The word Jahiliyyah is used to refer to the period before the coming of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). It refers to two things that are combined in this period: jahl (ignorance) and jahaalah (foolishness).
The word Jahiliyyah is a blameworthy word. Ignorance and foolishness together are sufficient for a person to disavow himself of them, even if he has these attributes, and knowledge and guidance are sufficient for a person to feel proud of, if he has these attributes, and even if he does not.
In al-Mu’jam al-Waseet it says:
Jahiliyyah refers to the ways of the Arabs before Islam, namely foolishness and misguidance. End quote.
Al-Haafiz Ibn Hajar (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
Jahiliyyah refers to that which came before Islam. Fath al-Baari.
Al-Mannaawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
Jahiliyyah refers to the time before the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was sent; they called it that because of the extent of their ignorance. Fayd al-Qadeer.
Shaykh Muhammad ibn Salih al-‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
What is meant by Jahiliyyah is the time before the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was sent, because at that time the people’s ignorance was great; it included ignorance both of the rights of Allah and the rights of His slaves. Al-Qawl al-Mufeed ‘ala Kitaab al-Tawheed; Majmoo’ Fataawa al-Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen.
And he said:
Wailing is an act of Jahiliyyah which inevitably continues to exist among this ummah (nation), although it is something that belongs to the Jahiliyyah, either because of ignorance which is the opposite of knowledge, or because of foolishness which is the opposite of wisdom.
Al-Qawl al-Mufeed ‘ala Kitaab al-Tawheed; Majmoo’ Fataawa al-Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen.
Allah sent His Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) with guidance and the religion of truth, and Allah filled the world with light because of him, and brought people forth from darkness into light. By means of him, Allah dispelled the darkness of ignorance and kufr (disbelief). With his coming, the era of Jahiliyyah ended, but has ignorance disappeared from all places and all eras? Of course not. Hence it is not permissible to describe all societies as ignorant after his coming (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), but we cannot say that all societies are free of ignorance either. Some societies are still living in the depths of Jahiliyyah, so they are not free of this attribute. But the societies on which the light of Islam has shone cannot be described in these terms, and even if they are falling short in some aspects of Islam they cannot be described as jahili. The scholars are agreed on this point.
1. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
Before the sending of the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) the people were in a state of Jahiliyyah or ignorance. Their words and actions had either been invented for them by one who was ignorant or they were done by one who was ignorant.
Similarly, everything that was contrary to the message brought by the Messengers, namely Judaism and Christianity, was Jahiliyyah. That was Jahiliyyah in the general sense. But after the coming of the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), it may exist in one place and not another – as it exists in the lands of the kuffar (non-Muslims) – and it may exist in one person and not another; a man is in state of Jahiliyyah before he becomes Muslim, even if he lives in a Muslim land.
But in general terms of time, there is no Jahiliyyah after the coming of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), because among his ummah there is a group which will continue to prevail and follow the truth until the Hour begins.
In specific terms, Jahiliyyah may appear in some Muslim lands, and in many Muslim individuals, as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Four things among my ummah are of the Jahiliyyah” and he said to Abu Dharr: “You are a man in whom there is some Jahiliyyah” and so on.
And he said in this hadeeth: “Someone who tries to follow a jahili way after becoming Muslim.” This refers to Jahiliyyah in general, specific types of Jahiliyyah, Judaism, Christianity, Magianism, Sabianism, idolatry, or a combination of all or some of these or a way that has adopted some of these jaahili religions, because all of them are innovated and were abrogated and became Jahiliyyah with the coming of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him); although the word Jahiliyyah is usually used to refer to the Arabs and their former ways, the meaning is still the same. Iqtida’ al-Siraat al-Mustaqeem.
2. Explaining what is wrong with the phrase “The Jahiliyyah of the twentieth century”, Shaykh Bakr Abu Zayd (may Allah have mercy on him) said: The great scholar al-Albani said that this phrase involves exaggeration and overlooking the fact that Islam prevailed over all other religions. In Hayaat al-Albani (the Life of al-Albani) it says:
The phrase “The Jahiliyyah of the twentieth century” in al-Albani’s opinion:
Question: The da’iyah (caller to islam) Sayyid Qutub (may Allaah have mercy on him) used a phrase that is often repeated in some Islamic schools of thought of which he is the figurehead, namely “The Jahiliyyah of the twentieth century”. How precise and correct is this phrase? To what extent does it correspond to the Jahiliyyah of ancient times in your opinion?
Praise be to Allah and blessings and peace be upon the Messenger of Allah and his family and companions and those who followed him after that. What I think is that this phrase, “The Jahiliyyah of the twentieth century”, is not free of exaggeration about the current century – the twentieth century. The fact that Islam is alive in this century, even though it has been infiltrated by things that are not part of it, means that we cannot say that this century is like the first Jahiliyyah of old. We know that what is meant by the first Jahiliyyah is the Arabs only: they were idolaters, they were clearly misguided, and it applies to the religions that existed around the Arabs, namely Judaism and Christianity, which are distorted religions. Therefore, at that time there was no pure religion left that had not been changed and altered. Undoubtedly describing that era as Jahiliyyah is correct. But that is not the case in the present era, because Allah blessed the Arabs first, then the rest of mankind, by sending to them Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), the Seal of the Prophets, to whom He revealed the religion of Islam, which is the final religion, and Allah has promised to preserve this religion as He says (interpretation of the meaning): “Verily, We, it is We Who have sent down the Dhikr (i.e. the Quran) and surely, We will guard it (from corruption)” [15:9]. His Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) told us that the Muslim ummah (nation), although it would be faced with some deviation as befell the nations before it, he said: “You will certainly follow the ways of those who came before you hand span by hand span, cubit by cubit, to the extent that if they entered the hole of a lizard, you will enter it too.” We said: “O Messenger of Allah, (do you mean) the Jews and the Christians?” He said: “Who else?” I say, Although the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) told us that the Muslims would deviate to a large extent and they would imitate the Jews and Christians in that deviation, at the same time he (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) also gave his followers the glad tidings that they would continue to follow the line that he drew for them. He (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “My ummah will divide into seventy-three sects, all of whom will be in Hell except one.” They said: What is it, O Messenger of Allah? He said: “It is the jamaa’ah (main body of the Muslims)” and according to another report he said: “It is the group that follows the same path as me and my companions.”
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) confirmed that when he said in a hadeeth (narration) the authenticity of which is agreed upon: “A group of my ummah will continue to prevail adhering to the truth and they will not be harmed by those who oppose them, until the decree of Allah comes to pass.”
So there is still in this ummah a good and blessed group that is following the guidance of the Quran and Sunnah and is far removed from the Jahiliyyah of the past or present. Hence I think that using the word “Jahiliyyah” to refer to the twentieth century is exaggeration, because this may give the impression that all of Islam has deviated completely from Tawheed (maintaining the Oneness of Allah) and sincerity in worshipping Allah alone. So this century – the twentieth century – has become like the time of Jahiliyyah in which the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was sent to bring them forth from darkness into light. In that case, this usage in general terms should be limited to the kuffar (non-Muslims) first, those of whom Allah says (interpretation of the meaning): “Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allaah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad), (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah (a tax) with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” [9:29]. Describing the twentieth century as Jahiliyyah can only be applied to non-Muslims who do not follow the Quran and Sunnah. But using it in general terms may imply that there is no goodness left in the Muslims, and this is contrary to what has been explained above in the ahaadeeth (reports) of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), who said that there would remain a group of this ummah that would adhere to the truth, such as the hadeeth in which he (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Islam began as something strange and will go back to being something strange so glad tidings to the strangers.” They said: Who are they, O Messenger of Allah? There are several versions of this hadeeth, in some of which the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) described the strangers as: “The ones who will revive what the people neglect of my Sunnah (prophetic teachings) after I am gone.” According to another report he (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “They are people who are righteous and few in number among many people and those who disobey them will be more than those who obey them.” Hence it is not permissible to use this description (Jahiliyyah) in general terms to refer to the current era, because among them – praise be to Allah – there are some good ones who still adhere to the guidance of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and his Sunnah, and it will continue like that until the Hour begins. Moreover, in the words of Sayyid Qutub – may Allah have mercy on him – and in some of his books there is that which makes the researcher think that he may have been somewhat over-zealous in the way in which he explained Islam to people. Perhaps his excuse for doing so may be that he was writing in a literary style. With regard to some matters of fiqh (jurisprudence), such as when he spoke about workers in his book al-‘Adaalah al-Ijtimaa’iyyah (Social Justice), he started to write about Tawheed, and with phrases all of which are strongly worded and instill in the hearts of believers confidence in their religion and faith. In that sense he did indeed renew the call of Islam in the hearts of the youth. Even if we feel sometimes that he said some things which indicate that he did not have the time to examine thoroughly some of the issues that he wrote about, in brief we may say that using this word (Jahiliyyah) to describe the modern age in sweeping terms is not free from some element of exaggeration which leads to undermining the group that is still prevailing and adhering to the truth. And this is all that I have to say about this matter. End quote. Mu’jam al-Manaahi al-Lafziyyah.
3. Shaykh Salih ibn Fawzan al-Fawzan (may Allah preserve him) was asked: Is it permissible to use the word Jahiliyyah with reference to contemporary Muslim societies?
Jahiliyyah in general terms ended with the coming of the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), so it is not permissible to apply this word to Muslim societies in general terms. As for applying some of its characteristics to describe certain individuals, or some groups, or some societies, that is acceptable and permissible. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said to one of his Sahabah (companions): “You are a man in whom there is some Jahiliyyah.” And he (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “There are four matters of Jahiliyyah in my ummah that they will not give up: pride in one’s forefathers, slandering lineages, seeking rain by the stars and wailing.” Al-Ajwabah al-Mufeedah ‘an As’ilah al-Manaahij al-Jadeedah.
It is not permissible for the Muslim to regard Muslim societies with a sense of arrogance or to look down on them. That includes regarding all of them as ignorant, deviant and doomed.
It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “If a man says ‘the people are doomed,’ he is the one who caused their doom.” [Muslim]
Imam Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
What this refers to, according to the scholars, is when a man says this by way of looking down on them and showing contempt towards them, and expressing self-admiration. But if he says that out of sorrow and regret, and out of fear for them because of what he sees of their reprehensible actions, then he is not one of those referred to in this hadeeth. The difference between the two is that in the first case the speaker is pleased with himself and admires himself, and he is envious of those who are above him and scornful of those who are below him, whereas in the second case he is scolding and rebuking himself and is not pleased with himself. [Al-Tamheed]
And Allah knows best.