Arabian mythology is replete with strange, unusual, or outright impossible creatures. Perhaps the best known of these myths is the djinn, more commonly referred to as a genie. From the slave of the lamp in Aladdin to the baleful demon in Wes Craven's Wishmaster djinni are depicted as everything from helpful friends to cunning, wicked adversaries. Though there are many kinds of djinni one that has become the most famous over the years is the Ifrit.
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So What Is An Ifrit?
The Ifrit are described in myth as creatures that are more powerful than men and spirits, but who are beneath angels in power. While often depicted as cruel or capricious Ifrit are a race that is capable of both good and evil. These beings lived like desert tribesmen, with a rigidly structured hierarchy of chiefs and families. They often inter-married among themselves, but they could marry and have children with humans as well. Ifrit (or Ifritah as females are sometimes designated) could be Muslim or not, and they could be wise and helpful or sly and destructive with their power. Even the name Ifrit means strong one.
There are many kinds of djinn, and each one corresponds to the element it is born from. Ifrit are beings of fire, but they also have the power to change their shapes. They can take the form of dogs, smoke, fire, and even average, harmless-looking people. An Ifrit might disguise itself this way to take travelers unawares, or to pass unseen and unnoticed among humans. These beings were also stronger and faster than humans, and they were proud they had been one of the first beings to be created from primal fire. This led to several instances in mythology where Ifrit resented humanity for their high place in the world, and the divine favor shown to them (since humans are a much younger race made of brittle clay). Some legends say Ifrit may appear as men and women who had been turned black from fire, and it was because of this legend that many Africans were referred to as Ifrit by those in the Middle East.
What About That Whole Genie In a Lamp Thing?
Ifrit were feared by humans, and rightly so. In addition to being stronger and faster, able to take on many shapes and to cast spells, Ifrit were also immune to harm from mortal weapons. Only magic could harm them, but it could also subjugate these creatures to the will of humans. With the proper spells an Ifrit could be bound to servitude and forced to use its powers at the behest of the one who held the object it was bound to. This is where the three wishes legend started, though it was more common for the djinn to simply do as it was bid by whomever its master was until ownership of the item transferred to a new master.
If you were arrogant or desperate enough to command an unwilling djinn though you had to be very, very specific regarding your wishes. An Ifrit might follow the letter of the command rather than the spirit of it, and thus subvert its master's will even while following its master's commands.
Ifrit are also mentioned as vying for King Solomon's attentions in the Koran. For clarification, this is the same Solomon whose mediation techniques were threatening to cut a baby in half. An Ifrit boasted it could bring Solomon the throne of the Queen of Sheba faster than anything else, though for its pride the Ifrit was outdone by the power of prayer.