Who is an Unbeliever? What are the Causes that Lead one to Unbelief?

The word kafir (unbeliever) is used for a person who denies Islam, shows ingratitude to bounties, keeps away, avoids and covers. As a term, it means a person who has no belief.

A person who denies the Quran, Islam and Hz. Muhammad is called an unbeliever. As a matter of fact, the following is stated in a verse where Jews are invited to Islam: "And believe in what I reveal, confirming the revelation which is with you, and be not the first to reject faith therein..." (al-Baqara, 2/41)

As a matter of fact, in the verses denying Allah is regarded as unbelief along with associating partners with Him, believing that Allah has a son and denying one of His attributes deliberately.

The following is stated about Jews and Christians falling into the state of unbelief due to their wrong faiths:

"In blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is Christ, the son of Mary. Say: "Who then hath the least power against Allah, if His Will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary, his mother, and all― everyone that is on the earth? For to Allah belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth and all that is between. He createth what He pleaseth. For Allah hath power over all things." (al-Maida, 5/17)

"They do blaspheme who say: "Allah is Christ the son of Mary." But said Christ: "O children of Israel! worship Allah, my Lord, and your Lord." Whoever joins other gods with Allah―Allah will forbid him the Garden and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrong-doers be no one to help" (al-Maida, 5/72).

"They disbelieve who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God."(al-Maida, 5/73).

That the divinity belief of Jews and Christians consists of imitating deniers is stated as follows:

"The Jews call Uzayr a son of Allah and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouths; (in this) they but imitate what the Unbelievers of old used to say." (at-Tawba, 9/ 30).

In the verses above, the states of wrong creed or denial that necessitate unbelief regarding Allah are determined. Accordingly, to deny Allah, to associate partners with Him, to believe that Allah has a son, to deny one of His attributes deliberately lead a person unbelief. Associating partners is the greatest unbelief. For, Allah has no partners. Allah defines Himself as follows: in the chapter of al-Ikhlas: "Say: He is Allah the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute;  He begetteth, not nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him." (al-Ikhlas, 112/1-4) That associating partners with Allah is excluded from pardoning is stated as follows: "Allah forgiveth not that partners should be set up with him; but He forgiveth anything, else to whom He pleaseth; to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin most heinous indeed." (an-Nisa, 4/48). On the other hand, there is no doubt that a person who abandons polytheism, repents, asks forgiveness and strengthens his creed can be forgiven. For, such a person is freed from the attribute of a polytheist and is regarded a believer.

To define Allah in a way that is not suitable for His loftiness, to make fun of or ridicule one of His names or orders, to attribute deficiency to Him make a person exit the religion of Islam. (al-Fatawa'l-Hindiyya, Bulaq 1310, II, 258).

According to Abu Hanifa (d. 150/767), Allah's attributes are qadim (no precedence); they were not created afterwards. Therefore, to say that His attributes were created afterwards and to have doubts about the issue makes a man exit the religion of Islam (Ali al-Kari, Sharhu'l-Fikhi'l- Akbar, Egypt 1323 h. p. 22). According to Imam Shafii, Malik and Ahmad b. Hanbal, a person who denies Allah's knowledge becomes an unbeliever. (Ibn Taymiyya, Majmau'l Fatawa, Riyad 1381-1386 h. XXIII, p. 349) On the other hand, a person who despairs of Allah's mercy and a person who believes that he will definitely not be punished by Allah become unbelievers. God Almighty states the following in the Quran "Truly no one despairs of Allah's Soothing Mercy, except those who have no faith" (Yusuf, 12/87), "Say: "O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (az-Zumar, 39/53). "Did they then feel secure against the plan of Allah? But no one can feel secure from the plan of Allah, except those (doomed) to ruin!" (al-A'raf, 7/99).

A person who has a wrong creed like that becomes a Muslim when he utters kalima at-tawhid or kalima ash-shahada. Hz. Prophet stated the following in a hadith: "I was ordered to fight people until they say La ilaha illallah (There is no god but Allah). When they utter it, they protect their blood and property from me except for just cases. It is up to Allah what to do with them after that." (ash-Shawkani, Naylu'l-Awtar, VII, 197,ffd.; Zaylai, Nasbu'r-Raya, III, 379).

It is unbelief not to accept the institution of prophethood or to deny the prophethood of even one prophet. Therefore, Jews, who accept the other prophets as messengers of Allah but not Hz. Isa (Jesus) and Hz. Muhammad, and Christians, who do not accept the prophethood Hz. Muhammad, are unbelievers.  (Ali al-Kari, ibid, p. 50; al-Fatawa'l Hindiyya, II, 263; al-Ghazzali, al Iqtisad, Egypt, nd. p. 112).

Those who denythe institution of prophethood do not become Muslims only by uttering kalima at-tawhid, that is, by saying, "There is no god but Allah". They need to add kalima ash-shahada (I witness thatHz. Muhammad (pbuh) is Allah's slave and messenger). For the members of other religions like Jews and Christians, in addition to uttering kalima ash-shahada by believeing, it is necessary to say that they have no connection with their previous religions. It is not enough for those people only to say, "I am a believer; I am a Muslim; I believed; I became a Muslim."

For, they may utter theses words while they still continue to remain in their own religions. In that case, a type of a person who is both a Jew and a Muslim or a person who is both a Christian and a Muslim emerges, which is not compatible with the essence of Islam. (azl-Zuhayli, al-Fiqhu'l-Islami wa Adillatuhu, Damascus, 1404/1984, VI, 427).

It is also unbelief to attribute deity to a prophet. As a matter of fact, Christians are regarded as unbelievers because they say Hz. Isa is Allah's son. (see al-Maida 5/17, 72).

It is unbelief to deny the whole Quran, one chapter of it, one verse of it or one decree, order and prohibition of it. It is also unbelief to deny a word which is unanimously agreed to be in the Quran, and a reciting form which is unanimously definite; it is unbelief to add something to the Quran, too. It is also among the things that make a person exit Islam to make fun of, despise and trifle with the Quran, a chapter or verse of the Quran. (Ali al-Kari, ibid, p. 151; al-Fatawa'l Hindiyya, II, 266; A.Saim Kılavuz, İman Küfür Sınırı, İstanbul 1982, p. 114-115).

In Islam, the issues of belief are regarded as a whole. To deny one of the principles that are necessary to be believed means to deny the whole. It is not possible to remain a Muslim by separating Allah form His messenger and by believing one part of the Quran and denying the other parts. (al-Baqara, 2/85) The following is stated in the Quran: "Those who deny Allah and His Messengers, and (those who) wish to separate Allah and His Messengers, saying: "We believe in some but reject others": and (those who) wish to take a course midway.― They are in truth (equally) Unbelievers; and We have prepared for unbelievers a humiliating punishment " (an-Nisa, 4/150 151). With the verses above, Allah threatens the Jews and Christians who deny Him and His prophets. For, they separate Allah and His prophets regarding belief. They believe in some prophets but deny others. It consists of their groundless views which originate from their delusions and finding their fathers with this belief, and their emotional feelings. Consequently, Jews did not believe in Hz. Isa and Hz. Muhammad. Christians did not accept Hz. Muhammad, who came after them. However, belief in the institution of prophethood necessitates believing in all of the prophets sent to the world by Allah. (Ibn Kathir, Tafsir, İstanbul 1985, II, 396-397). The Jews who lived in Hejaz during the advent of Islam were jealous of the fact that Hz. Muhammad was sent as a great prophet; therefore, they opposed him, denied him and fought him during the Period of Madinah. However, they were defeated and were driven away from Hejaz region afterwards. Their tortures, oppression and even murders of the previous prophets are narrated as follows in the Quran: 

"And remember ye said: "O Moses! we cannot endure one kind of food (always); so beseech thy Lord for us to produce for us of what the earth groweth-its pot-herbs and cucumbers its garlic lentils and onions." He said: "will ye exchange the better for the worse? Go ye down to any town and ye shall find what ye want!" They were covered with humiliation and misery; they drew on themselves the wrath of Allah. This is because they went on rejecting the signs of Allah and slaying His messengers without just cause. This is because They rebelled and went on transgressing." (al- Baqara, 2/61).

The ummah of Islam believes in all of the prophets sent to the earth by God Almighty, whether their names are mentioned in the Quran or not. Therefore, it is the necessity of belief in Islam to believe in Hz. Dawud, Hz. Musa and Hz. Isa, who are the prophets of the heavenly religions before Islam, and that the originals of their books, which were not distorted, are books revealed by God. A Muslim who denies one of them, for instance, the prophethood of Hz. Isa or the Gospel, which was sent down to him, exits Islam. It means Islamic faith has universal characteristics. It contains the undistorted original forms of Judaism and Christianity, too. Besides, many verses of the Quran inform us about the changes made in the Gospel and the Torah afterwards and the superstitions and the wrong beliefs added to these religions. We can give the following verse as an example to clarify the issue: "They do blaspheme who say: "Allah is Christ the son of Mary." But said Christ: "O children of Israel! worship Allah, my Lord, and your Lord." Whoever joins other gods with Allah―Allah will forbid him the Garden and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrong-doers be no one to help." (al-Maida, 5/72).

It is unbelief to deny of the orders and prohibitions that are stated by the Quran or sound hadiths and that there are no conflicts about. To regard prohibitions like alcohol, gambling and fornication as halal (permissible) is an example of unbelief. However, whether committing harams called "major sins" (al-kabair) makes a person exit Islam or not is something that was debated by the scholars of the first ages of Islam. It is reported from Ibn Umar (r.a) that there are nine major sins. They are as follows: To associate partners with Allah, to kill a person unjustly, to slander a chaste woman stating that she fornicated, to escape from war, to commit magic, to grab the property or money of an orphan, to disobey one's Muslim parents, to insist on committing harams (forbidden deeds). Abu Hurayra added devouring interest and Hz. Ali added drinking alcohol to them. Meanwhile, there are some scholars who accept every sin that is as harmful as or more harmful than the ones listed above as a major sin; some scholars accept every sin for which Allah and His Messenger imposed a penalty as a major sin. Regarding the issue, adh-Dhahabi (d. 748/1437) wrote a special book and explained seventy major sins. (adh-Dhahabi, Kitabu'l-Kabair, Beirut, 1355/1933).

The group of Kharijites, which emerged during the caliphate of Hz. Ali, accepts deeds as part of belief and says that those who commit major sins exit Islam. The group of Mu'tazila also accepts deeds as part of belief and therefore says that committing major sins makes a person cease to be a believer but does not say that it makes him an unbeliever, unlike what Kharijites say. According to them, such a person is called a "fasiq" and remains at a stage between belief and unbelief until he repents. If he repents before he dies, he dies as Muslim; if he does not repent before he dies, he dies as an unbeliever. (Taftazani, Sharhu'l-Aqaid, trnsl by Süleyman Uludağ, İstanbul 1980, p. 262 ff)

According to Ahl as-Sunnah scholars, committing major sins does not make a person exit the religion of Islam unless the person denies that it is a sin. Their evidence is as follows: Belief is the approval by the heart. As long as this attribute exists, a major sin committed under the influence of things like lust, desires, jealousy and laziness is not contrary to the approval in the heart. However, if it is committed with the belief and feeling of "regarding haram as halal and trifling with halal", it is regarded as unbelief. On the other hand, verses and hadiths name rebellious and sinning Muslims as "believers". We can give the following verses as examples:   

"O ye who believe! Turn to Allah with sincere repentance" (at-Tahrim, 66/8). "O ye who believe! The law of equality is prescribed to you" (al-Baqara, 2/178)."If two parties among the Believers fall into a quarrel, make ye peace between them" (al-Hujurat, 49/9). The deeds mentioned in the verses above are major sins. However, God Almighty addresses those who commit those deeds as "believers".

It is something unanimously agreed since the time of Hz. Prophet that the janazah prayers of Ahl al-Qiblah who are definitely known to have committed major sins are performed and that it is permissible to ask forgiveness for them from Allah.  

Believers are warned against major sins as follows in the Quran: "If ye (but) eschew the most heinous of the things which ye are forbidden to do, We shall expel out of you all the evil in you and admit you to a Gate of great honour" (an-Nisa 4/31; see also ash-Shura, 42/37; an-Najm, 53/32). In this verse, major sins are kept outside the content of forgiveness because there are some worldly penalties for them and in addition, special repentance is necessary for their otherworldly sins.  It is possible for most of the minor sins to be forgiven through prayers, fasting, hajj, zakah, favors and charities without the need for repentance (Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, II, 229). What is more, hajj becomes a means for the forgiveness of some major sins. For, there are hadiths stating that hajj performed fully will forgive all of the previous sins of a person as if he has just been born. (Bukhari, Muhsar, 9, 10; Nasai, Hajj, 4; Ibn Majah, Manasik, 3; Darimi, Manasik, 7; Ahmad b. Hanbal, II, 229, 410, 483, 494).

To sum up, it is the necessity of belief to accept all of Allah's orders and prohibitions and all of the Islamic decrees and to regard Islam as a system. Those who reject some of them or who claim that it is not possible to apply Islam in this century and deny even only one decree of Islam become unbelievers.

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