The Fiqh of Takfeer

A serious matter and the two extremes

The reality is that it is a very serious matter to call a Muslim Kaafir or to call a Kaafir a Muslim. The Noble Qur’aan has stated regarding calling a Muslim Kaafir:

“O you who have Imaan! When you travel in Allaah’s way, then verify (when people claim to be Muslims) and do not say to the one who makes his submission (to Islam) apparent, “You are not a Mu’min!”[Surah Nisaa 4:94]
Similarly, calling a Kaafir a Muslim, is also prohibited in the following verse: “Do you wish to guide him whom Allah has sent astray? You shall never find a road (for guidance) for the one whom Allaah has sent astray” [Surah Nisaa 4.88]. Tafseer Jalalayn says that ‘to guide him’ means that to count the Kuffaar from among the guided.
To consider a Kaafir to be a Muslim, or a Muslim to be a Kaafir are both serious things. However, today, the opposite is happening that people consider this to be trivial, and insignificant.

One group has made it their hobby to make Takfeer of others upon the slightest deed against the Shari’ah. In fact, if something against their nature happens, they pass fatwa of Kufr on those people. They remove people from the fold of Islaam for the smallest of things. On the other side, another group according to whom Imaan and Islaam has no reality, call every person a Muslim that claims to be a Muslim even if he rejects the Qur’aan and Hadith and the laws of Islaam and belittles them. They have made Islaam just a label, and feel a person can believe whatever he wants, do and say what he wants, and in every case he is a still a Muslim. They consider this to be broad thinking and broadmindedness. 
However, Islaam is free from both extremes. Islaam has presented a divine law for its followers. The person who accepts it with an open heart and does not feel any straitened feeling in his heart is a Muslim. The one who rejects any clear ruling of this divine law is definitely and undoubtedly out of the fold of Islaam. 

Irtidaad and Kufr

The linguistic meaning of irtidaad is to turn or return. According to the technical definition of the Shari’ah, turning away from Imaan and Islaam is called Irtidaad and the one
turning away is called a Murtad.
There are two forms of Irtidaad.
1. A person turns away from Islaam and changes religion. He decides to choose another religion or reject the oneness of Allaah or reject the Risaalat of Rasulullaah. 
2. The person does not clearly change the religion or reject Tawheed and Risaalat but adopts such actions, statements or beliefs that entail a meaning of rejection of Islam. For example, a person rejects a clear definite necessary aspect of Islaam that is clearly proven from the text of the Qur’aan or is proven through Tawaatur from Rasulullaah. This form is also included in irtidaad according to the consensus of the Ummah even though the person is punctual upon all the laws of Islaam besides it.

Definition of Imaan

The definition of Imaan is famous and well known. It has two parts. One is to believe in Allaah and the second is to believe in Rasulullaah. However, bringing Imaan in Allaah does not mean that a person only accepts the existence of Allaah, but it is necessary to believe in all His complete qualities of knowledge, hearing, seeing, power etc. as befits His honour that is mentioned in the Qur’aan and Hadith. Otherwise, many religions accept the existence of Allaah, Judaism, Christianity etc.

Similarly, the meaning of believing in Rasulullaah is not that you accept his existence; that he was born in Makkah, migrated to Madinah and in 63 years of his life he did this and that, but the reality of bringing Imaan in Risaalat is that all the laws brought by the Rasul should be accepted with an open heart and a person should not display any form of displeasure or reservations about them.

Once the reality of Imaan is known then the form of Kufr and Irtidaad has also been clarified. This is because Imaan is to accept and submit and belying and rejecting them is Kufr and Irtidaad.

Clear and definitive v ambiguous proofs

In terms of proof, the laws of Islaam are of different types and levels. They all do not carry the same ruling. Kufr and Irtidaad will only come about in the case where such laws are rejected that are clearly and definitely proven and they prove something clear and definite. This means that it is proven from the Qur’aan or such Ahadith that have been narrated by so many narrators from the blessed era of Rasulullaah until today by different classes and in different cities that is considered impossible for all of them to collectively make up a lie and spread it. (This is called Tawaatur in the terminology of the Shari’ah and such Ahadith are called Ahadith Mutawaatira).
Clear in terms of meaning means that the text of the Qur’aan or the Mutawaatir Hadith dealing with it is clear and apparent. There is no type of confusion or vagueness, and no room for a different interpretation (Ta’weel); and only one meaning can be taken from it.

Then, if this type of ruling becomes famous and well known in every class of the Muslims, professionals and the laymen that attaining them does not depend on any special learning and teaching, but generally the Muslims know of it coming down the generations like Salaah, fasting, Haij, zakaat being obligatory and stealing, drinking being sins, Rasulullaah being the final Nabi etc., such laws are referred to as the necessary aspects of Deen (Darooriyaat). Those that are not of this status will only be definite and clear (Qat’iyaat) not the necessary aspects.
The difference in ruling between the necessary aspects and clear rulings is that rejection of the necessary aspects is Kufr by consensus of the Ummah. Ignorance is not an excuse and no Ta’weel will be considered.
Regarding the clear rulings that have not reached the level of fame, then according to the Hanafi school there is detail that if a general person rejects out of ignorance, then the ruling of Kufr and Irtidaad will not be given, but he will be taught that this ruling is part of the definite clear rulings of Islaam and it is Kufr to reject it. After this, if he remains on his rejection, then the ruling of Kufr will be given.
If a person makes Ta’weel in necessary or the definite and clear aspects of the deen, in such a way that contradicts the Qur’aan, Mutawatir ahadith, and consensus of the ummah, then he is a Kaafir. For example, he testifies that the Qur’aan is true and Jannah and Jahannam mentioned therein is also correct but Jannah means that happiness and joy that is created from good character and Jahannam means regret that is attained from evil character. In this way, there is no actual Jannah and Jahannam.


Not all interpretations can be accepted in Islam. People will always make some sort of interpretation to support their views. Not all can be correct.


The summary is that just as Kufr and Irtidaad is of many types:

  1. changing religion
  2. rejecting the necessary aspects of Deen or the clear rulings
  3. interpreting the necessary aspects of Deen in a way which contradicts Qur’aan, Mutawatir ahadith, and consensus of the ummah.


Caution; give him the benefit of doubt

Therefore the principle of the Shari’ah regarding Takfeer of a Muslim is that as long as there is scope for a correct meaning to be taken from the speech of a person and there is nothing against it clearly mentioned by the speaker himself or there is the smallest difference of opinion among the Imams regarding it being Kufr, the person will not be called a Kaafir.


If there are reservations about the ruling of Kufr regarding a person or group, whether the causes of the doubt is the differences of the scholars or a conflict of reason or confusion of the principles, then the safest way is that the ruling of Kufr is not given, nor the ruling of Islaam should be given.
In the rulings, caution should also be adopted, i.e. he will not be given permission to marry (a Muslim) nor will he be followed (in salaah) nor will his slaughtered animal be eaten etc.
If one has the ability to do research, the person’s beliefs should be checked and the ruling will be passed according to the findings. If he does not have the ability to research, then silence should be adopted and his matter should be left to Allaah.

Other points

In this matter, another things that needs to be considered is that coming out of the fold of Islaam or in order to be Kaafir, intention. The greatest devil, Iblees, did not make an intention to become Kaafir but his action made him Kaafir. Regarding this the Qur’aan says “He was of the disbelievers”. In the first century (of Islaam) the followers of Musailamah the liar did not leave the religion of Islaam by intention, but by the consensus of the Sahabah they were considered to have left the fold of Islaam due to their actions and beliefs. 


Another point is Kufr and Irtidaad will be in the case when a person rejects accepting a clear ruling and turns away and he does not have the belief that it is compulsory to practice upon it. However, if a person does understand the ruling to be compulsory to practice, but he does not practice out of evil habit or bad habit, then it will not be called Kufr and even if he does not practice that thing for his entire life. For example, Zakaah. A person who rejects Zakaah is necessary and fard is a Kaafir. But one who does not pay is not Kaafir.


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Tayyib HMC FInder

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