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By Naseema Mall

shadowThere is a tendency among many Muslims to simply refer to any non-Muslim as a kafir. Unfortunately, some Muslims even refer to other Muslims as kafir. I’ve always been perturbed by the flagrant use of this term, as it seems so harsh, and have often wondered if it is justified or beneficial in any way to use it with reference to all non-Muslims.

Islam teaches us to foster good relations with all people.

Allah says in the Qur’an, [Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the way-farer (you meet) and those under your authority; indeed Allah loves not the arrogant, the vainglorious] (An-Nisa’ 4: 36).

Maintaining ties with family members, relatives, neighbours, communities and societies is emphasized a great deal in Islamic teachings. It is indeed difficult to maintain and strengthen these ties if we busy ourselves labeling others. Somehow ingrained in the human psyche is the belief that one human being is possibly better than another. After all, the countless wars throughout history bear testimony to this absurd notion. Of course wars take place for a number of reasons, but the desire of a nation to destroy another is to assert one’s ‘superior’ standing. The assumption that one is supposedly better than another also affects individuals. We are not always conscious of our thoughts, but it does happen that sometimes we think of ourselves as being a better Muslim than another person; or when we see certain actions acceptable to non-Muslims, we think that we are better than them. But this way of thinking can be dangerous, as it may result in one assuming a higher position of piety. In fact it is only Allah who knows who is sincere in piety; who is considered a Muslim in His sight.



 Islam was established with the creation of the first man, Prophet Adam (peace be upon him). His main task, and the task of the all of the Prophets and Messengers that followed, was to firmly instill in the minds and the hearts of the people the concept of tawheed, that Allah, the Almighty is one and only one, and that He alone has power over all things and He only deserves to be worshipped. When we talk about worshipping Allah alone, there seems to be much misunderstanding. Worship is not only about the rituals of salaah, fasting, zakaah and hajj. Worshipping Allah is holistic and inclusive, meaning that every aspect of our lives and our actions are to please Allah. You cannot for instance perform your salaah regularly, but then oppress your servant or your employee; you cannot be paying zakaah, and then defraud people in your business dealings. Simply announcing our belief is not sufficient; we have to live the spirit of Islam as well.

[Say (O Muhammad) my prayer, my sacrifice, my life and my death belong to Allah; He has no partner and I am ordered to be among those who submit (Muslims).] (An’am 6:162-163)

That Allah is the only power did not go down well with many rulers, as we know from the stories of Nimrod and Pharoah, among many others. Nimrod had the audacity to say that he gives life and death, and Pharoah’s arrogance led to his drowning, and we have been informed in the Qur’an that for him is the most severe punishment.

[So We seized him and his hosts, and We flung them into the sea: now behold what was the End of those who did wrong! And We made them (but) leaders inviting to the Fire; and on the Day of Judgment no help shall they find.] (Al Qasas 28: 40-41)

Every Prophet conveyed the message of tawheed to his people, and warned that the denial of the oneness of Allah would lead to dire consequences. Some heeded the call and others did not. Islam teaches us that for all our actions, good and bad, there are consequences. We may meet those consequences in this life or in the hereafter. This is something that a Muslim must contemplate seriously. How conscious are we really of our daily actions? How sure are we that even though we are Muslim our actions could actually constitute kufr? No one should ever feel self righteous. No one has a one way ticket to Paradise.

Naturally Allah knew who He was going to appoint as Prophets and Messengers. We also know that they were mere human beings like us. All the Prophets endured trials and tribulations, more so after Prophethood was revealed to them. But we also know from the Qur’an that the Prophets often contemplated about life and about Allah. We know that Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) wondered if the stars or the moon or the sun were his Lord. It is a natural instinct in mankind to seek to know the creator, so we all have an inbuilt sense of tawheed.

Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) often retreated to the cave of Hira to contemplate, until the first revelation came to him.

In His infinite wisdom, Allah knew that he had already chosen these people to convey His message. He did not hold it against them when they contemplated and felt unsure. His mercy was still bestowed on them.

From the life of Caliph ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) we know that before he accepted Islam he used to create idols from dates, and thereafter eat them. We know that he hated Muslims and hit his sister when he found out that she had accepted Islam. Yet Allah in his infinite wisdom knew that eventually ‘Umar would change his ways and enter into Islam. When he accepted Islam he was known to be a strong and kind Muslim and a just ruler.



 It is difficult for Muslims to believe that a Muslim can actually indulge in kufr. How is this possible? One may wonder. According to Imam Nawawi kufr “occurs sometimes by a statement which constitutes kufr and sometimes by an act. And the actions which necessitate kufr (that expel from the religion) are those which are performed deliberately (The Book of Apostasy). Some of the acts that could render a Muslim a disbeliever are (and these are conditioned on the person being aware of the reality of their action):


1.      To call on saints or Prophets for help or to act as intercessors.

 [And invoke not besides Allāh, any that will neither profit you, nor hurt you, but if (in case) you did so, you shall certainly be one of the Zālimūn (polytheists and wrong-doers)] [10:106]

  1. Referring to any authority other than Islam for judgment or being dissatisfied with the decision of Islam.

[But no, by your Lord, they can have no Faith, until they make you (O Muhammad SAW) judge in all disputes between them, and find in themselves no resistance against your decisions, and accept (them) with full submission.] [4:65]

  1. Slaughtering in the name of a Prophet or a pious man (saint).

 [Therefore turn in prayer to your Lord and sacrifice (to Him only).] [108:2]

  1. Circumambulation of graves as an act of worship. It is to be performed for Allah alone in the Holy Ka'bah.

 [Then let them complete the prescribed duties (Manāsik of Hajj) for them, and perform their vows, and circumambulate the Ancient House (the Ka'bah at Makkah).] [22:29]

  1. Depending on or putting trust in other than Allah. How many of us do this at times? 

[And Mūsa (Moses) said: "O my people! If you have believed in Allāh, then put your trust in Him if you are Muslims (those who submit to Allāh's Will).] [10:84]

These are just some acts that could turn a Muslim into a disbeliever. However, not everyone who commits an act of kufr is considered a kafir, and these are the excuses:


1.  Someone lives in a place where there is no scholar who can establish the evidence, remove misconceptions and offer guidance.

2. Someone who is a new Muslim. That person is excused until he knows about the issues involved.

3. If there are misconceptions related to the situation, that person is excused until these are removed.

4. The un-agreed upon acts of which there are many.

Kufr and declaring someone a kafir are serious issues and are not to be uttered lightly. As individuals let us focus on strengthening our acts of faith and drawing nearer to Allah as Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught us. And remember if a person claims someone to be a kaffir and it turns out to be untrue, those words fall back on the one who said them at first. Definitely something to think about.



 Basics of Islam