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Takfir  (Arabic: تكفير)- In Sunni Islamic law, equivalent to excommunication. In Shia Islam it is the practice of crossing  arms when standing upright during Salat (or takattuf, called qabd by Sunnis).

In Sunni law, Takfir  is the practice of declaring a Muslim to be a non-believer or kafir (pl. kuffār).  The act which causes takfir is termed the mukaffir.

Takfir has a sound judicial basis in Islam, but is variously interpreted. The importance of Takfir is that anyone declared to be a Kafir can be killed. The Kharijites used this to legalize killing other Muslims. The general, lenient interpretation is that only those who deny the principles of Islam may be subject to takfir, while a more stringent interpretation is that anyone who sins is to be declared a kafir.

Takfir has been used by extremist terrorist groups to justify the killing of Muslims in terror attacks. In particular, it has been used by students of Sayyid Qutb: associates of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri, and by the Takfir wa al Hijra group.

The Muslim reformist thinker, Maulana Mawdoodi, wrote an article entitled Fitna-i Takfir (‘The mischief of declaring Muslims kafir’) for his magazine Tarjuman al-Quran in its May 1935 issue. It was reproduced in the collection of his writings published under the title Tafhimat, Part II (eleventh edition, Islamic Publications, Lahore, March 1984, pages 177–190). An English translation of this article is reproduced below, which was done by Dr. Zahid Aziz and first published in The Light & Islamic Review, dated November–December 1996. 

The article is included below. The basic principle is that as long as a person professes to believe in the tenets of Islam and performs the elementary duties, that person cannot be considered a kafir. If they are questioned and affirm their faith, regardless of outward appearances, they must be taken at their word.

Ami Isseroff

June, 2008



Maulana Maudoodi

Mischief of Takfir

In the period of the decline of the Muslims, among the many troubles that have arisen, one serious and dangerous mischief is that of declaring one another as kafir and wrong-doer, and cursing one another. People introduced cracks within the plain and simple creed of Islam, and by means of inference and interpretation they created from them such branches and details as were mutually contradictory, and which were not explained in the Quran and Sunna, and even if these were, then God and His Prophet had not given them any importance. Then these servants of God (may God forgive them) gave so much importance to their own invented side-issues that they made them the criteria for faith, and on the basis of these they tore Islam to pieces, and made numerous sects, each sect calling every other as kafir, wrong-doer, misguided, doomed to hell, and God knows what. Whereas God in His clear Book had drawn a plain line of distinction between kufr and Islam, and had not given anyone the right to have discretion to declare anything he wants as kufr and anything he wants as Islam. Whether the cause of this mischief is narrow-mindedness with good intentions, or selfishness, envy and self-seeking with malevolent intentions, the fact remains that probably nothing else has done the Muslims as much harm as this has done.

As to the question of a person being in fact a believer or not, it is not the task of any human being to decide it. This matter is directly to do with God, and it is He Who shall decide it on the day of Judgment. As for people, if they have to decide anything it is only this: Which person, according to the distinctive signs of the followers of Islam, as laid down by God and His Messenger, is within the borders of Islam, and which person has gone outside them. For this purpose, the things which have been taught to us as the foundations of Islam are the following:

“Islam is that you bear witness that there is none to be worshipped except Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and that you should keep up prayer, and pay the Zakaat, and fast in Ramadan, and perform the pilgrimage to the House of God if you are able to do it.” (Muslim, Abu Da‘ud, Tirmizi, Nasa’i)


These are the marks of the borders of Islam. As to those who are within these borders, we are commanded to treat them as Muslims. No one has the right to expel them from the community. As to those who have gone outside these borders, we must deal with them as required by Islamic teachings. In neither case are we empowered to judge what is in the heart. Our work is to look at the outward only, and what of us, even the Messenger of Allah in this matter looked only at the outward. Hence, Bukhari and Muslim agree on the report that once Ali sent some money from Yemen to the Holy Prophet, and the Holy Prophet divided it among four men. At this a man who was there said: “O Messenger of Allah, fear Allah!”

The Holy Prophet said:

“Woe to you! Who on earth is more obliged to fear God than me!”

Khalid Ibn Walid was present. He said:

“Messenger of Allah, should I not kill him?”

The Holy Prophet said:

“No, perhaps he says his prayers.”

Khalid said:

“Many are they who say their prayers, but do not have in their hearts what they say with their tongues.”

The Holy Prophet said:

“I have not been commanded to open up the hearts of people or to cut open their insides.”

Imam Shafi‘i and Ahmad in their Musnads and Imam Malik in the Mu’atta have recorded the report that once a man from among the Ansar was talking confidentially with the Holy Prophet. Suddenly the Holy Prophet said loudly [about someone]:

“Does he not bear witness that there is no god but Allah?”

The Ansari said:

“Yes indeed, O Messenger of Allah, but his testimony cannot be trusted.”

The Holy Prophet said:

“Does he not accept that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah?”

He again replied:

“Yes, he professes it but his profession cannot be trusted.”

The Holy Prophet said:

“Does he not pray?”

He again said:

“Yes he does, but his prayer cannot be trusted.”

The Holy Prophet said:

“God has forbidden me to kill such people.”

Now what great injustice it is that a Muslim who professes to have faith in the beliefs taught by God and the Messenger, and is within the borders of Islam according to the clear explanations given above, should be declared by some person as being excluded from the community. This is not boldness against men, but rather in the face of God. It is in fact to oppose God Himself, that while the law of God passes a decree about a man that he is a Muslim, a creature of God issues a decree of kufr about the same man. For precisely this reason, the Holy Prophet has very strictly forbidden calling people kafir and wrong-doers. He went so far as to say that if a man calls another kafir, and the latter is not so in reality, the verdict of kufr shall rebound on the accuser.

“If a man calls his Muslim brother kafir, it applies to one of the two.” (Bukhari)

“Whenever a man accuses another of being a kafir or wrong-doer, this accusation will rebound on him if the one accused is not in reality a kafir or wrong-doer.” (Bukhari)

“The man who calls another kafir or enemy of God, and the latter was not such, this charge will indeed turn back upon the accused.” (Muslim)

“He who curses a believer, it is as if he has killed him. And he who accuses a believer of kufr, it is as if he has killed him.” (Bukhari)

Takfir and calling others wrong-doers is not merely the violation of the rights of an individual, rather it is also a crime against society. It is an act of injustice against the entire Islamic society, and it does immense harm to the Muslims as a community. The reason for this can be understood easily with a little thought.

The fundamental difference between the Islamic society and non-Islamic societies is that the latter are based on the ties of colour, race, language and country, and in contrast to these the Islamic society is based only on the bond of religion. In non-Islamic societies, differences of belief and thought do not introduce any obstacle because such differences do not remove people from the bonds which are based on uniformity of race or country or language or colour. Views may be as far apart as heaven and earth, but neither the relationship of blood, nor the ties of country, nor the link of language, nor the unity of colour, are cut off. Therefore, differences of belief pose no danger to non-Islamic societies. However, in Islam the factor which unites persons of different races, colours, languages and countries into one nation is nothing else but unity of belief. Here belief is all in all; race, colour, language and country do not matter. Therefore, the man who cuts the bond of faith really cuts that rope of God which binds together all those who worship one God, who accept one Messenger and who believe in one Book. In Islam, to call a person or a group as kafir does not only mean that his faith and integrity are attacked, but it also means that all the ties of brotherhood, love, association, dealings and mutual co-operation between the Islamic society and one or more of its members are cut off; and one or more limbs of the body of the Muslim community are severed and discarded.

If this act were in accordance with the command of God and the Messenger, then it is undoubtedly right. In that case, it is true service of Islam to sever the diseased limb and cast it away. If, however, that limb was not diseased according to the Divine law, and is cut off entirely unjustly, then it would be an even greater injustice to the body from which it was cut off than to the limb itself.

This is precisely the reason why Allah and His Messenger have given strict instructions to honour the bond of faith. Allah says:

“If a person, to show that he is a Muslim, presents salaam to you, do not just say to him, without investigations, You are not a believer.” (The Holy Quran, 4:94)

It is in Hadith that once during a military expedition a man, when he saw the Muslims, said: “Assalamu Alaikum, there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” But a Muslim killed him, thinking that the man had proclaimed the Kalima just to save his own life. When the Holy Prophet heard of this, he was very angry, and he reprimanded that Muslim. But he replied:

“O Messenger of Allah, that man read the Kalima merely to protect himself from our sword.”

The Holy Prophet said:

“Did you open his heart and look inside it?”

A companion of the Holy Prophet asked:

“If a man (in battle) attacks me and cuts off my hand, but when I attack him he recites the Kalima, can I kill him in these circumstances?”

The Holy Prophet said: “No.” The companion said:

“O Messenger of Allah, he cut off my hand.”

The Holy Prophet said:

“Despite that, you cannot kill him. If you do kill him then he will have the rank which you had before you killed him, and you will have the rank which he had before he recited the Kalima.”

In another hadith it says that the Holy Prophet said:

“If a man (in a battle) is attacking a kafir with a spear, and it has reached his throat, and at that moment he says ‘There is no god but Allah’, the Muslim must immediately withdraw his spear.”

Another hadith records that

“to abuse a Muslim is an act of wrong-doing, and to fight a Muslim is an act of kufr.”

All these instructions were given because the strength and unity of the Muslims are based on the bond of faith and nothing else. If Muslims do not honour this bond, and they keep on cutting it on small things, the community will become disintegrated, and it will have no collective strength left to proclaim the word of God to the followers of falsehood and to invite them to good.

It is not our meaning that there should be no takfir or declaration of wrong-doing at all, so that even if a man speaks and writes clear heresy he should still be called, and taken to be, a Muslim. This is not the meaning of the texts of the Quran and Sunna quoted above, nor of what we have said above. And how could it be? Just as it is harmful to expel a Muslim from Islam, it is no less harmful to include a kafir within the Islamic community. However, what we want to emphasize is that the greatest caution must be exercised in the matter of declaring a Muslim as kafir, as much caution as is exercised in passing a sentence of death upon someone. Every person who is a Muslim and believes that there is no god but Allah, it should be presumed in his favour that he has faith in his heart. If he does something which contains a semblance of kufr, one must believe that he did not do it with the intention of kufr, but merely out of ignorance and lack of understanding. Therefore one must not straightaway issue a fatwa (verdict) of kufr on hearing what he says, but must try in a goodly manner to make him see sense.

If he still does not accept, and insists upon his view, we must put it to the Book of God to see whether or not the thing on which he is so insistent is contrary to the clear directions which distinguish between faith and disbelief. And also whether or not the man’s belief or action in question can be regarded as an interpretation. If it is not against the clear directions, and there is room for interpretation, then the verdict of kufr cannot be applied. The most that can be said is that he is misguided, and even that in relation to that particular issue, not in all matters. However, if his belief is contrary to clear teachings, and even after finding out that his belief is opposed to the Book of God he continues to adhere to his stand, and one is unable to treat his belief as an interpretation, then in such a case the judgment of wrong-doing or kufr could be applied to him, while bearing in mind the nature of the issue involved. But account must be taken of degree and gravity. All crimes and all criminals are not equal. They differ in seriousness, and it is a requirement of justice that the punishment which is awarded must take account of the degree of seriousness. To use the same rod on everyone is certainly unjust.

As we explained at the outset, one aspect of the issue of kufr and Islam is internal and another external. The internal is related to the heart and the intention of man, and the external is related to his tongue and action. From a man’s words and actions we can, to a certain extent, estimate his inner condition. This, however, would be mere conjecture and inference, not knowledge and certainty. Without knowledge and certainty, to make a judgment about someone’s faith or kufr on the basis of mere conjecture and inference would be definitely unjust, even though such a judgment might coincide with the truth. Therefore, the right way is to leave the question of faith to Allah. No one but He can know whose heart has faith and whose heart does not:

“Surely your Lord knows best who strays from His path, and knows best who follows the guidance.” (The Holy Quran, 53:30)

Our sight extends only to the outward, and from looking at apparent words and deeds we can form an opinion as to who is a Muslim and who is not. It is possible that the man who outwardly is talking heresy, out of ignorance and stupidity, is inwardly a true and firm believer, and has in his heart a greater love for God and the Messenger than many preachers and religious teachers. It is similarly possible that the man who proclaims his faith loudly and forcefully, and obeys the laws of the religion fully to the outward eye, is in reality a show-off and a hypocrite. So, in passing a judgment of kufr upon someone based on outward conduct, one must greatly fear the chastisement of God. Before issuing such a judgment, we must ponder a thousand times as to the responsibility we are taking upon our heads, and whether we have reasonable grounds on the basis of which it is better for us to take this responsibility rather than to avoid it.

The God Who revealed Islam for the guidance of all mankind is the best knower of differences in human nature, and none more than He can make allowances for these differences. This is why He based His religion on such simple and brief beliefs that everyone, from a simpleton to a philosopher or a scientist, can accept them. It is the simplicity and the brevity of these beliefs which has made them worthy of being the fundamental principles of a universal religion of mankind. For the man not capable of deep thought, it is sufficient to accept that God is one, Muhammad is His Messenger, the Quran is His Book, and that we have to appear before Him on the day of Judgment. For the man who can think, this brevity contains such breadth that he can follow numerous paths in the search of truth, in accordance with his capability and aptitude. He can go as far as he likes. He can spend his entire life in this search, without ever reaching a stage where he could say that he had understood all that he could. Whatever path a thinking man may take for his enquiry and search, and however far he may go, as long as he walks within the limits which the word of Allah has drawn between Islam and kufr, he cannot be declared as excluded from the fold of the faith, no matter how much we may differ with the wanderings of his mind.

For instance, the essence of belief in Allah is only that there is God Who is the Creator and Maintainer of the universe, and only He is worthy of worship. The way in which a simple peasant can accept this, it is not possible that a thinking man could also accept it in the same simple way. Then, the detailed concepts of God, His attributes, and the nature of His relation with the creation, which a man of a particular type of aptitude will develop in his mind through thinking, will not be exactly the same as the concepts of a man of a different aptitude about these matters. But as long as all of them believe in the real basic belief, they are all Muslims, no matter how widely their thoughts differ about the details, and no matter how much they may have stumbled in various places.

Similarly, as regards the Islamic beliefs in revelation, prophethood, angels and the Last Day, there are only a few points of principle which should be called the essentials of faith. The rest are details, for some of which man can find explicit or implicit indications in the word of God, and some are created by man himself in his mind in accordance with his thinking. It is very possible that in determining most of these details a man’s reason may be at fault, and his ideas may stray very far from the truth. But so long as he does not let go of the essence of these beliefs, no error of reason or thought can possibly expel him from the fold of the faith, however far he may go from the centre of the faith, and however much we may have to rebuke and reproach him for these deviations of belief.

At this point, we can understand with a little thought how sects in Islam came into being. The Quran and Hadith contain simple and brief statements about the essentials of the religion. The subtle references that are given about the details of these matters have been understood by different people in different ways, in accordance with their mental capabilities and natural inclinations. In understanding these details by the use of inference and reasoning, people deduced separate types of secondary matters and side-issues. So far, there was no problem, nor was there anything wrong in one group considering its own stand-point to be true and arguing with other groups to draw them towards the same. But the calamity was that, by going to an extreme, people added their own derived and reasoned beliefs to the principles and essentials of the religion, and then every group started to call all those groups as kafir who denied their derived beliefs. Here began the war of beliefs, and this was the starting point of that injustice. It is true that many of the ways followed in the matter of beliefs, by the use of inference and interpretation, are wrong. But every error is not necessarily kufr. It is undoubtedly permissible to call an error an error, and to believe its perpetrator to be misguided and at fault, and to try to bring him to the right path. But as long as a person does not deny the basic fact which Allah has commanded one to believe, it is not at all permissible to call him a kafir, no matter how extensive his error becomes.

It is deplorable that our religious leaders are not willing at all to give up this long-standing practice. They ignore the difference between the root and the branch, between the explicit and the derived. They have made into basic principles those side-matters which they or their predecessors derived from the principles by use of their particular understanding. They give the rank of explicit matters to those interpretations which their group has adopted by deriving meaning from the explicit. The result is that they declare as kafir that person who denies their derivations and interpretations, as would be done with a person who denies the principles and basic teachings. This immoderate behaviour had at first merely produced disunity in the Islamic community. But now we see that this kafir-making by the religious leaders is producing disillusionment in the hearts of the Muslims not only with these leaders but with the very religion which these leaders are representing. Day by day the authority of the religious leaders over the Muslims is declining. By listening to what they say, one’s heart is repelled away from religion rather than attracted towards it. The general impression regarding religious meetings and writings is that there is nothing in them except useless controversy. In this day of the prevalence of disbelief and evil, the only possible way to acquaint the Muslim public with religious knowledge would have been through the writings and speeches of the religious leaders, if the people had confidence in them. But alas, because of sectarian fighting and the pastime of takfir, this one way too is being lost, and this is the main cause of the widespread ignorance and error among Muslims regarding religion.

Would that our religious leaders realise their own fault! And if they cannot do it for the sake of Islam and the Muslims, then at least they could take pity on themselves and give up this habit which has disgraced them so much among their own people, the people who once used to honour them.


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Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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