Can We Call Non-Muslims Kafir?

Question

We know that we cannot call the present day non-Muslims as kafir since the truth of Islam is not presented to them the way it was done by prophet in the form of itmam e hujjat (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 itmam e hujjat they could be called as kafir. Did the companions (sahaba) also call the kafir or non Muslim or something else? Is there any authentic record where we see the Companions (sahaba) making distinction between kafir and non Muslim? My friend says there is an ijmah on calling non-Muslims as kafir through out 14 centuries. Only in the last decade people started not using kafir for non Muslims.


Answer

We can call the present day non-Muslims as kafirs if we take into consideration the fact that the Qur'an has used the word kafir 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 opening verses of Surah Qaf).

2. People who have denied the truth deliberately and have thereby come worthy of God's punishment and condemnation (example of this usage can be seen in Surah Kafirun).

It is when used in the latter sense that the Qur'an gives many directives of punishment for them. When used in this sense the alif lam of 'had (alif lam of specification) appended to the word kafir 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 or asked to wage war against. 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 as kafirs then it has to be in the first sense since we can never know after the termination of the institution of wahi whether this denial is deliberate or due to some other reason. In other words, if use the word kafir for them today then we must realize that this does not refer to the condemned kafirs; it only means the kafirs who have rejected Islam for any reason.

As far as the kafirs of the time of the Companions were concerned against whom they waged war against, they belonged to the second category. True they did not witness the itmam ul hujjah of the Prophet; however, they witnessed the result of the itmam ul hujjah in Arabia. About whose initiation in Arabia they had been informed through the epistles of the Prophet. Coming about of itmam ul hujjah in itself becomes an itmam ul hujjah for the onlookers. When sun comes out you do not need to substantiate its appearance through reasoning. It is a witness on its own existence.

Thus when the sahabah attacked the adjacent territories, news of the beginning of itmam ul hujjah on Arabia had already been communicated to the rulers of the countries through letters of the prophet. 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 (mushrikeen) in the time of the Prophet.

About the Author

Dr. Shehzad Saleem


Born in 1966 Shehzad Saleem has been under the tutelage of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi since 1988 and is currently a Research Fellow and one of the Vice Presidents of Al-Mawrid. He has a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from UET Lahore, Pakistan and holds a PhD in the History of the Qur’an from the University of Wales, UK.

Special Area of Interest
  He recently (2014) completed a fifteen year research work on the History of the Qur’an, a part of which constituted his doctoral thesis (the thesis portion is available at: http://www.al-mawrid.org/index.php/books/view/collection-of-the-quran-a-critical-and-historical-study-of-al-farahis-view).  The work addresses some nagging questions related to the revelation, collection and transmission of the Qur’an. These questions include narratives found in our legacy on the alleged incompleteness of the Qur’an, scribal errors found in it,  its variant readings, chronology of its compilation, order of the surahs, and manuscript studies.

Books Authored
  1. Common Misconceptions about Islam
  2. Playing God: Misreading a Divine Practice
  3. Islam and Women: Misconceptions and Misperceptions
  4. Essays on Character Building, Lessons on Character Building
  5. Qur’an Workshops on Character Building (including a separate Teacher’s Guide)
  6. Lessons on Character Building
  7. Selections from the Qur’an
  8. Selections from the Bible
  9. Selections from the Hadith

He has also compiled a modular textbook on Qur’anic Studies, which was taught by him to graduate students (1999-2001). The textbook is available in course format at
  www.studying-islam.org. It comprises course topics as: Revelation of the Qur’an, Theme of the Qur’an, History of the Qur’an, Arrangement of the Qur’an, Language of the Qur’an, Interpreting the Qur’an.

Translations
  He has translated some works of Amin Ahsan Islahi (d. 1997) and Javed Ahmad Ghamidi into English. These include:

1. Volumes 6, 7,  8 and 9 of Tadabbur Qur’an 
  2. Mizan (Islam: A Comprehensive Introduction)
  3. Al-Islam (Islam: A Concise Introduction)
  4. Selected Essays of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
  5. Volumes 1 and 5 of Al-Bayan 

QnAs
His answers to various questions received about Islam can also be accessed at the Renaissance website at: http://monthly-renaissance.com/issue/writers.aspx?option=queries&id=1

Websites
He is the Founding Editor of the monthly research journal, Renaissance which was initiated in 1991. In 1999, its website www.monthly-renaissance.com was launched.

He launched the Studying Islam www.studying-islam.org website in 2003, which offers online courses on Islam. Through technical help, he has developed an online software (Qur’an for All) at the Studying Islam website to teach the translation of the Qur’an to those who can read the Arabic text but cannot comprehend its meaning.

He also set up websites about the life and works of the Qur’anic scholars Hamid Uddin Farahi (www.hamid-uddin-farahi.org)  and Amin Ahsan Islahi (www.amin-ahsan-islahi.org)  in 2010 and 2013 respectively

He has also built a text based website on the exegesis Tadabbur i Qur’an (www.tadabbur-i-quran.org)  in 2013.

He also founded a website on the life and works of the biblical scholar Abdus Sattar Ghauri (www.abdus-sattar-ghauri.org)  in 2014

He uses his personal facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=562019607)  to write on personality development issues.

Lectures
  He is a guest speaker at various public forums. Some of the topics he regularly speaks on include:

1. Misconceptions about Women in Islam
  2. Pardah and Gender Interaction
  3. Non-Muslims and the Qur’an
  4. Question on the Qur’an by Serious
  5. Misconceptions about Islam
  6. Muhammad (sws): The Misunderstood Prophet of Islam
  7. Marriage and Married Life
  8. Fast and Fasting
  9. Basic Morality
  10. Islam and Islamic Welfare State
  11. Misconceptions about Divorce in Islam
  12. Misconceptions regarding Jihad of the Companions of the Prophet (sws)
  13 Imbalanced Religious Attitudes

He conducts activity-based Qur’anic Workshops for adults and sessions on Character Building and Personality Development for teenagers. Topics include:

1. Spending in the Way of God 
  2. Pride and Arrogance
  3. Remembering God  
  4. Civic Sense
  5. Kindness to Parents
  6. Gratitude
  7. Forgiveness
  8. Moral Courage
  9. Truthfulness 
  10. Showing Off
  11. Humility
  12. Sympathy
  13. Sinful Speech 
  14. Honesty
  15. Justice

Some of his talks and lectures on or about Islam can be viewed at:
  www.youtube.com/shehzadsaleem         www.dailymotion.com/drshehzadsaleem
  www.youtube.com/shehzadsaleemurdu, www.dailymotion.com/drshehzadsaleemurdu

A facebook page, Dr Shehzad Saleem’s Video Talks (https://www.facebook.com/Dr-Shehzad-Saleems-Video-Talks-309627932402929/?ref=br_rs)  also displays his talks

Answered by this author