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Takfir, the Act of Accusing a Muslim of Apostasy, Has Become an Ideology, Embraced By Extremists


By Habib Ali Al Jifri

February 26, 2014

Takfir, the act of accusing a Muslim of apostasy, has become an ideology embraced by extremist movements to justify the killing of anyone who does not fulfil their criteria of “true” belief.

There are two main reasons for the cancerous spread of Takfirist ideology in parts of the Muslim world.

The first one is the rejection of the diversity of opinions. This diversity is often a result of the application of scholars’ independent legal judgement (Ijtihad) to religious textual evidence that is non-definitive in its meaning. This leads to two things: an increased inability for the representatives of religion to embrace changes in the world from one perspective, and an expansion of the spheres of war in the Muslim world from another.

The second reason is the association of “non-belief” with killing and deviancy. Such tendency fails to recognise the Sharia’s legal distinction between a combatant disbeliever and a civilian disbeliever.

A combatant disbeliever can be legitimately fought by the state, while the civilian cannot be prevented from his or her rights despite their non-belief, as is declared in the Quranic verses: “For you your religion and for me mine” and “Whomsoever wills may choose faith, and whomsoever wills may choose non-faith”.

Throughout history, people have suffered from the bloodshed and oppression that ensued from religious zealotry emanating from political battle grounds.

A number of religious scholars have expended efforts in creating initiatives that deal with the threat of Takfirism. Among them is Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, a renowned jurist and scholar from Mauritania.

He convened the Mardin Conference in 2010 in Turkey, which had two primary purposes: to carefully examine and review Islamic law’s traditional classification of the world into “domains” (Diyar) and how this pertains to the concepts of jihad, loyalty and enmity (Al-Wala Wa Al-Bara), citizenship and emigration.

The second purpose of the conference was to discuss the “Mardin Fatwa” of the 13th century scholar Ibn Taymiyya, in which he deduced a new ruling based on the Islamic jurisprudential classification of the world into domains of “non-belief”, “Islam”, and “covenant”. Ibn Taymiyya considered the city of Mardin to belong to both a domain of non-belief and domain of Islam at the same time – non-belief due to its being ruled by the non-Muslim Tartars, and Islam due to its residents being Muslim.

During the conference Sheikh Bin Bayyah proposed a re-evaluation of this classification. International relations of that time were primarily determined by warfare and conflict with cordial relations being the exception.

Today, however, with peace being the norm and war and conflict the exception, the classification no longer applies.

He also brought attention to methodological flaws in how sacred texts are meant to be understood and interpreted and how the various independent legal judgements of jurists are meant to be adopted. For example, he mentioned how Takfirists used the Mardin Fatwa to justify their own agendas.

When printed editions of this edict were compared with its only available manuscript, a printing mistake was discovered which changed a word from “shall be treated” (Yu’amal) to “shall be fought” (Yuqatal). The text in question as found in the printed editions of the fatwa reads: “(Mardin is of a third category) in which the Muslim shall be treated as he merits, and in which the one who departs from the sacred law (Sharia) shall be fought as he merits.”

Whereas the text in the manuscript read: “(Mardin is of a third category) in which the Muslim shall be treated as he merits, and in which the one who departs from the sacred law (Sharia) shall be treated as he merits.”

This distortion has been printed for over 100 years and been the cause for much unlawful bloodshed.

Despite these efforts and others, institutions and organisations – faith-based or not – as well as Sharia bodies and councils and the media are completely oblivious to them and their valuable outcomes.

The most pressing question today is whether there is a serious desire to confront Takfirist ideology.

Habib Ali al-Jifri is the founder of Tabah Foundation, an Islamic research institution in Abu Dhabi that offers faith-based perspectives on contemporary Muslim and global issues