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Last week in Saudi Arabia nearly 200 elementary and middle school students "refused to attend classes after nine students claimed that genies — or jinn, as they are better known in the Arabic world — had made them sick" according to ArabNews.com, which added that "the students had fainted and experienced spasms at the start of the second semester, prompting many parents to believe jinns were present at the school."

Jinn are described in the Koran, the Muslim holy book, as creatures made by Allah of smokeless fire. Belief in jinn is widespread throughout the Arabic and Muslim world. Just as many Christians readily accept the literal reality of angels, many Muslims accept the existence of genies as self-evident. Both religions share the belief that spirits such as demons and jinn can take possession of humans. Jinn are believed, like ghosts, to haunt buildings, homes and other locations.

It will often begin with one or two people exhibiting symptoms and as others in the same location see the behavior they unconsciously begin experiencing the same or similar symptoms. Episodes are most common in closed social units such as schools and factories, and among females — likely because they tend to have stronger social bonds than males. The symptoms are not serious and go away on their own, often within hours or days.

This is not the first time that jinn have been blamed for unexplained fits in Saudi schools. In his book Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar Robert Lebling notes that in 2000:
"Newspapers in Saudi Arabia reported the haunting of the al-Fikriyah Institute of Education, a functioning girls' school in the Red Sea port of Jeddah, in an incident with unusual psycho-social overtones. A number of teachers at the school were reportedly subjected to fits and epileptic-like seizures, supposedly as a result of a (jinn) haunting."
Though many doctors attributed that incident — like the one last week — to mass hysteria, some, including a cleric tasked with investigating the matter, insisted that jinn did in fact inhabit the school and were responsible for the symptoms.

As with many folk beliefs, the reality of jinn is less important than whether people believe in them; if a group of students or teachers believe that jinn can make them faint and there is no other ready explanation, then jinn will be blamed.

Though the school fits were harmless and soon passed, sometimes these beliefs can be dangerous; earlier this month a Moroccan woman who was believed to be possessed by a jinn died during an exorcism. According to a news story:
"To cast out the evil spirit from her body, the Fqih (exorcist) loudly recited incantations and passages from the Koran, the holy book of Islam. With the help of four of his assistants, the Fqih hit her with a stick all over her body in order to 'force the evil spirit' to leave her."
In 2012 a Pakistani man and his family was convicted of killing his young wife during an exorcism who he believed was possessed by a jinn.

Jinn belief is also common among elected officials and rulers. In 2011 associates of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were accused of summoning genies to attack political adversaries supposedly giving one man a heart attack. And according to a news story last month the Turkish presidential palace has been doused with a vinegar water solution to protect it from genies — and, oddly, cyber-attacks.