Addressing the “Kafir” Label

By   /  29 October 2016   

religionsForemost among the behavioral deterrents that prevent a full scale integration of Muslims into India’s larger social fabric is the derogatory use of the Arabic term “kafir” while referring to non-Muslims. The Quran uses the term “kafir” in various senses under differing contexts over the 23 years of its revelation to address specific groups of people. A freewheeling use of this term complicates the relationship which Muslims develop with people of other communities.

The Quran unambiguously proclaims that it is God’s sole decision that humanity should exist as diverse communities (5:48), that nobody should compel others in matters of faith (2:256), that God guides to his light whom he wills (24:35) and specifically not to insult others for their faith (6:108).

Muslims believe that as the unalterable speech of God, the Quran is free of contradictions. Such being the case, the same Quran which teaches the above verses cannot be the source to justify a derogatory use of this term. It is incumbent upon the Muslim community to arrest their tendency to use this term and to teach their kids to never use it either in private or when in public while referring to non-Muslims. An initiative to eliminate the use of this term should ideally begin with the Madrassas.

If Muslims lived in a society where they should commonly be referred to as “infidels” by others, they would feel angered and insulted in their daily lives. If it happened in a society where Muslims were in a majority, they would prevent such insult with force.

It is not the literal meaning of a term or its etymology that matters, it is the implication that the term has for those who are addressed by it. We live in societies where everybody’s emotions matter. This should not be overlooked under any circumstance.

We must keep our minds open so that we not only believe, but are also able to see that:

“Verily those who believe (Muslims) and those who are Jews and Christians and Sabians (an ancient polytheistic community in Arabia), all those who believe in God and the Judgment day (that they will be judged for their deeds on earth), and do righteous deeds will find their reward with their Lord, they need not fear, and they shall not grieve” (2:62 ).

Insights from the Muslim World is an RSC column examining the major issues concerning contemporary Islam. It argues against extremism and the political use of religion, highlighting arguments drawn from the very Islamic holy scriptures and tradition to counter radicalization and ideological recruitment.

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