What is Murted? Who is called an apostate; ex-Muslim? Can a Muslim be addressed as kafir (unbeliever)?

The Details of the Question
What is Murted? Who is called an apostate; ex-Muslim? Can a Muslim be addressed as kafir (unbeliever)?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Murtad is the noun form of the verb irtidad, which means to return, to ask the return of and to go back to the previous state. As a religious term, the word murtad is used to describe a person who converted to another religion or to atheism after being a Muslim. Deserting the religion is defined as “riddah” (conversion).

A Muslim cannot be addressed as kafir (unbeliever). The Messenger of Allah said; "If a man says to his brother, O kafir (unbeliever)!' Then surely one of them is such (i.e., a kafir).” (Bukhari, Adab, 73; Muslim, Eeman, 111). "Allah has made hellfire haram for a person who witnesses that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His messenger” (Bukhari, Ilm, 49).

The apostasy of an insane person and a child do not necessitate the punishment of murtad: "There are three (persons) whose actions are not recorded: a sleeper till he awakes, an idiot till he is restored to reason, and a boy till he reaches puberty; those three groups are not responsible for what they have done " (Abu Dawud, Hudud, 17; Tirmidhi, Hudud,1; Nasai, Talaq, 21; Ibn Majah, Talaq, 15).

Apart from those mentioned above, a person who utters a word necessitating unbelief unintentionally is not regarded a murtad:

"Allah does not hold my umma (community) responsible for the things that they do by mistake, by forgetting and under compulsion." (Ibn Majah, Talaq, 16).

Riddah is not in question for a person whose heart is full of belief but says that he has deserted his religion under compulsion: "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). There is a criterion of compulsion. It is not regarded as compulsion to be forced to drink alcohol, to eat the meat of a dead person or to be threatened by being beaten or imprisoned; it necessitates hadd (punishment for serious crimes) punishment. Only being threatened by death can be regarded as an excuse if the threatening person has the power to do so. If the person shows patience, does not desert his religion and is killed, he will receive great rewards in return.  (al-Ikhtiyar, II, 106).

Before the hadd punishment is executed, the murtad is asked to repent and to return to Islam. However, there is disagreement among scholars as to how to do it. According to most of the scholars, if he does not repent, he is killed after he is asked to repent three times. Hazrat Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) says that the murtad is imprisoned for three days and is asked to repent and that he should be given bread as food during that period. The hadd punishment is definitely the duty of the state. Nobody else can give that punishment.

Hazrat Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) carried out that period as a month. An-Nahai claims that there should not be a time limit and that he should be asked to return to Islam until he repents. 

When the murtad deserts Islam, all of his good deeds are wiped off and he stays in Hell everlastingly: "If any of you turn back from their faith and die in unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the Hereafter; they will be Companions of the Fire and will abide therein." (al-Baqara, 2/217).

It is valid if the murtad does not repent. Islamic scholars have different views whether the deeds of the murtad before his ridddah are wiped off if he repents and returns to Islam. According to Imam Shafii, no good deed of the murtad including hajj is wiped off if he returns to Islam.  According to Imam Malik, all of his deeds are wiped off as soon as he deserts Islam. (al-Qurtubi, al-Jami'li Ahkami'l-Qur'an, Beirut 1965, III, 48).

The marriage becomes invalid with riddah. However, if the murtad returns to Islam and if both parties want to continue their marriage, a new marriage ceremony and mahr are not in question. Hanafis regard divorce due to riddah as talaq bain (irrevocable divorce). The murtad cannot be an heir to his Muslim relatives; when he dies, his Muslim relatives cannot be heirs to him either: "A Muslim cannot be the heir of an unbeliever, nor can an unbeliever be the heir of a Muslim" (Bukhari, Faraid, 26; Muslim, Faraid, 1).

A committee of scholars should question the murtad in order to decide that a Muslim has deserted Islam. It is by no means correct to say that someone has become an unbeliever without such a questioning.

The following sentence is present in some creed books; “If someone has 99 signs of unbelief and one sign of belief, it is necessary for the mufti to decide that he is a believer.” What is meant by that sentence?

We are living in the last period of the mischief of the end of time starting to disappear, God willing. Some people regard avoiding sins as something blameworthy. The concepts of honor, chastity and modesty run away speedily from the crowded streets to narrow streets, back streets and quiet houses. They enter a house. Just as they try to have some peace, an unbelievable machine starts to show visions from the furthest points of the world and loose off bullets with rays. They do not know what to do and only say, “end of time”.

On the other hand, the miracle of Hazrat Abraham (pbuh) is seen in many houses. Gardens, vineyards, nightingales, roses… in the middle of that fire.  People wonder about the result of that fighting: will the fire swallow the water, or will the water extinguish the fire? If you have managed to produce even one single date in a place in the coldest period of the year, it means dates can be produced there... It depends on our efforts. It will not solve the problem to organize meetings against the cold, to shout, yell and to fight the cold. It is necessary to search ways to increase that one single date to one thousand, millions… 

The mischief of today that is always before our eyes cause some Muslims to act but it drives others to desperation. Since they cannot canalize the enthusiasm in them, they console themselves by cursing the sinners, attacking rebels and accusing them of unbelief. The devil drives those kinds of Muslims to the brink of a great danger and of a terrifying precipice.

Let us listen to our Prophet (pbuh): “If a man calls his brother an unbeliever, either of them definitely becomes an unbeliever.” It is the most painful state of the case of out of the frying pan into the fire... The soul always forces a person; the devil constantly encourages him to curse that person, to beat this one and to call another one a hypocrite (munafiq)! It is a great problem of ours. It will be appropriate to deal with as much as we can.

Suppose that we see someone who is committing a sin; we do not know him. A fight starts in our inner world. We remain in between thinking good things or bad things about that person. The soul says if that man were not an unbeliever, he would not commit that great sin... the heart and the conscience say, “committing a great sin does not make a person an unbeliever; maybe he is committing that sin because he cannot control his soul or because he is ignorant not because he is an unbeliever; he is a sinner but it is necessary not to claim that he is an unbeliever at once” and prefer to be cautious.

The discussion whether “a person who commits a great sin an unbeliever or not” lasted for centuries between the scholars of Ahl as-Sunnah and Kharijites and Mutazila. While Kharijites claimed that every sinner would become an unbeliever, go to Hell and stay there forever whether it was a great sin or a small sin, Mutazila defended the view that a person who commits great sins would be neither an unbeliever nor a Muslim but remain in-between. Thus, both groups moved away from the truth and went astray.

The winner of that fight turned out to be Ahl as-Sunnah. The flags of that victory are numerous. We will report only two of them: Yahya bin Muadh says: “a belief of one moment eliminates a belief of seventy years. Then, how can a belief of seventy years be destroyed by a sin of one moment?”

As opposed to Kharijites, who misinterpret the verse “If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) Unbelievers” (al-Maeda, 44) and say, “Everybody who disobeys Allah and commits sins is an unbeliever”, Fahruddin Razi, who analyzes the views of Ahl as-Sunnah scholars like a chemist says the most sagacious view regarding the issue belongs to Hazrat Ikrima (may Allah be pleased with him).  
Let us read together the words of Ikrima that are like our victory flag: “The words of God Almighty ‘If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed...’ include those who deny both in their hearts and through their tongues. As for the person who knows in his heart that it is the judgment of Allah and then accepts through his tongue that it is the judgment of Allah but acts contrarily, he is regarded to have judged by the light of Allah but not to have done it actually.  Therefore, it is not necessary for such a person to be included in the decree of that verse...” (Tafsir Kabir-9/86)

We lived in a period of interregnum in our recent history. Superstitions rose again; corrupt ideas revived… takfir (saying that someone is unbeliever) was in vogue again. However, this time it was not by Kharijites. What was strange those who did it did not know what Kharijites and Mutazila were; they did not even know what the words of unbelief (alfaz kufr) were. They had seals of some slogans that they memorized and sealed anybody that they met with them. They did not know about the hadith of the Prophet about takfir…

Let us start the issue of takfir with the definition of kufr (unbelief): What is kufr? In the dictionary, kufr means ingratitude to the bounties, concealing the bounties, denying the bounties. As a religious term, kufr means, “to deny and refute the truths of belief on his own will without any force, or not to approve them, to despise the holy things that need to be believed, to make fun of them , and to accept haram as halal and halal as haram”.

Belief becomes fixed through belief with the heart and confession with the tongue; kufr becomes fixed in the same way. Here, we are faced with the issue of words of unbelief, that is, the words that make a person an unbeliever when uttered.  

When we hear someone say those words, can we call him an unbeliever at once? At that point, our scholars ask us this question: do you have any knowledge about his heart? Has he uttered that word because of his ignorance or due to his hostility against holy things or in order to make fun of holy things? That point is very important. And that sensitivity is valid for deeds too...

The late Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır (a scholar) attracts our attention to that point by saying, “there is a big difference between denying a deed and not committing a deed.” Denying a deed means denying an action or a duty and saying, “there is nothing like that”. Not committing a deed means not carrying out that deed despite accepting that it exists. Denying daily prayers is something and not performing them is something else. The former is denying and the latter is not committing.  

Accordingly, if a person denies the Quranic command of daily prayers, he becomes an unbeliever; however, if he does not perform prayers though he accepts that command, he does not become an unbeliever. The same thing is valid for committing harams. If a person accepts that the Quran has prohibited interest and it is a divine prohibition to give and take interest but he commits that haram as a result of not being able to control his soul, it is clear that he will not be an unbeliever.

Now let us listen to another scholar, Ahmet Ziyaeddin Gümüşhanevî: “If a word uttered by someone necessitates unbelief in many aspects but belief in one aspect, the mufti should prefer the latter. It is essential to have a good opinion about Muslims.” We see two of our illnesses in those sentences that emit information and knowledge. One of them is having bad opinions, that is, interpreting things in the bad way. The other is the duty of the mufti is undertaken by everybody. Fatwa is in the hands of ignorant people...

Gümüşhanevî continues as follows: “There is an important point here. If the intention of that man is not unbelief, he is a Muslim; however, if his intention is unbelief, the fatwa of the mufti will do him no good.” (Ehl-i Sünnet İtikadı, p.68)

The following concise, satisfying and wonderful sentences about takfir present in “Sünuhat”, one of the books of Risale-i Nur Collection, should be memorized by the people of this age and they should be practiced word by word. Otherwise, a person may commit sins and may drive the person he deals with away from Islam... “For instance, someone says that thing is kufr. That is, that attribute has not originated from belief; that attribute is kufr. It can be said that that person committed kufr with that word. However, since the thing that has been qualified by it is innocent and it has originated from belief and it has some other attributes that has the qualities of belief, it cannot be said that that person is an unbeliever unless it is definitely known that that attribute originates from unbelief... It may originate due to some other reasons too. There exists doubt in the indication of the attribute. There is definite knowledge about the existence of belief. Doubt cannot eliminate the decree about definite knowledge. Those who dare to say that someone is an unbeliever so quickly should think twice!...” (Sünuhat, 20)

That is, there may be some attributes originating from ignorance, debauchery or some other source not from belief in a believer. Those attributes are defined as unbeliever. That believer has many other innocent attributes originating from his belief. Those attributes prevent us from saying that he is an unbeliever. Therefore, if that believer has uttered a word of unbelief or if he has committed some deeds that only unbelievers do, we cannot say that he is an unbeliever unless we definitely know that they originate from unbelief, that is he says or commits them with the intention of unbelief, denying Islam.  The sentence, “there exists doubt in the indication of the attribute” prevents us from giving a judgment. That is, it is doubtful that the thing he has done, the word he has uttered, the attribute he has are indications that he is an unbeliever. We do not know definitely that he does them with the intention of unbelief but we know that he is a believer. If we ask him, he will say that he is a believer, a Muslim. Therefore, there is certainty and definite information about his belief. However, there is doubt, assumption and prediction in the existence of unbelief. We cannot eliminate certainty with doubt and we cannot call him an unbeliever.

The following answer of Al-Azhari to the question “Can a person who says the Quran was created be called an unbeliever?” is wonderful:
– What he says is unbelief!..
He is asked the same question three times repeatedly. He gives the same answer and says:
– Sometimes a Muslim can utter words of unbelief.

Let us have a look at Risale-i Nur Collection again – this time at “Münazarat” –, which diagnoses and cures one of our illnesses.

There may be disagreement about foreign policy among Muslims. It is quite natural. It should be deemed within the scope of freedom of thought. However, sometimes, people pass the limit in those discussions. When someone feels that his idea is defeated, he dares to say that the person against him is an unbeliever. He sometimes says, “You have supported Christians with that idea of yours and have become an unbeliever”. When you try to correct that mistake of his, he raises his voice and says confidently, “does the Quran not say ‘take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors’?” and he shouts at you. The cure for that great mistake, that terrifying illness and that big accusation with great responsibility are in the following sentences: “That prohibition of friendship with Christians and Jews is due to their being mirrors of Christianity and Judaism. A person is not loved because of his individuality; he may be loved because of his attributes and art.”

That is, the verse prohibits loving Judaism and Christianity. For instance, loving a Christian country because of its Christianity is included in the prohibition of the verse; loving and appreciating the art and technology of that country are not.

The sentences we have quoted above end as follows: “If you have a wife from the People of the Book (Christians and Jews), you should definitely love her.” That is, if a Muslim has a wife from the People of the Book, for instance a Christian, he should love her because she is her wife but he should not love her Christianity. Being deprived of that fine criterion costs us a lot...

By the way, I want to mention a hadith that is misinterpreted. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) lists the signs of a munafiq in a hadith as follows: “When he speaks, he lies. When he makes a promise, he does not keep it. When he is entrusted something, he betrays.”

A great method of pedagogy is hidden in that hadith. Every Muslim, including those that misinterpret that hadith, knows very well that “telling lies”, “breaking promises” and betraying trusts” do not make a person an unbeliever. We all know that a munafiq is worse than an unbeliever because a munafiq is someone who is an unbeliever actually but conceals it and acts as if he is a Muslim. That man is the secret enemy of Islam and he is more dangerous than an open enemy. It is not certain when and how he will shoot you.

Then, is it possible to say that a Muslim who tells lies is worse than such a traitor, an unbeliever? Of course not. Then, we should understand the fine point in the hadith as follows. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) warns Muslims with his words: “Never approach those sins! They are the attributes of a munafiq, who is worse than an unbeliever.” It is an extraordinary effective warning and a method of keeping people away from something. It is a big murder like takfir, a great sin, great ignorance and a terrifying bad thought to accuse a believer of being a munafiq who commits those sins…

There is a joke that we listened to a lot when we were children. It expresses the psychology of the people who look forward to saying that some believers are unbelievers: A man was given the nickname ‘duck’. People used to call him by his nickname not by his name. Once, somebody says, “the weather is cloudy today” while talking. That man starts to shout and insult at him saying, “Why did you call me a duck? Why did you say so?” The man is surprised and asks kindly, “Brother! When did I call you a duck?” He answered: “When the weather is cloudy, it rains; when it rains, ponds and pools form; Ducks swim in the ponds and pools.”

Unfortunately, today, we see many people who interpret each word and action of believers as kufr through various excuses. Did our scholars, saints, leaders act like that?... Here are two statements that are similar to each other: it is certain that they drank water from the same fountain and they received the same education:
“Those who know ‘Said’ know that he avoids takfir as much as possible. Even if he sees an obvious kufr in a man, he tries to interpret it. He does not say he is an unbeliever.” Badiuzzaman
“It is necessary to interpret the word of a Muslim in a good way even if it is a weak narration.” Gümüşhanevî

Today, all of the Islamic world is in need of industrious Muslims who are knowledgeable, virtuous, and modest, who try to solve the problems of others, who feel sorry for sinners like a compassionate father...

People who are ignorant, who shout at people, do not know what correction is, think that cursing the patient is a method of treatment, who are inconsiderate, without affection, ill-tempered, who are ready to commit cruelty in the name of the truth if they have the opportunity cannot represent Islam...

Our duty is to try to put our souls into the first group, to try to make others like that and to pray for our brothers who were drifted into the other group unintentionally.
At this point, the following hadith is a great guidance for all believers:!.. Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates. Somebody said to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) , – O Messenger of Allah! Curse the polytheists, damn them! He answered: I was sent as a mercy not as a curser!..

Prof. Dr. Alaaddin Başar

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