HOME BLOG QURANIC HADITH FIQH tGFH English CONTACT hamburger menubar icon

A Survey of The Essential Criteria of

Who Are The Disbelievers?

Some of The Main Arguments From Sh. Hamza Yusuf’s Exposition

By OmarKN

Tweet #omarkn


What determines whether a person is a kāfir or a believer is a critical matter.

The enormity of the judgement ”of perdition in (the) afterlife is so great, that it is legally prohibited to say that anyone is destined for the Hellfire, unless a clear verse or a hadith with multiple transmissions indicates such.”

This is a collection of some of the main arguments from the text ”Who Are The Disbelievers?” by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, original text as pdf.[1]

Chapters 1 - 7 are based on the original text by Sh. H. Yusuf; chapter 8 is extra.
Numbers such as 32L or 46R refer to the original text page 32 left half or 46 right half respectively.
Numbers such as 6-33 are references to quranic verses, such as Sura 6, verse 33
kufr≈ disbelief, covering over, ingratitude, see explanation below.
kāfirūn≈ those who act upon their kufr; kāfir, sing; kuffār: plural form

h: hadith
→ from this follows
<= or bec.because
Re concerning
cf. - compare
i.e.- that is

1. Introduction
2. Types of Kufr [Mentioned] In The Quran
3. Ibn Qayyim’s Categories of Disbelief
4. Necessary Conditions For Anathematizing An Individual
5. The State of Disbelief And What It Entails
6. Who Is Destined For Hellfire
7. Relationship of Muslims With Peoples of Other Faith
8. Conclusion
8a. The return of Islam to Europe
8b. Formula For A Harmonious Life In Modern Societies

1. Introduction

– kāfirūn: those who reject the message of Muhammad ( sallAllahu ʿaleihi wa sallam ), as such they are one group, even if they differ among themselves 32L
– kufr can be both in word and in deed 32L
– kufr as a rejection of some essential part of Islam, that is accepted by all. 32L +even more so of the whole religion,
→ therefore Muslims have traditionally seen non-Muslims as kuffār (disbelievers), as they are not part of the fold of Islam 32L
– The enormity of the judgement ”of perdition in (the) afterlife is so great, that it is legally prohibited (Harām) to say that anyone is destined for the Hellfire, unless a clear verse or a hadith with multiple transmissions indicates such. What this prohibition implies is that one cannot consider a person’s inner state with God, only his or her outward state with people.” 32R
→ even if someone has a ruling of kufr, only God knows his inward state, and therefore God alone determines his ultimate destination.” 32R
– kufr: rejection of God's ayāt (signs, verses) and accompanied by vile qualities 33L
– how are non-Muslims - who lived good lives & treated others well - categorized?

2. Types of Kufr [Mentioned] In The Quran

– 1: kufr inkār: Allah not recognized 2-6/7 & sealing of hearts
– 2: kufr juhūd*: recognized, but not acknowledged 2-89, 27-13/14
– many Muslims take *this as the single universal type of kufr,
-- such as in 1-146 farīqan minhum: not all Jews, but certain rabbis, {some of them knowingly conceal the truth.}.
– One reason for the revelation of the Quran is for peoples of previous dispensations to learn from it & accept it. 34R
– kufr juhūd mutlaq: unrestricted: a denial of the entire religion, …
– kufr juhūd muqayyad: restricted: a denial of one or more aspects.
– 3: kufr mu`ānadah: s.o. recognizes God, but stays in disbelief, due to envy, hatred or fear of loss. 35R
– 4: kufr nifāq: belief by tongue, but denies it in heart. Behavior a criterion, but only Allah knows the heart.

3. Ibn Qayyim’s Categories of Disbelief

3b. kufr al-asghar (the lesser) & 3a. kufr al-akbar, (the greater) 36L
– Some Muslims scholars in the past were unaware of the lesser kind (i.e. 3b):

3b. kufr al-asghar (the lesser) 36L:
– If one does not follow a law of God (ref: 5-44) for any other reason* than conscious rejection, he is not considered a disbeliever. *Such as laziness, fear, weakness, etc.
– Ibn ʿAbbās: ”This disbelief [as in 5-44:] {Whoever does not rule by what Allah has decreed…} is less than absolute disbelief and does not remove a person from his religious community.” Only if such a person denies the law or its legally binding status.
– Labelling the ruler in the lands of Islam a kāfir, such as a ruler who establishes the prayer, does not command anything that breaches the sacred law itself, and does not manifest clear disbelief (kufr būwāh) is a crime against Islam and the sacred law, instead ”their state authority is to be recognized and honored.”
fn11: Muslim Book 18, no. 4573 & 4574: The Best And The Worst of Your Rulers

– and examples of this kind of lesser kufr:

– h: There are four characteristics in my community (ummah) belonging to the pre-Islamic period (are a type of kufr), which they do not abandon: boasting of high rank, reviling the lineage of others, seeking rain by stars and wailing (over the dead). fn12 Muslim, Book 4, no. 2033
– h: Do not revert to becoming disbelievers (kuffār) after I am gone by killing one another (in civil war). Bukhari, vol 9, book 88, no. 6627
– meaning: do not do the actions of the kuffār by killing one another. Commentators agreed upon. 36R see Sura 49:
{And if two parties of the believers quarrel, make peace between them…} Sura 49-9
-- fighting other Muslims does not unconditionally take a Muslim out of the fold of Islam. -> h: If a Muslim…

h: If a Muslim calls another Muslim a kāfir, then the statement is true about one of them.
Bukhari vol 8, book 73, no. 125; Muslim Book 1, no. 0117
– ”That is, the very act of calling a person a kāfir is kufr itself if the statement is not true,” [and as no human being can look into the heart of another, this (calling) is a very risky endeavor.]

3a. kufr al-akbar (the greater) has 5 categories:
– kufr takdhīb: calling the Messengers of God liers. 6-33
– kufr istikbār: disbelief due to arrogance (majority). Pharaoh: 23-47, Iblīs: 38-74
– kufr iʿrād: from sloth, and indifference; complete lack of intellectual curiosity.
The concerns ”of the world (dunyā) provide most people with an excuse for not bothering with religious questions of ultimate concern, but such an attitude constitutes a type of disbelief, a ’turning away’ (iʿrād) from God.”
– kufr shakk: from doubt, due to lack of commitment, ≈ agnostic. (≈ kufr iʿrād)
– kufr nifāq: from hypocrisy: worst form of disbelief.

4. Necessary Conditions For Anathematizing An Individual

– What determines whether a person is a kāfir or a believer is a critical matter.
– Six conditions for a judge to rule on a person's faith:

– 1. Intention - must be understood, 33-5
– 2. Absence of coercion, 16-106
– 3. Level of knowledge, 7-138,
h: fn17: Sunan al-Tirmidhī, vol 2, book 1, no. 1446
– The Prophet ( sallAllahu ʿaleihi wa sallam ) did not call them disbelievers; rather, he explained to them their error and excused them for their ignorance, as they were unaware of the full implications of their request. 38R
– h: of man who ordered his sons to cremate his body... (i.e. he was ignorant of the Almighty power of Allah, still was sincerely in awe of God and was forgiven.) Bukhari fn 19 cc
- ”This hadith indicates that one’s understanding and intention are crucial matters in how one will be judged on the day of Judgment.”

– 4. Absence of esoteric interpretation, if wrong ta'wil. 39R
– ( Example of Ibn Taymiyya, he used ta'wil, but did not reject other verses. Quote by Kaffawi.)
– 5. Mental ability to reason, (3 are not responsible: the sleeper, child and mentally deranged.)
– 6. Proof of Faith, first has to be established. 4-165, 17-15
– (bidʿa ≠ kufr)

5. The State of Disbelief And What It Entails

– Shirk: greatest sin 4-116, but not if never heard true message - {We never punish until…} 17-15
– Every shirk is kufr, but not every kufr is shirk. 40R
– Christians & Jews are not considered idolaters (mushriqūn), but considered kāfir, ”once they hear of the message of the Prophet Muhammad ( sallAllahu ʿaleihi wa sallam ) and reject it.”
– h: …no one from this community*, whether Jewish or Christian, will hear of me and then die without having believed except -> fire.
– * this community: all people of the entire world, from the time his message began, 2 groups:

– A: ummah al-istijābah: those who answer his call,
– B: ummah ad-daʿwah: those who are invited, but have not responded yet. 41R
→ Once the message is heard, a person has the rest of his life
-- to accept or reject it, {and die while they are disbelievers.} 2-161
– bec. all people alive today are considered from the community of Muhammad ( sallAllahu ʿaleihi wa sallam ), and in 2 groups, ”it is incumbent upon Muslims to invite all those who are in the community of invitation and to continue to do so for the lifetime of each person in that community.” (It took Sufyan 20 years, Prophet Nuh (a.s.) almost 1000 years)

– Don't damn a person, bec. only God knows his ultimate status. Whatever we see in a person, it may not reflect his actual status with God. 42R

6. Who Is Destined For Hellfire

– The Disbelievers will be in Hell.
– Among other verses: {Those who say God is the Messiah, Son of Mary, have certainly blasphemed (kfr) …} 5-72/73
– kufr referred here is not disbelief in Islam, but disbelief (kufr) in their own religion: 5-77 { do not follow the desires of people who already went astray before…} 43L
– 5-77 of those who blaspheme (kafarū): min: not all of them do kufr, but:
– ”those who initially innovated trinity, which was a pagan belief found in ancient Egypt, Babylon, and India, were the ones who blasphemed against God and entered into a state of kufr.”
– blasphemy (kfr): if done intentionally.

– Quran is addressing the very people who are seeking the grace of God. 44L
And the Quran calls the People of the Book back to the(ir) original message! This as a first step to embrace the pure monotheism of Islam, which is a confirmation of what was revealed before. Sura 2-97, 2-101, 61-6, 6-92
– The sinless are only 1/1000, Al-Ghazali: The divine mercy will also embrace many of the bygone nations, even though most of them will be exposed to the Fire [at different lengths of time]. Different subgroups. 44R
– Most people, incl. Muslims, simply follow the religion of their parents.
– Al-Ghazali’s advice: ”So have a vast view of the mercy of Allah, the Exalted,
-- and do not measure divine matters with limited ordinary standarts.”
– kufr is an active denial, not a passive state of ignorance. Al-Ghazali 45 Disbelief is active, not passive. Ibn Rifʿa 46R
– one has to live long enough to be able to search for the truth: 46L
– h of mass-murderer, angels measured distance. 46L

– People are considered being Muslims, bec. of fitrah & when no outward sign of obstinacy is displayed. Ibn Rifʿa 46R
– Children of mushrikūn in Jannah, bec. they heard no messenger: An-Nawawi 46R
{We never punish a people until We have sent a messenger.} 17-15 … who explained for them the proof (for faith) (hujjah) and brought them nigh to the revealed law. Baidāwī
– Inhabitants of the Fire: 3 factors involved: A, B, C [see hadith below: Every cruel, harsh, …]
– A: one who hears of Prophet ﷺ, his messenge, and proofs of its veracity.
– B: a person refuses to believe in what was given to the Prophet ﷺ.
– C: a person dies in that state.
– -> {My mercy encompasses all things,} except for what was revealed Re. the mushriqūn, Ibn Mukandir 47L

– the believers have no guarantee of security, but people will be clinging to … {My mercy …} Imam al-Munawi 47L
– the people of the Fire will eventually feel no longer pain, but come to enjoy it. Ibn ʿArabi
-- Ibn ʿArabi≈ aimed at reconciling ”divine mercy with the idea of infinite punishment for finite sins.” 48R
– cause for perdition: concious rejection of God or any of His messengers → Fire: Al-Ghazali 48R
-- but majority will eventually be freed from the Fire
<= bec. God’s mercy will take precedence.

– those who have no excuse for their kufr: stay in Fire, Sh. Habannakah 49L (like Iblīs out of arrogance, not ignorance)
– h: inhabitants of the Fire: Every cruel, harsh, puffed up, miserly, arrogant one. fn43 Muslim, vol 4, no. 9021
– h: He who shows no mercy to the people,
Allah the Exalted and Glorious, does not show mercy on him.
Muslim Book 29 (30), no. 5737 48L
– h: The Prostitute who brought water to a thirsty dog.

7. Relationship of Muslims With Peoples of Other Faith

– ”The God of Islam = God of humanity.”
→ The believers ”infuse themselves with the qualities that Allah has chosen to describe Himself with:
-- mercy, compassion, forgiveness, sabr, love.” 48R
– h: He created Adam in His form Bukhari and Muslim; ≈ Allah created man in the form of Rahman
= due to manifesting the Allah’s Attributes (such as hearing, seeing, knowledge, etc.) and reflecting the Divine Names,
-- (although the attributes of man are contingent and relative while the attributes of Allah are eternal and absolute.)
– h: None of you truly believes until he loves* for his brother what he loves for himself.
-- this includes the Muslim & Non-Muslim: universal brotherhood. (& sister~) An-Nawawi
– *i.e. spiritual love: that one desires good and benefit for others.

– praying for guidance of non-Muslims is beloved and rewarded (by God). An-Nawawi
– Praying for his enemies …for they do not know what they do. (this: against one’s ego). 48R
-- h Muslim, book 17 (or 19) Jihad, 4418

8. Conclusion

8a. The Return of Islam To Europe

Islam is returning to Europe, where it lost al-Andalus in the West and the Balkans in the East. Islam is coming back in force, but now in a peaceful manner, rather than by the sword. What is happening in our days is that Islam is spreading everywhere in Europe, as it was predicted by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.

This means that there is evidence that Islam awakens in peoples’ conscience in our days and this is what worries those who are hostile to Islam.

Secondly many totalitarian, repressive regimes have recently collapsed. This means that there are things that are about to come, that falsehood will be defeated, and truth will prevail. This is because God has said in Surah Rum in the Qur'an:
{ On that day, the believers will rejoice in Allah’s help. He grants victory to whoever He wills. He is the Almighty, the Most Merciful. That is Allah’s promise. Allah does not break His promise. But most people do not know it.}
Surat ar-Rum 30; 4-6

There have been victories in former times on some scale and at different locations, but here it is the case of a major, not local or restricted, victory.

But God knows best and most. [fn1]

8b. Formula For A Harmonious Life In Modern Society

This is for the common Muslim, neither with a legal, nor any state authority.

It has become clear from the exposition above, that no-one must be considered a disbeliever (kāfir) until facts which prove the opposite have become known, seen & heard, as a clear proof.[LINK]

Islam teaches us to treat this issue with utter care, and never cast the appellation of kufr on anyone who is (somehow) different from our way.
“To deem a thousand disbelievers Muslim is safer with God than to deem one Muslim a disbeliever.” Imam Abu Hanifah

”The use of fitna as a method for social disruption is increasing in our communities. Muslims must be more vigilant about those within and without us who wittingly or unwittingly cause strife and conflict.” Sh. Hamza Yusuf

”Sadly, harsh-hearted haters among our community are driving people from the mosques and making the most beautiful teaching in the world appear ugly.” Sh. Hamza Yusuf

Therefore for a harmonious life in a multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic community, the formula for peaceful cooexistence is to consider someone a kāfir only when he directs his hostile stance against Islam or the Muslims, either with his hand, his tongue or pen. Then he is a kāfir, whether he belongs to any religion or not.

Those who respect Islam and the Muslims and do not fight them, should be equally respected.

The kāfir will never stop trying to divert the people of Muhammad ﷺ from the straight path:
{And the Jews will not be pleased with you, nor will the Christians, till you follow their creed.
Say: Certainly the guidance of Allah is Guidance!}

Oriental Pattern


Related texts
link-in Kafir, kufr
link-in Who is a kafir?
link-in What Makes A Person Kafir?

  1. link-out ”Who Are The Disbelievers?” by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, pdf


* Living Islam – Islamic Tradition *