Lecture 28 

05-12-2024 04:28 PM Comment(s) By AIIM

Fundamentals of Faith and Disbelief: Navigating Criteria and Consequences 


Al-Tahawi, may Allah have mercy on him, begins his creedal treatise by affirming the absolute oneness of Allah: "We say in the oneness of Allah, believing by the grace of Allah: Allah is One, without a partner, and there is nothing like Him, and there is no deity worthy of worship except Him." This foundational statement encapsulates the three dimensions of Tawheed: the oneness of Lordship, the oneness of Divinity, and the oneness of Names and Attributes.


Tawheed (oneness of Allah) stands in direct opposition to Shirk (polytheism), Kufr (disbelief), and Nifaq (hypocrisy). We ask Allah for safety and protection from these three contradictions. True belief in Tawheed is not merely acknowledging these aspects intellectually but actively guarding against all forms of Shirk, Kufr, and Nifaq until one achieves complete and undivided Faith. However, engaging in minor forms of these violations, such as minor polytheism (shirk), disbelief (kufr), or hypocrisy (Nifaq) renders one's Faith incomplete. Conversely, committing Major forms of these—major polytheism, hypocrisy, or disbelief—entirely nullifies one's Faith and oneness with Allah. Major transgressions and true Faith cannot coexist; the presence of one necessarily excludes the other.


'Lā ilāha illa Allāh' serves as the definitive criterion distinguishing a Muslim from a Disbeliever (Kafir). This Testimony of Faith (Kamilah) forms the foundation of the entire Islamic religion, shaping our understanding of life, death, humanity, and the cosmos. The core message delivered by all Prophets, from Nuh (Noah) to Muhammad (peace be upon him), is encapsulated in this declaration. Allah states in the Quran: "We did not send a Messenger before you without revealing to him: 'There is no god worthy of being worshiped except I, therefore worship Me.'"[1]


Allah created humanity, Jinn, and all other creatures with the purpose of recognizing and proclaiming 'Lā ilāha illa Allāh'. As such, all of creation inherently submits to worship Allah. However, unlike other creations, humans and Jinn have been endowed with the freedom to choose their path. Demonstrating Islam involves not only professing 'Lā ilāha illa Allāh' but also performing the obligatory actions prescribed by the faith. These actions confirm one's Muslim identity, which is established with certainty (Yaqeen) and should not be undermined by mere doubts. This chapter will further explain the conditions under which a person's Islamic faith might be questioned and the careful steps necessary to ascertain such determinations.


Levels of Faith: Distinguishing Major from Minor Transgressions

Faith is a complex and nuanced aspect of religious life, particularly in Islam, where actions and beliefs are deeply intertwined with one's spiritual standing. In Islam, it's essential to distinguish between major and minor transgressions, which impact one's faith but differ significantly in their consequences and severity.


Major vs. Minor Transgressions

In Islam, distinguishing between major and minor transgressions is crucial for believers striving to preserve their faith and spiritual integrity. This distinction serves as an essential guide for monitoring one's actions and beliefs, ensuring alignment with the fundamental principles of Islam. Recognizing the differences between these transgressions not only aids in spiritual self-assessment but also fosters a deeper commitment to abstain from acts that could undermine or diminish one's faith. This introductory exploration seeks to elucidate these distinctions, providing a clear framework for maintaining religious adherence and personal growth.

Major Transgressions: Major transgressions in Islam involve acts that lead to the outright rejection of faith. Engaging in Major polytheism, practicing hypocrisy, or displaying disbelief are considered severe violations that sever one's connection with Allah. For example, idol worship or invoking the dead saints, which directly contradicts the monotheistic foundation of Islam, is categorized as Major Polytheism. Such acts not only erase one's faith but also categorize an individual as having stepped outside the bounds of Islam.

Minor Transgressions: Contrarily, minor transgressions do not wholly sever one's faith but do weaken it. A typical example is when an individual swears by something other than Allah out of habit rather than conviction. While this act does not equate to disbelief, it is considered a minor form of polytheism because it involves giving sacred status to other entities, thereby diluting the purity of monotheism taught by Islam. Although minor, these acts are serious because they can lead to Major Polytheism if left unchecked.

Minor Acts:Minor acts do not break one's faith entirely but compromise its required perfection. An illustrative example includes the casual use of phrases like "I swear by my mother's life." This phrase might seem innocuous but subtly shifts reverence from Allah to another being, which could escalate into more pronounced forms of polytheism.

Major Acts: Major acts involve a direct denial or mockery of divine principles. For instance, denying the existence of Allah or mocking the Quran are acts that negate one's faith entirely, equivalent to rejecting Islam. Such actions are viewed as a complete abandonment of religious teachings and are the most severe breaches of the Islamic faith.

Severity of Minor Polytheism:Despite being labeled as 'minor,' the severity of minor polytheism should not be underestimated. This form of polytheism directly affects the heart's devotion to Allah. It is considered more severe than other major sins like theft or lying, which often stem from personal desires or societal influences rather than a direct challenge to one's faith. An example of minor polytheism could be someone attributing success in an endeavor to a lucky charm rather than Allah's blessing, subtly placing trust in an object rather than the divine.

Navigating the Extremes in Islamic Judgment

In our current era, a widespread lack of knowledge about Islam often leads to misconceptions and unintended actions or statements by Muslims, which do not necessarily warrant the nullification of their Islamic faith. However, if it is established with evidence that such sayings or actions were committed knowingly and with deliberate intention, then, and only then, can such individuals be declared disbelievers and treated accordingly. This crucial subject brings us to the understanding of two problematic extremes:


The Extremists (Al-Khawarij): The Khawarij are known for their eagerness to declare other Muslims as apostates (Kafir) without proper justification. This extreme approach overlooks essential Islamic judicial principles and the severe consequences of such declarations.


Abdullah Ibn Umar reported that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) warned: "If you declare your brother a disbeliever, then one of the two of you is a disbeliever. If he is not, then you are" (Quran 21:25)(1). This highlights the grave risk of mislabeling a Muslim as a disbeliever, which carries significant religious implications affecting marital, dietary, and funeral rights.


The Negligent (Al-Murji’ah): Conversely, the Murji’ah avoid labeling anyone as a disbeliever, even in cases where individuals explicitly reject the commands of Allah or commit actions that are clear nullifiers of Islam, provided they do so with full knowledge and intention. This negligence can also undermine the integrity of Islamic teachings and community.


The Middle Path: Scholars adhering to the Quran and Sunnah, especially those following the understanding of the three praised generations (Al-Salaf Al-Salih), have developed guidelines to navigate these extremes. These guidelines aim to ensure that accusations of disbelief are reserved for clear, intentional violations of core Islamic tenets, thereby safeguarding the community from the dangers of both unjust excommunication and negligent tolerance.

These principles and guidelines are crucial for maintaining the balance and justice prescribed in Islamic law, preventing the divisive impacts of both harsh extremism and careless leniency.


Understanding Faith and Disbelief: Clarifying the Distinctions

There is often confusion between two distinct categories: The Original Disbeliever (Al-Kafir Al-Asli), who has never accepted Islam, and an Apostate (Al-Kafir Al-Murtad), who has renounced their faith. Clarifying the following points will help differentiate between the two:


Recognition of a Muslim:

  • A Muslim is typically someone born into a Muslim household.
  • Recognition also comes through performing Islamic rituals, such as praying in a mosque.
  • A Muslim may also be someone who, having been a disbeliever, converts to Islam by declaring the Testimony of Faith, 'Lā ilāha illa Allāh.'


Definition of a Disbeliever (Kafir):

  • A Disbeliever does not believe in Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This includes:

o  Originally Disbeliever (Al-Kafir Al-Asli): Born into a non-Islamic faith and never converted to Islam. This includes individuals who may believe in God but not in Prophet Muhammad, extending to various groups like Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and others.

o  Apostate (Al-Kafir Al-Murtad): A former Muslim who has renounced Islam.


Treatment and Relationships with Non-Muslims:

  • People of the Book (Ahlu Al-Dhamma): Residing within Muslim lands, these groups are entitled to worship freely and are guaranteed protection of life and property under Islamic Law, as exemplified by the Prophet's command during the conquest of Egypt. This highlights the historical ties with Egyptians through Hajar, the wife of Prophet Ibrahim, and Mariah the Copt.
  • Non-Muslims with Covenants: This category includes diplomatic or legal agreements ensuring mutual respect between Muslim and non-Muslim territories. It also covers non-Muslims legally residing in Muslim lands or Muslims legally residing in non-Muslim territories.
  • Combatant Non-Muslims: Engagements with this group are governed strictly by the rules of warfare. Even in war, treachery against those granted security is prohibited, as emphasized by the Prophet's teachings.


Ethical Considerations in Inter-religion Interactions:

  • The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stressed the importance of just and fair treatment of non-Muslims who are not combatants, advocating for mercy and kindness and inviting them towards Islam through good character.


Understanding Apostasy (Kafir Murtad):

An Apostate (Kafir Murtad) is someone who was once a Muslim but knowingly and willfully commits actions that are considered violations against the core tenets of Islam. These actions include:

  1. Denying an Obligation (Al-Juhoud) pertains to Islamic jurisprudence concerning apostasy. In Islamic law, apostasy refers to the act of a Muslim consciously abandoning Islam by making a statement or taking an action that is considered un-Islamic. Denying an obligation such as the five pillars of Islam (Shahadah, Salah, Zakat, Sawm, and Hajj) or the laws derived from the Quran and Sunnah, when done knowingly and intentionally, is categorized under Al-Juhoud, which leads to being labeled as an apostate (Murtad).

This form of denial must be explicit, and the implications must be fully understood. It's not simply neglecting religious duties but outright rejecting them. The reference to Iblis (Satan) illustrates the severity and nature of such rejection. Iblis is noted in Islamic theology for his willful disobedience to Allah despite knowing the commandments directly from Allah. This disobedience is seen as a form of rebellion and is a classic example of Juhoud in an Islamic context.

This stance on apostasy is primarily based on interpretations of Sharia law and differs widely among Islamic scholars, depending on the legal school of thought and regional interpretations. Understanding the nuances and contexts of such beliefs is critical, particularly in discussions about religious doctrines and laws.

  1. Permitting what Allah Forbade (Al-Istihlal): The concept of Permitting what Allah forbids (Al-Istihlal) is another principle within Islamic jurisprudence that can lead to a declaration of apostasy. This involves a Muslim declaring that something that Allah explicitly forbids in Islamic texts—such as fornication, alcohol consumption, usury, etc.—is permissible. The reverse, declaring something permissible as forbidden, can also fall under this category. This action must be undertaken knowingly and with deliberate intent to contradict Islamic teachings.


Al-Istihlal is considered a serious violation because it implies a direct challenge to the divine commandments outlined in the Quran and the Hadith. When someone engages in Istihlal, they are essentially attributing falsehood to Allah and the divine revelations, akin to rewriting the religious laws based on personal judgment or preference, which is seen as a form of blasphemy.


The severity of Istihlal as a cause for apostasy stems from the idea that such actions not only violate the laws themselves but also reject the authority of Allah by altering the religion's divine legislation. It is a form of defiance that equates to disbelief (Kufr), as the individual asserts personal judgments or societal norms over divine law.


Like Al-Juhoud, Al-Istihlal's implications are significant within Islamic legal and theological frameworks and are subject to interpretation by religious scholars. These interpretations can vary widely depending on different Muslim communities' juristic traditions and cultural contexts.


  1. Committing Nullifiers of Islam (Al-Naqid): The third cause of apostasy in Islam involves committing actions that directly oppose the core tenets of faith, known as the nullifiers of Islam. These nullifiers act as direct contradictions to the Islamic testimony of faith, resulting in apostasy when committed with full awareness and deliberate intent. Here are the nullifiers briefly described with illustrative examples:


1.  Associating Partners with Allah (Shirk): This is considered the gravest sin in Islam. Examples include worshipping idols or attributing divine qualities to other beings, such as believing a saint can independently answer prayers.

2.  Placing Intermediaries in Worship: This involves invoking saints or prophets as mediators between oneself and Allah, like praying to a prophet to grant wishes instead of praying directly to Allah.

3.  Denying the Prophethood of Muhammad: Rejecting Muhammad as the final Prophet or his teachings as the ultimate guidance is apostasy. For instance, he believes there are prophets after Muhammad or rejects his Hadiths as a source of guidance.

4.  Believing in Guidance Superior to Prophet Muhammad's: Considering any religious or secular guidance as superior to the Prophet Muhammad's, like preferring modern laws over Sharia.

5.  Hating Islamic Teachings: Disliking anything brought by the Prophet Muhammad, regardless of outwardly following Islam. An example is secretly despising the command to pray while still performing prayers.

6.  Mocking Islam: Ridiculing Islamic principles, rituals, or Allah's commands. Examples include making jokes about the Quran, Islamic practices like fasting, or the ethical teachings of Islam.

7.  Practicing Sorcery or Magic: Engaging in acts like fortune-telling or using magic to influence others' lives directly contradicts the reliance on Allah alone.

8.  Supporting Non-Muslims Against Muslims Unjustly: For example, aiding an attacking nation against a Muslim state without a just cause.

9.  Believing One is Above Islamic Duties: Thinking oneself exempt from performing obligatory actions such as Salah (prayer) and Zakat (charity).

10.  Turning Away from Learning or Practicing Islam: Deliberately avoiding learning Islamic teachings or not practicing the religion, such as refusing to know about the Quran or the Sunnah.

These acts, when committed with full awareness and intention, sever one's connection with Islam. They are taken very seriously and require substantial evidence before declaring someone as having committed apostasy. Muslims must understand these nullifiers to avoid them and remain steadfast in their faith.

It is crucial to recognize that accusations of apostasy should only be made with utmost caution and proper evidence, reflecting the serious implications such decisions carry in the Islamic community. The scholars have identified these key nullifiers in books of Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh), emphasizing the need for a deep understanding and careful approach when addressing such sensitive issues.


Seven Guidelines on Excommunication from Islam (Takfir)

The practice of declaring someone an apostate (Kafir) is governed by stringent rules to ensure fairness and prevent misuse. Here are seven established guidelines followed by scholars:


1.  Seriousness of Takfir: It is critical not to take lightly the act of declaring someone a disbeliever (Kafir), as it involves significant consequences:

q  It may result in bearing false witness against Allah regarding the ruling.

q  It risks falsely accusing a Muslim of disbelief, potentially leading to severe repercussions. Abdullah Ibn Umar narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "If a man declares his brother to be a Disbeliever, it will apply to one of them." (Sahih Al-Bukhari)


2.  Authority on Takfir: Only those well-versed in Islamic Law (Shariah) such as scholars, Muslim judges, or rulers, are qualified to declare a Muslim as a disbeliever. This is not the prerogative of individuals.


3.  Judging by Outward Actions (Al-Hukm Bi-Al-Zahir): A person is to be considered a Muslim based on their visible actions, such as attending prayers, fasting, and paying obligatory charity. Even if doubts exist about their sincerity, judgments are made based on what is apparent.


4.  Types of Takfir: there are two types of methodology of ex-communicating a Muslim out of Islam:

q  Unrestricted Takfir (Al-Takfir Al-Mutlaq): This involves generalizing an action as disbelief without attributing it to a specific individual.

q  Individual Takfir (Takfir Al-Moua'n): This is a specific declaration against an individual where evidence is meticulously reviewed, and all conditions are met.


5.  Completion of Proof (Iqamat ul-Hujjah): Evidence from the Quran and Sunnah must be presented and understood by the accused, ensuring that they are fully aware that their actions constitute disbelief.


6.  Establishing Conditions (Istifa Al-Shorout): The accused must have complete knowledge that their actions are an act of disbelief and must have performed the act willfully without coercion.


7.  Removing Obstacles (Intifa Al-Mawani): Before declaring someone a disbeliever, it must be ensured that none of these four obstacles are present:


a)  Ignorance: The person was not aware that the action was an act of disbelief.

b)  Misinterpretation: The individual misunderstood the religious ruling.

c)  Error or Forgetfulness: The action was done mistakenly or forgetfully.

d)  Coercion: The person was forced to act against their will.


These guidelines serve to protect the integrity of the community and the faith of individuals by preventing hasty or unjust accusations of apostasy. In the upcoming volume of the Right Belief Series, further insights into Faith (Iman), Disbelief (Kufr), and the process of Takfir will be explored to provide a deeper understanding of these critical concepts.


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