Defining the Kafirs (Infidels?)
I want to know the concept of infidels/kafirs in Islam. Does it refer to all non-Muslims including People of the Book? Is it okay to call them kafirs/infidels? Also, in Surat Al-Kafirun, who are the kafirun who are being addressed?
Answer: by Jasser Auda
First of all, the word “kafir” does not necessarily mean “infidel” as you mentioned in your question. The word “kafir” (and variations of it) is mentioned in the Qur’an in five different senses:
1. Kufr al-tawheed: to reject the belief in the Oneness of God. The Qur’an says what means:
2. Kufr al-ni`mah: to lack gratefulness to God or to people. The Qur’an says what means:
3. Kufr at-tabarri: to disown/clear oneself from. The Qur’an says what means:
4. Kufr al-juhud: to deny. The Qur’an says what means:
5. Kufr at-taghtiyah: to hide/bury something, like planting a seed in the ground. The Qur’an says what means:
Exegesis (tafseer) scholars decide as to which meaning of the word “kufr / kafir” is meant in a specific verse based on the context. Therefore, not every use of the root “ka fa ra” means the rejection of faith. For example, when the Prophet (peace be upon him) warned some of his companions from becoming “kuffar” after his death, he did not mean that they would become disbelievers but rather that they would become ungrateful to Allah, for the blessing of unity, when they fight each other after his death.
Regarding whether to call non-Muslims “kuffar” or not, the answer is that we should call people the names that the Qur’an gave them. In the Qur’an, you will not find a single “O disbelievers” (“Ya Kuffar”, “Ya ayuhalathina kafaru”, or “Ya ayuhal-kafirun”) other than in the following two places:
1. In Hellfire, we seek refuge in Allah from it. The Qur’an says what means:
So, it is something that is said to them by Allah Almighty or by the angels, not by us.
2. In Surat Al-Kafirun (109) that you mentioned in your question. It says what means:
But this surah is addressing Prophet Muhammad and therefore must be understood in its historical context. Allah is asking Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to address a group of leaders from Makkah who offered him the following deal: That they all — including Muhammad — worship God for one year and then they all worship the idols for the next year, and so on. That is why Allah asked him to address them in this term “rejecters of faith” and to refuse to accept this kind of deal.
In the rest of the Qur’an, however, the Qur’anic style followed two principals:
1. To label certain sayings or actions to be sayings or actions of kufr (disbelief or rejection of faith), without labeling any specific group of people with that name and calling them with it. For example, the Qur’an says what means:
2. To distinguish clearly between idol-worshippers, on one hand, and believers in God and a Script that went through a phase of corruption, on the other hand. Allah called the later group only by the name “People of the Book.” For example, the Qur’an says what means:
In today’s world, we should use the same term “People of the Book” with Christians and Jews, or call them Christians and Jews, if they wish to be called so, or simply call them “non-Muslims”.
As for dealing with non-Muslims, the general rule is mentioned in the verse that says what means:
And notice that the word “birr” (translated as kindness) that Allah used in this context is the same word that is used for the type of kindness that a Muslim should show his/her parents as in birr al-walidain (kindness to parents)!!
Finally, it is fair enough before labeling any person as a “rejecter of faith” to make sure that he/she is clearly aware of that faith and what it entails. In my view, most people in today’s world did not reject the message because simply they are not aware of what Islam is. This is largely due to the biased international media and to Muslims themselves falling short to present their religion properly to the world. These uninformed people, again in my view, could only fall under the verse that says what means:
And Allah knows best.
Extracted 03/12/04 from IslamOnline