The Arabic term Tāghūt (الطَّاغُوت) can refer to idols, a tyrant, an oracle or an enemy of Muhammad. The term Taghut occurs eight times in the Qur’an.
Tāghūt means “one who has crossed the limits”, in plain language: a rebel. It is any power or being that rebels against Allah and demands loyalty and obedience.
The Arabic word Taghut is derived from the root ط-غ-ت which denotes to cross the limits, overstep boundaries; to rebel.
This explains the meaning of one who exceeds the limit. This notion is associated with the three stages of disbelief in the Islamic context: disobeying Allah, kufr (rejection of the idea that one should obey Allah) and – the last stage – which is: not only to rebel against Allah but also imposing their rebellion against the will of Allah upon others. People who reach this stage are considered a taghut.
In a broader sense, it stands for everything that may direct a Muslim into evil things. In Arabic, it can be interpreted as singular or plural.
Therefore, it is commonly translated as the powers of evil.
This expression was used in Tunisia recently by Moncef Marzouki, a Tunisian politician who was the president of Tunisia from 2011 to 2014.
He defamed his rival party Nidaa Tounes (نِداء تُونِس) by this term and caused a lot of criticism.
The term is mentioned in the Qur’an, for example in sura 2 The Cow – in Arabic: al-Baqara (سُورة الْبَقَرة); or in sura 4 Women – in Arabic: al-Nisā’ (سُورة النِّساء) – verse 4:60:
أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى الَّذِينَ يَزْعُمُونَ أَنَّهُمْ آمَنُوا بِمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ وَمَا أُنزِلَ مِن قَبْلِكَ يُرِيدُونَ أَن يَتَحَاكَمُوا إِلَى الطَّاغُوتِ وَقَدْ أُمِرُوا أَن يَكْفُرُوا بِهِ وَيُرِيدُ الشَّيْطَانُ أَن يُضِلَّهُمْ ضَلَالًا بَعِيدًا.
Meaning: Do you [Prophet] not see those who claim to believe in what has been sent down to you, and in what was sent down before you, yet still want to turn to unjust tyrants for judgement, although they have been ordered to reject them? Satan wants to lead them far astray.
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