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Who Is A Kafir In The Quran-Part 3 - Why Kufr Is A Relative Concept While Shirk and Idol Worship etc. Have Fixed Meanings


By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam

20 Feb 2015

The Muslims display a glaring lack of insight of their holy Book, when they judge others who are not followers of the Quran, by the yardstick in the Quran applicable only to the Muslims. This is in direct contradiction to the message of the Quran. In this article, we explore how the Quran shows without any ambiguity, that Kufr is a relative concept, and conduct that would render a Muslim kafir, may not render even an ahl-e-kitab (Jew or Christian) kafir,  let alone a polytheist.

A small background note on the Quran

We see a major change in the Prophetic mission of Muhammad (PBUH) compared with that of all the previous prophets. Allah strengthened Muhammad’s mission with His Word alone and not with miracles, signaling that from now on, the Word was enough to achieve what required prophets, miracles,and Allah’s direct interventions in the past. God destroyed the disbelievers after the previous prophetic missions through flood (Noah), showering with brim stone (Lut) and in a similar manner those of Shoeb and Hud (peace be upon all the prophets). In the case of the last prophet, everything was achieved through the agency of man alone signifying that the agency of man was enough from now on. The Quran is also unique among all the scriptures in that it is recorded and preserved exactly as revealed in a language that is spoken till today. All other scriptures survive only as translations as the language of their original recording is long dead and forgotten. Neither has God sent any calamity comparable to how He destroyed several nations for their transgressions before Muhammad. It would therefore appear from the verses cited below, that Man has undertaken a trust to do the work of prophets and God, for which God has given them the “The Book” or the Quran.

The power of the Quran is allegorically described in the verses below:

(59:21) Had We sent down this Qur´an on a mountain, verily, thou wouldst have seen it humble itself and cleave asunder for fear of Allah. Such are the similitudes which We propound to men, that they may reflect.

(13:31) If there were a Qur´an with which mountains were moved, or the earth were cloven asunder, or the dead were made to speak, (this would be the one!) But, truly, the command is with Allah in all things! Do not the Believers know, that, had Allah (so) willed, He could have guided all mankind (to the right)? But the Unbelievers,- never will disaster cease to seize them for their (ill) deeds, or to settle close to their homes, until the promise of Allah come to pass, for, verily, Allah will not fail in His promise

Kufr- A Relative Concept

(33:72) We did indeed offer the Trust to the Heavens and the Earth and the Mountains; but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof: but man undertook it;- He was indeed unjust and foolish;-

(73) (With the result) that Allah has to punish the Hypocrites, men and women, and the Unbelievers, men and women, and Allah turns in Mercy to the Believers, men and women: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Once God has sent His messengers and His revelations, it becomes incumbent upon God then to punish/reward man by judging his deeds in the light of the guidance provided through the revelations. Without the revelations, there is no believer, unbeliever, or hypocrite or punishment for the sins of kufr, shirk, nifaq etc.

It is easy to understand now, that kufr is relative to the message received. For example, observing the Sabbath was prescribed to the followers of Moses and not to other people. For Muslims, since there is no Sabbath, there cannot be kufr through violation of the Sabbath and punishment for it. We know from the Quran, that the Jews were punished in a very exemplary manner in this world itself for violating their Sabbath.

For a Christian, certain beliefs of later generations in violation of what Prophet Jesus (pbuh) taught them, or what was revealed in the Bible become kufr. The Quran says that there is no authority from their books or from the teachings of Jesus (pbuh) for them to believe in the concept of Trinity or of Jesus as divinity. Such beliefs that are in contradiction of the teachings of Jesus (pbuh) are therefore kufr. It is only incidental that such beliefs dilute Tauheed and are a form of shirk. From this example, it cannot be deduced that shirk is kufr for all people just like we cannot deduce that violation of the Sabbath is kufrfor all people. Although it is the kufr of shirk for the Christians to have such beliefs, they cannot be judged by the standards applicable to the Muslims.Indeed, except for considering Christ as God Himself, which the Christians do not, the Quran treats the other forms of shirk relatively lightly by avoiding mention of punishment for these in the hereafter. The Quran however, does not dilute the horror of the `blasphemy’ of shirk committed by these people.

Consuming intoxicants is prohibited for a Muslim and a violation by him is kufrbut not for the Jews or the Christians or not to the same degree. According to the covenant of the Prophets, the Christians and the Jews are expected to be guided by the Quran and therefore it is not entirely true that what is kufr for a Muslim is not necessarily true for them. (3:81) Behold! Allah took the covenant of the prophets, saying: "I give you a Book and Wisdom; then comes to you a messenger, confirming what is with you; do ye believe in him and render him help." Allah said: "Do ye agree, and take this my Covenant as binding on you?" They said: "We agree." He said: "Then bear witness, and I am with you among the witnesses."

What was Kufr for the Meccan pagans?

The Meccan pagans we are told by the Quran, were not a people to whom a messenger was sent before, nor did they have a Book of revelation like the Christians or the Jews. The Quran describes them as an ummi nation and their state as of Jahaliya or ignorance. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse but there was no divine law for them at all. For these people therefore, shirk, idol worship, adultery was not kufr.

What was kufr for them was solely violating self-evident truths or what was accepted by their own society as a serious crime. The only deeds for which the Quran treats the Meccan pagans as kafir are for:

1.         Persecuting the Muslims for no other reason other than for their faith

2.         Fighting the Muslims for their faith and driving them out of their homes. Breaking peace treaties and aiding the enemy.

The Meccanpagans  are uniformly referred to as the Mushrikin except those standing against the Muslims in battle, those that practiced persecution, or those who broke their treaties with the Muslims. These exceptions, who were the enemies of the new faith of Islam, are referred to as the kafaru among the Mushrikin, clearly implying that not all the Mushrikin are Kafirin.

Every sin is a violation of divine guidance and therefore an act of kufr. Committing an act of kufr does not necessarily mean that a person has become a kafir. By that reasoning, every Muslim would become a kafir and indeed every person in the world! The Quran does not describe the Jews or the Christians of any denomination as either Kafir or Mushrik for their beliefs, even though it describes their beliefs that contradict their scriptures as kufr. The only Christians referred to as the kafaru in the Quran are those who were guilty of specific acts of kufr described in the verses listed in Part 1 of this article. These are necessarily the people of the Prophet’s times and none of the verses in the Quran which refer to the kafaru among the Christians, Jews or Polytheists apply to the people of today.

When does rejection of the `Truth’ brought by the Messenger become kufr?

The earlier Prophets such as Noah, Moses, Lut, Shoeb, Saleh and Hud also preached to the Mushrikin of their times. At the end of the mission, the disbelievers were totally destroyed by an act of God. This did not happen unless kufr or the rejection of the truth was established as evident from the following verses:

(41:53) Soon will We show them our Signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their own souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth. Is it not enough that thy Lord doth witness all things?


27:14 "And they rejected those Signs in iniquity and arrogance, though their souls were convinced thereof: so see what the end of those who acted corruptly was!

Whether the truth has become manifest in their own souls, God alone can say. A Mushrik does not become a kafir for rejection of the message until the truth has become manifest in his own soul.

Again regarding the Mecan pagans, after the conquest of Mecca, the Quran says:

(9:6) "If one amongst the Pagans ask thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of Allah; and then escort him to where he can be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge."

This is proof that those Meccans who had not accepted Islam despite the Prophet preaching in Mecca for 13 years and for another 8 years in Medina,  were to be treated as merely “those without knowledge” and not as kafir, even if they had fought against the Muslims earlier. The mere act of seeking asylum was to be treated as a sign of non-defiance or of not being a kafir.

How will God judge earlier generations to whom no messenger was sent?

As a corollary of this discussion, it should be clear as to how God will judge people of earlier generations who had received no guidance. They will be judged by the standards of their own society. It is also clear from a verse in surah Kahaf that DhulQarnain simply left alone simple tribals without evangelizing. We can infer from this that these simple folks were in no need of any religion!

What ails the Muslims?

While followers of other religions are not judgmental about people of other faiths, many Muslims judge the non-Muslims as kafir. This is a violation of the very clear message of the Quran and constitutes kufr of a very serious nature. It is no less than a betrayal of the trust that the Muslims have undertaken in which they are required to:

(16:125) Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.

If we deem the non-Muslims as kafir, then by the verses 3:28, 4:139, and 4:144 cited in Part 2 of the article, the Muslims must not befriend them and turn the entire rest of the world into our enemy. This is what the extremists are doing. The Quran advises us in verses 60:8 and 9, however, to treat all non-Muslims who do not fight you, with kindness and justice on par with our nearest kin. The Quran therefore does not consider those who are not the open enemies of Islam and fighting the Muslims as the Kafirin.

The Quran says:

(2:143) Thus, have We made of you an Ummat justly balanced, that ye might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves;

We have become an unbalanced overbearing witness inviting revulsion rather than respect, regard and love.

The early Muslims had no confusion about the meaning of kafir in the Quran or about the remarkable even handedness of the Quran and its inclusiveness, and pluralism. The broad definition of Islam renders all other religions as sects of the religion of Allah. It is on account of such understanding, that the early Muslims and the Islamic countries were far more tolerant of other faiths than the people/lands of other faiths. It is this sense of broad mindedness and inclusiveness that made them Muslims. Unfortunately, today, people of other faiths have become more inclusive and tolerant and it is the Muslims who have become intolerant, exclusive and supremacists. By the criterion of the Quran, there are more kafirs among the Muslims than among the non-Muslims. If anyone wants to understand the reason for the present plight of Muslims, it is only this. To go back to the Islam of the Salafis or the early Muslims therefore means to become tolerant, inclusive and broad minded and to consider every person a Muslim unless proved otherwise.

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 The author initially used a pseudonym "Observer" for this article.

URL of Part 1:,-new-age-islam/who-is-a-kafir-in-the-quran-part-1-–-kafir-and-mushrik-and-idolater-are-not-synonyms/d/101509

URL of Part 2:,-new-age-islam/who-is-a-kafir-in-the-quran-part-2---muslim–-non-muslim-relationship/d/101525