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By Aboo Ameenah Bilaal Philips

Chapter 2 of his book “The Exorcist Tradition in Islaam” © 1997 Dar Al Fatah


The most commonly used term for spirit-possession in Arabic is sara‘. This term is also applied to epilepsy and the fits associated with it. The possessed person is called masroo‘. These terms come from the root sara‘a, which basically means “to throw down on the ground.” The passive form verb suri‘a means to be affected with epilepsy, diabolical possession or madness.[1]

Another frequently used term is mass, coming from the root massa which literally means “to touch with hand.” Mass is also used to mean madness or diabolical possession, as in the phrase bihee mass, “in him is madness.” One possessed is called mamsoos.[2]

Among the meaning of the term “khabtah” (literally, “a strike or hit”) is “a touch, stroke of diabolical possession or insanity.”[3]

In Arabic the insane person is called majnoon, which is derived from the same root as the word jinn, thereby indicating that insanity, at least in some cases, was considered to be the product of jinn-possession. E.W. Lane’s entry for majnoon reads: “possessed by a jinnee or by jinn, or by a devil, or demon; a demoniac: and hence meaning bereft of reason; or mad, insane, unsound in mind or intellect or wanting therein: (see junoon:) it may generally be rendered possessed; or mad, or insane.”[4]



[1] Arabic-English Lexicon, vol. 2, p. 1678.

[2] Ibid., pp. 2711-2712.

[3] Ibid., vol. 1, p. 698.

[4] Ibid., p. 464.

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