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- In Shia terminology, "takfir" also refers to the practice of crossing the arms when standing upright during salat (or takattuf , called qabd by Sunnis).
In Islamic law, the term takfir or takfeer (تكفير) refers to the practice of declaring that an individual or a group previously considered Muslims are in fact kafir(s) (non-believers in God). The act which precipitates takfir is termed the mukaffir .
This declaration may be made if the alleged Muslim in question declares himself a kafir. However, more usually it applies to the judgement that an action has been taken that clearly indicate knowing abandonment of Islam. Which actions constitute sufficient justification for takfir is disputed between different schools of religious thought. The orthodox Sunni position is that sins do not in general prove that someone is not a Muslim, but that denials of fundamental religious principles do; thus a murderer, for instance, may still be a Muslim, but someone who denies that murder is a sin must be a kafir, as long as he is aware that murder is a sin in Islam. An extreme case is exemplified by the early Kharijites, some of whom concluded that any Muslim who sinned ceased to be a Muslim, while others concluded that any major sin could cause that. The opposite extreme was taken by the Murjites, who argued that anyone who called themselves Muslim should be considered Muslim. The Mu'tazilites (followed by the Zaydis) advocated what they saw as a middle way, whereby grave sinners were categorized neither as believers nor as kafirs.
The sentence for apostasy (irtidad ), under Sharia law as traditionally interpreted, is execution. For this reason, orthodox Islamic law normally requires extremely stringent evidence for such accusations, in many cases, requiring an Islamic court or religious leader (see mullah, ayatollah) to pronounce a fatwa (legal judgement) of takfir on an individual or group; however, certain extremist movements have been much readier to practice takfir, for which they have been condemned by more mainstream Muslims. This practice is taken to its logical extreme by the earliest medieval Kharijites and by modern groups such as Takfir wal-Hijra and the GIA, who regard virtually all self-styled Muslims as kafirs whose blood may legitimately be shed.
One of the earliest examples of takfir was practiced by the first Caliph, Abu Bakr. In response to the refusal of certain Arab tribes to pay the alms-tax (zakat), he declared that "By Allah, I will fight anyone who differentiates between the prayer and the zakat." In the wars between the Umayyad Caliphate and the Kharijites, the latter's practice of takfir became the justification for their indiscriminate attacks on civilian Muslims; the more moderate Sunni view of takfir developed partly in response to this conflict.
In more recent times, takfir has sometimes been used against small sects, such as the Ahmadiyya or Ismailis, which describe themselves as Muslim, and sometimes even against larger groups such as the Shia. This has sometimes been used to legitimize physical attacks on such groups. In the case of groups such as the GIA (as mentioned above), it has been used to legitimize attacks on any Muslim not actively fighting their governments.
An example of takfir that has featured prominently in Western media is the case of Salman Rushdie, who was forced into hiding after Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa officially declaring him to be a kafir who should be executed.
In the Qur'an and Hadith
- And whoever contends with the Messenger after the guidance has been made clear to him, and he follows a path other than the path of the believers, We shall leave him in the path he has chosen and land him in Jahannam, an evil refuge (An-Nisa:115)
This verse is interpreted as indicating but that before practising takfir, one must first provide guidance to the person in question, explaining that what they are doing is wrong.
The Qur'an emphasises that accusations of unbelief are not to be made lightly:
- O ye who believe! When ye go abroad in the cause of Allah, investigate carefully, and say not to any one who offers you a salutation: "Thou art none of a believer!" Coveting the perishable goods of this life: with Allah are profits and spoils abundant. Even thus were ye yourselves before, till Allah conferred on you His favours: Therefore carefully investigate. For Allah is well aware of all that ye do. (An-Nisa:94)
- 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.
- Maudoodi's article on takfir (by Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi)
- Takfir - Salafi Publications (a Salafi perspective)
- Takfeer according to Imam Ibn Uthaimeen
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