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What is Kufr (Disbelief)?

Answered as per Hanafi Fiqh by Fatwa-TT.com


As salamu alaykum I heard some people who are not scholarly make a difference between “being a disbeliever” and “the state of disbelief” is there a difference in those, this people to sow doubt in my mind, because I read most of your fatâwâ as well as many readings dealing with belief in English and French, I did not see this difference I may have been inattentive.



بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

The word Kufr (disbelief), linguistically, has many implications and meanings. Legislatively, however, the word Kufr is the antonym of Belief (Imaan). Therefore, based on the legislative (Shar’i) implications of the word Kufr, there is no difference between “being in a state of disbelief” and “being a disbeliever” as one necessitates the other. Kufr, being the absolute opposite of Imam cannot co-exist with Imaan at any given time. A person is either a Muslim or a Kafir. Allah ﷻ mentions in the Holy Quran:

It is He Who has created you; and of you are some that are Unbelievers, and some that are Believers.[1] Thus, a person being in a state of Kufr (disbelief) is void of Imaan and hence is a disbeliever (Kafir).

If however, a person asserts a difference between “being in a state of disbelief” and “being a disbeliever” it will be technically correct if the term Kufr (disbelief) is not the absolute opposite of Imaan (belief) i.e. it is the lesser degree of kufr. As such, it does not take a person out the fold of Islam as it co-exist with Imaan. A person in such state (lesser degree of kufr/disbelief) is not regarded as a Kafir (disbeliever) rather he is still a believer, except that he is a sinner and transgressor.

There are many traditions of the Prophet ﷺ in which the word Kufr is used to imply other that disbelief that takes a person out the fold of Islam. Consider the following Ahaadith of the Prophet ﷺ:

(a) Cursing a Muslim is sinful and fighting him is disbelief. (al-Bukhari)

(b) Whoever cohabits with his wife during her menses, engages in sexual-relations with his wife through her rectum, or goes to a fortune-teller has disbelieved in what was revealed to Muhammad . (Abu Dawood)

Disbelief and disbelieved refers to minor-kufr and not that disbelief which makes a person a Kafir (disbeliever). These are major sinful actions, not befitting of a believer rather they are actions of those who disbelieve.

NB: If actions which are strictly prohibited (in such a manner that its prohibition is proven through explicit textual evidences in which there is no room for doubt), are regarded by a person as permissible and lawful then such a person he has committed major Kufr (disbelief) which removes him from the fold of Islam. This is because he declares permitted what Allah ﷻ made prohibited.

Imam At-Tahawi mentions;

وَلَا نُكَفِّرُ أَحَدًا مِنْ أَهْلِ الْقِبْلَةِ بِذَنْبٍ مَا لَمْ يَسْتَحِلَّه

We do not declare people of the Qibla (believers) to be disbelievers because of a sin they commit as long as they do not consider that action to be lawful.

The Prophet ﷺ said: A fornicator, at the time he fornicates, does not commit fornication while he is a believer. A thief, when he steals does not steal while he is a believer. A wine drinker, when he drinks does not drink while he is a believer. {al-Bukhari/ Muslim}

The apparent meaning of the Hadith indicates that a believer, at the time of fornicating, stealing or drinking wine is not in a “state of belief” and as such, necessitates a “state of disbelief” which would subsequently make a person a Kafir (disbeliever). The correct interpretation of the Hadith however, is that a believer, when committing these atrocities, does it while having a low degree of belief (Imam). A “lower/lesser state of Imaan” co-exists with a “state of lesser kufr” as one is a result of the other.

In conclusion, there is no difference between “being a disbeliever” and “being in the state of disbelief” if what is meant by “disbelief” (kufr) is that which is the absolute opposite of Imaan i.e. that major-kufr which takes a person out of the fold of Islam. If on the other hand, kufr, which is not the absolute opposite of Imaan is meant then there will be a difference except that it will also be totally incorrect and impermissible, to refer to such a person as being in the “state of disbelief”.


And Allah Ta’āla Knows Best

Mufti Kaleem Muhammad

Darul Iftaa, Jaamia Madinatul Uloom (Trinidad)

www.fatwa-tt.com /www.jaamia.net                    

[1](64:2) هُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُمْ فَمِنكُمْ كَافِرٌ وَمِنكُم مُّؤْمِنٌ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ

This answer was collected from Fatwa-tt.com, which is operated by the Darul Iftaa of Jaamia Madinatul Uloom (Trinidad and Tobago) under the advice and guidance of Mufti Ebrahim Desai (Daamat Barakaatuhum) of South Africa.

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