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Jahiliyyah (Arabic: جاهلية ǧāhiliyyah/jāhilīyah "ignorance") is an Islamic concept of "ignorance of divine guidance" or "the state of ignorance of the guidance from God" or "Days of Ignorance" referring to the condition in which Arabs found themselves in pre-Islamic Arabia (in the non-Islamic sense), i.e. prior to the revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. The root of the term jahiliyyah is the I-form verb jahala "to be ignorant or stupid, to act stupidly".
In the Quran
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 ...
This term can be used in reference to the Arabic culture before the arrival of Islamic Revelation.
Before the Islamic conversion the Arabe 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 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, the Jahiliyya is used to described 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.
Medieval Islamic scholar ibn Taymiyyah was probably the first to use the term to describe backsliders in contemporary Muslim society. In the 20th century, Indian Islamist writer Abul Ala Maududi wrote of it. Sayyid Qutb popularized the term in his influential work Ma'alim fi al-Tariq "Milestones", with the shocking assertion that "the Muslim community has been extinct for a few centuries."
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 
With the pre-Islamic period being defined as the time of "Jahiliyyah", the pre-Islamic poetry is commonly referred to in Arabic as "الشعر الجاهلي" or Jahili poetry - literally "the ignorant poetry". Although so named, what survives today of this poetry is well regarded as the finest of Arabic poetry to date (see Pre-Islamic poetry).
Jahiliyya in contemporary society
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; that true Islam is a complete system with no room for any element of Jahiliyya; that all aspects of Jahiliyya ("manners, ideas and concepts, rules and regulations, values and criteria") are "evil and corrupt"
Non-Muslim societies may also be termed jahili (Arabic: جاهلي ǧāhilī ). One western academic has compared the idea of contemporary Jahiliyya in some radical Islamic circles to the secular Marxist idea of false consciousness - in each case the masses being unaware they are not following their true consciousness by rising up to overthrow the capitalist system and replacing it with socialism (in the case of Marxism); or overthrow the secular state and replace it with the true Islam of strict sharia law (in the case of Qutbism).
- Qutb, Milestones, p.11, 19
- G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville, Islam: An Illustrated History, p. 27
- Amros, Arne A. and Stephan Pocházka 2004: A Concise Dictionary of Koranic Arabic, Reichert Verlag, Wiesbaden
- Ali Tajddin S. Ali, Mumtaz. "Jahiliyya".
- Colla, Elliott (2007). Conflicted antiquities: Egyptology, Egyptomania, Egyptian modernity. U.S.A: Duke University Press. pp. 265, 266.
- ibn Taymiyya: al-Wasaiyyah as-Sughraa in Majmu' al-Fatawa
- Sivan, Radical Islam, p.65, 128; Kepel, Muslim, p.194
- Qutb, Milestones, p.9
- Qutb, Milestones, p.19
- Qutb, Milestones, p.9, 82
- Qutb, Milestones, p.32, 47
- Qutb, Milestones, p.9, 132
- Messages to the World, the Statements of Osama bin Laden, edited and introduced by Bruce Lawrence, Verso, 2005, footnote on p.16
- ^ Milestones
- 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. The Mother Mosque Foundation.
- Sivan, Emmanuel (1985). Radical Islam : Medieval Theology and Modern Politics. Yale University Press.