Who can be called a kafir? What will be the fate of non-Muslims?

Who can be called a kafir? What will be the fate of non-Muslims?

The Prophet (peace be on him) attended the funeral of a well-known Munafiq (hypocrite) who was known as the “Leader of the Munafiqun” even though he made it a point not to attend the funerals of any Munafiqun.

This highlights a very important concept in Islam – who can be called a kafir and who cannot.

Why did the Prophet (peace be on him attend the funeral of a well-known hypocrite?

Abd-Allah ibn Ubayy ( died 631), also called Ibn Salul was the grandson of a chief of the Arab tribe Banu Khazraj in Madinah. He was aspiring to be the leader in Madinah, but was eclipsed by the arrival of Muhammad (peace be on him) in 622. This provoked jealousy in him, which he made an effort to conceal, but he was a thorn in the side of the Muslims and remained treacherous to Islam until his death.

Jabir ibn Abdullah reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) came to the hypocrite Abdullah ibn ‘Ubayy after he was placed in his grave. The Prophet ordered him to be taken out, he placed him on his knees, he blew his blessed breath over him, and he wrapped him in his own shirt. And Allah knows best. (Bukhari and Muslim)

Imam Nawawi said, “The Prophet did all of that to honour his son, who was a righteous man… and as it was also part of his noble character, peace and blessings be upon him.” (Sharḥ al-Nawawi ‘ala Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim)

No on can be classified kafir unless they reject the shahada

Firstly, unless someone utters words of disbelief, we cannot penetrate his heart. The Prophet (peace be on him) led by example; and though he had been sent a list of the munafiqeen by Allah via Jibril, unless someone pronounced words of kufr, they were not classified as a disbeliever – even when their behaviour was against Islam.

No one has access to anyone’s heart.

Therefore, though Abdullah caused so many problems to the Prophet (peace be upon him), and plotted against the Muslim community, colluded with and made alliances with non-believers, he did not actually renounce the shahada or say any words of kufr in public.

ISIS and groups who call people Kafir

This is a very serious matter and very relevant to our reality. We have some people, who think they have a stamp with which they can label people munafiq or kafir, such as ISIS, and Al Qaeda and can carry out punishments based on this accusation. In fact, they have no authority to do this. Who gave them this authority? Why are they entitled to label people when the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself never did this?

This shows how far ISIS and other terror groups are from prophetic guidance, while they claim that they are protecting the Sunnah, the Shariah, and the deen. In reality they are not; they are doing the opposite. They are destroying the Shariah, the deen, the community and they have no authority whatsoever.

No one has the right to doubt someone’s shahada

Moreover, we see from the Shariah that even on the battlefield, during battle, if an enemy pronounced the Shahada at the point of being killed, the Believing soldiers were forbidden to kill them. They gained automatic immunity, even though the sincerity of their conversion at that point in time would be quite suspect and highly questionable.

Usamah ibn Zayd reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) sent us on an expedition. In the morning we attacked Al-Huraqat of Juhaynah. I caught hold of a man and he said, “There is no god but Allah!” but I stabbed him. Then it occurred to me that I should mention that to the Prophet. The Prophet said, “Did he say ‘there is no god but Allah’ and you killed him?” I said, “O Messenger of Allah, he only said it fearing the weapon.” The Prophet said, “Did you tear open his heart to know if he meant it or not?” The Prophet continued to repeat this to me until I had wished I had not embraced Islam until that day. (Bukhari and Muslim)

Once someone has said ‘La ilaha illallah’ you cannot claim that you know the intention behind the words, even if it is to marry someone. This knowledge is with Allah and not us. We have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Therefore we cannot pronounce anyone is a kafir or munafiq.

How will non-Muslims be judged?

There are differences of opinion, about how people who are not Muslim will be judged on the Day of Judgement. People often ask what will be the fate of the pygmies? In other words, how will people be judged who did not receive the message or Islam or only received a distorted impression of Islam?

The rationalist Mu’tazilites believed that each person is responsible (mukallaf) to reject polytheism and idolatry, and believe in the One true God, otherwise they face eternal damnation.

The Ash’aris believed that those who did not receive the message would be forgiven, including even idolaters, based on the premise that they cannot be held accountable for what they did not know.

Those who did not receive the message of Islam before the birth of Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him)

The ahl al-fatrah أهل الفترة are the people who lived during the gap in revelation between Prophet Eesa and Prophet Muhammad (peace be on them), between 30 CE – 610 CE, this includes the parents of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him).

Imam Nawawi, an Ash’ari, said in his commentary Sharh Sahih Muslim that those who are born into idolatrous families and die without a message reaching them are granted paradise based upon the Qur’anic verse: “We do not punish a people until a messenger comes to them.” (17:15)

According to ibn Taymiyyah, these people who did not receive the message in this world will be tested in the next life.

Those who did not receive the message of Islam after the birth Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him)

Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani, the Salafi scholar, said:

“The term ahl al-fatrah refers to everyone whom the dawah (message of Islam) has not reached in a correct manner as it came in the Shariah… Such people will not be punished on the Day of Judgement [for their disbelief in this world]. It is quite possible for People of the Interval to exist in every time period, whether before [the revelation of the final message of] Islam or after. The message has to have reached them in its pristine purity, without any distortions. In cases where the dawah reaches people in a mutilated form in which its essential components; its fundamental principles of belief, have been substituted, I am the first to say that the dawah has not reached them.”

Imam al Ghazali said the people who did not hear the message of Islam will be judged in the same way as the people of ahl al-fatrah, and will not be taken to account.

Imam al-Ghazali split them into three types:

1. People who never heard the message, who live in faraway lands, such as the Byzantines (“Romans”) will be forgiven.

2. People who were exposed to a corrupted understanding of Islam and did not have access to accurate information will be forgiven.

3. People who heard of Islam because they lived in neighbouring lands and mixed with Muslims will not be forgiven.  

He also wrote about non-Muslims who have heard a distorted message:

“The name of Muhammad has indeed reached their ears, but they do not know his true description and his character. Instead, they heard from the time they were young that a deceitful liar named Muhammad claimed to be a prophet. As far as I am concerned, such people are [excused] like those who the call of Islam has not reached, for while they have heard of the Prophet’s name, they heard the opposite of his true qualities. And hearing such things would never arouse one’s desire to find out who he was.”

How do we consider those who claim there is a prophet after Muhammad (peace be on him)?

We cannot judge anyone’s intention. We can only judge their statement or what they have written in their book. Then we can examine whether a statement is kufr or not, or may lead to kufr.

Anyone who says there is a Prophet (peace be on him) after the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) is going against the clear precept of Islam, as stated in the Quran that he is the Final Messenger, the Khatim an Nabiyyin (Seal of the Prophets). Allah Almighty said:

Muhammad is not the father of [any] one of your men, but [he is] the Messenger of Allah and last of the prophets. And ever is Allah , of all things, Knowing. (33:40)

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) said, anā khātamu ’n-nabīyīn, lā nabīya ba‘dī:

I am the seal of the prophets, there is no prophet after me.

Different sects have their own explanations for who they are following and we can only give an opinion on what they are saying based on their upto date text. Without knowing this, we cannot give judgement.

Can you say salam to people of different sects? Or non-Muslims?

The Prophet (peace be on him) said:

Say salam to whom you know and whom do not know.

This means you can say salam to anyone of any faith and you spread salam to everyone.

There is common opinion that you should not greet non-Muslims with the salam. Or that you should only reply to them with ‘walaikum’ not ‘walaikum asalam’. This is not in line with the general principles of Islam, which is to spread the salam and to spread goodness.

The evidence that you can greet non-Muslims with the salam is in the verses of the Quran which say you should greet others in a way better than you are greeted:

And when you are greeted with a greeting, greet [in return] with one better than it or [at least] return it [in a like manner]. Indeed, Allah is ever, over all things, an Accountant. (4:86)

The Prophet (peace be on him) on different occasions said salam to non Muslims, and People of the Book. You can initiate the salam and you can greet non Muslims.

Spread the salam to everyone

There are endless hadith on the importance of saying salam and spreading the salam. It was the first instruction the Prophet (peace be on him) gave to the citizens of Madinah in his first khutbah. As ‘Abdullah bin Salam (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:

I heard the Messenger of Allah (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) say: “O people, spread the greeting of peace profusely, maintain kinship ties, feed others, and pray at night when people are asleep, you will enter Paradise in peace. (Ibn Majah)

He did not say spread the greeting among Muslims only. In the Quran Allah Almighty instructed:

“And servants of (Allah) the Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, Peace (Salaam)!”(25:63)

Shaykh Haytham Tamim – Sunday Hadith Class

From the collection of hadith in Ibn Hajar al Asaqalani’s Bulugh al Maram.

Transcribed by Rose Roslan


Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001. His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College). He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.