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Nuh Ha Mim Keller - Iman Kufr and Takfir

Nuh Ha Mim Keller - Iman Kufr and Takfir



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Iman, Kufr, and TakfirNuh Ha Mim Keller
Question: Is someone who has an idea that is kufr or “unbelief” thereby an“unbeliever”?Response:The short answer, somewhat surprisingly, is “not necessarily.” In some cases sucha person is, and in some not. Many people today read an expression labelled in books of Islamic law as kufr, and when they realize that some Muslim they know or have heard of has an idea like it, they jump to the conclusion that he is a kafir.Charging fellow Muslims with unbelief (takfir) is an enormity in the eyes of Allah.It is the fitna or “strife” that destroyed previous faiths, and whose fire in Islamictimes was put out with the defeat of the Kharijites, only to be revived on a wholesale scale almost a thousand years later by Wahhabi sect of Arabia in theeighteenth century, from whence its acceptability has spread today to a greatmany otherwise orthodox Muslims, becoming the bid‘a of our times, and one of the most confusing Islamic issues. A careful answer to the question must look at what kufr means, both in respect to oneself and others, before drawing generalconclusions on what legally establishes or acquits a person of the charge of unbelief.I. Oneself Life is a gamble, whose stakes are paradise or hell. Allah has explained to us that whoever dies in a state of unbelief without excuse shall be punished in hellforever, just as whoever avoids unbelief shall attain to felicity, even if he should be punished first. Allah Most High says in Sura al-Ra‘d:“The likeness of paradise, which the godfearing have been promised—rivers flow  beneath it, and its fruits are forever, and its shade: that is the requital of thegodfearing, while the requital of unbelievers is hell” (Qur’an 13:35). And He says,“It is He who created death and life for you that He may try you, as to which of  you is best in works. And He is the All-powerful, the Oft-forgiving” (Qur’an 67:2).This is our test, and the judge is a King, who is not up for reelection. If ourignorance of how He shall judge us in the next world is far greater than ourknowledge, we do have enough to go on, and the immense value in His eyes of our lives and actions is certainly plain from the magnitude of the stakes. Those who knew more than anyone about it were more afraid than anyone; namely, theprophets. And the only ones not afraid are those who do not understand.The hellfire, in its turn, is really a mercy to believers, a fire that Allah has built itin front of the wrong road so that we will not go in the direction leading away 
from endless happiness. Allah moreover has made the key to paradise a simplematter, to acknowledge that there is no god but God, and that Muhammad is Hisslave and messenger, which entails accepting everything conveyed to us by Allahas He intended it, and everything conveyed to us by the Prophet (Allah bless himand give him peace) as he intended it. From the very simplicity of entering Islam,many Muslims assume that the criterion for leaving it, for kufr, must be equally simple.It is not. Rather, the things we must believe, “everything conveyed to us by Allahas He intended it, and everything conveyed to us by the Prophet (Allah bless himand give him peace) as he intended it” resolve themselves, upon reflection, intothree categories:(1) matters about Islam that everyone knows, which even a child raised amongMuslims would know, technically termed ma‘lum min al-din bi d-darura or“necessarily known as being of the religion”;(2) matters that not everyone knows;(3) and matters that are disagreed upon even by “those who know,” the ulema orscholars. Affirmation or denial of tenets of faith within each category vary in their eternalconsequences because of their relative accessibility, and the individual’sopportunities to find them out.Things That Everyone KnowsTo deny anything of the first category above constitutes plain and open unbelief.It includes such things as denying the oneness of Allah, the attributes of prophethood, that prophetic messengerhood has ended with Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace); the resurrection of the dead; the Final Judgement;the recompense; the everlastingness of paradise and hell; the obligatoriness of the prayer, zakat, fasting Ramadan, or the pilgrimage; the unlawfulness of wineor adultery; or anything else that is unanimously concurred upon and necessarily known by Muslims, since there is no excuse not to know these things in the landsof Islam; though for someone new to the religion, or raised in a wilderness,outside of the lands of Islam, or some other place where ignorance of the religionis rife and unavoidable, their ruling becomes that of the second category. AsImam Nawawi explains: Any Muslim who denies something that is necessarily known to be of the religionof Islam is adjudged a renegade and an unbeliever (kafir) unless he is a recentconvert or was born and raised in the wilderness or for some similar reason has been unable to learn his religion properly. Muslims in such a condition should beinformed about the truth, and if they then continue as before, they are adjudgednon-Muslims, as is also the case with any Muslim who believes it permissible tocommit adultery, drink wine, kill without right, or do other acts that arenecessarily known to be unlawful (Sharh Sahih Muslim, 1.150).
Things Not Everyone KnowsTo deny something of the second category above, tenets of faith that not everyoneknows, and that an ordinary Muslim might not know unless it were pointed outto him, is only unbelief (kufr) if he persists in denying it after he understands thatit has come to us from Allah or His messenger (Allah bless him and give himpeace), since before this, it is not within his power to believe or follow it. This is but divine justice, and plain from the implications of the words of Allah“We do not charge any soul except in its capacity” (Qur’an 6:152),and attested to by many hadiths, such that related by Abu Dawud with a well-authenticated (hasan) chain of transmission from Jabir (Allah be well pleased with him), who said, A donkey that had been branded on the face passed before the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), and he said, “Is there anyone among you who hasnot heard that I have cursed whoever brands or strikes an animal’s face?” (AbuDawud, 4.26–27: 2564. H). Although branding or striking an animal’s face is a crime and an enormity (kabira) in Islam, the words “Is there anyone among you who has not heard . . .”indicate that whoever does not know it is wrong is not culpable of it, even if hecommits it, until he learns it is wrong. And Allah says in another verse,“Allah only charges a soul according to what has come to it” (Qur’an 65:7).In matters of belief, the line traditionally drawn between this type of knowledgeand the preceding is their accessibility. A Muslim is responsible to believeeverything from Allah or His messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace)that should be obvious to all Muslims, and that every Muslim may reasonably beexpected to know. As for what is beyond that, he is only responsible to believe what he has learned of.Things Disagreed Upon by UlemaNo position upon which one scholar may disagree with another because of evidence from the Qur’an, hadith, or human reason (as opposed to emotivepreference) may be a criterion for faith or unfaith (kufr), provided it is a scholarly position, minimally meaning that:(a) it is not based on a fanciful interpretation of the Qur’an or sunna that violatesthe grammar or diction of the Arabic Language.(b) it does not contradict some other evidentiary text that is both—qat‘i al-wurud or “unquestionably established in its transmission” from Allah orHis messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace), whether a verse of theQur’an, or hadith that is mutawatir or “established by so many channels of 

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