The accusation of disbelief and the principles that restrict it
All praise is due to only Allah, and may the prayers of peace and blessings of Allah be upon our Prophet (pbuh) Muḥammad his family and his companions,
As to what follows:
So the accusation of disbelief (takfīr) involves applying the ruling of disbelief to a Muslim for a reason that is legitimately sanctioned by Islamic law. In this issue the people are divided into two extremes and a moderate group.
The first extreme consists of the Khārijites past and present who are excessive in their use of accusations of disbelief (takfīr) to the extent that they accuse Muslims of disbelief due to major sins that are less severe than polytheism and disbelief. This ideology is baseless because Allah the Exalted says: “Certainly Allah does not forgive that partners are associated with Him, but He forgives whatever is less than that for whomever He wills.”(1) And the Prophet (pbuh) said that his Lord said: “O son of Adam, if you were to meet Me with almost an entire land of misdeeds/sins and likewise met me in a state where you did not direct worship to other than Me, then I would come to you with something similar that consists of forgiveness.” And the “entire land” referred to in the narration involves its entirety or most of it.
The second extreme maintains that the Muslim cannot be ruled a disbeliever regardless of what he/she has done from acts which are forbidden and the abandonment of obligations so long as he remains a believer of Allah and his religion in his heart because faith, according to them, involves belief or affirmation in the heart and actions are not included into this definition or what it truly indicates. This is the ideology of the Murjīʾites past and present and it is an ideology that is adopted by many of the writers of today who have not studied the creed of the pious predecessors. So they maintain that the accusation of disbelief (takfīr) is unlawful to begin with because it is according to them because it involves harshness, excessiveness, and radicalism. And even if a person committed every nullifier of Islam. These people do not even accuse the Jews and Christians of disbelief even though they disbelieve in the message of Muḥammad (pbuh) and say that the Messiah is the son of Allah or ʿUzayr is the son of Allah just as they say: “the Hand of Allah is shackled.”(2) And they say: “Surely Allah is poor and we are rich.”(3) And they say: “Indeed Allah is one of three.”(4) And in spite of this they do not accuse them of disbelief. This is an extreme case of irjāʾ and excessive misguidance because Allah has ascribed disbelief to those who do not affirm the Message of Muḥammad (pbuh) whether they are from the people of the book or not. Allah the Exalted says: “If they do not respond to you, then know that they only follow their own desires.”(5) And Allah the Exalted says: “Certainly those who say indeed Allah is one of three have disbelieved…”(6) “Surely those who said that indeed Allah is the Messiah Jesus, the son of Mary have disbelieved…”(7) “Cursed were those who disbelieved from the Children of Israel…”(8) “Indeed, those who disbelieved from the people of the book and the polytheists will be in the fire of Hell, abiding therein forever. They are the worst of creatures.”(9) “O you who believe, do not take the Jews and Christians as allies; they are only allies to each other. And whoever from amongst you takes them as allies, then indeed, he is (one) of them.”(10) This ideology based upon falsehood enables every corrupt individual, misguided person, and deviant to do what they please and engage in various types of apostasy and wickedness; while rewarding these individuals with the title of Islam.
The first ideology is also baseless because it judges many Muslims to be disbelievers for merely committing sins less than polytheism, and disbelief, and whatever results in the spilling of blood that is inviolable, or the loss of innocent life, undermining the unity of the Muslims through revolt against the Imāms of the Muslims, destabilize their state, encourage bombings and terror, disrupts the peace; which are all things that occur today from those who hold this opinion and corrupt ideology. They realize the wishes of the disbelievers and give them an opportunity to interfere in the affairs of Muslims with the excuse that they only wish to protect them from terrorism while it is them who have engaged in terrorist acts and protected terrorists in order to accomplish their own goals which involve attacking the Muslims and weakening them in the manner that we witness today.
And each of the two groups, the Murjīʾites and the Khārijites base their understanding on ambiguous evidences. The Khārijites emphasize the texts which deal with the texts of punishment and condemnation while the Murjīʾites emphasize the promising texts of reward and remuneration. The moderate position which is the correct position in this issue is what Ahlu as-Sunnah wa al-Jamāʿah espouse which is an understanding that reconciles between the promising texts and the more threatening texts in accordance with the statement of Allah: “As for those whose hearts contain deviance and thus pursue its ambiguities in their attempt to create turmoil and in their attempt to give a specific interpretation of their own; only Allah knows the true interpretation. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: ‘We believe in it. It is all from our Lord.’ And no one takes heed except those who are insightful. Our Lord, do not permit our hearts to deviate after You have guided us. Grant us mercy from Yourself; You are the Grantor. Our Lord, certainly You will gather the people on a day concerning which there is no doubt. Indeed, Allah never betrays His promise.’”(11)
So Ahlu as-Sunnah wa al-Jamāʿah say that the one who commits a major sin which does not involve polytheism or disbelief is deserving of punishment but remains subjected to the will of Allah; if He chooses, He may punish him according to his deeds. And if He so chooses he may forgive him and forgo punishing him in accordance to His statement: “Certainly Allah does not forgive that partners are associated with Him, but He forgives whatever is less than that for whomever He wills.”(12) And if Allah punishes him according to his deeds, then will not remain eternally in the Hellfire. Rather, he will be removed from there and enter the Paradise because of whatever they possess of monotheism and faith so they are not believers whose faith is complete as the Murjīʾites claim just as he is not a faithless disbeliever as the Khārijites claim.
And Ahlu as-Sunnah wa al-Jamāʿah do not accuse Muslims of disbelief unless they have performed an action that is considered from the nullifiers of Islam which have been agreed upon and well-known amongst the scholars which must also fulfill the conditions of apostasy or disbelief before being applied to a Muslim who is otherwise known to be Muslim. From these conditions is the following:
1- That an individual is ignorant and excused due to his ignorance like the one who is new to Islam and thus has not learned much about Islamic rulings or the one who lives in a community far from Islam such that the Qurʾān did not reach them in a way that they understand or the rulings are complex and requires clarification.
2- That the individual is not compelled such that he just desires to be freed of compulsion as Allah the Exalted says: “Whoever disbelieves in Allah after having believed except for one who is compelled (to do so) while his heart is content with faith. But those who [willingly] welcome disbelief into their hearts, upon them is wrath from Allah, and for them is a great punishment.”(13) This verse indicates that whoever utters a statement of disbelief out of compulsion while his heart is pleased with faith does not disbelieve.
3- That the individual has followed an interpretation that he believes is correct; but it is imperative that the errors of this interpretation are made clear to him.
4- That the individual who is ignorant of the ruling and a blind follower of someone who he thought was correct and thus followed blindly should not be considered a disbeliever until the misguidance of the one whom he blindly follows is made clear to him.
5- That the one who has accused him of apostasy be from the scholars that are well-grounded in knowledge and who properly apply religious rulings so the one who applies the ruling of disbelief is neither ignorant or merely learned.
In conclusion, expelling a Muslim from Islam without a straightforward and clear evidence is a dangerous matter as the Prophet (pbuh) said: “If a Muslim says to his brother O disbeliever, O transgressor, O enemy of Allah while he is not as they described; then this description returns to or reverts back to him.” And we ask Allah for protection and may the prayers of peace and blessings of Allah be upon our Prophet (pbuh) Maḥammad, his family and companions.
1) Sūrah an-Nisāʾ 4:48.
2) Sūrah al-Māʾidah 5:64.
3) Sūrah Āl ʿImrān 3:181.
4) Sūrah al-Māʾidah 5:73.
5) Sūrah al-Qaṣaṣ 28:50.
6) Sūrah al-Māʾidah 5:73.
7) Sūrah al-Māʾidah 5:72.
8) Sūrah al-Māʾidah 5:78.
9) Sūrah al-Bayyinah 98:6.
10) Sūrah al-Māʾidah 5:51.
11) Sūrah Āli ʿImrān 3:7-9.
12) Sūrah an-Nisāʾ 4:48.
13) Sūrah an-Naḥl 16:106.