What is unbelief (kufr)?

It means to cover, to cover the bounties that one attains by not thanking for it, to show ingratitude. Therefore, night is called kafir (coverer) in Arabic because it covers everything with its darkness. As a term, unbelief is the opposite of belief; that is, it means faithlessness. In other words, it means to deny the existence and oneness of Allah, prophethood and the things that Hz. Muhammad definitely brought from Allah.  A person who does not believe in the things that are necessary to be believed in Islam is called a kafir (unbeliever) because he covers and hides the truth. It is not necessary to disbelieve all of the things that are necessary to be believed in order to be an unbeliever. It is unbelief not to believe in one or some of them.

Unbelief can take place through the heart, words and deeds. A person who utters something that makes him an unbeliever though there is no necessity to utter it, a person who despises or makes fun of the things that are necessary to be believed or a person who does things that are not compatible with belief becomes an unbeliever.   

However, if a person who is threatened to be killed utters something that makes him an unbeliever though his heart is full of belief in order to save his life does not exit Islam. (Hamdi Yazır, Hak Dini Kur'an Dili, İstanbul 1960, Vol. 1, p. 207-208; Asım Efendi Kamus Tercümesi, Vol. 2, p. 662).

The following is stated in the Quran for the permission given to those who are forced to abandon Islam:

"Anyone who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters unbelief― except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith― but such as open their breast to unbelief― on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty." (an-Nahl, 16/106).

The reason why this verse was sent down is as follows: In Makkah, Qurayshi polytheists were forcing three Companions, Ammar, his father Yasir and his mother Sumayya (may Allah be pleased with them) to abandon Islam. They tied Sumayya between two camels, dragged the camels toward opposite directions and broke her body into pieces because she did not abandon Islam. They martyred Yasir, inflicting various tortures upon him. They were the first martyrs of Islam. They threw Ammar into a well. When he was about to drown, he had to accept what the polytheists wanted. Thus, he saved his life. When somebody went to the Prophet (pbuh) and said that Ammar had exited the religion of Islam, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, "No, Ammar is a believer from head to foot. Belief has penetrated into his flesh and bone." Meanwhile, Ammar arrived, crying. Hz. Prophet wiped his tears and said, "Do not worry! If they force you again, pretend to accept what they say through your tongue." (Ibn Kathir, Tafsiru'l-Qur'ani'l Azim, Istanbul 1985, IV, 524 ff.; Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır, ibid, İstanbul 1936, IV, 3130, 3131).

Man was created to know and worship his creator; therefore, it is unlucky for him to be alienated from this purpose, to be deprived of belief and to fall into the swamp of unbelief. When he sees the harsh truth during death, in the grave and in the hereafter, he will want to be sent back to the earth; however, this request will be rejected since the world life is given to a person only once.   

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