Does something that is done without knowing that it is unbelief make a person an unbeliever?

The Details of the Question

- If a person does something that leads him to unbelief unknowingly, he becomes an unbeliever because ignorance is not an excuse (Hadith Manawi). If someone does not know that stealing is a crime and commits a crime, will the judge accept his ignorance as an excuse? The issue is expressed as follows in DURAR, one of the Aqaid (Creed) books:

“If a person does or says something that causes unbelief without a darurah (obligation, necessity) even though his heart is full of belief, he becomes an unbeliever. The belief in his heart will do him no good.” (Darurah is this; if they threaten him, what he says with his tongue will not be unbelief.) (Uyunul Basair)

“If thou dost question them, they declare (with emphasis): ‘We were only talking idly and in play.’” (at-Tawba, 9/65) If a person does something that causes unbelief near us, we should warn that person if we have enough knowledge regarding the issue and if the medium is appropriate. If it is not, we should warn him later. If we do not have enough knowledge, we should hate his unbelief and keep away from him. If we do not do them, we will also be held responsible.

- I asked a question about uttering words of unbelief and they wrote me that. Is it correct? Can a person become an unbeliever unknowingly and unintentionally?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

- The resources given regarding the issue are important. They are the decrees according to the apparent meaning of shari’ah.

- It is known that some religious people were executed by the judges of shari’ah in history due to some of their words - which sounded like unbelief according to the apparent meaning. That is to say, just like in civil law, judgments are rendered according to the external (apparent) aspects of actions or words in Islamic law. From this point of view, illegitimate actions and words made or spoken are regarded as crime even if they originate from ignorance. “Ignorance of the law excuses no one”; similarly, “ignorance of the principles of the religion” is not an excuse.

Therefore, in Islamic law, ignorance is considered as an excuse only for a new Muslim who has not had enough time to learn about the issues in question. (see Nawawi, al-Majmu’, 3/14, 80)

- A person who utters a word or commits a deed of unbelief becomes an unbeliever. That person becomes an unbeliever whether he utters that word of unbelief because he believes so or as a joke / mockery or because of obstinacy - though he does not believe so. (see Ibn Hajar al-Haythami, az-Zawajir, 1/47)

We learn from verses 65 and 66 of the chapter of at-Tawba that a person who mocks the realities and decrees of Islam just for fun becomes an unbeliever - as it is mentioned in the question.

However, it is important that this statement must be about a reality (essential religious decree) that is clearly known by everyone. If it is an issue that is not known by everyone, it may be regarded as an excuse. However, a conscious believer should keep away from expressing an opinion on such theoretical and deep issues.

For example, if someone says that fornication and alcohol are not haram, or that prayer and fasting are not fard, he becomes an unbeliever because ignorance of decrees like those, which are known by everyone, is not an excuse. On the other hand, if a person says: “It is permissible to marry a woman who is in the period of iddah”, he does not become an unbeliever because this knowledge is peculiar to scholars. However, if he insists on the same idea after he is informed that it is haram, he becomes an unbeliever. (see Nawawi, ibid)

- To sum up: If a person has recently become a Muslim or lives in an environment where it is not easy to learn religious knowledge, it is acceptable for him to say, “I did not know that it was unbelief”, about a statement that causes unbelief. The ignorance of a person who does not have those two conditions is not an excuse. (see Nawawi, 12/143; 20/19)

We would like to state the following in particular:

The explanations above aim to warn people and make them be more careful. Otherwise, it is not appropriate to call those people who utter such statements unbelievers. The basic rule regarding the issue is as follows: A person who says he is a Muslim can never be called an unbeliever.

Our scholars state that it would be unbelief to utter some words that are called “alfaz-al-kufr” (words/statements of unbelief). However, they do not call the people who utter those words unbelievers. They warn them to be more careful.

In order to decide that a person has become an unbeliever, he is evaluated by a certain scholarly committee; if it is understood that he has committed unbelief, he is invited to repent. If he does not repent, it is decreed that he has become an unbeliever.

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