The Meaning of Fitna in Islam

Opening sequence from the controversial film 'Fitna' made by Dutch MP Geert Wilders. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Definition: The word fitna comes from an Arabic verb which means to "seduce, tempt, or lure." There are many shades of meaning, mostly referring to a feeling of disorder or unrest. It can be used to describe the difficulties faced during personal trials, the oppression of the powerful against the weak, or individuals or communities giving in to the "whispers" of Satan and falling into sin.

Variations of the word fitna are found throughout the Quran to describe the trials and temptations that may face the believers.

  • "And know that your worldly goods and your children are but a trial and a temptation (fitna), and that with Allah there is a tremendous reward" (8:28).
  • "They said: 'In Allah do we put our trust. Our Lord! make us not a trial (fitna) for those who practice oppression'" (10:85).
  • "Every soul shall have a taste of death. And We test you by evil and by good by way of trial (fitna). And to Us you must return" (21:35).
  • "Our Lord! Make us not a test and trial (fitna) for the unbelievers, but forgive us, our Lord! for You are the Exalted in Might, the Wise" (60:5).
  • "Your riches and your children may be but a trial (fitna), but in the presence of Allah, is the highest reward" (64:15).

In modern usage, the term is used to describe forces that cause controversy, fragmentation, scandal, chaos, or discord within the Muslim community, disturbing social peace and order. The term has also been used to describe divisions which occurred in the early years of the Muslim community.

Anti-Muslim activist Geert Wilder used the term "Fitna" as the title of his controversial film that attempts to connect verses of the Quran with acts of violence.

Pronunciation: fit'-nah

Alternate Spellings: fitna or fitnah