An-Nisa · Juz 5 · Qur'an Tafseer

What is Jibt and Taghoot?

[Explanation in the light of Surah an-Nisa Ayah 51]

Two words, ‘al-Jibt’ and ‘al-Taghoot’ have been mentioned in the present ayah. What do they mean?

Jibt: Originally, the name of an idol which was also used later on for every false god as well as for sorcery.

Taghoot: Literally signifies the arrogant. It is also used for Shaytan, and for evil and falsehood.

Ibn Abbas, Ibn Jubayr, and Abu al-Aliyah radhiAllahu ‘anhum have said that Jibt comes from the Ethiopian language and refers to a magician while Taghoot signifies a soothsayer.

‘Umar radhiAllahu ‘anhu says that Jibt means magic and Taghoot means Shaytan. Malik ibn Anas radhiAllahu ‘anhu is reported to have said that everything worshiped other than Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is covered by the name Taghoot.

Al-Qurtubi says that the view of Malik ibn Anas radhiAllahu ‘anhu, being more inclusive, is generally preferred because it also has its support from the Qur’an where it is said

اعْبُدُواْ اللَّهَ وَاجْتَنِبُواْ الْطَّـغُوتَ

 “Worship Allah and avoid Taghoot.” [an-Nahl : 36]

But, really, there is no contradiction as such in these different views. They all can be implied in one or the other sense, as Jibt was essentially the name of an idol after all, but it was later on that it came to be applied to other things and beings worshiped other than Allah. [Ruh al-Ma’ani]

Background of Ayaat 51 – 52

Ibn Abbas radhiAllahu ‘anhu narrates that two chiefs of the Jews, Huyayy ibn Akhtab and Kaab ibn Ashraf came along with a group of theirs, after the battle of Uhud, to meet the Quraysh at Makkah. The Jewish Chief, Kaab ibn Ashraf met Abu Sufyan and promised to collaborate with him in his fight against the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. The people of Makkah told Kaab ibn Ashraf that they were a people who cheated by making false promises. Then, they challenged them to prostrate before two particular idols (Jibt and Taghoot) there, if they really meant what they had said.

So, in order to assure the Quraysh, he did exactly that. After that, Kaab told the Quraysh, “Let thirty people from among you and thirty people from us come forward so that we declare our resolve before the Lord of the Ka’abah that all of us will jointly fight against Muhammad.”

The Quraysh liked this proposal from Kaab and this was how they opened a united front against Muslims. After that, Abu Sufyan told Kaab, You are learned people. You have the Book of Allah with you. But, we are totally ignorant. Now, you let us know what do you think about us – tell us if we are on the right path, or is it Muhammad?”

Kaab asked, “What is your religion?”

Abu Sufyan replied, “We slaughter our camels for the Hajj. We offer their milk to milk to pilgrims and entertain guests. We maintain good relations with our kin. We make tawaf of the House of Allah and perform Umrah. Contrary to this, Muhammad has abandoned his ancestral religion and he has cut himself off from his own people and, on top of that, he has challenged our ancestral religion by introducing a new religion of his own.”

Hearing all this, Kaab ibn Ashraf said, “You people are on the right path. Muhammad has gone astray.”

Thereupon, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala revealed these ayaat and, thus, exposed their lying and deceit. [Rul al-Ma’ani]

The Blind Pursuit of Material Gains Sometimes Makes Man Surrender Religion and Faith

Kaab ibn Ashraf was a distinguished scholar among the Jews. He believed in God and worshiped none but Him. However, when the ghost of overweening personal desires overpowered his mind and heart, he offered to join forces with the Quraysh against Muslims.

As we already know, the Quraysh put forth the condition that he should prostrate before their idols. He swallowed this bitter pill to achieve his personal end.

Here, we see that he squarely stooped to fulfill the condition imposed by the Quraysh, something, contrary to his religion, but he made no effort to stand by his religious beliefs and did not show the courage to part ways with them on so crucial an issue. The Qur’an mentions a similar incident elsewhere concerning Bal’am ibn Baur. It says

وَاتْلُ عَلَيْهِمْ نَبَأَ الَّذِى ءاتَيْنَـهُ ءَايَـتِنَا فَانْسَلَخَ مِنْهَا فَأَتْبَعَهُ الشَّيْطَـنُ فَكَانَ مِنَ الْغَاوِينَ

“recite to them the news of the one who was given Our signs, the eased out from it and followed the Shaytan, and he was one of those who seduce people to err.” [al-A’raf : 175]

commentators say that Bal’am ibn Ba’ur was a great scholar and a mendicant who wielded spiritual powers. But, when he launched his sinister plans against Prophet Musa ‘alayhi salaam in an effort to achieve his personal desires, he was unable to achieve anything against him, but what did happen was that he himself ended up being accused and went astray.

This tells us that religious knowledge as culled from a book is not enough to guarantee the desired benefit. What is needed is action sought by the knowledge. This will not be possible unless one totally abstains from material greed and from the pursuit of carnal desires. Otherwise, a man would not stay strong enough to resist against sacrificing something so dear as his religion on the altar of his desires.

In our own time, we have the kind of people who would abandon their true creed just to achieve their material and political goals. Some of them would go for the extra effort to dress up their secular beliefs and views with the garb of Islam. Such people care less about the grave Covenant between God and man, nor do they worry much about what would happen to them in the akhirah. All this happens when one abandons his true and right creed and starts following the signals of the Shaytan.

[Taken from Maarif-ul-Qur’anan by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani]

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