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© H A N N A S AY Y I D A W H I T E M A N

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Who Are the
Disbelievers?
Hamza Yusuf

K
uf r may be defined as disbelief, ingratitude, or arrogant
rejection of truth; it has many other nuanced meanings in the
Qur’an and Sunnah. The Qur’an mentions that when man is
troubled by truth, he begins to think (fakkara) about and determine
(qaddara) what is the best approach to justify his rejection of the truth.
Thus, disbelief and cleverness are related. Aristotle defined intel-
ligence as the mean between stupidity and cleverness or craftiness.
Disbelief (kufr) is a response to truth that involves covering up the
truth. Semantically, the root of kufr is kafara, which literally means “to
cover over.” One word for “farmer” in Arabic is k¥fir, because a farmer
covers the seed with soil. Kufr is also “concealment,” as in kufr al-ni¢mah
(to conceal blessings). Kufr is used in the Qur’an as an antonym for
faith (im¥n), and k¥fir (disbeliever) is juxtaposed with mu’min (believ-
er) as one of two possible responses to God’s signs. It is also used in
opposition to “gratitude” (shukr).
The term kufr has several different definitions (^add). Ibn F‰rak
defines kufr as, “Ignorance concerning God, concerning His attri-
butes, and a denial and rejection of that is understood to be included
in that ignorance.”1 What this definition implies is that a man who
denies God or associates something else with God is ignorant of God,
and his ignorance has led him to reject what is true about God. Ibn
F‰rak quotes Ab‰ al-±asan al-Ash¢arÏ, quoting Ab‰ ±usayn al-ߥli^Ï as
saying,

Kufr is an ignorance of God u, and it is one quality that is the opposite
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of knowledge of God. It resides in the human heart and is in under-
standing and not in action. Moreover, the ignorance of God is a hatred
of God and a puffed up attitude toward God, a mocking of God, and
2
a rejection.

Ab‰ al-Baq¥’ defines kufr as “a single system of belief opposed to the
undoubtedly true sacred law of Mu^ammad s.” He explains further:

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h am za yusuf
People are categorized into two groups: Muslims, nor do Muslims inherit from
those who accept Mu^ammad’s way, and a k¥fir.4 Moreover, a k¥fir is not buried
they are called believers (mu’min‰n); according to Islamic funeral rites, nor is he
and those who reject it, and they are or she prayed for after death by Muslims.
called disbelievers (k¥fir‰n). From this More profoundly, the judgment of kufr
point of view, the k¥fir‰n comprise one upon someone means that he is relegated
group even if they differ among them- to a state of perdition in his afterlife. The
selves; in that way, they are like the sec- enormity of that judgment on a person is
tarians among the Muslims: that is, they so great that it is legally prohibited to say
have different beliefs within the religion that anyone is destined for the Hellfire
of Islam. Kufr itself can be both in word
and in deed. A word is one that neces-
sitates kufr: that is, a rejection of some-
Some people may not consider
thing agreed upon by consensus among
the Muslims [is kufr], irrespective of themselves Muslims and may

whether it is from a belief, resistance, not know anything about Islam,
or derision. An action that results in a
but they adhere to many of
judgment of kufr would be one that was
done intentionally and indicates clear the moral precepts of Islam and

contempt for the religion, such as pros- view events in the world
trating to an idol or throwing a Qur’an
3 metaphysically, as
in the garbage.
a Muslim should.

This definition is consonant with most
modern Muslim understandings of kufr. It
is simplistic, black and white, and assumes
that everyone has heard the message, unless a clear verse or a hadith with multi-
thought about it, and made a final decision ple transmissions indicates such. What this
on it. The legal term kufr means “a rejec- prohibition implies is that one cannot con-
tion of what is necessarily known from the sider a person’s inner state with God, only
religion of Mu^ammad s—that is, [kufr his or her outward state with people. The
is] to reject the existence of the Creator or Qur’an states in unequivocal terms that
the prophetic mission of Mu^ammad s the inner reality of kufr necessitates a state
or the prohibition of fornication and any- of perdition, and that [Ultimate] judgment
thing similar in enormity.” This definition, is God’s alone (6:57). The profound impli-
accepted by all four schools of jurispru- cations of this must not be lost on Muslims.
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dence, defines kufr as a rejection of some The Prophet Mu^ammad a clarified this
essential part of Islam that is known by all when he said, “I was commanded to judge
who are familiar with it. Logically, if reject- by the outward, and to God is left the
ing an essential part is kufr, then rejecting [matter of judging] inner realities.” Thus,
the whole is a priori kufr. For this reason, outwardly, a person may have a ruling of
Muslims have traditionally seen non-Mus- kufr, but only God knows his inward state,
lims as kuff¥r (disbelievers), as they are not and therefore God alone determines his
part of the fold of Islam. ultimate destination.
The legal status of a k¥fir is important to According to the Qur’an, kufr is a rejec-
32 ascertain, as a k¥fir does not inherit from tion of God’s signs and is accompanied
w h o are th e d i sb eli ev er s?
by several qualities, including puffed up
pride (istikb¥r), derision (istihz¥’), deni- As for those who reject (kafar‰), it is the same
al (takdhÏb), ingratitude (kufr¥n), cruelty for them whether you warn them or not—they
(qas¥wah), zealotry (^amiyyah), impetu- do not believe. God has sealed their hearts;
ousness and ignorance (jahl), vainglori- and their hearing and their seeing are covered
ousness (fakhr), wantonness (ba~ar), and over; and there is a horrendous torment for
envy (^asad). Many of these vile qualities them. (2:6–7)
are found in Muslims and are absent in
many people of other faiths and creeds. The sealing over of their hearts is further
Some people may not consider them- explained in another Qur’anic verse that
selves Muslims and may not know anything says, When their hearts turned and deviated,
about Islam, but they adhere to many God caused them to deviate further (2:6–7).
of the moral precepts of Islam and view The second type of disbelief is kufr
events in the world metaphysically, as a ju^‰d, in which God is recognized but not
Muslim should—that is, they view events acknowledged, in spite of certainty about
as occurring by God’s will with an inher- Him. It results from the heart’s recogni-
ent wisdom often concealed from human tion of the truth of what is presented, and
beings. On the other hand, some Muslims the tongue’s denial of that truth. It is men-
are morally bankrupt and metaphysically tioned in the Qur’anic verse, When the truth
blind but nonetheless consider themselves came to them and they recognized it, they denied
Muslim. The question that arises for many it (kafar‰ bÏhi) (2:89). This type of kufr is
Muslims, especially those living in non- described in several verses in the Qur’an.
Muslim lands, is this: What happens to For example,
people of other faiths when they die?
That is, how are non-Muslims who lived But when Our signs came to them [Pharaoh
good lives and treated others well, who and his people] to make them see, they said,
were charitable and self-sacrificing, catego- “This is obvious sorcery!” And they rejected
rized? Before this question is answered, it them (ja^ad‰ bih¥) wrongfully and arro-
is important to look at the types of kufr gantly, though their souls were certain of them;
mentioned in the Qur’an. see how the immoral end up. (27:13–14)

types of kufr in th e qur’a n This verse unequivocally states that the
The Qur’an identifies several types of kufr kufr of these people arose from a rejection
and from these, most scholars distill four of what they were certain was true. This is
generic types and consider any one of the the essence of kufr ju^‰d and is obviously a
four to be sufficient cause for perdition: most odious type.
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kufr ink¥r, kufr ju^‰d, kufr mu¢¥nada, and Many Muslims believe that kufr ju^‰d is
kufr nif¥q. the single universal type of kufr; they read
The first type of disbelief is kufr ink¥r, certain verses that describe this particular
in which God is neither recognized nor aspect of disbelief and attribute it to every-
acknowledged. It entails a rejection of one outside the fold of Islam. Some read
God’s signs with both heart and tongue the verse, They [some Jews] know him like
and an inability to recognize the unity they know their own sons (2:146), and con-
of God when it is presented. This is the clude that all Jews are aware of the Prophet
type of kufr referred to in the Qur’anic Mu^ammad s and, in spite of that, reject
verse, him. According to traditional commentar- 33
h am za yusuf
ies on this verse, “they” refers to certain rab- by Jehuda ha Levi, Maimonides, and
bis who were aware of the Prophet’s descrip- Nahmanides, were reiterated by many
tion in the Torah as well as his advent on enlightened rabbis of later times. These
the Arabian Peninsula. Despite that knowl- point out that both the Christian and
edge, these rabbis kept it hidden from the Mohammedan nations believe in the
common Jews. The second part of the verse same God and His revelation to man,
clarifies the first: But some of them do conceal in the unity of the human race, and in
the truth even though they know it (2:146). In the future life; that they have spread the
fact, Ibn Juzayy says the device is actually knowledge of God by a sacred literature
rhetorical hyperbole to stress the point that based upon our Scripture; that they have
Mu^ammad’s prophecy should have been retained the Divine Commandments
clear to the rabbis and says the Qur’an is essentially as they are phrased in our
reiterating and emphasizing the words and Decalogue; and have practically taught
example of Rabbi ¢Abd All¥h b. Sal¥m, who men to fulfill the Noahitic6 laws of
became Muslim when he said, “We rabbis humanity. On account of the last fact, the
know his description in the Torah like we medieval Jewish authorities considered
know our own sons.”5 Christians to be half-proselytes, while the
Mohammedans, being pure monothe-
ists, were always still closer to Judaism.7

This understanding is almost non-existent
among Christians and unusual among Jews
today. The Qur’an states,

And do not contest the people of the scripture,
unless with what is better, except those of
them who have been unjust: say, “We believe
in what was revealed to us, and what was
Indeed, several medieval rabbis consid- revealed to you; for our God and your God
ered the Prophet Mu^ammad s to be a is one, to whom we acquiesce.” For thus We
fulfillment of some Jewish prophesies in have revealed the Book to you, so those to
the Torah. Kaufmann Kohler, a rabbi, theo- whom we have given scripture believe in it;
logian, and President of the Hebrew Union and some of these people believe in it too; and
College in the early 1900s, writes, no one rejects (yaj^adu) Our signs except the
ungrateful. (29:46–47)
The leading spirits of Judaism have
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recognized [that Islam was fulfilling a This verse is particularly relevant, for it
prophesy in Zachariah], declaring both clearly states that one reason for the revela-
Christianity and Mohammedan religions tion of the Qur’an is for the peoples of pre-
to be agencies of Divine Providence, vious prophetic dispensations to learn of it
entrusted with the historical mission of and accept it. The verse refers to the Jews
cooperating in the building up of the and Christians who would come to know
Messianic Kingdom, thus preparing for of the message of Islam and embrace it as
the ultimate triumph of pure monothe- another dispensation from the same God
ism in the hearts and lives of all men and that revealed the Torah and the Gospel.
34 nations of the world. These views, voiced The Qur’an states, Is it not a sign to them that
w h o are th e d i sb eli ev er s?
the scholars of the Tribe of Israel acknowledged edges Him with words, but remains in a
it? (26:197). Two Jewish scholars during state of disbelief due to envy, hatred, or
the lifetime of the Prophet Mu^ammad s some perceived fear of loss in wealth or
recognized his message as true, ¢Abd All¥h position. This is the disbelief of Heracles,
b. Sal¥m and Mukhayriq, who both fought the Byzantine ruler, and of Ab‰ T¥lib, the
alongside the Prophet s at ¢U^ud. Prophet's uncle. It differs from kufr ju^‰d
This second type of disbelief (kufr ju^‰d) only in that the person suffering from this
can be further categorized as sometimes type of disbelief actually acknowledges that
unrestricted (mu~laq) and other times he recognizes the truth of Islam but cannot
restricted (muqayyad). Unrestricted rejec- bring himself to become a Muslim. Whether
tion means a denial of the entire religion, this group will remain in a state of perdition
including God’s revelation and His mes- is God’s providence. Some scholars have
senger a. The second category is limited argued that Ab‰ T¥lib will not remain in the
in its rejection and involves denying one or Hellfire forever.
more aspects of the religion. For instance, The fourth and final category is kufr nif¥q,
someone who acknowledges God’s unity, in which one pronounces the belief with the
the prayer, and the other five pillars but tongue but denies it in one’s heart. This is
denies the prohibition of sodomy is in a the disbelief of the hypocrites (mun¥fiq‰n)
state of kufr ju^‰d because he knows, in
reality, that it is wrong, as it is unambigu-
Every sane, responsible,
ously prohibited in both the Qur’an and in
the well-known hadith, but he has chosen adult Muslim must believe

to follow his caprice in accepting it. in all that God has obliged
In his didactic poem, Jawharah al-
Muslims to believe in from all
TawhÏd, Imam al-Laqq¥nÏ says that those
those matters that are con-
who deny (j¥^ada) something known by all
in the religion have entered into disbelief firmed categorically
(kafara). Commenting on this line, Shaykh
and necessarily.
BakrÏ Rajab says,

Every sane, responsible, adult Muslim and is considered the worst form of disbe-
must believe in everything that God has lief. These people are protected and con-
obliged Muslims to believe in from all sidered Muslims; they are even washed and
those matters that are confirmed cat- buried as Muslims; and God alone knows
egorically and necessarily. This includes their reality. It is not permissible for people
the obligation of five prayers a day, to presume that someone is or is not a hypo-
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fasting, and the other pillars, as well as crite. Behavior, however, is a criterion, and
the prohibition of adultery, fornication, hypocrites have discernable signs in their
sodomy, and intoxicants. Hence, who- words and deeds. This type of disbelief can
ever rejects a clear injunction or pro- exist in varying degrees.
hibition, deeming it less than binding,
or who legalizes what God has deemed ib n q ay y im a l -jaw z iy ya h ’s
illegal has left Islam (kafara).8 c at e g o r ie s o f d isb e l ie f
The prolific scholar Imam Ibn Qayyim al-
The third type of disbelief is kufr mu¢¥nada, Jawziyyah had only two basic categories of
in which a person recognizes God, acknowl- disbelief that include various subcategories. 35
h am za yusuf
He considered the above-mentioned four as long as rulers establish prayer, do not
to be different in degree but not in type, command anything that breaches sacred
and thus, according to him, all culminate law itself, and do not manifest any other
in perdition. He called this kind of kufr form of clear disbelief (kufr b‰w¥^), their
“al-akbar” (the “greater”) and the second state authority is to be recognized and hon-
“al-a|ghar” (the “lesser”). In the past, as a ored.11 For this reason, the assassination of
result of ignorance of this lesser category Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981
of disbelief, some Muslim authorities mis- due to a “fatwa” labeling him a k¥fir is an
interpreted verses from the Qur’an and example of the immense evil and injustice
hadith of the Prophet s, and wrongfully that arises from such ignorance. I visited
excommunicated some Muslims. the notable Tunisian scholar and mufti,
Kufr al-a|ghar. There are several possible Shaykh Shadhili Nayfar, in the immediate
permutations of this kind of disbelief. One wake of that assassination, and he said to
is described in the Qur’an: Whoever does me, “What those criminals did was a hei-
not rule by what God has revealed is among the nous crime against Islam and the sacred
disbelievers (k¥fir‰n) (5:44). This verse was law.”
revealed when a group of Jews brought an Some hadith mention other examples
adulterer to the Prophet s and asked him of actions that are of this type of kufr,
to judge the man.9 God revealed to the which do not excommunicate a person.
Prophet s, How can they ask you to judge According to a sound hadith related by
when they have the Torah, [and] in it is light Muslim, the Prophet s said, “Two qualities
and guidance? (5:44). This extraordinary in my community (ummah) are a type of
and profound verse left the Prophet s no kufr in those who manifest them: criticiz-
recourse but to judge them according to ing the lineage of others and wailing over
their own Book, the Torah. the dead.”12 Another hadith related by
Thus, according to the Qur’an, anyone Imams al-Bukh¥rÏ and Muslim says, “Do
who rejects a law revealed by God is in not revert to becoming disbelievers (kuff¥r)
a state of disbelief. However, Ibn ¢Abb¥s after I am gone by killing one another
restricted the applicability of this verse, [in civil war].”13 Although the Prophet
saying, “This disbelief is less than absolute s uses the word kuff¥r here, commenta-
disbelief and does not remove a person tors have agreed that this means “do not
from his religious community,”10 which do the actions of the kuff¥r by killing one
is where Imam Ibn Qayyim derived his another.” The verses in chapter forty-nine
understanding of a lesser kufr. One who is of the Qur’an that clarify rules of engage-
not practicing the law is removed from the ment should Muslims fight one another are
community of faith only if such a person decisive in determining the meaning here.
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denies the law or its legally binding status. That is, fighting other Muslims does not
If, however, one does not follow a law of unconditionally take a Muslim out of the
God out of laziness, fear, or any other fold of Islam. Understanding this nuanced
reason that arises from weakness and not aspect of kufr is essential for Muslims today
conscious rejection, such a person is not who are far too quick to anathematize their
considered a disbeliever. fellow Muslims. The hadith that should be
Hence, rulers in the lands of Islam who foremost in our hearts, which is absolutely
do not apply the shariah are not considered sound, is, “If a Muslim calls another Muslim
disbelievers unless they openly deny the a k¥fir, then the statement is true about one
36 sacred law. According to a sound hadith, of them.”14 That is, the very act of calling a
w h o are th e d i sb eli ev er s?
Disbelief of dereliction or neglect (kufr
i¢r¥\) represents a slothful indifference
toward revelation and a failure to investigate
the prophetic claims. This corresponds to
the sin of sloth or acedia in Catholicism. It
involves a complete lack of intellectual and
spiritual curiosity. Spiritual sloth is particu-
larly insidious because it is very often veiled
in a cloak of useful worldly activity such as
medical practice or even charity work. It is
not necessarily laziness of body or mind but
person a k¥fir is kufr itself if the statement rather of spirit. The comings and goings
is not true. of the world provide most people with an
Kufr al-akbar. The second category, excuse for not bothering with religious
according to Ibn Qayyim, is “greater kufr” questions of ultimate concern, but such
(kufr al-akbar), which he further subdivides an attitude constitutes a type of disbelief, a
into five categories: disbelief arising from “turning away” (i¢r¥\) from God.
incredulity (kufr takdhÏb); disbelief arising Disbelief arising from doubt (kufr shakk)
from arrogance (kufr istikb¥r); disbelief aris- is a lack of commitment, in which one
ing from neglect (kufr i¢r¥\); disbelief aris- neither denies nor affirms the truth of the
ing from doubt (kufr shakk); and disbelief prophets, but chooses to remain neutral.
arising from hypocrisy (kufr nif¥q). In the current vernacular, such a person
Disbelief that arises from incredulity (kufr is an agnostic. According to Ibn Qayyim,
takdhÏb) is a refusal to believe the Messengers this is similar to the disbelief of dereliction
of God on the grounds that they are lying. (kufr i¢r¥\) because if a doubter undertook
Ibn Qayyim says that the numbers of these a serious investigation, the doubt would be
disbelievers is insignificant simply because replaced with belief. Hence, again, such a
God helped the Messengers with miracles person is turning away from the signs of
and clear proofs of their veracity. The God and refusing to consider them seri-
Qur’an says about the people at the time of ously.
the Prophet s, Surely, they do not claim you Finally, the last subcategory of greater
are a liar (yukadhib‰naka), but transgressors disbelief is that which arises from hypocrisy
deny (yaj^ad‰na) the signs of God (6:33). (kufr nif¥q). This is the worst form of dis-
Disbelief that arises from arrogance (kufr belief and entails the severest punishment
istikb¥r wa ib¥’) involves a refusal to accept in the hereafter. This further classification
the source due to its perceived abjectness. adds some nuances not present in the prior
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According to Ibn Qayyim, the majority of one. Both are useful in fully understand-
those who opposed the Prophet s in his ing the phenomenon of disbelief in the
lifetime fall under this category. This type Qur’an.15
of kufr is also the disbelief of Pharaoh, who
said, “Should we believe in two mortals like our- n e c e ssa ry c o n d it io n s fo r
selves whose people are our servants?” (23:47). a n at h e mat iz in g a n in d iv id ua l
IblÏs also suffered from this type of kufr, While ultimate destiny can only be deter-
displayed in his refusal to bow down to mined by God, determining a person’s
Adam ∑. The Qur’an states, He was arrogant legal standing vis-à-vis religion is essential
(istakbara)(38:74). in this world because of the obvious conse- 37
h am za yusuf
quences of such legal standing with regard but they do not constitute disbelief unless
to marriage, birth, death, and inheritance, it is ascertained that a person is engaging
to name a few. What determines whether in them despite knowing that they are
a person is a k¥fir or a believer is a critical prohibited and constitute idolatry. A clear
matter. The jurists of Islam thus developed proof for this is provided in the Qur’an,
a coda of guidelines necessary to follow in Moses’ response to the Jews when they
before a judge could consider a person asked for idols like the idols of other
a k¥fir. Six conditions have to be fulfilled nations: They said, “Make for us idols like
in order for a judge to rule concerning they have too.” He replied, “Surely you are an
a person’s faith: Intention; Absence of ignorant people” (7:138).
Coercion; Level of Knowledge; Absence of This meaning is wonderfully reiterated
Esoteric Interpretation; Mental Ability to in the sound hadith in TirmidhÏ, in which
Reason; and, Proof of Faith. some companions of the Prophet s asked
Intention. People's intention must be him to select a tree to which they could
understood before their actions or words attach cloth before battles in the way the
can be judged. For instance, when ±¥tib idolaters of Mecca did. He replied,
betrayed the Prophet s by revealing his
plans of attack to the Quraysh, he was cap- Glory to God, this is exactly like BanÏ
tured and his treachery exposed, and the Isr¥’Ïl’s request, “Make for us idols like they
companions wanted to kill him for treason. have too.” By the One in whose Hand
The Prophet s inquired into his intention, rests my soul, you will follow the ways of
17
and when he learned that ±¥tib was in fact those who went before you.
concerned about his family in Mecca and
their well-being, the Prophet s accepted The Prophet s did not call them dis-
his explanation and did not consider his believers; rather, he explained to them
treason an act of disbelief.16 The Qur’an their error and excused them for their
says, There is no sin upon you for your mistakes ignorance, as they were unaware of the full
(33:5). implications of their request.
Absence of Coercion. The Qur’an Some scholars, such as Imam al-Qar¥fÏ,
says, And those who disbelieve after they have consider ignorance an excuse in detailed
believed—unless they are compelled while their matters of the sacred law (fur‰¢) but not in
hearts are firm in faith—but those who find matters of belief or knowledge.18 However,
ease in disbelief, on them is wrath from God commenting on Imam al-Qar¥fÏ’s position,
(16:106). In other words, it is important Imam ߥdiq al-Ghiry¥nÏ says,
to determine whether a person who once
believed was compelled or coerced into What Imam al-Qar¥fÏ says concerning the
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disbelief or whether a person entered into inexcusability of ignorance is unsound
disbelief simply because it was convenient. because it would lead to unbearable
Level of Knowledge. This condition responsibilities on people (taklÏf m¥ l¥
holds much weight in light of the wide- yu~¥q). There are many cogent proofs
spread ignorance in our communities that refute his position. For instance,
today. Many ignorant people use oaths there is the sound hadith in which a man
that are prohibited; some circumambulate ordered his sons to cremate his body and
tombs, some sacrifice animals to saints, then pulverize the remains and scatter
and some tie pieces of cloth to shrines. All the ashes on a windy day over the ocean.
38 of these actions are absolutely prohibited, According to the hadith, he tells his
w h o are th e d i sb eli ev er s?
sons, “I swear by God, if my Lord gets Absence of Esoteric Interpretation
hold of me (qadara ¢alayya), He will pun- (ta’wÏl). A person whose words or actions
ish me in a way He has never punished indicate some disbelief may be excused if
anyone before me.” that disbelief results from a false interpreta-
The Prophet s said, “They did that to tion in an attempt to arrive at the truth. This
him, and God said to the earth, ‘Restore is different from disbelief that results from
what you have taken from him,’ and sud- following one’s whims and caprice. For
denly, there the man was standing before instance, Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, according
his Lord. God then said to him, ‘What to some of his writings, apparently believed
caused you to do such a thing?’ that the Fire of Hell would eventually be
“‘I was so afraid of you, my Lord!’ the extinguished, and those in it would no lon-
man explained.” ger suffer. This can be construed as kufr in
“For that,” the Prophet s said, “he was its apparent denial of unambiguous verses
forgiven.” in the Qur’an that disbelievers dwell in
This hadith, which is in the two sound- the Inferno forever (kh¥lidÏna fÏh¥ abadan)
est collections of hadith, reveals clear (4:169 and others). Ibn Taymiyyah based
disbelief: the man did not believe that his idiosyncratic interpretation on verses
God was omnipotent or he would not that had precedence among a few of the
have done such a foolish deed. He also
doubted the resurrection. This is without
a doubt kufr. He was ignorant, but his A person whose words or
ignorance was accompanied by a sincere
actions indicate some disbelief
fear and awe of God, and so God forgave
19 may be excused if that disbelief
him.
results from a false
This hadith indicates that one’s under-
interpretation in an attempt
standing and intention are crucial matters
to arrive at the truth. This is
in how one will be judged on the Day of
Judgment. different from disbelief that
In another sound hadith, a man pre-
results from following one’s
sented the Prophet s with a flask of wine.
whims and caprice.
The Prophet s explained to him that
drinking wine was prohibited. The man
then whispered something to his compan-
ion, handing him the flask. The Prophet companions of the Prophet s, as he shows
s asked what the man had whispered to in his argument. However, he did not reject
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his friend, and was told that the man had the Qur’anic verses on the eternity of Hell
just instructed his companion to sell the but felt that they were to be understood
flask. The Prophet s then said, “The One in the light of other verses specifying the
who prohibited its consumption also pro- general applicability, and restricting their
hibited its sale.” The man then spilled the apparently unrestricted application.
wine out.20 In his TamhÏd, Ibn ¢Abd al-Barr Although Ibn Taymiyyah’s opinion on
says that this hadith is textual proof that a this matter is not seen as normative or even
sin is removed from one who is ignorant as valid by the majority of scholars, very
of a ruling unless he was able to learn and few scholars actually anathematized him
neglected to do so.21 because he used interpretation (ta’wÏl) in 39
h am za yusuf
the matter, which meant he did not repudi- proof of faith and his or her rejection of it
ate the verses that outwardly contradicted is established, in which case such a person
his conclusions. is asked to repent. [In the case of some-
Due to this condition, most scholars one outside of Islam, his entering Islam
do not anathematize the Rationalists is repentance.] This is clearly understood
(al-mu¢tazilah) or members of other sects by the Qur’anic verses, Messengers bring
who interpret verses differently than did good news and a warning so that people may
the orthodox scholars of Islam. Limits, have no argument against God after the mes-
however, do exist that establish what is sengers. And God is Almighty, Most Wise
beyond the pale and what is not. According (4:165), and We do not punish a people until
to Imam al-Ghazz¥lÏ, even if an interpreta- we have sent a messenger to them (17:15). A
tion is far-fetched, as long as it remains proof is established through an invitation
within the parameters of reasonableness to Islam, in which the unity of God is
in accordance with the Arabic language, explained and the mission of the Prophet
25
it should not be considered kufr. Ab‰ al- Mu^ammad s.
Baq¥’ al-KaffawÏ wrote,
In the case of a person who has said or
God says, Surely, God forgives sins—all of done something that evinces disbelief, a
them [39:53], and although disbelief is scholar must show such an individual why
an unforgivable sin, the preferred posi- it constitutes disbelief and why repentance
tion of the majority of people of ortho- is necessary for a restoration of faith. If that
doxy is that none of the people who face person does indeed return to the fold of
toward Mecca in their prayers should orthodoxy, he is not considered a k¥fir. Or,
be called k¥fir among the innovators if he explains that his position is based upon
(mubtadi¢a) and the esoteric interpreters a different interpretation that has validity,
(mu’awwila), as long as their interpreta- or presents his own sources using sound
tions do not concern essential matters methods to arrive at his own conclusions,
22
of faith [such as taw^Ïd, prayer, and such a person is not deemed to be in a
the prohibition of alcohol] due to the state of disbelief. It might, however, con-
presence of obfuscation (shubhah) in the stitute a heterodox and innovative belief
23
matter. (bid¢ah) that, while invalid, does not entail
disbelief.
Mental Ability to Reason. The Prophet
s said, “Three among my community are t h e stat e o f d isb e l ie f a n d
not responsible: the sleeper until he wakes, w h at it e n ta il s
the child until it reaches puberty, and the According to the Qur’an, idolatry is the
| s prin g 2008 | s easo ns

deranged person until he recovers his greatest sin against God. Surely God will not
sanity.”24 forgive idolatry, but He will forgive anything
Proof of Faith. A firm proof of faith and less than it for whom He pleases (4:116). The
its requisites must be established before majority of orthodox scholars do not apply
a state of its denial can be considered this verse to idolatrous people who have
(iq¥matu al-^ujjah ¢alayhÏ). According to never heard a true message about God. The
Shaykh ߥdiq al-Ghiry¥nÏ, proof of this is the Qur’anic verse: We do
not punish a people until We send a messenger
A ruling of disbelief cannot be estab- (17:15). Commenting on this verse, Imam
40 lished concerning anyone until a clear Ibn Juzayy al-KalbÏ writes,
w h o are th e d i sb eli ev er s?
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
26
life whom they had rejected.

This second opinion is strengthened by
another Qur’anic verse:

Every time a group is thrown into it [the groups: one is the community of accep-
Fire], its keepers will ask them, “Didn’t a tance (ummah al-istij¥bah), which includes
warner come to you?” They will reply, “Yes, a those who answer his call of submission
warner came, but we scoffed and said, ‘God to God, and the other is the community
never sent anything down—you are very of invitation (ummah al-da¢wah), which
much mistaken.’” (67:8–9) includes those who are invited but have
not responded yet.
Scholars differentiate between idolatry The second important point is that the
(shirk) and disbelief (kufr). Every shirk is final judgment on a person’s state cannot
kufr, but not every kufr is shirk. For instance, be determined until the end of that per-
in the dominant position of the scholars, son’s lifetime. In this hadith, the Prophet
neither the Jews nor the Christians are s said, “no one…will hear of me and then
considered idolaters; they are, however, die without having believed….” In other
considered disbelievers once they hear of words, once the message is heard, a person
the message of the Prophet Mu^ammad s has the rest of his life to accept or reject it.
and reject it. The sound hadith in Muslim’s This understanding is enforced by several
collection is clear on this matter: verses in the Qur’an, such as Surely those
who disbelieve (kafar‰) and then die in a state
By the One in whose Hand is of disbelief, upon them is damnation from God,
Mu^ammad’s soul, no one from this His angels, and all of humanity (2:161). The
community (ummah), whether Jewish or Qur’an clearly states that one must die in
Christian, will hear of me and then die a state of disbelief to be in a state of perdi-
se asons | s pri ng 2008 |

without having believed except that he tion. Their disbelief is not in God but in a
is apportioned among the denizens of messenger of God, and disbelief in Islam is
the Inferno. defined as denial of God or denial of any
of His messengers and what they brought.
Two extremely important points are elic- In addition to declaring that idolatry
ited from this hadith. The first is that (shirk) is the only unforgivable sin, the
when the Prophet s says, “from this com- Qur’an also says that Luqm¥n ∑ said
munity,” he is referring to all people of to his son, “Don’t associate anything with
the entire world from the time his message God, for surely idolatry is an enormous error
began. His community is divided into two (·ulm)” (31:13). The word used here 41
h am za yusuf
because a man’s seal is unknown to other
The majority of scholars have
men, it should never be assumed that he or
she is a k¥fir with God. For example, while
prohibited damning an individual,
his action was odious to God, the man
whether Muslim or not, because ¢Umar b. al-Kha~~¥b g was beloved to God
only God knows a person’s
even when prostrating to idols because
in the eternal knowledge of God, ¢Umar
ultimate status. Jurists deter-
g was not the idolater but the caliph of
mined that because a man’s seal Islam and a martyr. The Moroccans have a
is unknown to other men, it proverb: “Hold no one in contempt, for he
may be a friend of God.” Whatever we may
should never be assumed that
see in a person, it may not reflect his actual
he or she is a kafir with God. state with God. The Prophet s said of the
people of Badr, “Who knows—perhaps
God looked into the hearts of the people
describing the sin of idolatry is the verbal of Badr and said, ‘Do as you will from this
noun that also denotes “oppression.” In day forth, for I have forgiven you.’”27 The
several verses, the Qur’an describes the Prophet s made this statement in refer-
denizens of Hell as oppressors (·¥lim‰n). ence to a man who had fought on his side
Scholars concur that anyone who does not at Badr and then later committed a trea-
follow the religion of Islam—including sonous act that the Prophet s forgave.
Jews, Christians, and polytheists—has the
legal ruling of disbelief. However, because who is destined for the
all people alive today are considered from hellfire?
the community of Mu^ammad s and are The Qur’an specifically states that disbe-
divided into the two groups as mentioned lievers will be in Hell. Because there is
above, it is incumbent upon Muslims to a consensus that Jews and Christians are
invite to Islam all those who are in the legally categorized as disbelievers (not
community of invitation and to continue in God and previous prophets but in the
to do so for the lifetime of each person in Prophet Mu^ammad s), most Muslims
that community. Let us not forget that Ab‰ take this to mean they will be in Hell
ßufy¥n fought the Prophet s for almost because of the many Qur’anic verses stat-
twenty years, yet never did the Prophet s ing that the disbelievers will be in Hell.
despair of the possibility that Ab‰ ßufy¥n Furthermore, verses exist that indicate
would accept faith. The Prophet Noah e that Christians who adhere to the trinity
called his people to God for almost a thou- will also be in Hell. The Qur’an says,
| s pring 2008 | seas on s

sand years and prayed for their destruction
only after God revealed to him that they Those who say God is the Messiah, Son of
would never believe: And it was revealed to Mary, have certainly blasphemed: whereas
Noah, “None of your people will believe but those the Messiah said, “Children of Israel, wor-
who believe already. So do not be grieved over ship God, my Lord and your Lord.” For
what they have been doing” (11:36). whoever associates anyone with God, God
The majority of scholars have prohibited has forbidden the Garden; his place is the
damning an individual, whether Muslim or Fire. And there is no savior for those who do
not, because only God knows a person’s wrong. Those who say God is one third of a
42 ultimate status. Jurists determined that trinity have certainly blasphemed, for there is
w h o are th e d i sb eli ev er s?
no deity but one God. So if they do not stop
what they are saying, a painful penalty will
If Christians are simply
strike those of them who blaspheme (kafar‰).
(5:72–73) repeating what they were told

by their priests and church
There are a few important points that
institutions, they are not
should be made: first of all, the disbelief
referred to is not disbelief in Islam but blaspheming intentionally.

disbelief in their own religion. That is, Many may be deeply devoted to
those who originally said that God is a
their faith and actively seeking
trinity blasphemed. The past tense is used
in these verses, and this is strengthened a the grace of God.

few verses later when the Qur’an says, O
people of the scripture, do not overdo your reli-
gion unrealistically, yet do not follow the desires
of people who already went astray before, who This does not negate the legal status of
misled many and strayed from the balanced way those who believe in the trinity as k¥fir‰n,
(5:77). Those who initially innovated the but rather suspends judgment on their
trinity, which was a pagan belief found in intention since many of them may be
ancient Egypt, Babylon, and India, were unaware that they are in a state of blas-
the ones who blasphemed against God and phemy. In all three Abrahamic faiths, blas-
entered into a state of kufr. However, the phemy—which is irreverent talk concern-
Qur’an is saying that once one knows this, ing God, His prophets, and other sacred
one must desist from saying such things or matters—is considered anathema only if
be burnt by the Hellfire. done intentionally. There’s the rub. If
In the last portion of the verse cited Christians are simply repeating what they
above, the usage of the preposition min were told by their priests and church insti-
(from) is a particularly noteworthy con- tutions, they are not blaspheming inten-
struct: So if they do not stop what they are say- tionally. Many may be deeply devoted to
ing, a painful penalty will strike those of them their faith and actively seeking the grace
who blaspheme. In the Arabic, using min to of God. These are the very people whom
say “of those who blaspheme” indicates the Qur’an is addressing, as much of the
that it is those who are in a state of kufr Qur’an is addressed to peoples of other
from among them who will be burnt by the faiths as well as people without faith in the
Fire. This implies that not all of them are hopes that they will believe.
in a state of kufr. This can only be under- What then is the fate of those who do
s easons | spri ng 2008 |

stood when we remember what kufr is not believe in the Qur’an and the message
according to the theologians: of Mu^ammad s? Are they condemned
to the Inferno for all eternity? Imam
A refusal to believe based upon a knowl- al-Ghazz¥lÏ, known as the “Proof of Islam”
edge of what to believe (ma¢rifah) and and one of the most authoritative theolo-
a purposeful refusal to do so (i¢r¥\ah), gians and legal theorists in the history of
even if it is concerning only a portion of Islam, had a different opinion. He wrote
what the Prophet s conveyed to us, [as a short treatise entitled Fay|al al-tafriqah
long as it is] transmitted in a clear man- clarifying the dangers of anathematizing
28
ner, lacking ambiguity. other Muslims, but in it he also addresses 43
h am za yusuf
of his miracles. These people live along-
side Muslims and interact with them or
actually live among them. They are the
disbelieving deniers (kuff¥r mul^id‰n).
The third category is the class compris-
ing those in between the other two.
The name of Mu^ammad s has indeed
reached their ears, but they do not know
his true description and his character.
Instead, they heard from the time they
the issue of non-Muslims and the vast were young that a deceitful liar named
mercy of God. He points out that although Mu^ammad s claimed to be a prophet,
there is a sound hadith that states that in the same way our own children hear
only one out of every thousand people will that a liar named al-Muqanna¢ claimed
enter Paradise, this does not mean the rest to be a prophet. As far as I am con-
will enter eternal damnation; rather they cerned, such people are [excused] like
will spend a purifying period in the Fire. those in the first category, for while they
What it means, according to al-Ghazz¥lÏ, is have heard of his name, they heard the
that the sinless are only one in a thousand. opposite of his true qualities. And hear-
He then states that the Muslims in the Fire ing such things would never arouse one’s
will ultimately be removed and, even more desire to find out [who he was].29
astonishingly, that,
Imam al-Ghazz¥lÏ’s insight comes from his
The divine mercy, however, will also deep understanding of human nature and
embrace many of the bygone nations, the veils that exist over human hearts as a
even though most of them will be result of background and prior social condi-
exposed to the Fire, either slightly—for tioning. He remarks in his book Deliverance
a moment or for an hour—or a greater from Error30 that most people, including
period of time, so that one may apply to Muslims, simply followed the religion of
them the expression “the denizens of their parents. He noted that few Muslims
the Fire.” I would even go as far as to say actually plumb the depths of any matter of
that most of the Christians among the religion to ascertain for themselves wheth-
Europeans and Turks in this time of ours er the belief is true or not. After explaining
will be embraced by the same mercy, if his belief about peoples of other religions,
God most high wills. I mean specifically he later reiterates his point with excep-
those who are among the remote inhab- tional clarity:
| s prin g 2008 | s easo ns

itants of Europe and Central Asia whom
the call of Islam has not reached [will be As for the other nations, [consider
embraced by this divine mercy]. the person] who imputes lying to the
Christians can be divided into three Prophet s after he has heard of the
classes. One comprises those whom impeccable and undeniable transmis-
the name of Mu^ammad s has never sions of his appearance, his quality, and
reached at all: they are excused [for his miracles that suspended normal laws,
their disbelief]. The second category such as his splitting the moon, the peb-
comprises those who have heard his bles praising God in his hand, the well-
44 name and description, and [have heard] ing up of water from between his fingers,
w h o are th e d i sb eli ev er s?
and the miraculous Qur’an 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, turns his back, does not
consider it or reflect on it, and does not
hasten to believe in it, then such a per-
son is indeed a denier (j¥^id) and a liar,
and he is indeed a disbeliever (k¥fir).
However, such a person does not fit
the description of most of the Europeans Most people in this world enjoy rela-
and Central Asians who live far away tive security and ease or a state that
from the land of the Muslims. In fact, I makes life enjoyable; for that reason, if
would argue that whoever did hear these most people were given a choice between
things about [the Prophet s] would life and death, for example, they would
have to have wanted to find them out in choose life. As for those suffering to such
order to ascertain the reality of what is a degree that they would prefer death,
claimed. [Such a person would have to such cases are rare. Those condemned
be] a religious person who did not pre- eternally to the Fire in the afterlife will
fer worldly matters to otherworldly ones. also be rare, for the attribute of divine
If he felt no urge to find out [the truth], mercy does not change due to the diver-
it could only be due to the fact that he sity of our circumstances, and “this life”
was complacent, inclined toward this and “the afterlife” are simply two expres-
world, and bereft of piety and a sense of sions designating the diversity of our cir-
the momentousness of religion, and that cumstances. Were it not so, there would
is what disbelief (kufr) is. be no meaning to the statement of the
However, if a person felt a desire to Prophet s when he said, “The first thing
find out [the truth] but neglected to that God wrote in the first Book was, ‘I
do so, that negligence is also disbelief. am God. There is no deity but Me. My
Indeed, anyone of faith in God and the mercy takes precedence over My wrath,
Last Day from any religion will inde- so he who witnesses that there is no god
fatigably seek the truth after he has seen but God and Mu^ammad is His servant
the appearance of signs that suspend and His apostle, for him is the Garden.’”31
the norms of experience (miracles). If
someone sets out and attempts to ascer- There is no doubt that the disbelievers are
tain the reality but dies before being in the Inferno, but Imam al-Ghazz¥lÏ is
se asons | s pri ng 2008 |

able to complete his investigation, he is explaining that kufr is an active denial, not
also forgiven and then granted the vast a passive state of ignorance. That is, denial
mercy and grace of God. So have a vast must follow a clear understanding of what
view of the mercy of God, the exalted, one is denying. Moreover, for those who
and do not measure divine matters with are sincere, it is not only understandable
limited ordinary standards. And know but necessary that they would search for
well that the afterlife is similar to this the truth.
life, for [the Qur’an states], Your cre- Imam al-Suy‰~Ï states in his fatwa about
ation and your resurrection is as one soul the Prophet’s father and mother and their
(31:27). place in the hereafter, 45
h am za yusuf
He [the Prophet’s father] was living dur- of mercy took him. This is a clear hadith
ing a time in which ignorance pervaded showing that a man can be on a journey
the world from the East to the West; the of faith and not arrive at his destiny before
scholars of the People of the Book were dying, but be saved nonetheless by God’s
scattered in various lands, such as the mercy.33
Levant, and few among them knew of According to Imam al-Sh¥fi¢Ï, if a person
sacred laws and could convey the divine kills another person before Islam was pre-
message correctly. Neither of the two sented to him decisively (uqimat ¢alayhÏ al-
[the Prophet’s mother and father] was ^ujja),34 the murderer must pay the blood
accustomed to traveling, with the excep- money and expiate (kaff¥rah) but not suf-
tion of traveling to Medina, nor did fer lex talionis because the man was not a
either of them live very long; living longer Muslim legally but was one essentially (fÏ
would have enabled them to pursue the ma¢n¥ al-muslim). Ibn Rif¢a commented on
truth and examine matters, but, in fact, this in al-Kif¥yah saying, “[He is understood
both lived very short lives. Imam al-±¥fi· to be a Muslim] because he was born with
ßal¥^ al-DÏn al-¢Al¥’Ï says in his book inherent nature (fi~rah) and no outward
al-Durrah al-saniyyah that the Prophet’s sign of obstinacy had been displayed.”35 In
father ¢Abd All¥h was just eighteen years other words, Ibn Rif¢a also states that disbe-
old when ®mina became pregnant; he lief is active and not passive. Furthermore,
traveled to Medina to bring some dates Imam al-NawawÏ says in his commentary on
back to his family and died while there Imam Muslim’s hadith collection about the
with his cousins from BanÏ Najj¥r.32 children of polytheists,

Hence, according to the imam, the The preferred and soundest school of
Prophet’s parents did not live long enough thought about them and the one most of
to consider matters of ultimate concern, the authoritative scholars have inclined
and this factor must be taken into consid- toward is that they are in Paradise based
eration for them and for other people. In upon God’s word, We do not punish a people
addition, a well-known sound hadith tells until a messenger comes to them [17:15]. So
the story of a mass murderer who sought if God does not punish an adult because
repentance and was told by a scholar to go no message has reached him, obviously,
36
to such-and-such land where there were children would be even more secure.
good people who worshiped God. The
man set out but died on the way. The angel Imam al-Suy‰~Ï comments:
of mercy wished to claim him because he
had repented and his heart was filled with Does this include all of the people dur-
| s prin g 2008 | s easo ns

contrition. The angel of wrath, on the ing the pre-Islamic period? No. I would
other hand, argued that the man had never say it comprises only those who were not
done anything good in his life. To settle presented with a prophetic message at
the debate, the two angels were instructed all. As for those who were given a pro-
to measure the land and determine if he phetic message before and continued on
was closer to the place of disbelief that he in their disbelief, they are certainly from
37
had left behind or that of belief to which among the denizens of the Fire.
he was headed. According to the hadith,
God shortened the distance between the In their extensive commentary, Shar^
46 man and the land of belief, so the angel jawharat al-taw^Ïd, the two theologians,
w h o are th e d i sb eli ev er s?
Shaykh ¢Abd al-KarÏm Tat¥n and Shaykh tee of security from divine retribution for
Mu^ammad AdÏb al-KÏl¥nÏ, concur with his or her sins. But people will be cling-
Imam al-Ghazz¥lÏ on the matter: ing to such things as [God’s statement],
40
My mercy takes precedence over My wrath.
In the hadith in which the Prophet s
said, “By the One in whose Hand lies my Both Shaykh Mu^yÏ al-DÏn b. al-¢ArabÏ and
soul, anyone, whether Jew or Christian, Ibn Taymiyyah held heterodoxic views con-
who hears of me from this community cerning the Hellfire as a result of their
and dies without believing in me is from attempts at reconciling divine mercy with
the denizens of the Fire.” According the idea of infinite punishment for finite
to the scholars, there are three factors
involved here:
A person hears of the Prophet s, and
this includes his message and the proofs of
its veracity. The divine presence is absolute,

A person refuses to believe in what was and God does in it whatever
given to the Prophet s.
He pleases. No one among the
A person dies in that state.
Hence, a person who never heard of the believers has any guarantee

Prophet s, such as someone living in a far of security from divine
off place, and [who] was not made aware
retribution for his or her sins.
of the truthfulness of his claims, is not
accountable.…And some scholars submit-
ted that if the message arrives to someone
in a distorted or false and unappealing
form filled with the errors of those who
lead others astray, then the ruling of such sins. In one transmission considered sound,
a person is the same as though the message Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah inclined toward an
never arrived to him, unless he is able to Annihilationist view, which holds that even-
see through the smokescreen of lies but tually the Fire is extinguished. The heretic
still turns away.38 Jahm b. ßafw¥n also shared this view, and
it is common among some Jewish ethicists.
Ibn Mukandir, one of Imam M¥lik’s teach- Shaykh Mu^yÏ al-DÏn b. al-¢ArabÏ held that
ers and a great scholar from among the eventually the people of the Fire become
~¥bi¢Ïn39 said, “I am shy before God to say fire-like and no longer feel pain but actu-
that His mercy will fail anyone among the ally come to enjoy the Fire.41 It was Imam
se asons | s pri ng 2008 |

disobedient, and had it not been for the al-Ghazz¥lÏ, may God reward him, who
clear revelation concerning the polythe- was able to elucidate an orthodox resolu-
ists, I would not have removed them from tion to the thorny theological problem of
inclusion in the verse, My mercy encompasses theodicy by introducing the element of
all things.” Also, Imam al-Mun¥wÏ quotes conscious rejection of God or any of His
one of the scholars as saying, messengers as the necessary and sufficient
cause for perdition. Indeed, according to
The divine presence is absolute, and al-Ghazz¥lÏ, many people will enter the
God does in it whatever He pleases. No Fire for their various sins that they failed to
one among the believers has any guaran- purge or atone for in this world, but God’s 47
h am za yusuf
mercy will take precedence, and the major- r e l at io n sh ip o f mu sl ims w it h
ity will eventually be freed of the Fire. p e o p l e s o f o t h e r fa it h s
The Qur’an does make mention of those The God of Islam is the God of humanity—
who remain forever in the Fire. Shaykh the God of the Jews, Christians, Sabians,
±asan al-±abannakah al-Mayd¥nÏ says, Magians, and Polytheists. He feeds and
nurtures them all forbearingly and grace-
The Qur’an is unequivocal that the dis- fully. He allows those who even deny His
believers who have no excuse for their existence respite that “perhaps they may re-
disbelief (ghairu al-ma¢dh‰r bi kufrihim) turn.” He has challenged those who believe
are from the denizens of the Fire in the in Him and honor Him to infuse themselves
next life and will dwell therein forever in with the qualities that God has chosen to de-
punishment. Moreover, God will not for- scribe Himself with: mercy, compassion, for-
give them for either their disbelief (kufr) giveness, patience, forbearance, and love.
or their association with Him (shirk), Our Prophet s said, “None of you truly
while He will forgive those among the believes until he loves for his brother what
sinful believers, for God’s mercy will he loves for himself.” Imam al-Naw¥wÏ said
encompass them with forgiveness and in his commentary,
pardon out of divine generosity and
42
grace, if God so wills. This should first and foremost be under-
stood as universal brotherhood so that
The operative phrase here is “those who it includes the Muslim and the non-
have no excuse for their disbelief.” These Muslim (k¥fir). A man should want for
are the people who willfully rejected the his brother, the non-Muslim, that he
truth, like IblÏs, out of arrogance, not igno- enters into a state of submission with
rance. Those who were truly unaware may his Lord. As for his Muslim brother, he
spend time in the Hellfire, but they will should want that his state of submission
eventually be showered in divine grace, as continue. For this reason, praying for the
Imam al-Ghazz¥lÏ indicates. The Qur’an guidance of non-Muslims is beloved and
refers to disbelief accompanied by certain rewarded [by God]. The hadith should
characteristics that indicate the vile nature be understood to negate complete faith
of those who knowingly and willfully reject and not faith itself for the one who does
the message. not love for his brother what he loves for
The Prophet s described the disbeliev- himself. Moreover, the meaning of love
ers in the sound hadith in al-Bukh¥rÏ as the here is that one desires good and benefit
“denizens of the Fire,” saying, “Shall I not for others. This is a spiritual love and
tell you who the denizens of the Fire are?” not a natural love. For human nature is
| sp ring 2008 | s easo ns

His companions replied, “Indeed, tell such that people loathe good or distinc-
us.” tion for others over themselves. But man
He then said, “Every cruel, harsh, puffed must go against this nature and oppose
up, miserly, arrogant one.”43 it and pray for his brother and desire for
In addition, a famous hadith, which is his fellow man what he loves for himself.
the first hadith transmitted to students of And whenever he is unable to do that, it
hadith, states, “Whoever shows no mercy is because he is envious…. So man should
will have no mercy shown [to him].”44 And treat himself and force his ego to be con-
in another sound hadith, a prostitute is for- tent with the decree of God and oppose
48 given for bringing water to a thirsty dog.45 his own ego by praying for his enemies.
46
as the law-bearers, must follow 613 sacred

w h o are th e d i sb eli ev er s?
Only when we reach this level of faith
precepts and are to teach the Gentiles only
and charity that Imam al-NawawÏ describes
seven as a mercy to them. They are: 1)
will our condition change. We are in an
prohibition of blasphemy; 2) prohibition of
oppressed, lowly state because it is where
idolatry; 3) prohibition of murder; 4) pro-
we belong in order to learn the lessons
hibition of theft; 5) prohibition of sexuality
we need to learn. Muslims forget that our
outside marriage including fornication, bes-
Prophet s was persecuted in Mecca for
tiality, and homosexuality; 6) prohibition of
thirteen years, yet he still prayed for his
consumption of blood or meat taken from a
people’s guidance. He was abused on the
live animal; and 7) obligation of establishing
battlefield in U^ud yet still called out to
courts of law and appointment of judges to
his Lord, “O my Lord, forgive my people,
ensure people have recourse to justice and
for they do not know what they do.”47 This
the redress of wrongs. Although filial duty to
should be our response to peoples of other
parents is encouraged, it is not a command-
faiths. Our concern should never be about ment to Gentiles.
where other people are going, nor should
7 K. Kohler, Jewish Theology: Systematically and
we ever desire for others what we do not
Historically Considered (New York: MacMillan,
desire for ourselves. Rather, our concern
1918), 427.
should be the question God asks us all:
“Where then are you going?” 8 Shaykh BakrÏ Rajab, Taw\i^ hid¥yat al-murÏd
il¥ shar^ jawharat al-taw^Ïd (Beirut: D¥r al-
Khayr, 1994), 122.

9 Ab‰ al-±asan ¢AlÏ al-WahidÏ, Asb¥b Nuz‰l
al-Qur’¥n, (Beirut: D¥r al-Kutub al-¢Ilmiyyah,
1998).
notes 10 See TafsÏr al->abarÏ and TafsÏr ibn KathÏr.
1 Ab‰ Bakr b. F‰rak al-I|bah¥nÏ, Kit¥b al-^ud‰d 11 ßa^Ï^ Muslim, Book 20, No. 4573 & 4574.
fÏ al-u|‰l (Beirut: D¥r al-Gharb al-Isl¥mÏ,
12 ßa^Ï^ Muslim, Book 4, No. 2033.
1999), 110.
13 ßa^Ï^ Bukh¥rÏ, Vol. 9, Book 88, No. 6627.
2 Ibid.
14 ßa^Ï^ Bukh¥rÏ, Vol. 8, Book 73, No. 125;
3 Ab‰ al-Baq¥’ al-KaffawÏ, al-KullÏy¥t (Beirut:
ßa^Ï^ Muslim, Book 1, No. 0117.
Mu’assasat al-Ris¥lah, 1993.), 764.
15 ¢Abd al-Ra^m¥n b. Mall‰^, ed. Mas‰¢at na\-
4 This is a nuanced legal judgment based
rat al-na¢Ïm, (Jeddah: D¥r al-Wa|Ïla, 1999),
upon the sound hadith. It does not mean
Vol. 2, 5, 445.
that Muslims cannot accept legal bequests
from non-Muslim relatives; they can. But 16 ßa^Ï^ Bukh¥rÏ, Vol. 4, Book 52, No. 2809 &

they cannot, generally, accept a distribution 2872.
s easo ns | spri ng 2008 |

system in inheritance laws other than the will 17 Sunan al-TirmidhÏ, Vol. 2, Book 1, No. 1446.
of a person, such as state division in intestate 18 Imam al-Qar¥fÏ says in al-Fur‰q, “Know that
situations. Each specific case should, how- ignorance is not an excuse for statements
ever, be referred to a valid mufti. that contain disbelief in them. The reason
5 Ibn Juzayy al-KalbÏ, Tas^Ïl li ¢ul‰m al-tanzÏl, for this is that a juristic principle states, ‘Any
(Beirut: D¥r al-Qalam, n.d.), 2:100. ignorance that can be removed on the part

6 Noahitic laws are those that Gentile nations of the ignorant, sane, adult Muslim cannot

are required to practice. According to some be used as a proof for him.’ God has sent

rabbis, the Jews, who are chosen by God to His creation messengers to remove this 49
ignorance from them. Furthermore, God been presented in an incontrovertible man-
h am za yusuf

obliged all of them to learn the message and ner. It does not mean simply telling them
to act in accordance with it. Hence, whoever they should become a Muslim. One would
abandons learning and right action, and think that just seeing the Prophet s was
remains in a state of ignorance has sinned proof enough, but it took several years
doubly, neglecting to learn, and failing to before some of his companions realized the
act according to the teaching. If he learns truth. Ab‰ La^ab, on the other hand, would
but fails to act, his sin is only the failure to never realize it, and thus his fate was sealed
act on his knowledge. However, whoever from the outset.
learns and acts is the one in a state of grace.” 35 al-Suy‰~Ï, al-±¥wÏ li al-fat¥wÏ, 2:408.
See Shaykh Mu^ammad al-Baqq‰rÏ, TartÏb
36 Imam Ya^y¥ b. Sharaf al-NawawÏ, ßa^Ï^
al-fur‰q wa ikhti|¥rih¥, (Casablanca: al-Awq¥f,
Muslim bi-shar^ al-NawawÏ (Cairo: Ma~ba¢ah
1996), 2:374.
±ij¥zÏ, 1930), Vol. 16, 209.
19 ߥdiq al-Ghiry¥nÏ, FÏ al-¢aqÏdah wa al-minh¥j
37 al-Suy‰~Ï, al-±¥wÏ li al-fat¥wÏ, 2:408.
(Benghazi: D¥r al-Kutub, 2002), 106. The six
conditions were also taken from this section, 38 Shaykh ¢Abd al-KarÏm Tat¥n and Shaykh
an excellent book, with some additions. Mu^ammad AdÏb al-KÏl¥nÏ, Shar^ jawharat
al-taw^Ïd (Damascus: D¥r al-Bash¥’ir, 1994),
20 Reported by al-±amÏdÏ in his Musnad.
1:146.
21 Ibn ¢Abd al-Barr, al-TamhÏd (al-Muhammadi-
39 The second generation of Muslims who met
yyah: al-Matba’ah al-Fadiliyah, 1988).
the companions of the Prophet s but not
22 Oneness of God. the Prophet s.
23 al-KaffawÏ, al-KullÏy¥t, 765. 40 Imam Mu^ammad ¢Abd al-Ra¢‰f al-Mun¥wÏ,
24 Sunun al-TirmidhÏ, Vol. 2, Book 1, No. 1446. Fay\ al-qadÏr (Beirut: D¥r al-Isl¥m, 1996),

25 al-Ghiry¥nÏ, FÏ al-¢aqÏdah, 104. 4:610.

26 Ibn Juzayy al-KalbÏ, Tas^Ïl, 1:484. 41 See al-Janab al-gharbÏ, Rashid Effendi section,
Sulaimaniyya Library Mukhtasaru tadhkir¥t
27 ßa^Ï^ Bukh¥rÏ, Vol. 4, Book 52, No. 2809 &
al-QurtubÏ.
2872.
42 al-Mayd¥nÏ, al-¢AqÏdah al-Isl¥miyyah, 622.
28 Shaykh ¢Abd al-¢Ra^m¥n ±asan al-±aba-
nnakah al-Mayd¥nÏ, al-¢AqÏdah al-Isl¥miyyah 43 ßa^i^ Muslim (Beirut: D¥r I^y¥’ al-Tur¥th

wa Ususuh¥ (Damascus: D¥r al-Qalam, 1997), al-¢ArabÏ, 2000), Vol. 4, No. 9021.

615. 44 ßa^Ï^ Muslim, Book 30, No. 5737.

29 Ab‰ ±¥mid al-Ghazz¥lÏ, Majm‰¢at ras¥’il 45 al-NawawÏ, ßa^Ï^ Muslim bi-shar^ al-NawawÏ
al-Ghazz¥lÏ (Beirut: D¥r al-Kutub al-¢Ilmiyyah, (Cairo: Ma~ba¢ah ±ij¥zÏ, 1930), 14:242.
1994), 96. 46 al-NawawÏ, Shar^ matn al-arba¢Ïn al-Nawawi-
| sp ring 2008 | s easo ns

30 Ibid. yyah (Damascus: Maktabat D¥r al-Fat^, 1970),

31 Ibid., 97. 123.

32 Imam Jal¥l al-DÏn al-Suy‰~Ï, al-±¥wÏ li al-fat¥wÏ 47 ßa^i^ Muslim, Book 19 (Kit¥b al-jih¥d), No.

(Beirut: D¥r al-Kit¥b al-¢ArabÏ, n.d.), 2:409. 4418.

33 Imam Ya^y¥ b. Sharaf al-NawawÏ, Shar^ riy¥\
al-|¥li^Ïn, trans. and commentary, ±¥fi· ßal¥^
al-DÏn Y‰suf (Riyad: Maktabat D¥r al-Sal¥m,
1998), 1:32.

50 34 This means that the proofs of Islam have