Are Muslims Allowed to Use Slurs to Refer to Non-Muslims?

28 September, 2020
Q l'm female & I have a serious question. What is the Islamic ruling about using disrespecting & derogatory words toward non-Muslim males & females whether they are idol worshippers, Christian, Jews or people of any religion other than Islam? I am giving an example.  Some Muslims  calls Hindus "Malaun".  I searched it’s meaning & I'm shocked. According to Wikipedia,  "Malaun is term for a Bengali Hindu, most commonly used in Bangladesh. The word is derived from the Arabic "ملعون", meaning 'accursed' or 'deprived of God's Mercy', and in modern times, it is used as an ethnic slur by the Muslims in Bengal for Hindus. Political leaders from religious parties frequently abuse the Hindus as Malauns during the election rallies." My question, are Muslims & Muslimahs really entitled to use this term against non-Muslim people just because they are not following Islam?

Answer

Short Answer:

  • Sister, it is forbidden for a Muslim to use demeaning nicknames for a person or people.
  • This prohibition applies also to our dealings with non-Muslims. In fact, even if they are idol-worshippers, Allah has forbidden us to abuse their idols.
  • The message of Islam about the use of our tongues is quite clear. Muslims should guard their tongues in all their social dealings. Whether they are personal gatherings or community get-togethers.
  • The rule applies to verbal conversations, as well as written communication.
  • Also, what words, nicknames, and labels qualify as slurs and racist lingo, changes with time. A word might be considered socially acceptable in one era. But after some decades, it can become a racist slur.
  • So, whatever the era, location, culture, or dialect, a Muslim should be careful how they speak. Words, ethos, and locations will change with each generation. What must remain is a Muslim’s respect and regard for not offending anyone.

………….

Asalaamu alaykum, and thank you for sending in your question to our website.

Sister, you have done well to be conscious of Allah in your dealings with people. This indicates that your heart has righteousness in it. Indeed, we all, as Muslims, should constantly monitor our actions. At the same time, we should continuously seek knowledge of Islam. This knowledge will enlighten us about what Allah has prohibited, and what is not.

Islam endorses naming 

Calling everything by a distinctive name is a part of Islam. Allah first taught Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) “the names of all things“. This is stated in the Quran 2:31. Names serve the vital purpose of identification. Therefore, it is a human tendency to assign a name or nick to everything.

When we love someone, we often call them by a loving nickname. The same applies, sadly, to when we dislike someone. We feel the urge to call such a person by a bad name. Shaitan entices us to go ahead and commit this sin. Either just inside our minds or in front of others. Our tongues tend to lash out most when we intensely dislike a certain type of people. However, our relationships with people depend upon how we react to Shaitan’s enticements. Discord and conflict get fueled most when the tongue is not guarded.

Allah says in the Quran:

And tell My servants to say that which is best. Indeed, Satan induces dissension among them. Indeed Satan is ever, to mankind, a clear enemy.” [17:53]

The prohibition of using slurs, in the Quran

Sister, it is forbidden for a Muslim to use demeaning nicknames for a person or people. Allah says so empathetically, in the Quran :

And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent, then it is they who are the wrongdoers.”

[49:11]

This prohibition applies also to our dealings with non-Muslims. In fact, even if they are idol-worshippers, Allah has forbidden us to abuse their idols. He says in the Quran :

But do not revile those [beings] whom they invoke instead of God, lest they revile God out of spite, and in ignorance...” [6:108]

The message of Islam about the use of our tongues is quite clear. Muslims should guard their tongues in all their social dealings. Whether they are personal gatherings or community get-togethers. The rule applies to verbal conversations, as well as written communication.

Respect and decorum must be maintained, at all times.

The prohibition in hadith 

The sayings of our Prophet (peace be upon him) also clearly forbid the use of abusive nicknames.

‘Abdullah narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: “The believer does not insult the honor of others, nor curse, nor commit indecency, nor is he foul-mouthed.” [Jami` at-Tirmidhi 1977; Grade:Hasan]

 Calling others by a nickname is allowed in Islam. The only condition is that they do not dislike being called by it: 

It was narrated that Abu Jabirah bin Dahhak said: “(Allah’s saying)

“Nor insult one another by nicknames (Surah Al Hujarat 49:11)” was revealed concerning us, the Ansar. When the Prophet(ﷺ) came to us, a man among us would have two or three names, and the Prophet (ﷺ) would call him by one of those names, only to be told: “O Messenger of Allah(ﷺ), he does not like that name.” Then: “Nor insult one another by nicknames..” was revealed.” [Sunan Ibn Majah 3741; Grade: Sahih]

The Prophet had called the man by his nickname until Allah revealed the verse of the Quran above.

This indicates that calling people by nicknames that they do not dislike, is permissible.

Muslims should always be positive & polite

The personality of a Muslim is distinguishable in its dignity and poise. A Muslim displays self-control, tact, and composure. Especially in situations of conflict and disagreement. 

 That is why, in the end, I would like to point out one thing. What words, nicknames, and labels qualify as slurs and racist lingo, changes with time. A word might be considered socially acceptable in one era. But after some decades, it can become a racist slur.

This is what has happened, for example, to the Arabic word kaafir. In the past, it simply meant “non-Muslim” in the Arabic language. Today, it is used as a highly derogatory insult for a non-Muslim and causes immense offense. Therefore, Muslims should avoid using it.

So, whatever the era, location, culture, or dialect, a Muslim should be careful how they speak. Words, ethos, and locations will change with each generation. What must remain is a Muslim’s respect and regard for not offending anyone.

And Allah knows best.

I hope this helps.

Salam and please keep in touch.

(From Ask About Islam archives)

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