How to treat the phenomenon of Takfir?
His Eminence, Grand Ayatollah, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra) discussed the phenomenon of Takfir in the Muslim communities and the ways to face it, by answering a series of relevant inquiries. His Eminence considered that the Takfiri groups are people who do not know Islam or its truth, and that is why they do not differentiate between disbelief and belief. He also pointed that discussing the matter with them objectively and showing them how wrong they are with regards to the issue of disbelief and belief and deeming certain groups of Muslims as disbelievers and permissible to kill could be a means to treat this phenomenon and limit it…
In this regard, His Eminence Sayyed has answered the following questions:
Q: The phenomenon of Takfir has come to light in our Islamic communities, what is the best way to get rid of it?
A: The problem of these Takfiris is that they do not clearly know what disbelief and belief are. For example, as Muslims; what makes a human a Muslim or a disbeliever? What makes a person Muslim are three things according to all Muslims unanimously: [professing] the oneness of Allah, prophethood and the Last Day. Once a person believes in these main things, he becomes Muslim. So what makes a person a disbeliever? Simply, denying one of the three aforementioned things. So, if a person denies the presence of Allah or that there is no god but Him, then he is a disbeliever. That is why we say that the atheists are disbelievers for they deny the presence of Allah, and that is why we say that the polytheists are disbelievers for they deny that Allah is one and only and they do not believe in the prophethood [of Muhammad]. We also say the same to the People of the Book, who demand to know: How do you call us disbelievers? Indeed, disbelief is relative, for their might be a believer who believes in Allah, the Most Exalted, yet he does not believe in the Prophet [although believing in the prophethood of Muhammad is one of the constituents of belief]; which makes them “believers” in their own way. However, Allah has considered them as ones who ascribe no partners to Allah, for He says: “Say: O followers of the Book! Come to an equitable proposition between us and you that we shall not serve any but Allah and (that) we shall not associate aught with Him, and (that) some of us shall not take others for lords besides Allah…” (03:64), and: “And say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our Allah and your Allah is One” (29:46). As such, the Quran concludes: “Those who disbelieved from among the followers of the Book and the polytheists could not have separated (from the faithful) until there had come to them the clear evidence” (98:01). It considered the People of the Book, whether Jews or Christians, as disbelievers and not polytheists, considering that they disbelieved in the Messenger of Allah. In the same sense, Allah considers those who do not believe in the last Day as disbelievers.
There are certain cases where the jurisprudents, both Sunnis and Shiites, say that whosoever denies an essential factor in religion has actually denied something that has been self-evidently established in religion. An example is when someone says that the prayers are not obligatory, but this entails disclaiming Allah and His Messenger, for Allah says: “And keep up prayer” and the Prophet (p.) has established that the prayers are obligatory. The same goes for those who say that fasting and performing pilgrimage are not obligatory and that drinking alcohol is not forbidden, although these rulings are known to all Muslims. When this happens, then one is denying the principle which demands believing in what Allah and His Messenger preach, but if one does not believe, then he is disclaiming Allah and His Messenger, since both disclamation and the denial of the essentials are correlated. However, if we suppose that someone denies something that has been established as an essential in religion, without knowing that the disclamation and the denial of the essentials are correlated, then he does not become a disbeliever, as stipulated by some scholars including His Eminence, Sayyed Al-Khou’i (ra). The reason is that some people do not distinguish, or notice or know what the principles of belief are to rule that someone is a believer and Muslim and what the principle of disbelief are to rule that he is a disbeliever. This is happening nowadays between certain groups of Sunnis and Shiites. One group might relate a hadith and say that they consider it to be authentic, yet they get accused of disbelief, for according to the others, they have disclaimed the Messenger (p.). But this Hadith that you establish as authentic might not be established by me as authentic, based on how reliable the narrators are or on the signification of the words of the Hadith. So if you believe in it, while I say that it is not authentic, then this does not mean that I am disclaiming the Prophet (p.); nay, it means that the narrators of this Hadith are not reliable. The same applies when you say that this Hadith means so and so, while I say that I understand it differently, then this does not allow you to impose your understanding on me. And this is how some people accuse other Muslims of disbelief, just because they consider that their thoughts are the true religion while the others’ are not.
Unfortunately, many are those who accuse others of disbelief and misguidance, both Sunnis and Shiites, for there exists a Shiite fundamentalism and a Sunni fundamentalism. What we ought to do is engage in an objective discussion with them, provided that they accept discussion, for some people do not, and they are described as: “And it is alike to them whether you warn them or warn them not: they do not believe” (36:10). He who closes his mind and refuses to listen, you cannot speak with him, but he who is ready to discuss the matter objectively and scientifically, we should engage in a discussion with him so as set the issue of disbelief and belief straight for him.
Q: You have spoken about concord between the mind and religion and you have cited examples of Muslim scholars, such as Alpharabius (Al-Farabi) and Avicenna (IbnSina), but even those have committed mistakes, and Imam Al-Ghazali turned to accuse them of disbelief (Takfir) in three matters and of making innovations (Bida‘ pl. of Bid‘ah) in seventeen, although we notice that you agree with Al-Ghazali over the issue of interpretation and seeking to reach the right by the necessity of seeking inter-faith proximity?
A: I do not agree with the inquirer over the issue of Takfir, for it is rather dangerous, and the definition of disbelief is the opposite of belief, which is to believe in the one and only Allah, His Messenger sent with a Message embodied in the Book of Allah and the Last Day. So, he who disbelieves in one of the aforementioned is a disbeliever. However, it remains an issue that the jurisprudents touch upon, under the title: “denying one of the essentials of religion”, and this results in disbelief because it entails disclaiming the Messenger, provided that one is aware that disclamation and the denial of the essentials are correlated, and this is a jurisprudential research. Therefore, rushing to accuse others of disbelief is dangerous, and there might be a disbeliever whom we accuse of disbelief, but we should not hasten to do so, for there might be a certain misconception or a different point of view that could change the matter.
As for the issue of interpretation, we say that interpretation is present in the Arabic language but based on the rules of interpretation of the Arabic language, for there is interpretation that is subjected to the mood, as in attributing to the word “zarra” (literally “atom”) in this Quranic verse: “So, he who has done an atom’s weight…” (99:07), the renowned scientific meaning in this age, thus dealing with the Quran as one of the natural sciences books, although there might be certain significations in this regard. In my opinion, it is impermissible to interpret the Quran through scientific theories, for the Quran is a Holy Book, and if you interpret it today by a theory, this theory might change tomorrow, so what would you do in this case? There are scientific facts and scientific theories, therefore, the Quran wants man to arm himself with science, but not on the basis that the Quran is a book that handles natural sciences and so on.
Q: What is your opinion regarding the stand of the Imam of Al-Beit Al-Haram (Ka‘aba in the holy city of Mecca) in which he accuses the Shiites of disbelief that it turned into a pretense for the others to shed the Shiites’ blood?
A: The issue is not restricted to the Imam of Al-Beit Al-Haram, for all the Wahhabis (followers of the Wahhabi thought) accuse the Shiites of disbelief, and I can almost say that indeed they spread among the different Islamic sects the issue of accusing the Shiites of disbelief. Therefore, the problem is blind fanaticism, and the problem of this man is that he did not learn about Shi‘ism in the first place, so when you read his words, you will notice that he neither read about Shi‘ism nor understood it. Actually, many scholars, whether in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, when you hear them talk about Shi‘ism, you will realize that they are not familiar with its truth.
Q: What is your opinion regarding the Takfiris who are perfectly sure that they are on the right path regarding what they believe in and do?
A: These are people who do not understand Islam or know its truths, and that is why they do not differentiate between disbelief and belief. Actually, their actions of deeming the blood of the Muslims who differ with them lawful to spill go against the saying of the Messenger of Allah, who said: “All things of a Muslim are inviolable for his brother in faith: his blood, his wealth and his honor” and before that, it is against Allah’s saying: “And do not kill any one whom Allah has forbidden, except for a just cause” (17:33).
Q: What are the best ways to face the Takfiri movements that are dramatically spreading in our Arab societies?
A: If we can manage to convince them that their conception of belief and disbelief and accusing other Muslims of disbelief and deeming their blood violable is wrong and that the mere act of disbelief is not enough to kill a person, unless the disbelievers are in a state of war, which is what non-Muslims also adopt, for Allah says: “Allah does not forbid you respecting those who have not made war against you on account of (your) religion, and have not driven you forth from your homes, that you show them kindness and deal with them justly; surely Allah loves the doers of justice” (60:08)… if we can manage to do that, then we should.
Q: “I think a lot about every issue I encounter, be it religious or not”; what does that mean? Does it mean that you apply the noble Hadith: “One hour of your contemplation is better than a year of worship”?
A: The issue of thinking about anything that crosses one’s mind or that is brought up in front of him or about anything that he encounters is something positive that man should adopt and train his mind to do, for Allah does not want man to embark on anything before thinking it over. But, man should think about the issues from the angle of the responsibilities he ought to shoulder, so when he thinks about the primary aspects of faith, he should think about his religious commitments, and the same applies to his human relations and political and social stands, and even to the matters related to his other responsibilities, such as standing as a responsible man before Allah and before himself, where he establishes his personality in a way that nurtures it mentally, spiritually and morally. Perhaps, the secret behind the infiltration of backwardness into our reality is that there is a party that prevents people from seriously thinking about the vital intellectual issues related to belief in its details and to the general concepts in their accurate elements and that does not believe in an objective scientific dialogue. Rather, this group accuses the vanguard intellectuals of disbelief and misguidance without studying the matter objectively and without any knowledge.
Q: There is confusion in the political discourse nowadays, due to the contradiction between the terrorist or Takfiri acts and the rightful Islamic thought, so how can we consolidate our Islamic discourse and acts vis-à-vis these challenges?
A: This problem is one of the challenges that Islam is facing, through the enemies of Islam who are trying to distort its image. Concerning the issue of terrorism and violence, we ought to set out to study [the true] Islam in the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Prophet, so as to let all the people know that Islam does not call for violence, but for lenience and that violence is only resorted to in order to face those who impose violence on Islam, according to Allah’s saying: “And fight in the way of Allah those who fight you” (02:190). It is also narrated that the Prophet (p.) said: “Whenever lenience becomes part of something, it beautifies it; whenever it is taken from something, it leaves it tarnished” and: “Surely Allah is lenient and loves leniency and He gives for leniency what He does not give for violence”. As such, it becomes clear that the issue of accusing Islam of terrorism is rather political and constitutes a part of our struggle with the axis of international arrogance that is trying to make use of certain controversial acts that some Muslims carry out in different positions or other acts that are based on the misunderstanding of Islam… they make use of these acts and try to employ them in the course of dominating the Islamic world.
We say to the arrogant that if you are talking about certain Muslims who carry out some acts of terrorism or violence to accuse Islam in its entirety of them, then what do you westerners call what you are committing? As you know, there are crime rates in the west that are not present in the Islamic countries. And we know that the Japanese, along with the rest of the world, commemorate the Hiroshima and Nagasaki crimes perpetrated by the invaders against Japanese civilians; is that not terrorism? Isn’t the support of a number of western countriesto the regimes that persecute their people a form of supporting terrorism?
Therefore, our job is to show them that Islam is nothing like what they are portraying and to discuss the matter with them by telling them: If you are accusing Islam of terrorism, then we accuse you of terrorism, or else how do you explain the colonization and all your hostile acts in the Islamic countries? How do you explain the mafias that were and are still present in Europe and America?
We should not surrender to these accusations. We should admit our own mistakes and condemn all those who deviate from the authentic Islamic line and might consequently distort the image of Islam. We have to authenticate our Islamic concepts and work and continue working in this course.
At the time of the Prophet (p.), there were challenges, but they were different kinds of challenges that were consistent with that time in which he lived, so they accused him of being a wizard, a forecaster and a liar, while he was the truthful and the honest: “And they say: The stories of the ancients— he has got them written— so these are read out to him morning and evening” (25:05) and: “Only a mortal teaches him” (16:103). And finally they accused him of being crazy and insane, and even Abu Lahab, as mentioned in the Prophet’s biography, used to walk behind the Prophet (p.) and say: “Do not believe my nephew, he has lost his mind”. Despite that, the Prophet (p.) confronted all these accusations and Islam persisted while all the others failed. Therefore, we have got to have an authentic Islamic pride and we should not be weakened in front of the others who are accusing us and lying to us and so on…
Q: We have come to notice that the Muslims, more than the others, hold the traits of cruelty and hard-heartedness, the concept of Takfir and the idea of killing one another and the others, what is the basis/origin of this upbringing?
A: Perhaps this can be referred to the upbringing process that is based on fanaticism and [the act of] Muslims accusing each other of disbelief and on considering cruelty and hard-heartedness as the best and fastest method of upbringing and education.
Q: Some people censure the Commander of the Faithful Imam Ali (a.s.) that he, according to them, got caught in the mayhem of Takfir and killing following the death of the Messenger of Allah (p.), having killed the Khawarij who were famous for worship and most of whom had memorized the Quran and they had undoubtedly professed the two testimonies, knowing that the Messenger of Allah (p.) says: “Whoever says there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, then his property and blood shall become inviolable”, so how do we respond to those?
A: The thing is that these people do not understand the issue in its Islamic dimensions, historic reality and religious circumstances. When Imam Ali (a.s.) assumed the caliphate, he faced all kinds of mines and traps planted in his way, whether before assuming the caliphate or while being caliph having been pledged allegiance to by the Muslims. The truth is that Imam Ali (a.s.) was the rightful caliphate, even if people had not pledged allegiance to him, as clarified by the Holy Ayah: “O Messenger! Deliver what has been revealed to you from your Lord; and if you do it not, then you have not delivered His message, and Allah will protect you from the people” (05:67) and by the following Hadiths of the Prophet: “You are to me like Aaron is to Moses, but there is no Prophet after me” and in Al-Ghadir Hadith: “Whoever I am his Mawlah (leader), Ali is his Mawlah”.
When Imam Ali (a.s.) was pledged allegiance to, he started to plan for a civilized Islamic government, and there is no one better than him for this job, but the first thing he had to face was the revolt of Talhah and Az-Zubair who were among his companions, knowing that Az-Zubair was his cousin. After they pledged allegiance to him, they asked him to let them take part in the rule, but the Imam told them that they can take part in the consultation council but not in the caliphate for they were not eligible and he could not grant them such eligibility. He tried to convince them of that, but they insisted on their position and they went to Al-Basrah to incite the people against Imam Ali (a.s.), taking the Messenger’s wife, Sayyeda Aisha, along with them. By that, the State’s order was disturbed and they wanted to rule Al-Basrah at a time the Imam took Al-Kufah as his capital. When the Imam went to Al-Basrah and gathered the people, he tried to reach out to them and discuss the matter with them, and he even sent someone to let the Quran be the judge between them, but they killed him.
At that point, the Imam (a.s.) saw that the best thing was to fight them, yet not on the basis of difference in opinions but on the bases of preserving the Muslims’ general security and maintaining the order of the Islamic State, which the two (Talhah and Az-Zubair) wanted to divide for their personal interests. Fighting Talhah and Az-Zubair was aimed at maintaining the security in the Islamic reality and preserving the unity of the Islamic nation. Afterwards, Mu‘awiyah rebelled against him under the pretense of avenging Uthman’s death, although the Imam had nothing to do with Uthman’s killing; he defended him and let his two sons defend him too. If we read in “Nahjul-Balaghah” the letters that Imam Ali (a.s.) sent to Mu‘awiyah, which were flourished with great styles and Islamic values, we will notice that the Imam was not in a position of war; all he wanted was to preserve the Islamic State. Afterwards, things erupted and Mu’awiyah waged a war and resorted to arbitration, and from that moment things aggravated. The Imam wanted to send IbnAbbass for the arbitration, but the pressure the Khawarij imposed on him made him send Abu Moussa Al-Ash’ari, the naïve person who was also complicated from the Imam. Omar Bin Al-‘As defeated Al-Ash’ari, and they (the Khawarij) said: “There is no rule but Allah’s, so how can you rule; O Ali, you have ascribed partners to Allah”. The Imam did not reply and sent IbnAbbass to discuss the matter with them and he continued to give them their due sums and salaries just as the rest of the Muslims. Despite all that, the Imam (a.s.) did not fight them because they opposed him, but because they started to practice brigandage against the Muslims and they killed Khabbab and his wife. And because the Imam was the religious ruler, he could not but fight them and restore order defending the Islamic order and the Muslims’ security, but some people do not understand these issues as deep as they are and they simply adopt the naïve and superficial titles.
Q: Can we consider the Ayah: “Erect an edifice over them” (18:21) an evidence that proves the permissibility of making acts of worship and the graves and building praying areas over them, at a time we notice that some consider building praying areas and performing prayers and supplications near the graves of the prophets and Imams as an act of polytheism, especially that the downtrodden who suggested building the praying areas are always the majority?
A: The inquirer here is asking about an issue that was the subject of controversy between certain Islamic sects. A certain sect accuses another of polytheism or what could mount to polytheism when the followers of the latter pray at the graves of the prophets and Imams, so they deem that an act of polytheism, as if they are actually worshipping the prophets and Imams and prostrating to them! The Shiites too have Hadiths that say: “Do not take the graves of your prophets as places of worship”. But the act of taking graves as places of worship pointed to in this Hadith has nothing to do with what the Muslims, be they Shiites or Sunnis, are actually committed to. The reason is that when they prostrate at the grave, they are not prostrating for the person in it, and what polytheism is that when a person performs two Rak’ahs at the grave seeking closeness to Allah and offers the reward to the dead? By doing so, the one performing the prayer would actually be praying seeking closeness to Allah and he would not address the grave or take it as his direction of prayer, neither would he address his prayer to the person in the grave; nay, he would be addressing Allah. Therefore, this misconception that few Muslims are accused of is actually the result of misunderstanding and misinterpreting the Hadiths on that matter: “Do not take the graves of your prophets as places of worship”, “Do not take my grave as places of worship” and so on.
Indeed, there are certain features that some people resort to as a token of modesty, yet they should abstain from them. An example is when someone enters the shrine of an Imam or a prophet and he prostrates at the door for example… even if he is not actually prostrating to the person whose grave he is visiting in the actual sense of prostration, the look of him doing it suggests to the others what he does not actually intend, even though he would most certainly be doing so out of respect and love. But when a person loves someone, he should not express his love and loyalty to him in a way that makes the people think of what he is doing unlike his real intention. Many of the things the Shiites were accused of were the result of similar kinds of features, for some people, instead of calling on Allah, they say: “O Ali, give us sustenance or heal us”, although they are certain that Allah is the One Who heals and gives sustenance.
Indeed, we do implore the Imams and the prophets and we do consider them to be our intercessors, for Allah says: “And they do not intercede except for him whom He approves” (21:28) and: “On that day shall no intercession avail except of him whom the Beneficent Allah” (20:109), and they were granted the ability of intercession… but we have to balance our emotions, so as not to attribute to them what we do not actually believe in or want.