AskDefine | Define Kafir

Dictionary Definition



1 an offensive term for any Black African [syn: kaffir, caffer, caffre]
2 a member of the Kafir people in northeastern Afghanistan

Extensive Definition

This article is on the Islamic religious term. For the pejorative racial slur, see kaffir (ethnic slur).
For the 2007 album by The Rebel, see Kufr (album).
Kafir (Arabic: ; plural ) is an Arabic word meaning "rejecter". In the Islamic doctrinal sense the term refers to a person who does not recognize God (Allah) or the prophethood of Muhammad (i.e., any non-Muslim) or who hides, denies, or covers the truth. In cultural terms, it is seen as a derogatory term used to describe an unbeliever, non-Muslims, apostate from Islam and even between Muslims of different sects. It is usually translated into English as "infidel" or "unbeliever."
The islamic law (sharia) distinguishes three types of kafirs:
  1. kafir dhimmi
  2. kafir harbi
  3. kafir musta'min
Debate exists between some Muslim scholars as to whether the term applies to certain religions, as these can also be regarded as Ahl-ul Kittab, People of the Book or Dhimmi ("protected people"). "Kafir" has been used historically to identify the followers of non-denominational religions or local traditions.


The word is the active participle of the root K-F-R "to cover". As a pre-Islamic term it described farmers burying seeds in the ground, covering them with soil while planting. Thus, the word implies the meaning "a person who hides or covers". In Islamic parlance, a is a word used to describe a person who rejects Islamic faith, i.e. "hides or covers [viz., the truth]".

Qur'anic references

The word (and related words, such as the abstract noun "disbelief") is mentioned in the Qur’an in five different senses:
  1. : to reject the belief in the Oneness of God. The Qur’an says:
    • As to those who reject faith (kafaru), it is the same to them whether you warn them or do not warn them; they will not believe (; Yusuf Ali)
  2. Kufr al-ni`mah: to lack gratefulness to God or to people. The Qur’an says:
    • Therefore remember Me, I will remember you, and be thankful to Me, and do not be ungrateful to Me. (la takfurun)(; Shakir)
    • (Pharaoh) said (to Moses): … And you did (that) deed of yours which you did, and you are one of the ungrateful (kafireen)(; Shakir)
  3. Kufr at-tabarri: to disown/clear oneself from. The Qur’an says:
    • Indeed, there is for you a good example in Ibrahim and those with him when they said to their people: “Surely we are clear of you (kafarna bekom).” (; Shakir)
  4. Kufr al-juhud: to deny. The Qur’an says:
    • When there comes to them that which they [should] have recognized, they refuse to believe in (kafaru) it.(; Yusuf Ali)
  5. Kufr at-taghtiyah to hide/bury something, like planting a seed in the ground. The Qur’an says:
    • The likeness of vegetation after rain, whereof the growth is pleasing to the husbandman (kuffar.) (; Pickthall)
The word kufr can also be applied to a Muslim when he is doing something wrong, but not necessarily something that would place him or her outside the state of belief in Islam. For example, a Muslim who is able to perform the Hajj but does not go, without denying the need to go, would be committing an act of kufr in a sense of ungratefulness to God.
  • Verily, the first House (of worship) appointed for mankind was that at Bakkah (Makkah), full of blessing, and a guidance for Al-'Alamîn (the mankind and jinns). In it are manifest signs (for example), the Maqâm (place) of Abraham (Arabic:Ibrâhim) ; whosoever enters it, he attains security. And Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah) to the House (Ka'bah) is a duty that mankind owes to God (Arabic:Allah), those who can afford the expenses (for one's conveyance, provision and residence); and whoever disbelieves(wa man kafara) [i.e. denies Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah), then he is a disbeliever of God], then God stands not in need of any of the 'Alamîn (mankind and jinns)().
In the Qur'an the phrase "O disbelievers" (, Ya ayuhalathina kafaru, or Ya ayuhal-kafirun) is found only in these two places:
  1. In Hellfire, we seek refuge in God from it. The Qur’an says what means:
    • "[Then it will be said]: 'O ye who disbelieve (Ya ayuhalathina kafaru)! Make no excuses for yourselves this day.'" ()
  2. In Surat Al-Kafirun (109):
    • "Say [O Muhammad]: 'O ye that reject faith (al-Kafirun)! I worship not that which ye worship, Nor will ye worship that which I worship.'"
In the rest of the Qur'an, the Qur'anic style follows two principles:
  1. To label certain sayings or actions to be sayings or actions of kufr (disbelief or rejection of faith), without labeling any specific group of people with that name and calling them with it. For example, the Qur’an says what means:
    • Certainly they disbelieve who say: Surely God is the third [person] of the three. And there is no god but One God, and if they desist not from what they say, a painful chastisement shall befall those among them who disbelieve [reject]. Will they not then turn to God and ask His forgiveness? And God is Forgiving, Merciful. The Messiah, son of Mary is but a messenger; messengers before him have indeed passed away; and his mother was a truthful woman.()
  2. To distinguish clearly between idol-worshippers, on one hand, and believers in God and a Script that went through a phase of corruption, on the other hand. God called the later group only by the name "People of the Book." For example, the Qur'an says what means:
    • Quite a number of the People of the Book wish they could turn you [people] back to infidelity after ye have believed, from selfish envy, after the truth hath become manifest unto them. But, forgive and overlook, till Allah accomplish His purpose; for God Hath power over all things.()
    • It is He Who got out the Unbelievers among the People of the Book from their homes at the first gathering [of the forces]. Little did ye think that they would get out: And they thought that their fortresses would defend them from God! But the [wrath of] God came to them from quarters from which they little expected [it], and cast terror into their hearts, so that they destroyed their dwellings by their own hands and the hands of the Believers, take warning, then, O ye with eyes [to see]()
In today's world, scholars recommend that Muslims should use the same term "People of the Book" with Christians and Jews, or call them Christians and Jews, if they wish to be called so, or simply call them "non-Muslims".

According to scholars

Some scholars say People of the Book — that is to say Christians, Jews (including Samaritans) and "Sabians" — are kafir (disbelievers) because even if they are considered recipients of divine revelation from God, the Qur'an literally stamps them with the term Al-Ladheena Kafaru (those who cover)/ Walaqad Kaffara (Surely they have become kafirs).
While Muslims do view the People of the Book as having altered their religions, a minority reserve the term "kafir" for polytheists, atheists, and those who consciously live in spite of God. Hence, the People of the Book, as worshippers of God are not "kufar" in the sense it is often used. Furthermore, some Muslims would argue that God would not allow marriage between Muslim men and Christian/Jewish women (as is permitted under ) if they were on the same level as those previously mentioned.
Ibn Taymiyah says:
Not believing in God and His Messenger, whether that is accompanied by denial or it is not accompanied by denial but rather doubt, or turning away from faith out of jealousy or arrogance, or because one is following whims and desires that prevent one from following the message. So kufr is the attribute of everyone who rejects something that God has commanded us to believe in, after news of that has reached him, whether he rejects it in his heart without uttering it, or he speaks those words of rejection without believing it in his heart, or he does both; or he does an action which is described in the texts as putting one beyond the pale of faith.
Ibn Hazam said in his book al-Fasl:
Rejecting something for which there is sound proof that there can be no faith without believing in it is kufr, and uttering words for which there is proof that uttering them is kufr. Doing any action for which there is proof that it is kufr is also kufr.

Acts that invalidate Islam

"Verily, God forgives not (the sin of) setting up partners in worship with Him, but He forgives whom He pleases other sins than that" (al-Nisa 116).
"Say: Was it God, or His signs or His Messenger that you were mocking? Make no excuse, you have disbelieved after you had believed." (al-Tauba 65-66).
"And who does more wrong than he who is reminded of the signs of his Lord, then he turns aside therefrom? Verily, We shall exact retribution from the sinners"
The Kafiroon are not to be confused with the munafiq. The munafiq are Muslim hypocrites.

Muslim relations with the Kafir

For dealing with non-Muslims, Jasser Auda, a director of the al-Maqasid Research Centre in the Philosophy of the Islamic Law in London, England, says that the general rule is mentioned in the verse that says what means:
God welcomes you to be kind those who have not made war against you on account of [your] religion, and have not driven you forth from your homes, that you show them kindness (birr) and deal with them justly; surely God loves the doers of justice. God only forbids you respecting those who made war upon you on account of [your] religion, and drove you forth from your homes and backed up [others] in your expulsion, that you make friends with them, and whoever makes friends with them, these are the unjust. ()
Birr in this context is likened to birr al-walidain, the kindness that a Muslim should show to his or her parents.
Some Muslims believe that making friends with the Kafir is prohibited in Islam. Others consider the directive in Qur'an only for those Christians and Jews who were direct addressees of Qur'an or in war when there is a danger of transmission of secrets. As in Qur'an:
O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors (over the Muslims): They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily God guideth not a people unjust.
Shi'a jurists have traditionally deemed the person who does not believe in Allah ( God ) and His Oneness to be ritually impure (najis) so that physical contact with them or things they touched would require Shi'as to wash themselves before doing regular prayers. As regards the people of the Book (i.e. the Jews and the Christians) who do not accept the Prophethood of Prophet Muhammad bin Abdullah, they are commonly considered Pak ( pure ).

Use outside Islam

By the 15th century, the word kafir/kuffar was used by Muslims in Africa to refer to the non-Muslim African natives. Many of those kuffar, were enslaved and sold by their Muslims captors to European and Asian merchants, mainly from Portugal, who by that time had established trading outposts along the coast of West Africa. These European slave traders adopted that Arabic word to refer to their captives, and eventually changed it into many forms — cafre (in Portuguese, Spanish and Greek), caffar, kaffer, kaffir, kafir, etc. (in English, Dutch, and Afrikaans); see kaffir (historical usage in southern Africa). Those words were then used to name many things related to Africa, such as the Kaffir Wars, Kaffraria, kaffir lime, kaffir corn, and so on; see kaffir (disambiguation). It is now illegal to use the term "kaffir" in South Africa.
Some of those African slaves were taken by the Portuguese to work in their colonies in Asia. In some cities of Sri Lanka, in particular, the descendants of those slaves still constitute a distinctive ethnic group, who call themselves Kaffir.
In South Africa, the word kaffir eventually became a racial slur, applied pejoratively or offensively by some whites to African blacks or to dark-skinned persons in general. In Jamaica, it is applied by some Jamaicans of Indian ancestry to Jamaicans of African ancestry. See kaffir (ethnic slur).

Recent Uses of the Term

The term has taken a new significance since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. It has become vogue for recently-returned U.S. military personnel to wear T-shirts displaying the word “kafir” written in Arabic; often in the form of a black T-shirt with large white script. Usually, a translation of the term is printed in smaller letters below the Arabic script. In some cases the T-shirts state that the wearer is a "Proud Kafir." The T-shirts, along with other similarly labeled items, are commonly sold via politically conservative or military-related websites or at gun shows. The primary purpose for these items appears to be an attempt to co-opt the negative meaning of the term and serve as an act of political defiance.
Kafir in Danish: Kafir
Kafir in German: Kufr
Kafir in Persian: کافر
Kafir in French: Kafir
Kafir in Indonesian: Kafir
Kafir in Hungarian: Gyaur
Kafir in Malayalam: കാഫിര്‍
Kafir in Dutch: Kafir
Kafir in Japanese: カーフィル
Kafir in Polish: Kafir (islam)
Kafir in Russian: Куфр
Kafir in Serbian: Кафир
Kafir in Swedish: Kafir
Kafir in Tajik: Кофир
Kafir in Turkish: Küfür (din)
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