World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0002267038
Reproduction Date:

Title: Kafirs  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Aśvakas, Tach Sharakat
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


This article is about the Islamic religious term. For the pejorative racial slur in South Africa, see Kaffir (racial term). For the song "Kafir!" by Nile, see Those Whom the Gods Detest. For the cultured milk product, see Kefir.
"Kafr" and "Kufr" redirect here. For the radio station, see KAFR. For the 2007 album by The Rebel, see Kufr (album).

Part of a series on
Islam & Iman


Kafir (Arabic: كافرkāfir, plural كفّار kuffār) is a denigrating Arabic term used in an Islamic doctrinal sense, usually translated as "unbeliever," "disbeliever," or "infidel." The term refers to a person who rejects God in Islam or who hides, denies, or covers the "Islamic version of truth." The practise of declaring another Muslim as a kafir is takfir.


The word kāfir is the active participle of the root K-F-R "to cover". As a pre-Islamic term it described farmers burying seeds in the ground, covering them with soil while planting.[1] Thus, the word kāfir implies the meaning a person who hides or covers." According to Oxford Dictionary of Islam the word 'Kafir' means: 'Unbeliever. First applied to Meccans who refused submission to Islam, the term implies an active rejection of divine revelation. In Islamic parlance, a kāfir is a word used to describe a person who rejects Islamic faith, i.e. "hides or covers [viz., the truth]."'[2]

"Kafara," which shares the Arabic root K-F-R with "kafir," means to "disbelieve," and also to be "thankless," "ungrateful," "disown," or "deny." [3]

The Hebrew words, "kipper," and "kofer", share the same root as "kafir" כִּפֵּר, or K-F-R. "Kipper" has many meanings including, to "atone for," "cover," "purge," or "represent" or "transfer." The last two meanings involve, "kofer" which mean "ransom." "Kipper" and "kofer" are mostly likely used together in the Jewish faith to indicate God's transfer of guilt from innocent parties using guilty parties as "ransom".[4]

In a number of tribes located South of Natal in South Africa, the word "kafir" is used synonymously with, "native." [5]

All four major Sunni schools of thought hold that whoever follows another religion besides Islam is an unbeliever (kafir).[6]

Use of Kafir in the Qur'an

The Qur'an uses the word kafir to signify various negative qualities of a person, all of which assist in the precise defining of kufr. Kafir, kuf and words with the K-F-R root are essential terms and an important Qur'anic concept for discriminating believers and non-believers of Islam. Kafir, and its plural kafirun, is directly used 134 times in Qur'an, its verbal noun "kufr" is used 37 times, and the verbal cognates of kafir are used about 250 times.[7]

In the structure of Islamic thought, kufr represents all things unacceptable and offensive to God (Allāh).[8] In its most fundamental sense in the Qur'an, kufr means "ingratitude," however the Qur'an contains numerous verses in which more detailed definitions are provided; the kafir is referred to as:

  • Odious: "(Such) as dispute about the signs of God, without any authority that hath reached them. Grievous and odious (is such conduct) in the sight of God and of the Believers." [40: 35]
  • Mocked: "But on this Day the Believers will laugh at the Unbelievers." [83: 34]
  • Punished: "But ye have indeed rejected (Him), and soon will come the inevitable (punishment)!" [25: 77]
  • Terrorized: "[Remember] when your Lord inspired to the angels, "I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip."" [8: 12]
  • Destroyed: "Of the wrong-doers the last was remnant was cut off. Praise be to God, the Cherisher of the Worlds." [6: 45]
  • Slain: "You will find others who wish to obtain security from you and [to] obtain security from their people. Every time they are returned to [the influence of] disbelief, they fall back into it. So if they do not withdraw from you or offer you peace or restrain their hands, then seize them and kill them wherever you overtake them. And those - We have made for you against them a clear authorization." [4: 91]
  • Crucified: "Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment." [5: 33]
  • Evil: "Say thou: 'Yea, and ye shall then be humiliated (on account of your evil)." [37: 18]
  • Cursed: "Accursed wherever they are found, [being] seized and massacred completely." [33: 61][9]

Development of Kafir in the Qur'an

As the Qur'an progresses, the meaning behind the term kafir also progresses. Kafir does not change its meaning over the course of the Qur'an, but rather it accumulates meaning over time. At first, kafir undergoes a development connected with Muhammad's changing views of his opponents. More so, because the term depicts such a diverse range of behavior, kafir moves from being one of many ideas used to describe Muhammad's opponents to being the primary description. Later in the Qur'an, as kafir becomes more and more connected with shirk, the term accumulates even more meaning with the inflexibility of Muhammad's opponents. At this point in time, kafir develops into a concept in itself. Lastly, towards the end of the Qur'an, kafir begins to also signify the group of people to be fought by the mu'minīn.[10]

Types of disbelief

Types of kufr (disbelief) - Adapted from 'Tafseer ibn Katheer[11] The Qur'an uses the word kufr to denote a person who covers up or hides realities, one who refuses to accept the dominion and authority of God (Allāh). There are several types of Al-Kufr al-Akbar:

  1. Kufrul-'Inaad: Disbelief out of stubbornness. This applies to someone who knows the Truth and admits to knowing the Truth, and knowing it with his tongue, but refuses to accept it and refrains from making a declaration. Allah says: Throw into Hell every stubborn disbeliever [12]
  2. Kufrul-Inkaar: Disbelief out of denial. This applies to someone who denies with both heart and tongue. Allah says: They recognize the favors of Allah, yet they deny them. Most of them are disbelievers.[13]
  3. Kufrul-Kibr: Disbelief out of arrogance and pride. An example of this type of Kufr is the disbelief by the devils (Iblees).
  4. Kufrul-Juhood: Disbelief out of rejection.This applies to someone who acknowledges the truth in his heart, but rejects it with his tongue. This type of kufr is applicable to those who calls themselves Muslims but who reject any necessary and accepted norms of Islam such as Salaat and Zakat. Allah says: They denied them (OUR SIGNS) even though their hearts believed in them, out of spite and arrogance.[14]
  5. Kufrul-Nifaaq: Disbelief out of hypocrisy.This applies to someone who pretends to be a believer but conceals his disbelief. Such a person is called a munafiq or hypocrite. Allah says: Verily the hypocrites will be in the lowest depths of Hell. You will find no one to help them.[15]
  6. Kufrul-Istihaal: Disbelief out of trying to make haraam into halal. This applies to someone who accepts as lawful Halal that which Allah has made unlawful Haram like alcohol or adultery. Only Allah has the prerogative to make things Halal and Haram and those who seek to interfere with His right are like rivals to Him and therefore fall outside the boundaries of faith.
  7. Kufrul-Kurh: Disbelief out of detesting any of Allah's commands. Allah says: Perdition (destruction) has been consigned to those who disbelieve and He will render their actions void. This is because they are averse to that which Allah has revealed so He has made their actions fruitless.[16]
  8. Kufrul-Istihzaha: Disbelief due to mockery and derision. Allah says: Say: Was it at Allah, His signs and His apostles that you were mocking? Make no excuses. You have disbelieved after you have believed.[17]
  9. Kufrul-I'raadh: Disbelief due to avoidance. This applies to those who turn away and avoid the truth. Allah says: And who is more unjust than he who is reminded of his Lord's signs but then turns away from them. Then he forgets what he has sent forward (for the Day of Judgement) [18]
  10. Kufrul-Istibdaal: Disbelief because of trying to substitute Allah's Laws. This could take the form of:
    1. Rejection of Allah's law, Shari'ah without denying it
    2. Denial of Allah's law and therefore rejecting it, or
    3. Substituting Allah's laws with man-made laws. Allah says: Or have they partners with Allah who have instituted for them a religion which Allah has not allowed.[19] Allah says: Say not concerning that which your tongues put forth falsely (that) is lawful and this is forbidden so as to invent a lie against Allah. Verily, those who invent a lie against Allah will never prosper.[20]

Muslim and Non-Muslim relations regarding Kafir

Relations between Muslims and non-Muslims and non-believers regarding the term "kafir" varies, and conflicts have arisen since the origin of Islam. Current discourse occurs through many different forms, including scholarly research and the blogosphere. Such discourse must be understood through a historical perspective and with knowledge of the writer of that source and the writer's intended audience.

Historical Relations between Muslims and Non-Muslims

As the foundations of Islam grew into a Muslim community (ummah), disagreements arose that eventually led to the splitting of Islam into sects. In the twelfth century, one group, which grew out of the split between what would become Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims was the Kharijites. The Kharijites adopted the idea of takfir, or “declaration of infidelity” and “took the extreme puritanical view that the sinner who failed to repent had ipso facto excluded himself from the community, and was hence a kafir.”[21] In turn, the Sunni majority turned on the Kharijites, labeling them as kafir.[22] In the beginning stages of Islam, the label of “kafir” was often used in conflicts between Muslims.

When the Islamic empire expanded, however, the word “kafir” took on other forms in interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims. One goal of expansion of the Islamic empire was to create an open society based on the Prophet Muhammad’s example and not on the tribal traditions of ancient Arabia. During this period the word “kafir” could have been seen as broadly as, “anyone who disbelieves in the truth revealed by god.” [23] Believers in religions other than Islam, therefore, were not necessarily seen as kafir although they were labeled as such and often faced violence.

One of the principal reasons for the expansion of Islam was to obtain knowledge of science and philosophy from other cultures, of which Muslim scholars were appreciative. Ya ‘qub b. Ishaq al-Kindi, also known as, “the philosopher of the Arabs,” said, “We owe great thanks to those who have imparted to us even a small measure of truth…since they have given us a share in the fruits of their reflection.”[24] India, in particular, became a hub of cultural coexistence between Muslims and Hindus.[25] Many of the early Arab and non-Arab scholars praise India for this coexistence and achievement. Sufis, especially, were known for abstaining from fighting and focusing on the faith. In fact, many Sufi saints wrote about the parallels between Islam and Hindu yogi orders.[26] Thus, there existed in Islam some sense of peace among cultural convergences.

Many writers, however, discuss the tragedies of the early interactions between Muslims and Hindus. In his book The Koran and the kafir, A. Ghosh speaks of the chain of caliph leaders of the Islamic empire, who through war and conquering victimized their non-Muslim neighbors. “For the first time in their history, the Hindus were witnessing, as their counterparts the Christians did at the outset of Islamic invasion of Europe, a scene that went beyond their imagination. One historian wrote, ‘The conquering army burnt villages, devastated the land, plundered people’s wealth, took priests and children and women of all classes captive, flogged with thongs of raw hide, carried a moving prison with it, and converted the prisoners into obsequious Turks.’”[27]

Current Hindu and Muslim relations in India reflect the paradoxical environment of the history of their relations. Asghar Ali Engineer, author of “Resolving Hindu-Muslim Problem” warns, “It is proper to view this cultural separatism and islamisation not simply as a facet of Muslim fanticism but rather as a sociological process which, to a great extent, resulted from the political struggles between the elites of the two communities.”[28]”Kafir” was used as a label of religious separation, when in reality the conflict reflected larger political and cultural issues.

Relations between Jews and Muslims in the Arab world and use of the word “kafir” were equally as complex, and over the last century, issues regarding "kafir" have arisen over the conflict in Israel and Palestine.[29] In an attempt to secure Israel, in 1998 the Palestine Liberation Organization, generated a plan to create committees for security of, “Muslims and the Kuffar (the Jews and the American CIA).” Calling the Jews of Israel, “the usurping kafir,” Yasser Arafat turned on the Muslim resistance and “allegedly set a precedent for preventing Muslims from mobilizing against ‘aggressor disbelievers’ in other Muslim lands, and enabled ‘the cowardly, alien kafir’ to achieve new levels of intervention in Muslim affairs.”[30]

Kafir and Jihad

For dealing with non-Muslims, Jasser Auda, a director of the al-Maqasid Research Centre in the Philosophy of the Islamic Law in London, England, says that the general rule is mentioned in the verse that says what means:

"Allah forbiddeth you not those who warred not against you on account of religion and drove you not out from your homes, that ye should show them kindness and deal justly with them. Lo! Allah loveth the just dealers." ([60:8])

Birr in this context is likened to birr al-walidain, the kindness that a Muslim should show to his or her parents.[31] This quote addresses the relationship between the concepts of kafir and jihad in Islam.

While the Qur'anic statement of peace towards non-Muslims and non-believers is implied within this passage, the practical sense of jihad in Islam is derived from the example of the Prophet Muhammad. A. Ghosh, author of The Koran and the kafir cites the Prophet's war against the Qurayza Jewish tribe in 627 A.D. and subsequent wars of the caliphate as the starting point for a pattern of "jihad" which he translates as, "holy war," against the infidel in the Muslim religion.[32]

However, the research of Dr. Sherman Jackson suggests a separation between the classical terms of "jihad" and the modern interpretations of "jihad." According to Jackson, both the Qur'an and classical interpretations of jihad show that "a perennial 'state of war'" existed, where in which the "assumed relationship" between neighboring tribes was one of hostility, while in the modern world the "assumed relationship" illustrates a state of peace unless provoked by the other party.[33]

Thus, although “jihad” was often painted as a “holy war” against infidels, the historical and cultural backgrounds of the Muslims involved in “jihad” must be taken into consideration.[34]

Kafir in the Afterlife

Throughout the Qur’an, it is clear that Death (maut) is a very important theme. This is linked with the knowledge of life (haya) and the undeniable faith and belief in God. Life is valued very highly, and death is ultimately the punishment for all of the Unbelievers who choose to war against God and Muhammad.[35] For these Unbelievers, on the Day of Judgment, Hell (Jahannam), a dark dwelling place with seven gates, awaits them and other offenders.[36]

Although the Truth has been presented to all people in Islam, there are some who have chosen to have a hatred for this Truth.[37] For these Unbelievers, it is possible for their past to be forgiven as long as they are able to repent from a life of disbelief. However, they will be punished in this life and on the Day of Judgment if they choose to continue on the path of disbelief.[38] Disbelievers are described in the Qur’an as men and women who love the life of this world more than what is described in the Hereafter.[39] They are engrossed in this life, and are not focused on the described paradise of the Hereafter. They are those who have uttered blasphemy after accepting Islam. Ultimately, repenting would be the best choice for these people, yet they choose to turn back to their evil ways; because God can see all and hear all thoughts and actions of the disbelievers, He places the consequence of Hypocrisy on their hearts.[40]

On the Day of Judgment, Unbelievers will ultimately wish they had believed and bowed down to God’s will in Islam.[41] God views these people as arrogant, and He does not love those who are arrogant. On this day, the Unbelievers will bear the burden of themselves and the decisions they have made in their lifetime, as well as the burden of those they have misled.[42] It is understood that God will not give light to anyone who does not give Him light or faith. Instead, He will summon them to the depths of darkness within a vast, deep ocean covered with dark clouds [43] where they will be covered with Shame and Misery.[44]

Use outside Islam

By the 15th century, the word Kaffir was used by Muslims in Africa to refer to the non-Muslim African natives. Many of those kufari were enslaved and sold by their Muslims captors to European and Asian merchants, mainly from Portugal, who by that time had established trading outposts along the coast of West Africa. These European traders adopted that Arabic word and its derivatives.[45]

Some of the earliest records of European usage of the word can be found in The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation by Hakluyt, Richard, 1552-1616.[46] In volume 4, Hakluyt writes: "calling them Cafars and Gawars, which is, infidels or disbelievers.[47] Volume 9 refers to the slaves (slaves called Cafari) and inhabitants of Ethiopia (and they use to go in small shippes, and trade with the Cafars) by two different but similar names. The word is also used in reference to the coast of Africa as land of Cafraria.[48]

The word eventually changed into many forms — cafre (in Portuguese, Spanish, French and Greek), caffar, kaffer, kaffir, kafir, etc. (in English, Dutch, and Afrikaans). Those words were then used to name many things related to Africa, such as the Kaffir Wars,[49] Kaffraria, kaffir lime, kaffir corn, and so on; see kaffir (disambiguation).

Some of those African slaves were taken by the Portuguese to work in their colonies in Asia. In some cities of Sri Lanka, in particular, the descendants of those slaves still constitute a distinctive ethnic group, who call themselves Kaffir.[50]

By the late 19th century the word was in common use throughout Europe and its colonies, often appeared in the newspapers and other written works of the time.[51][52][53][54][55] One of the Union-Castle Line ships operating off the South African coast was named SS Kafir.[56]

In the early twentieth century, in his book The Essential Kafir, Dudley Kidd writes that the word "kafir" has come to be used for all dark-skinned South African tribes. Thus, in many parts of South Africa, "kafir" has become synonymous with the word, "native." [57] Currently in South Africa, however, the word kaffir is often used as a racial slur, applied pejoratively or offensively to African blacks.[58]

The song "Kafir" by American technical death metal band Nile from their sixth album Those Whom the Gods Detest uses as subject matter the violent attitudes that Muslim extremists have toward Kafirs.[59]

The Nuristani people were formally known as Kaffirs of Kafiristan before the Afghan Islamization of the region. Moreover their native name was Kapir, due to the lack of a "P" in Arabic, they coincidentally were called Kafirs, which was incorrect but again correct since they were polytheists, moreover Henotheists.[60]

The Kalash people located in the Hindu Kush mountain range south west of Chitral are known as Kafirs by the Muslim population of Chitral.[61]

See also

Non-Islam specific:


External links

  • Takfir - Anathematizing
  • Universal Validity of Religions and the Issue of Takfir
  • Hermeneutics of takfir

ar:الكفر في الاسلام

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.