By: Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
The General Boundaries of Islam
Imam Tahawi states in his well-known creed, “A servant is not considered to have left his faith except by denying that which originally caused him to enter into it,” i.e., except by denying one’s very belief in the central tenets of Islamic faith, such as Allah and His attributes (His oneness, omnipotence, omniscience, etc.), His books, His angels, His prophets and messengers, the Last Day, or the Sacred Law (sharia).
In addition, because true belief entails veneration and respect, disbelief could also result from one’s cursing, disdain or contempt for the religion or the aforementioned tenets of faith.
Lastly, our scholars mention that disbelief could result from denial or contempt for anything that is “necessarily known of the religion.”
What is Necessarily Known of the Religion
This category of the faith “what is necessarily known of the religion” refers to certain aspects of the religion that were historically transmitted and accepted by the entire community, in a manner such that it is undeniable that those aspects are part of the religion. To deny them would therefore be akin to rejecting the Messenger himself (peace and blessings be upon him), since these things are certainly from him.
Moreover, these aspects have to be definitive (qat`i) in meaning as well, such that there was no difference of opinion among jurists as to what these aspects entail.
This category is an absolute historical reality, and it occurs by one of the following ways:
(a) incontestable multiple-chain transmission (tawatur), meaning narrations that have reached us through so many chains of transmission that it is impossible its transmitters conspired to fabricate it. This applies to every verse of the Qur’an, as well as various prophetic sunnas that reached this status.
(b) established, normative prophetic practice that is well-known (mashhur), accepted by all communities of Muslim jurists;
(c) verbalized definitive consensus (ijma) of all Companions, also related to us by incontestable multiple-chain transmission.
Examples are the ritual prayer (salat), almsgiving (zakat), fasting in Ramadan (sawm), and the pilgrimage (hajj); as well as the obligatory status of each. To deny or have contempt for any of these would entail disbelief.
In addition, the prohibited status of certain sins are also in this category. For example, murder (qatl), adultery (zina), and consuming wine (khamr) are necessarily known as prohibited by the religion. Deeming such things as religiously lawful would also entail disbelief.
[Nahlawi, Al-Durar al-Mubaha fil Hazr wal Ibaha; Bajuri/Laqqani, Hashiyat Bajuri ala Jawharat al-Tawhid]
Takfir: A Fitna of Our Times
Having said the above, it is absolutely critical for Muslims to know well that the application of the aforementioned criteria to particular cases, and the determination of whether a Muslim has in fact committed disbelief, is a function relegated only to qualified Muslim jurists of the highest caliber, not to individual Muslims.
One of the greatest tribulations (fitan) of our times is the prevalence of some Muslims deeming other Muslims as disbelievers (takfir). This is a catastrophe, whose harm is most clearly manifested in the senseless killing of innocent Muslims by extremists.
As Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah states in his fatwa on takfir, “The fitna of takfir is a fitna that has brought down serious casualties upon the community, since it is a blind fitna, whose causes are obscure yet whose results are utterly devastating.” [Fatwa Shaykh Bin Bayyah, Amman Message]
Our Beloved Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Whoever accuses a fellow believer of kufr, it is as if he killed him.” [Bukhari]
As well as, “If a man says to his brother, ‘O disbeliever!’, then indeed it [the slanderous statement] returns upon one of the two.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
This hadith indicates that it is categorically prohibited to accuse one’s fellow Muslim of disbelief, as that is major slander and calumny. Allah Most High states, “And do not call one another bad names: wretched is the name of corruption after faith.” (49:11) Many commentators said this verse refers to calling one’s fellow Muslim ‘disbeliever’ (kafir) or ‘religiously corrupt’ (fasiq). [Ibn Abdul Barr, Istidhkar]
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also said on his farewell pilgrimage, “Do not go back, after my demise, as [acting like you did when you were] disbelievers, some of you striking the necks of others.” He made this statement after telling the Muslims to keep silent, thereby indicating that what was to follow was of timeless wisdom and immense gravity. And in another narration, he prefaced it with “Woe to you all!” — also highlighting the seriousness of the matter.
[Bukhari, Muslim; Sharh Qadi Iyad]
Indeed, because takfir is such a grave matter, our scholars have stated, “To be mistaken in deeming a thousand disbelievers as believers is better than to be mistaken in deeming a single believer a disbeliever.”
Imam Ghazali, a master jurist, theologian and saint of our tradition, explains at length that most takfir occurs due to fanaticism and is hence utterly baseless. He summarizes the matter as follows:
“It is established that a Muslim’s protected status and inviolability (`isma) is certainly derived from his statement ‘La ilaha illa Allah.’ This, then, cannot be repelled except with that which is also at the level of certainty.” [Ghazali, Iqtisad fil I`tiqad; Fatwa Shaykh Bin Bayyah, Amman Message]
That is to say, a doubtful issue that might suggest disbelief cannot outweigh the original certainty of a Muslim’s belief — only an act or statement of certain disbelief could do so. And this determination is not the function of the general laity of Muslims, but rather qualified jurists and theologians alone.
And Allah knows best.