[11] El-Zein, A. (2009). Chapter 03. Beings of Light and Fire. In Islam, Arabs, and the intelligent world of the jinn (pp. 39–47). essay, Syracuse University Press.



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