THE BASIC MAKEUP OF THE SOCIETIES OF IGNORANCE
Who Are the Societies of Ignorance Composed of?
The English word "ignorance" comes from a Latin word which means "not
to know." It is used in the Qur'an to refer to a nation that does not
know Allah, or acknowledge His qualities and eternal power as it should;
a society that is unaware of spiritual values, the truths of religion,
or the high moral character its citizens should aspire to. Whatever society
that does not live by the principles of the true religion can be referred
to be a society of ignorance. At first glance, these societies may seem
to be very different; their members may follow a particular way of dressing,
different habits, likes and dislikes, or have their own manner of speaking.
Nevertheless, they share a common philosophy and beliefs. Every member
of these societies ignores the religion of Allah and, although they realize
that He created them, they do not live the kind of life that He has prescribed.
They neglect His religion, substituting for it their own false beliefs.
These false religions are not founded on love towards Allah, but rather
on the love for this world. Instead of seeking to gain Allah's favor,
they strive to gain the approval and acknowledgement of other human beings.
Instead of giving thanks to Allah, and seeking help only from Him, they
are grateful to human beings and establish bonds of intimacy with them.
They forget that Allah possesses all power, and instead of fearing only
Him, they fear other human beings and the rules they have established.
But, when referring to a society of ignorance, it is not only those who
are completely uninstructed in matters of the religion we speak of; there
are those who know the true religion very well, but still cannot escape
the ignorance into which they have fallen. These individuals may perform
some acts of worship enjoined by Allah, but do not come close to feeling
the devotion of a believer, or adhering sufficiently to the moral teachings
of the Qur'an. The reason for this is that their hearts are not deeply
devoted to Allah, or adequately fearful of the Day of Judgment. It is
the love they feel for this world that has caused them to develop personalities
contrary to the demands of the Qur'an; still, even if they did know something
of the morality taught by the religion, they could not save themselves
from the society of ignorance.
These societies exist in every corner of the world. However, although
they are entirely independent of one another, and their members have beliefs
completely different from them, we can recognize common traits, and a
specific pattern of belief pervading all of them. For this reason, before
discussing the personalities of the citizens of societies of ignorance,
it will be useful to examine this common philosophy that is the basis
of these different types.
The Life-Goals and Ideals Common to the Societies of
The common aim that drives societies of ignorance is to maximize the
pleasures of this earthly life. No matter where you go in this world,
you will find that each member of the societies of ignorance-rich or poor,
villager or city-dweller, young or old-does not waver in the pursuit of
this goal. Because they are of the corrupt opinion that life is limited
by death, they seek to derive maximum enjoyment of this brief and fleeting
This notion, of course, is completely false. The life of this world has
been created to test us. Allah has created this world to be particularly
appealing to human beings by endowing it with many blessings. Few realize
that these blessings are from Allah, and that they are fleeting. They
give thanks for them, because their aim in this life is to do the good
that will earn Allah's favor, and, ultimately, eternal life. Others forget
that these blessings derive from Allah; deceived by these illusory adornments,
they put any thought of the Afterlife out of their minds.
Therefore, a society of ignorance is composed of individuals that choose
the second alternative, placing all their hopes in this life alone. The
life of this world to come does not figure in any of their future plans.
Allah revealed the reason for their choice in the Qur'an:
That is because they prefer the life of this world to the Hereafter and
because Allah does not guide disbelieving people. (Surat an-Nahl, 107)
As Allah also relates in this verse, the life of this world deceives
them by appearing more pleasant than it actually is. All that Allah has
created as a blessing and a test for human beings deceive the ignorant
who forget their responsibilities to Him, and lose themselves in this
That which lures the ignorant into heedlessness, as they indulge their
various passions, is obvious. They want to live a "good life," possessing
wealth, respect, status, a good marriage and successful children, and
numerous other things the ignorant prefer to eternal life.
Of course, all such blessings are desirable and legitimate, and are such
things that one can possess in the pursuit of Allah's favor. But, in this
regard, the ignorant fall into great error. They forget that all such
blessings belong only to Allah, and that Allah has granted them for the
purpose of learning gratitude towards Him; they also forget that what
is at stake is the Afterlife.
The fact that the ignorant fail to recognize this reality causes that
ultimately their lives are dull and ordinary. They may often compromise
basic moral principles in order to rise above others, earn more money
or take greater advantage of what the world has to offer. But, these things
are not the "good life" they think it is; on the contrary, it causes them
anxiety. No matter how much they are blessed with, those who have corrupted
themselves by placing excessive value on this life can never experience
the pleasure they had hoped to gain. The "rat race," or the further pursuit
of more and more, prevents them from enjoying what they have come to possess.
Becoming overly selfish about that which they possess, they are never
satisfied with what they have.
From their excessive ambition to reap greater and greater profits, they
begin to show signs of ill health and early aging. Finally, they come
face to face with death, when they will encounter the next world, where,
contrary to the life of this world, wealth, status and renown are of no
value, and where rewards are tabulated according to one's efforts to earn
Allah's favor. The Qur'an relates to us the great sorrow of those who
had neglected Allah during their time in this world, when they are confronted
with this reality:
It may be that those who are disbelievers will wish that they had been
Muslims. Leave them to eat and enjoy themselves. Let false hope divert
them. They will soon know. (Surat al-Hijr, 2-3)
Belief in Allah in the Societies of Ignorance
Those who comprise the societies of ignorance do not share a single faith.
There are some among them who have totally cut themselves off from religion,
and others that are known to be pious and are knowledgeable of many religious
precepts. Many among them would respond, if asked, that they believed
in Allah. The verses that inform us of this fact are as follows:
Say: "To whom does the Earth belong, and everyone in it, if you have
any knowledge?" They will say: "To Allah." Say: "So will you not pay heed?"
Say: "Who is the Lord of the Seven Heavens and the Lord of the Mighty
Throne?"They will say: "Allah." Say: "So will you not fear Allah?" Say:
"In whose hand is the dominion over everything, He Who gives protection
and from Whom no protection can be given, if you have any knowledge?"
They will say: "Allah's." Say: "So how have you been bewitched?" The fact
is that We have given them the truth and they are liars. (Surat al-Muminun,
But, in their hearts, they reject the truth that they affirm with their
lips. For this reason, they do not live in a way pleasing to Allah. Instead
of doing that which will earn Allah's favor, they live to satisfy their
desires. They utter with their mouths that they believe because they recognize
the reality. Everywhere they look, in whatever research they conduct,
and in every aspect of every detail they observe, they encounter a superior
intelligence. Then, they see clearly that nothing in this world is the
result of chance, that every being, in its minutest detail, has been designed
by our Lord, and that everything that happens is put into motion by Allah's
power and dominion. For this reason, they affirm Allah's existence. However,
in spite of that, they do not aim to conform their lives to the morality
of the religion. The reason is explained in the Qur'an:
And they repudiated them wrongly and haughtily, in spite of their own
certainty about them. See the final fate of the corrupters. (Surat an-Naml,
Several among the societies of ignorance would wish to reject Allah openly.
But, they also know that the perfection of the universe they live in cannot
have come about by the operation of chance. Spiritually, they are in a
quagmire; the solution they have devised for themselves is to ignore the
proofs of Allah's existence, and to keep the matter from their minds.
Their conscience is constantly reminding them of the truth, but they provide
various excuses to suppress it. But, none of these excuses is in any way
valid; their only purpose is to disguise their rejection of Allah.
What the Members of the Societies of Ignorance Believe about Death and
Although many among the societies of ignorance know of the Afterlife,
they avoid thinking of it. They also disregard the fact their beliefs
are grounded without consideration to it. Indeed, they look only to the
life of this world to fulfill their aims and wishes, seeking fulfillment
in mundane affairs. Due to the attachment they feel for this world, they
would hope it to never end. The Qur'an tells us that they do not want
to believe that death is real, and therefore, the Afterlife never enters
No indeed! We have given these people enjoyment, as We did their fathers,
until life seemed long and good to them... (Surat al- Anbiya', 44)
Belief in the Afterlife would not allow them to be excessively attached
to this world.
In the Qur'an, Allah tells us that this life is a distraction, and that
the real life is in the next world:
The life of this world is nothing but a game and a diversion. The abode
of the Hereafter-that is truly Life if they only knew. (Surat Al-'Ankabut,
In spite of this, they avoid giving careful consideration to this. They
fail to realize that they have nothing to lose, but everything to gain,
if they believe in the Afterlife. If they believed, they would gain not
only the blessings of this world, which they would enjoy in the best possible
way, but they would also hope to gain Allah's good pleasure and an eternal
life in Paradise. And, in the life in Paradise, they will live surrounded
by unlimited good, an endless variety of blessings and, most importantly,
that life will be eternal. That is, a person who desires the Afterlife
will gain the benefits of this world and of the world to come. But those
who are satisfied with this world will lose the Afterlife. This is related
in the verses of Allah as follows:
… (he) loses both the world and the Hereafter. That is indeed sheer loss.
(Surat al-Hajj, 11)
By such an example, it is easy to discern the difference between real
loss and gain. But, it is impossible to convince otherwise the people
of a society of ignorance. According to their shallow thinking, they are
already enjoying the benefits of this world. Nevertheless, lacking a sure
faith in the Afterlife caused them to doubt.The Qur'an provides the following
response to their hesitance:
Whatever you have been given is only the enjoyment of the life of this
world. What is with Allah is better and longer lasting …(Surat ah-Shura,
… They rejoice in the life of this world. Yet the life of this world,
compared to the Hereafter, is only fleeting enjoyment. (Surat ar-Ra'd,
But, merely because they do not want to sever their attachment to this
world, the ignorant refuse to consider the reality Allah relates in the
Qur'an. Rather, they offer unfounded excuses in order to deceive themselves
and quiet their consciences. Throughout history, prophets related to those
they were sent to about the truth of the Afterlife, Heaven and Hell, and
warned them to heed their message while there was still time. But, most
turned a deaf ear to the warnings of the messengers, denying the Afterlife
with answers such as the following:
... "Who will give life to bones when they are decayed?"
(Surah Ya Sin, 78)
... "When we have been absorbed into the earth, are we
then to be in a new creation?"... (Surat as-Sajda, 10)
"We and our forefathers were promised this before.
This is nothing but the myths of previous peoples!" (Surat al-Muminun,
And, Allah responded in the following way to their rejection:
Say "He Who made them in the first place will bring them back to life.
He has total knowledge of each created thing; He Who produces fire for
you from green trees so that you use them to light your fires." Does He
Who created the heavens and Earth not have the power to create the same
again? Yes indeed! He is the Creator, the All-Knowing. His command when
He desires a thing is just to say to it, "Be!" and it is. (Surah Ya Sin,
We can see that, whether or not the ignorant believe, the reality of
Heaven and Hell cannot be denied. By refusing to believe, they deceive
themselves. However, when they are finally faced with this reality, they
will know its truth:
On the Day when those who were disbelievers are exposed
to the Fire, they will be asked, "Is this not the truth?" They will say,
"Yes, by our Lord." He will say, "Then taste the punishment for having
been disbeliever."(Surat al-Ahqaf, 34)