In Islamic law, takfir or takfeer (Arabic: تكفير takfīr) refers to the practice of excommunication, one Muslim declaring another an unbeliever or kafir (pl. kuffār). The act which precipitates takfir is termed the mukaffir.
This declaration may be made if the alleged Muslim declares himself a kafir, but more typically applies to a judgement that an action or statement by the alleged Muslim indicates his knowing abandonment of Islam. The sentence for apostasy (irtidad) under Sharia is traditionally interpreted as execution but alternately might be amputation or expulsion.
For this reason orthodox Islamic law normally requires extremely stringent evidence for such accusations. In many cases an Islamic court or a religious leader, an alim must pronounce a fatwa (legal judgement) of takfir against an individual or group.
There are disputes among different schools of religious thought as to what constitutes sufficient justification for declaring takfir. The orthodox Sunni position is that sins generally do not prove that someone is not a Muslim, but 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 is a kafir if he is aware that murder is considered 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.
Some Muslims consider takfir (declaring someone a kafir) to be a prerogative of either the Prophet—who does that through Divine revelation—or the State which represents the collectivity of the Ummah (the whole Muslim community).
Extremist movements that practice takfir—both the early medieval Kharijites and modern groups such as Takfir wal-Hijra and GIA— usually regard virtually all self-styled Muslims as kafirs. As such their blood may legitimately be shed. These groups have been condemned by more mainstream Muslims.
Some Muslims (such as Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, founder of Wahhabism) believe that one of the earliest examples of takfir was alleged to have been practiced by the first Caliph, Abu Bakr. In response to the refusal of certain Arab tribes to pay the alms-tax (zakat), he is reported to have said: "By God, I will fight anyone who differentiates between the prayer and the zakat.... Revelation has been discontinued, the Shari'ah has been completed: will the religion be curtailed while I am alive. ... I will fight these tribes even if they refuse to give a halter. Poor-due (zakat) is a levy on wealth and, by God, I will fight him who differentiates between the prayer and poor-due."
Skeptics point out that Abu Bakr did not even use the word kafir, that he said these words at the time when people were trying to add new practices or innovations to Islam (Bidah), and that general statements, (such as "those who don't believe in God are not Muslims"), are statements of fact rather than judgements against individual Muslims.
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 been used against the Ahmadiyya who describe themselves as Muslims but are considered by mainstream Muslims and Islamic scholars to be non-Muslims due to their rejection of the mainstream Muslim belief that Muhammad was the last and final Prophet and Messenger of Allah, after whom there can be no Prophet or Messenger. This has sometimes been used to legitimize capital punishment (by stoning) of Ahmadis.
Takfir has also been used on Shias, whose beliefs are questioned by many mainstream Sunni Muslims. In the case of organizations such as the GIA (as mentioned above), it has been used to legitimize attacks on any Muslim who is not actively fighting against 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 for his book The Satanic Verses, which is perceived to contain passages that drawn into question the basis of Islam. Some contemporary cases in Egypt are also found, for example Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd was accused of apostasy following his work on Islamic sources, describing the Qur'an as a historical document.
In the Qur'an and Hadith
And whoever contradicts and opposes the Messenger (Muhammad) after the right path has been shown clearly to him, and follows other than the believers' way, We shall keep him in the path he has chosen, and burn him in Hell – what an evil destination![Quran 4:115 (Translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan)]
This verse is interpreted as indicating 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 you who believe! When you go (to fight) in the Cause of God, verify (the truth), and say not to anyone who greets you (by embracing Islam): "You are not a believer"; seeking the perishable goods of the worldly life. There are much more profits and booties with God. Even as he is now, so were you yourselves before till God conferred on you His Favours (i.e. guided you to Islam), therefore, be cautious in discrimination. God is Ever Well-Acquainted with what you do.[Quran 4:94 (Translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan)]
- Asif Iftikhar (March–April 1997). Murder, Manslaughter and Terrorism -- All in the Name of Allah 7 (s. 3-4). Al-Mawrid: Renaissance.com.
- Abou El Fadl, Khaled (2005). The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. Harper San Francisco. p. 54-5. "`Abd al-Wahhab was also fond of citing a precedent in which Abu Bakr reportedly burned so-called hypocrites to death … most scholars in the Islamic tradition who studied the purported Abu Bakr precedent concluded that the claim that Abu Bakr accused people of hypocrisy who upheld the five pillars and fought them is without support or foundation."
- "de beste bron van informatie over muslim-canada. Deze website is te koop!". muslim-canada.org. Retrieved 2013-02-02.
- "REPORT of THE COURT OF INQUIRY - Stoning to death of Ahmadis in Afghanistan and the ‘Ash-Shahab’". Thepersecution.org. Retrieved 2013-02-02.
- Susanne Olsson, "Apostasy in Egypt: contemporary cases of hisbah" i The Muslim World, Volym 98:1, 2008.
- The Amman Message (Declaration forbidding takfir (declarations of apostasy) between Muslims unanimously agreed upon by 200 of the world's leading Islamic scholars 'Ulama from 50 countries.)
- The Clear Proofs in Refuting the Doubts of the People of Takfeer and Bombing!
- Extremism in Takfir
- The Ideology of Terrorism and Violence in Saudi Arabia: Origins, Reasons and Solution
- Religious denunciations and Takfir: Isn't there enough to go around? (by Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq)
- Maudoodi's article on takfir (by Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi)
- Be Careful who you call non-Muslim
- Islamic theology and Takfir Article exploring the classical view of takfir
- Hermeneutics of takfir