Disbelief
(kufr)

Muzaffar Iqbal and Csaba Okvath

Disbelief in this entry translates the noun kufr, from the trilateral root k-f-r, which carries the basic meaning of covering (satr) and hiding (taghṭiya). The early linguists Ibn Fāris (d. 395/1004) and Abū-l-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Ismāʿīl ibn Sīda (398-458/1007-1066) define kufr as “the antonym (ḍidd and naqīḍ, respectively) of faith (īmān), so called because it conceals Truth” (Maqāyīs and Muḥkam, sub k-f-r). Thus kufr means denial, concealment, disbelief, and ingratitude, opposing īmān’s germane meanings of trustfulness and confirmation (Azharī, Tahdhīb). Lexicographers also mention another nominal form of Syriac etymology, not used in the Qurʾān, with a fatḥa over the initial kāf (“kafr”), meaning “village” (qarya) (Tahdhīb; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān).

Definitions

The Nishapuri exegete Abū-l-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Aḥmad al-Wāḥidī (d. 468/1075) quotes the linguist Abū Yūsuf Yaʿqūb b. al-Sikkīt’s (d. 245/859) treatment of the word kufr as an example of how linguistic meanings extend to technical usage:

[A disbeliever (kāfir) is] anyone who hides something, [that is,] conceals it (kafarahu); for this reason the night is called kāfir, because it hides everything with its darkness. Therefore, a kāfir is so-called because he hides the blessing of Allah Most High (inʿāma-Llāhi taʿālā), which is guidance and Signs that are obvious to people of discernment (bānat li-dhawī-l-tamyīz): that Allah is One, He has no partner. Whosoever does not accept this and denies it, has disbelieved in the blessing [of guidance]: that is, he has concealed and covered it. (Wasīṭ, sub Q 2:6)

Abū Manṣūr al-Azharī (282-370/895-980) says, “they disbelieve” (kafarū) means “they disobey (ʿaṣaw) and refrain (imtanaʿū) [from belief and obedience]; it also means ‘denial of blessings’ (kufr al-niʿma)—which is the antonym of gratitude (shukr)” (Tahdhīb). The lexicographer Ibn Manẓūr (630-711/1233-ca.1312) enumerates various types of disbelief:

Some scholars classify disbelief into four types: (i) disbelief of denial (kufr al-inkār), which lies both in the heart and upon the tongue (i.e., one who neither has faith nor proclaims it); (ii) disbelief of refusal (kufr al-juḥūd), which is that of one who knows the truth in his heart, but his tongue does not confirm it, like the disbelief of Satan and that of Umayya b. Abī-l-Ṣalt, and about this type of kufr is the saying of the Most High, but when there came to them that which they recognized, they disbelieved in it; so the curse of Allah is upon the disbelievers (Q 2:89); (iii) disbelief of enmity (kufr al-muʿānada), when both the heart and the tongue acknowledge the Truth, but the person does not follow it due to envy, like the behavior of Abū Jahl (al-Azharī adds: but the person refused to accept [faith], like the disbelief of Abū Ṭālib); and (iv) the disbelief of hypocrisy (kufr al-nifāq), when someone approves by his tongue, but his heart disbelieves. (Lisān; apparently based on Azharī, Tahdhīb)

Ibn Manẓūr cites a letter written by the early exegete and eminent Reciter Saʿīd b. Jubayr (d. 95/713) in response to a question regarding disbelief by the fifth Umayyad ruler, Abū-l-Walīd ʿAbd al-Malik b. Marwān (26-86/646-705, r. 685-705):

Disbelief has several aspects: disbelief is shirk, that is, when someone takes deities beside Allah; disbelief [is to disbelieve] in the Book of Allah and His Messenger; disbelief [is committed] by ascribing a son to Allah; [then, there is the] disbelief of fabricating Islam (muddaʿy al-Islām), that is, committing actions which do not have any authorization from Allah (bi-ghayr ma anzala Llāh), and to seek to work corruption on earth, and to kill an inviolable person without right. [Kufr] manifests in deeds in two ways: one is denial of the favors and blessings of Allah; the other is belying Allah (al-takdhīb bi-Llāh). In the Mighty Revelation: Verily, those who have believed then disbelieved, then believed, then disbelieved, and then increased in disbelief—Allah will never forgive them (Q 4:137). (Lisān)

Al-Rāghib al-Aṣfahānī (d. ca.502/1108) identifies three types of kufr as the “greatest forms of disbelief”: denying the Oneness of Allah (juḥūd al-waḥdāniyya), the Sharīʿa (Sacred Law), and prophethood (al-nubuwwa) (Mufradāt). Majd al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Yaʿqūb al-Fayrūzābādī (d. 817/1414) expands the thematic links:

The greatest disbelief is the denial of Divine Oneness (al-waḥdāniyya), prophethood (al-nubuwwa), and the Law (al-Sharīʿa); an absolute disbeliever is one who denies all of these (wal-kāfir mutaʿārif muṭlaqan fī-man yujḥidu l-jamīʿ). (…) His words And be not the first to disbelieve therein (Q 2:41) mean “be not leaders in disbelief (aʾimmatu fī-l-kufr), so that people imitate you.” And He said, But whoever disbelieves after that, they are the transgressors (fāsiqūn) (Q 24:55): in this sense, a disbeliever is the one who conceals the Truth, which is why he is called a fāsiq. Although it is well-known that absolute disbelief is greater than fisq, the implication here is that he who denies Allah’s claim has transgressed the command of his Lord through this wrongdoing (ẓulmihi). Thus every praiseworthy deed is ascribed to belief and every blameworthy deed to disbelief (wa kullu madhmūm ilā-l-kufr). (Baṣāʾir, Baṣīra fī-l-kufr)


Technical Definitions

The need to precisely define belief and disbelief gained critical importance during the second and third centuries of Islam as the Mutakallimūn (practitioners of kalām, dialectical theology), jurists and exegetes grappled with the contested question of the juridical status of a believer who commits one of the great sins, collectively referred to as enormities. Is such a person within the fold of Islam or has he become a disbeliever? What if he repents sincerely? (See more on such questions further below).

The eponym of the Muʿtazilī movement, Wāṣil b. ʿAṭāʾ al-Ghazzāl (80-131/700-748), famously said, “I do not say that the perpetrator of a great sin is a believer in an absolute sense, nor is he a disbeliever. He is rather in a state between these two states (fī manzilatin bayna-l-manzilatayn); neither believer, nor disbeliever.” He also held that belief is an expression of traits of virtue (khiṣāl khayr). If these are gathered in a man, he is called a believer (muʾmin), which is a noun of praise (ism madḥ). The evildoer (fāsiq) cannot unite traits of virtue in himself, so he does not deserve such a name—thus he cannot be called a believer, yet nor can he be said to be a disbeliever, due to his testimony of faith (shahāda) and other good deeds. If he dies with a great sin without repenting, he belongs to the people of Fire, for in the Hereafter there are only two types of people: one group in Paradise, and one group in Hellfire (Shahrastānī, Milal, al-Wāṣiliyya). (also see, Ashʿarī, Maqālāt, al-firqat al-thāniya ʿashara min al-murjiʾa: al-Karrāmiyya; cf. Baghdādī, Farq, al-faṣl al-sābiʿ fī dhikr maqālāt al-karrāmiyya).

Abū-l-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī (260-324/874-936), eponym of the great school of theology, defines belief as confirmation (taṣdīq) of Allah and of His Messengers, upon them peace, in their words (fī akhbārihim), and this confirmation does not become true (ṣaḥīḥ) except by knowledge (maʿrifa); disbelief, according to him, is denial (takdhīb) [of Allah and His Messengers] (Baghdādī, Uṣūl, al-aṣl al-thānī ʿashar, al-masʾalat al-ūlā, p. 248-49).

Among the emerging sects, the Murjiʾa (Murjites, lit. “those who postponed”) had “twelve different groups based on [their different definitions of] belief and… seven different groups based on [their different definitions of] disbelief. The first group said, belief (al-īmān) is belief in Allah, it is merely knowledge of Allah, His Messengers, and all that has come from Allah, without necessitating [simultaneous] attestation with the tongue, or the submission of the heart, having love of Allah and His Messenger, or awe and fear for them, or [righteous] deeds with the limbs, and they considered disbelief to be simply the denial of Allah, which is ignorance of Allah (al-jahl)…they believed that disbelief has only one specific characteristic (khaṣla wāḥida), it is in the heart and it means ignorance of Allah (al-jahl bi-Llāhi); these are the Jahmia (jahmites)…The second group believed, “disbelief has numerous characteristics; it is both in and out of the heart; ignorance of Allah is disbelief and it is in the heart, and likewise loathing and arrogance [against] Allah (al-bughḍ liLlāh wal-istikbār ʿalayhi), denial of Allah and His Messengers wether in the heart or by the tongue, disregard for Allah and His Messenger, leaving the pure monotheism (tarak al-tawḥīd), belief in duality and trinity is disbelief….The twelfth group among the Murjiʾa is Karrāmiyya, the followers of [Abū ʿAbdullāh] Muḥammad b. Karrām [d. 255/869], who believed verbal utterance and attestation to be sufficient, thus belief for them is the “acknowledgment (iqrār) and verbal confirmation (taṣdīq bi-l-lisān), without [needing any approval by] the heart (…) they held that disbelief in Allah is denial and disavowal exclusively by the tongue” (Ashʿarī, Maqālāt, Ikhtilāfuhum fī taḥdīd al-kufr).

Over time, different groups of Murjiʾa gained new names—such as al-Ghīlāniya, al-Najjāriya, al-Karrāmiyya, often based on the person who spelled out the difference—but in general they were the antithesis of the Khawārij (Kharijites), who held the extreme view that serious sinners are in the eternal Fire forever and outside the pale of Islam and Muslim community and thus jihād should be declared against them (Ashʿarī, Maqālāt, maqālāt al-khawārij, passim).

The mainstream jurists, however, exercised great caution in delineating the applicability of kufr as a legal term (iṣṭilāḥ sharʿī). The great Ḥanbalī jurist and Hadith scholar Ibn Baṭṭa al-ʿUkbarī (304-387/917-997) says, “Anyone who negates, by way of denial and belying (ʿalā sabīl al-juḥūd lahā wal-takdhīb bihā), anything from among the religious obligations (farāʾiḍ) prescribed by Allah in His Book or confirmed by the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, in his Sunna, is a disbeliever (kāfir)” (Ibāna, Bāb bayān al-īmān). His contemporary Abū Hilāl al-ʿAskarī (d. ca.395/1005) distinguished the term disbelief (kufr) from atheism (ilḥāḍ) and polytheism (shirk). Although these are sometimes taken as synonyms, he explains in his al-Furūq al-lughawiyya (“Linguistic Differences”),

Disbelief (kufr) is a noun that applies to various kinds of sins, among these association with Allah (al-shirk bi-Llāh), denial of prophethood, and making lawful what Allah has prohibited; this latter can be traced back to the denial of prophethood. (bāb 18, farq bayn al-kufr wal-ilḥāḍ)

He comments further:

Disbelief has several characteristics (khiṣāl) (…). Every one of its characteristics opposes a characteristic of belief (imān), such that when a slave acts upon one of the characteristics of disbelief, he annuls one of the characteristics of belief. Polytheism (al-shirk) is only one such trait. It is [believing in] deities other than Allah, that is, [ascribing divinity to] other than Allah, and its etymology can be traced back to this meaning. Then [this usage] became prevalent and every kind of disbelief was called shirk due to His Glorification, and by way of amplifying the characteristics [of shirk].

Originally, kufr refers to denial of blessings (kufr al-niʿma); its antonym is gratitude. The antonym of disbelief in Allah is belief (al-īmān). Thus, the one who annuls belief is called a disbeliever (kāfir), for he nullifies the rights of Allah and [the rights of] all of His favors for which he should be grateful. It is in this way that he is in the same state as the one who denies them. In reality, the antonym of association with Allah (shirk) is sincere devotion (al-ikhlāṣ) (rather than belief in general). Later, when [kufr] was used for all kinds of disbelief, belief was used as its antonym. But it is not permitted to use the noun kufr except [to describe] one who denies the favors of Allah (al-jāḥid li-niʿami-Llāh)…. This is a juridical term (ismun sharʿī), just as belief is a juridical term. (bāb 18, farq bayn al-kufr wal-shirk)

The Andalusian polymath Abū Muḥammad ʿAlī ibn Aḥmad ibn Saʿīd ibn Ḥazm (384-456/994-1064) sets stringent conditions for the term’s technical use: Disbelief is “an attribute (ṣifa) of the one who rejects something from that in which Almighty Allah has enjoined belief, after its proof has reached him through the conveying of the Truth to him. [Disbelief] can either be realized in the heart, without the tongue [proclaiming it]; or by the tongue without the heart [disbelieving it]; or by both of them [together]” (Iḥkām, Fī-l-alfāẓ).

The celebrated Andalusian Mālikī jurist, al-Qāḍī Abū-l-Faḍl ʿIyāḍ b. Mūsā (476/1088-544/1149) states, “We categorically assign disbelief to everyone who belies and denies even a single principle from among the principles of Law (qawāʿid al-sharʿ) and from among what has been transmitted through continuous transmission (bil-naql al-mutawātir)” (Shifā, Faṣl fī bayān mā huwa min al-maqālāt kufr).

The Mālikī legal theoretician al-Qarāfī (d. 684/1285) says, “Disbelief can be traced back to a specific violation (intihāk khāṣṣ) of the inviolability of the divinity (ḥurmat al-rubūbiyya), committed either by ignorance of the Creator’s existence (bi-wujūdi-l-Ṣāniʿ) or of His Sublime Attributes or by denying what is known necessarily about the religion (bi-l-ḍarūra)” (Anwār, Al-farq al-ḥādī wa-l-arbaʿūn wa-l-miʾatān).

Ibn Taymiyya (661-728/1263-1328) says, “Indeed, disbelief is lack of belief (ʿadam al-īmān) in Allah and in His Messengers, be it accompanied by [outwardly] belying (takdhīb) or not. [It is] doubt (shakk), uncertainty (rayb), turning away from these due to envy (ḥasadan) or arrogance (kibran), or following fancies (al-ahwāʾ), which can turn one away from the Message” (Majmūʿat 1:118, suʾila ʿan kalām al-nās wa ghayrihim qadīm).

In his discussion on the legal status of one who abandons practicing the ritual prayer, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (691-751/1292-1350) says the matter can only be fully comprehended if the reality (ḥaqīqa) of belief and disbelief is understood. These are two opposing states (mutaqābilān); when one departs, the other follows:

This is why it is said that belief (īmān) has a trunk (aṣl) and many branches, and every branch is [also] called belief. Thus obligatory prayer (ṣalāt) is from belief, and likewise zakāt, Hajj, fasting, and hidden [actualization of] deeds, such as modesty (al-ḥayāʾ), reliance on Allah (al-tawakkul), awe of Allah (al-khashya mina-Llāh), and returning to Him repentantly (al-ināba ilayhi). (...) Disbelief (al-kufr) likewise has a trunk and branches, and as all branches of belief belong to belief, all branches of disbelief belong to disbelief. As modesty is a branch of belief, lack of modesty (qillat al-ḥayāʾ) is a branch of disbelief. As truthfulness is from the branches of belief, lying is from the branches of disbelief. The prescribed prayer, zakāt, Hajj, and fasting are all from the branches of belief; abandoning them is from the branches of disbelief. Judging by that which was revealed by Allah is a branch of belief; judging by that which was not revealed by Allah is a branch of disbelief. All acts of disobedience (al-maʿāṣī) are from the branches of disbelief, just as all acts of obedience belong to the branches of belief. (…) Branches of disbelief are divided into those which manifest through speech (al-qawliyya) and [those which manifest] through deeds (al-fiʿliyya). Anyone willingly pronouncing the word of disbelief (kalmia-tul-kufr ikhtiyāran) is a disbeliever; likewise anyone who commits an action from a branch of disbelief—such as prostrating in submission to an idol or despising a codex of the Qurʾān—is a disbeliever. This is the principle. (Kitāb al-ṣalāt, Ḥaqīqatu-l-īmān wa-l-kufr)


Usage

Derivatives of the triliteral root k-f-r occur 525 times in the Qurʾān, in 14 derived forms.: The Perfect and imperfect verbal forms —both perfect (kafara, kafartu, kafarta, kafarat, kafartum, kafarnā, kafarū) and imperfect (akfuru, takfur, takfurū, takfurūna, takfurūni, nakfuru, yakfuru, yakfurū, yakfurūna, akfur, ukfurū, kufira, yukfaru) types—are usedappear 289 times,. The participial forms (masculine singular, kāfir—disbeliever— x27 and plurals kāfirūn, kuffār, and kafarat x129; the); feminine singular kāfira x1, kāfira, once in Q 3:13, There is a sign for you in the two armies which met—one fighting in the way of Allah and another disbelieving; the masculine plurals are: kāfirūn, kuffār, and al-kafaratu (x129), the last named appearing only once in Q 80:42.and  The feminine plural form kawāfir  x1) accounting for the bulk of the restis also used only once Q 60:10, and do not hold to the marriage bonds with disbelieving women. Kaffār, the emphatic form, from the root is usedoccurs five times (Q 2:276;, 14:34;, 39:3;, 50:24;, 71:27).

The verbal noun “kufr  appears with different inflections and with different attached pronominal suffixes 37 times).  Two opinions exist regard the word akfara, used only once in the phrase mā akfara (Q 80:17): (i) it is “mā akfara”, that is a verb of surprise and wonderment (fiʿl al-taʿajjub), preceded expressing surprise at “by “ expressive of surprise (mā al-taʿajjubiyya)”, in the sense of “how ungrateful he is, or how strong his disbelief is””; and (ii) it is a normal stem IV verbal form, in the meaning of “what made him a disbeliever” (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī and Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīrs). Exegetes quote a saying of Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688) to hold that, who said this verse was revealed in connection with ʿUtba b. Abī Lahab, who became a believerMuslim and then apostated, but after the revelation of Wa-l-najm (Q 53), he became an apostate (See Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Samʿānī, Samarqandī, Qurṭubī).

The noun kufrān (“denial”) is used once (Q 21:94), Then whoever does righteous deed while he is a believer—no denial will there be for his effort (Q 21:94); and the noun “kufūr (“disbelief”) is used three times (Q 17:89, 99;, 25:50).

 Other words derived from this root (not directly related to disbelief) include the etymologically related derivatives of the following forms:

  • the Form II verb, kaffara (x14) , in the meaning of “to remove”, that is, when Allah Most High removes the someone’s misdeeds (sayyiʾāt), as  of someone, for instance, the phrase (in Q 5:12 (surely I shall remit your sins) and Q 39:35 ), “li-yukaffira-Llāhu ʿanhum aswaʾa-lladhī ʿamilū” (So that Allah may remove from them the worst of what they did) and the phrase (in Q 5:12) la-ukaffiranna ʿankum (surely I shall remit your sins);
  • The noun kaffāra (x4, Q 2:88; 5:89 (x2); and 5:95;), which carries the meaning of “expiation”; and

The noun kāfūr, usually translated as “camphor”, useused once in Q 76:5, Verily, the righteous will drink from a cup whose mixture is of Kkāfūrand explainedglossed, per by  the exegetes and their reference t through its descriptiono in the next verse, asQ 76:6— a spring in Paradise, which has the sweet smell of camphor (see Cups) (Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar; Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb).


Facets of Disbelief

Disbelief can take several forms. Al-Qāḍī Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. ʿAlī b. Muḥammad b. al-Ḥusayn al-Dāmaghānī al-Ḥanafī (398-478/1007-1085) lists four facets of disbelief in his al-wujūh wal-naẓāʾir (Polysemy and Semantic Collocation) (Wujūh): (i) disbelief of denial (kufr al-inkār), (ii) disbelief of refusal (kufr al-juḥūd), (iii) denial of blessings (kufr al-al-niʿma), and (iv) disbelief of disavowal (kufr al-barāʾa) (Wujūh, sub k-f-r). Abū-l-Faraj Jamāl al-Dīn Ibn al-Jawzī al-Qurashī al-Baghdādī (510-597/ca.1116-1200) explains each facet and adds the purely linguistic and non-technical sense of the word kufr as the fifth; he identifies kufr al-inkār as the denial of Oneness of Allah Most High (al-kufr bi-l-tawḥīd):

Many exegetes enumerate five facets (awju) of disbelief in the Qurʾān: (i) disbelief in the Oneness of Allah (kufr al-tawḥīd, al-Damaghānī’s kufr al-inkār), as in His Words in [Sūrat] al-Baqara, Indeed, those who disbelieve—it is all the same for them whether you warn them or do not warn them—they will not believe (Q 2:6); also in [Sūrat] al-Ḥajj, Verily, those who disbelieve and avert people from the way of Allah (Q 22:25). This is the most common form [of disbelief mentioned] in the Qurʾān; (ii) denial of blessings (kufrān al-niʿma), as in [Sūrat] al-Baqara, And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me (Q 2:152), and in [Sūrat] al-Shuʿarāʾ, And you did ([that]) deed of yours which you did, and you are one of the ungrateful (Q 26:19); as well as in [Sūrat] al-Naml [in the words of Prophet Sulaymān, who said, “this is from the favor of my Lord to test me] whether I will be grateful or ungrateful” (Q 27:40); (iii) disbelief of disavowal (kufr al-tabrīʾ, al-Damaghānī’s kufr al-barāʾaʾ), as in the saying of the Most High in Sūrat al-ʿAnkabūt, …then, on the Day of Resurrection, you will deny one another… (Q 29:25); this includes both the disavowal of some by others, as also in [Sūrat] al-Mumtaḥana, …We have nothing to do with you… (Q 60:4), [as well as disbelief in what they recognized, but disavowed as], the saying of the Most High in [Sūrat] al-Baqara, …so when came to them that which they recognized, they disbelieved in it…(Q 2:89); (iv) disbelief of denial (kufr al-juḥūd), for instance, in [Sūrat] al-Baqara, …When there came to them that which they recognized, they disbelieved in it [[so the curse of Allah will be upon the disbelievers.] (Q 2:89); (v) [the linguistic facet of the word, being] “concealing” (al-taghṭiya), as in [Sūrat] al-Ḥadīd, whereof the growth is pleasing to the tillers (kuffār) (Q 57:20), because tillers are those who hide the seed [(in the soil]). (Nuzhat, sub Bāb al-kufr)

A representative sample of the facets of disbelief mentioned in the Qurʾān includes the following:

Outright Denial and Belying Allah (al-inkār, al-takdhīb, al-juḥūd, al-muʿānada): Absolute denial of the existence of the Creator. This type of disbelief was not widespread prior to modernity, but the Qurʾān does refer to those who believed Time to be the agent of all change: And they say, ‘there is nothing but our life of this world; we die and we live, and nothing but Time (al-dahr) destroys us…’ (Q 45:24). The Qurʾānic rebuke in the same verse is simply to discredit their claim: of that they have no knowledge; they merely conjecture. Among their company, ʿImād al-Dīn Ismāʿīl b. ʿUmar Ibn Kathīr (700-774/1300-1373) includes both certain pre-Islamic Arabs (see Jāhiliyya), who ascribed blessings, bounties and calamities to Time, as well as the atheist philosophers, who denied the Maker (al-Ṣāniʿ) and creatio ex nihilo (al-bidāʾ) and “who believed that everything recoursed to its original state every 36,000 years—thus they haughtily disregarded sound reason and denied transmitted knowledge (fa-kābarū-l-maʿqūl wa kadhdhabū-l-manqūl); for this reason they said nothing but Time destroys us, and Allah Most High said And they have of that no knowledge; they only  conjecture; that is, they only fancy (yatawahhamūn) and imagine (yatakhayyalūn)” (Tafsīr). In a mass transmitted ḥadīth qudsī (“sacred narration,” one whose meaning is from Allah Most High and whose wording is from the Prophet as per the definition by al-Jurjānī (d. 816/ca.1413), al-Taʿrīfāt, bāb al-ḥāʾ), believers are told not to curse Time:

The Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, said, Allah says: ‘The son of Ādam inveighs against Time, and I am Time; in My hand is the night and the day.’ A variant states, Allah says: ‘The son of Ādam offends Me and says, ‘Woe to Time.’ I am Time; I alternate the day and the night.’ A third variant adds: “If I Willed, I could seize them both. (Bukhārī, Tafsīr, wa mā yuhlikunā illa-l-dahr; Muslim, al-fāẓ mina-l-adab wa ghayriha; Aḥmad, Musnad, 13:111 §7683)

Abū al-Ḥusayn Muslim b. al-Ḥajjāj b. Muslim al-Qushayrī al-Naysābūrī (202 or 206-261/817 or 821-875), the also includes two Prophetic hadiths on the same subject in his canonical hadith collection: “Let not any one of you say, ‘Woe to Time,’ for Allah is Time”; “Do not inveigh against Time, for Allah is Time” (Muslim, Alfāẓ min al-adab wa ghayrihā, al-nahy ʿan sabb-l-dahr; also see, Bukhārī, Adab, lā tasubbū-l-dahr). Ibn Kathīr notes that Time (al-dahr) is not one of the Names of Allah (see Beautiful Names of Allah), and cites al-Shāfiʿī (150-204/767-820), the grammarian Abū ʿUbayda Maʿmar b. al-Muthannā al-Taymī (110-209/708-829), and other authorities of language and exegesis to explain that cursing Time is effectively cursing Allah, since in cursing the former they mean the changes actually wrought by Allah (Time itself does not bring change; Allah is the Agent (fāʿil)) (Tafsīr).

Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Ḥaqq b. Ghālib Ibn ʿAṭiyya al-Andalusī (d. ca.542/1147) explains this kind of denial with reference to their intent: “What they mean by their saying, there is nothing but our life of this world, is that we have no existence except this existence; we die, a group from us perishes and a group from us returns in a new form. This is the disbelief of the dahriyya (“materialists,” those believing only in Time)” (Muḥarrar).

Associating Partners with Allah (kufr al-shirk): This kind of kufr is declared unforgiveable (see Forgiveness and Forbearance) in two verses which begin with the same warning: Indeed, Allah does not forgive association with Him (yushraka bihi), but He forgives what is lesser than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly invented a tremendous sin (Q 4:48); Indeed, Allah does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. Whoever associates others with Allah has certainly strayed far into misguidance (Q 4:116). This was the most widespread form of disbelief among the pre-Islamic Arabs, who acknowledged the existence of Allah as the supreme Creator but worshipped a pantheon of deities alongside Him (see Idols and Idolatry). These included al-Lāt, al-ʿUzzā, and Manāt (cf. Q 53:19-20)—mere names you have named them, you and your forefathers, for which Allah has sent down no authority. They follow naught but conjecture and lowly desires toward which [their] souls incline, while certainly the guidance has come to them from their Lord (Q 53:23). These names were invented by deriving them “from the Names of Allah. Thus they said al-Lāt comes from the name ‘Allāh’ and al-ʿUzzā from ‘al-ʿAẓīz’ (“the Great,” being its feminine form)” (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād).

The pre-Islamic pagans took idols as deities, as did people before them. Prophet Ibrāhīm, upon him peace, asked his father, “Do you take idols as deities? Indeed, I see you and your people in manifest error” (Q 6:71). This question rhetorically functions as a “reproach” (tawbīkh) to the idolators (Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ). Ibn Kathīr adds, “the admonishment addressed to Ibrāhīm’s father is also Divine guidance for the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, for both of them lived among polytheists and Allah Most High instructed them to worship Allah alone, the One Who has no partner” (Tafsīr, sub Q 6:74). When Prophet Ibrāhīm, upon him peace, received Divine instructions to build the Kaʿba, he was told, “Do not associate anything with Me and purify My House for those who perform rounds around it and those who stand [in prayer] and those who bow and prostrate” (Q 22:26). Yet association and idolatry returned to the Arabs after him. Thus the Qurʾān commands them to abandon the filth (al-rijs) of idols (Q 22:30), and worship Inclining [only] to Allah, not associating with Him anything; for whosoever associates anything with Allah, it is as though he has fallen from the sky and the birds had snatched him or the wind has blown him to a far-off place (Q 22:31). Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1273) cites Ibn ʿAbbās and Ibn Jurayj (d. ca.150/767) to hold the idols are metonymically called filthy for what they precipitate, namely, divine punishment. “Furthermore,” he continues, “it is described as rijs (filth)—meaning najas (impurity)—and “this is impurity by ruling (najisa ḥukman), not impurity by itself (al-najāsa), which is the attribute of physical objects (waṣfan dhātiyyan lil-aʿyān), but rather, it is a legal descriptive (waṣf sharīʿ), from the rulings of faith (min aḥkām al-īmān) and such [impurity] cannot be removed except by faith, just as physical ritual purity (ṭahāra) cannot be realized except by water” (Tafsīr).

The unequivocal Qurʾānic description of the oneness of Allah Most High forecloses any association with Him: He neither begot a son (Q 2:116; 4:171; 6:100-101; 9:30-31; 10:68; 17:111; 18:4; 21:26; 25:1) nor a daughter (Q 6:100; 16:57; 37:149; 43:16; 52:39); He has no mate (Q 6:101; 72:3); He is beyond duality (Q 16:51) or trinity (Q 4:171; 5:73). Explaining Q 17:111, And say “Praise be to Allah, Who has not taken a son and Who has no partner in [His] dominion and has no [need of] protector out of weakness; and glorify Him with [a great] glorification (Q 17:111), al-Ṭabarī says, “It is transmitted from Ibn ʿAbbās that he said, ‘The whole of the Torah is [expressed] in fifteen verses of [Sūrat] Banī Isrāʾīl;’ then he recited do not take another deity beside Allah (Q 17:39).’ It is transmitted that al-Quraẓī used to say regarding this verse, ‘The Jews and the Christians claimed, Allah has taken a son, [but] the Arabs would chant [during Hajj], “Here I am, at Your service (labbayka), here I am, at Your service. You have no partner, except the one that is for You (see below)”. The Sabeans (see al-Ṣābiʾūn) and the Zoroastrians (see al-Majūs) said, ‘If there were no protectors for Allah, Allah would be afflicted by weakness.’ And Allah Most High revealed, And say, Praise be to Allah, Who has not taken a son and has no partner in [His] dominion and has no [need of] protector out of weakness; and glorify Him with [great] glorification, O Muḥammad, despite all their claims. (Tafsīr)

Ibn Kathīr mentions this pre-Islamic Arab Hajj chant in his exegesis on Q 30:30-32:

Ibn ʿAbbās said: ‘The polytheists (ahl al-shirk) would say, here I am, at Thy service, O our Lord, here I am, You have no partner, except the one that is for You. You possess him but he does not possess [anything]. Allah revealed Do you have among those whom your right hands possess any partners in what We have provided for you so that they are equal therein [and] do you fear them as you fear one another [within a partnership]? Thus do We explain [Our] verses for a people who use reason (Q 30:28)…the polytheists (al-mushrikūn) worshipped other than Him, because of foolishness (safahan), rooted within themselves, and also due to their ignorance. But those who do wrong (ẓalamū) follow their [own] desires (Q 30:29) in their worship of partners they set up as equals to Allah (al-andād), without knowledge; then who can guide one whom Allah has sent astray (Q 30:29)? No one can guide them, since Allah preordained their going astray. And for them there are no helpers (Q 30:29), there is for them no savior (munqidh) from that, nor any protector (mujīr), and they cannot avoid it. For what He wills, will happen and what He does not will, will never happen. Turn your face, forever, and incessantly insist on the rite (dīn) that Allah has ordained for you, the pure monotheism (al-ḥanīfiyya), the rite of Ibrāhīm,to which Allah guided you and He ultimately perfected for you (kammalahā laka ghāyat al-kamāl). And adhere to your uncorrupted innate nature (al-fiṭrat al-salīma) according to which Allah creates all creatures, for Allah has created all creatures on the basis of His knowledge, on [the awareness of] His Oneness (tawḥīdihi), and on the [innate knowledge] that there is no deity except Him, as it is said, and We made them testify of themselves, [asking them]: Am I not your Lord? They said: Indeed, verily (Q 7:172). And as it appears in a Sacred Hadith, “I have created My slaves ‘naturally inclined to My worship’ (ḥunafāʾ), but it is Satan who turns them away from their way (dīn)” (Muslim, Janna wa ṣifati naʿīmihā wa ahlihā, al-ṣifāt allatī yuʿrafu bihā fī-l-dunyā ahl-al-janna wa ahlu-l-nār]. (Tafsīr).

Hypocrisy (kufr al-nifāq): Al-Wāḥidī’s short definition of this type of disbelief, predominant in the Madinan period, is “when someone acknowledges [the Truth] in words, but disbelieves in the heart” (Wasīṭ, sub Q 2:6). The state of these hypocrites resembles that of the disbelievers (Q 4:137) in that they believe and then deny it, although this wavering between belief and denial is more apparent for the outright disbelievers than it is for the hypocrites: Indeed, those who believed then disbelieved, then believed, then disbelieved, and then increased in disbelief—never will Allah forgive them, nor will He guide them to a Way (Q 63:3) Jār Allāh Abū-l-Qāsim Maḥmūd b. ʿUmar al-Zamakhsharī (467-538/ca.1074-1143) explains the denial of the hypocrites as lying in pronouncing the testimony of faith (shahāda) and performing deeds outwardly similar to those who truly submit to Allah, but their disbelief becoming evident later (see Q 9:74 and 9:66); or in them speaking like believers when among believers, but uttering words of disbelief and deriding Islam when back among their “devils” (see Q 2:14). Or, he adds, these verses can refer to apostates (ahl al-ridda) (Kashshāf, sub Q 63:1-4).

Despite the outward disposition of belief, a hypocrite is a disbeliever (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 63:3), as “hypocrisy is a sign of lack of faith…a contradiction between the inner conviction and outward actions…When pertaining to [matters of] belief, it is a hypocrisy of disbelief; otherwise, it is a hypocrisy of deeds” (Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī, Īmān, ʿalāmat al-munāfiq). A defining trait of the hypocrites is mentioned in the opening verse of the Sūrat al-Munāfiqūn (Q 63, “The Hypocrites”): When the hypocrites come to you, they say, ‘We testify that you are the Messenger of Allah’—and Allah knows you are, indeed, His Messenger, and Allah testifies that the hypocrites are liars. The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, described the hypocrites in the well-known hadith: “Four characteristics make anyone who possesses them a sheer hypocrite; anyone who possesses one of them, has one characteristic of hypocrisy until he abandons it: when he speaks, he lies; when covenants, he betrays; when he promises, he defaults; and when he quarrels, he behaves immorally” (Muslim, Īmān, bayān khiṣāl al-munāfiq). Ibn Rajab (736-795/1335-1392) explains that in Islamic Law, hypocrisy “is divided into two categories: The greatest hypocrisy, that is, when someone outwardly professes belief in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers and in the Last Day, but hides what either entirely or partially contradicts (yunāqiḍ) this. This is the type of hypocrisy that prevailed in the era of the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace. The Qurʾān condemns such people and declares them disbelievers. The Qurʾān places them in the lowest depths of Hellfire (cf. Q 4:145]. The second type is the lesser hypocrisy, and it is the hypocrisy of deeds” (Jāmiʿ al-ʿulūm, hadith 28).

Normally hidden, hypocrisy often becomes evident under duress, as when only firm faith is required to face hardships and matters of life and death. The Qurʾān specifically mentions the hypocrites’ disbelief in the context of Battle of Uḥud (3/625) : So that He might make evident the hypocrites, unto whom it was said, ‘Come, fight in the way of Allah or [at least] defend.’ They said, ‘If we knew fighting, we would follow you.’ They were nearer to disbelief that day than to belief, saying with their mouths what was not in their hearts. And Allah is most Aware of what they conceal (Q 3:167) and the Battle of Tabūk (9/630), when the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, asked for donations to equip the “Army that Endured Great Hardship” (jaysh al-ʿusra) and asked everyone to join the expedition—whereupon hypocrites came to him with excuses (cf. Q 9:45, see below), while Abū Bakr, Allah be well-pleased with him, came bearing all his wealth and when the Prophet asked, “What did you leave behind for your family?” He replied, “Allah and His Messenger” (Tirmidhī, Sunan, Manāqib, bāb; Abū Dāwūd, Sunan, Zakāt, fī rukhṣa fī dhālik).

Turning Away (kufr al-iʿrāḍ): Such averring disbelief is when one “turns” from accepting Divine guidance or clear signs (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 32:22); from the Qurʾān, as in But most of them do not know the Truth (Samarqandī, Qurṭubī, etc.: namely “the Qurʾān”) and they are turning away (Q 21:24); from obedience to Allah, as in Q 2:83 (And when We took a covenant from the Children of Israel [to] Worship none save Allah, and be good to parents and their kin… (but they) turned away, except for a few…refusing (muʿriḍūn)), “there is no submission (islām) but through obedience to Allah” (cf. Ṭabarī and Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīrs, sub Q 24:47-51); and from Allah and His Messenger, upon him blessings and peace. The Qurʾān expresses this form of disbelief with the verbs aʿraḍa (fourth verbal form of the root ʿ-r-ḍ, active participle, muʿriḍ) and tawallā (fifth verbal form of the root w-l-y) (Rāghib, Mufradāt; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:83). Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya explains such “turning away” as a form of disbelief:

Verily, Allah Most High described those who turn away (al-muʿriḍīn) from the Revelation, who oppose it by their intellects and their declarations, by ignorance and by going astray, with perplexity, doubt, blindness, and uncertainty—these cannot be said to be traits of those who have knowledge, discernment, and guidance. The origin of their erring stems from two sources: turning away from that which was brought by the Prophet; and their opposition to it, which destroys all. (Ṣawāʿiq, Faṣl al-ṭāghūt al-thānī, al-wajh al-rābiʿ wal-miʾa)

Doubt (kufr al-shakk): The Qurʾān refers to such disbelief with the noun shakk—“a kind of ignorance, in a restricted sense” (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub sh-k; Fayrūzābādī, Baṣāʾir)—or through derivatives of the triliteral root r-y-b, simple verb rāba and infinitive noun rayb, both in the sense of “having suspicion about something in the sense of doubt, that is, standing between two positions, the position of ignorance and that of knowledge. Or, permitting two things of which neither has superiority (maziyya) over the other” (al-Samʿānī, Qawāṭiʿ, sub ḥadd al-shakk). Doubt is the opposite of certainty (yaqīn). Certainty is the spirit of the deeds of the heart (rūḥ aʿmāl al-qalb), which then becomes incentive for the deeds of the limbs. This is the reality of righteousness (ḥaqīqat al-ṣiddīqiyya)—the pivot of this matter (quṭb hādhā l-shaʾn)….When certainty reaches the heart, it fills it with light and radiant knowledge, banishing uncertainty (rayb), doubt (shakk), hardness of the heart (sukht), anxiety, and sorrow. It is then filled with love and awe of Allah, with contentment with Him, gratitude to Him, and reliance on Him. [Such a heart] is oft-returning to Him (wal-ināba ilayhi). (Ibn Qayyim, Madārij, Manzila 47)

Doubt, as a form of disbelief, can be a result of hypocrisy or can lead to it. A typical example is mentioned in Q 9:45, which describes those who sought the Prophet’s permission to abstain from the Battle of Tabūk: Only those ask your permission [to stay behind], who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day and whose hearts have doubted, and they, in their doubt, are hesitating. Al-Wāḥidī explains their doubts: “They had doubts about their religion (shakkū fī dīnihim)” (Wasīṭ). Ibn ʿĀshūr is more explicit:

They doubted that which the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, had brought and due to this uncertainty they were double-faced (dhawī wajhayn) with him. Outwardly they pretended to accept Islam in order to have the same power and advantages which Muslims had, but inwardly they embraced disbelief for preserving their old and corrupt beliefs and relations with their own kind, as He says [in Q 4:131], Those who wait upon you and, if a victory comes to you from Allah, they say, ‘Were we not with you?’ but if the disbelievers get an upper hand, they say, ‘Did we not gain the advantage over you, but we protected you from the believers.’ Allah will judge between you on the Day of Resurrection, and Allah will by no means give the disbelievers a way against the believers. (Tafsīr)

Such disbelieving doubt can manifest in various ways, including doubting the existence of Allah, the Originator of the heavens and earth, namely doubting that He is the unique God, the only God, Who is to be adored (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 14:10); doubting the message brought by the Prophet Muḥammad and earlier prophets, as in the disbelievers’s claim And indeed we are, about that to which you invite us, in disquieting doubt (Q 11:62); doubting that the Qurʾān—a Book about which there is no doubt (lā rayb)is from Allah, a guidance for the Godfearing (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:2); doubting the Hour, Day of Judgment, and the Hereafter, as in Q 45:32 (And when it is said: Lo! the promise of Allah is the Truth, and there is no doubt in the coming of the Hour, you said, ‘We know not what the Hour is. We deem it naught but a conjecture, and we are by no means convinced’); and doubting matters of the Unseen (al-ghayb), which are only known to Allah (Q 6:59: And with Him are the keys of the Unseen, none knows them except Him) or who deny the inevitable (Q 27:66: They are in doubt about it. Rather they are, concerning it, blind). (see Doubt)

Mockery, Ridicule, Deception (kufr al-istihzāʾ, kufr al-khadʿa): Mocking Allah Most High, His Messengers, the Qurʾān, any article of creed, and His Laws constitutes a form of disbelief (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf, sub Q 2:14; Ibn al-ʿArabī, Aḥkām; sub Q 9:65; Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 9:66; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 9:65). Mockery, “the kin of falsehood and ignorance” (Ibn al-ʿArabī, Qurṭubī), can appear as a direct attack against Allah, His Messengers and His verses, or may manifest through the act of ridiculing believers for their belief. The direct type is mentioned in Q 9:65 (Say, is it Allah and His verses and His Messenger that you were mocking?), at which al-Rāzī remarks that “it is obvious that it is impossible (muḥāl) to mock Allah, hence the verse needs interpretation (taʾwīl).” Thus the verse can mean mocking the Divine commands or mocking the Divine remembrance (for believers exalt the Names of Allah as they are enjoined (cf. Q 7:180; 87:1) whereas disbelievers mock them). The phrase and His verses refers to the Qurʾān (Tafsīr).

The Qurʾān uses words derived from two roots to indicate mockery and ridicule: h-z-ʾ and (less frequently) s-kh-r, whether secretive (mazḥ fī khifya) or expressive (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub h-z-ʾ). “Mockery (istihzāʾ) is scorn (sukhriya) and disdain (istikhfāf); it is derived from h-z-ʾ which means a quick killing (al-qatl al-sarīʿ), the verb is hazaʾa, it means to die on the spot. If one says: mockery against Allah is not possible, for He is far above all physically and morally disgusting things, while scorn belongs to imperfection (ʿayb) and ignorance; [the response is:] have you not read Do you take Us in ridicule? He said: I seek refuge in Allah from being among the ignorant (Q 2:67). Then what is the meaning of his mocking them? I say: it is sending upon them disgrace (hawān) and despicability (ḥaqāra). The aim of the one who mocks is to pile insignificance (khiffa) and contempt (zirāya) on the one whom he ridicules.” (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf)

Q 2:231, which specifies rules for divorce (see Marriage and Divorce), reminds believers of the favors of Allah Most High and instructs them not to take verses of Allah in jest. Most verses mentioning mockery are about the disbelievers and hypocrites, the latter are those who when they meet those who believe, say: We believe;’ and when they are alone with their devils, they say: ‘Surely we are with you, we were only mocking’ (mutahziʾūn). Allah mocks them (yastahziʾuhum), and prolongs them in their blind and insolent wanderings (Q 2:14-15). Al-Ṭabarī comments, “[Such mocking] leads the hypocrites to a painful chastisement in the Hereafter, because although they include themselves among the believers in this world and Allah grants them respite and allows them to deceive others (see Beguilement), He actually knows what is in their hearts and He will separate them from His friends in the Hereafter and admit them to the bottommost level of Hellfire, and thus in reality Allah is mocking them…right up to the moment when He would separate them.” (Tafsīr).

Al-Rāghib cites Q 9:79 and 83:34 as further examples of the turning of the tables against the mockers in the Hereafter (Mufradāt, sub h-z-ʾ). The Makkan polytheists used to laugh at slaves and other poor believers. “Their laughing at the believers by way of disdain (sukhriya) was the result of the true state [of their disbelief] (Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ). Al-Zamakhsharī categorically calls the mocking mentioned in Q 2:14 “rejection of Islam and its disapproval on their behalf, for he who ridicules something or despises it, refuses it and disapproves its reliability…whosoever despises Islam glorifies disbelief (ʿaẓẓam al-kufr)… (Kashshāf)


Causes of Disbelief

The Qur’an attests various causes of disbelief. Although born with innate spiritual purity, upon the natural disposition (al-fiṭra) (Q 30:30; see below), bearing the imprint of the primordial Covenant established with all Children of Ādam (Q 7:172), human beings can be corrupted through the external influences.The Prophet himself said, “No child is born except on fiṭra; it is his parents who make him Jewish, Christian, or Magian; just as an animal yields hale young, do you see any part of its body amputated?” (Bukhārī, Janāʾiz, idhā aslama l-ṣabiyyu fa-māta…; Muslim, Qadar, maʿnā kull mawlūd yūladu ʿalā l-fiṭra…).

Q 30:30 directly addresses the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, to set his face toward the religion, inclining to truth, adhering to the fiṭra of Allah upon which He has created mankind. The word fiṭra is here glossed by a majority of exegetes as “the religion of Islam” (Ṭabarī, Samʿānī, Baghawī, Khāzin). Belief in Allah Most High is a constituting element of creation. Abū-l-Muẓaffar Manṣūr b. Muḥammad al-Samʿānī (426-489/1035-1096), grand mufti of Khurasān, wrote, “Fiṭra is that by virtue of which, if one could ask a newborn, ‘Who created you?’ he would say, ‘Allah created me.’ Abū ʿUbayd al-Harawī said it is both instinctive and innate knowledge (maʿrifa al-ghazīra wal-ṭabīʿa), as in His Words, And if you asked them who created them, they would surely say, Allah. [Fiṭra alone], however, is not enough to attain all that is encompassed by belief, [otherwise, everyone will be a believer] as all people are created on this fiṭra. According to what is in the Book and Sunna, people are of two kinds with respect to the reality of belief and the reality of disbelief. Both al-Zajjāj and al-Naḥḥās said, this is the opinion of the People of the Prophetic Sunna, and Ibn Qutayba is also of this view.” (Tafsīr, sub 30:30)

The incessant whispering of Satan can also lead people to disbelief. The Satan vowed, “Because You have caused me to go astray, surely I will sit in ambush against them on Your Straight Path” and attack them from every front (Q 7:16-17) to misguide them. He also claimed, “By your might, I will surely mislead them all” (Q 38:82). For this reason human beings are asked (Q 114:4) to seek refuge of Allah From the evil of the retreating whisperer (al-waswās), where “whisperer” (waswās) means “possessor of wicked thoughts” (dhū-l-waswās) (Zajjāj, Maʿānī). Saʿīd b. Jubayr said, “Satan retreats when Allah is mentioned” (Rāzī, Tafsīr; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād). Whispering evil is Satan’s battle cry, “a secret speech (kalām khafiyy), repeated successively” (Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:20), by which Satan adorns “desires and disobedience for the children of Ādam” (Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar, sub Q 15:39).

Other causes which can lead to disbelief or strengthen it, include the apparent charm of the life of this world, which has been made alluring to the disbelievers (Q 2:212); the love of lusts (ḥubb al-shahwāt)—of women and sons and hoarded treasures of gold and silver and well-bred horses and cattle and tillage—which has been decked out to human beings as fair (Q 3:14); the mutual rivalry for piling up worldly gains (Q 102:1); the delusions of the life of this world (Q 6:70; 7:51), and heedlessness (ghafla, cf. Q 19:39; 21:1, 97; 50:22)—all resulting in clear loss (al-khusrān al-mubīn) (Q 22:11). So worship what you will besides Him. Say, Indeed, the losers are those who will lose themselves and their families on the Day of Resurrection. Unquestionably, that is the manifest loss (Q 19:35); Indeed, those who do not expect the meeting with Us and are pleased with the life of this world and feel secure therein; they are those who are heedless of Our signs. Their refuge will be the Fire because of what they used to earn (Q 10:7-8; also see Q 10:11, 15; 25:21). “For this reason, they deny reward and punishment; they are competing for the ornaments of this world, and its embellishments (zakhārifuhā) satisfy them” (Tabarī, Tafsīr). Ibn Kathīr quotes al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, who said:

By Allah, they decorated [the life of this world] and exalted it until they became satisfied with it, and they became heedless of the creational signs of Allah (āyāt Allāh al-kawniyya). They do not ponder on them and do not obey the Law; this is why on the day of their return (yawm maʿādihim), their final abode is Fire; as a recompense for what they had earned for themselves in their worldly life of sins, mistakes (al-khaṭāyā), and crimes (al-ijrām). To this is added their disbelief in Allah and His Messenger and the Last Day. (Tafsīr, sub Q 10:7-8)

Denying Resurrection (al-baʿth), the Last Day (al-yawm al-ākhir), and the Hereafter (al-ākhira) makes the life of this world mere play and sport. Disbelievers question these realities: ‘When we are dust, will we indeed [be brought] into new creation?’ (Q 13:5); ‘When is this promise [to be fulfilled], if you are truthful?’ (Q 27:71). These questions are rhetorical parries in the mode of denial (jaḥd) and refusal (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 17:49). The disbelievers prefer the worldly pleasures, however ephemeral, and desire this world (Q 3:152). Their indulgences (at eternal cost: Q 14:3) is itself indicative of lack of belief in the Hereafter; per Ibn ʿAbbās, “they do this because they consider [the Hereafter] unlikely (istibʿādan lahā)” (Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, sub Q 14:3). Thus they love the immediate and leave behind them a grave Day (Q 76:27)—“leaving behind” as making no effort of pious deeds toward the Hereafter (Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ).


Darkness of Disbelief

Light and darkness are often contrasted (e.g. Q 2:257; 5:16; 14:1, 5; 33:43; 57:9; 65:11). Majd al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Yaʿqūb al-Fayrūzābādī (729-817/1329-1414) comments that the latter designates ignorance (jahl), polytheism (shirk), and corruption (fisq), and the former designates their opposites (Baṣāʾir). Al-Wāḥidī glosses He brings them out from darkness into the light (Q 2:257) as “from denial (kufr), and being astray (ḍalāl), to faith (īmān) and guidance (hidāya)” (Wasīṭ). Darkness (ẓulumāt) as a trope for disbelief stems from how “the matter of going astray (amr al-ḍalāla) is always in gloom (muẓlim), while the matter of guidance is evident, like the elucidation of light (ka-bayān al-nūr)” (Zajjāj, Maʿānī; cf. Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād). Al-Ṭabarī specifically links darkness with disbelief in his commentary on this verse:

He brings them out from the darkness of disbelief (min ẓulumāt al-kufr) to the light of faith (ilā nur al-īmān). Here by ‘darkness’ He surely meant disbelief. And surely He made ‘darkness’ a simile (mathalan) for disbelief, because [just as] darkness is a veil for the eyes (ḥājiba lil-abṣār) against perceiving and confirming (ithbātih) things, correspondingly disbelief is a veil for the insights of the hearts (ḥājib abṣāra l-qulūb) against perceiving the realities of faith (ʿan idrāk ḥaqāʾiq al-īmān) and knowledge in its soundness and being sound of cause (wal-ʿilm bi ṣiḥḥa wa ṣihhat asbābih). (Tafsīr)

Similarly, Q 6:39 (Those who deny Our Signs are deaf and dumb, in darkness) is explained as “they are perplexed in the darkness of disbelief” (Tabarī, Tafsīr). Q 24:40 (Or like darkness within an abysmal sea; there covers him a wave, above which is another wave, above which is a cloud—layer upon layer of darkness) describes the disbeliever’s heart, which is unable to understand or see truth (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād). Ibn ʿAṭiyya comments, “This simile contains [disbelievers’] acts performed in this world… The darkness is evil deeds and false beliefs (al-muʿtaqadāt al-bāṭila); the abysmal sea is the breast of the disbeliever and his heart…the wave is going astray (ḍalāl) or ignorance that inundates his heart (ghamarat qalbah) or distorted thoughts (al-fikar al-muʿwajja); the cloud is his desire for disbelief and his turning away from faith.” (Muḥarrar)

According to Ibn al-Jawzī, the exegetes have expounded on six facets of the use of “Darkness” in the Qurʾān; two are related to disbelief: polytheism (shirk) (Q 6:82) and denial (jaḥd) (Q 7:103) (Nuzhat, Bāb al-ẓulm; see also Dāmaghānī, Wujūh, sub ẓ-l-m).


Disbelief as a Human Choice

The entire cosmic order submits to the Creator, willingly or unwillingly (Q 3:83; 13:15), yet it is willful affirmation of belief or disbelief that is required from culpable creatures—jinn and humans, both created to worship Allah (Q 51:56: And I did not create the jinn and humankind except to worship Me). Brought into existence from non-existence, given all the resources needed to distinguish between Truth (ḥaqq) and Falsehood (bāṭil) and guided through prophets, human beings are nonetheless free to choose between “two paths” to which guidance leads (cf. Q 90:10): of good and evil (sabīl al-khayr wal-sharr), of guidance and straying (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr).

Sūrat al-Insān (Q 76, “Man”) presents human choices, after they have been given the resources and clear signs, they can either believe or disbelieve: Has there [not] come upon Man (insān) a span of time when he was not a thing [even to be] mentioned? Verily, We created Man out of a drop of sperm intermingled, so that We may test him; and We endowed him with hearing and sight. Verily, We guided him to the path; be he grateful or ungrateful. The exegetes explain “be he grateful or ungrateful”—two circumstantial expressions referred to by the suffix -hu [in] hadaynāhu (We guided him)—that is, We enabled him and made him capable [to choose] from both states. Or, We called him to Islam by the proofs [attained through] the intellect and transmission. [Although] it is already known to Him whether he would believe or disbelieve after the proof has been demonstrated. (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf). The ‘showing of the way’ means Divine guidance to the “paths of good and evil,”—the “paths of belief and disbelief” (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Qushayrī, Baghawī, and Samʿānī). “We made him familiar with the path of good and the path of evil. And it is said: either for the state of wretchedness or for the state of felicity; either as grateful (shākiran) from among Our friends or a disbeliever from among Our enemies. Gratitude is by Divine facilitation (bil-tawfīq) and disbelief is by forsakenness (bil-khidhlān)” (Qushayrī, Tafsīr). “We showed him the path of truth (sabīl al-ḥaqq) and that of falsehood; the way of guidance and that of straying. We acquainted him with the paths of good and evil, be he grateful or ungrateful, blessed believer (muʾmin saʿīd) or wretched disbeliever (kāfir shaqiyy)” (Baghawī, Tafsīr).

Ibn ʿAṭiyya provides more reflections:

al-insān is a generic noun (ism al-jins), and applies to all members of the genus… We guided him to the path—it is probable that seeking the path is common to both the believer and the disbeliever. That is why there is the creation of senses (al-ḥawāss), the [Divine] gift of innate nature (mawhibat al-fiṭra), and the observable proofs of the fashioning [pointing] to the Fashioner (naṣab al-ṣanʿatal-dāla ʿala-Ṣāniʿ) [of creation]. So, in this sense, the meaning of We ghided him is like a human being is guided toward a path and is made familiar with it. And it is also possible that the guided to the path here is a generic noun (ism al-jins), meaning that, He guides the believer to his belief and the disbeliever to his disbelief, and in this sense, the phrase We guided him to the path would mean that We demonstrated to him (araynāhu), so in this verse “guidance” is not in the sense of [actually] creating guidance and belief [for the person]. (Muḥarrar)

The freedom to choose is also mentioned in Q 6:35 (And if their aversion is grievous to you, then, if you can, seek a way down into the earth or a ladder to the sky so that you may bring to them a portent—if Allah willed, He could have brought them all together to the guidance, so be not of the ignorant) and in Q 10:99 (And if your Lord had pleased, surely all those who are on the earth would have believed—all of them; will you then force human beings to believe against their will?), both addressing the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, who earnestly desired that people would believe and thereby save themselves from the Fire. (For fuller exposition of theological issues regarding freedom to belief or disbelieve, see Coercion; Divine Decree.)

The much discussed verse about freedom in matters of belief (Q 2:256: there is no compulsion in religion…) is, however, considered by a great number of exegetes to have been abrogated (see Abrogation) by Q 9:5 or 9:73 (Abū ʿUbayd, Nāsikh, Bāb al-ikrāh fī-l-dīn wa mā nusikha minhā; Makkī, Īḍāḥ, Qawluhu taʿālā lā ikrāha; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:256) and implications of this abrogation are discussed by scholars in other contexts (see Coercion). For the present discussion, suffice it to say that given the creedal doctrines of moral responsibility (taklīf) and reward and punishment, the weight of scholarly explanations points toward freedom of choice.

Ibn Kathīr explains that belief leads to a spiritual state of faith, which affects both the life of this and the next world, and cannot be achieved by compulsion:

Do not compel anyone to embrace the religion of Islam, for its proofs and arguments (dalāʾiluhu wa barāhīnuhu) are evident, clear, and obvious (jaliyy). It does not demand that someone should be compelled to accept it. On the contrary, anyone whom Allah guides to Islam (hadāhu lil-Islām) and whose heart He opens for it (sharaḥa ṣadrahu) and whose discernment has been enlightened (wa nawwara baṣīratahu), will enter it due to clear [proofs] (ʿalā bayyina). And he whose heart is made blind and whose ears and eyes are sealed by Allah, his embracing Islam through compulsion and coercion (mukrahan wa maqsūran) will not be beneficial to him in any way. (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:256)

Pronouncing one’s disbelief under duress is neither real nor effective, for Whoever disbelieves in Allah after his belief—save him who is forced thereto and whose heart is still content with the Faith—but those who willingly open their hearts to disbelief (man sharaḥa bi-l-kufr ṣadran), upon them is wrath of Allah, and for them is a great punishment (Q 16:106). Ibn ʿAbbās, Allah be well-pleased with him and his father, said that the first part of the verse was revealed about ʿAmmār b. Yāsir (Ibn ʿĀdil; Lubāb; Ṭabarī and Rāzī, Tafsīrs) who, along with his mother Sumayya, his father Yāsir (both of whom are the first martyrs in the history of Islam: Wāḥidī, Asbāb; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr), Khabbāb, and Bilāl were among the first to accept Islam outside the immediate family of the Prophet. ʿAmmār (54 bh-37/570-657) was held captive by the Makkan disbelievers and tortured until he maligned the Prophet and praised their gods. Afterwards he went to the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and told what him what had happened. The Prophet asked him, “How do you find your heart?” He said, “Content with faith” (muṭmaʾinnun bil-īmān). The Prophet said: “If they do this again to you, you can return to this act of yours” (Ḥākim, Mustadrak, 2:389§ 3362, classed sound to the rigor of Bukhārī and Muslim).

The exegetes elaborate circumstances when verbally denying belief is acceptable and does not constitute disbelief. These include torture and mortal threats, although steadfastedness on the model of the Companion Bilāl (who upon being tortured on burning sand only uttered “One, One” (aḥad, aḥad) is still preferable (cf. Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Ibn Kathīr, Ibn ʿĀdil, sub Q 16:106). Thus, the first part of the verse (Whoever disbelieves in Allah after his belief) and the second part to intentional pronouncement of disbelief after having proclaimed one’s faith, which is apostasy. “Such an act can be committed by turning away on their own volition, for their desires overcame them and they did not contemplate the guidance (taṣaffuḥ al-hudā)” (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, sub Q 2:18).


Actions Emanating from Disbelief

Disbelief manifests in deeds, including:

  1. waging war against Allah” (muḥārabat Allāh) (Q 5:33), understood as opposition to His laws and commands through sinful acts (Rāzī, Tafsīr; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād); it is “resistance (al-muḍādda) and opposition (mulkhālafa), a true characteristic of disbelief; deeds emanating from disbelief include highway robbery (qaṭʿ al-ṭarīq), spreading terror on roads (ikhāfat al-sabīl), and spreading corruption on earth. Exegetes consider this verse to be a general ruling regarding all polytheists (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr);
  2. inventing lies against Allah (iftirāʾ ʿalā-Llāh, cf. Q 6:138, 140), including deliberate tampering with the revealed text (Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 3:78), as in Q 2:79 (Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands and then say ‘This is from Allah’); calling the revelation merely the lore of ancients (asāṭīr al-awwalīn: Q 6:25; 8:31; 16:24; 23:83; 25:5; 27:68; 46:17; 68:15; 83:13); attempts to imitate the Qurʾān, as al-Naḍr b. al-Ḥārith did (Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar; see also Suyūṭī, Durr, sub Q 6:103); and declaring lawful and unlawful without right (for instance, the animals mentioned in Q 5:103 (see Animals)—“a sheer lie and invention (iftirāʾ) against Allah” (Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ));
  3. attacking the Prophet or Prophets, for example calling him “possessed” (majnūn), a statement which is denial of his prophethood (inkār nubuwwatihi) and accompanies a mockery of his actions (Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 38:4). Earlier Prophets and Messengers—Nūḥ , Hūd , Ṣāliḥ, Shuʿayb, Ibrāhīm , Mūsā, and ʿĪsā all encountered attacks and offenses from their people;
  4. apostasy (al-ridda) can be committed by speech (bil-qawl), by deeds (bil-fiʿl), and by conviction (bil-iʿtiqād) (Ḥusaynī, Kifāya, Faṣl fī-l-ridda), and is a “return” to disbelief after proclaiming belief (whence its etymology: r-d-d and r-j-ʿ, to return: e.g. Q 3:72). Apostasy is one of the enormities (kabāʾir). “If a Muslim returns to disbelief and dies as an apostate, all his acts that he performed during his Islam are lost and come to nothing (ḥabiṭa ʿamaluhu); he will eternally stay in the Hellfire. To this refer His Words [And whoever of you reverts from his religion and dies while he is a disbeliever—for such, their deeds become worthless in this world and the Hereafter] those are the companions of the Fire, they will abide therein eternally.” (Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ, sub Q 2:217). Apostasy spread after the demise of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, even though Q 3:144 had warned: Muḥammad is but a messenger; messengers have passed away before him, so if he were to die or be killed, would you turn back on your heels [to disbelief]? And whoever turns back on his heels, will not harm Allah in any way and Allah will recompense the grateful.
  5. preventing others from the Way of Allah (al-ṣadd ʿan sabīl Allāh): when kufr exercises power over the heart, the disbeliever wishes to divert others from the Path of Allah (ṣadda ʿan, imtināʾ: Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub ṣ-d-d). Several verses refer to such attempts (e.g. Q 2:217; 3:99; 4:167; 7:45; 9:34; for complete list of verses, see: ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam, sub ṣadda). Historically, such efforts included the attemps of disbelievers from the people to whom Prophet Shuʿayb was sent and who gathered at the roadside to divert the faithful from the Religion of Allah (Q 7:86, see also Q 8:47 and the explanation of al-Wāḥidī); the polytheists’ attempts to prevent the Prophet from reaching the Kaʿba, resulting in the Treaty of Ḥudaybiyya (6/628) (Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ, sub Q 2:217; Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf, sub Q 5:2); the stratagems of the People of the Book to deceive some weak Muslims by planting suspicions and doubts (shukūk) in their hearts, and their denial of the biblical prophecies about the Prophet Muḥammad (Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 3:99); the Quraysh preventing people from meeting Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace (Suyūṭī, Durr, sub Q 11:19); and those who made their [false] oaths a shelter and averted [people] from the Way of Allah (Q 58:16), being oaths pledged during periods of safety, under pretense of belief, trying to seduce away Muslims and incite others against Islam (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf). It is mentioned as the general characteristic of wrongdoers (ẓālimūn), who avert [others] from the Way of Allah (Q 7:45), as they relentlessly seek to prevent others from obedience to Allah (Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ). Ibn al-Jawzī explains the “Way of Allah” in this verse as being synonymous with Islam itself (Zād). This “prevention” is also mentioned in the Qurʾān as disbelievers deterring others from the Sacred Mosque (al-Masjid al-Ḥarām) (Q 5:2; 8:34; 48:25) and once together with the Way of Allah: Indeed, those who have disbelieved and avert [people] from the Way of Allah and [from] the Sacred Mosque (Q 22:25). Satan seeks to turn Muslims away from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer (Q 5:91), by spreading desire for intoxicants and gambling (Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ).
  6. suppressing the Word of Allah: Those who disbelieve say ‘Do not listen to this Qurʾān and speak noisily during its recitation, so that perhaps you will overcome’ (Q 41:26). Exegetes cite the example of Abū Jahl and his fellows, who sought to drown out Qurʾān recitation by making loud sounds (mukāʾ), whistling (ṣafīr), shouting (ṣiyāḥ), and reciting poetry (Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar). They advised one another not to listen to it, accept it, or obey it (Māwardī, Nukat).


Its Wretched Outcome

The Qurʾānic verdict upon those who die in a state of disbelief is abiding chastisement in Hellfire (Q 2:162, 257; 3:86-89; 4:18, 48, 116, 145; 16:88; 40:45-46). In addition, while they reside in the luminal isthmus-world of the Barzakh after their deaths and until the Day of Resurrection, they receive a punishment until Resurrection (Mujāhid, Tafsīr; Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 4:48). Ibn ʿUmar (d. 73/693), Allah be well-pleased with them both, narrates that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said, “When anyone of you dies, he is shown his final resting place (maqʿaduhu) every morning and evening. If he is one of the people of Paradise, [his place is] among the People of Paradise and if he is one of the people of Hellfire, [his place is] among the People of Fire. Then it is said to him, ‘This is your place until Allah resurrects you on the Day of Resurrection.’” (Bukhārī, Janāʾiz, al-mayyit yuʿraḍ ʿalayhi maqʿaduhu bil-ghadāti wal-ʿashīyyi; Muslim, Janna wa ṣifat naʿīmihā wa ahlihā, ʿarḍ maqʿad al-mayyit min al-janna aw al-nār ʿalayh, wa ithbāt ʿadhāb al-qabri wal-taʿawwudh minhu). Of the disbelievers, the hypocrites are destined to the lowest depth of the Fire (Q 4:145). “Such disbelievers are recompensed with the curse of Allah, the angels and all people, remaining everlastingly in this damned state, they will not be given any chance to return [to the worldly life] for repentance, or for [finding other] excuses” (Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ). The believers’ “curse” upon the disbelievers is their repulsion (ṭard) and Allah’s curse is His punishment (ʿadhāb) (Māwardī, Nukat). “Paradise has different ascending levels (daraj) and Hellfire has descending depths; and the hypocrites will be in the lowest depth, called al-Hāwiya. The seven depths of Hell are, Jahannam, Laẓā, al-Ḥuṭama, al-Saʿīr, Saqar, al-Jaḥīm, and al-Hāwiya” (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 4:145). Those who disbelieved and averted [others] from the Way of Allah—We shall increase them in punishment over [their] punishment, for that they used to spread mischief (Q 16:88).

Disbelief, namely denying one’s own responsibility before the Creator, is the greatest sin and so incurs the greatest punishment: Indeed, those who disbelieve in Our verses—We will drive them into Hellfire. Every time their skins are burned through, We shall exchange them with fresh skins so they may taste the punishment (Q 4:56). Ibn ʿUmar, Allah be well-pleased with them both, said, “whenever their skins are burnt they will receive new snow-white skins similar to sheets of paper (qarāṭīs)” (cf.Ṭabarī, Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Ibn Kathīr). Ibn ʿAṭiyya quotes al-Ḥasan b. Abī-l-Ḥasan that their skins will be exchanged seventy thousand times every day (Muḥarrar; Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Tafsīr), so that their tasting punishment would never cease (Rāzī, Tafsīr). The disbelievers will be cast into Hellfire, as Allah Most High ordered “Throw into Hell every obstinate disbeliever” (Q 50:24; see also Q 17:39 and 41:40 and for a complete list, Zayn, Muʿjam, sub ilqāʾ al-kāfirīna fī-l-nār). Those who disbelieve shall be eternally fettered, in the burning fire, with shackles upon their neck (Q 13:5); linked together in chains (Q 14:49); and when the shackles (al-aghlāl) are around their necks and the chains (wal-salāsil), they will be dragged (Q 40:71), and the disbelievers will suffer disgrace (muhīn; e.g. Q 2:90), great and painful torment  (e.g. Q 3:176; 4:138).


Scholarly Literature on Disbelief

Given the grave consequences of disbelief both in the life of this world and the Hereafter, jurists exercise caution against lightly declaring any particular individual a disbeliever. Literature is dedicated to guiding and instructing believers to be watchful over their tongues and limbs, lest they say or do something that takes them out of the fold of Islam. Satan is always ready to pounce on their faith, as Badr al-Rashīd al-Ḥanafī (d. 768/1366-67) explains in his Words of Disblief (alfāẓ al-kufr), a work composed on the basis of thirteen prior treatises:

when people’s hearts are corrupted, their bodies also become corrupted and there appears from them falsehood (kadhib), gossip (namīma), wholehearted devotion to worldly matters (al-tahālik ʿalā l-dunyawiyya), by collecting its [vain] debris (ḥuṭāmuhā), their delight in its ornaments; [on the other hand] they pay little attention to the matters of Religion and for those things that could help them in the Hereafter, such as necessary precautions regarding acts of worship. At this point, Satan aims at their faith and starts to cast on their tongues [words] that make their disbelief obvious and that annihilate their acts that they had performed in their life. But they are fully negligent (dhāhilūn) of what their tongues pronounce and of the machinations of Iblīs, who aims to destroy their faith (salb īmānihim). They are concerned with the worldly matters, but their affairs of the Hereafter do not occur to their minds. They are like sleepers (nāʾimūn); only the agony of death (sakarāt al-mawt) would awaken their attention. And those will have shackles around their necks (Q 13:5). And it is those who are the heedless (Q 16:108). (Sabab taʾlīf hādhā-l-kitāb))

Abū-l-ʿAbbās Aḥmad b. Muḥammad Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī’s (909-973/1503-1563) seminal treatise, Propounding what Terminates [One’s] Islam (al-Iʿlām bi-qawāṭiʿ al-Islām) delineates words and actions which nullify belief according to both Shāfiʿī and Ḥanafī jurists, including the following:

  • “Every word or act committed deliberately or by way of outspoken mockery of religion, like prostration before an idol or before the sun, either in the domain of hostilility (dār al-ḥarb) or within the territories of Islam (dār al-Islām), is disbelief” (al-Istihzāʾ bil-dīn aw fiʿl al-kufr al-ṣarīḥ kufrun);
  • “Throwing the Qurʾān codex among dirty things in the garbage (qādhūrāt), without any excuse, is disbelief” (Ihānat al-muṣḥaf kufr akbar);
  • “The speech that is considered to constitute disbelief, whetherby way of conviction, opposition (ʿinād) or mockery, is the [proclaimed] belief in the eternity of the world (qidam al-ʿālam) or the contingency of the Creator (ḥudūth al-Ṣāniʿ), or the negation of that which is intimately attached to the Eternal by the generally known and accepted consensus; from among them: His being Knower and Omnipotent” (Iʿtiqād qidam al-ʿālam kufrun);
  • “He who thinks that [Allah] Most High incarnates (yaḥillu) in an individual or elsewhere, he disbelieves” (al-Qawl bil-ḥulūl wal-ittiḥād kufrun).

The Levantine scholar Qāsim b. Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn al-Khānī al-Ḥalabī (1028-1109/1618-1697) explained what prompted him to compose his Risāla fī alfāẓ al-kufr (Treatise on Words of Disbelief):

[First:] Common people often commit things that may lead to disbelief (mukaffirāt); frequently they deem them permitted. Habits (al-ʿādāt) lead them to accept them as good (istiḥsānihā) and to practice them; (ii) Some of the people claiming to belong to the people of knowledge have the audacity to declare other people disbelievers (takfīr) because of what is uttered by them, be it actually warranted (mukaffir) or not; but they, in fact, do not know that if someone calls a Muslim disbeliever (kaffara) due to something in which there is no disbelief, he himself is a disbeliever (fa-huwa-l-kāfir). Thus, I collected those matters that cause disbelief from among the sayings of our imams and from others, in this context. This is an enormous field of knowledge where opinions of imams have become entangled and their expressions vary in this respect. The most dangerous of the aforementioned is related to [a few] individuals and only a small number of scholars have paid attention to this fact. The dignity of their [scholars’] position makes it difficult for the common people to understand their expressions. Consequently I committed to paper what I have collected, in simple and clear words, so that everyone can easily understand it; then I explain them, so that the agreement of scholars and their disagreement can be perceived. I also added copious details where need arose. All the words are from their words—may the contentment of Allah be with all of them. I deserve only the reward of collecting them and presenting the essential parts of their treasures and donating them in charity on behalf of their souls. 

Samples from his book (all from Khānī, Risāla):

  • If someone ridicules in an insulting way a Name from among the Names of the Almighty [Allah] or His command, His promise, or His threat, he is a disbeliever (Amthila ʿalā alfāẓ mukaffira, no. 1);
  • If someone were to say: if the qibla (direction of prayer) were placed in [another] direction, I would not pray; he is a disbeliever by [scholarly] consensus (Amthila ʿalā alfāẓ mukaffira, no. 3);
  • If someone would say: I do not know if the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, was a man or a jinni (jinnī), or he was a demon, or if he despised (ḥaqara) any parts of his body, making it by way of insult (ihāna), he disbelieves by [scholarly] consensus (Amthila ʿalā alfāẓ mukaffira, no. 18);
  • If someone denies (jaḥada) the Mission (baʿtha) of the Prophets or belies a Prophet or refuses the prophethood of a Prophet from among the Prophets whose prophethood is agreed upon, he disbelieves (Takdhīb al-anbiyāʾ kufrun, no. 44);
  • f someone glorifies (ʿaẓẓama) an idol by prostrating himself before it or offering a sacrifice to it, he disbelieves (Ḥukm taʿẓīm ghayra-Llāh, no. 47);
  • If someone makes disbelief conditional on a thing, for example, if he says: If my wealth vanishes or my son [dies] I would become a Christian, he disbelieves, for agreeing to disbelief (al-riḍā bil-kufr) is disbelief (al-ʿAzm ʿalā l-kufri kufrun, no. 49);
  • If someone, at hearing the call to prayer, would say: This voice is like that of a pig; he disbelieves (al-Istihzāʾ bil-adhān kufr, no. 59);
  • If someone would falsify something in the Qurʾān or would say that it is not inimitable, he simply disbelieves (Inkār iʿjāz al-Qurʾān kufr, no. 74);
  • If someone reviles (sabba) Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, or accuses him of vice (ʿābahu) or assigns to him bodily imperfection (naqṣ) or [attacks him] in his lineage (nasabihi) or his religion, or in any of his traits, or insinuates him (ʿarraḍa bihi) or makes dubious statement about him by way of insults or by disdaining him (al-izdirāʾ ʿalayhi), or by belittling his cause (al-taṣghīru li-shaʾnihi), or by invoking evil upon him (daʿā ʿalayhi), or by wishing harm or loss (maḍarra) to him, or by ascribing to him what is not suitable to his station (bi-manṣibihi), by way of censure (ʿalā ṭarīq al-dhamm), or reproaches him (ʿayyarahu) for that which befell him from trial (al-balāʾ) and hardship (al-miḥna); such a person is a disbeliever by the consensus [of the scholars]; most scholars do not accept his repentance (Ḥukm tanaqquṣ al-nabiyy ṣallā-Llāh ʿalayhi wa sallama, alif).


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See also

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