Some Reflections on Contemporary Jahiliyyah
When Ignorance becomes the New Truth…
Once upon a time, a pumpkin plant grew near an old oak tree. The tree was huge with its roots deeply buried in the depths of the earth. Meanwhile, the pumpkin plant grew swiftly in full bloom—white and yellow flower buds; round and orange pumpkins; lush green leaves dancing in the spring breeze.
As the pumpkin plant reached its prime, it uttered to the old oak tree, “You’re so old. It must have taken you centuries to grow. You have become antiquated. I doubt if anyone takes pleasure in your sight. You occupy so much space, and what do you offer in return, while we give fruit and are a delight to the eyes?”
The oak tree remained silent.
Autumn arrived, and the old oak tree whispered to the pumpkin plant, “Au revoir,” whose leaves had withered and pumpkins had been harvested by the local farmers. What remained was washed away by the harsh winter rains and dark winds. There was no sign of the plant anymore, whereas the old oak tree was awaiting to turn green again.
Jahl, ignorance, is the opposite of two things:
- ‘Ilm (knowledge)
- ‘Aql (mind, intellect, reason)
Aql, in Arabic, also means to restrain or to control. In a literal sense, it means self-control, so jahl also implies to have no self-control.
Jahilliyah comes in various forms: zannul jahilliyah (assumptions based on ignorance), tabarrujul jahilliyah (beautification of, or based on, ignorance), hammiyatul jahilliyah (support based on ignorance) and hukmul jahilliyah (decisions, verdicts, judgments based on ignorance).
Sometimes assumptions and thinking based on ignorance give birth to an ideology, which is subsequently beautified to gain popular support. This becomes a new standard of morality in a society, where ignorance becomes the new truth. The truth and light of an idea are turned into the lie and darkness of an ideology. These ideologies, based on ignorant assumptions—no matter how beautiful to modern eyes—never sustain long.
In the West, sexual liberation began in the 1960s with a standard understanding of what should happen. Sexual liberation entailed that people would now be free to have unbridled sex without any shame or embarrassment. Sexual liberation, while driven by a desire to free people of moralistic judgment, ended up putting society in a straitjacket. Now, a few decades later, while, on the one hand, being a virgin is considered an embarrassment, on the other hand, women auction their virginity online.
Shame and stigma surrounding sex still persist; however, it’s now directed towards the chaste, not the promiscuous.
In media, one such standard is beautified as:
“If people, I don’t even know, look at me and want to f**k me, it means I really have a shot at being a model, which is great. Because there is nothing worse than being ordinary.” – Angela Hayes, in American Beauty
On the other hand, Naomi Wolf, whose revolutionary book, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, is believed to have initiated the Third Wave of Feminism, writes in The Sunday Morning Herald:
“The West interprets veiling as repression of women and suppression of their sexuality. But when I traveled in Muslim countries and was invited to join a discussion in women-only setting within Muslim homes, I learned that Muslim attitudes toward women’s appearance and sexuality are not rooted in repression but in a strong sense of public versus private, of what is due to God and what is due to one’s husband. It is not that Islam suppresses sexuality, but it embodies a strongly developed sense of its appropriate channeling — toward marriage, the bonds that sustain family life, and the attachment that secures a home.”
Muslims fall prey to the specious narratives of the West. They take pride in identifying themselves as feminists, communists, nationalists, secularists, etc., etc. They think—or rather firmly believe—that Islam is incomplete, imperfect, and not compatible with the requirements of the 21st century.
Such Muslims shape their worldview not by studying and understanding the primary texts of Islam but by the misdeeds of Muslims. Some Muslims want to enjoy the company of a special circle of intellectuals or be accepted into a class of people where orthodox Muslims are neither accepted nor respected. Instead of merely changing their own selves, they also tend to change the religion to suit their whims and desires in order to be accepted and respected in such circles.
Those with pure conscience and intellect, in the end, always conclude that Islam is more a need than a matter of choice. Islam is not only a religion but primarily the principle by which the universe is organized. Islam existed before man, and it is, as the Qur’an explicitly states, a principle by which man was created. Islam is a way of living rather than a way of thinking.
So direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth. [Adhere to] the fitrah of Allah upon which He has created [all] people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah . That is the correct religion, but most of the people do not know.(Qur’an, 30:60)
In his book, Islam Between East and West, Alija Izetbegovic, writes:
“Modern man’s narrow-mindedness is best shown in his belief that there is no riddle before him. His wisdom is the sum of his knowledge and his ignorance, of which he is not aware, he accepts it as knowledge. Even in the face of the greatest mystery, he behaves self-consciously and conceitedly. He does not even see the problem. It is in this that the true measure of his ignorance and prejudice is manifested.”
The meaning of art, philosophy, and religion is to direct man’s attention to riddles, secrets, and questions. It sometimes leads to certain knowledge, but more often to an awareness of ignorance. This is the dividing line between the ignorant and the wise. Sometimes both of them know very little about a question, but the ignorant, contrary to the wise, takes his ignorance as knowledge and behaves accordingly.
We cannot explain life by scientific means solely because life is both a miracle and a phenomenon. Wonder and admiration are the highest forms of our understanding of life. One doesn’t have to be a scholar to understand the difference between what Islam preaches and what Muslims do. Not everything a Muslim or a Muslim society does is Islamic. Sometimes Muslims do the complete opposite of what Islam stands for. It is not the fault nor the failure of Islam but of those who, knowingly or unknowingly, fail to live up to its teachings.
Islam doesn’t prevent one from appreciating what is good in any religion or philosophy, or ideology—be it oriental or occidental. Good, here, means something that does not contradict or go against Islam, the Qur’an, and Sunnah. Either whatever good there is in any ideology, is already present in Islam or it is also good in the sight of Islam. It is neither good nor true if it contradicts the teachings of Islam, the Qur’an, or the Sunnah. It’s just ignorance and evil dressed up and cloaked in the guise of truth.
Islam is less a way of thinking and more a way of living. We live in a time where Muslims feel proud when a famous non-Muslim praises Islam. Everyone with intellect can recognize the truth and beauty of Islam, but to make their quotes the evidence of the truth of Islam is infantile. The truth remains true even if no one believes in it. People’s acceptance is never used to determine truth. Rejecting the truth is not its failure, but the failure of those who refuse to believe in it.
Islam has been the target of ignorant ideologies since its inception. There were the Quraish in Mecca, followed by the Munafiqoon and the Jews of Medina. The superpowers of the time attacked Islam and failed. If one happens to check the index of books published after 9/11, no religion but Islam is followed by the sub-categorization of Islamic terrorism. There is no entry for Christian terrorism or Hindu terrorism.
Nonetheless, Islam is the fastest-growing religion on the face of the earth. Islam, like the old oak tree, has withstood everything, from Tatars and Crusades to the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The ideologies—these new standards of morals, intellect, and honor—are all like pumpkin plants. As winter approaches, the old oak tree, as always, will continue to witness the demise of these pumpkin ideologies of ignorance.