‘Non-Muslims’ instead of ‘Kuffar’
November 2nd, 2009 Shafi-ur-Rahman Leave a comment Go to comments
An extract from Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi:
In calling (da’wa) others with wisdom and beautiful preaching and arguing with that which is best, which the Muslims are required to do – it is advisable (particularly in the age of globalisation) to not address those whom we differ with, as kuffar, even though we believe that they are so. This is especially in the case of the People of the Book (Christians and Jews).
This is so due to two reasons
Firstly: The word kuffar has a number of meanings some of which we definitely do not intend [when addressing People of the Book]. From amongst these meanings is to deny Allah, his prophets and the abode of the hereafter (Jannah). As is the case with materialists who do not believe in anything beyond that which can be sensed and so do not believe in the existence of a Lord, or prophets, or the hereafter.
When we talk about the ‘People of the Book’ we do not intend to describe them with this meaning of kufr, rather what we mean is that they are kuffar with respect to the prophethood of Muhammad and his deen, and this is a reality just as they believe that we are ‘kuffar’ with respect to what they believe and that is also a reality.
Secondly: The Qur’an has taught us not to address people with the name of kufr even if they are kuffar. The address that the Qur’an uses for non-believers from amongst the people is either O mankind or O children of Adam, or O my slaves, or O People of the Book.
The Qur’an does not address (khitab) them with the title of Kufr except in two ayahs (verses) – one of them is addressing them on the Day of Judgement: ‘(They will say), “O you Unbelievers! Make no excuses this Day! You are being but requited for all that you did!”‘ (Surah al-Tahrim : 7).
And the other one is Surah al-Kafirun ‘Say: O you that reject Faith! I worship not that, which you worship, Nor will you worship that which I worship, And I will not worship that which you have been wont to worship, Nor will you worship that which I worship. To you is your Way, and to me mine.’
This address was to the polytheists (mushrik) who asked the Prophet to worship their gods one year, in return for them worshipping his God (Allah) for another. So the surah was intended to cut their efforts off in a sharp and conclusive manner that leaves no room for such discussions. So Allah ordered the Prophet to address them with this powerful surah with its emphatic repetitions.
Nevertheless Allah closed the surah with this ayah which keeps the door open for tolerance of others where He says, ‘To you is your Way, and to me mine’. This is why for a long time I have preferred to address those who differ with us from other religions as ‘non-Muslims’ (ghair al-Muslimin).
I also said this on my weekly programme on Al-Jazeera (Shariah and Life), where a brother contacted me and said: “To call the kuffar non-muslims is a compromise on our part with regards non-Muslims and it is a sign of psychological defeat in front of our detractors.”
I don’t know why addressing people with gentleness using fine words are seen as a compromise? And what have we compromised? We have not compromised on our belief that our deen is the truth and that all those that do not believe in the prophethood of Muhammad is a kafir. But this is the position of every religious person. That he believes his deen to be the truth and that of others to be falsehood and his belief is not complete except by this assertion.
But this is one thing and to address your detractors with that which offends them or hurts them or repels them is another. Allah has not required this from us. Rather he requires of us the total opposite where He says, ‘Say to My servants that they should (only) say those things that are best: for Satan does sow dissensions among them: For Satan is to man an avowed enemy.’ (Surah al-Israa 53)
Therefore we as Muslims are ordered by our Lord to say a word that is best to the one we address, invite or dialogue with. It is not from ‘those things that are best’ for us to confront him and say “O you kafir”. Rather it is incumbent upon us to address his humanity and his original nature (fitra), and not to follow the evil incitement of Shaytan the clear enemy of Mankind who wants to incite evil between them and create enmity and hatred amongst them.
Some of the mufassirun (explainers of Qur’an) said the meaning of the above ayah is, “Say to my believing servants when they debate the kuffar in tawheed: to say a word that is best.” As Allah says, ‘Revile not those whom they (disbelievers) call upon besides Allah , lest they out of spite revile Allah in their ignorance’ (Surah al-An’am 108). Al-Hasan said the meaning is, to say to the disbeliever when he exceeds the proper bounds, may Allah guide you! May Allah have mercy on you!
As for the People of the Book there are specific texts which frame the dialogue and limit it to ‘that which is most beautiful’. As Allah has said, ‘And dispute 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 God and your God is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam)”.’ (Surah al-Ankabut 46).
So Allah did not suffice here by simply saying ‘and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious’ (Surah al-Nahl 125), but rather the wording is ‘And dispute not with the People of the Book, except with means better’. Therefore any other response, even if it is good [but not better], is prohibited in accordance to the hukm (ruling) of this ayah.
Translated and edited by me (Shafiur Rahman) from the book Khitaabuna al-Islami fi Asr al-‘Awlama by Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Dar al-Shuruq 2nd Ed. 2008.
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I agree with the main case of Sh Qaradawi; when we address kuffar, we should address them in a way that brings them closer to Islam – e.g. ‘non-muslims’ rather than addressing them as ‘kuffar’ (which can be misunderstood by kuffar as more than it actually is) – without denying or changing our religious belief about them and their religious status. The shaykh’s evidencing of this is strong mashallah.
However, the direct relevance of his advice to us is not very strong. Muslims do not go around calling the kuffar, “O kuffar!” or the like (those that do may of course be the tiny minority like Al-Muhajiroun who of course do not read this blog or Sh Qaradawi’s writings).
Rather, the matter only becomes a point of contention when addressing kuffar in the third-person. The matter has become a debate when Muslims mention the term kuffar amongst themselves and one group condemns those who say you must not resort to that but rather say they are ‘potential Muslims’ or the like, while the other says referring to kuffar as kuffar in the third-person amongst Muslims entails no harm and is mirroring the Quran and Sunnah’s reference to kuffar in third-person. The matter is even more absurd when one party condemns people for referring to open enemies of Islam as kuffar.
Then others have been saying one should not use the term kuffar as an expression of hatred, which I agree with if the hatred is unwarranted and unjustified. However, if the hatred is justified then the use of the term as an expression of hatred is also justified. I am sure you will be aware of the examples of this amongst the Sahaba and earlier generations. In fact the verses saying “O you kaafiroon…” as evidenced by the Shaykh is witness to this.
So in summary, the advice of the Shaykh is fully applicable to those who address the kuffar as kuffar as opposed to a more gentler/appealing terminology. These are the likes such as the man who called the shaykh on the telephone condemning him for addressing the kuffar as ‘non-Muslims’. The Shaykh also reminds us that using the term ‘non-Muslim’ is done while our beliefs regarding kufr and kuffar are the same. The shaykh quotes evidences in this regard.
The shaykh’s advice is true on this point albeit lacking relevance to our direct situation (but the post is beneficial and may the author’s efforts be rewarded).
However, the evidences and the argument of the Shaykh only deal with addressing the kuffar and not referring to them in the third person. The example of the Quran actually refers to the kuffar as exactly that.
Again, jazakallahu khairan for your post.
November 2nd, 2009 at 17:57 | #5
Regarding a quote of the shaykh, he probably did not intend it so, but it may be misunderstood by readers. The Shaykh says about ahlul kitaab:
“When we talk about the ‘People of the Book’ we do not intend to describe them with this meaning of kufr [i.e. 'to deny Allah, his prophets and the abode of the hereafter (Jannah)'], rather what we mean is that they are kuffar with respect to the prophethood of Muhammad and his deen, and this is a reality just as they believe that we are ‘kuffar’ with respect to what they believe and that is also a reality.”
The quote may be misread. Ahlul kitaab’s kufr goes beyond mere kufr of the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and His deen. It does in fact include the kufr of ‘denying Allah, His prophets, and the abode of the hereafter’, though not in the same way or extent as the denial of the materialists.
It is clear that believing in the existence of Allah is not enough to warrant someone as a ‘believer in Allah’, but rather they must have the belief in the oneness and Tawhid of Allah. It is therefore the Ahlul Kitaab have been classified by the Quran as kuffar in this regard too:
“Surely, they have disbelieved [kafaroo] who say: “Allâh is the Messiah ['Iesa (Jesus)], son of Maryam (Mary).” (5:72)
“Surely, disbelievers [kafaroo] are those who said: “Allâh is the third of the three (in a Trinity).” (5:73)
The Jews have also been classified as disbelievers in Allah and His oneness which entails not rejecting His commands (due to their disbeleif of the Messengers). the following verse is in reference to them:
“Verily, those who disbelieve [kafaroo] in Allâh and His Messengers and wish to make distinction between Allâh and His Messengers (by believing in Allâh and disbelieving in His Messengers) saying, “We believe in some but reject others,” and wish to adopt a way in between.
“They are in truth disbelievers [kaafiroon]. And We have prepared for the disbelievers a humiliating torment.” (4: 150-1)
As for their kufr of angels, then the Jews were reprimanded in the Quran for it:
“Say (O Muhammad Peace be upon him ): “Whoever is an enemy to Jibrael (Gabriel) (let him die in his fury), for indeed he has brought it (this Qur’ân) down to your heart by Allâh’s Permission, confirming what came before it [i.e. the Taurât (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel)] and guidance and glad tidings for the believers.
“Whoever is an enemy to Allâh, His Angels, His Messengers, Jibrael (Gabriel) and Mikael (Michael), then verily, Allâh is an enemy to the disbelievers.”
As for their kufr of the hereafter, then commenting on these verses:
“Say (O Muhammad SAW): “Shall We tell you the greatest losers in respect of (their) deeds?
“Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life while they thought that they were acquiring good by their deeds!
“They are those who deny the Ayât (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) of their Lord and the Meeting with Him (in the Hereafter). So their works are in vain, and on the Day of Resurrection, We shall not give them any weight.”
Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, when asked if they referred to the ‘harooriyyah [khawarij]‘, he replied, “No, they are the Jews and Christians. As for the Jews, they disbelieved in Muhammad [saw]. And as for the Christians, then they disbelieved [kafaroo] in Jannah and said, “There is no food in it nor water.”"
So just so the Shaykh’s comments are not misread, the kufr of ahlul kitaab is not restricted to denying the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his shari’ah, but rather extends to kufr of Allah, angels, messengers, etc too, even though the nature and extent of their kufr is different to the materialists and the atheists.
November 2nd, 2009 at 18:01 | #6
OK You are right that Muslims do not go around calling people ‘O Kuffar’, but you are also wrong to say somehow people sit around referring to kuffar as potential-Muslims. People just do not do that.
Thank you also for telling us what the Shaykh intended or not. I think everyone else will agree that SHAYKH, DR al-Qarawadi is old enough, wise enough and knowledgable enough to say exactly what he means. He does not need your tafseer. If brother Shafiur Rahman the one who translated the actual text does not see fit to add his own commentary, what makes you think we needed your commentary?
You then add some many other ayahs to then say the opposite of what the SHAYKH DR
al-Qardawi said. If he meant that he would have said it. Btw what are your qualifications to offer this opinion and sharh of the Shaykh’s book, can you read Arabic and where have you studied Shari’a?
Thanks but no thanks, we can read the text of the shaykh by ourselves. We don’t need your intercession.
November 2nd, 2009 at 19:01 | #7
mustafa, thanks but no thanks, we don’t need your intercession neither!
@ok… well done akhi for raising this same concern that i had with this article. again we create a non issue and disproportionately busy ourselves speaking about this non issue. just like people in the past used to debate unnecessarily about the length of the turban or the position of the hands in prayer, i urge as did hasan al banna that we get our heads out of these nonissues and start addressing real problems.
btw, it is also wrong br shafi to address a kafir as ‘g’morning nonmuslim’. It is common sense and good da’wah to learn his/her name or just say ‘g’morning’ or ”mornin’ sir/postman/madam’. What then is the good in caling hima kafir or a non muslilm? he or she wil still be hurt and tell you it is rude to address him by this new name.
The article appears to have missed the point while others DO believe that disbelievers aren’t 100% disbelievers! Infact, THIS phenomenon (that it is wrong to believe kuffar are disbelievers) is more widespread and should really warrant an article from dr qaradawi.
Mustafa November 2nd, 2009 at 19:14 | #8 @babos
SubhaniAllah what are you saying here? Although I respect your courage to say what you realy mean, that is you have problems and concerns with the article by the SHAYKH DR al-Qardawi. And not a disingenuous comment like OK who pretends that people might misunderstand the SHAYKH, but then say the total opposite to what the SHAYKH said.
At least its clear that you diagree with what the SHAYKH said. You’d rather him write the total opposite. Do you think the SHAYKH needs you to tell him what to write or not about about?
You might like to know that he wrote this because people like you exist, he wants to correct your outlook and idea about this issue of kuffar.
Btw since you are really into what makes a scholar and mujtahid, what are your qualifications for refuting this fatwa/statement/ijtihaad of the great SHAYKH DR al-Qardawi?
November 2nd, 2009 at 20:53 | #11
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you said, “Btw since you are really into what makes a scholar and mujtahid, what are your qualifications for refuting this fatwa/statement/ijtihaad of the great SHAYKH DR al-Qardawi?”
Err, br mustafa, as you and others on this blog believe anyone including ziauddin sardar, amina wadood and tariq ramadan and syed qutb don’t need to be a scholar to do ijtihad, i thought it would be ok for me to disagree with shk qradawi. and please, aki, don’t say that you don’t approve of the same view because if you do, then you would agree with me that tariq ramadan and many others are not mujtahid to do ijtihad in sharee’ah.
I ask you again, to argue the points and not the character of the commentator.
November 3rd, 2009 at 09:22 | #13
babos : The article appears to have missed the point while others DO believe that disbelievers aren’t 100% disbelievers! Infact, THIS phenomenon (that it is wrong to believe kuffar are disbelievers) is more widespread and should really warrant an article from dr qaradawi.
Jazakallahi khair for the comments. Obviously the article doesn’t miss the point because the shaykh wasn’t writing in response to anyone here on the blog or to our situation in particular! The shaykh clarified your concern very clearly where he said “We have not compromised on our belief that our deen is the truth and that all those that do not believe in the prophethood of Muhammad is a kafir.” i.e they are disbelievers, so where is the problem?
I agree with you that there are some people (although I think it’s a minority) who are trying to actually say that there are so many meanings of kufr (e.g Press TV debate) and well thery’re not really disbelievers etc but that doesn’t hold any water as the matter is clear cut. The shaykh is very clear on that too however he is simply talking about how to either address them or speak about them in accordance to the clear ayahs that he has quoted.
The main reason why I put this up is that the Shaykh is over 80years old but he’s still researching, thinking, striving for the improvement of dawah and looking at ways to make our message relevant and sensitive for today! This is a great lesson for us and our youth involved in da’wah.
The other thing is that he’s mainly writing in the context of the Muslim majority countries and is showing his concern for non-Muslim minorities who live in peace with the Muslims. If he can think like that from a position of being the majority how much more thought should we be giving in our ‘minority’ context in the West?
This is not about compromise but its about understanding the texts all together, not piecemeal, and then applying it in our contexts that increases our and non-Muslims’ sensitivity to the sophistication, justice and compassion of this global deen that is relevant for all times and places.
14. Abu Adam
November 3rd, 2009 at 11:29 | #14
Good written article by the Shaich dr Yusuf El Qaradawi.
And thanks for the comments, below. Maybe its better to see the benefits of calling others Non-muslims or disbelievers.
May Allah guides our tone to each others.
Abu Adam, Ibrahim Dahou
November 3rd, 2009 at 13:52 | #15
sheikh qaradawi has laid out a strong and clear argument Mashallah. we can learn on the practicality and wisdom of the Quran and how it is not simplistic.
while I now realise some the wisdom behind posting this translation after the translator’s comment above, i still believe it is secondary. the lesson learnt from the fact sh qaradawi is an elderly figure living in a majority muslim country yet able to be aware of and be astute with minority affairs is indeed remarkable mashallah. However, this is still a secondary inference from the post.
with regards to the main inference, I would agree with ok above that the case the sheikh lays out is very true but not of direct relevance, as yes, we do not go around calling muslims ‘o kafir’ or even ‘o non-muslim’. this is probably more a question ogre the br shafi’s selection of the excerpt rather than sh qaradawi’s point.
The evidences the sheikh gives go only as far as proving his point that we should address disbelievers with something that is appealing to them, which I am sure we are all doing.
As for speaking about them descriptively, then the evidences do not even discourage but rather encourage and set the example of describing them as disbelievers/kuffar.
So really there is no point of controversy here as long as we understand this clearly. This doesn’t mean I am ‘rejecting’ the sh as one brother fervously accused ok of , but rather the sh’s points are true but aren’t fully relevant, and cannot be evidence to deny the use of the term ‘kuffar’ when referring or mentioning disbelievers.
So I would agree that if we keep this in mind, this will turn out to inshallah be a no-issue.
November 3rd, 2009 at 16:34 | #16
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Agree with Rahim and OK – though this is a brilliant piece of advice, we must be careful not to think that Muslims actually go round calling non-Muslims ‘kafir’ etc.
But – a reminder is always useful and, as the author mentions, there are a tiny few who do use the term in the face of a non-Muslim as a form of abuse.
November 3rd, 2009 at 17:59 | #17
i think the brothers ok, rahim, westerner) have summed it up well. I really appreciate br shafi for responding in an exemplary fashion.
“The article appears to have missed the point…” (babos)
I wrote this sentence in reference to shaykh qardawi’s statement “I have preferred to ADDRESS those who differ with us from other religions as ‘non-Muslims’”
The article advises us to not call or address the kuffar as ‘o dibeliever or o kafir’ yet the above quote suggests it is better to address them as ‘o non muslim’. Clearly ‘to address’ someone is to speak to them face to face. Otherwise, it is better to say ‘refer to’ kuffar as ‘non muslim’ in their absence.
So, it is better to address a disbeliever by his name as you would anyone else, muslim or otherwise.
This then becomes a non issue as everyone, including sh qwaradawi has no problem with referring to them as kuffar or disbelievers so long as you are not trying to abuse them by speaking about them in this way.
November 3rd, 2009 at 18:08 | #18
In the introduction to this blog we are told who Dr Qaradawi had in mind when writing these words:
“In calling (da’wa) others with wisdom and beautiful preaching and arguing with that which is best,”
So it’s primarily for duat i.e those who will come into contact with Non-Muslims. The recommendation by Dr Qaradawi is:
“it is advisable (particularly in the age of globalisation) to not address those whom we differ with, as kuffar, even though we believe that they are so. This is especially in the case of the People of the Book (Christians and Jews).”
So he isnt even saying its a fard or a wajib, just an advise! add to that the fact that phsycologically how one refers to something/someone goes contributes to buidling an attitude and approach towards that thing/person, one realises the improtance of this advise.
Yes we may not refer to non muslims as kuffar in their presence, but if we amongst ourselves make reference to them as kuffar all the time it will build a negative attitude towards them within us, and this hinder our dawah.
By making reference to them as Non-Muslims or potential muslims does not mean one is watering down the kufr of those who disbelieve in Allah\’s Messenger and the Shariah. It simply helps in appreciating that these Non-Muslims still have an opportunity to embrace Islam.
Its important that one does not damn to hell an individual whether Muslim or Non-Muslim because only God knows a person’s ultimate status. \”While his action was odious to God, the man Umar b. al-Khattab was beloved to God even when prostrating to idols because in the eternal knowledge of God, Umar was not the idolater but the caliph of Islam and a martyr.
November 3rd, 2009 at 19:43 | #19
“Its important that one does not damn to hell an individual whether Muslim or Non-Muslim because only God knows a person’s ultimate status. \”While his action was odious to God, the man Umar b. al-Khattab was beloved to God even when prostrating to idols because in the eternal knowledge of God, Umar was not the idolater but the caliph of Islam and a martyr.”
it is this assumtion of many muslims, that when one belives that a disbeliever is a disbeliever, that he is also condemning these disbelievers to hell. I am glad you have brought this mistake to everyones attention as this is what ok and babos were refering to. THIS is the more common problem, not that muslims are abusing and hating disbelievers.
Well, hating is debatable, right?
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