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Islam and Pluralism (13 Feb 2015 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Who Is A Kafir In The Quran? (Part 1): 'Kafir,' 'Mushrik' and 'Idolater' are not synonyms

By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam

 A Comment By Observer in New Age Islam

9 Feb 2015

 An important corollary of my comment/article below, is that:

The Kafaru among the Christians, Jews and Pagans that the Quran refers to, are necessarily the Kafaru of the Prophet's times. 

Since the Quran does not identify the kafaru by their faith or belief systems, none of these verses apply to any of the people today. 

The proof that I have provided for this conclusion, is as strong as any proof in the sciences.

By Observer - 2/9/2015 11:33:21 AM


There is no verse in the Quran that asks the Muslims to fight with the kafir for any other form of kufr such as: Blasphemy, ridicule, rejecting faith etc.


The confusion arises because unfortunately, most  Muslims as well as non-Muslims including the Maulanas and the exegetes and the muffasirin  treat kafir, mushrik and idol worshipper as synonyms when the Quran makes clear distinctions between these terms and does not use the inappropriate term, even  in a single  verse.


There isn't a single verse in the Quran that directs Muslims to treat the non-Muslim who is not a Kafir in any manner other than with justice, kindness and friendship.


The verses against the kafirin, provide guidance on the appropriate treatment for the act of kufr mentioned in the Quran. The context is within the verse itself.


Who is a Kafir in the Quran? (Part 1)


Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall says: “In the Qur’an I find two meanings (of a Kafir), which become one the moment that we try to realize the divine standpoint. The Kafir in the first place, is not the follower of any religion. He is the opponent of Allah’s benevolent will and purpose for mankind - therefore the disbeliever in the truth of all religions, the disbeliever in all Scriptures as of divine revelation, the disbeliever to the point of active opposition in all the Prophets (pbut) whom the Muslims are bidden to regard, without distinction, as messengers of Allah.


The following article is a result of researching every occurrence of Kafir and Mushrik (polytheist) and their grammatical equivalents in the Quran. The Quran makes a very clear distinction between Kafir, Mushrik and idolater. These are not synonyms. Unfortunately however, most translators have been careless and treat these as synonyms. Even Yusuf Ali who is otherwise one of the better translators, is guilty of mistranslating on many occasions.

Who is a Kafir in the Quran?

Moses is kafir!

The word kafir is used by Pharaoh for Moses.

(26:18) (Pharaoh) said: "Did we not cherish thee as a child among us, and didst thou not stay in our midst many years of thy life? (19) "And thou didst a deed of thine which (thou knowest) thou didst, and thou art an ungrateful wretch (min-al-kafirin)!"

The word kafir therefore denotes the trait of ingratitude, rebellion, active opposition and has nothing to do with faith.

Muslims displaying certain characteristics are referred to as kafir

(2:253) For fighting with each other (2:254) For not practicing charity  (2:264) Those who cancel their charity by reminders of their charity or by injury. Those who spend of their substance only to be seen by men, but believe neither in Allah nor the last day.  (4:37) those who are niggardly or enjoin niggardliness on others, or hide the bounties which Allah hath bestowed on them (3:130) Those who devour usury (3:32) Those who do not pay heed when asked to "Obey Allah and His Messenger"

For the hypocrites among those who claimed to be Muslims

(2:19)  Those who bartered Guidance for error. Those who rejected faith.

 All those who display the characteristics of Kufr

(2:24) The doubters who said that Allah sends no revelations. They are asked to produce a Sura similar to any Sura in Quran and establish their charge with witnesses and if they fail to do so be prepared for the fate that awaits the Kafirin.

(2:191) Those who turned the Muslims out from their homes and practiced tumult and oppression.

(2:250) Goliath and his forces in the battle against David

(2:286, 3:147) Those who fight/stand against the faith

(3:141) For those who were in war with the Muslims

(4:140) Those who defy and ridicule the signs of Allah.

(4:150) Those who deny Allah and His messengers, and (those who) wish to separate Allah from His messengers, saying: "We believe in some but reject others": And (those who) wish to take a course midway,-

(5:44) If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) Unbelievers.

(7:37) one who invents a lie against Allah or rejects His Signs

(7:45) "Those who would hinder (men) from the path of Allah and would seek in it something crooked

For Iblis or Satan

(2:34) Who refused to obey Allah's command and bow down to Adam

For the Jews/people of the Book

(2:89 ) For refusing to believe in the Quran as a revelation although it is a Book from Allah confirming what is with them  (89) in insolent envy that Allah of His Grace should send it to any of His servants He pleases.

(4:161) That they took usury, though they were forbidden; and that they devoured men´s substance wrongfully;

Those who are not kafir

 (3:113) Not all of them are alike: Of the People of the Book are a portion that stand (For the right): They rehearse the Signs of Allah all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. (114) They believe in Allah and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They are in the ranks of the righteous. (115) Of the good that they do, nothing will be rejected of them; for Allah knoweth well those that do right.

(3:199) And there are, certainly, among the People of the Book, those who believe in Allah, in the revelation to you, and in the revelation to them, bowing in humility to Allah: They will not sell the Signs of Allah for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord, and Allah is swift in account.

(4:162) But those among them who are well-grounded in knowledge, and the believers, believe in what hath been revealed to thee and what was revealed before thee: And (especially) those who establish regular prayer and practise regular charity and believe in Allah and in the Last Day: To them shall We soon give a great reward.

(5:69) Those who believe (in the Qur´an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.

(10:40) Of them (applies to all non-Muslims) there are some who believe therein, and some who do not: and thy Lord knoweth best those who are out for mischief.

The Polytheists or the Mushrikin

While polytheism is described as an unforgivable sin and there are many verses which stress the point that the Prophets were not among those who associate others with God, there is not a single verse directed against any community or people of any faith including the Jews, Christians and the Polytheists unless they are also kafir or indulge in acts of kufr.

(2:105) It is never the wish of those kafaru among the People of the Book, nor of the Pagans (mushrikin), that anything good should come down to you from your Lord. But Allah will choose for His special Mercy whom He will - for Allah is Lord of grace abounding.

(98:1) The kafaru, among the People of the Book and among the Polytheists, were not going to depart (from their ways) until there should come to them Clear Evidence,-

(98:6) The kafaru, among the People of the Book and among the Polytheists, will be in Hell-Fire, to dwell therein (for aye). They are the worst of creatures.

Very clearly not all Polytheists, Jews or Christian or non-Muslims are kafir in the Quran which is why the verses specifically refer to only the kafir among these people.

To summarize, the Quran does not identify kafir by his/her belief system or faith but by certain specific characteristics that make the person an active enemy of Religion, God and the people of faith. A kafir is one who actively hinders people from practicing their faith, persecutes people of faith, opposes humanitarian practices such as giving of charity, shunning usury etc. A kafir could be a Muslim, Jew, Christian, polytheist, atheist and the term is faith neutral.

By Observer - 2/9/2015 9:27:19 AM

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

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-pluralism/who-is-a-kafir-in-the-quran?-(part-1)---kafir,---mushrik--and--idolater--are-not-synonyms/d/101509


  • I have gone through Mr Ziaur Rahman's article on who is a Mushrik. I can understand why he is confused. I will cover the points on which he is confused in Part 3 which was not planned earlier. In the meantime, if he wishes, he can detail the issues that he finds with my article after reading both parts and the comments which may remove some of his confusion.   
    By Observer - 2/19/2015 8:59:03 AM

  • Mr Ziaur Rehman,

    Please tell me how I can clear your confusion? What part is not clear? 

    By Observer - 2/19/2015 1:42:55 AM

  • The article is confusing.
    By Ziaur Rehman - 2/19/2015 1:05:00 AM

  • Rational says, "Apostasy and Islam are closely related." . . .

    Like patriotism and treason are related! I have some apostate friends who are perfect gentlemen. They would not even think of invading an Islamic website with stink bombs.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 2/18/2015 2:54:15 PM

  • GM
    Apostasy and Islam are closely related rather it is an Islamic issue because no other religion is panicky about it in current time.
    NAI is an Islamic site and bars none. I think it is right place to discuss it.
    You and me are qual. I bound to say that you are not adding any value by posting comments on my comments.
    I never turned down your common sense. We are discussing the Quran and hadith. Why it should be a problem to you?
    You can't hide your intentions. They are just visible. So instead of pushing your agenda of censorship on NAI, you should contribute as others and are doing.

    By rational mohammed yunus - 2/18/2015 6:00:56 AM

  • Mr Observer, again, put what the Quran says aside.

    Is morality really a commandment from God? Has the concept of morality not changed from time to time, from society to society? 

    How does it matter what motivates a person to be moral? I contest your claim that a non-religious person behaves morally for reward in this world while a religious person behaves morally because of his love for god and rewards in the afterlife. 

    People are good because they are good, and people are bad because they are bad. Religion and God only have a peripheral role to play, because even the religious take the meaning from religion that suits their own natural state of being. 

    You have not adequately explained why monotheism is naturally superior to polytheism or idol worship. If the monotheist, polytheist, idol worshipper and atheist are all equal on a moral scale, for what reason does the Monotheist hold the higher ground ( according to Islam, not according to me)? If it is being good that is the ultimate aim of religion, it is possible to be good no matter what God you believe in. Why then differentiate between a Muslim and a non-Muslim, as the Quran does repeatedly? 

    Even suppose, for the sake of argument, that the entire world believed in only one God, but that God was not Allah and Mohammad was not universally accepted as Messenger - only a few accepted it. Other Monotheist faiths with zero idol worship came up with a set of  "moral rules" that were vastly different from Islam. Say, they did not believe in the institution of marriage and made children born of the coming together of men and women the responsibility of the society. A very different social order, but still people were very good. Truthful, helpful, hard working, law abiding, charitable, loyal to their own one God. But not believing  in or following the rules laid down in the Quran. What then? 

    How could one reconcile the many monotheistic faiths that would co-exist, possibly in disharmony because their individual rules - which were apparently set by their One God - were so different? Would that not lead to a Polytheist society, if one took a global perspective? 

    If one steps away from the inbuilt assumption that the Quran, and Islam, are faultless beyond compare, and if one relaxes one's bristlin "iman" for some time, do these questions not swirl around in a thinking mind? 

    By secularlogic - 2/18/2015 5:21:01 AM

  • How Business ethics evolves

     A musician named Dave Carroll recently had difficulty with United Airlines.  Dave spent over 9 months trying to get United to pay for damages caused by baggage handlers to his custom Taylor guitar.


    During his final exchange with the United Customer Relations Manager, he stated that he was left with no choice other than to create a music video for YouTube exposing their lack of cooperation.


    The Manager responded: "Good luck with that one, pal."

     So he posted a retaliatory video on YouTube.

     The video has since received over 6 million hits.


    United Airlines contacted the musician and attempted settlement in exchange for pulling the video. 


    Naturally his response was: 

     "Good luck with that one, pal."


    Taylor Guitars sent the musician 2 new custom guitars in appreciation for the product recognition from the video that has led to a sharp increase in orders.


    This is a good example of not only how UA will change for the better based on this incident, but the good that it would do to other businesses as well. But the change will be out of purely commercial considerations and not out of concerns for what is moral..


    Here's the video:



    By Observer - 2/18/2015 3:58:19 AM

  • Observer
    (2:24) The doubters who said that Allah sends no revelations. They are asked to produce a Sura similar to any Sura in Quran and establish their charge with witnesses and if they fail to do so be prepared for the fate that awaits the Kafirin.

    (7:37) one who invents a lie against Allah or rejects His Signs

    It is clear from the above verses who doubted in the Quran is a kafir. it turns the Qur'an as exclusive book. Ahl e kitab doubted in the prophet hood of hz Mohammed and also said that this book is not from Allah.
    it renders inclusive verses useless.

    Is not the Quran a sign of Allah? Has not Allah in his view made it clear to its listeners?
    now anyone who rejected the Quran or doubted in it is a kafir.
    so what about ahl e kitab? are not they kafir? they rejected after showing doubt in the Quran?

    So calling the Quran inclusive is not true.

    So calling Moses kafir by the pharaoh though appear wonderful but it doesn't give an impression that Allah call people kafir like poets call their lovers kafir.

    your aim was to dilute the word kafir, mushrik etc but the Quran showers the cold water on this unique approach on kufr and shirk.
    Muslims all over the world hold the traditional view which resonates with the Quran.

    By rational mohammed yunus - 2/18/2015 3:55:20 AM

  • Rational,

    The good deeds of a non believer are like the good deeds of a citizen which are based on utilitarian considerations of what is good for him based on his station in life or based on his likes, dislikes, emotional responses or instincts. The reward for this is immediate and in this world itself.

    A person who does right for the love of God or out of reverence for the moral code (Buddhism) irrespective of consequences to self, likes/dislikes etc. earns rewards in the hereafter. If you read the Quran, such belief is not easy and is severely tested. A person who remains firm on the `straight path', and comes out successful through all trials and tribulations, alone will be successful in the hereafter.

    The simplest test of whether a person is a believer is how readily does he lie or how firmly he sticks to truth irrespective of the consequences.

    By Observer - 2/18/2015 3:28:32 AM

  • Observer
    drawing similitude between Mushrik and corrupt is unrealistic. a Mushrik king can be good to his subjects and a believer can be a bad king to his subjects.
    you are just sticking to it because the Quran says so. your own judgment of right and wrong fails here.
    an idol worshiper or a mushrik can be a good person, but his actions will be tuned vain because of his disbelief or shirk. this is the total outcome of the Quran.
    The Quran thinks that one can't be a moral individual without belief in God. that is why belief is condition while the goal may be morality.
    rest is your conjecture.

    By rational mohammed yunus - 2/18/2015 3:20:27 AM

  • Rationa, it is not censorship. I have always supported your unlimited right to post in apostate websites.
    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 2/18/2015 3:19:24 AM

  • Observer
    In the Quran actions are preceded by belief in unseen.
    whenever reward or punishment is mentioned there is a condition of belief. alone actions are not mentioned in the Quran.
    what will happen to good deeds of a kafir/Mushrik

    By rational mohammed yunus - 2/18/2015 3:05:37 AM

  • Secular Logic,

    If you go through the comments, I have expressed my opinion on Buddhism.

    The concern of the Quran and God I think, is mostly with good behaviour and morality. If somebody can achieve the level of morality and good behaviour with a different set of beliefs on par with that of a believer in:

    1. A single all powerful God, the creator and sustainer of all the Universes, who misses nothing and to whom one is fully accountable
    2. Belief in the hereafter or in the just consequences of one's deeds.
    3. A just moral code which he follows for no other reason except reverence or love for the code or God and despite all odds.

    Then I think God wouldn't bother. Arguably, God knows what kind of beliefs work and what kind of beliefs do not work for his creation.

    Now you would say that many Muslims are far from  ideal moral behaviour. Well, the Quran makes no promises to anyone who claims to be Muslim either.

    Let us look at morality. We have man made laws and all of us are moral enough and compliant with the laws in keeping with what is good for us without which we would be less happy or in distress. As surveillance systems improve, we become more compliant or better citizens or more moral. For example installation of CCTV cameras  prevent pilferage, traffic violations etc. Information systems that keep a tab on our financial transactions ensure that we become more honest in our disclosures and in compliance with the tax laws. Swift and fair systems of justice and accountability to a single authority further make us want to be better citizens. 

    Now imagine two parallel authorities - the legitimate government and a powerful mafia or even the corrupt government officials. All respect for law disappears and the only concerns that  remains is what is best for us. This is the equivalent of the conditions created when one commits shirk. Shirk or polytheism is therefore considered an unforgivable sin. With Shirk and Tauheed or absolute monotheism as two ends of the spectrum, we have other concepts such as that of the trinity, monism, pantheism etc. which fall in between.

    What God frowns upon is what is not good for man and what God approves is what is good for man.

    God is neither jealous nor paranoid nor vengeful.

    By Observer - 2/18/2015 2:27:14 AM

  • Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 2/18/2015 12:43:29 AM
    it is based on observation. you pushed agenda of censor-ship but failed. you were not able to convince the Editor.
    i don't have any private exclusive connection with NAI.
    this pain is dripping from your comments.

    By rational mohammed yunus - 2/18/2015 2:21:41 AM

  • Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 2/18/2015 12:43:29 AM
    it is based on observation. you pushed agenda of censor-ship but failed. you were not able to convince the Editor.
    i don't have any private exclusive connection with NAI.
    this pain is dripping from your comments.

    By rational mohammed yunus - 2/18/2015 2:14:32 AM

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