Jahannam (Arabic: جهنم‎, jahannam) in Islam is an afterlife place of punishment for evildoers. The punishments are carried out in accordance with the degree of sin one has done during their life.[1] In the Quran, Jahannam is also referred as "the fire" (النار‎, al-nar),[2] "blazing fire" (جحيم‎, jaheem),[3] "that which breaks to pieces" (حطمةhutamah),[4] "the abyss" (هاوية‎, haawiyah),[5] "the blaze" (سعير‎, sa’eer),[6] Saqar سقر‎, also the names of different gates to hell.[7] Just like the Islamic heavens, the common belief holds that Jahannam coexists with the temporal world.[8]

Suffering in hell is both physical and spiritual, and varies according to the sins of the condemned.[9] As described in the Quran, Hell has many levels (each one more severe than the one above it),[10] specifically seven gates, each for a specific group of sinners:[11] a blazing fire, boiling water, and the Tree of Zaqqum.[12] Some Islamic scholars believe that hell is an eternal destination; it will not be destroyed and its inhabitants will reside there forever.[13][14][15]


Tanakh, New Testament and Babylonical Talmud

In the Old Testament "Gehinnom" or Gei-ben-Hinnom, the Valley of the Son of Hinnom is an accursed Valley in Jerusalem where allegedly child sacrifices had taken place. In the gospels, Jesus talks about "Gehenna" (Greek rendering) as a place "where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched". (Mark 9:48) In the apocryphal book of 4 Ezra, written around the 2nd century, Gehinnom appears as a transcendental place of punishment. This change comes to completion in the Babylonian Talmud, written around 500 CE.[16]


Most of how Muslims picture and think about Jahannam comes from the Quran, according to scholar Einar Thomassen, who found nearly 500 references to Jahannam/hell (using a variety of names) in the Quran.[17] Jahannam appears in the Quran 77 times, Al-Jaheem 23 times.[18]

Muhammad visits at the inmates of hell, tormented by Zabaniyya led by the guardians of hell also showing the tree Zaqqum with the heads of Shayateen. Miniature from "The David Collection Copenhagen"

The Quran uses a number of different terms and phrases to refer to hell. Al-nar (the fire) is used 125 times, jahannam 77 times, jaheem (blazing flames) 26 times.[19] One collection[20] of Quranic descriptions of hell include "rather specific indications of the tortures of the Fire": flames that crackle and roar;[21] fierce, boiling waters,[22] scorching wind, and black smoke,[23] roaring and boiling as if it would burst with rage.[24] Its wretched inhabitants sigh and wail,[25] their scorched skins are constantly exchanged for new ones so that they can taste the torment anew,[26] drink festering water and though death appears on all sides they cannot die.[27] They are linked together in chains of 70 cubits,[28] wearing pitch for clothing and fire on their faces[29] have boiling water that will be poured over their heads, melting their insides as well as their skins, and hooks of iron to drag them back should they try to escape,[30] their remorseful admissions of wrongdoing and pleading for forgiveness are in vain.[31][32][33]

The description of Jahannam as a place of blazing fire appears in almost every verse in the Quran describing hell.[34] Jahannam is described as being located below heaven,[35][36] having seven gates, each for a specific group[7] or at least a different "portion" or "party"[37] of sinners. The Quran also mentions wrongdoers having "degrees (or ranks) according to their deeds"[38] which some scholars believe refers to the seven gates.[19] The one mention of levels of hell is that hypocrites will be found in its very bottom.[19][39]

The Quran mentions three different sources of food in hell:

  1. Ḍari‘, a dry desert plant that is full of thorns and fails to relieve hunger or sustain a person (Q88:6);[40][41][42]
  2. ghislin, which is only mentioned once (in Q69:36, which states that it is the only nourishment in hell);[42][43]
  3. zaqqum is mentioned three times.[42]


Hadith literature give expanded details and descriptions of Jahannam. For example, it is perceived to be so deep that if a stone were thrown into it, it would fall for 70 years before reaching the bottom.[44] The breadth of each of Hell's walls is equivalent to a distance covered by a walking journey of 40 years.[44] Malik in Hadith quotes Mohammed as saying that the fire of Jahannam was seventy times greater than fire on earth.[45] He also described that fire as "blacker than tar".[46]

In book 87 Hadith 155, "Interpretation of Dreams" of Sahih al-Bukhari, Muhammad talked of angels each with "a mace of iron" who guarded hell, and then expanded on the Quran's discourse describing Jahannam by recounting it as a place that

"was built inside like a well and it had side posts like those of a well, and beside each post there was an angel carrying an iron mace. I saw therein many people hanging upside down with iron chains, and I recognized therein some men from the Quraish".[47]

Some prominent people in, or destined to arrive in, hell mentioned in the Hadith and Quran are: Fir'awn (viz., the pharaoh of The Exodus, mentioned in Surah Yunus (specifically Q10:90-92), the wives of Nuh and Lut (mentioned in Surah At-Tahrim, specifically Q:66-10), and Abu Lahab and his wife (who were contemporaries and enemies of Muhammad and mentioned in Surah Al-Masadd, specifically Q:111).[citation needed]

According to Muhammad, the majority of the inhabitants of hell will be women, due to an inclination for gossip, conjecture and idle chatter.[48][49][50][51] However, other hadith imply that the majority of people in paradise will be women.[52] Al-Qurtubi reconciled the hadith that stated that the majority of the inhabitants of Jahannam would be women by suggesting that many of the women that will form the majority in Hell will be among the sinners that would stay there merely temporarily and would then be brought out of Hell into Paradise; thereafter the majority of the people of Paradise would be women.[53]

Other people mentioned in Hadith include, but are not limited to, the mighty, the proud and the haughty.[54]

According to one hadith, out of every one thousand people entering into the afterlife, nine hundred and ninety-nine of them will end up in the fire.[55][56][57] There are a few scholarly interpretations of this Hadith. One view is that the idea of these Hadiths is to, rather than state a particular number, convey the notion that there will be a large disparity between the number of nonbelivers and believers who enter Jahannam.[58]

Sahih Muslim quotes Muhammad as saying that suicides would reside in Jahannam forever.[59] According to Hadith collector Muwatta Imam Malik (Imam Malik), Muhammad said: "Truly a man utters words to which he attaches no importance, and by them he falls into the fire of Jahannam."[60]

Al-Bukhari in book 72:834 added to the list of dwellers in Jahannam: "The people who will receive the severest punishment from Allah will be the picture makers".[61][62] Use of utensils made of precious metals could also land its users in Jahannam: "A person who drinks from a silver vessel brings the fire of Jahannam into his belly".[63] As could starving a cat to death: "A woman was tortured and was put in Hell because of a cat which she had kept locked till it died of hunger."[64][65]

At least one hadith indicates the importance of faith in avoiding hell, stating: "... no one will enter Hell in whose heart is an atom's weight of faith.”[Note 1]

The Hadiths (the corpus of the reports of the teachings, deeds and sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad) introduce punishments, reasons and revelations not mentioned in the Quran. In both Quranic verses and hadiths, "the Fire" (Jahannam) is "a gruesome place of punishment that is always contrasted with Jannah, "the Garden" (paradise). Whatever characteristic "the Garden offered, the Fire usually offered the opposite conditions."[67] Several hadith describes a part of hell that is extremely cold rather than hot, known as Zamhareer.[68]

According to Bukhari, lips are cut by scissors. Other traditions added flogging. An Uighur manuscript also mentions drowning, stoning and falling from heights.[69] Based on hadiths, the sinners are thought to carry signs in accordance with their sins.[70]

Eschatological manuals

In addition to the Quran and hadith are "Eschatological manuals". These were written after the other two sources and developed descriptions of Jahannam "in more deliberate ways".[71] While the Quran and hadith tend to describe punishments that nonbelievers are forced to give themselves, the manuals illustrate external and more dramatic punishment, through devils, scorpions, and snakes.[72]

Manuals dedicated solely to the subject of Jahannam include Ibn Abi al-Dunya's Sifat al-nar, and al-Maqdisi's Dhikr al-nar. Other manuals—such as texts by al-Ghazali and the 12th-century scholar Qadi Ayyad -- "dramatise life in the Fire", and present "new punishments, different types of sinners, and the appearance of a multitude of devils," to exhort the faithful to piety.[7] His hell has a structure with a specific place for each type of sinners.[72]

Diagram of "Plain of Assembly"(Ard al-Hashr) on the Day of Judgment, from autograph manuscript of Futuhat al-Makkiyya by Sufi mystic and philosopher Ibn Arabi, ca. 1238. Shown are the 'Arsh (Throne of God), pulpits for the righteous (al-Aminun), seven rows of angels, Gabriel (al-Ruh), A'raf (the Barrier), the Pond of Abundance, al-Maqam al-Mahmud (the Praiseworthy Station; where the prophet Muhammad will stand to intercede for the faithful), Mizan (the Scale), As-Sirāt (the Bridge), Jahannam (Hell) and Marj al-Jannat (Meadow of Paradise).[73]

Al Ghazali, in his book The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife, describes and discusses the "wrongdoer" and graphic, sometimes violent scenes of Jahannam.[74]

According to theologian Al-Ghazali, Afterlife will start with the "Day of the Arising" and a trumpet blast[75] which will wake the dead from their graves. "The Perspiration"[76][77] —when all created beings, including men, angels, jinn, devils and animals gather and sweat unshaded from the sun—will follow.[78] Sinners and nonbelievers will suffer and sweat longer on this day, which lasts for "50,000 years". God will judge each soul,[79] accept no excuses, and examine every act and intention—no matter how small.[80] It is believed those whose good deeds outweigh the bad will be assigned to Jannah (heaven), and those whose bad deeds outweigh the good to Jahannam.[81][82] Finally the souls will traverse over hellfire[83] via the bridge of sirat. For sinners, it is believed the bridge will be thinner than hair and sharper than the sharpest sword, impossible to walk on without falling below to arrive at their destination.[84]

According to Leor Halevi, between the moment of death and the time of their burial ceremony, "the spirit of a deceased Muslim takes a quick journey to Heaven and Hell, where it beholds visions of the bliss and torture awaiting humanity at the end of days".[85]

In 'The Soul's Journey After Death, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, a theologian in the 14th century, writes explicitly of punishments faced by sinners and unbelievers in Jahannam. These are directly related to the wrongdoer's earthly transgressions.[86]

In hell, the inmates are tormented by Zabaniyya. Jahannam is depicted as an abyss with scorching winds and the As-Sirat bridge above. Its gates are guarded by Maalik and his subordinated angels. From the depth of Jahannam grows Zaqqum, a tree with fruits looking like the heads of demons. Quran 4:168 and Quran 37:23 talk of a road that leads to hell.[19][87]

Locating hell

Traditionally, the layers of hell were thought of corresponding with the layers of earth. Scholars thought about different ideas, where the entrance to hell could be located. Some believed the sulphourus well in Hadramawt, allegedly haunted by the souls of the wicked, to be the entrance to the underworld. Others considered the entrance in the valley of Hinnom. In a Persian work, the entry to hell is located in a gorge called Wadi Jahannam in Afghanistan.[70]

Eternal or temporary

Several verses in the Quran mention the eternal nature of hell or both heaven and hell.[Note 2] Quran 7:23, the damned will linger in hell for ages.[88] Two verses in the Quran (6:128[89] and 11:107[90]) emphasize that consignment to hell is horrible and eternal — but include the caveat "except as God (or your Lord) wills it". Some scholars considered this an escape from the eternity of hell.[91] Quran (10:107) suggests that Jahannam will be destroyed some day,[92] so that its inhabitants may either be rehabilitated or cease to exist. The concept of hell's annihilation is referred to as fanāʾ al-nār.[8]

The Ulama were not in agreement on whether abodes in hell last forever or not. Egyptian Hanafi author al-Tahawi writes that God punishes the sinners in proportions to their offense in accordance with his justice, afterwards release them in accordance with his mercy. Ahmad ibn Hanbal argues the eternity of hell and paradise are proven by the Quran, although earths and heavens will perish. For Muʿtazilis, the eternity of paradise and hell posed a major problem, since they regard solely God as eternal.[93] Ibn Taymiyya, during his lifetime a controversial but important scholar in contemporary scholarship, argued for a limited abode in hell, based on the Quran and God's attribute of mercy.[94]

The common belief among Muslims is that duration in hell is temporary for Muslims but not for others,[95][96] thus combining the concept of an eternal hell with that of the Christian Catholic concept of purgatory.[97]

In Twelver Shi’ism, it is believed, that eternity for people in hell is because of their intentions: If they had eternal life in the world, they would have disobeyed Allah forever.[98] Same would be the case with the inhabiters of paradise the other way round.[98]

Isma'ilis do not believe hell to be everlasting, since heavens and the earth do not last forever, referring to Quran 11:106.[99] Instead, they believe hell to be a possible station of the soul's journey to its perfection in afterlife.[99]

Ibadis believe sinning Ibadis and all non-Ibadis will be in hell forever.[100]


Some scholars like al-Ghazali and the thirteenth-century Muslim scholar Al-Qurtubi describe hell as a gigantic sentient being, rather than a place. In Paradise and Hell-fire in Imam al Qurtubi, Qurtubi writes, "On the Day of Judgment, hell will be brought with seventy thousand reins. A single rein will be held by seventy thousand angels...".[101] Based on verse 67:7 and verse 50:30 Jahannam inhales and has "breaths". Islamicity notes "the animalistic nature" of "The Fire" in Quranic verse 25:12: "When the Hellfire sees them from a distant place, they will hear its fury and roaring".[18] According to a verse, 50:30, God will ask Jahannam, if it is full and Jahannam answers: "Are there any more (to come)?"[102][103]

Traditional position

Jahannam is traditionally divided into seven stages. According to one common tradition the layers of hell are:

  1. A fire for sinners among the Muslims
  2. Inferno interim for the sinner among the Christians
  3. Provisional destination for sinners among the Jewish
  4. The burning fire for renegades
  5. A place for witches and fortunetellers
  6. Furnace for the disbelievers
  7. A bottomless abyss for hypocrites, like the Pharaoh and people who disbelieves after Isa's table or Muslims who are outwardly believers but inwardly infidels.[95]

The seven layers of earth, refer to the different stages of the underworld, the place of hell before the Day of Resurrection:

  1. Adim (surface), inhabited by mankind and jinn.
  2. Basit (plain), the prison of winds, from where the winds come from.
  3. Thaqil (region of distress), the antechamber of hell, in which dwell men with the mouth of a dog, the ears of a goat and the cloven hoof of an ox.
  4. Batih (place of torrents or swamps), a valley through which flows a stream of boiling sulphur to torment the wicked. The dweller in this valley have no eyes and in place of feet, have wings.
  5. Hayn (region of adversity), in which serpents of enormous size devour the infidels.
  6. Masika/Sijjin (store or dungeon), the office where sins are recorded and where souls are tormented by scorpions of the size of mules.
  7. As-Saqar (place of burning) and Athara (place of damp and great cold) the home of Iblis, who is chained, his hand fastened one in front of and the other behind him, except when set free by God to chastise his demons.[104][105]


Sufis developed a metaphysical reinterpretation of Jahannam. Hell is still a place where sinners in this world will be punished, but they have provided various characterizations of the notion of the Jahannam. Historically speaking, Sufi views develop from the fear of God to the love of God; they emphasize the interior of the sharia as well as its exterior. Sufism was finally developed into the theoretical mysticism which cultivated in the theories of ibn 'Arabi and his followers.

According to ibn 'Arabi, Hell and Heaven refer in fact to distance from and proximity to God, respectively. The Hell which is home to wrong-doers is their conception of their distance from God, and the painful punishment and humility is that of distance. Such a distance is caused by one's indulgence in their natural desires and the illusion of things other than God as existent. But such a distance is only illusory, since everything is a form of the degrees of the Divine Existence, and thus, everything other than God is but illusion. According to ibn 'Arabi, Hell and Heaven are psychological states of the soul manifestated after its separation from the body.[106] In later centuries, Sufis did not even find it acceptable for one to ask for Heaven in the hope of meeting God or to do good in fear of Hell.


According to Ahmadiyya Islam, afterlife places are images of man's own spiritual life during lifetime, the fire a manifestation of his sins. The main purpose of Jahannam is therefore regarded to purge man from his evil deeds. Punishment therefore exists for perpetual spiritual advancement of human. Muslims and Non-Muslims both may enter or avoid hell depending on their deeds.[107][108]

Comparison with other religions



Some of the Quranic parables describing the sufferings in hell resemble those of the Christian New Testament.[109]

The Bible states:
"And he gave a cry and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus, so that he may put the end of his finger in water and put it on my tongue, for I am cruelly burning in this flame."Luke 16:24
"And in addition, there is a deep division fixed between us and you, so that those who might go from here to you are not able to do so, and no one may come from you to us."Luke 16:26
"Unhappy are you who are full of food now: for you will be in need. Unhappy are you who are laughing now: for you will be crying in sorrow."Luke 6:25
Resemble the Quran stating:
"And the companions of the Fire will call to the companions of Paradise, "Pour upon us some water or from whatever Allah has provided you." They will say, "Indeed, Allah has forbidden them both to the disbelievers."17:50
"And between them will be a partition, and on [its] elevations are men who recognize all by their mark. And they call out to the companions of Paradise, "Peace be upon you." They have not [yet] entered it, but they long intensely."7:46
"So let them laugh a little and [then] weep much as recompense for what they used to earn."9:82

The Book of Revelation describes a "lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death",[110] which most Christians believe to be a description of Hell, comparable to Jahannam as "the fire". While the Quran describes Jahannam as having seven levels, each for different sins, the Bible (as regards the issue of levels), speaks of the "lowest Hell (Sheol)".[111][112] It also refers to a "bottomless pit",[113] comparable to the lowest layer of Jahannam in most Sunni traditions.

Christian popular culture

Satan is trapped in the frozen central zone in the Ninth Circle of Hell, Inferno, Canto 34.

Like Hell is often depicted in Christian culture[Note 3] in Islam, hell is the seat of the devil. Al-Tha'alibis (961–1038) in his Qisas Al-Anbiya[115] and Al-Suyutis Al-Hay’a as-samya fi l-hay’a as-sunmya[116] describes Iblis as chained to the bottom of hell, commanding his hosts of demons from there. Also in the poetry of Al-Ma'arri, Iblis is the king of Jahannam. These depictions of Iblis as lord of hell simultaneously chained at its very bottom influenced Dante's representation of Lucifer[117] and gave rise to the Christian depiction of hell as the seat of the devil. Inferno by Dante also shares the Islamic idea of dividing hell into multiple "circles". According to the Divine Comedy, each layer corresponding to another sin, with Satan inside a frozen area at the very bottom.[118] As evident from late Ottoman poetry, the notion of Iblis ruling hell remained in Islamic tradition until modern times. In one of Ğabdulla Tuqay's works, Iblis' current abode in hell is compared to working in factories during Industrial Revolution. When Iblis gets weary about hell, he remembers his time in heaven.[119] One should note, even if Iblis is assumed as the temporary ruler of Jahannam, his reign depends on the power of God and hell is still a place of punishment even for the devil.[120] As with Christian popular understanding of hell, ʿKitāb al-ʿAẓama, a popular cultural work, describes hell as inhabited not only by the Zabaniyya, but also by devils (shayatin), dwelling in the fourth layer of hell and rising up from coffins to torture the sinners.[121]

Christian Liberalism

In modern times some Christians and Christian denominations (such as Universalism) have rejected the concept of hell as a place of suffering and torment for sinners on the grounds that it is incompatible with a loving God.[Note 4] There are also symbolic and more merciful interpretations of hell among Muslims.[123] Muslims Mouhanad Khorchide and Faheem Younus write that since the Quran states that God has "prescribed to himself mercy",[123] and "... for him whose scales (of good deeds) are light. Hell will be his mother,"[124][125] suffering in Jahannam is not a product of vengeance and punishment, but a temporary phenomenon as the sinner is "transformed" in the process of confronting the truth about themselves.[126][125] The idea of annihilation of hell was already introduced earlier by traditionalistic scholars, such as Ibn Taimiyya.[127]

Judeo-Islamic sources

Arabic texts written by Jews in Judeo-Arabic script (particularly those which are identified with the Isra'iliyyat genre in the study of hadith) also feature descriptions of Jahannam (or Jahannahum). These seem to have been strongly influenced by the Islamic environment in which they were composed, and may be considered as holding many of the same concepts as those today identified with Islamic eschatology. A Judeo-Arabic version of a popular narrative known as The Story of the Skull (whose earliest version is attributed to Ka'ab al-Ahbar) offers a detailed picture of the concept of Jahannam.[128] Here, Malak al-Mawt (the Angel of Death) and a number of sixty angels seize the soul of the dead and begin torturing him with fire and iron hooks. Two black angels named Nākir and Nakīr (identified with Munkar and Nakir in Islamic eschatology) strike the dead with a whip of fire and take him to the lowest level of Jahannam. Then, they order the Earth to swallow and crush the dead inside its womb, saying: "Seize him and take revenge, because he has stolen Allāh's wealth and worshipped others than Him".[128] Following this, the dead is brought before the dais of God where a herald calls for throwing the dead into Jahannam. There he is put in shackles sixty cubits long and into a leather sackcloth full of snakes and scorpions.

The Judeo-Arabic legend in question explains that the dead is set free from the painful perogatory after twenty-four years. In a final quote alluding to Isaiah 58.8, the narrative states that "nothing will help Man on the last day except good and loving actions, deeds of giving charity to widows, orphans, the poor and the unfortunate."[128]

Some Jewish sources such as Jerahmeel provide descriptive detail of hell-like places, divided into multiple levels; usually Sheol, which is translated as a grave or pit, is the place where humans descend upon death.


Like Zoroastrianism, Islam holds that on Judgement Day all souls will pass over a bridge over hell (As-Sirāt in Islam, Chinvat Bridge in Zorastrianism) which those destined for hell will find too narrow and fall below into their new abode.[129]


In case of a finite hell, as asserted by some Sufi thinkers, as a circulation of beginning and reset, the cosmology resembles to a hinduistic notion of an eternal cosmic process of generation, decay and destruction.[130]

Detailed description of Journey of the soul and the punishments in Hell (Naraka) are detailed in Garuda Purana.


Some descriptions of Jahannam resemble Buddhist descriptions of Naraka from Mahayana sutras in regard of destroying inhabitants of hell physically, while their consciousness still remains and after once the body is destroyed, it will regenerate again, thus the punishment will repeat.[131] However, according to Buddhism belief, the inhabitants are able to gain good Karma and in certain circumstances leave hell again.

See also


Explanatory notes

  1. ^ hadith At-Tirmidhi (1999), Abu Dawood (4091) and Ibn Maajah (59) narrated from ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ood that the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “No one will enter Paradise in whose heart is an atom's weight of arrogance and no one will enter Hell in whose heart is an atom's weight of faith.”[66]
  2. ^
    • "Never shall they issue from the Fire." S. 2:167 Arberry
    • Their wish will be to get out of the Fire, but never will they get out therefrom: their penalty will be one that endures. S. 5:36-37
    • taste ye the Penalty of Eternity for your (evil) deeds!" S. 32:14
    • the Fire: therein will be for them the Eternal Home: a (fit) requital, for that they were wont to reject Our Signs. S. 41:28
  3. ^ The Christian Bible itself makes no mention of hell being the home of the devil.[114]
  4. ^ At least in one Christian majority country -- the US. "Over the last 20 years, the number of Americans who believe in the fiery down under has dropped from 71 percent to 58 percent. ... Underlying these statistics is a conundrum that continues to tug at the conscience of some Christians, who find it difficult to reconcile the existence of a just, loving God with a doctrine that dooms billions of people to eternal punishment."[122]


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  30. ^ Quran 67:7 Quran 67:7
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Books and journal articles

  • Ghazali, Abu Hamid Muhammad (1989). On the Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife. Translated by Winter, T. J. Cambridge, U.K.: Islamic Texts Society.
  • Kaltner, John, ed. (2011). Introducing the Qur'an: For Today's Reader. Fortress Press. pp. 228–234. ISBN 9781451411386. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  • Rustomji, Nerina (2009). The Garden and the Fire: Heaven and Hell in Islamic Culture. Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231140850. Retrieved 25 December 2014.

External links

  • Media related to Jahannam at Wikimedia Commons
  • The dictionary definition of Jahannam at Wiktionary