Can We call non-Muslims Kāfir?
Question: We know that we cannot call the present day non-Muslims kāfir since the truth of Islam is not presented to them the way it was done by the Prophet (sws) through itmām al-hujjah (conveying the truth conclusively). My question is how did the companions of the Prophet (sws) refer to the people when they conquered far and wide beyond Arabia. Since those people (common civilians) did not witness itmām al-hujjah could they be called kāfir? Did the Companions also call them kāfir or non-Muslims or something else? Is there any authentic record where we see the Companions making distinction between a kāfir and a non-Muslim? A friend of mine told me that there is a consensus on calling non-Muslims as kāfir throughout 14 centuries. Only in the last decade people started avoiding the term kāfir for non Muslims. Please explain.
Answer: We can call the present day non-Muslims kāfirs if we take into consideration the fact that the Qur'an has used the word kāfir in two senses.
1. People who have denied the truth regardless of the fact that this denial is deliberate or because of some other reason. Example of this usage can be seen in the following verses of Sūrah Qāf, a Makkan sūrah:
ق وَالْقُرْآنِ الْمَجِيدِ بَلْ عَجِبُوا أَن جَاءهُمْ مُنذِرٌ مِّنْهُمْ فَقَالَ الْكَافِرُونَ هَذَا شَيْءٌ عَجِيبٌ (50: 1-2)
This is SūrahQāf. By the glorious Qur'ān! In fact, they were confounded by the fact that a warner from amongst themselves had come to them. So these kāfirs had said: "It is a very strange thing." (50:1-2)
2. People who have denied the truth deliberately and have thereby become worthy of God's punishment and condemnation. Example of this usage can be seen in Sūrah Kāfirūn, a Madīnan sūrah:
قُلْ يَاأَيُّهَا الْكَافِرُونَلَا أَعْبُدُ مَا تَعْبُدُونَ(107: 1-2)
Say: "O Kāfirs! I shall worship not that which you worship. (107:1-2)
It is when used in the latter sense that the Qur'ān gives many directives of punishment for them. When used in this sense, the alif lām of 'ahad (specification) appended to the word kāfir points to this specific category of non-Muslims. It is such non-Muslims against whom Muslims were required to sever ties of friendship and not mutually receive inheritance and asked to wage war. This category of non-Muslims comes into being in the time of the messengers of God since only in their times their deliberate denial can be ascertained through God.
If today we call non-Muslims kāfirs. then it has to be in the first sense since we can never know after the termination of the institution of wahī whether this denial is deliberate or due to some other reason. In other words, if we use the word kāfir for them today, then we must realize that this does not refer to a condemned kāfir; it only means the kāfirs who have rejected Islam for any reason.
As far as the kāfirs of the time of the Companions were concerned against whom they waged war, they belonged to the second category. True they did not witness the itmām al-hujjah of the Prophet (sws); however, they witnessed the result of the itmām al-hujjah in Arabia. About its initiation in Arabia they had been informed through the epistles of the Prophet (sws). Coming about of itmām al-hujjah in itself becomes an itmām al-hujjah for the onlookers. When the sun comes out you do not need to substantiate its appearance through reasoning. It is a witness on its own existence.
Thus when the Companions attacked the adjacent territories, news of the beginning of itmām al-hujjah on Arabia had already been communicated to their rulers through the letters of the Prophet (sws). As far as the masses were concerned, they were to be spared the fate of being attacked if they had questions or wanted clarification as was the case of the polytheists (mushrikūn) in the times of the Prophet (sws).
Human Intellect and Knowledge of Good and Evil
Question: I read your answer on "Economic System" wherein you asserted this principle: "It needs to be appreciated that man has been blessed with the faculty of intellect and reason and has also been blessed with innate guidance regarding good and evil. In the affairs of life, his intellect and innate guidance are generally enough to guide him and show him the way."
In this connection, I would like to ask how can reason and innate guidance determine good and bad; ie. what is the rational or intuitive criterion to differentiate between good and evil?
Answer: The Qur'ān says that the Almighty has blessed man with the ability of distinguishing good from evil. Thus all of us know that honesty is a cherished value and telling lies is a condemned trait. We do not need to ask any external agency for this. Each and every human being is equipped to make this decision and his own conscience guides him in this regard.
Thus the Qur'ān while alluding to this innate ability of man says:
وَنَفْسٍ وَمَا سَوَّاهَا فَأَلْهَمَهَا فُجُورَهَا وَتَقْوَاهَا قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَنْ زَكَّاهَا وَقَدْ خَابَ مَنْ دَسَّاهَا (91: 7-10)
And the soul bears witness and the perfection given to it, then [God] inspired it with its evil and its good that he succeeded who purified it and he failed who corrupted it. (91:7-10)
The Prophet (sws) is reported to have said: "Virtue is professing high morals and sin is that which pricks your heart and you would not like others to come to know of it." (Muslim, no. 6516) It is this part of a person that the Qur'ān has termed as nafs-i lawwāmah (the reproaching soul) and has unequivocally stated:
بَلْ الْإِنسَانُ عَلَى نَفْسِهِ بَصِيرَةٌ وَلَوْ أَلْقَى مَعَاذِيرَهُ (75: 14-15)
In fact, man himself is a witness upon his own self however much he may put up excuses. (75:14-15)
Duty to Parents and Family
Question: My parents back in Pakistan, after the marriage of my sisters, are on their own now. I live in America with my wife and a son. Recently, I have decided to move back to Pakistan to better serve my parents. I also wish to raise my family in a country where I have a sense of religious and cultural belonging. All my Pakistani friends are discouraging me to move, but I have been ignoring them so far. The political situation in Pakistan is going from bad to worse. There is fear in the heart and logical reasoning in the mind. I feel that I am risking the lives of both my wife and my son for the duty towards my parents. Sometimes, I think of moving to a modern Islamic country such as Malaysia and bringing my parents there. But I know that my parents, at this stage of their lives, would not be able to assimilate to the norms of a new country and therefore, would mentally suffer. I am a man of justice. Please help me do justice to both my family and to parents simultaneously. Should I move to Pakistan or help my parents move to Malaysia where I could serve them while providing due care to both my wife and son?
Answer: Your predicament is shared by every second family in Pakistan whose children are living abroad. It is quite difficult to give a categorical opinion in this issue because of so many variable and, at times, uncontrollable factors. Additionally, each person and family is living in different circumstances.
However, the bottom line is the same as what you have felt and understood. Parents in old age need to be repaid even though very partially by giving them time and attention, by serving them and being near them as much as is possible. Their emotional needs must be addressed by the children.
Keeping this principle in mind you need to apply it in the best possible way – ideally the solution should serve the needs of your parents and also those of your wife and kids. But then, ideals are not always easy to come by and one may need to make a compromise.
Settling in Pakistan or in Malaysia – are both good options. You should weigh them by judging your overall situation and that of your parents as well as your job prospects.