The Arabic word jahl is ubiquitously used in the Qur’an but often mistranslated. Conceptually speaking, it means foolishness and ignorance of God.
Bismillāhir Rahmānir Rahīm, As-salāmu ʿAlaykum wa rahmatullāhi wa barakātuh. Peace be upon you brothers and sisters.
Welcome back to the Muslim Converts Channel!
The typical word for ignorance in Arabic is something called Jahl. A jāhil is someone who is ignorant. But the meaning of jahl in Islam, particularly in the Qur’an and the traditions of the Ahl al-Bayt (as) is quite different from this.
In this lesson, we will take a look at what the meaning of jahl and spiritual ignorance in Islam and what it can mean for us and our spiritual lives.
BODY OF TEXT
And when Moses said unto his people: Lo! Allah commandeth you that ye sacrifice a cow, they said: Dost thou make game of us? He answered: Allah forbid that I should be among the foolish! (Chapter 2, verse 67 of the Holy Qur’an)
Lo! We offered the trust unto the heavens and the earth and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man assumed it. Lo! he hath proved a tyrant and a fool. (Chapter 33, verse 72 of the Holy Qur’an)
The word jahl is often translated as ignorance. Ignorance is translated as a lack of knowledge and information. According to the school of Ahl al-Bayt (as), this translation is wrong.
Most often than not, the word jahl in Islam means foolishness.
For example, if you look at the first volume of Usul al-Kafi, one of Islam’s most important books of hadith, one of the beginning chapters is called Kitab al-Aql wa al-Jahl, meaning “The Book of the Intellect and Foolishness.”
If you go through the book, you will also notice another chapter called “the Book of the Excellence of Knowledge”. Notice here that the word Jahl is not juxtaposed with Ilm or knowledge, but it is contrasted with Intellect.
So here it becomes pretty obvious that Jahl is foolishness, and really, this is what makes sense. Conceptually speaking, the word jahl is similar to the word safaaha in Arabic, which also means foolishness.
The Qur’an describes people who reject the truth or God as jāhil, meaning that they are fools.
They may have a lot of knowledge and a lot of information, but despite this they are still fools and are ignorant of God. Jahl in this sense can also refer to ignorance of God which is, at its root, foolishness regarding Allah.
The same here can be applied to the Devil. The Devil rejected God’s grace by disobeying Him. He knew everything there was to be known, yet what he did was act foolishly in spite of knowing!
Another opposite of jahl that we can think of that is related to the Aql itself is wisdom. The Arabic word for wisdom is hikmah. The word hikmah comes from the word hakama, meaning to bind something together.
In the Islamic context, hikmah means to take relevant knowledge and bind it together and as a result, use it in its most relevant optimal fashion that is aimed at the greater good.
The inability to do this, that is, binding information together in a relevant fashion is called jahl in Islam.
So what does all of this have to do with our lives?
Well, think about it. How many of us know that we must obey Allah and follow His commands in order to repair our interior spiritual dysfunction? How many of us know that because of the evil deeds we commit, we may drag ourselves to hell?
How many of us know that sins not only corrupt our souls, but they are also the reason why our duas or prayers to God are not accepted?
Despite knowing all of this, we continue to make foolish choices by choosing short term pleasure over long term, eternal happiness in the next world.
In other words, despite knowing what the greater good is, and what is wrong and evil, we still risk our souls in this world and in the Hereafter for the sake of fleeting and worthless pleasures.
In Islam, we’re given the following example to help us think better about this: would you choose a temporary mansion that can breakdown anytime or a mediocre house that will last forever? But in Islam’s context, it’s the choice between the eternal mansion and the temporary mediocre house. Foolishness or jahl in Islam is to choose the temporary mediocre house.
Another way of acting foolishly is through extremism. Allah and His messenger taught us to be rational, composed and peaceful individuals. The last thing the Prophet (s) wanted us to be was violent people. Yet despite this, some decide to act foolishly and turn to terrorism.
Fortunately, the Prophet Muhammad (s) warned us of these people.
Imam Ali (as) once said: I heard the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, say, “In the last days, there will be young people rebelling with foolish dreams. They will say the best of words but they will go out of Islam just as an arrow goes through its game. Their faith will not go beyond their throats.
What this hadith is telling us is that fools, even when they have a lot of information and knowledge, will be deprived of īmān or a true and strong relationship with God. As a result of this, these kinds of people don’t end up staying in Islam for too long, they eventually end up leaving it, either outwardly, or inwardly.
Until Next Time, Thank you for watching. As-salāmu ʿAlaykum wa rahmatullāhi wa barakātuh
What is ignorance in Islam?
Ignorance of God
What is jahl and who is the Jāhil?
Jahl is foolishness when it comes to truth. The jāhil is the fool.
Can a jāhil have knowledge?
Yes, he can have a lot of information, but still be a fool, like the Devil.
What are other words similar to jahl in Islam?
Safaahah is one, which means foolishness or idiocy.
What is wisdom in Islam?
Wisdom is to be able to put knowledge to relevant use to the benefit of the greater good.