The following is a brilliant article by Imam Suhaib Webb on the issue of calling someone a kafir - thus putting someone outside the fold of Islam. This unfortunately is a frequent practise by obnoxious and arrogant youth who patrol the message boards of various Islamic forums. The following is specific to the practise of Takfir -but the ethical and moral guidelines that the Imam describes can be applied to a whole host of situations such as calling someone a munafiq or any other such grave term of moral transgression.
It is imperative that we spread this knowledge around so that some people truly understand the gravity of the statements that they make and just how strict and stringent our jurists and scholars are regarding this matter.
The other day I was out with some of my friends and we started talking about different groups. One of them said that such and such person is a kafir (infidel). Upon hearing this I told him that was not right. In his defense he told me that he heard one of this person’s talks and what he said was nothing but kufar. What do I do?
Bismillah wa salatu wa salamu `ala sayydina rasulillah.
Sadly, this is the case of some in our community. Frank Luntz mentions in What American Think…Really that 90% of Americans think they are smarter than other Americans. Unfortunately, it seems that arrogance like this transcends faith and falls into our community as well.
Takfir (declaring apostasy) is not an easy affair. Just like any ruling it has certain conditions that, if not present, will prevent the ruling, in this case disbelief, from occurring.
Here are some of those conditions:
- Declaring apostasy cannot be based on probability, meaning if there is a chance that a person may not be a kafir. Imam Malik said, “If I have 99 reasons to believe a person is a kafir and one to believe he is not, I’ll prefer the latter.”
- Takfir is made regarding things that are known by default, like God being one and the finality of prophethood. The Malikis listed 33 issues that fall under the heading, malum min al-din bi al-Dururrah.
- Takfir cannot be based on following an opinion (ijtihad) of a scholar in fiqh (legal verdict). There is not a kafir in fiqh because fiqh implies knowledge of things beyond the average person’s scope. For that reason a person is not declared a kafir who makes tawassul (praying to Allah through an intermediary). Imam Ahmed said, “We do not declare such people as kuffar.”
- Takfir cannot be based on a sincere attempt to interpret or understand a text. Allah subhanahu wa ta`la (Exalted is He) mentions the followers of Christ saying, “Can God send a table from the heavens?” This is a statement of kufur but they were excused because it was a sincere question and an effort to understand.
- Takfir cannot be based on actions that are due to ignorance. In the Qur’an we find the followers of Musa alayhi assalam saying, “Make for us idols to worship like they (the people of Egypt) had.” Musa’s response was, “You are an ignorant people.” He did not say that you are a kuffar. This verse servers as the foundation for the axiom “Al-’Uthru bi Jahl” (Ignorance is excused).
- Takfir can only be made on an act of pure worship coupled with an intention that is clear kufur. Al-Dhahabi said, “If I saw a Muslim making sujud to a grave, I would not declare takfir until I talked to him.”
- Takfir cannot be made upon an action that was done under the threat of harm. Allah (swt) says, “Except for the one who was forced (to say kufur) and his heart was full of faith.”
- Takfir cannot be made upon an act that was an emotional burst. The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) said that the man who lost his camel in the desert and later found it, said, “God! You are my servant and I am your Lord.” The Prophet ﷺ did not say this man was a kafir even though the statement is kufur. Ibn Hajar notes that this man was overcome with joy, so his statement was an abbreviation.
- Just because someone’s group is not from Ahl-Sunna does not mean they are kafir. For that reason the companions prayed janazah (funeral prayer) for the khawarij. They did not collect the spoils of war from them, but gave it to the deceased’s family according to the Islamic rules on inheritance. Ibn Taymiyya says that this proves the companions considered them Muslims.
- Making takfir of others without knowledge is a major sin.
- There is no takfir for major sins (only in certain situations).
- Takfir is to be made, in most cases, by a Qadi and not a lay person or even a mufti as noted by Khalil. The reason for this is because, in the classical age, this implied a loss of rights. Secondly, a lay person accusing another of kufur falls under qathf, a major sin.
Allah (swt) knows best.