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A Plea for Reaching A Common Understanding Of Islam To Counter The Ideology Of The Extremists

By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam

13 September 2017

I am throwing open my debate with Yunus Sb by summarising the discussion. It would be great if all the scholars supporting NAI can reach a consensus on the common understanding of Islam which is detailed at the end of the article which will go a long way in defeating the false ideology of the extremists. Please therefore debate with me with the intention of clarifying all your reservations before accepting what I have proposed. It would be a major milestone for NAI in its search for the true humanistic values of Islam and for reviving the rationalist approach to understanding the meaning of the Quran if we can reach a consensus on it with or without modifications.

Yunus Sb,

While your definition of kufr is correct, it is of little help in the correct understanding of the Quran and even misleading judging by the fact that you have judged all the Mushrikin of the Prophet’s times and his immediate audience as kafir and only revised this view after intense debate with me over the last two years.

Also, while you merely say that “for want of any appropriate English counterpart, Kafir have been rendered as disbelievers or deniers as appropriate”, what I say is that Kafir does not mean disbeliever even in a single verse of the Quran, and when the Quran intends to say “disbeliver” it uses “la yuminin”. The difference between the two positions is the same as the difference between cheese and chalk. All the translators of the Quran make the mistake of translating kafir as disbeliever rendering grotesque the meaning of the Book and highly misleading.


My definition of Kafir/kufr is based on the precise meaning the Quran gives to these words and therefore does not lead to any misinterpretations. My definition has led to the following insights:


Kufr in the temporal dimension.

These are crimes against humanity such as religious persecution, oppression and injustice in any form. It also includes violation of recognized rights of other people which is also a form of oppression. There are consequences for it and the ruler must fight against oppression until it ends and must establish justice and freedom of conscience for all. The faith professed by the perpetrator of wrong and the wronged are immaterial. Islam stands for secular justice in the temporal dimension. Who is a kafir and who is a momin is situational for kufr in the temporal dimension. The one who fights for the cause of right and justice is a momin and the oppressor is kafir.


Kufr in the spiritual dimension

Kufr by the believers: Ingratitude to Allah, disobedience of His commands, failing to uphold the truth. Any kufr by a believer in the temporal dimension is also kufr for him in the spiritual dimension. The ruler can punish for only kufr in the temporal dimension but not for kufr in the spiritual dimension. Apostasy and blasphemy being kufr in the spiritual dimension are therefore not punishable as per the shariat of the Quran.

Kufr by the disbelievers in the spiritual dimension.

When does rejection of the `Truth’ brought by the Messenger become kufr? Not until the truth of belief/disbelief becomes manifest to them in their innermost being and their own self becomes a witness against their rejection of belief. Only Allah knows who these people are and not even the Prophets knew until informed by Allah.


The law of Allah is however, that the kafaru among the disbelievers will not believe. Who is kafaru in the spiritual dimension can be known only after the fact – whether they eventually accepted belief or died rejecting belief. Since most of the Mushrikin of the Hejaz accepted belief and very few died rejecting belief while fighting the Muslims or otherwise, we can confidently assert that Allah did not consider the majority of the Mushrikin as kafir in either Surah Al-Kafirun which is addressed only to the kafir among the people or in Surah Taubah. This is apart from the fact that the text of the Quran simply does not consider all the Mushrikin of the Prophet’s immediate audience as kafir in any verse of the Quran and verses such as 98:1,6 etc., clearly speak of the kafaru among the Musrikin clearly implying that not all are considered kafir.


There can be  no punishment by a ruler to any person whether believer/disbeliver for kufr in the spiritual dimension and therefore no war can be waged against the disbelief of the disbelievers.



References to my articles:

What Is Kufr And Who Is A Kafir In The Quran? (Full and Revised Text of the New Age Islam Series on the Subject)

Who is a Muslim in the Quran?

Is Islam Secular?

The Much discussed and debated Medinian Verses Relating to Fighting

The Story of the Prophetic Mission of Muhammad (Pbuh) In the Qu’ran (Part 4): The Medinian Period

The Story of the Prophetic Mission of Muhammad (pbuh) in the Qu’ran (Concluding Part) Summary


According to the prevailing theology of all schools of thought including Deoband, Barelvi, Salafi etc, Kafir means non-Muslim, and according to them, the Prophet was fighting against disbelief to end disbelief as reflected in the translations and tafseer of the Quran by their leading lights. This view is what sustains the current extremism


Can we reach a common understanding on the following?


My insights lead to taking up the following very bold and categorical position which demolish the ideology of the traditionalists and the extremists:


1.    Kafir does not mean disbeliever even in one verse of the Quran. The closest English word that describes ‘Kafir’ is ‘Sinner’ and ‘Kufr’ is ‘Sin’. Kufr is possible by person of any faith. The word Kafir has been used in the Quran to mean a die-hard Sinner not amenable to change his ways or repent. The disbelievers who are kafir will therefore not believe. Not all the disbelievers are kafir and they will believe once they realize the true nature of belief/disbelief. Who among the disbelievers is a kafir from the perspective of his beliefs can be known only after the fact – whether he became a believer or died rejecting belief. Rejection from certain knowledge is the criteria and not mere non-acceptance from lack of knowledge or conviction. There is not even one verse in the Quran that considered all the Mushrikin of Mecca as kafir and the verses only refer to the kafaru among the Mushrikin clearly implying that not all are kafir.


2.    The Quran also speaks of the kafaru among the believers and among the People of the Book. Not all the believers who commit kufr are kafir if they repent their transgressions. Those who do not repent on committing what they know to be a sin, may get inured to even the feelings of guilt, and become die-hard sinners or kafir. The kafir among the believers who are such unrepentant sinners, will be in hell-fire prepared for the kafirin.


3.    The most odious form of kufr is injustice and oppression. So much so, that those who will not desist from oppression are Kafir, who must be resisted or fought against until they agree to mend their ways and give up on their oppressive ways. Oppression is the only form of Kufr, against which the permission to fight is given in the Quran. The faith professed by the oppressor/oppressed are not a consideration


4.    Specifically, there is no permission to fight against the kufr of deliberate disbelief. Only peaceful preaching with gracious speech is permissible.


5.    The Quran affirms that the freedom of conscience in Islam is absolute and without any restraints. “Let there be no compulsion in religion” and “To the peaceful disbeliever be his way and to me mine” are fundamental principles. These principles were never compromised by the Prophet in his battles against the religious persecutors. The Prophet was fighting not the disbelievers and disbelief, but the Religious persecutors and oppression to establish the Deen of Allah, in which there can be no oppression or injustice and people are free to practice any religion.


I urge all scholars supporting NAI to endorse the above with or without modification after discussions, so that NAI can boldly and officially project it as its firm belief of what Islam is, and effectively work for reforming the ideology of the Muslims reaching out to all sections of them.


Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to



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