The Erasure of “Jahiliyah” and its Relevance Today

In traditional circles, the time period before the advent of Islam is known as Jahiliyah, which means “The Age of Ignorance.”

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica: “In Arabic the word [Jahiliyah] means ‘ignorance,’ or ‘barbarism,’ and indicates a negative Muslim evaluation of pre-Islamic life and culture in Arabia as compared to the teachings and practices of Islam.”

Source

Jahiliyah is frequently touted by Islamic scholars to be an era of death and destruction, murder, and bloody tribal warfare. It was a time when female children were buried alive in the sand, when women had no rights–when human beings were all at the level of primal savages–intoxicated, wandering blindly.

And worst of all–the Arabs were *polytheists.

And then Islam arrived. And Islam saved everyone. Particularly women.

This is the dominant narrative within Muslim circles today. This is, in fact, the only narrative most Muslims are aware of.

Jahiliyah‘s (alleged) history has been written, told and retold almost exclusively by Muslim men with clear motives and strong political leanings. We have no unbiased understanding of what pre-Islamic Arabia was like. This is because Muslim historians were concerned only with painting Jahiliyah as an age of tribal warfare and Islam as the guiding light of salvation.

Our understanding of pre-Islamic Arabia is filled with gaps. We are told that women were treated as mere chattels, bought and inherited and sold. But we are also informed that Khadijah, the Prophet’s first wife (who lived during Jahiliyah), was a wealthy businesswoman who owned a successful company.

We are told by our scholars that pre-Islamic Arabs detested female children, burying them alive at birth. This part of the narrative is true. The Qur’an confirms that the practice existed and condemns it:

“And when one of them is informed of the birth of a female child, his face becomes dark and he suppresses grief…Shall he keep it in humiliation and contempt, or bury it in the dust? Indeed, evil is his decision!” 16:58-59

However, it is highly unlikely that female infanticide was as widespread during Jahiliyah as Muslims say it was. Scholars tell us that men murdered their newborn girls left and right, but they also claim that unrestricted polygyny was rampant. If most pre-Islamic Arab men killed their daughters at birth, where would they get multiple wives from?

This is where fabrication of history comes in. The entire invented history of Jahiliyah is invoked as a convenient means of avoiding essential conversation.

When Muslim women ask why they are robbed of their God-given rights, they are immediately shut down. “Islam gave women rights,” they are told. “Islam saved women from being buried alive.”

Islam did indeed give women their rights. It’s just that we haven’t been following Islam, and have instead effectively returned to a modern-day Age of Ignorance.

As Muslims, we still bury our daughters alive. Allow me to explain how.

A mermaid once told me that each Qur’anic verse has over seven meanings, from the most basic to the deepest. According to her, the verses regarding female infanticide don’t just refer to literal infanticide. They’re also a reference to metaphorically burying our daughters alive–stripping them of their dreams, depriving them of their rights, all in the name of God.

Is there any greater hypocrisy?

We are doing exactly what God has condemned. Then we invoke Qur’anic verses to deflect criticism.

Intoxicated, wandering blindly.

May God save us from our self-induced destruction.


*The Hijaz region of the Arabian Peninsula followed a primarily polytheistic religion. They used the Ka’aba as a place of worship, just as modern-day Muslims do. But their Ka’aba was filled with idols.

 

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3 thoughts on “The Erasure of “Jahiliyah” and its Relevance Today

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  1. What are you trying to do with the example of Khadijah (ra)? Doesn’t it make sense that her (ra) situation would differ from the majority since she belonged to a wealthy family?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Also excellent point with where women came from if female infanticide was so common. Female infanticide is common in China too due to the 1-child policy but there are a lot more men than women in China.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Salam. My point was that the “helpless chattel” status of women in pre-Islamic Arabia is extremely exaggerated. Of course female infanticide did occur on occasion, and many women probably were severely restricted–but scholars exaggerate it to the point where *all* women were allegedly oppressed. If Khadija is an exception, then why don’t scholars tone it down, and admit that *not all women* in pre-Islamic Arabia were “oppressed”? Some were undoubtedly oppressed, but not to the extent that people claim.

      Like

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