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In Islamic law, takfir or takfeer (Arabic: تكفير‎‎ takfīr) refers to the practice of excommunication, one Muslim declaring another Muslim as kafir (infidel). The act which precipitates takfir is termed the mukaffir. An ill-founded takfir accusation is a major haram.[1]

Authority for takfir

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).[2]


The declaration of takfir 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.

Orthodox Islamic law normally requires stringent evidence for such accusations.[citation needed] 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.


The Murjites argued that anyone who called themselves Muslim should be considered Muslim.


The Mu'tazilites (followed by the Zaidiyyahs) advocated what they saw as a middle way, whereby grave sinners were categorized neither as believers nor as kafirs.


Some of the early medieval Kharijites concluded that any Muslim who sinned ceased to be a Muslim, while others concluded that only major sin could cause that.


The sentence for apostasy (irtidad) under Sharia is traditionally interpreted as death but alternately might be amputation or expulsion.[citation needed]


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.[3] 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."[citation needed]

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.

File:Translation of 'Status of Jihad'.pdf

In the wars between the Umayyad Caliphate and the Khawarijs, 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 who many Muslims and Islamic scholars believe have rejected the 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.[4] In 1974, Pakistan's constitution was amended to declaring Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. In 1984, General Zia-ul-Haq, the then military ruler of Pakistan, issued Ordinance XX.[5][6] forbidding Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim. As a result they are not allowed to profess the Islamic creed publicly or call their places of worship mosques,[7] to worship in non-Ahmadi mosques or public prayer rooms, performing the Muslim call to prayer, using the traditional Islamic greeting in public, publicly quoting from the Quran, preaching in public, seeking converts, or producing, publishing, and disseminating their religious materials.

Another group in Pakistan, the Zikri of Makran in Balochistan, have also been takfired by the local ulama (Islamic scholars). The Zikri believe that Syed Muhammad Jaunpuri (b.1443) was the Mahdi (redeemer) of Islam. In 1978 a movement (Tehrik Khatm-e-Nabuat) was founded by the ulama to have the Pakistan state declare the Zikris to be non-Muslims, like the Ahmadis.[8]

In the case of organizations such as the GIA, it has been used to legitimize attacks on any Muslim who is not actively fighting against their governments.[citation needed]

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 draw into question the basis of Islam. Some contemporary cases in Egypt are also found; for example, Nasr Abu Zayd was accused of apostasy following his work on Islamic sources, describing the Qur'an as a historical document.[9]

The constitution of Tunisia (passed after the Tunisian Revolution of 2011), has criminalized takfir by placing a ban on fatwas that promote takfir.[10]

See also


  1. Brown, Michael (2010). Contending with Terrorism. p. 89.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Asif Iftikhar (March–April 1997). "Murder, Manslaughter and Terrorism -- All in the Name of Allah". 7 (s. 3-4). Al-Mawrid: Renaissance.com.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "REPORT of THE COURT OF INQUIRY - Stoning to death of Ahmadis in Afghanistan and the 'Ash-Shahab'". Thepersecution.org. Retrieved 2013-02-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. The presentation before the parliament can be seen here: Khan, Naveeda. Mahzaharnama (PDF). Islam International Publications. ISBN 1-85372-386-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Khan, Naveeda. "Trespasses of the State: Ministering to Theological Dilemmas through the Copyright/Trademark" (PDF).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Sarai Reader 2005: Bare Acts. p. 178.
  7. Heiner Bielefeldt: "Muslim Voices in the Human Rights Debate", Human rights quarterly, 1995 vol. 17 no. 4 p. 587.
  8. Talbot, Ian (1998). Pakistan, a Modern History. NY: St.Martin's Press. p. 252. The Zikris, who form a large proportion of the population of Makran, are the followers of Syed Muhammad (b.1443) who they consider to be a Mahdi. ... In their drive to implement Shariat law the 'ulama founded the Tehrik Khatm-e-Nabuat ... in Balochistan in 1978. Their intention was to demand that the state should declare the Zikris to be non-Muslims, like the Ahmadis earlier.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Susanne Olsson, "Apostasy in Egypt: contemporary cases of hisbah" i The Muslim World, Volym 98:1, 2008.
  10. Al-Haddad, Mohammad. "Tunisia's New Constitution Criminalizes Takfir". Al-Monitor. Al-Monitor. Retrieved 4 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links