“If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) unbelievers.” Can you explain the verse (al-maida, 5/44)?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Some people who misjudge the aspects of Islam regarding social life make mistakes because they look at some of the decrees and issues of the supreme religion superficially. As they drag others to this wrong path they have opened, the mistake expands, eventually causing confusion in the minds. One of those issues is the decree deduced from the following verse:

“If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) Unbelievers.” (l)

Those who act on the meaning of this verse say that those who do not apply the divine decrees are “unbelievers” and therefore cannot be regarded as Muslims.

Strangely enough, the verse above became an issue of debate in the early years of Islam too, and deviant madhhabs such as Kharijite and Ibadiyya accused sinning Muslims of unbelief. In fact, acting upon that verse, Kharijites, even dared to declared Ali (ra) as an unbeliever due to “the Referee (Hakam) Incident”. However, the majority of the ummah, imams and mujtahids refuted their claims and declared that a Muslim would not become an unbeliever if he committed a sin. (2)

In the interpretation of the verse, Imam Jarir at-Tabari, the author of the 30-volume tafsir named “Jamiul-Bayan” explains that “kufr” does not mean leaving Islam, but denying Allah’s bounties, that is, ingratitude and that Ibadiyya, which is a bid’ah sect, shows the verse as evidence for the unbelief of the administrators; he reports the following narration from Ibn Abbas (ra):

“Those who deliberately deny Allah’s decrees and do not judge with them are unbelievers. If they accept (Allah’s decrees) but do not judge with them, they are zalims (oppressors/wrong-doers) or fasiqs.”

As a matter of fact, it is pointed out in the verses that follow that those who do not judge according to Allah’s decrees are zalims or fasiqs. Imam Nasafi also reports the same narration from Ibn Abbas (ra). Imam Fakhruddin Razi also interprets the verse in his 32-volume work called “Tafsiru Kabir”, pointing out that the views of Kharijites on this issue are wrong as follows:

“Even if a person does not judge with Allah’s decrees, he does not become an unbeliever if he believes with his heart that those decrees are true because unbelief means to deny the true decrees with the heart and reject with the tongue. A fasiq is a believer since he approves of them with his heart. To judge by the opposite of Allah’s decrees together with belief is like other sins. That is the soundest view.” (3)

Qadi Baydawi explains that those who deny Allah’s decrees and insult them become unbelievers. (4) While Ibn Kathir states that that verse was revealed about Jews, (5) Ebus-Suud Efendi, one of the sheikhs of the Ottoman state, interprets failing to judge mentioned in the verse as denial, and says, “Anyone who denies the decrees of Allah by deeming them scornful and simple exits the religion no matter who he is.” (6) Other contemporary tafsir scholars state that the expression “failing to judgementioned in the verse, means “denying”, i.e., not approving”.

Vehbi Efendi of Konya states the following: “If that were not the purpose of the verse, those who committed something contrary to the Quran would have to become unbelievers. However, committing something contrary to the Quran by believing that the Quran is true is not and cannot be unbelief because all sins are contrary to the Quran. It is not possible to imagine any person without sins. If the committer of every sin became an unbeliever, there would be no believers in the world. (7)

Referring to Ebus-Suud Efendi and Fathul Bayan, Vehbi Efendi states the following related to “not judging by the decrees revealed by Allah”: It means unbelief to judge contrarily to divine decrees by despising them, regarding them as halal or denying them but it does not mean unbelief to judge contrarily to divine decrees by accepting that the decrees revealed by Allah are true and right)”. (8)

Elmalılı Muhammed Hamdi Yazır points out that not judging” mentioned in the verse becomes unbelief if it includes not accepting Allah’s sovereignty”. (9) Ömer Nasuhi Bilmen makes the following explanation:

“If a person does not accept the divine decree in his heart and denies it with his tongue knowingly, he becomes an unbeliever. However, if he does not obey it though he approves it in his heart, he does not become an unbeliever; he becomes a sinner.” (10)

Bilmen quotes the following from Ikrima, the great Islamic scholar:

If a person does not judge by what Allah has decreed by denying it knowingly, he becomes an unbeliever. However, if a person does not judge by what Allah has decreed by but approves it, he is a sinner and wrong-doer but he is not an unbeliever.” (11)

As it is seen, all tafsir scholars agree on the interpretation of the verse. All of them hold the view that a person will not become an unbeliever unless he denies the decrees of Allah and insults them. As a matter of fact, Badiuzzaman Said Nursi states in his book Münazarat that some people declare the administrators unbelievers because of the declaration of the Constitution and freedom since they do not know that the expression “those who do not judge by the decree of Allah” means “those who do not approve of the decree of Allah”. (12)

In that case, as believers, we should hold fast to the view of Ahl as-Sunnah and Jama’ah, and not accept the views of the people of bid’ah. It is necessary for us to pay attention to the interpretations and explanations of the great imams and mujtahids and to benefit from them. As in every other issue, we should take the views of these imams as a basis related to the issue of takfir (declaring others unbelievers). We should not forget the following warning of Imam Suyuti: “Attempting takfir is the act of self-conceited ignorant people.” (13)


1. al-Maida, 44.
2. at-Tafsirul-Kabir
3. at-Tafsirul-Kabir, 12:6
4. Tafsiru Baydawi, 2:295
5. Ibn Kathir, 2:61.
6. Tefsir-i Ebu’s-Suûd, 3:42.
7. Hülasatü'l-Beyan, 3:1231.
8. ibid
9. Hak Dini Kur'an Dili, 3:1690.
10. Kur’an-ı Kerimin Türkçe Meali Alisi ve Tefsiri, 2:772.
11. ibid
12. Münazarat, p. 69.
13. İ’cazü'l-Kur’an, 3:5/7.

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