Jahiliyyah, al-Jahiliyah or jahalia (Arabic: جاهلية) is an Islamic concept of "ignorance of divine guidance" or "the state of ignorance of the guidance from God" [Qutb, Milestones, p.11, 19] or "Days of Ignorance" [G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville, "Islam: An Illustrated History", p. 27] referring to the condition Arabs found themselves in pre-Islamic Arabia, i.e. prior to the revelation of the Qur'an to Muhammad. By extension it means the state of anyone not following Islam and the Qur'an.


The term is used several places in the Qur'an, for example:

Is it a judgment of the time of (pagan) ignorance ["jahiliyya"] that they are seeking ? Who is better than Allah for judgment to a people who have certainty (in their belief) ? (5:50)
and also 3:154, 33:33, 48:26

Medieval Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiya was probably the first to use the term to describe backsliding in contemporary Muslim society [ibn Taymiyya: "al-Wasaiyyah as-Sughraa" in "Majmoo al-Fataawa"] (in other words to describe groups of people who thought they "did" have the benefit of God's guidance from the Qur'an). In the 20th century, Indian Islamist writer Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi wrote of it [Sivan, "Radical Islam", p.65, 128; Kepel, "Muslim", p.194] . Sayyid Qutb popularized the term in his influential work "Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq" (Milestones), with the shocking assertion that "the Muslim community has been extinct for a few centuries." [Qutb, "Milestones", p.9]

When a person embraced Islam during the time of the Prophet, he would immediately cut himself off from Jahiliyyah. [The state of ignorance of the guidance from God.] 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 Qur'an to mold himself according to its guidance.

Sayyid Qutbref|milestones [Qutb, "Milestones", p.19]

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 [Qutb, "Milestones", p.9, 82] ; that true Islam is a complete system with no room for any element of "Jahiliyya [Qutb, "Milestones", p.32, 47] ;" that all aspects of "Jahiliyya" ("manners, ideas and concepts, rules and regulations, values and criteria") are "evil and corrupt" [Qutb, "Milestones", p.9, 132] ; that Western and Jewish conspiracies are constantly at work to destroy Islam, [Qutb, "Milestones", p.110-111, 114, 116] etc.

Non-Muslim societies may also be termed "jahili". One western academic has compared the idea of contemporary Jahiliyya in some radical Islamic circles to the secular Marxist idea of false consciousness ["Messages to the World, the Statements of Osama bin Laden," edited and introduced by Bruce Lawrence, Verso, 2005, footnote on p.16] - 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).

ee also

*Arabic poetry


Further reading

* [http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/Stu/mwaali/Milestones/milestones-index.html Milestones]
*cite book | author=Kepel, Gilles | title=The Prophet and Pharaoh: Muslim Extremism in Egypt | Translator=Jon Rothschild | publisher=Al Saqi | year=1985 | id=ISBN 0-86356-118-7
*cite book | author=Sivan, Emmanuel | title=Radical Islam : Medieval Theology and Modern Politics | publisher=Yale University Press | year=1985

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