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Islam and Pluralism (25 Feb 2015 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Who is a Kafir in the Quran? (Part 4) Defining Kufr


By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam

25 Feb, 2015

We are now in aposition to define the term kufr as used in the Quran based on the discussions in the previous 3 parts of this article. This definition varies from the definition we find in Sunni theology which is also discussed.

There are two dimensions to kufr:

1.         Kufr relating to man, society, the world or the temporal dimension

2.         Kufr relating to God or the spiritual dimension

Kufr relating to the temporal dimension

The Quran recognizes certain human rights:

1.         Right to belief and pursuit of one’s beliefs without obstruction or persecution

2.         Sanctity of life and property

3.         Mutual rights and responsibilities emanating from commonly accepted norms of civil society, agreements, contracts and the laws of the society in which one lives.

Kufr relating to God or the spiritual dimension

The Quran also recognizes the “Rights of God”

The spiritual dimension is covered by the scriptures which inform the believer about his covenants with God and the duties and responsibilities emanating from these.

The believer invites a nonbeliever to become a believer and accept these covenants and become the recipient of divine blessings and guidance, showing gratitude for the blessings of God and fulfilling his part of the covenant by conducting his affairs in accordance with the guidance provided in the scriptures.

Besides God’s blessings common to all, God is “shaa’ker” (giver of thanks) which God does through His rewards for the acts of man that are for pleasing God. Man is required to reciprocate with `Shukr’ (giving thanks) through worship and acts that please God such as spending on charity. For the sins of man against God, his reckoning is with God alone, who will punish him in the hereafter.

With reference to God, a non-believer

1.         Is guilty of kufr if he rejects the “truth” out of envy, insolence, arrogance rather than for lack of required evidence or conviction.

2.         He becomes a kafir after the truth becomes manifest to him where his mind and heart acknowledges the “truth” and yet he rejects it.

And a believer is guilty of kufr if he violates the prohibitions and injunctions in the scriptures.

Punishment for kufr

A violation of the rights of man and/or God is kufr.

The Quran prescribes hadd punishments only for kufr in the temporal dimension. Kufr in the temporal dimension is also kufr in the spiritual dimension but not vice versa.

Hadd punishments for kufr relating to God or the spiritual dimension are not prescribed in the Quran as that would violate the right of conscience that the Quran clearly grants to man.

Some forms of Kufr may appear to stride both the dimensions - for example, an apostate who turns hostile and carries on activities harmful to a section of the society or the state. Such a person can be punished for the harm that he has caused or can potentially cause but not for apostasy. Apostasy is merely incidental and irrelevant to the case as apostasy is not kufr in the temporal dimension.

Usury, if it does not contravene laws of the land, will only be kufr in the spiritual dimension. Through legislation, usury could be made a punishable offence since it is injurious to man as well but it is not hadd. Legislating punishments for kufr related to the spiritual dimension alone, violate the freedoms granted to man by the Quran and is kufr.

The verses of the Quran are eternally and at all times valid including the following:

The Right to Freedom of Religion and Conscience

(2:256) Let there be no compulsion in religion

2:272. It is not required of thee (O Messenger), to set them on the right path, but Allah sets on the right path whom He pleaseth.

28:56. It is true thou wilt not be able to guide every one, whom thou lovest; but Allah guides those whom He will and He knows best those who receive guidance.

29:18. "And if ye reject (the Message), so did generations before you: and the duty of the apostle is only to preach publicly (and clearly)."

10:19 Say All people (once) followed one belief. Then they began to follow different beliefs. Had not a word of your Lord (His decision to give every one time and free will) been decreed, God would already have settled their differences.

11:118 And if thy Lord had enforced HIS will, HE would have surely made mankind one people; but they would not cease to differ;

Fairplay, Justice and Non-Aggression

2:190 Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you,But do not transgress limits:

For, verily, Allah loveth not transgressors

(60:8) Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly (taburruhum) and justly (tuqsitu) with them: for Allah loveth those who are just. (9) Allah only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) Faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). It is such as turn to them (in these circumstances), that do wrong.

(5:2)…. let not the hatred of some people in (once) shutting you out of the Sacred Mosque lead you to transgression (and hostility on your part). Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancour: fear Allah: for Allah is strict in punishment.

(5:8) O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.

16:126. And if ye do catch them out, catch them out no worse than they catch you out: But if ye show patience, that is indeed the best (course) for those who are patient.

42:40. The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree): but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah. for ((Allah)) loveth not those who do wrong.

42:41. But indeed if any do help and defend themselves after a wrong (done) to them, against such there is no cause of blame.

42:42. The blame is only against those who oppress men and wrong-doing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice: for such there will be a penalty grievous.

42:43. But indeed if any show patience and forgive, that would truly be an exercise of courageous will and resolution in the conduct of affairs.

Rules for Proselytizing

16:125. Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.

29: 46. And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, "We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam)."

Historical Development of the Concept Of Kufr/Kafirin Sunni Theology

The following is by Barbara Zollner, a  lecturer in Islamic studies, Department of Politics, Birkbeck College, University of London.

The Ultimate Question: Muslim or Kafir?

One of the central questions is the definition of Muslim and kafir (unbeliever). In order to fully appreciate the reasoning on this question a general understanding of these concepts is necessary.

If we agree for the moment that belief (iman) can only be defined through its opposite, it is essential to clarify the terminology related to unbelief. Without intending to go into any spiritual discussions, but rather remaining within the realm of Sunni theology, a simple definition of unbelief (Kufr) includes non-belief in the concept of monotheism, which constitutes the ultimate principle in Islam, and/or rejection of Muhammad's prophecy. A kafir is therefore a person "who takes the position that there is no God, that He is not one, or that Muhammad was not a prophet," This and similar variants of this broad definition set a useful working parameter for a further investigation, since it finds wide acceptance across Muslim religious tradition.

It needs to be said, however, that this definition sets a rather broad framework which leaves many possibilities as to how unbelief, in fact, manifests itself on an individual basis. One can immediately see that it leaves indeterminate, for example, whether a person does not recognise God, as for example atheists do, or whether the person believes in many gods, as polytheists do. The concept of Kufr also does not distinguish whether a person actually believes in a single God but rejects the revelation of the Quran or the position that Muhammad was a divinely inspired messenger. The working definition of Kufr therefore does contain a combination of some basic characteristics, i.e. Monotheism and prophethood. Yet it also shows that the idea of Kufr is an umbrella concept which provides a relative definition rather than a concrete one. The relativity of meaning can be explained through separate developments; one lies within the history of the Quran as a text and the second relates to the advance of Muslim theology.

As for the Quran,where the term is frequently used and in fact is part of the essential message, Waldman and Izutsu explained that the meaning of the term clearly changed during the process of revelation. Both point out that the term initially had the connotation of 'ingratitude to God'. In later Qur'anic verses however, it came to represent a negation of the concept of iman. While the meaning of the word varies within the chronology of the Quran, this transformation does not imply that the previous connotation was completely obliterated. Waldman therefore talks about an 'accumulation of meaning' and Izutsu calls the various semantic differences 'relational meaning’. What is important to note from this is that the Quran uses the term Kufr frequently, but that it does not define what is meant by it. Moreover, the actual connotation of the word changes to such an extent that there is fluidity in its Qur'anic meaning. This fluidity transpires subsequently in theological and juridical discussions and is as Saeed points out, the cause of much confusion today.

As the discussion above shows, the concepts of Kufr and Muslim are not exactly defined by the Quran. Hence it is necessary to return to Islamic history, where the concepts were further shaped. Given that questions such as 'what is Islam?' And 'who is a Muslim?' Were the most pressing issues of concern for the early community, the dispute surrounding Kufr was the initiating moment of Muslim theological thinking. The conflict of the early community was mainly fought out on battlefields rather than through scholarly disputation. The earliest movement that defined Kufr by the sword was the Khawarij. The movement stood out through its fanaticism and egalitarianism. The Khwarij was the first movement to turn the concept of unbelief against fellow Muslims.as Izutsu  suggested, they thus widened its application. It was part of Khwarij conviction that belief must manifest itself  through action ('Amal). It took the position that, in order to be considered Muslim, a person must actively engage in the community of the faithful. Rather than positively affirming who is Muslim, a person must actively engage in the community of the faithful. Rather than positively affirming who is Muslim it thus reversed the question, declaring anyone an unbeliever who did not belong to its particular community and share its zealous conviction. With a fanatical desire to establish an uncorrupted Muslim community, it applied Takfir, asking: 'who are those that must be driven out of the existing community, which is corrupted and impure? A shift in the meaning of Kufr thus took place which was extended to the idea of excommunication.

The reaction against Khwarij positions on belief and unbelief sets the tone for Sunni theology. The first theological movement to reject the application of Takfir was the Murjiyya. While their theology was directed against the fanaticism of the Khwarij, it also legitimised the political system of the 'Ummayad Caliphate', which again championed this development. The name Murji'iyya derives from the verb raja meaning 'to suspend or postpone judgement. On the question of Takfir, the Murji'iyya diametrically opposed the Khwarij. While the Murji'iyya deliberated on the idea of unbelief and sin, they developed the position that anyone who declares his/her belief as a Muslim must be recognised as such and will be ultimately judged by God. According to, this principle, sin does not affect belief. A person who obviously contravenes rules as set out in the Quran and Sunna and who has therefore sinned must still be considered a Muslim. Emphasis is thus placed on inner faith, and the Murji'iyya dismissed the idea of 'Amal as a defining characteristic of a Muslim. During the dominance of Murji'ite thought, these theological principles were further elaborated and led to the first theory of belief in Sunni Islam. Although the Ummayad dynasty was eventually replaced, its protege theological movement laid the fundamental building blocks for later theological discussions.

Not entirely endorsing the misdemeanor of a sinner, the mu’tazila took an intermediate position (manzilabaynamanzilatayn) arguing that this person is neither Muslim nor kafir. An important part of the Mu’tazilite theology is that the individual is responsible for his/her actions. It thus amended the view of the Murji’iyya insofar as it disposed of any deterministic connotations which could be read into the stance of the earlier school. Since the idea of the manzilabaynamanzilatayn does not leave the discussion on the status of sinners to the afterlife, it created an environment which furthered the development of jurisprudence and jurisdiction. Also, its emphasis on human free will allows the individual to reason consciously about good or bad; the objective is to comprehend divine law through reason.. It is on these grounds that Mu’tazila is called the movement of ‘free-thinkers of Islam’. Ultimately, though, the stress on reasoning over literalist reading of revelation led them to conclude that the Qu’ran as a textis created and that Hadith is not useful as a source of interpretation. As the leading school of theology during much of the rule of the `Abbasid dynasty, the Mu’tazila was eventually superseded by an orthodox countertrend. Yet, their interpretation on free will nevertheless left its mark on subsequent theological discussions on the nature of belief, sin and unbelief.

The orthodox traditionalism of the Ash’ariyya and the Maturdiyya constitutes the final and lasting theological development in Sunni discussions on the distinction between kufr and iman. Fairly similar in their overall approach, these two approaches represent the basis for the majority of works on Sunni ‘aqida (creed). Just how influential these theological schools are can be seen by the fact that their elaborations on essential practice and beliefs are considered to be dogma. This includes their descriptions  of the so-called five pillars of Islam or the six articles of faith, which were firmly set as framework by the Ash’ariyya and Maturdiyya. Their thelogy remains the underlying element of subsequent discussions and clearly had its impact on arguments of the major schools of law.

The impact of the traditionalists trend and its emphasis on Hadith and Sunna led the Ash’ariyya and the Maturdiyya to oppose the Mu’tazila, particularly with regard to its views on the created ness of the Quran and the use of Hadith as the primary source for interpretation. It is noteworthy, however that the Ash’ariyya and Maturdiyya took opposing positions on the issue of belief. Abu al-Hasan al-Ashari essentially argued that belief is uncreated, since there was ‘never a state in which there was no iman and tawhid, neither before not after the creation of the world. For him the position that iman is created would contradict the principle of divine universality. Proponents of the Maturidyya among the Abu Hanifa, held, however, that belief has its locus in the individual. In this respect, the Maturidiyya were closer to the reasoning of the Mu’tazila than to the Ash’ariyya. This said, it would be unfitting to claim that all aspects of Mu’tazilite thought were dismissed. It is thus interesting to think that the idea of free will was adapted by al-ashari. He suggested a doctrine of `acquisition’ which put forward a compromise whereby the orthodox concept of God’s omnipotence could be reconciled with the idea of human responsibility. He thus argued that all acts, good or bad, originate in God and humans acquire the choice of free will from God. It is then the believer’s choice to decide. The theological rationale that the sinner is not an unbeliever also found continuation. In fact, Abu Mansur al-Maturidi further elaborated on the Mur’jiite interest in whether and to what extent ‘amal is part of defining iman. Like the Murji’iyya, the Maturidiya saw belief expressed through inner faith. But while the Murji’iyya was divided as to whether belief increases through good work and, conversely, whether it decreases through sin, the Maturidiyyaclearly opted fro the concept of ‘degrees of faith’ (tafadul). This idea then became another constituting element of Sunni theology and was in detail discussed by a diverse scholarly body, among them IbnHazm, al-Ghazali and IbnTaymiyya.

Looking back on the various theological trends of early Sunni Islam, it is then fair to say that the definitions of kufr and iman took centre stage and in fact form the defining moment of Sunni theological thinking. The survey above also shows that the terms iman and kufr cannot be simply set down as clearly definable concepts. Although they are clearly antonyms, they are umbrella concepts, which were variously discussed in terms of the content of their meaning.

Juridical considerations of what constitutes kufr were directly informed by theology. Ash’ariyya and maturidiyya delineations of ‘aqida had a direct impact on juridical thinking. This not only was kufr discussed in theoretical terms of sin, but the various schools of law defined it as a punishable contravention of the law. In the fiq elaborations, kufr was an umbrella concept wich contained a number of more specific offences. Under its shade, the, are conceptions such as apostasy (ridda), polytheism (shirk), blasphemy, (sabb Allah or sabb al-rasul), heresy (zandaqa) and hypocrisy (nifaq). Each of these concepts represents specific forms of kufr, all of them of a punishable nature. Defining these transgressions as major sins, most jurists followed with a harsh verdict. There seems to be thus a general accord  that they justify the death penalty. The underlying justification for the reasoning of the classical jurists is that hypocrites, blasphemers, heretics, and apostates made the decision to turn against God and they therefore made a decision to turn their backs not only on faith, but also on the community of Muslims. Being outside law, these sinners’ lives are not considered to be protected by law. This logic not only is the common justification for the death penalty, but also permits any member of the community the right to act within the parameters of law to kill the assumed offender.

A thorough analysis of the relationship between sin and crime shows that not all jurists agree that major sins equate to hudud offences, i.e. offences which demand punishment because they are mentioned in the Quran. In fact, of all the sub-categories of kufr, only apostasy (ridda) is listed as ahadd. This then begs the question as to why and how Muslim jurists came to decide that other forms of kufr, such as heresy, blasphemy and hypocrisy, are liable to penalty. The issue is even more complicated by the fact that unbelief, per se, is not necessarily reprimanded, as the example of Christians and Jews illustrates. The rejection of Muhammad’s prophethood makes them kuffar even though their non-belief in itself is not a punishable crime. This sets the unbelief of Jews and Christians apart from Muslims who commit ridda, zandaqa or nifaq.

As we have seen, the debate about different conceptions of belief and the dispute about them go back to the constitutive period of Islamic theological and juridical reasoning. While the Khwarij defined their position through excommunication of Muslims, the counter movement of the Murji’iyya and then later of the Mu’tazila and finally of the Ash’ariyya and Maturidiyya, laid the foundation for Sunni theology. Leaving aside for the moment the fundamental objection that the faith cannot actually be proven or, for that matter, challenged, the framework for ‘aqida as suggested by the Ash’ariyya and Maturidiyya sets the tone for Sunni orthodoxy. It is then interesting to see that moderate Islamists are informed by this theological orthodoxy and its prevailing system of dogmas and practices. Considering that radical and extreme Islamists have indeed much in common with the theological position of the Khawarij, the reference to conventional and accepted tenets of belief in Du’at la Qudat makes its alliance to moderation pronounced. The basis of belief is the crucial topic of dispute between moderate interpretation and that of radical and/or extremist Islamism. In fact, it marks the difference between these two modes of thought within the Islamist discourse. End of  BarbaraZollner’s note.

As can be seen, the definition of kufr and kafir is not derived in Sunni theology from the Quran. The starting point of the definition is to treat kufr as the antonym of faith or iman and Kafir as the antonym of Muslim. This is treated as a self-evident truth or an axiom! I have shown that such an assumption is contrary to the Quran. Unsurprisingly, a defect in the definition leads to many contradictions that are evident in the note of Barbara. Kufr is treated as a relative term not in the sense as I have used it backed by direct Qur'anic evidence, but a word which changes meaning over time! My definition has none of these inconsistencies. It does not create any problem understanding any verse of the Quran nor leads to contradictions since the definition is derived from the way the word is used in the Quran. A poor definition can be easily recognized and so can a good definition. Sunni theology appears to have got mired and moved far away from the message of the Quran.

Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to NewAgeIslam.com. The author initially used a pseudonym "Observer" for this article.

URL of Part 1: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-pluralism/by-observer-in-new-age-islam/who-is-a-kafir-in-the-quran?-(part-1)---kafir,---mushrik--and--idolater--are-not-synonyms/d/101509

URL of Part 2:  http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-pluralism/observer-in-new-age-islam/who-is-a-kafir-in-the-quran?-(part-2)--muslim–-non-muslim-relationship/d/101525

URL of Part 3: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-pluralism/who-is-a-kafir-in-the-quran?-(part-3)--why-kufr-is-a-relative-concept-while-shirk,-idol-worship-etc-have-fixed-meanings/d/101618

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-pluralism/who-is-a-kafir-in-the-quran?-(part-4)-defining-kufr/d/101695



  • the one who believe in Mola Ali a.s is not kafir and the rest were kafirs
    By Jawad Abbas - 4/12/2018 12:21:26 PM

  • In USA Muslim scholars have defined the following words:

    1) Islam 2) Believer 3) Muslim 4) Kafir etc.  This is taught in interfaith circles and other learning institutions.  Please check for details on http://www.umaia.net/images/Islamicdefinitions.doc

    By Iftekhar A. Hai - 4/20/2015 1:53:30 PM

  • Debate and discussion on a subject as important as this should be certainly held. I will be travelling and busy with my work at the UN Human Rights Council this month. March has a 4-week session. But I will certainly try to find at least one Aalim who is willing to change his definition of Kaafir. Once we have such a person, things can start moving.

    By Sultan Shahin - 3/2/2015 7:34:49 AM

  • Dear Sultan Shahin
    Why don't you start from Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi? there your team hold some meetings/seminars.
    I think you must have some Aalims there to start with?
    You can contact Waris Mazahri a Devbandi whose articles you post on NAI.
    How ironic that scholars of your team opted silence to cover their bigotry in beliefs!

    By rational mohammed yunus - 3/2/2015 1:50:51 AM

  • The position of Brailvis/SUfis is not different than those of Devbandis with a difference that Devbandis didn't like calling Hindus kafir.
    in my childhood there was a text book called "taalem ul Islam". it went to extent that "inassan kaa jhoota paak hai khwah wo muslim ho yaa ghair Muslim basharte ki usne koi haram cheeze naa khai ho". it made me comfortable with Hindus in eating and drionking with them.
    my maternal relative were Brailvis at that time. they considered jhhota of Hindus Napaak and they refused to have tea or water from Hindus.
    After speech of Palanpuri they turned to Devbandi school. Now they all are devbandis. their entire village was Brailvi who didn't allow tablighis into their mosques. they used to break earthen pots if somehow tablighis entered into mosques and used the pots.
    therefore I found Devbandi more liberal than Brailvis in daily interaction with non-Muslims.

    the silence of Sufi/Brailvi scholars of this site is a clear proof that they are as orthodox as others are on kufr o iman topic.

    So the claim that "Brailvis/Sufis are inclusive, tolerant " is a dishonest claim.

    Kufr o Iman is a dangerous topic to discuss.
    But i think it should be carried out.

    By rational mohammed yunus - 3/2/2015 1:10:31 AM

  • Shahin Sb,

    Part 1 and 2 of the article were written quite some time ago. What Pickthall said about the sense in which the Quran uses the term kafir came as a surprise to me and this made me carry out a thorough examination of every verse that uses the term and its grammatical variants.

    My findings have been recorded in the first two parts of the articles. The conclusions drawn are irrefutable. The Quran could not have been clearer on the subject when in a single verse it uses both terms making it amply clear that Mushrikin and kafirin are not synonyms and this is in the so called  'sword verses'. I have cited three other verses which speak about the kafaru among the Ahle Kitab and Mushrikin which implies that all Ahle Kitab and Mushrikin are not kafaru.

    I have taken a very literalist and fundamentalist position on the subject. Who could be more of a fundamentalist than one who will not ignore a single verse? And who could be more literalist than one who says 'Those who deny the truth of Islam are kafir but those who do not affirm the truth of Islam are not kafir'. This is borne out by several verses.

    Denial is neither literally nor logically the same as non-acceptance. Denial is after either full consideration or from a stubborn and insolent refusal to listen to reason. Non acceptance is from lack of knowledge or conviction or even doubt but does not amount to rejection. Rejection has finality to it and non-acceptance is tentative. This is being literal and those who equate denial with non-acceptance are the ones who are attributing to Allah what Allah does not say in His Book. And what I am saying is in full conformity with how the Quran uses these terms in all the verses. In no verse is mere non-acceptance treated as denial.

    Moreover, Dawah is not to those who have rejected or denied the “truth” or to the kafirin. Let alone doing dawah to the kafirin, they are to be shunned and not befriended. A prophetic mission also ends when people have taken a final position of either acceptance or denial. Prophet Yunus (pbuh) gave up on the people he was sent to and was swallowed by a fish. He repented and was disgorged on a beach and returned to the people (some hundred thousand) who believed. By calling non-Muslims kafir, we are emulating the grave error of Prophet Yunus despite being the ahle-Quran!
    Part 3 was written as a response to Mr Ziaur Rahman saying that he was confused by my article and after figuring out his confusion from what he wrote in his article "who is a Mushrik". Part 4 was written in response to Siraj who said that the article was incomplete without considering what the ulema had to say on the subject. It was to write part 4 that I googled for the first time "who is a kafir" and the results were exactly what you have found on the web much to my dismay.
    The confusion of the ulema stems from the false start of assuming that Kufr is an antonym of iman (true if the context is a Muslim, untrue otherwise) and kafir is the antonym of Muslim. And for them a Muslim is nothing short of a person who accepts and affirms the prophethood of Muhammad for which I do not find a single verse which either literally conveys this or even indirectly.
    Any person who denies the truth of Islam is a kafir but to assume that all those who do not accept are the deniers and rejecters is unwarranted and the Quran gives absolutely no scope to jump to such conclusions. I hope people understand the meaning of what it means to be a literalist and stick to being both a literalist and fundamentalist in regard to the Quran.
    The ulema take a very 'Muslim' centric view. We learn from the Quran that the Jews and Christians did the same in the past for which they are chided. Instead of taking a lesson from this, the Muslims follow their example!
    On the face of it, and especially since for a Muslim it is true, it does not strike anyone, that Kufr and iman are not antonyms. The problem arises when iman is understood in a very narrow sense of only someone who affirms the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh). If iman is understood in its broadest sense, then there would have been no problem. Can any ulema say with authority that those who are not followers of Muhammad are without iman? How can then they be called kafir?
    The Quran gives little scope for many of the assumptions that the ulema make such as:
    1. Those who do not affirm the prophethood of Muhammad are kafir.
    2. Islam is today the religion of only the followers of Muhammad
    3. Only those who recite the Kalama shahada (which incidentally is not found in the Quran) are Muslims.
    Such views do a great disservice to the Quran and as a matter of fact blaspheme the Quran. They render it a book full of discrepancies and contradictions when the Quran says that 'if it were a book from other than Allah, you would have found in it many discrepancies and contradictions'. The book is from Allah without a single discrepancy and without a single contradiction but the understanding of it is human which has made it a book of contradictions. What good is preserving it in loh-e-mafooz when the ulema have corrupted its understanding?

    By the way, every scripture is in the Loh-e-Mahfooz and not just the Quran and the Quran being preserved in the Loh-e-Mahfooz is not a guarantee that it is the same Quran that is with us! In any case what is important is how we understand it and not what is in the Book. On judgment day the people will be raised along with their prophets. The people will have to contend with their book of records, the teachings of their prophet for which the Prophet will be a witness against the people to whom he preached directly, who in turn will be witness against other people forming the chain of transmission. Apart from these human witnesses are the scriptures against which the people will be judged and the scriptures will be from the Loh-e-Mahfooz. What is in the Loh-e-Mahfooz can be compared to the original documents that are in the Bank locker and what is with us compared to the copies of the original that we made. In the past, there were no means to make facsimile copies and only hand written copies could be made. So much for the mystery of Loh-e-mahfooz which as Ziaur Rahman correctly pointed out is a safe storage for “Zikr” which is incorrectly translated as the Quran. Zikr is everything that has come to all the Prophets from Allah and what Allah said and not necessarily what humans understood or wrote down. The eagerness of the ulema to interpret the word of Allah in a very narrow “Muslim” centric way and call it just the Quran is to attribute to Allah what Allah has not said.

    There are two interesting coincidences. On Feb 20th, I was responding to Mr Zia’s confusion and on this day, as part of my daily reading of the Quran, I was reading Surah 33 and the verses 33:72, 73 provided direct evidence that Kufr is relative.

    (33:72) We did indeed offer the Trust to the Heavens and the Earth and the Mountains; but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof: but man undertook it;- He was indeed unjust and foolish;-(73) (With the result) that Allah has to punish the Hypocrites, men and women, and the Unbelievers, men and women, and Allah turns in Mercy to the Believers, men and women: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

    The implication of verse 33:73 is that once God has sent His messengers and His revelations, it becomes incumbent upon God then to punish/reward judging man by his deeds in the light of the guidance provided through the revelations. Without the revelations, there is no believer, unbeliever, or hypocrite or punishment for the sins of kufr, shirk, nifaq etc.

    On February 26, I was reading surah 39 and the following verses struck me:

    (39:33) And he who brings the Truth and he who confirms (and supports) it - such are the men who do right.

    (34) They shall have all that they wish for, in the presence of their Lord: such is the reward of those who do good:

    (35) So that Allah will turn off from them (even) the worst in their deeds and give them their reward according to the best of what they have done.

     This was also the day when Rational supported it without any reservation.  

    Bringing out the truth covered under many layers of darkness by centuries of poor scholarship and supporting it is true Jehad since the effort required is uncommon and the opposition to it is intense. Allah promises very handsome rewards for it.

    To make the Muslims accept what may demonstrably be the ‘truth’ after what they have believed all these years based on cumulative scholarship of 1200 years is not going to be easy. However, our job is only to bring out the truth and disseminate it and it is Allah’s Will who supports it or opposes it.

    For me, this is my jihad fi-sabi-lillah.

    Fighting is only a means when justified and never the end. When people make fighting the end, they become the followers of Satan and not of Allah.

    By Observer - 3/1/2015 6:45:37 AM

  • Observer Saheb, I was trying this morning to look into possibilities of our ulema accepting your definition of kufr and kafir which is of great interest to me. I present below what I found on the internet. It seems even the most conciliatory, consider all non-Muslims Kafir, though some from Deoband are willing to avoid calling them Kafir if it hurts their sentiments. This is quite praiseworthy, but the theological position of even these pragmatic ulema within Deoband remains the same.

    I wonder if it will be possible for you to get hold of some Deobandi aalim in your vicinity - India is crawling with them as is Pakistan - and discuss this with him to gauge their reaction, test the waters so to say, before we plunge in a wider debate.

    However, as I said last night, your idea of sending letters to them is doable and New Age Islam would be willing to do that and try out their reaction.  The reaction of Bareilwi ulema we have already seen on the website, yet we should explore all possibilities.


    Hindus can’t be dubbed ‘kafir’ , says Jamiat


    New Delhi: A major Muslim body has opposed Hindus being dubbed ‘kafirs’ and pointed out that though the term does not have any derogatory connotations, it should be avoided to promote understanding between the two communities. Jamiat Ulema-­e­-Hind, a religio-­educational organisation with a hold over the Deoband seminary, said on Monday that it was not in favour of Hindus being branded as kafirs in any Islamic discourse. “Strictly speaking, the word ‘kafir’ only means someone not belonging to Islam; but if its use hurts anyone the term should be avoided,”


    Darul Uloom Deoband’s Approach on Social Issues in India 

    Tabrez Ahmad Neyazi

    Deoband has also criticized the labelling of Hindus as kafirs or unbelievers, which has a derogatory connotation. JUH spokesman and member of the Deoband faculty Abdul Hamid Naumani stated that although the term kafir does not have any ‘derogatory connotation’, and it ‘only means someone not belonging to Islam, if its use hurts anyone the term should be avoided’.

    However, there is no unanimity among Deoband’s ulama on the issue and some of the ulama prefer to use the term kafir.


    Kafir (Arabicكافر‎ kāfir, plural كفّار kuffār) is an Arabic terms used in an Islamic doctrinal sense, usually translated as "unbeliever," "disbeliever," or "infidel." The term refers to a person who rejects or disbelieves in the god of Islam or who hides, denies, or pays no attention to the Islamic version of truth. The practise of declaring another Muslim as a kafir is takfir.[1]

    The word kāfir is the active participle of the root K-F-R "to cover". As a pre-Islamic term it described farmers burying seeds in the ground, covering them with soil while planting.[2] Thus, the word kāfir implies the meaning a person who hides or covers.

    In the Qur'an [edit]

    The Qur'an uses the word kafir to signify various negative qualities of a person, all of which assist in the precise defining of kufr. Kafir, kuf and words with the K-F-R root designate disbelievers and infidels, and an important Qur'anic concept for distinguishing believers and non-believers of Islam.[5] Kafir, and its plural kafirun, is directly used 134 times in Qur'an, its verbal noun "kufr" is used 37 times, and the verbal cognates of kafir are used about 250 times.[6]

    In the structure of Islamic thought, kufr represents all things unacceptable and offensive to God (Allāh).[7] In its most fundamental sense in the Qur'an, kufr means "ingratitude," however the Qur'an contains numerous verses in which more detailed definitions are provided; the kafir is referred to as:[8]

    Types of disbelief [edit]

    Adapted from 'Tafseer ibn Katheer.[11] The Qur'an uses the word kufr to denote a person who covers up or hides realities, one who refuses to accept the dominion and authority of God (Allāh). There are several types of Al-Kufr al-Akbar:

    1.   Kufrul-'Inaad: Disbelief out of stubbornness. This applies to someone who knows the Truth and admits to knowing the Truth, and knowing it with his tongue, but refuses to accept it and refrains from making a declaration. Allah says: Throw into Hell every stubborn disbeliever [12]

    2.   Kufrul-Inkaar: Disbelief out of denial. This applies to someone who denies with both heart and tongue. Allah says: They recognize the favours of Allah, yet they deny them. Most of them are disbelievers.[13]

    3.   Kufrul-Kibr: Disbelief out of arrogance and pride. An example of this type of Kufr is the disbelief by the devils (Iblees).

    4.   Kufrul-Juhood: Disbelief out of rejection. This applies to someone who acknowledges the truth in his heart, but rejects it with his tongue. This type of kufr is applicable to those who calls themselves Muslims but who reject any necessary and accepted norms of Islam such as Salaat and ZakatAllah says: They denied them (OUR SIGNS) even though their hearts believed in them, out of spite and arrogance.[14]

    5.   Kufrul-Nifaaq: Disbelief out of hypocrisy. This applies to someone who pretends to be a believer but conceals his disbelief. Such a person is called a munafiq or hypocrite. Allah says: Verily the hypocrites will be in the lowest depths of Hell. You will find no one to help them.[15]

    6.   Kufrul-Istihaal: Disbelief out of trying to make haraam into halal. This applies to someone who accepts as lawful Halal that which Allah has made unlawful Haram like alcohol or adultery. Only Allah has the prerogative to make things Halal and Haram and those who seek to interfere with His right are like rivals to Him and therefore fall outside the boundaries of faith.

    7.   Kufrul-Kurh: Disbelief out of detesting any of Allah's commands. Allah says: Perdition (destruction) has been consigned to those who disbelieve and He will render their actions void. This is because they are averse to that which Allah has revealed so He has made their actions fruitless.[16]

    8.   Kufrul-Istihzaha: Disbelief due to mockery and derision. Allah says: Say: Was it at Allah, His signs and His apostles that you were mocking? Make no excuses. You have disbelieved after you have believed.[17]

    9.   Kufrul-I'raadh: Disbelief due to avoidance. This applies to those who turn away and avoid the truth. Allah says: And who is more unjust than he who is reminded of his Lord's signs but then turns away from them. Then he forgets what he has sent forward (for the Day of Judgement) [18]

    10. Kufrul-Istibdaal: Disbelief because of trying to substitute Allah's Laws. This could take the form of:

    1.  Rejection of Allah's law, Shari'ah without denying it

    2.  Denial of Allah's law and therefore rejecting it, or

    3.  Substituting Allah's laws with man-made laws. Allah says: Or have they partners with Allah who have instituted for them a religion which Allah has not allowed.[19] Allah says: Say not concerning that which your tongues put forth falsely (that) is lawful and this is forbidden so as to invent a lie against Allah. Verily, those who invent a lie against Allah will never prosper.[20]



    Excerpts from Asghar Ali Engineer's Article:  India Is Darul Aman, Mr.Singhal, March 1-15, 2009

    The ulama in medieval ages had broadly divided the world into two categories: Darul Islam and Darul Harb i.e. abode of Islam and abode of war. In those days there was no democracy and there were monarchs and autocrats everywhere. There was no concept of citizenship but the ruled were treated as subjects. Where monarchs or sultans were ruling those regions were called Darul Islam and where non-Muslim monarchs ruled and persecuted Muslims, those regions were called Darul Harb i.e. abode of war.

    Let us remember this division in Darul Islam and Darul harb was done by the ulama, not by the Qur'an or by the Prophet. The Qur'an divided people into three categories i.e. Muslims, ahl-al-kitab (those who had revealed scripture with them) and kafirs and mushriks (polytheists) who possessed no scripture for their guidance nor they believed in any formal religion. Qur'an or the Prophet (did not divide the world as such into Darul Islam or Darul Harb.

    Mr. Singhal, the International President of VHP has demanded from Indian Muslims that they declare India as Darul Aman i.e. abode of peace which is neither Darul Islam nor Darul Harb. One can only regret at the lack of knowledge on the part of Shri Singhal or he has been misinformed by some of his informants. The Ulama in India have never considered India as Darul Harb except for a short period during the British rule. Even then the ulama and Muslim leaders were divided.

    Shah Abdul Aziz, son of illustrious Alim Shah Waliyullah and himself a great Alim, had declared India Darul Aman during British period and issued a fatwa that Muslims could serve in the British army. Also, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and his followers never considered India as Darul Harb. As there is no church in Islam different ulama can have different opinions on any issue.

    In fact India was never declared Darul Harb and Deoband ulama declared it Darul Harb only during Khilafat agitation when many of them migrated to Afghanistan and set up there a provisional government under the leadership of Raja Mahindra Pratap. Mahindra Pratap was president and Maulana Ubaidullah Singhi was prime minister of this transitional government. It was then that India was declared as Darul Harb and it was made obligatory for Muslims to migrate to Darul Islam i.e. Afghanistan as a Muslim king was ruling there and wage jihad against the British Government.

    However, it was politically immature decision and it proved to be great disaster as the King of Afghanistan drove away these Indian Muslims under pressure from the British Government and thousands perished while trying to flee to Central Asian region. Except for this brief period India was never declared as Darul Harb.

    Also, it is necessary to understand that these categories were evolved by the ulama during medieval period and does not apply in modern democracies. Even USA under the Bush government was not declared by ulama as Darul Harb through it had invaded two Muslim countries and was aiding and abetting Israel vis-a ?vis Israel as United States also treats Muslims as citizens and fully guarantees their political and religious rights.

    These medieval categories evolved by the ulama of that time no more apply to the modern democratic world. Let alone India, no other country today qualify for Darul Harb. Even Israel may not qualify as Darul Harb for many as the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel have also been given rights as citizens of Israel. Mr. Singhal should check his facts before writing such letters.

    He has also demanded that Hindus be declared as not being kafirs. If Mr. Singhal carefully studies Muslim literature in India he would get to know that many sufi saints like Dara Shikoh, Mazhar Jani Janan and others considered Hindus as ahl-al-kitab i.e. people of the book like Jews and Christians. Mazhar Jani Janan has made many interesting observations in this respect in one of his letters to his disciple who had asked Jani Janan whether Hindus could be declared as kafirs.

    Mazhar Jani Janan said in his letter that Hindus cannot be treated as kafirs as kafirs are those who hide the truth and Hindus possess scriptures like Vedas with revealed Truth from Allah. Also, he observed Hindus believe in tawhid i.e. one God as Ishwar in Hindu tradition is Nirgun and Nirankar i.e. without attributes and without any shape which is the highest concept of tawhid.

    Not only this he also said that in Qur'an Allah has said that he has sent His prophets to all the nations and so how can he forget India. He must have sent prophets to India also and may be Ram and Krishna, highly revered religious personalities might have been prophets of Allah. Other Sufi saints also have opined that Allah must have sent his prophets to Hindustan as Muslims believe Allah has sent in all one lakh and twenty four thousand prophets and Qur'an has not given all the names any way.

    Buddha was also accepted prophet of God by many Muslim scholars and a book on him Buzasaf (translated into Arabic and Persian) was quite a popular reading in Muslim houses until my childhood. Iqbal also describes Ram as Imam-e-Hind i.e. Imam of India, highest tribute any Muslim could pay to Ram. And any way even if some people consider Hindu as kafirs Qur'an permits Muslims to peacefully coexist with kafirs (see chapter 109).

    It permits war against only those kafirs who fight and persecute Muslims, not all kafirs. It is great misunderstanding created by either some extremists among Muslims or among non-Muslims that Muslims cannot coexist peacefully with kafirs. In fact ulama have divided kafirs into two categories harbi and ghayr -harbi kafirs i.e. war monger and non war monger kafirs. As for non-war mongering kafirs it is duty of Muslims to coexist with them.

    It was heartening that Jami'at al-Ulama-i-Hind immediately replied to Shri Singhal's letter and declared that India has always been Darul Aman except for a short period of British rule. They also issued clarification about kafirs. It is also must be noted that The Deobandi Ulama never supported Jinnah's two nation theory and strongly refuted it and supported the concept of united nationalism. Not only this Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani, the then President of Jami'at wrote a book Muttahida Qaumiyyat Aur Islam i.e. United nationalism and Islam. All Muslims in India since partition have stood by the concept of united and secular nationalism. Even partition was supported by a small minority of Muslims, not more than 5 per cent.


    By Sultan Shahin - 3/1/2015 2:08:33 AM

  • Carry on Observer Sb, this seems doable, although I don't see ulema responding. But I am willing to try. Please prepare the paper, I will send it to ulema, institutions for their view.  

    By Sultan Shahin - 2/28/2015 9:33:04 AM

  • "The starting point for convincing should be the Aalims on your staff. "

    You are right. It's a very depressing scenario. Ulema are mostly Juhala. The first thing they are taught in madrasas is not to think, not to question, not to budge an inch from what their masters have told them. Of course, there are illustrious exceptions like Niaz Fatehpuri, but Fatehpuri used to be punished in his madrasa regularly for asking questions.

    So while there maybe an exceptional Bareilwi who may listen, I do not know such a person. The Bareilwis on my staff have every opportunity to respond. Indeed, it's part of their job. But I cannot force them. I can only get depressed. I am particularly depressed since last night with the news of Abhijit's lynching. It's our duty as Muslims, I suppose, to remain optimistic, never to lose hope. But it's getting more and more difficult to remain hopeful. Some of my aalim columnists have even refused to discuss subjects like blasphemy and apostasy, apparently, I think, because their position on these subjects must be  the same of as that of Bareilwis in the case of blasphemy and Wahhabis-Salafis in the case of apostasy. Their position on the question of who is a kafir must be same as that of all other Muslims and if they are not willing to budge under any circumstance, why should they discuss the subject. That's why I ask you to approach some Deobandi ulema in your vicinity, and just give them a photocopy of the article and discuss with them. Let me know if there is any willingness to discuss. This should be the first step. Is somebody willing to discuss? We should know that first. 

    I would be very happy to organise a debate with Deobandi ulema on this subject, with you explaining your concept in further detail and others responding and debating. I suggested your city as you might know Deobandi ulema there who would be willing to discuss. Somebody will have to organise either in Delhi or elsewhere;  I can only provide the financial assistance required.

    By Sultan Shahin - 2/28/2015 9:12:29 AM

  • Shahin Sb,

    I suggest the following:

    I will send a version in the form of a paper which can be translated into Urdu.

    I myself have no contacts with any ulema and in any case this must be done under the auspices of NAI.

    The translated paper can be mailed/emailed to the ulema especially from the seminaries with a suitable forwarding letter requesting them to make it part of the content on their website or in their journal in the form of an article which itself amounts to the papers  acceptance by the seminary.

    You can also ask them to communicate their willingness for a public discussion and making a joint statement prepared in advance with every participating Alims concurrence. The meeting can be merely a PR exercise to publicise the agreement of the ulema on the thesis. 

    There may not be any need to defend the thesis as what is being said is very clear. Those who agree will agree without much discussion and those who disagree will normally not change their minds no matter how much we debate. The  public discussion is only to publicly make known what everyone has agreed to in advance.

    By Observer - 2/28/2015 9:09:02 AM

  • Shahin Sb,

    The starting point for convincing should be the Aalims on your staff. You have in the past conducted discussions with great vigor but you are not leading the discussion on a topic that should be dear to you.

    By Observer - 2/28/2015 8:10:18 AM

  • Mr Shahin,

    You can use my name and organize it in Delhi. I can come down there.

    By Observer - 2/28/2015 8:04:42 AM

  • Observer Saheb, if you are not even willing to put your name to this thesis, how can a discussion be organised. I am willing to fund such a discussion in your city with the ulema there in the month of April. I don't have people to organise any such discussion. You can do that. I can also get copies printed if you approve of the Urdu translation of this article on New Age Islam. Many ulema in your city do not know English. But I need a name and a face to discuss this. Pseudonyms can't be called to defend their thesis.

    If Deobandi ulema agree to participate, great. As for Bareilwis, you have already seen that even those on the site are not willing to comment. Please talk to some people and see how they respond. I can at least organise in the meantime to send to you some spiral bound photocopies of the article in English and Urdu to be given to some people in your city. [But for this you will have to give me your address.] If there is response and Ulema are willing to discuss this question in an open forum, we can get it printed too. But the first question is: are you willing to go out on a limb, perhaps  putting  your head on the chopping block?

    By Sultan Shahin - 2/28/2015 7:59:11 AM

  • Mr Shahin has given a call for an Islamic reformation but when a clear path is shown for the same, I find that he has lost interest. In the past, he has given a call for the impossible - for revising the Quran, dropping verses from the Book etc. Now that it is shown that none of that is necessary and it is the Sunni theology that needs to be reformed in the light of the Qu’ran, which is doable, he does not appear keen to do anything about it.

    It is the theology of holding all `non-Muslims’ (in the narrow sense of those who are not followers of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)), as kafir that is responsible for even the partition of this country besides providing ideological support to the extremists. How can Muslims live with the kafir with whom the Quran forbids friendship? For this reason, every sect of Islam (except the Deobandis) fought for the partition of this country.

    It is to the credit of the Deobandis that not only did they make common cause with the Hindus and fought under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi for the freedom of this country but after independence, they remained faithful to the cause and remain nationalists to this day. The Jamiat of their ulemas has propounded a theological basis for its nationalistic philosophy. Their thesis is that Muslims and non-Muslims have entered upon a mutual contract in India since independence, to establish a secular state. The Constitution of India represents this contract. This is known in Urdu as a mu'ahadah. Accordingly as the Muslim community's elected representatives supported and swore allegiance to this mu'ahadah so it is the duty of Indian Muslims is to keep loyalty to the Constitution. This mu'ahadah is similar to a previous similar contract signed between the Muslims and the Jews in Medina. In 2009,Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind announced that Hindus cannot be termed kafirs, even though they are Non-Muslim. The Deobandis can therefore be expected to take necessary steps and support a change in the Sunni theology by defining the terms kufr and kafir in a faith neutral way as these terms are used in the Quran. If the Deobandis support it, can the Barelvis afford to be seen as dragging their feet? Indian Muslims can show the way to the World and NAI can take the lead.

    A start could be made by NAI by circulating copies of the article to the ulema and arrange for discussions and take the subject of Reformation forward.


    By Observer - 2/28/2015 5:47:37 AM

  • Muhammad Yunus and Shahin  saheban,

    Awaiting your response to my comment:
    By Observer - 2/26/2015 7:39:50 PM

    By Observer - 2/27/2015 11:37:57 PM

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