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Who can be called a kafir?

Who can be called a kafir?

We hear the word kafir in the media all the time. What does the word kafir mean? Who can it be applied to?

Kafara and satara are synonyms which mean to conceal or cover. In Arabic one might say, the night covers the fields meaning that in the darkness of the night one cannot see the fields, and thus kafir is the terminology used to describe a disbeliever, because he is denying the truth – rejecting the reality and covering it with darkness. A kafir is someone who denies Islam is the truth and the reality.

Takdheeb al Quran means to reject the Quran. To reject Allah, the Quran, and His Messenger is clear disbelief.

No on can be classified kafir unless they reject the shahada

Unless someone says that they disbelieve and reject the shahada, we cannot penetrate their heart to know what they believe. We cannot call them a kafir.

The Prophet (peace be on him) was given a list of the hypocrites (munafiqeen) in Madinah by the angel Jibril – those who professed to Muslim but were plotting against Islam behind the scenes and were secretly allied with disbelievers. However despite this they were not classified as disbelievers – even when their behaviour was hostile towards Islam, because they did not openly reject Islam.

No one has access to anyone’s heart. Therefore no one can be called kafir unless the openly reject Allah, Islam and the Quran.

Abdullah bin Ubayy ibn Salul the chief of the hypocrites caused many problems for the Prophet (peace be upon him), and plotted against the Muslim community, colluded with and made alliances with non-believers, but did not actually renounce the shahada or say any words of kufr in public. Despite this, the Prophet (peace be upon him) attended his funeral.

ISIS and groups who call people Kafir

Being called kafir 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 bin Zaid (may Allah be pleased with them) reported:


The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) sent us to Huraqat, a tribe of Juhainah. We attacked that tribe early in the morning and defeated them, (then) a man from the Ansar and I caught hold of a man (of the defeated tribe). When we overcame him, he said: ‘La ilaha illallah (There is no true god except Allah).’ At that moment, the Ansari spared him, but I attacked him with my spear and killed him. By the time we went back to Al-Madinah, news had already reached Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). He said to me, “O Usamah, did you kill him after he professed La ilaha illallah (There is no true god except Allah)?” I said, “O Messenger of Allah! He professed it only to save his life.” Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) repeated, “Did you kill him after he had professed La ilaha illallah?” He went on repeating this to me until I wished I had not embraced Islam before that day (so that I would have not committed this sin). (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.

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. [Bukhari and Muslim]

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

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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.