Between Netflix and TikTok, the paranormal and bizarre occurrences that break the dull mundanity of everyday life have made it to the forefront of our collective consciousness. Most, bar one video found at random have focused heavily on the US, Great Britain and at times, Latin America. As your resident Gulf writer, this piece will explore three instances of hauntings and Jinn activity in Kuwait and the Wider Gulf, alongside some of their mythologized linkage to Jinn, creatures inhabiting that realm just beyond our sight.
I’d like to preface this by saying that Kuwait and all Gulf states mentioned are Gulf-Arab states ruled by a sheikhdom or kingdom system of governance. Much of these extraordinary stories are linked to the dominant and national religions of Sunni-Islam.
The Ahmadi Ghost Fires — Kuwait
Beginning in 2004, a family in the Ahmadi Governorate, south of Kuwait City began to experience frequent fires at the exact same time daily, five in the morning and evening. These fires began in the fifth month of the year. These regular fires have led to local fire services being called over 40 times in the six years since the family had moved in. A Sheikh (Muslim Scholar) has claimed that the house is inhabited by disturbed Jinn. This theory has been advanced by local fire services finding no culprit nor reason for these unexplained fires.
With regular occurrences that ebb and flow in severity, the family began residing in the one room where no fires would start. Local folklore has often gossiped about laughing, conversations and wailing be heard with the eruption of these fires. However, the latter cannot be confirmed.
The Lord of the Sea — Qatar & Wider Arabian Gulf
Centered on a water Jinn (invisible creatures in early religion within pre-Islamic Arabia and later, seen in Islamic beliefs and culture) named Bu Darya. This is a Jinn that terrorizes sailors and traditionally, pearl divers (a profession once common in the Gulf). Bu Darya is said to be an enormous hybrid human-amphibian who preys on those out at sea. A great deal of pearl divers, sailors, and even foreign merchants believed in the existence of Bu Darya and were said to take special precautions in case of a chance encounter with the Lord of the Arabian Gulf.
However, a few distinct versions of this Jinn and his blood-curdling hijinks stand out from the various iterations of this folklore. In one version of the myth, Bu Darya sneaks aboard unsuspecting ships at night under the cloak of the saline obsidian before scurrying off with crew members stolen to be devoured. In some stories, this gruesome creature would sink the ship. These stories led to a night watch aboard the vast majority of ships well into the 20th century in fear of being overcome by the mysterious Bu Darya.
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In other versions, wailing much like that of the mythical siren have been reported in haunting accounts of men sunken in the shallow waters of the Arabian Gulf. Curious, naive voyagers who answered these calls would face their swift demise. Should an entire ship respond to this wailing, then its cargo would be looted and thrown overboard while in most cases, the ship would be sunk. In this version, it is only possible to escape this wailing and repel the covert advances of Bu Darya through the repetition of Qur’anic verses.
Another widely shared version focuses less on Bu Darya directly and places greater emphasis on the hidden dangers and realities of the open sea unknown. This version is typically presented through a moralistic bent that emphasizes a metaphoric reconciliation between religious faith and cultural folklore whilst intertwining the necessity of always being alert when at sea.
Al Bahla — Oman
According to generations of locals Jinn lurk in Bahla, a still, mostly desolate town southwest of Muscat in Al-Dakiliya governorate. A grandiose imposing archway supposedly built in one night by a Jinn is just one example of the arcane ornamentation that is shrouded in mystery and lore. This town was allegedly built by two sisters, both Jinn, with one building the wall for protection while the other created an irrigation system for agriculture.
In this ancient town, stories of men transforming into animals and creatures unforgettable is rife. From fire breathing hyenas to animal disturbances in the middle of the night. This town’s folklore has left it isolated due to its reputation. Still shunned by some Omanis, this town is a glimpse into ancient Arabia but also, the age-old stories of Jinn activity and prevalent in pre Islamic and Islamic Arabia.
Jinn continue to be a source of fascination, fear and focus in the study and discussion of folklore in the Gulf and beyond. With so many stories of Jinn including those more famous in One Thousand and One Nights, is it any wonder why so many believe in their existence?