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 the spiritual values, the truths of religion, and the high moral character Islam presents to mankind.
Whatever society that does not live by the principles of the morality of 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 us, 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 the morals of the Qur’an 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 these common false beliefs that form the basis of these different types.
The Life-Goals and Ideals Common to the Societies of Ignorance
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 existence.
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 related 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 life.
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 similar things the ignorant prefer to eternal life.
Of course, all such blessings are desirable and legitimate things that one can possess in this world. 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 showing 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. Many people in the world are in pursuit of these several main ideals. 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 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 confront death and 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 great sorrow of those who had neglected Allah during their time in this world, when they are confronted with this reality, is related in the Qur’an:
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 the same lifestyle and outlook on the world. There are some among them who are totally ignorant of the morality of religion, and others that are known to be aware of the morality of religion and are knowledgeable of many commandments of Allah. Many among them would respond, if asked, that they believed in Allah.
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, 84-90)
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. They comprehend clearly that nothing in this world is the result of chance, that every being, in its minutest detail, has been designed by Allah, the All-Mighty Creator, 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, 14)
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 the After-life.
Although many among the societies of ignorance know of the Afterlife, in their own way they try to run away from it by avoiding 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. In the Qur’an Allah tells us that they do not want to believe that death is real, and therefore, the Afterlife never enters their minds:
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, 64)
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 could gain not only the blessings of this world, which they would enjoy in the best possible way, but they could also hope to gain Allah’s good pleasure and an eternal life in Paradise. And, in the life in Paradise, they will live an eternal life in which concepts like boredom, wearisome and monotony are not created. In this life they will be 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 only with this world will certainly lose the Afterlife. This is related in one of 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, the people of a society of ignorance have difficulty in grasping these facts since they do not think giving due consideration. 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. In the Qur’an Allah gives the following response to this hesitance of the people of ignorance:
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 ash-Shura, 36)
… 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, 26)
But, merely because they do not want to sever their attachment to this world, the ignorant refuse to consider the reality depicted in the verses of the Qur’an. Rather, they offer unfounded excuses in order to deceive themselves and quiet their consciences. Throughout history, each prophet related to the community to which he was sent about the truth of the Afterlife, Heaven and Hell, and warned them to heed his message while they still had time. But, most turned a deaf ear to the warnings of the messengers, denying the Afterlife with responses related in the following verses:
... “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, 81)
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, 79-82)
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)