Shaykh Yasir Qadhi has recently endorsed and published an article authored by Umm Zakiyyah about the usage of the word ‘kaafir’ in his website muslimmatters.org. The article is titled Kaafir, the New F-word. Although the article is replete with verses from the Quran and sayings from the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), and appears to teach us about the word kaafir, an apparent objective of the article is to urge Muslims to refrain from labeling people as kaafir, including self-professed non-Muslims, especially after their death, based on the argument that it is not possible to know the ‘state of anyone’s soul’.
Here are the main points of the article:
- The article says that the word kaafir is a not a word of profanity, because Allah does not use profane language. The author then quotes some verses from the Quran where Allah defined who the disbelievers are. The author followed up these verses with the hadith of Jibreel (peace be upon him), where the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) mentioned that anyone who dies in faith other than Islam after his (ﷺ) prophethood, including the Jews and the Christians, will be of the inhabitants of the Hell Fire.
- The article then presents a discussion about who will go to hell and who will go to paradise. This discussion is brief and ambiguous.
- Next, the article discusses about Islamic prohibition to pray for the non-Muslims, who we may happen to admire because of their certain traits or because of them being our family members, and presents the example of Abu Taalib and the parents of Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), whom the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was not allowed to pray upon after their death.
- Finally, the article presents us through the following two paragraphs the guideline about how the word kaafir should be used:
The Qur’an is quite unambiguous regarding who is a mu’min (believer) and who is a kaafir (disbeliever), and this is clear to anyone who has read Allāh’s Book in full. Nevertheless, it is not our job to carelessly toss around the label kaafir. Just as it is against Islam to label non-Muslims believers and give them the rights reserved only for Muslims, it is also against Islam to claim knowledge of the Unseen and carelessly label people kaafir, especially in reference to someone’s soul after death.
A person can live his or her life as a disbeliever then accept Islam in private before death. A person can also live his or her life as a believer then reject Islam in private before death. Thus, ultimately, we don’t know the state of anyone’s soul—even that of professed Muslims.
Here are my reservations about the above two paragraphs:
- It is not proper to say that the Quran is quite unambiguous regarding the definition of believers and disbelievers. Rather the Quran is not ambiguous at all in this regard.
- Regarding the claim that it is not from Islam to carelessly tag people with the word kaafir, then this is true if the statement is about takfeer, which is labeling other Muslims as kaafir. However, the article advises Muslims that they should remain silent and stay away from labeling anyone as kaafir, including those who profess non-Islamic faith, based on the principle that it is not possible to know the ultimate state of someone’s soul, which is the knowledge of unseen, and I disagree with this opinion. If someone claims that he is a Christian, Jew, Hindu, agnostic, atheist, or follower of any religion or way of life other than Islam, then he has already self-pronounced kufr upon him, and thereafter as a Muslim, it is my duty to declare that this person is a kaafir if there is a need to make such declaration. For example, I say that Richard Dawkins, the self-proclaimed atheist, is a kaafir. Also for example, I say that Rabindranath Tagore, a Hindu poet, and Steve Jobs, a Buddhist, were kaafirs. I will not cease to say that they were kaafirs based on the argument that I do not exactly know the faith that resided in their soul. I do not need to know that. Outwardly Tagore and Jobs professed and appeared as Hindu and Buddhist, respectively, and this is enough for me to say that they were kaafirs. Umar bin Al-Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him) reported saying: “In the lifetime of Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) some people were called to account through Revelation. Now Revelation has discontinued and we shall judge you by your apparent acts. Whoever displays to us good, we shall grant him peace and security, and treat him as a near one. We have nothing to do with his insight. Allah will call him to account for that. But whosoever shows evil to us, we shall not grant him security nor shall we believe him, even if he professed that his intention is good.”
- Saying that a non-Muslim person is a kaafir is not same as saying that a non-Muslim person is going to be in the Fire of Hell. For the latter, it is a knowledge that belongs to Allah, but for the former, we see what is apparent, and if a person apparently claims to be a non-Muslim, then we have no problem in saying that he is a kaafir. The author has unnecessarily coupled these two different statements.
- If the word kaafir is not a language of profanity, and it is not a language of profanity, especially since Allah and His Messenger (ﷺ) numerous times referred non-Muslims as kaafirs, then there is no problem with labeling non-Muslims as kaafirs.
- The author contradicts herself when she says that Muslims should treat disbelievers the way they are supposed to be treated (i.e. not praying for them after their death and not giving them rights they are not entitled to receive) but follows it with the advice that Muslims should stay away from labeling people as kaafir, including non-Muslims, especially after their death. If what is apparent from them, i.e. their profession of non-Islamic faith, is adequate to treat them as disbelievers during their life and after their death, then why what is apparent of them is not adequate to label them as kaafirs during their lifetime and after their death? Why the extra condition of knowing what is in the soul is necessary for labeling disbelievers as kaafirs, but the outward self-profession of disbelief is more than enough to give them the treatment of a kaafir?
- If I accede to the author’s argument that it is not possible to know the faith residing in a non-Muslim’s soul or the faith a non-Muslim dies upon, and thus not possible to label him as a kaafir, then by using the same logic, it can be said that I cannot call a Muslim brother of mine a Muslim, because ultimately I do not know the faith in his heart, and I do not know the faith he will die upon either. However, we accept someone’s testimony of faith without questioning or asking what is in the heart, and when a Muslim dies, we consider him as our brother, and we never bring the affairs of heart. Shouldn’t the same be applied for disbelievers too? Their testimony of disbelief is enough to say that they are kaafirs, both during their life and after death.
- Also if I accede to her argument that it is not possible to label non-Muslims as kaafirs, because of not being able to know what is in their hearts or the faith they may die upon, then who did Allah address when He used the word kaafir or kuffar in His book?
- The argument of the affairs of heart is primarily misused. For example, someone might not pray, and when reminded to pray, he may say, “You do not know the affairs of my heart.” Someone may not wear hijab, and may easily defend herself by saying, “You do not know the affairs of my heart.” Unfortunately, the author brought this wrong argument, and deters Muslims from saying that non-Muslims are kaafirs. Since we do not know the affairs of his heart or the faith he died upon, can we say that we should refrain from saying that Mut’im ibn Adi, for example, was a kaafir?
- It is no hidden fact that the word kaafir is a taboo word among many non-Muslims and among the modernist Muslims. They want to avoid this word at all cost. In such circumstances, vaguely advising Muslims to refrain from labeling self-professed non-Muslims as kaafirs will only reinforce the claim that kaafir is a taboo word. There is no denying here that the author has appropriately quoted verses from the Noble Quran and ahadith of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), but the soft advice at the end of the article, which discourages Muslims from labeling non-Muslims as kaafirs based on our inability to know their inner faith, gives the whole article the following vibe: “We have quoted what Allah and His Messenger (ﷺ) said and we do not deny anything. However, we will not say on our tongues that you are kaafirs despite your profession of disbelief, because we do not know what is in your hearts.”
- According to Shykh Saleh Al Fawzaan, anyone who does not declare (and re-read the word declare) the disbelievers to be kaafirs or doubts their disbelief, then he or she has disbelieved. As Muslims, it is obligatory upon us to declare the disbelievers as kaafirs.
Shaykh Saleh al-Fawzaan حفظه الله said:
من لم يُـكَــفِّـر المُشرِكينَ أَوْ شَكَّ في كُـفْرِهِم أَوْ صَـحَّـحَ مَذْهَـبَـهُمْ كَفَر
Whoever does not declare the polytheists to be disbelievers, or he doubts their disbelief or approves of their way, then he has disbelieved.
This issue is very grave indeed. Many people who ascribe themselves to Islam fall into it, not declaring the polytheist to be disbelievers, saying, “I do not commit any shirk, and all praise is for Allah, and I have not ever committed shirk, however, I will not declare the people to be disbelievers.”
We say to him: Since you know the religion, then it is obligatory on you to declare those whom Allah has declared disbelievers to be disbelievers, and those who ascribe partners to Allah, the Mighty and the Majestic. And it is obligatory on you to declare yourself free from them as Ibraaheem عليه السلام did with his father and tribe:
And [mention, O Muhammad], when Abraham said to his father and his people, “Indeed, I am disassociated from that which you worship. Except for He who created me; and indeed, He will guide me.” [The Noble Quran 43:26-27]
Shaykh Abdul Azeez bin Abdullaah al-Raajihee provided a similar explanation. He said:
من لم يُـكَــفِّـر المُشرِكينَ أَوْ شَكَّ في كُـفْرِهِم أَوْ صَـحَّـحَ مَذْهَـبَـهُمْ كَفَر
Whoever does not hold the polytheists to be disbelievers, or has doubts about their disbelief or considers their ways and beliefs to be correct, has committed disbelief.
What this Nullifier means is: that one does not believe that the polytheists are upon disbelief. The term “polytheists” is general and includes all of the various types of disbelievers. Therefore, every disbeliever is a polytheist. So whoever does not hold a disbeliever to be as such, then he himself is a disbeliever, just like him. Whoever does not consider the Jews or the Christians or the Magians (Majoos) or the idol worshippers or the hypocrites or the Communists to be disbelievers then he himself is a disbeliever.
The quotes and respective explanations of Shaykh Saleh al-Fawzaan and Shaykh Abdul Azeez bin Abdullaah al-Raajihee have been provided from an article titled Removing the Doubts: Doubting the Kufr of a Kaafir? from website Ilm4All. Please visit the link to read full explanation.
I would like to end this discussion with the following verse from the noble Quran:
O you who have believed, fear Allah and speak words of appropriate justice. [The Noble Quran 33:70]