Anathematization (Takfîr), the middle position of Ahl As-Sunna Wal-Jamâ`a (People of the Sunna and the Community)
The middle position of Ahl As-Sunna as regards appellations and rulings related to anathematization (Takfîr)
All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. Peace and blessing be upon whom Allah sent as a mercy to the Worlds, upon his Family, his Companions and his Brothers till the Day of Resurrection.
Allah عزَّ وجلَّ has honored the nation of Muhammad صلَّى الله عليه وسلَّم and has made it justly balanced among all nations, Allah عزَّ وجلَّ said:
﴿وَكَذَلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا﴾ [البقرة : 143].
The meaning of the verse:
﴾Thus We have made you [true Muslims - real believers of Islamic Monotheism, true followers of Prophet Muhammad صلَّى الله عليه وسلَّم and his Sunnah (legal ways)], a Wassat (just) (and the best) nation, that you be witnesses over mankind and the Messenger (Muhammad صلَّى الله عليه وسلَّم) be a witness over you.﴿ [Al-Baqara (The Cow): 143].
The blessing of Allah عزَّ وجلَّ upon Ahl-As-Sunna Wal-Jamâ`a (People of the Sunna and the Community) is clear in the fact that He made them justly balanced in this nation, just unlike all the other sects.
The middle position is a characteristic of Ahl As-Sunna as regards creed, whereas, the other sects have made for themselves rules and submitted the legal texts to them. They support their sayings by anything that goes with their rules and reject what contradict them. Their ways are whether of excess or laxity. Ahl-As-Sunna Wal-Jamâ`a are, thus, the happiest people as a result of their accordance with truth and rightness and because of their absolute submission to the texts of the Book and the Sunna. They reject nothing of them nor do they contradict them by anything, but they stop where the texts stop, without aggression or transgression by choosing as arbitrators mental rules, opinions or logic analogical reasoning, following thus the verse:
﴿يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لاَ تُقَدِّمُوا بَيْنَ يَدَيِ اللهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَاتَّقُوا اللهَ إِنَّ اللهَ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ﴾ [الحجرات: 1].
The meaning of the verse:
﴾O you who believe! Do not put (yourselves) forward before Allâh and His Messenger (صلَّى الله عليه وسلَّم), and fear Allâh. Verily! Allâh is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.﴿ [Al-Hujurât (The Dwellings): 1].
They follow a moderate guidance and a right path; they abide by holding the middle position without excess or negligence, which are the two characteristics of the other sects.
Moreover, among the aspects of the middle position of Ahl As-Sunna, the moderateness in their dealing with appellations, rulings , the promise of Paradise –Al-Wa`d- and the warning against hell –Al-Wa`îd-. They are a middle among the Kharijites (Al-Khawârij) who consider the one who commits a major sin as a disbeliever and that he will abide in hell, that he is deprived completely of faith and that he will not benefit from Ash-Shafâ`a (the intercession of the Prophet صلَّى الله عليه وسلَّم) and the Mutazilites (Al-Mu`tazila), who consider the one who commits a major sin between two positions, he is not a believer nor is he a disbeliever, he will abide in hell but the punishment that will touch him will be less than that of the disbelievers, and the Murjites (Al-Murji'a) who consider that a believer remains with the same faith even if he commits sins, as his obedience is not worth if he is a disbeliever, it means that committing major sins –for them- does not effect the faith of a believer, he remains with a full faith, and the faith of a miscreant, that of Prophets and that of the righteous is the same, it does not increase nor diminish.
Anathematization (Takfîr) is a legal ruling and a right of Allah Alone
Charging someone with Kufr (disbelief) is definitely a judgment of which strength and influence derive from the Islamic Sharia reference. The establishment of its judgment is only based on the criterion of the Islamic Law founded on the Noble Book, the Sunna and the understanding of the righteous Predecessors. Charging someone with disbelief is, therefore, an exclusive right belonging to Allah Alone; none of His servants has any part of it.
From this basis derives the fact that Ahl-As-Sunna-Wal-Jamâ`a do not judge according to their whims, but charge with disbelief the one whose disbelief is established by a proof from the Book and the Sunna. They do not accuse of disbelief a Muslim who sins as Al-Khawârij do, they do not judge a miscreant as having no faith completely and consider that he will not abide in hell forever, not as Al-Mu`tazila do. The Sunnis’ belief however, for the one who has committed a major sin and disobedience, is that they consider him as being a believer according to his faith and a wicked person because of his major sin or a believer of weak faith; therefore he is not given the absolute name (of believer) and is not completely divested of this name (believer)(1).
Abu `Uthmân As-Sâbuni رحمه الله said: “Ahl As-Sunna believe that if a believer sins, whether by committing many sins, be they major or minor, he is not considered a disbeliever, and if he dies without repenting, he is under the Will of Allah, as long as he dies with the creed of Tauhîd (Islamic monotheism) and that he dedicates his worship sincerely to Allah. Therefore, Allah may forgive him and make him enter Paradise in the Day of Resurrection safe and rewarded (for his good deeds) without the torture of Hell and without being punished for his committed sins till the Day of Resurrection, or punish him and torture him for a certain while by the hellfire, but if He عزَّ وجلَّ punishes him, he will not let him in Hell forever but will take him from it and put him in the eternal abode (Paradise)”(2).
Also, Ahl-As-Sunna Wal-Jamâ`a do not accuse of disbelief those who differ with them only because of the disagreement in points of view, but they believe in the seventy-two sects, which are contrary to Ahl As-Sunna Wal-Jamâ`a, and that their judgment is the one of those who are under the threat of the punishment with those, of this nation, who have committed major sins and disobedience and are qualified as being Muslims in this world, and under Allah’s Will in the Hereafter; He either, by His Mercy, forgives them or, by His Justice, punishes them and their final fate then will be Paradise. Ibn Taymiyya said after mentioning Al-Khawârij: “If those whose deviation is evident by texts (from the Book and the Sunna) or by consensus (of the scholars) are not disbelievers, though Allah عزَّ وجلَّ and His Prophet صلَّى الله عليه وسلَّم ordained us to fight against them, so how about the different other sects who have not distinguished between what is good and what is evil in issues in which more knowledgeable people were mistaken? It is not permissible for any of these sects to charge another of disbelief or consider its blood and money lawful, even though it (the sect) commits evident innovations, so how about the sect who charges the others of disbelief if it is itself committing innovations -Bida`- ?! Its innovation may be even more despicable. Generally, they are all ignorant of the reality of their divergences”(3). Speaking about the innovators of the seventy-two sects, Ibn Taymiyya considered them as being Muslims, and the punishment they incur is similar to that of major sinners, this view is also that of some of the Salaf (Predecessors) and the Imams. Ibn Taymiyya رحمه الله said: “…If they are not disbelievers, then, they will not be hypocrites, so they will be believers. It is therefore permissible to ask Allah to forgive them and be Merciful towards them. If a believer says then: “Our Lord! Forgive us and our brethren who have preceded us in Faith”, he means every one who preceded him in faith among the epochs of this Nation, even though he misinterpreted something and contradicted the Sunna or committed a sin, he is still considered among his brethren who preceded him in faith. The seventy-two sects are included in this generality. In fact, each sect contains many followers who are not disbelievers, but believers who committed aberrations and sins which make them incur the punishment, as the believers who committed disobedience incur punishment. In addition, the Prophet صلَّى الله عليه وسلَّم considered them among his Nation and did not qualify them as being disbelievers, he did not say: they will abide in hellfire forever. This is a great principle which should be respected(4).
The distinction between generalization and specification in charging with disbelief
Ahl As-Sunna Wal Jamâ`a distinguish between the generalization and the specification in the establishment of disbelief judgment, because it would be possible that the act or speech is considered disbelief in itself but the concerned person cannot be judged to be a disbeliever until the proof of the Islamic Law is established on him and until he is enlightened on all suspicions to which he may become attached to. Therefore, they do not attest that any person of those of the same direction (of prayer: Makkah.i.e. Muslims) that his fate is Fire, because he may not be attained by the threat of the punishment for lack of its condition or the presence of an impediment at the person(5). They accuse of disbelief only with clear evidence from the Sharia and after considering its causes; among them:
That the words of disbelief he utters are pronounced willingly. That his words imply disbelief, and when they are exposed to him, he does not deny them. That the truth is made clear for him by evident proofs. That some elements that could be excuses for him and which change the ruling should be absent, namely: the person should not be in a state of absentmindedness which is due to dementia or something alike. That he is a new convert to Islam, or he could not have religious knowledge through scholars but only through innovators he asked and took as examples. That he has no access to Koranic and Sunna texts, as someone raised in a far-off land. That he knows hadiths Âhâd but he considers them invalid, or he was unable to understand, or he has understood them but he has found something that contradict them which made him ill interpret them or something alike among the different impediment(6).
The distinction between a Mujtahid (studious one) who committed a mistake and a stubborn Mujtahid.
Ahl-As Sunna Wal Jamâ`a, also, make the difference between the one who made the effort to reach the truth and then went wrong; a justified mistake which is, therefore, forgiven, and the one who persists (in his wrongness) after the truth was shown to him, to contradict arguments and texts of the Islamic Law, disobeys the Messenger and follows another path rather than the one of believers, thus, the qualifying “disbeliever” sticks to him. Finally, the case of the one who disregards to look for the truth and pursues his desire and is, then, an evil person and a sinner. Sheik Al-Islâm Ibn Taymiyya رحمه الله said: “The Companions of the Prophet صلَّى الله عليه وسلَّم as well as all Imams of Muslims agree on the fact that it is not all person having said a speech and went wrong is judged disbeliever, even though his speech is contrary to the Sunna. In fact, to judge disbeliever all offending is contrary to the consensus of scholars”(7). He رحمه الله also said to affirm the previous rule: “With regard to the judgment of disbelief: the truth is that whoever of Muhammad’s صلَّى الله عليه وسلَّم nation, has made the effort while aiming the truth and then after goes wrong is not judged disbeliever but on the contrary his mistake is forgiven, and whoever of which what the Messenger brought is revealed to him clear and disobeys the Messenger after guidance is shown to him and follows another path rather than the one of believers is therefore a disbeliever, and whoever pursues his desire and disregards to look for the truth and speaks without knowledge is a disobedient and sinner, and will be probably a wicked person, or may own good actions that will weigh more and will get the upper hand of his bad ones”(8).
Thus, from the set of the previous foundations of Ahl As-Sunna Wal-Jamâ`a are revealed the happy medium and the moderation in this sensitive matter and in other issues of belief where a lot of conceptions got lost and are stumbled, and it is one of the advantages of Ahl As-Sunna Wal-Jamâ`a of which Allah تعالى preserved in these questions and guided them to the way of the happy medium and the moderation; they show and demonstrate the mistake of someone but they charge of disbelief none of those of the same direction (the Qibla) because of any sin. But on the contrary, the fraternity remains constant in spite of disobedience and sins. Ahl As-Sunna are characterized by knowledge, equity and mercy. They know the truth which is in conformity with the Sunna and which is devoid of innovations, they are equitable with those who are far from Sunna even if they harm them. They are merciful towards people and wish them guidance and righteousness, contrarily to people of excess who charge easily people of disbelief and who are characterized by ignorance and injustice, who charge with disbelief believers. They are also opposed to people of excess whose errors come from their ignorance of the meaning of faith, who, in the other hand, are in the side of negligence as regards anathematization. They in fact, consider people who disbelieved as believers. Among the causes of excess and negligence, the fact of not relying on the Book and the Sunna, mixing truth with falsehood, the fact of making no distinction between what is Sunna and what is innovation (Bid`a), following but a guess and that which they themselves desire and the false interpretation. Then Allah, by His Leave, guided those who believed to the truth of that wherein they differed. And Allah guides whom He wills to a Straight Path.
Warning against charging a Muslim with disbelief
Verses and hadiths are clear in the case of preserving the honor and the reputation of believers and Muslims as well as in protecting their religion, and warn severely against charging a Muslim with disbelief whereas he is innocent of such a judgment, Allah عزَّ وجلَّ said:
﴿يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا ضَرَبْتُمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللهِ فَتَبَيَّنُوا وَلاَ تَقُولُوا لِمَنْ أَلْقَى إِلَيْكُمُ السَّلاَمَ لَسْتَ مُؤْمِنًا تَبْتَغُونَ عَرَضَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا فَعِندَ اللهِ مَغَانِمُ كَثِيرَةٌ كَذَلِكَ كُنْتُمْ مِن قَبْلُ فَمَنَّ اللهُ عَلَيْكُمْ فَتَبَيَّنُوا إِنَّ اللهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا﴾ [النساء : 94].
The meaning of the verse:
﴾O you who believe! When you go (to fight) in the Cause of Allâh, verify (the truth), and say not to anyone who greets you (by embracing Islâm): “You are not a believer”; seeking the perishable goods of the worldly life. There are much more profits and booties with Allâh. Even as he is now, so were you yourselves before till Allâh conferred on you His Favours (i.e. guided you to Islâm), therefore, be cautious in discrimination. Allâh is Ever Well-Aware of what you do.﴿ [An-Nisâ´ (The Woman):94].
He عزَّ وجلَّ also said:
﴿وَالَّذِينَ يُؤْذُونَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ بِغَيْرِ مَا اكْتَسَبُوا فَقَدِ احْتَمَلُوا بُهْتَانًا وَإِثْمًا مُبِينًا﴾ [الأحزاب : 58].
The meaning of the verse:
﴾And those who annoy believing men and women undeservedly, they bear (on themselves) the crime of slander and plain sin.﴿ [Al-Ahzâb (The Confederates): 58)].
The Prophet صلَّى الله عليه وسلَّم said: “If somebody accuses another of wickedness or disbelief, such an accusation will revert to him (the former) particularly if his companion (the latter) is not so”(9). The Prophet صلَّى الله عليه وسلَّم also said: “Whoever accuses a believer of disbelief, then his sin will be as if he killed him. If somebody curses a believer, then his sin will be as if he murdered him”(10).
If the fact of accusing a believer of disbelief with the sole intention of insulting him is equivalent to killing him, then what to say about charging him with disbelief by way of creed? Ibn Taymiyya رحمه الله said: “This is undoubtedly more serious than killing him, it is permissible to kill each disbeliever, but not anyone that deserves killing is a disbeliever”(11), because charging a believer wrongfully with disbelief is finding fault with Faith itself. It is even forbidden to think ill and speak amiss of a believer, so how about charging him with disbelief and apostasy?!
The great danger of charging a Muslim with disbelief
It is, therefore, the duty of the Muslim to refrain from this serious issue without being well-versed in the knowledge of the Islamic Law because of the size of the subject. Ash-Shaukâni said:
“Know that it is not proper for a Muslim who believes in Allah and the Last Day to charge a Muslim with disbelief save with a proof clearer than the daylight, it is in fact reported in many authentic hadiths narrated by a group of Companions that: “If a man says to his brother “Oh disbeliever (Kâfir) ! then, for sure, one of them is so”(12)(13). It is not also permissible for him to charge someone with disbelief by way of his passion without sound reasoning nor by following rules which stipulate that such person is a disbeliever if he contradicts them, since charging someone with disbelief is a legal ruling in which the legal proof should be taken always into consideration.
Ibn Taymiyya رحمه الله said: “Charging with disbelief is a legal ruling, and it is not correct to consider as disbeliever each person contradicting a thing which is known by reason, and if he contradicts a thing which is known for each reasonable person, he is not considered disbeliever unless he contradicts something in the Sharia which is considered an act of disbelief”(14); as charging a person with disbelief is a serious issue with dangerous consequences leading to calamities and misfortunes which are generally the following: the person who is considered disbeliever has no sanctity as regards his blood and money, he should be also separated from his wife and none has the right to inherit of the other, and not to perform prayer under his office or pray over him if he dies and the prohibition of his burial in Muslims’ cemeteries, He تعالى said:
﴿وَلاَ تَقْفُ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ إِنَّ السَّمْعَ وَالْبَصَرَ وَالْفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُولَئِكَ كَانَ عَنْهُ مَسْئُولاً﴾ [الإسراء : 36].
The meaning of the verse:
﴾And follow not (O men i.e., say not, or do not or witness not) that of which you have no knowledge. Verily, the hearing and the sight and the heart, of each of those ones will be questioned (by Allâh).﴿ [Al-Isrâ' (The Journey by Night): 36].
So, we must avoid evil, and come closer of the good and work to obtain it, and take the way of faith and be steadfast in adhering to it. In this lies the happiness of the hereafter which cannot be obtained by following one’s desires and one’s invented opinions and by assuming falsely what one has not and by having wishes, but happiness is reached through sticking to the clear revelation of Allah عزَّ وجلَّ, the right guidance and the straight path. Allah عزَّ وجلَّ said:
﴿وَكَذَلِكَ أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ رُوحًا مِنْ أَمْرِنَا مَا كُنتَ تَدْرِي مَا الْكِتَابُ وَلاَ الإِيمَانُ وَلَكِنْ جَعَلْنَاهُ نُورًا نَهْدِي بِهِ مَنْ نَّشَاءُ مِنْ عِبَادِنَا وَإِنَّكَ لَتَهْدِي إِلَى صِرَاطٍ مُسْتَقِيمٍ﴾ [الشورى: 52].
The meaning of the verse:
﴾And thus We have sent to you (O Muhammad صلَّى الله عليه وسلَّم) Ruhan (an Inspiration, and a Mercy) of Our Command. You knew not what is the Book, nor what is Faith? But We have made it (this Qur'ân) a light wherewith We guide whosoever of Our slaves We will. And verily, you (O Muhammad صلَّى الله عليه وسلَّم) are indeed guiding (mankind) to the Straight Path (i.e. Allâh’s religion of Islamic Monotheism).﴿ [Ash-Shûra (The Consultation): 52].
And Allâh تعالى knows best. Our final prayer is all praises and thanks are due to Allâh, the Lord of the Worlds, peace and blessings of Allâh be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family, companions and fellow-brothers until the Day of Recompense.
Algiers: Rabî` Al-Awwal 19th, 1426 H.
April 29th, 2005.
(1) See: “Majmû` Al-Fatâwa” of Ibn Taymiyya (3/151,152) and «Sharh Al-`Aqîda At-Tahâwiya» of Ibn Abi Al-`Iz (316, 369).
(2) “`Aqîdat As-Salaf As-hâb Al-Hadîth” of As-Sâbûni (71-72).
(3) See: “Majmû` Al-Fatâwa” of Ibn Taymiyya (3/282-283). See also the establishment of Ahl-As Sunna Wal Jamâ`a’s way regarding this question in the previous reference (3/348 and what comes after (7/217-218).
I say: these seventy two sects are considered Muslims only if they have errors in creed, and not when the sect opposes, in its bottom, the Prophet صلَّى الله عليه وسلَّم, or that the essence of its doctrine is based on negating the Creator or refuting the proves and prescriptions of the Sharia. So, if one knows that the reason behind the establishment of the sect is the dissimilation of disbelief and the refutation of the Sharia and other reasons, and this is manifested through the sayings of their heads and what their sayings lead to, this sect does not, then, belong to those sects. It is rather stranger to them. Consequently, the saying about the ruling regarding the sects becomes delimited.
(5) See: “Majmû` Al-Fatâwa” of Ibn Taymiyya (10 / 370,372) (35 /165,166).
(6) See the criteria related to excusing one for his ignorance in the book entitled: “ Tawjîh Al-Istidlâl Bin-Nussûs Ash-Shar`iyah `Ala Al-`Udhr Bil-Jahl Fil-Massâ'il Al-`Aqadiyya” number issue 12, from the series “ Tawjîhât Salafiyya”, written by the author (60-67).
(7) See: “Majmû` Al-Fatâwa” of Ibn Taymiyya (7 / 685).
(8) The previous reference: (12 /180).
(9) Reported by Al-Bukhâri, chapter of “The good manners” (10/464), concerning the fact that it is forbidden to abuse or to curse others, on the authority of Abu Dhar Al-Ghifâri رضي الله عنه.
(10) Reported by Al-Bukhâri, chapter of “The good manners” (10/465), concerning the fact that it is forbidden to abuse or to curse others, on the authority of Thâbit Ibn Ad-Dahâk رضي الله عنه.
(11) See : “Al-Istiqâma” of Ibn Taymiyya (1/165-166) with some changes.
(12) Reported by Muslim, chapter of “Faith” (2/49), concerning the one who tells his Muslim brother “O disbeliever!” from the hadith of Ibn `Umar رضي الله عنهما.
(13) “As-Sayl Al-Jarâr” of Ash-Shaukâni (4/478).
(14) See: “Majmû` Al-Fatâwa” of Ibn Taymiyya (12/525).