Saturday, 7 December 2013

Ibn Katir: Defining Kufr

Assalamu'alaikum wa rahmatullah

This simple word is not really easy to be explained because it is a technical term in our jurisprudence. This term is closely connected to the word takfir which would be translated into English as excommunication or the act of accusing others as infidel especially in the same larger religious body. In the beginning, they declare each other as heretical and later they accuse each other as infidels. I am holding a great burden now while typing this matter because I really hate to listen to fitnas which circulating around me... I am trying to write in the spirit of seeking Muslim clerics all over the world to please... please... think with clear mind when giving out jurisdictions and explain things without distorting anything or you will be held responsible for the sins of the "Jewish cohens and Christian priests!!!" Be among those humble servants of the God who spread the mercy to the universe and those who lead to salvation! Do not be the violence tormenting the creatures of the God and leading them to the "hell-fire" and the pit of darkness!


Before I am going further into this topic, I would like to put up a historical event in Kerala which is a state in South India. Our fourth prime minister, Mahathir Muhammad Iskandar is a son of a Malabari man and of course Malabar is a long coast of Kerala state which faces the Arabian Sea. The history of Southern Thailand (Kra Isthmus), Indochina and Northern Malayan Peninsula was closely related to the advent of Brahmanism-Buddhism from the land and maritime routes since BC and it is not surprising at all when we check the link between natives in these areas with people of Western, Southern and Eastern India even until today. 

The historical incident around 15th century Kerala was not so pleasant where there were clashes between local Christian community with Portuguese up to the Coonan Cross allegiance where the local Christians alleged not to submit themselves to Portuguese ecclesiastical authority. There were ancient Christian community of Kerala who still exist until today and they were known as the Saint Thomas Christians. They had experienced various splits where some of them adopted the rites of different Churches such as the Jacobites Church, the Eastern Syriac Church (Oriental Orthodoxy) and some in the north who were in communion with the Roman Catholic Church of Europe in these recent. All of these Church bodies actually excommunicated each other. Much like the Sunni Muslims excommunicated the Shia Muslims and so on. History of Kerala state in 15th century could be accessed from Muslim literature known as Tuhfat al-Mujahidīn by Sheikh Zainuddin Makhdum. It was written in Arabic but translated later into English. For Malaysians, you could find this book from your local bookstores such as Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka (DBP) and others. The book was made available in English by Muhammad Nainar.  

I have heard a young religious teacher, maybe he associated himself with particular religious group affiliation who talk in the musalla about Shi'ism and he told everyone about his experience stepping inside a Shi'a Muslim mosque in Iraq and just before the prayer service begin, he walked out as he realized that he was in a "wrong" mosque. I am not trying to be in the side of the Shi'a Muslims nor supporting some of them who went over the board by cursing others as if they are holier but I personally think that this attitude of excommunicating each other resembles what happened in Christian communities... While there are some Muslims who recite the exegesis that Muslims should not be like the Christians (the deflected for going over the board in religion) nor Jews (the ones who were stamped with the wrath of the God for too much pride) but they are the ones who behave like the examples given in the Quran. And I do not look at those Christians and Jews with the view of "otherness". They are our brethren... They live in the same realm with us in the deeds earth. They are human-beings who share the same characteristics like us and they are our mirrors. They reflect ourselves! When I read the history of European Middle Ages, I could actually see the attitude of those backward people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and even parts of Middle East.

When we recite the Quran, it is Him who speaks with us. He is talking to us through the Words and does not talking to other who do not recite the Quran (al-Kitāb). What does that mean? What each one of us understood from the term, "insight"? Insight is a terminological word. Maybe we are so much into complicated matters that we had forgotten the simple ones.     

Definition of Kufr

This is just a definition for the word كُفر kufr and this word is the root word for kafir, mokaffir and takfir. Maybe there are many sections in religious books or even sites in virtual world explained about this but I am compiling this for my material in this site. 

Literally, the word kufr means closing. Technically as in our jurisprudence term, it refers to disbelieving the God the Highest and His messengers either by intentionally mocking them or without any intention to mock them. For example, a Muslim is a kufr when he mock Jesus the Christ although he is not a Christian. A Muslim who mocks anything about Moses the prophet or any other prophet is a kufr although he is a non-Jewish person. Because both Jesus the Christ and Moses the prophet are the prophets respected within our faith (Six Articles of Faith). Of course those who disbelieve the prophethood of Muhammad s.a.w are non-Muslims although they believe in the God the Highest as the prophethood is concluded within the Glorious Quran in the Revelation and His words articulated through his tongue and the light illuminated through his heart. Basically, kufr is a great disobedience to the God the Highest. It is an opposite to the Faith. Faith is to accept perfectly the Revelation revealed to the noble prophet Muhammad s.a.w while Kufr is its rejection.

Cognate Word

In Arabic sister languages for example, Hebrew... Kufr for them has several meanings with different vowel prolongation. For example, it means the price of life as in כפר נפש kofer nefesh. It is mentioned in the Sefer Shemot (Torah) 30:11-16 that the God the Highest commanded to Moses that every man of the Children of Israel when reaching 20 years old shall give the ransom for their soul as an offering unto the Lord half a Shekel after the shekel of the holy sanctuary. An half Shekel shall be the offering the Lord of the Holy Sanctuary in the Land of Cana'an and another to the holy sanctuary for the service of tabūt (tabernacle) of the congregation as the memorial for the atonement of souls of the Children of Israel. The word could also be articulated in Hebrew as Kūfer can also mean an unbeliever. 

The basic meaning of this word in Hebrew is "atonement" of the soul where one pays some price to the holy sanctuary as a memorial service that they should pray for their sins to be forgiven and pray for their soul to be saved by the God the Highest. There are heretics withing Judaism jurisprudence system and one of them who was considered as heretic was Jesus the Christ... By the way, the cognate system of Sharia within Orthodox Judaism which evolved from the Parushim branch of Jewish people during Roman conquest, is known as the Halacha.

Types of Kufr

There are two kinds of kufr where one is the denial of the Faith and the second is a denial of  a branch of the branches of the Path. Kufr as what has been explained by Ibn Katir in his Quranic exegesis is divided into two kinds of it. The Quran uses the word kufr to denote a person who covers up or hides realities, one who refuses to accept the dominion and authority of the God the Highest. The dominion and authority of the God the Highest is not the dominion of "Muslims"! I had seen some misleading placards displayed in demonstrations across Europe and that is subjectively incorrect! Muslims are not the ones who dominate the Earth nor anyone who is identified as the "creatures". The dominion is of the Creator who creates the universe and the Lord of the universe, who controls the judgement in the hereafter and who resurrects the soul.  

The types of kufr are of the major and minor ones....

Major Kufr

1. Kufr al-'Inād which is a kind of disbelief due to stubbornness. It applies to someone who knows the Turth and admits to know the Truth, and knowing it with his tongue but he refuses to accept it and refrains from making a declaration of faith. The God the Highest will be saying to the angels of the hell, "Throw those obstinate disbelievers into the hell" (Surah Qaf 50:24).

2. Kufr al-Ikār. Disbelief out of denial. This applies to someone who denies with both heart and tongue. The God the Highest says, "They recognize the favors of the God, yet they deny them. Most of them are disbelievers" (Surah al-Nahl 16:83).

3. Kufr al-Kibr. Disbelief happens due to arrogance and pride of one self or identification of certain mental state to one self (egoism). The example of this state of disbelief is of the Devil

4. Kufr al-Juhūd. Disbelief out of rejection. This applies to someone who acknowledges the Truth in his heart but rejects it with his tongue. This state of kufr is applicable to those who call themselves Muslims! But they reject any one of the obligations of Islam mentioned within the traditional Articles of Islam for e.g compulsory daily salat services and tithe for the sanctification of one's treasure which is given to the poor according to certain conditions prescribed within the jurisprudence. The God the Highest says which means, "They denied them (the signs) even though their hearts admitted them, out of injustice and haughtiness" (Surah al-Naml 27:14).

5. Kufr al-Nifāq. Disbelief due to hypocrisy. This applies to someone who pretends to be a believer but conceals his disbelief. Such a person is known as a hypocrite. The God the Highest says, "Verily the hypocrites will be in the lowest depths of the Hell. You will find no one to help them" (Surah al-Nisā' 4:145)."That is because they believed (outer), and then they disbelieved (inner), so their hearts were sealed over (because of their choice), and they do not understand"  (Surah al-Munafiqun 63:3).

6. Kufr al-Istihāl. Disbelief out of bend things to legalize illegal matters due to his own like or dislike. This applies to someone who accepts as lawful those which the God the Highest had clearly made unlawful through the Revelation such as alcohol or adultery. Only the God the Highest has the prerogative to make things lawful or unlawful and those who seek to interfere with His right are like rivals to Him. Therefore they fall outside the boundaries of the faith to Him.

7. Kufr al-Kur. Disbelief out of detesting any of the commands of the God the Highest. The God the Highest says which means, "Destruction has been consigned to those who disbelieve and He will render their actions void. This is because they are averse to that which the God has revealed so He has made their actions fruitless" (Surah Muhammad 47:8-9).

8. Kufr al-Istihzaha. Disbelief due to mockery and derision. The God the Highest says, "Was it at the God, His signs and His messengers that you were mocking? Make no excuses! You have disbelieved after you have believed" (Surah al-Tawbah 9:65-66).

9. Kufr al-Irādh. Disbelief due to avoidance. This applies to those who turn away and avoid the Truth revealed through Muhammad s.a.w. The God the Highest says, "And who is more unjust than he who is reminded of his Lord's signs but then turns away from them. Then he forgets what he has sent forward (for the Day of Judgement)" (Surah al-Kahfi 18:57).  

10. Kufr al-Estibdāl. Disbelief due to trying to substitute the Order of the God the Highest. This could take form of...

a. Rejection of the law of the God the Highest which is broadly termed as the Shari'a (the Path) without denying it.  

b. Denial of the Shari'a and therefore rejecting it.

c. Substituting the Shari'a with other laws. 

d. Substituting the Shari'a for man-made laws. The God the Highest says, "Or have they partners with the God the Highest who have instituted for them a religion which the God has not allowed" (Surah al-Shurā 42:8). He says, "Say not concerning that which your tongues put forth falsely (that) is lawful and this is forbidden so as to invent a lie against the God. Verily, those who invent a lie against the God will never prosper" (Surah al-Nahl 16:116).

Avoid assuming that our knowledge about the particular topic such as Shari'a is the ultimate one especially when we get it from newspapers' article or blogosphere since people are of different backgrounds and motives. I was a student of Islamic educational system and in the same time, I was also informally educated at Buddhist monasteries when I walked for the Buddhist monasteries and holy sanctuaries (dharmyatra) as I was a confused little boy. I took Shari'a as a major subject during my A-Level paper and it was divided into the Usūluddīn and the Shari'a.

Minor Kufr

Minor kufr does not make a Muslim who commits it or being in the state as a non-Muslim. It refers to false actions which have been committed by a person when his heart and intellectual faculties were in the darkness. It is termed as Kufr al-'Amaly.

Kufr al-'Amaly are the sins which is mentioned in the Quran and the traditions as the sins of kufr but are not reaching the level of the major ones. An example for this is killing other beings as such mentioned by the noble prophet Muhammad s.a.w in a hadith, "A Muslim who abuse another Muslim has committed an act of evil and a Muslim who killed another Muslim has committed an act of kufr". Noble prophet Muhammad s.a.w also mentions, "Never behave like the infidels as some of you will massacre the other after I am departing". This already happened where we could see some mentally ill people had bombed others whom they do not agree with such as in Syria, in Iraq, in Pakistan and also in Saudi Arabia as examples. I keep the whole reports about the incidents from various news sources and I am extremely sad when I ponder the hadith of prophet Muhammad s.a.w!

However, there is also a mention that a Muslim who commit major sins such as killing other beings is still a believer and the God says which means, "O believers, it is obliged upon you with the qiā with regard to those who were killed" (al-Baqarah 2:178). And try to relate this with the meaning posed at the cognate word in Hebrew above. The God the Highest brings out those who kill others among the believers, and even linked them to the guardian and the beneficiary of the victim where the beneficiary of the victim has the right over the qiā or retribution. The Muslim who killed other Muslims is still deemed as a Muslim and the brother to those who were victimized (Surah al-Hujurat 49:9-10).    

Then, there is the term of Kufr al-Ni'mah which is the state of denial of the grace of the God the Highest upon His creatures. From the basic ones to elaborate ones. This is mentioned in the Surah al-Nahl 83 which means, "They recognize the favours of the God the Highest. Yet they deny them; and most of them are ungrateful (beings)". In this sense, these kind of beings are known as ingrates and this is the translation of kafir for the beings who are in this state.

Swearing in the names other than the God the Highest is also counted as an act of kufr which will lead one to infidelity state. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w says in a hadith, "Whoever swears in the names other than the God the Highest thus he is a polytheist and a disbeliever". 

For Shari'a students, I believe that we have to study more on Human Rights, Activism and also International Law for comparative studies. Nowadays are not like those days in the past and we have to keep track with issues around the world. I myself studied International Law, Continental European Law and also British Common Law. My supervisor for the thesis that I had done was a Common Law attorney. Other than that, history is a basic science that one needs as a tool if they wanted to be involved in Shari'a discourses. You have to be a museum kind of person, haha.  


There are differences between the major and minor kufr.....

Major Kufr

The person who commits the acts which makes him fallen into this state is excluded from the Path of Islam. His previous meritorious deeds would automatically be invalid. He shall forever being damned in the hell. 

His blood is legal (capital punishment) and his possession is also legal provided that "if" he poses threats to other believers such as trying to attack the believers, committing acts of ill-intentions to believers or harming believers just like what happened to other criminals. 

There should be no relationship between a Muslim with a Muslim who turns to be a disbeliever in this sense of major kufr although he is a close family and provided that if he pose threats to believing Muslims.

Minor Kufr

The person who commits the sins are still believers and a Muslim. His previous meritorious deeds are valid but it will affect his merit as according to the gravity of his sin. The criminal is still exposed to threats. He is not subjected to be forever in the hell or the God the Highest would provide salvation for Him as according to His mercy that he could avoid the hell and this is also depend to his deeds. This is not for a person to day dreaming and thinking that he would be free from the hell since he claims that he is a Muslim. The God the Highest is not "stupid" and never look down to Him! He is watching our thought and deeds in every angle. 

There is no prohibition as according to jurisprudence term for other Muslims to be loyal to the Muslim who commits crimes or loving him as according to the degree of his faith or for him to be hated as according to the degree of his vice. The same thing also being spoken about the major and minor polytheism. 


These are among those which I am able to compile and the main focus is the Muslim ourselves. This post is more to an attempt to find specific definition for the term, kufr which is the root word for other derivations such as kafir, takfir, mokaffir and so on. Terminologies are important and many bad things that happened around us are due to that we are trapped in terminologies. So, the first step for us to understand things around us is through the understanding of terminologies and words. 

God the Highest says which means, "It is those who believe not in the Signs of the God the Highest, that forge falsehood: it is they who lie!" (Surah al-Nahl 16:105). Noble prophet Muhammad said, "Whoever says something which I have never said, thus be ready to take place in the hell" (al-Zahabi in al-Kaba'ir). This is so much a warning for everyone of us to be very careful with our thought, speech and actions. 

There are many layers of the "Sunnah" as recorded in the history so why not we practice all of those traditions? While we are hapless, penniless and without any support from around then we practice the "Sunnah" while prophet Muhammad s.a.w in the beginning of Revelation to him and the transmission of the Revelation through da'awa in patience and perseverance. If we are deprived then move out from the condition or situation. Move out to the better ones.   

If we are capable and reaching certain strength thus practice noble morality of the prophet Muhammad s.a.w and it is also his "Sunnah". He returned to Holy Mecca after 10 years living there and transmitting the teachings to people around just to clean his hometown from polytheism without judging those who committed polytheism there. The most highest teaching related to the Oneness of the God the Highest is noble morality and it is the one which attracts the heart of commoners everywhere because it is based of the love and devotion for Him! We cannot win people mind and heart with violence and so try to check closely the sīrah of the prophet Muhammad s.a.w may we get benefit and guidance from his life.  

"O my God, I am not worth for Your paradise. But Your hell is also unbearable for me. We are Your servants seeking mercy compassionate from You. Dear the God the Highest, make us the servants who fear from being forsaken by You. Forgive us our sins, forgive us our parents and forgive the whole nations and our brethren either those who are still living or have gone!"     

Sealed with prayers for mercy, peace and love, amin!

1 comment:

  1. “Sesungguhnya orang-orang yang kufur ingkar kepada ayat-ayat keterangan Kami, Kami akan membakar mereka dalam api Neraka. Tiap-tiap kali kulit mereka masak hangus, Kami gantikan untuk mereka kulit yang lain supaya mereka dapat merasa azab sengsara itu dan (ingatlah) sesungguhnya Allah adalah Maha Kuasa, lagi Maha Bijaksana.”
    ( Surah An-Nisa’ : Ayat 56 )

    May Allah protect us from being Kufr person.btw,Jazakallah khair for the ilm :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...