By Saif Ahmad Khan:
In popular western media, bashful of Islam and the backwardness of Arabs in terms of universal human rights, which to a great extent stands justified, and even in the Muslim-sympathizing circles of the supposedly liberal media, the word ‘kafir’ has been wrongly translated as either an ‘infidel’ or a ‘sinner’. Islamophobes or Islamorealists as they call themselves, the two terms being diagonally opposed to one another, usually use the term ‘kafir’ to inform the Non Muslims about their lowly and outcast-like status in the House of Islam. What is amusing is that the ignorant Muslims also use the term with the intention of slinging mud on the character and religious practices of their Non Muslim counterparts.
The important thing over here is to educate some Orientalists and Ulemas about the background, significance and evolution of the word ‘kafir’ by means of Islamic history and the Holy Quran. Prior to the advent of Islam in the Arab world, what Muslims today call the ‘Age of Ignorance’, the word ‘kafir’ was associated with the agricultural community of farmers. The word basically meant to hide or to conceal. Since farmers used to conceal or hide their seeds by means of mud while sowing them inside the ground, this word was considered most apt to define the job which they were doing. The authenticity of this theory can be found in the Quran itself as the holy book of some 1.6 billion Muslims does mention farmers and the ‘k’ word in the same breath.
The second meaning which came to be ascribed to this term was that of ‘rejecting or disbelieving’. When Prophet Muhammad and his followers were being persecuted by the Meccan tribes during the early days of Islam, Muhammad is reported to have received a revelation which eventually went on to become Surah Al Kafiron of the Quran. This could well have been the first time the word kafir was being used in connection with Non Muslims. The revealed verses urged those who disbelieved in and rejected the message of Muhammad to follow their own religion and allow Muslims to do the same. Sounds respectable, isn’t it? However, what went wrong as time elapsed is that wherever this term has been translated by scholars, they have either used the expression ‘rejecters of truth’ or ‘disbelievers of truth’ instead of something like ‘rejecters of Muhammad’s message’ or ‘disbelievers of Muhammad’s message’. This little error has cost the Muslim ummah dearly as Non Muslims have come to be seen as liars and not adherents of other faiths who are worthy of respect and toleration.
To set things right, people need to be exposed to more of Quranic trivia. Other terms associated with the term ‘kafir’ are that of ‘kufr’ and ‘kafiron’, all of them being a kind of derivates with the same meaning. The famous verse of the throne (2:255) which is most widely recited verse among the Muslims is followed by yet another iconic verse ie 2:256 which makes use of the expression ‘La ikraha fiddeen’ ie there is no compulsion in religion. The verse is quoted quite often these days during Islamic discourses and is used to showcase the message of religious freedom engraved in the Quran. Some critics argue that the verse stands abrogated by means of subsequent revelations received by Muhammad but nevertheless the point which I wish to make can be seen explicitly by means of this revelation. In this verse, the word ‘kufr’ has been used for the Muslims. It is said that the believers ie Muslims (as they are referred to in the Quran) ‘reject’ or ‘show kufr’ to Satan and instead follow God. The verse goes on to extol the believers for this commendable job and assures divine assistance and help for them. The fact that the term has been used not only in connection with Non Muslims but also Muslims in the Quran proves that the word ‘kafir’ is inherently not a racially abusive word. It’s high time that the ignorant Muslims rectify their usage of the term and give Non Muslims their due respect.