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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  • http://www.bayyinat.org.uk/ Yunus Yakoub Islam

    This is all about who belongs and who doesn’t, and is a human behaviour that transcends Islam. Groups police their borders, just in case someone ‘bad’ gets in – queers, Ismailis, that sort of thing. Personally, I prefer to join the human race, be kind to people, respect diversity and campaign for the kind of social justice that ensures people don’t kill, hurt, exploit or denigrate other human beings. That’s what being a good Muslim means to me. Close reading texts to decide precisely who is a goody and who isn’t feels irrelevant in the scheme of human suffering.

  • David T

    Yusuf

    This is not an honest account of what he says.

    Qadhi makes it very clear that the exculpates Shiites who, basically, ‘don’t know the truth about their religion’.

    Just like anti-Muslim bigots let off the hook, Muslims who ‘don’t know the truth about the Quran’, etc.

    You’re using precisely the same arguments.

    Oh, and can you tell me what the punishment is for a Muslim who becomes an apostate?

  • http://www.ala-abbas.co.uk Ala

    How was the al-Qadhi lecture heavily edited? He only let ordinary shias off the hook if they were ignorant. Anyone who believed in shia doctrine was therefore vilified. Shias are a persecuted minority. Al-Qadhi’s rants are tantamount to a Christian preacher condemning Muslim beliefs as filthy. If that happened Muslims would be up in arms crying Islamophobia and would not accept that it was just doctrine being attacked and not people.

  • Thersites

    “this does not mean that we should consider it “good” when Allah clearly tells us in His Book that it is not.”
    Nor is the fact that Allah clearly tells us in His Book that something is not good mean that it is not good. It is an opinion given with no evidence or reason to support it and the source of the opinion is irrelevant to whether it is true.

    If it is “commonly known of Islam… that extramarital sex … is forbidden” then logically muslims should favour gay marriage because they believe marriage is a good thing and so “gay marriage is a good thing and Islam is for what is good”. Of course, it may be less good than ungay marriage or they may even believe that gay marriage would not be good but merely be less bad than forbiddding it and giving gays no choice but to practise extramarital sex. There are logical problems too- how many people could male and female gay muslims marry, for example? What about bisexual muslims?- or perhaps the lady thinks that muslims should not practise homosexuality but if they live in a society where nonmuslims are going to practise homosexuality without lapidation it would be better if they did so in a marital relationship than an extramarital relationship. I don’t think she can be fairly called a kaafir in these circumstances.

  • Thersites

    I think a lot of people will decide you aren’t a muslim if that’s what being a good Muslim means to you, Yunus Yakoub Islam .

  • David T

    The point I made in the thread following my article was this.

    I think that what you’re saying, effectively, is that this is a mere theological dispute between different religious traditions.

    I accept that there are either theological roots, or manifestations, of Sunni-Shia emnity. There are deep and nasty divisions between most sects, and most religions: at least those which claim an exclusive message for the whole world. That doesn’t bother me. Well, it bothers me a bit, I suppose. But what you hope and expect people in a pluralist society to do – a society like the UK or the US, for example – is to gloss over those points of conflict, and not to stir up hatred.

    Take one of the central claims of Christianity: that the Jews orchestrated the death of Jesus. Now, there are many reasons to doubt that this was the case. However, be that as it may, most polite Christians do not harp on about it, and most polite Jews do not seek out opportunities to be offended by the charge. All very nice and civilised, see?

    Now, if a demagogic Christian preacher turned up and gave a sermon, to his followers – which they then put on the internet!! – not simply reading the scripture, not merely noting in passing what the Bible said, but addressing the point directly, said:

    “With regard to the Jews, really they are the most murderous lot in the world. In other words, it is a part of their religion… that they are allowed to murder …. They have an ascription to one of their Rabbis – “Murder 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, the Talmud …I have looked over it, I have read their chapters. I’m not taking this from what the Jews say. The Jews are allowed to lie. It is their religion to lie. Ok. Any person who knows the Jews knows this. 90% of their own religion, by their own statement, is lies. They are allowed to lie… they lie about having murdered Jesus. The Jews killed God! They are murderers!”

    What would you say then?

    Would you say – well, its all just theology, isn’t it? It is just what some people believe. I mean, it isn’t as if millions have been killed over religious disputes like this. Go on, let him in to the country. Broadcast him on the Christian Broadcasting Network. Have him at a revivalist meeting, and get senior politicians from all three main parties, plus the SWP, to turn up and congratulate everybody on what a splendid conference it has been.

    Wouldn’t happen, would it?

    Come on!

  • http://katib.wordpress.com Katib

    Assalamualaikum Br Mathew/Yusif

    You do not know me and I do not know you but I am able to know something about you through your writings of your site. What really made me writing these words to you is your sanctioning of the takfeer phenomenon among Muslims. I find it obligatory upon my self to address this issue with those who are sincere about their faith but somehow are entangled with this serious issue of takfeer. And you come across someone sincere about his religion. My admiration to you is for converting to Islam despite all the negative propaganda against Muslims and Islam in our world. Second I salute you for honoring your parents by living with them at this stage of your life, may God Bless you for that.

    Now you stated that, “In fact, distinguishing who is a Muslim from who isn’t is part of Islamic scholarship;” You know that Man’s knowledge is limited,hence is subjective and absolutely inconclusive unlike the knowledge of the prophets of God. Man make his or her best to make judgment to manage his affairs either with good intentions or bad intentions and the consequences are determined accordingly.This follows that passing judgment on who is Muslim or not may not necessarily reflect the absolute reality of the true judgment which is rendered by scholar. Scholars may issue judgment in regard to various issues which may not result to profoundly effect Man’s integrity and fate. In addition, takfeer is often taken as a license to kill, by the Muslim extremists, which may make you complicit indirectly in the consequences of takfeer, the boold of those who were victimised by this takfeer may fall on the soulder on all of those who support it.
    Declaring someone kafir is in essence we are predetermining his or her final abode. Because the final destiny of a kafir is Hell fire ,according to the Quran. In other words Man has predetermined the fate of another Man. In other words Man has bypassed the due process of Man which is to unfold on the Day of Judgment under the authority of God. This follows that Man is overriding God’s role as the Supreme Judge of Mankind. This act alone and that is to transgress God’s limit and authority may merit the status of kufr or unbelief which is clearly highlighted in the Quran. Furthermore, declaring a Muslim to be Kafir by another mortal person; scholar or Muslim authority is clear contradiction to Man’s own status of salvation. The one who wishes to condemn someone else as kafir or “into Hell fire” must guaranty first his own salvation on the Day of Judgment. How could any mortal Man who is not certain of his own final abode whether is going to be in Hellfire or in Heaven, has the gutts to determine the fate of others. None of these Muslim scholars, whom you support and you think they have the authority of determining the fate of others, are able to tell their own fate on the Day of Judgment. Therefore no mortal Man should meddle in these affairs which deals with the final destiny of Man, for they are belong to and to be determined by the Supreme Judge of the universe. Muslim scholars aught to abandon the business of takfeer once and for all and instead focus on the real reasons and factors which have devastated our Muslim people throughout the world, and not become an instrument to further denigrate the progress and well being of Muslims, which the takfeer philosophy do just that. Any one who declare the shahada; the unity of God and the messenger hood of Muhammad, enter the fold of the Muslim community. As for others we deal with them as our counter part of humanity and their final fate rests with Allah alone, for he is the supreme Judge.

    Please accept my sincere apology if I have offended you. These words are a reminder for me and you.

    O Allah you are my Witness that I have conveyed what I think is right.

    Wassalamualaikum

    Katib

  • http://www.suspectpaki.com Shahid

    “Any one who declare the shahada; the unity of God and the messenger hood of Muhammad, enter the fold of the Muslim community.”

    And thus you allow Qadianis into Islam. Was that your intention?

  • http://www.blogistan.co.uk/blog/ Indigo Jo

    As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    I suspect that this was his intention; either them or the Khalifites, I wasn’t sure which, but it was full of the specious reasoning we are familiar with from defenders of these two sects. I approved it intending to refute it, which I will do later insha Allah.

  • http://www.blogistan.co.uk/blog/ Indigo Jo

    As-Salaam ‘ala man ittaba al-huda,

    I am not sure what sect you are from, but you sound, as brother Shahid said, like a Qadiani (or perhaps a Khalifite). Your posting is full of the specious reasoning which defenders of those two sects use all the time.

    You say:

    Declaring someone kafir is in essence we are predetermining his or her final abode. Because the final destiny of a kafir is Hell fire ,according to the Quran. In other words Man has predetermined the fate of another Man. In other words Man has bypassed the due process of Man which is to unfold on the Day of Judgment under the authority of God.

    Not true, because a person can be a kaafir (unbeliever) one moment and a Muslim the next, or the other way round. If a someone declares someone to be an unbeliever, he is only saying that the person is at that moment an unbeliever, not that he will always be one.

    In addition, takfeer is often taken as a license to kill, by the Muslim extremists, which may make you complicit indirectly in the consequences of takfeer, the boold of those who were victimised by this takfeer may fall on the soulder on all of those who support it.

    They do this, in my observation, only in the case of takfeer pronounced on rulers who don’t rule by the Shari’ah, and on those who support them. This is why they kill Iraqis who sign up to join the police force rather than join their movement. I dealt with that in my original post, but it is totally different from takfeer against those who deny things known to be of Islam, such as the prohibition on alcohol and homosexuality.

    There is no sin on someone who rightfully declares someone to be an unbeliever if another person goes and kills that person. Where did you get that impression? People are responsible for the deeds of others only if they encouraged them. By pronouncing takfeer alone, if it is correct to do so, one does not acquire guilt for anything someone does without one’s encouragement. (The case of people like Abdullah Faisal, who encouraged his followers to shout “kill him” regarding an American Muslim preacher who said it was not permitted to kill people in the Egyptian army, is different, not only because his grounds for takfeer were dubious to say the least, but also because he actually said it was permitted to kill them, if only theoretically.)

    Any one who declare the shahada; the unity of God and the messenger hood of Muhammad, enter the fold of the Muslim community.

    And anyone who denies something necessarily known of the religion and which is agreed on by the consensus of the Ummah leaves the fold of Islam, such as by denying that we obey the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) according to what we have received through the hadeeth, or the finality of Prophethood with Muhammad (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam).

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