By Hamza Yusuf
The State Of Disbelief And What It Entails
According to the Quran, polytheism is the greatest sin against God. Surely God will not forgive “shirk”, but He will forgive anything less than it for whom He pleases (4:116). The majority of orthodox scholars do not apply this verse to polytheists who have never heard a true message about God. The proof of this is the Quranic verse: Who receives guidance, receives it for his own benefit: who goes astray does so to his own loss: No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another: nor would We visit with Our Wrath until We had sent an messenger (to give warning) (17:15). Commenting on this verse, Imam Ibn Juzayy Al-Kalbi writes,
One opinion about this verse is that it concerns this world and that God will not destroy a people until a messenger is sent to warn them, as then they will have no excuse. Another opinion holds that the verse applies to both this world and the next - that God does not punish people in the afterlife unless a messenger had been sent to them in this life whom they had rejected.
The second opinion is strengthened in another Quranic verse: Almost bursting with fury: Every time a Group is cast therein, its Keepers will ask, "Did no Warner come to you?" They will say: "Yes indeed; a Warner did come to us, but we rejected him and said, ´Allah never sent down any (Message): ye are nothing but an egregious delusion! ´ (67:8-9)
Scholars differentiate between “shirk” and “Kufr”. Every “shirk” is “Kufr” but not every “Kufr” is “shirk”. For instance, in the dominant position of the scholars, neither the Jews nor the Christians are considered polytheists; they are however considered Kafir once they hear of the message of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and reject it. The sound Hadith in Muslim's collection is clear on this matter:
By the One in whose hands is Muhammad's soul, no one from his community, whether Jew or Christian, will hear of me and then dies without having believed except that he is among the denizens of the Inferno.
Two extremely important points are elicited for this Hadith. The first is that "from this community" refers to all people of the entire world from the time his message began. His community is divided into two groups: one is the community of acceptance, which includes those who answer his call of submission to God, and the other is the community of invitation, which includes those who are invited but have not responded yet.
The second important point is that the final judgment on a person's state cannot be determined until the end of that person's lifetime. A person has the rest of his life to accept or reject the message. This understanding is enforced by several verses in the Quran such as: Those who reject Faith, and die rejecting,- on them is Allah´s curse, and the curse of angels, and of all mankind;(2:161). The Quran clearly states that one must die in a state of disbelief to be in a state of perdition. The disbelief is not in God but in a messenger of God, and disbelief in Islam is defined as denial of God or denial of any of His messengers and what they brought.
In addition to declaring “shirk” is the only unforgivable sin, the Quran also says that Luqman (AS) said to his son: Behold, Luqman said to his son by way of instruction: "O my son! join not in worship (others) with Allah: for false worship is indeed the highest wrong-doing."(31:13) The word used here describing the sin of “shirk” is the verbal noun that also denotes "oppression". In several verse the Quran describes the denizens of Hell as oppressors (Zalimun). Scholars concur that anyone who does not follow the religion of Islam - including Jews, Christians, and polytheists -has the legal ruling of disbelief. However, because all people alive today are considered from the community of Muhammad and are divided into the two groups as mentioned above, it is incumbent upon Muslims to invite to Islam all those who are in disbelief in the community of invitation and to continue to do so for the lifetime of each person in that community. Let us not forget that Abu Sufiyan fought the Prophet for 20 years, yet never did the Prophet despair of the possibility that Abu Sufiyan would accept faith.
The majority of scholars have prohibited damning an individual, whether Muslim or not, because only God knows a person's ultimate status. Jurists determined that because a man's seal is unknown to other men, it should never be assumed that he or she is a Kafir with God. For example, while his action was odious to God, the man Umar bin Al-Khattab was beloved to God even when prostrating to idols because in the infinite knowledge of God, Umar was not the idolater but the Caliph of Islam and a martyr. The Moroccans have a proverb: “Hold no one in contempt, for he may be a friend of God." Whatever we may see in a person, it may not reflect his actual state with God.
Who Is Destined For the Hellfire
The Quran specifically states that the Kafir will be in Hell. Because there is a consensus that Jews and Christians are legally categorized as disbelievers (not in God and previous prophets but in the prophet Muhammad), most Muslims take this to mean they will be in Hell because of the many Quranic verses stating that the Kafir will be in Hell.
Furthermore, verses exist that indicate that Christians who adhere to the trinity will also be in Hell. The Quran says: They do blaspheme who say: "Allah is Christ the son of Mary." But said Christ: "O Children of Israel! worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord." Whoever joins other gods with Allah,-Allah will forbid him the garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrong-doers be no one to help.
They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. (5:72-73)
There are a few important points that should be made: first of all, the disbelief referred to is is not disbelief in Islam but disbelief in their own religion. That is those who originally said that God is a trinity blasphemed. The past tense is used in these verses, and this sis strengthened a few verses later when the Quran says: Say: "O people of the Book! exceed not in your religion the bounds (of what is proper), trespassing beyond the truth, nor follow the vain desires of people who went wrong in times gone by,- who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the even way(5:77). Those who initially innovated the trinity, which was a pagan belief found in Egypt, Babylon and India, were the ones who blasphemed in God and entered into a state of “Kufr”. However the Quran is saying that one knows this, one must desist from saying such things or be burnt by the HellFire,
In the last portion of the verse cited above, the usage of the preposition min (from) is a particularly noteworthy construct: So if they do not stop what they are saying, a painful penalty will strike those of them who blaspheme. In the Arabic, using min to say "of those who blaspheme" indicates that it is those who are on a state of “Kufr” from among them will be burnt in the HellFire. This implies that not all of them are in a state of “Kufr”. This can only be understood when we remember what “Kufr” is according to the theologians:
A refusal to believe upon a knowledge of what to believe (ma Rifah), even if it is concerning only a portion of what the Prophet conveyed to us, as long as it is transmitted in a clear manner, lacking ambiguity.
This does not negate the legal status of those who believe in the trinity as Kafirun, but rather suspends judgment on their intention since many of them may be unaware that they are in a state of blasphemy. In all three Abrahamic faiths, blasphemy - which is irreverent talk concerning God, His prophets, and other sacred matters - is considered anathema only if done intentionally. There's the rub. If Christians are simply repeating what they were told by their priests and church institutions, they are not blaspheming intentionally. Many may be deeply devoted to their faith and actively seeking the grace of God. These are the very people whom the Quran is addressing, as much of the Quran is addressed to peoples of other faiths as well as people without faith in the hopes that they will believe.
What then is the fate of those who do not believe in the Quran and the message of Muhammad? Are they condemned to the Inferno for eternity? Imam Al-Ghazali, known as the "proof of Islam" and one of the most authoritative theologians and legal theorists in the history of Islam, had a different opinion. He wrote a short treatise entitled Faysal Al- Tafriqah clarifying the dangers of anathematizing other Muslims, but in it he also addresses the issue of non-Muslims and the vast mercy of God. He points out that although there is a sound Hadith that only one out of very thousand people will enter Paradise, this does not mean that the rest will enter eternal damnation; rather they will spend a purifying period in the Fire. What this means according to Al Ghazali, is that the sinless are only one in a thousand. He then states that the Muslims on the Fire will ultimately be removed and even more astonishingly that:
The divine mercy, however will embrace many of the bygone nations, even though most of them will be exposed to the Fire, either slightly - for a moment or for an hour - or a greater period of time, so that one may apply to them the expression "the denizens of the Fire." I would go even as far as to say that most of the Christians and specifically those who are among the people to whom the call of Islam has not reached will be embraced by this divine mercy.
Christians can be divided into three classes. One comprises those whom the name of Muhammad has never reached at all: they are excused for their disbelief. The second category comprises those who have heard his name and description, and have heard of his miracles. These people live alongside Muslims and interact with them or actually live among them. They are the disbelieving deniers. The third category is the class comprising those in between the other two. The name Muhammad has indeed reached their ears, but they do not know his true description and his character. Instead, they heard from the time they were young that a deceitful liar named Muhammad claimed to be a prophet, in the same way our children hear that a liar named Al-Muqana claimed, to be a prophet. As far as I am concerned, such people are excused like those in the first category, for while they have heard his name, they heard the opposite of his true qualities. And hearing such things would never arouse one's desire to find out who he was.
Imam Al-Ghazali's insight comes from his deep understanding of human nature and the veils that exist over human hearts as a result of background and prior social conditioning. His remarks in his book Deliverance from Error that most people, including Muslims, simply followed the religion of their parents. He noted that few Muslims actually plumb the depths of any matter of religion to ascertain for themselves whether the belief is true or not. After explaining his belief about peoples of other religions, he later reiterates his point with exceptional clarity:
As for the other nations, a person who imputed lying to the Prophet after he has heard of the impeccable and undeniable transmission of his appearance, his quality and his miracles such as the miraculous Quran revealed to him, that challenged the eloquent to rival it but all who tried failed. If all of this information has reached his ears, yet he shuns it, and does not hasten to believe in it, then such a person is indeed a denier (Jahid) and a liar, and indeed is a disbeliever (Kafir).
However such a person does not fit the description of most people who live far away from the land of the Muslims. In fact, I would argue that whoever did hear these things about the Prophet would have to have wanted to find them out in order to ascertain the reality of what is claimed. Such a person would have to be a religious person who did not prefer worldly matters to otherworldly ones. If he felt no urgent need to find out the truth it could only be due to the fact that he was complacent, inclined toward this world, and bereft of piety and a sense of the momentousness of religion, and that is what disbelief (Kufr) is.
However, if. A person felt a desire to find out the truth but neglected to do so, that negligence is also disbelief. Indeed anyone with faith in God and the Last Day from any religion will indefatigably seek the truth after he has seen the Signs. If someone sets out to ascertain the reality but dies before being able to complete his investigation, he is also forgiven and then granted the vast mercy and grace of God. So have a vast view of the mercy of God, the exalted, and do not measure divine matters with limited ordinary standards. And know well that the afterlife is similar to this life: And if all the trees on earth were pens and the ocean (were ink), with seven oceans behind it to add to its (supply), yet would not the words of Allah be exhausted (in the writing): for Allah is Exalted in Power, full of Wisdom.(31:27)
There is no doubt that the disbelievers are in the Inferno, but Imam Al-Ghazali is explaining that “Kufr” is an active denial, not a passive state of ignorance. That is denial must follow a clear understanding of what one is denying. Moreover, for those who are sincere, it is not only understandable but necessary that they would search for the truth.
Points of Agreement and Disagreement:
The article talks about the legal ruling of disbelief. I firmly believe that no legal ruling is required since Kufr in the spiritual dimension is a sin against God but not against man and should be no concern of other men. In temporal matters the Quran preaches absolute and secular justice. Legal ruling of Kufr destroys chances of rendering such justice. Please read my article: Is Islam Secular?
On other points, I am in broad agreement. My articles cover these issues in far greater depth and with far stronger evidence from the Quran.
1. On The Fate Of The People Who Follow The Distorted Version Of Their Scriptures
The message revealed to every messenger is preserved by Allah as evidence. Every messenger will bear witness that the message revealed to him and preserved by Allah was delivered to his people. The people in turn will bear witness against other people to establish the chain of transmission.
The judgment on the Judgment day will involve the record of deeds, Prophet/people and the Message as witnesses/evidence.
It should be clear now what is preserved in Loh-e-Mahfooz and for what purpose. It is “zikr” or all of the revelations to each of the Prophets.
If the message was distorted in the chain of transmission, those who distorted would be answerable and the people will be answerable for the faithfulness with which they followed the received message and the effort they made to reconcile the message with reason.
The text of the Quran may be preserved but it is more important to preserve the correct meaning of the Quran and keep clearing up the dirt placed on it from time to time. What difference does it make if the text is preserved but the meaning is corrupted?
2. On The Relativity Of The Definition Of Kufr
Please read article:
The article above is an excerpt from Hamza Yusuf’s captioned article. The full article can be accessed using the link below: