This was the word on the street today! Anyone who walked through the market, down the road, or into a teashop heard this very serious warning from others. It was then your responsibility to pass the warning on to others.
You must be wondering, if there has been some kind of water contamination in the area. Nope. A jina caught a woman, gave her this warning, and told her to tell everyone she saw. Then, nothing bad would happen.
What in the world does that mean? A jina caught a woman?
Jina comes from the same Arabic word “jinn” from which we get our word for genie. Now we Americans believe that genies are mythical beings. In Liberia, however, jinas are serious business. After asking hundreds of Liberians about jinas, we’ve learned a few things about them. Jinas are spirit beings that you can’t see unless they choose to reveal themselves to you. Most people say the jinas are white, but they come in many different shapes and sizes. Some live in the water, some in cotton trees, and others in the forest. There are one-legged jinas, one-eyed jinas, dwarf jinas and giant jinas.
Some jinas are good and some are bad. Some can possess a person and cause them to lose their mind. But most are simply powerful spirit beings that can do good or bad. They are not nearly as powerful as Allah of course, but Allah is too busy with the affairs of heaven to be overly concerned with the daily lives of human beings. People can find the spiritual power or protection they need through the help of the jinas. Some people seek the aid of jinas to get rich or to cause a person to fall in love with them. A jina may appear to a person by a river or in the forest, and with certain offerings and sacrifices cause the jina to grant their wishes.
Of course, the common man simply doesn’t have the esoteric knowledge needed to manipulate the jinas. That is why they must go to a morimen (people who know about Islamic magic) for help. The morimen possess books of secret Arabic incantations that protect people against bad jinas, or cause other jinas to do their bidding. The morimen may give their clients “nesi water” (something that our Muslim neighbors keep readily on-hand). “Nesi water” is made by writing specific verses from the Qur’an on a wooden writing slate and then washing the ink off with water. This water is bottled and then drunk or used for bathing with the belief that it will bring protection or prosperity. Many people that we see around here also wear “lasimo”, talismans made from verses from the Qur’an written on a small piece of paper, wrapped in leather, and then tied around the waist or shoulder. These practices are part of a belief system commonly called “folk Islam”. The majority of Muslims around the world actually practice some form of folk Islam, although the specifics differ in each location. Although this may seem strange, even the earliest traditions about the prophet Muhammad show that he too was concerned about the jinn and mystical curses.
So, in this particular instance, a woman claims to have encountered a jina that chose to show itself to her and give her this warning to share with the people in Voinjama. From what we can gather, people are taking the warning seriously. Our neighbors are waiting until early tomorrow morning to take a bath and say that tomorrow will be a hard day since they won’t be able to eat. No one has been able to tell us what bad thing will happen. Maybe someone will die or get very sick if they break this temporary taboo. Our neighbors respected our decision to go about our evening baths as usual and brought us our hot water. Mamasan said she would pray to God to protect us.
So far, the worst thing that has happened is that Audrey tipped her bath bucket over, flooding our living room floor. :-)
So how can we minister in a place where the average Muslim here seems to be much more concerned about the jinas and other unseen forces than they do about their eternal destiny. They are not asking, “How can I make myself righteous before God?” but rather, “How can I protect myself from the jina, or use they jina to get ahead in life?” To address these felt needs, we share stories from Scripture about God’s personal care for us. From the Gospels we teach about Jesus’ power over the evil spirits. Our Savior restored a man who called himself “Legion” because of the multitude of “jinas” that were tormenting him. And Christ died not only to free us from our sin, but also to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:8). When we are born again into God’s family, we can be free from the powers of darkness. We no longer have to live in fear of the jinas or mystical curses. For the folk Muslim, this truly is good news!