Maudoodis article on takfir
He writes: Takfir is violation of
the rights of an individual,
a crime against society,
an act of injustice against entire Islamic society,
immense harm to the Muslim community
Maulana Maudoodi wrote an article entitled Fitna-i Takfir
(The mischief of calling Muslims as kafir) for
his magazine Tarjuman al-Quran in its May 1935 issue. It
can be found in the collection of his writings published under the
title Tafhimat, Part II (eleventh edition, Islamic Publications,
Lahore, March 1984, pages 177190). An English translation
of this article is reproduced below, which was done by Dr. Zahid
Aziz and first published in The Light & Islamic Review,
dated NovemberDecember 1996.
In this article, while setting out the right principles at first,
Maulana Maudoodi has later tried to leave some scope for declaring
Muslims as kafir. But this is clearly contradictory to the
earlier part of his article.
This article was translated for use in the hearings, in 1987, in
the South Africa court case Sheikh Jassiem vs. Sheikh Nazim and
MJC. See this link for this
Maulana Maudoodis article
Mischief of Takfir
In the period of the decline of the Muslims, among the many troubles
that have arisen, one serious and dangerous mischief is that of
declaring one another as kafir and wrong-doer, and cursing
one another. People introduced cracks within the plain and simple
creed of Islam, and by means of inference and interpretation they
created from them such branches and details as were mutually contradictory,
and which were not explained in the Quran and Sunna, and even if
these were, then God and His Prophet had not given them any importance.
Then these servants of God (may God forgive them) gave so much importance
to their own invented side-issues that they made them the criteria
for faith, and on the basis of these they tore Islam to pieces,
and made numerous sects, each sect calling every other as kafir,
wrong-doer, misguided, doomed to hell, and God knows what. Whereas
God in His clear Book had drawn a plain line of distinction between
kufr and Islam, and had not given anyone the right to have
discretion to declare anything he wants as kufr and anything
he wants as Islam. Whether the cause of this mischief is narrow-mindedness
with good intentions, or selfishness, envy and self-seeking with
malevolent intentions, the fact remains that probably nothing else
has done the Muslims as much harm as this has done.
As to the question of a person being in fact a believer or not,
it is not the task of any human being to decide it. This matter
is directly to do with God, and it is He Who shall decide it on
the day of Judgment. As for people, if they have to decide anything
it is only this: Which person, according to the distinctive signs
of the followers of Islam, as laid down by God and His Messenger,
is within the borders of Islam, and which person has gone outside
them. For this purpose, the things which have been taught to us
as the foundations of Islam are the following:
Islam is that you bear witness that there is none
to be worshipped except Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of
Allah, and that you should keep up prayer, and pay the Zakaat,
and fast in Ramadaan, and perform the pilgrimage to the House of
God if you are able to do it. (Muslim, Abu Daud,
These are the marks of the borders of Islam. As to those who are
within these borders, we are commanded to treat them as Muslims.
No one has the right to expel them from the community. As to those
who have gone outside these borders, we must deal with them as required
by Islamic teachings. In neither case are we empowered to judge
what is in the heart. Our work is to look at the outward only, and
what of us, even the Messenger of Allah in this matter looked only
at the outward. Hence, Bukhari and Muslim agree on the report that
once Ali sent some money from Yemen to the Holy Prophet, and the
Holy Prophet divided it among four men. At this a man who was there
said: O Messenger of Allah, fear Allah!
The Holy Prophet said:
Woe to you! Who on earth is more obliged to fear God than
Khalid Ibn Walid was present. He said:
Messenger of Allah, should I not kill him?
The Holy Prophet said:
No, perhaps he says his prayers.
Many are they who say their prayers, but do not have in
their hearts what they say with their tongues.
The Holy Prophet said:
I have not been commanded to open up the hearts of people
or to cut open their insides.
Imam Shafii and Ahmad in their Musnads and Imam Malik
in the Muatta have recorded the report that once a
man from among the Ansar was talking confidentially with the Holy
Prophet. Suddenly the Holy Prophet said loudly [about someone]:
Does he not bear witness that there is no god but Allah?
The Ansari said:
Yes indeed, O Messenger of Allah, but his testimony cannot
The Holy Prophet said:
Does he not accept that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah?
He again replied:
Yes, he professes it but his profession cannot be trusted.
The Holy Prophet said:
Does he not pray?
He again said:
Yes he does, but his prayer cannot be trusted.
The Holy Prophet said:
God has forbidden me to kill such people.
Now what great injustice it is that a Muslim who professes to have
faith in the beliefs taught by God and the Messenger, and is within
the borders of Islam according to the clear explanations given above,
should be declared by some person as being excluded from the community.
This is not boldness against men, but rather in the face of God.
It is in fact to oppose God Himself, that while the law of God passes
a decree about a man that he is a Muslim, a creature of God issues
a decree of kufr about the same man. For precisely this reason,
the Holy Prophet has very strictly forbidden calling people kafir
and wrong-doers. He went so far as to say that if a man calls
another kafir, and the latter is not so in reality, the verdict
of kufr shall rebound on the accuser.
If a man calls his Muslim brother kafir, it applies
to one of the two. (Bukhari)
Whenever a man accuses another of being a kafir or
wrong-doer, this accusation will rebound on him if the one accused
is not in reality a kafir or wrong-doer. (Bukhari)
The man who calls another kafir or enemy of God,
and the latter was not such, this charge will indeed turn back
upon the accused. (Muslim)
He who curses a believer, it is as if he has killed him.
And he who accuses a believer of kufr, it is as if he has
killed him. (Bukhari)
Takfir and calling others wrong-doers is not merely the
violation of the rights of an individual, rather it is also a crime
against society. It is an act of injustice against the entire Islamic
society, and it does immense harm to the Muslims as a community.
The reason for this can be understood easily with a little thought.
The fundamental difference between the Islamic society and non-Islamic
societies is that the latter are based on the ties of colour, race,
language and country, and in contrast to these the Islamic society
is based only on the bond of religion. In non-Islamic societies,
differences of belief and thought do not introduce any obstacle
because such differences do not remove people from the bonds which
are based on uniformity of race or country or language or colour.
Views may be as far apart as heaven and earth, but neither the relationship
of blood, nor the ties of country, nor the link of language, nor
the unity of colour, are cut off. Therefore, differences of belief
pose no danger to non-Islamic societies. However, in Islam the factor
which unites persons of different races, colours, languages and
countries into one nation is nothing else but unity of belief. Here
belief is all in all; race, colour, language and country do not
matter. Therefore, the man who cuts the bond of faith really cuts
that rope of God which binds together all those who worship one
God, who accept one Messenger and who believe in one Book. In Islam,
to call a person or a group as kafir does not only mean that
his faith and integrity are attacked, but it also means that all
the ties of brotherhood, love, association, dealings and mutual
co-operation between the Islamic society and one or more of its
members are cut off; and one or more limbs of the body of the Muslim
community are severed and discarded.
If this act were in accordance with the command of God and the
Messenger, then it is undoubtedly right. In that case, it is true
service of Islam to sever the diseased limb and cast it away. If,
however, that limb was not diseased according to the Divine law,
and is cut off entirely unjustly, then it would be an even greater
injustice to the body from which it was cut off than to the limb
This is precisely the reason why Allah and His Messenger have given
strict instructions to honour the bond of faith. Allah says:
If a person, to show that he is a Muslim, presents salaam
to you, do not just say to him, without investigations, You are
not a believer. (The Holy Quran, 4:94)
It is in Hadith that once during a military expedition a man, when
he saw the Muslims, said: Assalamu Alaikum, there is
no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.
But a Muslim killed him, thinking that the man had proclaimed the
Kalima just to save his own life. When the Holy Prophet heard
of this, he was very angry, and he reprimanded that Muslim. But
O Messenger of Allah, that man read the Kalima merely
to protect himself from our sword.
The Holy Prophet said:
Did you open his heart and look inside it?
A companion of the Holy Prophet asked:
If a man (in battle) attacks me and cuts off my hand, but
when I attack him he recites the Kalima, can I kill him
in these circumstances?
The Holy Prophet said: No. The companion said:
O Messenger of Allah, he cut off my hand.
The Holy Prophet said:
Despite that, you cannot kill him. If you do kill him then
he will have the rank which you had before you killed him, and
you will have the rank which he had before he recited the Kalima.
In another hadith it says that the Holy Prophet said:
If a man (in a battle) is attacking a kafir with
a spear, and it has reached his throat, and at that moment he
says There is no god but Allah, the Muslim
must immediately withdraw his spear.
Another hadith records that
to abuse a Muslim is an act of wrong-doing, and to fight
a Muslim is an act of kufr.
All these instructions were given because the strength and unity
of the Muslims are based on the bond of faith and nothing else.
If Muslims do not honour this bond, and they keep on cutting it
on small things, the community will become disintegrated, and it
will have no collective strength left to proclaim the word of God
to the followers of falsehood and to invite them to good.
It is not our meaning that there should be no takfir or
declaration of wrong-doing at all, so that even if a man speaks
and writes clear heresy he should still be called, and taken to
be, a Muslim. This is not the meaning of the texts of the Quran
and Sunna quoted above, nor of what we have said above. And how
could it be? Just as it is harmful to expel a Muslim from Islam,
it is no less harmful to include a kafir within the Islamic
community. However, what we want to emphasise is that the greatest
caution must be exercised in the matter of declaring a Muslim as
kafir, as much caution as is exercised in passing a sentence
of death upon someone. Every person who is a Muslim and believes
that there is no god but Allah, it should be presumed in his favour
that he has faith in his heart. If he does something which contains
a semblance of kufr, one must believe that he did not do
it with the intention of kufr, but merely out of ignorance
and lack of understanding. Therefore one must not straightaway issue
a fatwa (verdict) of kufr on hearing what he says,
but must try in a goodly manner to make him see sense.
If he still does not accept, and insists upon his view, we must
put it to the Book of God to see whether or not the thing on which
he is so insistent is contrary to the clear directions which distinguish
between faith and disbelief. And also whether or not the mans
belief or action in question can be regarded as an interpretation.
If it is not against the clear directions, and there is room for
interpretation, then the verdict of kufr cannot be applied.
The most that can be said is that he is misguided, and even that
in relation to that particular issue, not in all matters. However,
if his belief is contrary to clear teachings, and even after finding
out that his belief is opposed to the Book of God he continues to
adhere to his stand, and one is unable to treat his belief as an
interpretation, then in such a case the judgment of wrong-doing
or kufr could be applied to him, while bearing in mind the
nature of the issue involved. But account must be taken of degree
and gravity. All crimes and all criminals are not equal. They differ
in seriousness, and it is a requirement of justice that the punishment
which is awarded must take account of the degree of seriousness.
To use the same rod on everyone is certainly unjust.
As we explained at the outset, one aspect of the issue of kufr
and Islam is internal and another external. The internal is related
to the heart and the intention of man, and the external is related
to his tongue and action. From a mans words and actions we
can, to a certain extent, estimate his inner condition. This, however,
would be mere conjecture and inference, not knowledge and certainty.
Without knowledge and certainty, to make a judgment about someones
faith or kufr on the basis of mere conjecture and inference
would be definitely unjust, even though such a judgment might coincide
with the truth. Therefore, the right way is to leave the question
of faith to Allah. No one but He can know whose heart has faith
and whose heart does not:
Surely your Lord knows best who strays from His path, and
knows best who follows the guidance. (The Holy Quran, 53:30)
Our sight extends only to the outward, and from looking at apparent
words and deeds we can form an opinion as to who is a Muslim and
who is not. It is possible that the man who outwardly is talking
heresy, out of ignorance and stupidity, is inwardly a true and firm
believer, and has in his heart a greater love for God and the Messenger
than many preachers and religious teachers. It is similarly possible
that the man who proclaims his faith loudly and forcefully, and
obeys the laws of the religion fully to the outward eye, is in reality
a show-off and a hypocrite. So, in passing a judgment of kufr
upon someone based on outward conduct, one must greatly fear the
chastisement of God. Before issuing such a judgment, we must ponder
a thousand times as to the responsibility we are taking upon our
heads, and whether we have reasonable grounds on the basis of which
it is better for us to take this responsibility rather than to avoid
The God Who revealed Islam for the guidance of all mankind is the
best knower of differences in human nature, and none more than He
can make allowances for these differences. This is why He based
His religion on such simple and brief beliefs that everyone, from
a simpleton to a philosopher or a scientist, can accept them. It
is the simplicity and the brevity of these beliefs which has made
them worthy of being the fundamental principles of a universal religion
of mankind. For the man not capable of deep thought, it is sufficient
to accept that God is one, Muhammad is His Messenger, the Quran
is His Book, and that we have to appear before Him on the day of
Judgment. For the man who can think, this brevity contains such
breadth that he can follow numerous paths in the search of truth,
in accordance with his capability and aptitude. He can go as far
as he likes. He can spend his entire life in this search, without
ever reaching a stage where he could say that he had understood
all that he could. Whatever path a thinking man may take for his
enquiry and search, and however far he may go, as long as he walks
within the limits which the word of Allah has drawn between Islam
and kufr, he cannot be declared as excluded from the fold
of the faith, no matter how much we may differ with the wanderings
of his mind.
For instance, the essence of belief in Allah is only that there
is God Who is the Creator and Maintainer of the universe, and only
He is worthy of worship. The way in which a simple peasant can accept
this, it is not possible that a thinking man could also accept it
in the same simple way. Then, the detailed concepts of God, His
attributes, and the nature of His relation with the creation, which
a man of a particular type of aptitude will develop in his mind
through thinking, will not be exactly the same as the concepts of
a man of a different aptitude about these matters. But as long as
all of them believe in the real basic belief, they are all Muslims,
no matter how widely their thoughts differ about the details, and
no matter how much they may have stumbled in various places.
Similarly, as regards the Islamic beliefs in revelation, prophethood,
angels and the Last Day, there are only a few points of principle
which should be called the essentials of faith. The rest are details,
for some of which man can find explicit or implicit indications
in the word of God, and some are created by man himself in his mind
in accordance with his thinking. It is very possible that in determining
most of these details a mans reason may be at fault, and his
ideas may stray very far from the truth. But so long as he does
not let go of the essence of these beliefs, no error of reason or
thought can possibly expel him from the fold of the faith, however
far he may go from the centre of the faith, and however much we
may have to rebuke and reproach him for these deviations of belief.
At this point, we can understand with a little thought how sects
in Islam came into being. The Quran and Hadith contain simple and
brief statements about the essentials of the religion. The subtle
references that are given about the details of these matters have
been understood by different people in different ways, in accordance
with their mental capabilities and natural inclinations. In understanding
these details by the use of inference and reasoning, people deduced
separate types of secondary matters and side-issues. So far, there
was no problem, nor was there anything wrong in one group considering
its own stand-point to be true and arguing with other groups to
draw them towards the same. But the calamity was that, by going
to an extreme, people added their own derived and reasoned beliefs
to the principles and essentials of the religion, and then every
group started to call all those groups as kafir who denied
their derived beliefs. Here began the war of beliefs, and this was
the starting point of that injustice. It is true that many of the
ways followed in the matter of beliefs, by the use of inference
and interpretation, are wrong. But every error is not necessarily
kufr. It is undoubtedly permissible to call an error an error,
and to believe its perpetrator to be misguided and at fault, and
to try to bring him to the right path. But as long as a person does
not deny the basic fact which Allah has commanded one to believe,
it is not at all permissible to call him a kafir, no matter
how extensive his error becomes.
It is deplorable that our religious leaders are not willing at
all to give up this long-standing practice. They ignore the difference
between the root and the branch, between the explicit and the derived.
They have made into basic principles those side-matters which they
or their predecessors derived from the principles by use of their
particular understanding. They give the rank of explicit matters
to those interpretations which their group has adopted by deriving
meaning from the explicit. The result is that they declare as kafir
that person who denies their derivations and interpretations,
as would be done with a person who denies the principles and basic
teachings. This immoderate behaviour had at first merely produced
disunity in the Islamic community. But now we see that this kafir-making
by the religious leaders is producing disillusionment in the hearts
of the Muslims not only with these leaders but with the very religion
which these leaders are representing. Day by day the authority of
the religious leaders over the Muslims is declining. By listening
to what they say, ones heart is repelled away from religion
rather than attracted towards it. The general impression regarding
religious meetings and writings is that there is nothing in them
except useless controversy. In this day of the prevalence of disbelief
and evil, the only possible way to acquaint the Muslim public with
religious knowledge would have been through the writings and speeches
of the religious leaders, if the people had confidence in them.
But alas, because of sectarian fighting and the pastime of takfir,
this one way too is being lost, and this is the main cause of the
widespread ignorance and error among Muslims regarding religion.
Would that our religious leaders realise their own fault! And if
they cannot do it for the sake of Islam and the Muslims, then at
least they could take pity on themselves and give up this habit
which has disgraced them so much among their own people, the people
who once used to honour them.