MOD Q & A / Q & A

Q & A What makes you kafir?

Q & A

Q. What sins take you out of the fold of islam? And can repent and come back to Islam?


All too often, Muslims are calling each other ‘kafirs’ (i.e. non-believers’) based upon ignorance. This is known as ‘takfir’ (declaring disbelief upon a Muslim) and is left strictly to those matters of the religion that are definitive (qat`i) and well-known in the religion (ma`lum min al-din bi ’l-darurah)[1] that are wilfully and intentionally declared in public by a Muslim to be false, e.g. if a Muslim were to say openly: ‘the Qur’an (or anything it contains) is false and I don’t believe in it or its rulings’ then this would be tantamount to kufr (‘disbelief’).[2] There is a principle that is pertinent and relevant here which is:

“A person does not step out of belief except by disavowing what brought him into it”.[3]

Therefore, in basic answer to your question, as a general rule, whatever brought you into Islam, the full negation of that will take you out of the fold of Islam. It is the position of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa ’l-Jama`ah that committing sins does not take one out of Islam unless it is the kind of denial mentioned above.[4]

One must also distinguish between what the scholars term as ‘foundational’ (al-asl) and ‘peripheral’ (al-far`, pl. = furu`).[5] It is the latter area that is quite vast and technical with another principle pertinent and relevant which is:

“There is no imputation of disbelief in the peripheral matters” (la takfir fi ’l-furu`).

Differences between scholars in the understandings on the peripheral (furu`) and finer points of theology are used by many Muslims (especially those of us who have not studied the sciences and etiquettes of our tradition) as a basis for declaring disbelief upon other Muslims. To declare takfir upon another Muslim should be the heaviest and most unbearable thing upon a person’s tongue yet we witness today the unfortunate reality of it being light and easy on the tongues. How unfortunate our situation is! How grave the consequences are of such a thing! The Prophet (SAW) said: 

1. “Whoever charges a believer with unbelief it is as though he had killed him.”[6]

2. “Any man who says, ‘O kafir!’ to his brother, one of them deserves the name”.[7]

From this we should take stark warning. The great Imam Abu ’l-Qasim Ibn `Asakir narrates in his book Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari with his chains of transmission (isnad) the following reports:[8] 

1. From Khaddash b. `Iyash who said:

I was in a gathering in al-Kufah when a man was speaking and said: “We were sitting with Abu Hurayrah [RA] where a young man passed by. A man in the gathering then said: ‘This is a disbeliever (kafir) from among the people of the Fire!’ Abu Hurayrah stood up and went to the young man and asked him: ‘Who are you?’ [The young man] replied: ‘I am so and so son of so and so.’ [Abu Hurayrah] said: ‘Allah have mercy on your father!’ The young man began looking around so [Abu Hurayrah] asked him: ‘What are you looking for?’ He replied: ‘I have not prayed.’ [Abu Hurayrah] asked: ‘So, you pray?’ [The young man] replied: ‘Glory be to Allah!’ [Then Abu Hurayrah] asked: ‘And you say also say “Glory be to Allah?”’ He said: ‘There is no deity but Allah!’ [Abu Hurayrah] asked: ‘And you say “There is no deity but Allah?”’ [The young man then] said: ‘I would not prefer to leave the Salat even if I were to have all there is on the face of the earth.’ [Abu Hurayrah] said: ‘May Allah have mercy on you! May Allah have mercy on you!’ Then he came back to his seat [within the gathering] and said: ‘I heard the Messenger of Allah (SAW) say: “Whoever bears testimony against a Muslim of which the testimony is not deserving, let him prepare for his seat in the Hellfire”.

2. From `Ubayd Allah b. `Umar from Nafi` who said:

A man said to Ibn `Umar: ‘I have a neighbor who bears witness against me that I commit shirk.’ [Ibn `Umar] said: ‘Say: ‘There is no deity but Allah!’ [i.e. la ilaha ill Allah] and you will make him a liar.’

3. From Sawwar b. Shabib al-A`raji who said:

I was sitting with Ibn `Umar when a man came and said: ‘O Ibn `Umar! There are people bearing witness against us [in attributing] kufr and shirk.’ [Ibn `Umar] said: ‘Woe to you! Did you not say: There is no deity but Allah?’ (la ilaha illAllah). Thereafter, the entire household said: ‘There is no deity but Allah’ until the house began to tremble [and shake].

4. From al-A`mash from Abu Sufyan who said:

We came to Jabir b. `Abd Allah who was residing in Meccawith the Banu Fihr. A man asked him: ‘Did you[9] use to call anyone from the People of the Qiblah[10] ‘polytheists’ (mushrikan)’? [Jabir] replied: ‘I seek refuge in Allah!’ The man continued: ‘Did you call anyone from them ‘disbelievers’ (kafiran)?’ [Jabir] replied: ‘No.’ End.


Imam Ibn `Asakir then immediately comments after the narrations: “These reports prohibit declaring disbelief on the Muslims. Whoever proceeds to declare disbelief has disobeyed the Master of the Messengers.”


وأخبرنا الشيخان أبو عبد الله محمد بن الفضل بن أحمد الفراوي وأبو المظفر عبد المنعم بن عبد الكريم بن هوازن النيسابوريان بها قالا أنا أبو سعيد محمد بن علي بن محمد الصوفي المعروف بالخشاب قال أنا أبو بكر محمد بن عبد الله بن محمد بن زكريا الجوزقي قال انا أبو العباس محمد بن عبد الرحمن ابن محمد الدغولي قال أنا أحمد بن إبراهيم بن حرب النيسابوري قال ثنا يزيد بن هارون قال ثنا جهير بن يزيد العبدي عن خداش بن عياش قال كنت في حلقة بالكوفة إذا رجل يحدث قال كنا جلوسا مع ابي هريرة فمر فتى فقال رجل من الحلقة هذا كافر من أهل النار فقام أبو هريرة حتى أتى الفتى فقال من انت انا فلان بن فلان رحم الله اباك قال فجعل الفتى يلتفت فقال إلام تلتفت قال لم أصل قال وتصلي فقال سبحان الله فقال وتقول سبحان الله قال لا إله إلا الله قال وتقول لا إله إلا الله فقال ما أريد أني تركت الصلاة وأن لي ما على وجه الأرض قال رحمك الله رحمك الله ثم جاء حتى أخذ مجلسه فقال سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول . من شهد على مسلم بشهادة ليس لها بأهل فليتبوأ مقعده من النار .

 وأخبرنا الشيخ أبو القسم إسماعيل بن أحمد بن السمرقندي قال أنا ابو الحسين أحمد بن محمد بن أحمد بن النقور قال ثنا أبو القسم عيسى بن علي بن عيسى الوزير إملاء قال ثنا أبو القسم عبد الله بن محمد بن عبد العزيز قال حدثنا زيد بن أخزم قال ثنا أبو قتيبة قال ثنا منصور بن دينار عن عبيد الله بن عمر عن نافع أن رجلا قال لإبن عمر أن لي جارا يشهد علي بالشرك فقال قل لا إله إلا الله تكذبه .

وأخبرنا الشيخ أبو الفرج سعيد بن أبي الرجاء بن أبي منصور الصيرفي بأصبهان قال أنا أبو الفتح منصور بن الحسين بن علي بن القسم بن الرواد الكاتب وأبو طاهر أحمد بن محمود بن أحمد الثقفي الأديب قالا أنا أبو بكر محمد بن إبراهيم بن علي بن عاصم بن المقري قال ثنا أبو محمد جعفر بن أحمد الزبعي قال ثنا أحمد بن جعفر المعقري قال ثنا النضر بن محمد قال ثنا عكرمة يعني ابن عمار قال ثنا سوار بن شبيب الأعرجي قال كنت قاعدا عند ابن عمر فجاء رجل فقال يا ابن عمر إن أقواما يشهدون علينا بالكفر والشرك فقال ويلك أفلا قلت لا إله إلا الله قال فقال أهل البيت لا إله إلا الله حتى ارتج البيت .

أخبرنا أبو الفضل محمد بن اسماعيل بن الفضل الفضيلي قال أنا ابو القسم أحمد بن محمد بن محمد الخليلي ببلخ قال أنا ابو القسم علي بن أحمد بن محمد بن الحسن الخزاعي قال أنا ابو سعيد الهيثم بن كليب الشاشي قال ثنا ابن عفان العامري قال ثنا ابن نمير قال ثنا الأعمش عن أبي سفيان قال أتينا جابر بن عبد الله وكان مجاورا بمكة وكان نازلا في بني فهر فسأله رجل فقال هل كنتم تدعون أحدا من أهل القبلة مشركا قال معاذ الله وفزع لذلك قال هل كنتم أظنه تدعونه كافرا قال لا .

فهذه الأخبار تمنع من تكفير المسلمين فمن اقدم على التكفير فقد عصى سيد المرسلين

 There are lessons and reminders in these narrations. Our noble scholars were the last people to even dare of declaring takfir upon another Muslim, group or party and they were more God-fearing and pious than us.

As for the second part of your question, a Muslim has the latitude given by the Shari`ah to recant and retract any errors in statement, belief and practice that could lead him/her out of the fold of Islam. This is from the mercy of Allah (SWT). If a person does actually declare apostasy, then according to the schoolof Imam Abu Hanifah, the person is offered istitabah (i.e. a period of three days for consideration of repentance) otherwise the ruling (hukm) of apostasy is one for the Caliph of the Islamic state to enforce and no individual may take the matter into his/her hands.


And Allah knows best.



[1] Cf. Imam al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim, 1:150.

[2] See Imam al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim, 2:107 and al-Ghazzali, Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din, 1:17 for the principle that rulings and judgments are based upon outward evidence whereas the inward attestation and evidence is for Allah’s decree and judgment alone. Indeed, according one of the opinions of the Madhhab of Imam Abu Hanifah (RA) two male witnesses are required who directly heard a public denial of the faith; see Ibn `Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar `ala Durr al-Mukhtar, 4:371 and see also the references in Imam Ahmad Reza Khan’s al-Fatawa al-Ridwiyyah, 8:516-527 of which a few pages are attached.

[3] As mentioned in the `Aqidah of Imam al-Tahawi, article no. 61: “A person does not step out of belief except by disavowing what brought him into it.”

[4] Imam al-Tahawi mentions in his `Aqidah, article no. 57: “We do not consider any of the people of our qiblah to he unbelievers because of any wrong action they have done, as long as they do not consider that action to have been lawful.”

[5] Often translated as ‘roots and branches’ (usul wa furu`).

[6] See Bukhari’s Sahih, 8:32, hadith no. 6105.

[7] See Bukhari, Sahih, 8:32, hadith no. 6104.

[8] See Ibn `Asakir, Tabyin al-Kadhib al-Muftari, p.163. All narrators in Ibn `Asakir’s chains have been omitted for the sake of brevity

[9] i.e. did the companions as a whole as the address is in the plural.

[10] i.e. Muslims.


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