True Meaning of Kufar

What is the true meaning of "kufar," and when is it appropriate to use it? Find out from a fellow student of knowledge. -

The Sahih Collection of al-Bukhari

by Imam Bukhari

Translated by: Ustadha Aisha Bewley

Chapter 10: The Qibla

384. It is related that Anas ibn Malik said that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Whoever prays our prayer and faces our qibla and eats what we slaughter, he is a Muslim and is under the protection of Allah and the protection of His Messenger. Do not act treacherously against Allah with respect to those under His protection.”

Who do we call a Muslim? What does Kufar really mean?

Kufar has almost turned into a curse word in our current community setting. People use this in anger towards one another and call them Kufar. When someone is seen smoking or being too close to the opposite gender, Kufar is an easy word off of many people’s tongues.

Kufar literally means “unbeliever” and unbeliever is defined as “someone who refuses to believe (as in a divinity.)” Notice how the word “belief” is the core component, not “action.” Of course as Muslims, we believe that belief is shown through action, but as I’m sure anyone can relate to, our actions sometimes are not as Muslim as our heart may be. By definition, there are only two groups – believer and unbeliever. Or, Muslim and Kufar, respectively.

Since only Allah is able to see what is in our heart, we must judge by actions who is a Muslim and who is a Kufar. We judge by outward appearances, but Allah judges by inward realities. We can not go to extremes and call someone a Kufar based on our witnessing of one sin. On the other side, we can not say that all sins are okay as long as you profess the shahadah (There is no god except Allah). Saying one is a Kufar does not, and should not be, labeling a person to Hellfire just like labeling someone a Muslim does not ensure their entry into Paradise.

When we say someone is Kufar, it is simply a legal statement and a label for who should be treated as a Muslim when they get married, die, have kids, etc.

Two terms are important in this discussion:

Tasdiq: “You are telling the truth”

Takdhib: “You are lying”

(both in reference to the Sunnah and Qur’an)

When someone is denying a pillar of Islam, such as saying that you don’t have to pray, they are essentially saying to the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), “You are lying” and they are committing takdhib. To deny a pillar of Islam is the gravest of errors and anything that a person rejects that is necessarily known of the religion will remove them from Islam. For instance, if a person states that drinking is not forbidden, they have committed takdhib and it is safe to say they are Kufar. Again, does this mean we are saying they are going to Hellfire? No! We do not know what will happen in their life or what is in their heart but this person isn’t required to have a nikkah when they get married, they are not expected to pay zakat, etc.

Notice in the examples given that we mentioned people who are denying that an action is a sin or that something is obligatory. There is a big difference between someone committing a sin when they are weak and denying it is a sin altogether. We are all sinners and Muslims may be punished for their deeds, in this life or the next, even if they are eventually destined for Paradise, by Allah’s Mercy.

In short, Kufar is a legal term used for anyone who does not appear to be Muslim. Kufar is not a word used for a sinning Muslim, nor is it a derogatory term. We use it to classify someone, especially in legal matters such as paying zakat (required charity tax), creating a marriage contract, burial rights, etc. It does not mean this person is going to Hellfire as no one in creation can determine this, especially for a living person.

It is up to Allah. And for any living person, including you and me, He is giving us more days to determine our final destination, in sha Allah (God willing).

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3 thoughts on “True Meaning of Kufar

  1. Salam alaykum

    I read your article when it was posted, but I never got to answer.

    I think it is sad that people often go around and use the "kufar"-word on other people. It is such a strong word with a deep meaning mashaallah but in the end only Allah subhanahuwa ta'ala knows what is in our hearts. Why would people go around and "label" each other "kufar" when most of us aren't perfect muslims?

  2. Asalamu aliakuam,

    MashaAllah, this is an important topic!

    I'd like to add two important hadiths, inshaAllah:

    “Ibn Umar related that the Prophet sallah Allahoo alyhee wa salam said: If a Muslim calls another kafir, then if he is a kafir let it be so; otherwise, he [the caller] is himself a kafir.''

    (Abu Dawud, Book of Sunna, edition published by Quran Mahal, Karachi, vol. iii, p. 484)

    `Abu Zarr reported that the Prophet sallah Allahoo alyhee wa salam said: No man accuses another man of being a sinner, or of being a kafir, but it reflects back on him if the other is not as he called him.''

    (Bukhari, Book of Ethics; Book 78, ch. 44)

    So we really really have to be careful!

  3. i have heard at least 5 different versions or translations for that word. one says it means all who aren't muslim (but didn't explain what makes us a muslim). one said that it's people who don't believe in God and the rest of the explanations are different variations of these two..

    sis, that was well written and i learned something new mashaAllah. jazakillah khir!

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