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Jahiliyyah (Arabic: جاهلية‎‎ ǧāhiliyyah/jāhilīyah "ignorance") is an Islamic concept referring to the period of time and state of affairs in Arabia before the advent of Islam.[1] It is often translated as the "Age of Ignorance"[1] and has been described as "the state of ignorance of the guidance from God."[2] The term jahiliyyah is derived from the verbal root jahala "to be ignorant or stupid, to act stupidly".[3] In modern times various Islamic thinkers have used the term to criticize what they saw as un-Islamic nature of public and private life in the Muslim world.[1]

In the Quran[edit]

The term Jahiliyyah is used several places in the Quran, and translations often use various terms to represent it:

  • (3:154) Then, following misery, He sent down upon you a feeling of security, a slumber overcoming a party among you, while another party cared only for themselves, thinking false thoughts about God, thoughts fit for the Age of Idolatry.
  • (5:50) Do they truly desire the law of paganism? But who is fairer than God in judgment for a people firm of faith?
  • (33:33) Remain in your homes, and do not display your adornments, as was the case with the earlier Age of Barbarism.
  • (48:26) For the unbelievers had planted in their hearts a zealotry, the zealotry of lawlessness ...

Historical concept[edit]

This term can be used in reference to the Arabic culture before the arrival of Islam.

Before the Islamic conversion the Arab tribes were nomadic, with a strong community spirit and some specific society rules. Their culture was patriarchal, with rudimentary religious beliefs. Although there were some traces of monotheism in the "hanifs" figures, their religious beliefs were based mostly on idol adorations[4] and social congregations once a year around the Kaaba for trading and exchanges. Since the term is, in its deep sense, used as a condition, and not as an historical period,[5] the Jahiliyya is used to describe the period of ignorance and darkness that preluded the arrival of Islam. It refers to the general condition of those that haven't accepted the Muslim faith.

Modern Jahiliyyah and Islamic revivalism[edit]

Further information: Qutbism

Medieval Islamic scholar ibn Taymiyyah was probably the first to use the term to describe backsliders in contemporary Muslim society.[6][original research?] The term "modern Jahiliyyah" was coined by the Indian Islamist writer Abul Ala Maududi, who characterized modernity with its values, lifestyles, and political norms as "the new barbarity" which was incompatible with Islam.[1] Such criticisms of modernity were taken up in the emerging anti-colonialist rhetoric and the term gained currency in the Arab world through translations of Mawdudi's work.[1] The concept of modern Jahiliyyah attained wide popularity through a 1950 work by Mawdudi's student Abul Hasan Nadvi, titled What Did the World Lose Due to the Decline of Islam?[1] Expounding Mawdudi's views, Nadvi wrote that Muslims were to be held accountable for their predicament, because they came to rely on alien, un-Islamic institutions borrowed from the West.[1]

in Egypt, Sayyid Qutb popularized the term in his influential work Ma'alim fi al-Tariq "Milestones", which included the assertion that "the Muslim community has been extinct for a few centuries."[7]

When a person embraced Islam during the time of the Prophet, he would immediately cut himself off from Jahiliyyah. When he stepped into the circle of Islam, he would start a new life, separating himself completely from his past life under ignorance of the Divine Law. He would look upon the deeds during his life of ignorance with mistrust and fear, with a feeling that these were impure and could not be tolerated in Islam! With this feeling, he would turn toward Islam for new guidance; and if at any time temptations overpowered him, or the old habits attracted him, or if he became lax in carrying out the injunctions of Islam, he would become restless with a sense of guilt and would feel the need to purify himself of what had happened, and would turn to the Quran to mold himself according to its guidance. — Sayyid Qutb[8]

Use of the term for modern Muslim society is usually associated with Qutb's other radical ideas (or Qutbism) -- namely that reappearance of Jahiliyya is a result of the lack of Sharia law, without which Islam cannot exist;[9] that true Islam is a complete system with no room for any element of Jahiliyya;[10] that all aspects of Jahiliyya ("manners, ideas and concepts, rules and regulations, values and criteria") are "evil and corrupt";[11] that Western and Jewish conspiracies are constantly at work to destroy Islam,[12] etc.

The Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir adds the concept of the caliphate to that of shariah law to insist that the Muslim world has been living in jahiliyya since the last caliphate was abolished in 1924 will not be free of it until it is restored.[13][14]

(At least one non-Muslim academic (Bruce Lawrence) has compared the use of the term by some radical Islamists to that of the secular Marxist idea of false consciousness[15] – in each case the masses being unaware they are not following their true consciousness by rising up to overthrow the corrupt system (capitalism in the case of Marxism, and secularism in the case of Qutb), and replace it with the just one (socialism in the case of Marxism, and strict sharia law in the case of Qutbism).

Jahili poetry[edit]

Main article: Pre-Islamic poetry

With the pre-Islamic period being defined as the time of "Jahiliyyah," pre-Islamic poetry is commonly referred to in Arabic as "الشعر الجاهلي" or Jahili poetry – literally "the ignorant poetry."

Jahiliyya as iconoclastic rationale[edit]

Jahiliyya is associated with iconoclasms. In 2015, the ancient history scholar Lucinda Dirven noted that in the ongoing destruction of antiquities by the Islamic State terrorist group, the religious rationale also covers for economic and political factors. "Cultural cleansing is a way to claim political power within a certain territory as well as control over history."[16] The assyriologist Eckart Frahm said, "Such iconoclasm is not specifically Islamic... What is quite unique in the case of ISIS is that the destruction is directed against images that are thousands of years old, often damaged, and no longer worshipped by anyone, and that there is a concerted effort to use these acts of vandalism as propaganda by broadcasting them through videos."[17][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Eleanor Abdella Doumato (rev. Byron D. Cannon) (2009). "Jāhilīyah". In John L. Esposito. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (subscription required (help)). 
  2. ^ Qutb, Sayyid (1981). Milestones. Mother Mosque Foundation. pp. 11, 19
  3. ^ Amros, Arne A. & Stephan Pocházka. (2004). A Concise Dictionary of Koranic Arabic, Reichert Verlag, Wiesbaden
  4. ^ Ali Tajddin S. Ali, Mumtaz. "Jahiliyya". 
  5. ^ Colla, Elliott (2007). Conflicted antiquities: Egyptology, Egyptomania, Egyptian modernity. U.S.A: Duke University Press. pp. 265, 266. 
  6. ^ ibn Taymiyya: al-Wasaiyyah as-Sughraa in Majmu' al-Fatawa
  7. ^ Qutb, Milestones, p. 9
  8. ^ Qutb, Milestones, p. 19
  9. ^ Qutb, Milestones, p.9, 82
  10. ^ Qutb, Milestones, p.32, 47
  11. ^ Qutb, Milestones, p.9, 132
  12. ^ Qutb, Milestones, p.110-111, 114, 116
  13. ^ "The Re-establishment of the Khilafah is an obligation upon all Muslims". khilafah.com. 24 June 2007. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  14. ^ Baran, Zeyno (December 2004). "Hizb ut-Tahrir: Islam's Political Insurgency" (PDF). Nixon Center. p. 18. Retrieved 2016-03-30. 
  15. ^ Verso. (2005). Messages to the World, the Statements of Osama bin Laden, edited and introduced by Bruce Lawrence. p. 16 (footnote)
  16. ^ Dirven, Lucinda (2015). "Iconoclasm in the 'Islamic State'". Retrieved 8 October 2015. 
  17. ^ Gonzalez, Susan (March 16, 2015). "ISIS' destruction of cultural antiquities: Q&A with Eckart Frahm". Yale News. Retrieved 8 October 2015. 
  18. ^ Shaheen, Kareem (March 9, 2015). "Isis attacks on ancient sites erasing history of humanity, says Iraq". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 October 2015. 
  • Qutb, Sayyid (2006). Milestones (PDF). Maktabah. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Dr. Hina Azam. "Terrorism: A Return to Jahiliyya". alt.muslim. Retrieved 2005-12-01. 
  • Kepel, Gilles (1985). The Prophet and Pharaoh: Muslim Extremism in Egypt. Al Saqi. ISBN 0-86356-118-7. 
  • Qutb, Sayyid (1981). Milestones. Mother Mosque Foundation. 
  • Sivan, Emmanuel (1985). Radical Islam : Medieval Theology and Modern Politics. Yale University Press. 

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of jahiliyyah at Wiktionary