There is a distinction between the empirical and the trans-empirical spheres – the empirical comprises animal and vegetable life – phenomena seen and touched, and therefore measurable. The trans-empirical, composed of non-physical beings and powers, from the souls of the recently dead to God Himself, from dreams to cruel fate.
It is important to recognize that the seat of activity of trans-empirical beings, such as jinn, not necessarily limited to the supernatural world. That intermediate sphere of ‘beings’ and ‘powers’ forms the core of the cosmological outlook of ordinary Muslims.
One major element of thought influencing such categorisation of concepts of ‘being’ and ‘power’ is that of metamorphosis. Gabriel, for example, comes in the guise of Jacob to comfort Joseph when the latter is down a well.
The more common subjects of metamorphosis are the jinn. Jinn may deliberately take the form of hairs swallowed in human foods – they are able to cause internal discomforts.
The aim of jinn is thus to impinge on the human and creature worlds and entangle them in their own whims and desires. A child having a fit, believed as undergoing torture from a jinniya – such jinn are visible to children and animals while remaining unseen by human adults.
Some Muslims think that a human being may undergo metamorphosis. Such an extreme situation would only occur by strong forces instigated from the spirit world, but stories told of people who take on characteristics of the jinn after being somehow involved with them.
In a world in which all of creation is to a certain extent dynamic and interrelated, the added dimension of metamorphosis adds further complexity to the picture. Beings from the trans-empirical world may also affect other forms of life, such as crops, plants and animals, in the empirical world.
In the complex worldview of ordinary Muslims, categories are fluid, and empirical and trans-empirical forms of ‘life’ may be exchanged. A vast range of ‘powers’, both to bless and to harm, potentially affect the ordinary Muslim in the vagaries of human life lived among so many forms of ‘being’.
In a formal sense, Islam is about submission – in a philosophical sense, the details of existence for Muslims are maktub, or ‘written’. Beneath the surface of formal religion exists a complex, pragmatic world in which men and women try to rewrite what is ‘written’.