On the Nature of Ignorance

By Dr. G.F. Haddad

The Romans used to say, mostly ironically, "dulcis ignorantia." Of course, ignorance is sweet only to those who believe that "whatever you do not know cannot harm you." But Islam considers certain types of knowledge required from every human being and other types merely recommended, while harmless ignorance applies only to that the ignorance of which does not cause a lasting impediment to obligatory knowledge.

The Ulema have divided ignorance (jahl) into two types: jahl basit (simple), and jahl murakkab (complex).

Jahl basit is basic unawareness - "I do not know." This is a minor problem in the sense that it is easily remedied and replaced with knowledge given the proper steps summed up by the act of asking. Even a superlatively knowledgeable person such as Imam Malik, will - or rather, must - at times say: "I do not know" and defer the matter to those who know, by asking. Ibn `Umar would bless the day in which he admitted not to know something. For to say "I do not know" is in itself a proof of one's knowledge that one knows something and ignores many things, as the maxim goes, "`Alimta shay'an wa jahilta ashya'."

Compound Ignorance

Jahl murakkab, compound ignorance, is by far the real problem. Most of what is posted on Internet forums is characterized by Jahl murakkab, the disease of those who say: "I do know, I do know, I do know" and they know less than nothing. Of beneficial knowledge they are completely deprived, and mostly possess useless knowledge. This is not due to the nature of their material but to the disease in their hearts, ego pushing them into denial and obduracy beyond limits of which they themselves have no idea. Wal-`iyadhu billah.

A mark of this disease is that most of their discourse if from their own heads. They will turn to their minds and produce what they will call "Islamic views" - on Authority, Human Faculties, the Meaning of Surrender, Worship, Hadith, Salvation, Khilafa, Reform, Education, the Vote, etc. taking and leaving from the Book and Sunna what they please, like other Ummas did with their Books before. And it is all nonsense and causes for remorse in the Balance on the Day of Judgment.

Safety and remedy from this disease is to stick to what the pious Salaf said - those that went before us and whose Islamic knowledge and piety are unquestioned. Imam Ahmad - Allah have mercy on him - said: "How can I ever say what was not said before me?" The compound dolt or Jahil Murakkab, on the other hand, says: "How can I ever say what was said before me?" What is worse, he will quote from the Qur'an and Sunna to support his view!

Consequently everything that proceeds from compound ignorance is, by definition, new and original. It is innovated in essence and style though not necessarily in content as they dispose of the words of the Qur'an and Sunna, and Shaytan is past master at quoting the Five Heavenly Books. Nevertheless, it is easy to detect it, wal-Hamdu lillah.

Coarseness and Ignorance - Signs of the Hour

Among the signs of the Hour mentioned by the Noble Messenger of Allah - Allah bless and greet him and his Family and Companions - in Sahih al-Bukhari is "when the destitute (al-buhm) camelherds compete in building tall structures." Another version in al-Bukhari has: "when the barefoot and the naked are the top leaders (lit. "heads") of the people." In Sahih Muslim: "you shall see the barefoot, naked, indigent (al-`âla) shepherds compete in building tall structures." Another version in Muslim states: "when the naked and barefoot are the top leaders of the people." A third version in Muslim has: "when you see that the barefoot and naked, the deaf and dumb are the kings of the earth."

Ibn Hajar said in commenting this passage of the hadith in Fath al-Bari:

It was said that "bear-foot and naked," "deaf and dumb" are their attributes by way of hyperbole, showing how coarse they are. That is, they did not use their hearing or sight in anything concerning their Religion even though they are of perfectly sound senses.

The Prophet's (saws) words: "The heads of the people" means the kings of the earth. Abu Farwas' narration names the kings explicitly.

What is meant by them is the people of the desert country, as was made explicit in Sulayman al-Taymi's and other narrations: "Who are the barefoot and naked?" He answered: "The Bedouin Arabs."

Al-Tabarani relates through Abu Hamza, on the authority of Ibn `Abbas from the Prophet Muhammad, sallahu alayhi wa sallam, that "one of the signs of the change of the Religion is the affectation of eloquence by the rabble and their betaking to palaces in big cities."

Al-Qurtubi said: "What is meant here is the prediction of a reversal in society whereby the people of the desert country will take over the conduct of affairs and rule every region by force. They will become extremely rich and their primary concern will be to erect tall building and take pride in them. We have witnessed this in our time as well as the import of the hadith: "The hour will not rise until the happiest man will be the depraved son of a depraved father (lukka` ibn lukka`)," and also "if the leadership is entrusted to those unfit for it, then expect the hour," both found in the authentic collections."

May Allah grant all people of sound hearts never to be phazed nor swayed for even one second by the argufying devils who attack Islam from outside or - especially, in our time - inside. Their endless prattle and all they hope and work for is doomed to perish, and only what was done for the Countenance of Allah shall remain and triumph. This is the path of the Salaf; the path of Ahl al-Sunna; the path of the People of Shari`a and Tariqa; the path of the People of Paradise.

May Allah send blessings and peace on the Best of Creation, OUR MASTER Muhammad in this blessed month of this birth and at all times, and upon his Family and all his Companions.