How Do Muslims Define a Kafir?

25 September, 2016
Q How do we define a kafir? And will these people who are not Muslim go to hellfire?


Salam Dear Hassan,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

The word kafir has variations (as mentioned in the Quran), which can be stated as follows:

1. To reject the belief in the Oneness of God. {As to those who reject faith (kafaru)…} (Al-Baqarah 2:6)

2. To lack gratefulness to God or to people. {[Pharaoh] said [to Moses]: … And you did [that] deed of yours which you did, and you are one of the ungrateful (kafireen)} (Ash-Shu`araa’ 26:18-19)

3. To disown/clear oneself from. {… Ibrahim and those with him, when they said to their people: “Surely we are clear of you (kafarna bekom).”} (Al-Mumtahanah 60:4)

4. To deny. {When there comes to them that which they [should] have recognized, they deny (kafaru) it.} (Al-Baqarah 2:89)

5. To hide/bury something, like planting a seed in the ground. {The likeness of vegetation after rain, whereof the growth is pleasing to the husbandmen/tillers (kuffar)} (Al-Hadid 57:20)

Therefore, not every use of the root “ka fa ra” means the rejection of faith. For example, when the Prophet (peace be upon him) warned some of his companions from becoming “kuffar” after his death, he did not mean that they would become disbelievers but rather that they would become ungrateful to Allah, for the blessing of unity, when they fight each other after his death.

Regarding whether non-Muslims are “kuffar”, I would say it is fair enough before labeling any person as a “rejecter of faith” to make sure that he/she is clearly aware of that faith itself and what it entails.

In my view, most people in today’s world did not reject the message because simply they are not aware of what Islam is. This is largely due to the biased international media and to Muslims themselves falling short to present their religion properly to the world. These uninformed people, again in my view, could only fall under the verse in which Allah said:

{No laden soul can bear another’s load, We never punish until we have sent a messenger.} (Al-Israa’ 17:15)

I hope this helps answer your question.

Salam and please keep in touch.

About Dr. Jasser Auda
Jasser Auda is a Professor and Al-Shatibi Chair of Maqasid Studies at the International Peace College South Africa, the Executive Director of the Maqasid Institute, a global think tank based in London, and a Visiting Professor of Islamic Law at Carleton University in Canada. He is a Founding and Board Member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, Fellow of the Islamic Fiqh Academy of India, and General Secretary of Yaqazat Feker, a popular youth organization in Egypt. He has a PhD in the philosophy of Islamic law from University of Wales in the UK, and a PhD in systems analysis from University of Waterloo in Canada. Early in his life, he memorized the Quran and studied Fiqh, Usul and Hadith in the halaqas of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo. He previously worked as: Founding Director of the Maqasid Center in the Philosophy of Islamic Law in London; Founding Deputy Director of the Center for Islamic Ethics in Doha; professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, Alexandria University in Egypt, Islamic University of Novi Pazar in Sanjaq, Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, and the American University of Sharjah. He lectured and trained on Islam, its law, spirituality and ethics in dozens of other universities and organizations around the world. He wrote 25 books in Arabic and English, some of which were translated to 25 languages.