By UMA Interfaith Alliance
South S.F. CA
3 February 2016
Key Definitions: How do we define and explain key words is absolutely important to better understanding of The Quran in the light of Global Inter-religious peace movement that is going on. It creates a mind-set that can become very narrow and selective in creating antagonistic divisions or it can create a more accommodating and tolerant mind-set bringing believers from other religions into one large global family. Some of the key words which are essential to better understanding are the following:
Islam: The Quran is very clear in explaining the definition of the word Islam. What does it mean and what does it stand for. The uniqueness of this word is - that it is not named after any person (in this case our Prophet). It means total surrender or submission to the Creator of all humanity. People have always called their Creator by various names like: Allah, God, Bhagwan, Adonai, The Great Spirit, etc. When Muslims say their religion is Islam, what they are saying is they are aligning themselves of what was ordained by God to be the religion of all humankind…which is total surrender and submission. This total surrender and submission is done voluntarily and in the most peaceful ways.
The Quran says that the religion (Islam) of all the Prophets is submission and surrender to the One Supreme Creator. There are numerous ways of submission and surrender with the core principles always remaining the same in all the religions. For example Muslims five pillars of Islam are found in all the religions that is: belief in One Creator, prayer, fasting, charity and pilgrimage.
The following Quranic verse proves that Islam was the religion even before Prophet Mohammed was born (pbuh) as is evidenced in Chapter/Surah 42:13
"The same religion has He established for you that which He enjoined on Noah. That which We have send as inspiration to you (Mohammed pbuh) and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus (Buddhism, Hinduism and other paths are also included that existed before the coming of Prophet Mohammed) That you should stay steadfast in religion (submission/surrender to our Lord) and make no divisions therein. (this means work for the unity of humankind) As for those who worship other things than God (meaning – money, power, idols, humans, fire, water, etc.) they are on difficult and wrong way (hard) to call from. God chooses to Himself those whom He wills and guides those people who turn towards Him.
Commentary: According to this if a Christian, a Jew or any believer from Buddhism or Hinduism surrenders to One Supreme Being. They are falling within the definition of the word Islam which means total surrender or submission. The art of surrender or submission is called Islam. This art of submission/surrender was shown to all the Prophets and their people as evidenced in The Quran 10:47, 14:4 & 16:36 which ways, “To every people we send an Apostle in their own language and in their own country to clarify.”
Islam is very inclusive and broad in its definition. Muslims believe in Allah (God) and take Mohammed (pbuh) as their role model - messenger, just as Christians and Jews believe in the same God and take Jesus and Moses as their respective messengers. Likewise, the Buddhists and Hindus also have been blessed with their Apostle. Muslims believe in the Holy people coming from all the major and minor religious sects with the same core message.
Muslim scholars strongly recommend not to judge believers from other faiths. The depth of surrendering or submission of other believers is known only to God who is All Knowing and full of perfect Wisdom. God is THE ONLY JUDGE fully capable of passing judgments. Here Jesus advice is more relevant, “Do not Judge others lest you not be judged.”
Surah 3:85, “If anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of him.”
Here the definition of the word Islam must be taken in its inter-religious and global context as explained above.
Believer: Anyone who says, “We believe in One God” is a Believer. In this category fall all Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, spiritualists, native Americans or indigenous sect. etc. etc. No Human being has a right to say that Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, etc. are non-believers because we do not have perfect knowledge to make perfect judgment.
Muslim: A Muslim is a person who says, “There is no God but One God (Allah) and Mohammed (pbuh) is a messenger of God.
Dhimmi: People of the Book, Christians and Jews who lived in an Islamic state were called Dhimmis. (This term was very often misinterpreted in olden days by unjust rulers.) The expressed mission of Islamic state was to establish Islamic rules and regulations and form Islamic society. To convert People of Book to Islam was not the policy.
Dhimmis were exempted from military service and Islamic teachings. The Quran honored Christians and Jews as People with Revelations, the Bible and the Torah. Their property, life and places of worship were protected. For this service and protection a prorated tax “Jiziya” was collected by the Islamic state. Jiziya was not meant to be economically oppressive, on the contrary it was a compensation paid to the state for maintenance of law, order and due process in the Islamic state that guaranteed their constitutional rights. Dhimmis were exempted from paying the Zakat that was obligatory on every Muslim citizen. The rate of Jaziya was smaller than the Zakat rate. Presently, no Muslim country imposes “Jaziya” on People of other faiths. Jiziya is now history.
Kafir or Infidels:
The word Kafir is derived from the Arabic root word KFR, (Kaf, Fay and Ray) which means to cover, conceal or hide. What is more important is the intentional misleading, deceiving or suppressing the truth. Meddling with the Holy Scriptures where intentionally truth is either, concealed, changed, omitted, misinterpreted so that people either begin to doubt or lose complete faith in God, His Signs and His Revelations – this can come in the area of infidelity (being unfaithful to your Creator) or Kufr.
Character assassinations of Biblical and Quranic Prophets, done intentionally to undermine the faith or trust/believe in God, His Signs and Revelations can also be classified, as Kufr and people committing such acts are called Kafirs or infidels.
One cannot call a believer in God from other faiths as Kafir if they do not believe in Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) as Messenger of God and the Quran as final revelation.
In modern language, you can say, it has to be intentional dishonesty, deception and misinformation. Just like a more sophisticated, premeditated perjury is deep rooted in intentional misleading or deceiving people which can lead to criminal actions so also we have to consider the extent of intentional deception or perjury in explaining Kafir or Kufr.
Infidel does not really represent the true meaning of the word Kafir. The dictionary merely says an infidel is one who does not belief in any religion, like Christianity and Islam.
Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs who comprise of 50% of the world’s population cannot all be classified as non-believers or as KAFIRS. There are billions of them who belief in God, the Last Day and Life after Death and in doing righteous deeds.
They have also been shown the art of surrender, submission or devotion (which in Arabic is called Islam). The Quran says, “To every people we send an Apostle in their own language and in their own country to clarify God’s message in Quran 14:4, 10:47 &16:36.
Muslims are commanded to believe in the revelations that have come to them (The Quran) and the revelations that came before their times (Torah, Psalms and Gospels, Buddhists and Hindu scriptures) in Quran 2:4.
Hence believers in One God from other faiths cannot be lumped or stereotyped as non-believers. No one has the authority to judge others. Hence they cannot be called KAFIRS/Infidels because they also have been shown the art of surrender, submission or devotion which is the true meaning of the word Islam.
The Quran uses Kafir in reference to the pagan Arabs who had unleashed war on Prophet Mohammed and early Muslims. All the verses on war must be taken in reference to the pagan and idolatrous Arabs. Muslims look towards war in the Quran to stop tyranny and oppression of the pagan Quresh tribe. The other side of war was to establish freedom, liberty, women rights and a better law abiding society.
Christians and Jews who lived during the times of Prophet Mohammed were never defined as Kafirs or infidels. They are called as, “People of the Book” throughout the Quran. Prophet Mohammed included them as part of Medina Constitution where their places of worshipped were protected and respected. This is a very important observation that we all should know.
Hence believers in One God from other faiths cannot be lumped or stereotyped as non-believers. No one has the authority to judge others. Hence they cannot be called KAFIRS because they also have been shown the art of surrender, submission or devotion which is the true meaning of the word Islam.
Non-Believer: Non-believers are those who do not believe in God. There could be numerous reasons, conditions, situations or factors for their lack of faith in God. There are Americans who are not taught religion at home or public schools hence they become secular in their outlook. They also grow with no negative baggage as far as religion is concerned. Their conscience is clear. They have a sense of equality and justice which is a God-given quality of being just and fair in outlook.
Sometimes a believer passes from a believing state to a non-believing state and there could be many reasons for that too which can be discussed later.
A non-believer is not a hypocrite or infidel (kafir). It is important to know the difference.
Comment From Indian Scholar
1) Dear Iftekhar Hai Saheb,
Thanks for e-mail and the crucial definitions of words like Islam, kufr/kafir, believer, non-believer etc. I quite agree with these definitions. I would like to add to the definition of Islam.
Islam also means to establish peace and a Muslim is one who devotes himself to the cause of peace in the world and that would mean devoting oneself to the cause of justice and equality and human dignity as there cannot be peace without justice, equality and upholding human dignity. Islam is final religion only in this sense that one must subscribe and surrender to these values of equality of all human beings, human dignity, and freedom of conscience, justice, benevolence, compassion, wisdom and truth.
Also, anyone who upholds truth, though its manifestation may differ from one cultural context to other, cannot be dubbed as kafir even if he/she does not subscribe formally to Islam.
Rest is okay,
Asghar Ali Engineer
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism
9B, Himalaya Apts., 1st Floor,
6th Road, TPS III, Opp. Dena Bank,
Santacruz (E), Mumbai - 400 055,
Phone: 26149668, 56987135 (Off) 26630086 (R)
Fax No.: 091-022-26100712
E-mail : email@example.com
2) Why Christians & Jews Are Not Infidels
The Quran recognizes Jews and Christians as the Spiritual Equals of Muslims
M. A. Muqtedar Khan
Islamic sources recognize racial and ethnic and even religious differences and advocate a culture of inclusion and equality. However, there are also sources that lend themselves to exclusivist politics. Consider the following verses:
Those who believe, and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in God and the Last Day, and do good deeds, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve (Quran 2:62 and 5:69).
And if one seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted from him; and he is among the losers in the Hereafter (Quran 3:85).
Today liberal and conservative Muslims are divided over which of the above two verses should determine Muslim relations with other faith communities. The first verse is inclusive and clearly indicates that those who are good people have nothing to worry. This status of fundamental moral equality of all people can become the basis for political equality in a multicultural, multi-religious society.
But some Muslims who believe that only Islam has the Truth and only Muslims are good people, rely on 3:85 exclusively arguing that it is not only the ultimate source for defining Muslim-non-Muslim relations but also abrogates both 2:62 and 5:69. The most commonly used source for this argument is the exegesis of Al Tabari who on the authority of Ibn Abbas RA claims that after the advent from Prophet Muhammad SAW no other religion except Islam will be accepted from anyone.
Even the first verse is repeated twice in the Quran, revealed at different times, conservatives employ the theory of abrogation to claim that 3:85 is decisive and both 2:62 and 5:69 are therefore not applicable anymore. It is appalling to me how a human theory of interpretation – there is no divinely revealed list, in the Quran or the Sunnah, of which verses in the Quran are abrogated – is used to undermine one of the most merciful injunctions of the Quran.
I sometimes jokingly argue that the only reason why God repeated 2:62 once again in 5:69 was to ensure that bigots did not use 3:85 to annul 2:62.
Now we can deal with this in several ways. We can problematize the very idea of abrogation and or simply disagree with At Tabari’s exegesis. The precedent has already been set. A majority of contemporary Ulema have just disagreed with At Tabari’s opinion that women can lead mixed-gender prayers, when the supporters of Amina Wadud offered Tabari’s opinion in defense of her decision to lead a mixed gender Friday prayer.
But there is a much easier way to get past the narrow understanding of the Quran advanced by conservatives. The meaning of the verse 3:85, quoted above, looks very different if it is read in conjunction with the one that precedes it.
Say: We believe in Allah and what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Ibrahim and Ismail and Ishaq and Yaqoub and the tribes, and what was given to Musa and Isa and to the prophets from their Lord; we do not make any distinction between any of them, and to Him do we submit. [3:84]
And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter he shall be one of the losers. [3:85].
Read the two verses in conjunction, while keeping in mind that nobody has yet claimed that even 3:84 is abrogated, and the meaning that makes itself apparent form both 3:84 and 3:85 does not seem contradictory to 2:62. People who take 3:85 in isolation from 3:84 and also imbue meaning to it outside the context of Quran’s general inclusive message of continuity of monotheistic faiths and their singular tradition, interpret the word Islam in 3:85 to mean Mohammedanism – a fictitious religion started by Muhammad. The fact is that Muhammad (saw) is not the first Prophet of Islam; he is in actuality, the last Prophet of Islam. The word Islam itself means submission and the Quranic meaning of the word is submission to God and as long as Jews and Christians submit to God, 2;62 and 5:69 applies to them and is valid.
There are many stubborn Muslims who will refuse to acknowledge the above argument, insisting on allowing their personal prejudices and even political hatred for Jews and Christians to distort the meaning and beauty of the Quran. Let me make another argument for them.
The message of religious pluralism is clearly embedded in the Quran. One will have to be acutely morally blind to miss it. See this extraordinarily profound sequence from the fifth chapter, Surah Maidah (5:43- 5:48) as another example.
But why do they come to thee for decision, when they have (their own) law before them?- therein is the (plain) command of Allah; yet even after that, they would turn away. For they are not (really) People of Faith. [5:43].
Lo! We did reveal the Torah, wherein is guidance and a light, by which the prophets who surrendered (unto Allah) judged the Jews, and the rabbis and the priests (judged) by such of Allah's Scripture as they were bidden to observe, and thereunto were they witnesses. So fear not mankind, but fear Me. And My revelations for a little gain. Whoso judgeth not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are disbelievers. [5:44].
And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah [5:46].
Let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) those who rebel [5:47].
To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way (conscience) . If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute [5:48].
Today millions of Muslims live in the West. We demand religious freedom and also acceptance of Islam and respect for it. The message of pluralism in the Quran is beautiful and can become the basis for a new religiously plural America. Muslims must overcome the exclusivist urge to think that they alone have the truth and will go to heaven. No matter how you twist the word of God, the truth stands clear from error.
M. A. Muqtedar Khan is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a Senior Fellow of the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding. He is also a member of the advisory board of the Progressive Muslim Union. His website is (ijtihad.org).
M. A. Muqtedar Khan, Ph.D.
Director of International Studies
Chair, Political Science Department, Adrian College
Non-Resident Fellow, Brookings Institution
New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Womens in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Womens In Arab, Islamphobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism, Moderate Islam, Moderate Muslims, Progressive Islam, Progressive Muslims, Liberal Islam, Liberal Muslims, Islamic World News