Who is a Muslim, and who isn’t?

Recently, I had discussions on two blogs about the legitimacy of takfeer, meaning calling someone a non-Muslim, against people who appear to be Muslims but who have deviant beliefs or opinions about a matter of Shari’ah. On Umar Lee’s blog, the author mentioned a woman he had come across, who wore a hijab and a jilbab, yet favoured gay marriage because “gay marriage is a good thing and Islam is for what is good”. At Harry’s Place, David T posted a 10-minute bit of audio from Yasir al-Qadhi, heavily edited to make it look like he was calling all Shi’ites kaafirs and suggesting that he should not have been allowed into the UK to speak at the recent Global Peace & Unity event.

A lot of people seem to be confused about where takfeer is legitimate and where it is not. Generally speaking, common people do not call people kaafirs unless either they do not claim to be Muslim, or they are part of a sect known to have beliefs so extreme as to put them outside of Islam (such as the Qadianis or Isma’ilis), or they reject something that is commonly known of Islam, such as that extramarital sex or the drinking of alcoholic drinks is forbidden, or insult Islam or the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). In the first of these cases, I question whether we should commonly use the word kaafir when speaking or writing in English, since there alternatives which are actual English which are not known as racially derogatory terms.

On the subject of gay marriage, there is a distinction to be made between not joining in campaigns against gays or gay marriage conducted by right-wing Christians who hate Muslims or Islam as much as they hate homosexuals, and approving of their lifestyles. In several US states, there were referenda on the subject of gay marriage along with the Presidential election, and as sister Ginny points out, the proposition in Florida specifically defined marriage as being between one man and one woman, which excludes polygamy as practised by Muslims. There are other problems with joining in these campaigns. One is that we should not spend too much time thinking about bad things, including things people might do in their bedroom that we might find distasteful. Another is that supporting the American religious right’s campaigns against homosexuals strengthens them, and they hate us, as their rants on American talk radio demonstrate, and in many cases would kill us. They have to know that they may not rely on our support unless there is something in it for us.

However, this does not mean that we should consider it “good” when Allah clearly tells us in His Book that it is not. I mentioned in a comment that if someone said such a thing, then that is kufr (unbelief). Another commenter accused me of calling the woman a kaafira, which I had not, since I do not know the woman, did not hear her say this and have only the reported speech from Umar to go on. There are impediments to takfeer, usually related to the person being ignorant and having good reason to be ignorant, but someone who knows that she has to wear hijaab and jilbaab is not ignorant. Clinging to one’s desires is not the same as ignorance.

Then, yesterday, I noticed a post on Harry’s Place, featuring this speech (or bit of a speech) by Yasir al-Qadhi:

He posted the following quotation:

With regard to the Shiites, really they are the most lying sect of Islam. In other words, it is a part of their religion… that they are allowed to lie…. They have an ascription to one of their Imams - “Lying is nine tenths of this religion”. Now by the way I’m speaking of their religion that is based on certain knowledge. I have their main book…I have looked over it, I have read their chapters. I’m not taking this from what the Shiites say. The Shiites are allowed to lie. It is their religion to lie. Ok. Any person who knows the Shiites knows this. 90% of their own religion, by their own statement, is lies. They are allowed to lie… so don’t go and ask Shiites what they believe - go straight to their source books. Well, actually right now, you shouldn’t be reading their books…

DT comments:

It carries on and on and on in this vein. In fact, it gets worse. You will never hear a more disgusting, filthy, attack on another cultural group.

Qadhi concludes his rant by declaring any adherent to Shiism “a clear Kufaar”. That’s right. Like the Taliban, Sheikh Qadhi pronounces “takfir” on an entire religious group. That means that they are not Muslims. They are apostates. I think we know what that means.

The problem is that, if you listen to the lecture (there is no video, only the image of the closed copy of the Qur’an), you will see that he does not call all Shi’ites kaafirs; he says only that those who have certain beliefs are, and that many ordinary Shi’ites know nothing about them and would reject Shi’ism if they did. This is an example of the “Joe Kaufman school” of debating: giving a totally false impression, and leaving the refutation under the audience’s nose, knowing that they will not work it out even if they follow the link or watch the video, or will not care (see earlier article).

So, Yasir al-Qadhi actually has a pretty mainstream, moderate view of the position of Shi’ites; many “salafis” (and others, like Deobandis) have a far harsher position, condemning all Twelver Shi’ites as unbelievers, often on account of their belief in “twelve imams”, which they claim is making them prophets by another name. It is not a rant, and is not an “attack on another cultural group” but on certain specific beliefs which he accepts that not everyone in that cultural group has. I find it significant that the HP crowd only object to his attack on Shi’ism when Shi’ites are the enemy of two of their present-day enemies: the Wahhabis and the Ba’athists. In the past, when they were threatening the life of Salman Rushdie, the Shi’ites - none more so than the Iranian leadership, including Khomeini, who is the only person condemned by name in that clip - were the enemy. This article has been up on Mas’ud Khan’s website for years, alleging that “by Allah, [the Wahhabis] are drowning in bid’a [innovations in the religion]; in fact, there is no bid’a worse than theirs, which causes them to ‘swerve from the religion as an arrow swerves away from its target’, in spite of their superficial efforts in worship and adherence to the religion”, and that “whoever adheres to that da’wa has committed unambiguous kufr [unbelief, i.e. un-Islam], and is destined for apostasy and ‘swerving from the religion’”. Much more severe than what Yasir Qadhi has said about the Shi’a, but not a peep from David T or his cronies.

As for the issue of Shi’ites lying, the fact is that many of us have had experiences of Shi’ites using dishonest tactics to spread their ideas. This article (originally at Modern Muslima) details one particular attempt which happened on various Muslim web fora in 2003; I have heard Abdul-Hakim Murad say that there are initiates who get to know about the secret rituals, which consist of “blaming people”, i.e. some of the Companions. I have personally been buttonholed at a south London railway station late at night by a fanatical Shi’ite who spent half an hour lecturing me about the “ill character” of two of the wives of the Prophet, sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, and their fathers (radhi Allahu ‘anhum); on another occasion, I was engaged by another fanatical Shi’ite, who was also some kind of black chauvinist, who insisted that the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) was black, and called me a racist for not believing him; he kept raising the tone of the discussion until it became a shouting match, and then shouted “don’t raise your voice at me!”. This is not to say that all Shi’ites are general, inveterate liars or bullies, just that there is a tendency towards using dirty tactics to challenge Sunnis about their beliefs.

DT makes out there is something terrible about making takfeer. In fact, distinguishing who is a Muslim from who isn’t is part of Islamic scholarship; what is offensive is careless accusations prompted by acrimonious differences of opinion; a classic example is the tendency of some “salafis” to call rulers who fail to implement the Shari’ah unbelievers, so as to justify making war (so-called jihad) on them - and classifying anyone who disagrees with them as unbelievers along with them. This opens the door for an awful lot of bloodshed, as we saw in Egypt and, worst of all, Algeria. He also compares the accusations about Shi’ites practising taqiyya with the claims Muslim-haters make against Muslims in general, namely “that they are liars, and that lying is religiously mandated”; in fact, Muslims are, for the most part, commanded to tell the truth even when it is inconvenient, and we hear references to taqiyya only in reference to Shi’ites, who practise it in disputes with Sunnis, not with non-Muslims, while people who hate Islam cry “taqiyya” every time a Muslim says something about their own religion with conflicts with what they allege. One has nothing to do with the other; the lying referred to in this article is specifically Shi’ites lying to Sunnis.

As for whether this should keep Yasir al-Qadhi out of the country, I do not believe that this approaches the level of offence given or danger posed by people previously banned from entering the country: among them are Louis Farrakhan, Moshe Feiglin of Likud, animal rights activist Jerry Vlasak, Omar Bakri Muhammad and Snoop Dogg. People should be banned if their presence in the country is likely to be dangerous, not just if people do not like what they say. It is one thing to suggest that politicians not share a platform with him (as if people go to Islamic events, or pretty much any other event, to listen to politicians’ platitudes anyway), quite another to ban him from the country on the basis of misunderstood, if harsh, words.

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