The Age of Ignorance (Jahiliyyah) refers to the religious, social, and ideological atmosphere the Arabs were enmeshed in pre-Islam. This concept, cited in the Muslim holy book of the Quran and hadiths, does not suggest illiteracy, a lack of knowledge or ignorance of the world but rather a paucity of wisdom, fairness, perspicacity, morals, and, in the general sense, humanity. Apart from a few rare exceptions, ancient Arab nations were more or less the “ignorant society.” Even though this ignorance was replaced with belief and a pure disposition with the emergence of Islam, the danger of people and communities tail-spinning into the darkness of ignorance has always been possible. Because the Jahilliyah period is not ancient history that is over and done with but a rotting process that could repeat itself under ripe conditions. In this respect, ignorance is very much alive, widespread and always ready to rear its head at the first sign of danger.
What has propelled me to start my article with technical details is an insidious article that was published two days ago in the British publication The Guardian. Headlined “Families want a son at any cost: the women forced to abort female fetuses in India,” the article scrutinizes gender bias in Indian society. In the report, testimonies were given by women who were ostracized for giving birth to daughters, who were forced to abort their unborn children and who were lynched for not bringing sons into this world. Furthermore, it stated that around 46 million female fetuses were eliminated over the last 50 years in India. These “missing females” were either aborted (with and without permission of the mother), or killed shortly after they were born.
Similar reports had made the rounds of the global media in 2019. Authorities investigating birth records in northern India’s state of Uttarakhand discovered that, for months only sons had been born in certain areas. The truth is of course what everyone suspected it to be: In reality, there was a myriad of females who were born or about to be, however, they weren’t even given the chance to be brought into the world, let alone live their lives.
Despite the enormity of deciding which baby gets to be born or not based on their gender being criminalized in India in 1994, this practice could not be eradicated.
In reports published on the subject, five main reasons for this misogyny are:
• Daughters are considered a financial burden
It is a time-old tradition that when women marry they take with them large dowries and goods in India. Hence, many families see their daughters as a ship that will sink them into despair. Furthermore, the number of women who are humiliated, beaten and even killed by the family they marry into because they brought with them petty dowries is, unfortunately, not meager.
• Sons are seen as a source of revenue
The fact that sons are the main source of labor in both rural and urban areas is another reason for the hostile attitude towards daughters. Females are considered weak and unproductive in terms of labor.
• The conception that one’s lineage is continued with a male offspring
Daughters are considered “foreigners” as boys are considered as a guarantee of the continuation of one’s lineage and family name. For the same reason, the practice of disinheriting girls is also widespread.
• An inherent fragility
The notion that daughters are frail and fragile leads Indian society to classify them as worthless and useless. Underlying the verbal and physical abuse against women is this morbid view of the "female sex."
• Religious beliefs and tradition
And finally, religious beliefs and centuries-old traditions exacerbate the notion that women are worthless and inferior. Poppycock ideas that those “who don’t have sons will be met by the wrath of the Gods” are also very widespread. So much so that infertile couples adamantly avoid adopting daughters so as not to "incur divine wrath."
What did we say at the very beginning? Ignorance is not ancient history that is over and done with but a rotting process that could repeat itself under the right conditions.
The subject of this article was an example of a modern manifestation of the Age of Ignorance in India. However, if we were to hold up the same mirror to other countries in the Muslim world, what would stare back at us? With which elements does the Jahiliyya continue to gnaw at the Muslim body? These pivotal questions no doubt concern us all as does the responsibility to reform our shortcomings and ward off the signs of ignorance.