By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
09 March, 2015
There is a definition of Kafir that the Quran applies to the pagan Arabs who are described in the Quran as a people “whose fathers had received no admonition, and who therefore remain heedless (of the Signs of Allah)”. This is a secular definition and applies to all mankind. The absence of the characteristics of Kufr in this secular definition is an excellent starting point to begin to understand the most basic requirement for anyone to be considered not a Kafir by secular standards. A Muslim should satisfy this basic requirement that was applied by the Quran to the pagan Arabs or else be considered a Kafir. After establishing this benchmark, we can further explore what it takes to be a Muslim.
In the article cited, we identified characteristics that the Quran uses to describe the Mushrikin of Mecca as Kafir. These are:
1. A person who hinders the Muslims from following their religion
2. Those who wage war against the Muslims for no other reason other than their faith.
3. Those who mock and ridicule the Prophet or Islam.
4. Those who do not honour their agreements or respect ties of kinship or the rights of others.
Does this definition apply the other way round? Does Islam also prohibit Muslims from hindering other people from following their religion, or for waging war against the Non-Muslims for no other reason other than their faith and from reviling other religions?
Yes, it does.
The Right to Freedom of Religion and Conscience
(2:256) Let there be no compulsion in religion
(50:45) We know best what they say; and thou art not one to overawe them by force. So admonish with the Qur´an such as fear My Warning!
2:272. It is not required of thee (O Messenger), to set them on the right path, but Allah sets on the right path whom He pleaseth.
28:56. It is true thou wilt not be able to guide every one, whom thou lovest; but Allah guides those whom He will and He knows best those who receive guidance.
29:18. "And if ye reject (the Message), so did generations before you: and the duty of the apostle is only to preach publicly (and clearly)."
10:19 Say All people (once) followed one belief. Then they began to follow different beliefs. Had not a word of your Lord (His decision to give every one time and free will) been decreed, God would already have settled their differences.
11:118 And if thy Lord had enforced HIS will, HE would have surely made mankind one people; but they would not cease to differ;
Rules for Proselytizing
(6:108) Revile not ye those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they out of spite revile Allah in their ignorance. Thus have We made alluring to each people its own doings. In the end will they return to their Lord, and We shall then tell them the truth of all that they did.
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.
29: 46. And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, "We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam)."
Those who Reject Islam
Surah 109 Al-Kafirun
(1) Say: O ye Kafirun!
(2) I worship not that which ye worship,
(3) Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
(4) And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship,
(5) Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
(6) To you be your Way/religion, and to me mine.
Those who reject Islam but are peaceful are to be left alone and allowed to live in peace.
Non practicing Muslims and Muslims of other sects
The Quran says about the people who are apparently not concerned about the hereafter and therefore apparently not good Muslims:
(45:14) Tell those who believe, to forgive those who do not look forward to the Days of Allah: It is for Him to recompense (for good or ill) each People according to what they have earned.
Takfir against Other Sects
(6:159) As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, thou hast no part in them in the least: their affair is with Allah: He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they did.
(23:53) But people have cut off their affair (of unity), between them, into sects: each party rejoices in that which is with itself.(54) But leave them in their confused ignorance for a time.
People breaking up into sects because of differences in understanding the religion is one thing but the sects practicing Takfir on people of other sects quite another. When Allah says that people who have broken up into sects should be left alone and their affair is with Allah who will on the day of Judgment tell them the truth, practicing Takfir on such people is to pre-empt or to play God which clearly is the highest form of Kufr.
Very clearly therefore, what people believe in is not a matter over which a Muslim is required to exercise control over others beyond peaceful preaching. Coercive interference in the life of other people in the matter of faith makes even a Mushrik a Kafir. For a Muslim, it is far worse, since this is despite receiving guidance in the form of a revealed Book and a breach of very explicit verses on the subject.
What If The Muslims Breach The Basic Norms?
Having established that the Quran applies the same basic yardstick to Muslims as well, what does a breach call for? A breach justifies waging war against the oppressors.
(8:39) And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do.
But isn’t verse 8:39 an instruction for Muslims to fight against the Pagan Arabs for violating the basic norms?
Yes, it is, but the Quran also stands for justice
(4:135) O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.
(7:181) Of those We have created are people who direct (others) with truth. And dispense justice therewith.
Who is a believer and who is a Kafir is also situational. For example, the Indian army liberated Bangladesh by defeating the Pakistan Army which practiced great oppression on the people of Bangladesh. The role that the Indian army played was of the Momin and the Pakistan army were playing the role of the Kafirin as it concerned the oppressed people of Bangladesh.
(4:141) ….And never will Allah grant to the Kafirin a way (to triumph) over the Mominin.
The Kafirin suffered a humiliating defeat.
What Else Makes One A Muslim?
The Quran describes a Muslim as one who submits to Allah. Submission means following what is pleasing to Allah and avoiding what displeases Allah. Submission is the beginning of the journey and a Muslim should seek constant guidance to become a better person.
(19:76) "And Allah doth advance in guidance those who seek guidance: and the things that endure, Good Deeds, are best in the sight of thy Lord, as rewards, and best in respect of (their) eventual return."
Pre-empting Anticipated Questions
Have I quoted abrogated verses? No verse is abrogated.
Are the quoted verses not Meccan verses which contradict subsequent Medinian verses? No Verse in the Quran contradicts another verse from the Quran. The subject matter in the Quran changes with the context but the core principles and values remain constant. The cited verses represent the core principles and values.
Did Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) adhere to these norms all through his life? Yes.
What is the proof? The Quran is the proof.
Can these be taken to be unchanging principles no matter what? Yes.
Can context or the exigency of war affect any of the quoted verses? No. These remain valid and hold good at all times.
What about the Ahadith? The Quran is meant to be used as the criteria for accepting/rejecting any Hadith. If there is a Hadith that contradicts any of the Quranic verses, it should be treated as doubtful and ignored.
Is this the view of the majority of Muslims? This is the clear message of the Quran. This article is about understanding the message of the Quran and not about the opinion of people.
Why should the scholars even have different views if these are the core principles and values? Good question! I hope their views are not different in any significant way.
Are Muslims not violating these norms? Yes the extremists and countries like Pakistan; Saudi Arabia etc. are violating these norms in a major way.
How do they do it if these are basic norms? Sunni theology over the last 1400 years has been systematically corrupted to suit the ruler who in turn allowed the scholars to have their way and find ways and means to exercise illegitimate power and control over the lives of others. A reformation is required.
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.