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About Jahiliya.docx

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University of Toronto Mississauga
Alireza Haghighi

About Jahiliya One of these ideas, and the one that this article explores, is his claim that the whole world, including that part of it that calls itself Muslim, is in a state of ja¯hiliyya. Ja¯hiliyya has been described as the ―cornerstone‖ on which Qutb’s most radical thinking rests, and Qutb has been called ―the exponent of ja¯hiliyya par excellence.‖3 This idea may be one of the most original ideas to appear among Islamic ideologues in the past century, as original if not as influential as Khomeini’s vila¯yat-i faqı¯h. THE TERM JA¯ HI LIYYA I N THE ISLAM IC TRADITION In English, the word ja¯hiliyya is conventionally translated ―the Age of Ignorance‖6 and taken to refer to the Arabian society of the century or so prior to Muhammad’s mission. This also reflects much Arabic usage. In pre-Islamic literature, and to a considerable degree in the Qur_an, however, words from the root j-h-l mean primarily not ―ignorance‖ but something like ―barbarism,‖ specifically a tendency to go to extremes of behavior.7 The form ja¯hiliyya appears four times in the Qur_an, never in the sense of simple ignorance. Toshihiko Izutsu interprets the second phrase as referring to ―the staunch pride so characteristic of the old pagan Arabs, the spirit of stubborn resistance against all that shows the slightest sign of injuring their sense of honor and destroying the traditional way of life.‖8 He states further that ―in the specifically Qur_anic situation the word refers to the peculiar attitude of hostility and aggressiveness against the monotheistic belief of Islam.‖9 This understanding is supported by Qur_an 5:50, ―Do they seek a ja¯hiliyya judgment (˙ukm al-ja¯hiliyya), but who can give better judgment than God?‖ a passage very important for Qutb’s interpretation. It is also supported by Qur_an 3: 154, ―a band anxious for themselves, wrongly suspicious of God with a ja¯hiliyya suspicion (zwann al-ja¯hiliyya),‖ which refers to lack of faith in God. As to ja¯hiliyya’s temporal reference, it seems unlikely that it would have meant a historical epoch to the first Muslims, as it was too much a living reality for them. Nevertheless, ―the first ja¯hiliyya (al-ja¯hiliyya al-u¯la¯)‖ in Qur_an 33:33 may refer to an epoch and certainly has been taken in this sense by later interpreters. After the Qur_anic period, however, the word seems to have come fairly quickly to refer primarily to a historical epoch and to ignorance as that epoch’s characteristic. It is usually thus in al-Bukhari’s hadith collection—for example, ―The Quraysh used to fast Ashura in the ja¯hiliyya‖ and ―The best people in the ja¯hiliyya are the best in Islam, if they have understanding.‖10 The same is generally true of the classical Arabic dictionaries.11 The earlier sense of ja¯hiliyya was never completely lost, however. In a Sayyid Qutb’s Doctrine of Ja¯hiliyya 523 hadith Muhammad says to a follower, ―Within you is ja¯hiliyya,‖ and when asked whether ―ja¯hiliyyat al-kufr or ja¯hiliyyat al-isla¯m,‖ says, ―ja¯hiliyyat al-kufr.‖12 Lisa¯n al-_Arab says that ja¯hiliyya here includes ―ignorance of God of his Messenger and of the rites of religion, boasting of ancestry, pride and tyranny. For Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), the pre–Islamic customs continuing among Muslims of his time constituted a ―ja¯hiliyya in a restricted sense,‖ although in the absolute sense it had ended with Muhammad’s mission.14 Ibn _Abd al-Wahhab, the 18th-century Arabian reformer, saw the condition of other Muslims, either throughout the world or in the Arabian peninsula, as ja¯hiliyya, and his follower, Husayn ibn Ghannam (d. 1811), used the term explicitly.15 Abdullah Yusuf Ali, author of the well-known translation of the Qur_an and a reformist in his commentary, comments on text, ―Do they then seek after a ˙ukm al-ja¯hiliyya?‖ (5:50): ―The Days of Ignorance were the days of tribalism, feuds, and selfish accentuation of differences in man. Those days are not really yet over. It is the mission of Islam to take us away from that false mental attitude.‖17 Mawdudi defines ja¯hiliyya as ―every such conduct which goes against Islamic culture, morality and the Islamic way of thinking and behaving,‖ and sees the Muslim world since the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphs as a mixture of ja¯hiliyya and Islam.18 Nadwi, in his influential book Ma¯dha¯ khasira al-_a¯lam bi-in˙itwa¯ tw al-muslimı¯n (What the World Has Lost by the Decline of the Muslims),19 sees the ja¯hiliyya of ancient Greece and Rome resurrected in modern Europe and asserts that the Muslims in many places have become its allies and camp followers but have resisted being turned completely into a ja¯hilı¯ community.20 Another writer who may be appropriately mentioned here is the Palestinian Taqi al-Din al-Nabhani (1909–77), founder of the Hizb al-Tahrir. In his view, all so-called Muslim countries were da¯r al-kufr (abode of unbelief) because their rulers were not governing exclusively according to the shari_a, but he appears not to have used the term ja¯hiliyya in this connection.21 The same year in which Sayyid Qutb published his most radical work, 1964, his brother, Muhammad Qutb, published a book entitled Ja¯hiliyyat al-qarn al-_ishrin (The Jahiliyya of the Twentieth Century). In it he claimed that the whole world was in a state of ja¯hiliyya. By far the largest part of the book, however, is devoted to an analysis of ja¯hiliyya in its European form. SAYYID QUTB ON JA¯ HI LIYYA, THE FINAL DOCTRINE The locus classicus is Ma_a¯lim fı¯ altwarı¯q (Milestones), published in 1964 The meaning of ja¯hiliyya is defined by this text. Ja¯hiliyya—as God describes it and His Qur_an defines it—is the rule of humans by humans because it involves making some humans servants of others, rebelling against service to God, rejecting God’s divinity (ulu¯hiyya) and, in view of this rejection, ascribing divinity to some humans and serving them apart from God. Ja¯hiliyya— in the light of this text—is not a period of time but a condition, a condition which existed yesterday, exists today, and will exist tomorrow. It takes the form of ja¯hiliyya, which stands over against Islam and contradicts it. People—in any time and any place—are either governed by God’s shari_a—entirely, without any reservations— accepting it and submiti
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