The Case for Political Correctness and Against the Jahiliyyah Inside All of Us

By Zainab Khan

Today’s world is a politically correct (PC) world. In order to be socially “accepted,” we choose our words based on what the “Politically Correct” have decided is acceptable for us to say. Unfortunately, many people have come out against being politically correct in a defense of not “overthinking” words.  Words are just words, and even the worst of words lose their meanings over time, right?

So, for example, when we (used to) say “That’s SO gay,” we aren’t meaning to offend individuals who identify as gay, right? We just mean to say, “That’s SO dumb.” But, it doesn’t work like that. Our choice of words matter very much.

Although many of us defiantly shrug them off, Alhamdulillah for the PC Police. Alhamdulillah that we have those who think about what words we should be using for those of us who choose not to.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Muslim who hasn’t heard the hadith that describes when a companion of the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) referred to Bilal (RA) as the “son of a black woman.” Hurt at the comment, Bilal (RA) expressed his grief to Muhammad (SAW), and our Prophet reprimanded the companion by saying that he “still had some jahiliyyah inside of him,” jahiliyyah referring both to pre-Islamic Arabia, and more generally, the state of being in the absence of Divine Guidance.

In a few short words, Alhamdulillah, Muhammad (SAWS) was able to covey what the PC-Police have been wanting us to understand for decades: However divorced certain words are from past connotations, words do come with histories, contexts and social realities — whether we choose to be cognizant of this fact or not.

The vocabulary we choose is always a reflection and reinforcement of a word’s past – social, cultural, and historical. When Muhammad (SAWS) refers to the “jahiliyyah inside” of the companion, he is referring to the pre-Islamic society, culture and history of ignorance.

The outward choice of the companion’s words reflected on the inward state of his emaan (faith). Although the companion was a practicing Muslim, he still carried pre-Islamic characteristics inside of him. The companion’s use of skin color as a descriptor of Bilal (RA) reduced Bilal’s identity to that of a color, thereby ridding his person of its individuality.  The companion’s words reflected and brought to surface the historical, social and cultural oppressions still lingering in the Muslim community, and lingering in this companion, from jahiliyyah society.

Alhamdulillah, most of us have gotten quite good at recognizing the words we should and should not say (h/t to the PC-Police). However, the hadith referred to above asks us to go a little further. As mentioned earlier, jahiliyyah also refers to the state of being in absence of Divine Guidance. In order to open up ourselves fully to Divine Guidance, we must work hard to eradicate the jahiliyyah inside of us. Accordingly, after Muhammad (SAWS) approached him, the companion immediately recognized his fault and burst out into tears and asked Bilal (RA) for forgiveness.

Take note – the companion’s need to repent for his sins outweighed his need to defend his ego.

Most of the words we use will be the ones we learn from the environments around us. However, let’s not mistake routine, habit and the status quo as an excuse for willful ignorance. We must understand that in some cases, words that became status quo of our environments did so precisely because oppression had been normalized.

It is incumbent on all of us – at the very least for our own sake— to introspect critically about the words we choose to speak and think.

Zainab Khan is a recent graduate of Wesleyan University. Her interests include the South Asian and Middle Eastern diaspora networks, transnational youth movements, and more broadly, fashion and how it operates as a global discourse. You can follow her on Twitter @zaynman

  • Jeffrey Jones

    “our Prophet reprimanded the companion by saying that he “still had some jahiliyyah inside of him,”
    Actually all you muslims have more than “some” of the jahiliyyah, in you. Islam is full of pagan Arab rituals e.g. waltzing around a meteorite in Mecca, Drag yourselves into the 21st century, you’re only about 14 centuries behind the West.

    • SparklingMoon-

      Islam is full of pagan Arab rituals waltzing around a meteorite in Mecca,
      ———————————————————————————
      No,the teachings of Islam are based on the Revelation of God (that is safe in the book of Quran).The message of Islam was to reform the whole world and it raised a voice against all prevailed evils and provided a code of life to reform all humanity.”The Prophet of Islam appeared in Arabia and addressed himself to Jews and Christians who believed that there was to be no teaching outside their own ! Then he taught the Meccan idolaters that God was One, and that all men were equal who believed intensely in the superiority of their own race ! To teach hardened drunkards and gamblers the evils of their ways, to criticize almost everything they believed or did, to give them a new teaching and then to succeed seems impossible. It is like being able to swim up-stream against a current rushing with tremendous force. It is utterly beyond human capacity.

      The Founders of Islam like other prophets had announced at the outset that his teaching would prevail and that those who might seek to destroy it would themselves be destroyed. They were without means and ill-equipped. His teachings were contrary to firmly established beliefs and habits of thinking and provoked the fiercest opposition of their people. Yet they succeeded, and what they had foretold came to pass. Why were their prophecies and their promises fulfilled ? There is a book available online to read and its chapter ”The Holy Prophet- A Life Sketch” is very helpful to find truth about the circumstances of Arabs before Islam and after Islam:
      https://www.alislam.org/library/books/Introduction-Study-Holy-Quran.pdf

  • Y. A. Warren

    “We must understand that in some cases, words that became status quo of our environments did so precisely because oppression had been normalized.

    It is incumbent on all of us – at the very least for our own sake— to introspect critically about the words we choose to speak and think.”

    I completely agree; this is why I substitute the term “Sacred Spirit” for the term “God.” “Gods’ are jealous, vengeful beings that existed many centuries before Genesis or Abraham.

    • SparklingMoon-

      this is why I substitute the term “Sacred Spirit” for the term “God.” “Gods’ are jealous, vengeful beings that existed many centuries before Genesis or Abraham.
      ————————————————————
      God may be called with any good name as all good names belong to Him. He is called by the name of ‘Sacred Spirit’ or ‘God Almighty’ but it is a reality that He is the same God who had sent His prophets in different parts of the world in different times for the guidance of His people.The words of His revelation had been changed in religious books by next coming people of a prophet therefore have become a mixture of revelation and human narration and for the reason it is not right to judge that Merciful God and His Holy Attributes in the mirror of these human writings. God describes His attributes: in the Quran112:2-5: ”Your God is One in His Being and in His attributes.. No other being is eternal and everlasting and self-existing like His Being, nor are the attributes of any being like His attributes…. All His attributes are without equal and as He has no equal in His Being, no one is His equal in His attributes. If one of His attributes were to be defective, all His attributes would be defective and therefore His Unity cannot be established unless He were without any equal in His attributes as He is without any equal in His Being.
      (Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol.20, p152-155)

      • Y. A. Warren

        I simply don’t understand why humans continue to limit the image of The Sacred Spirit with terms like “god” and “he.”

        • SparklingMoon-

          How do you define ‘The Sacred Spirit’. I mean when a person uses the word God he means the Creator of this universe who had sent His prophets for human guidance and they had informed their followers about His different attributes to recognize Him. If it is your personal liking to call this Creator of universe with the name of Sacred Spirit then you have freedom. Or you have some different conception of Sacred Spirit?

          • Y. A. Warren

            As far as I can ascertain, the term “god” is simply a generic term for any being that one worships. These beings are usually portrayed in physical forms outside of the rest of the physical universe. People seem to fear that which they don’t understand. The “gods” are often portrayed as humans; I imagine because this makes them less frightening to people.

            The term “god” has, in my opinion, been so abused that I don’t know what people mean when they use it. This is why I use the term “Sacred Spirit.” This Spirit is manifested all around us in many ways, both physical and non-physical. We are meant to be in awe, not fear, of Sacred Spirit, though the two emotions sometimes feel the same.

            Those who seek power insist that they have special access to the gods and convince the frightened masses that they can influence the actions of the gods. I reject this as abusing Scared Spirit’s universe.

            Holy (Sacred) Spirit encompasses all the energy that we experience in physical forms, as well as that which we can’t see or hear. I believe that humans have the unique ability to choose how we will display the Sacred Spirit infusing each of us and all the universe.

            This is a continuing source of awe for me, and I know I will never comprehend even a tiny portion of all the Sacred energy in the universe. I simply feel incredibly blessed that I am part of it.


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