Did you just call me a kafir?

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 outcaste-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 practises 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.

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Challenges This Ramadan Brings Before Muslim Society & Middle East

During the holy month of Ramadan it would be highly uncharitable of me to criticize the Muslim Ummah but nevertheless I consider the time to be most apt for introspection. The decade post 9/11 is going to go down in Islamic history as a period of persecution and stereotyping but the community has managed to get back to its feet with incredible resilience. We need not worry about the Islamophobic intelligentsia of our times and I am confident that their illogical rhetoric will be buried very soon just like the vitriol of the anti-Semites and anti-Catholics of the 20th century. The Muslim-bashing brigade of Robert Spencer, David Wood, Geert Wilders, Arun Shourie, Subramanian Swamy etc has failed miserably at trying to portray the Muslims as a set of people who’re always thinking of resurrecting the Caliphate, imposing Sharia and waging global Jihad to eliminate disbelievers which is so very untrue and laughable.

But the only valid concern raised by such people and others is in relation to the discriminatory practices of religious segregation propounded by the Government in Saudi Arabia. The astonishingly insane embargo placed on the entry of Non Muslims in the Holy City of Mecca not only sabotages Islam’s claims of being a universal religion but also exemplifies the fiercest racism in the history of human civilization. This along with total subjugation of Non Muslims in Saudi Arabia by not giving them the right to proselytize people and build their places of worship makes Saudi Arabia the most intolerant of all places in the whole world. Although Vatican City partners Saudi Arabia in this kind of fanatic fundamentalism but Saudi’s religious unilateralism has been used to harass Muslims all over the world and has discredited the good work done by the remaining 50 Muslim Majority countries especially the liberal regimes of UAE, Indonesia and Turkey.

Islamophobes have done nothing apart from replicating the sickness of the Saudis while dealing with Muslims. When the Cordoba Initiative (An Islamic Centre with a prayer hall to be built two blocks away from Ground Zero) of Imam Rauf ran into trouble, Newt Gingrich famously remarked that the Muslims should not be allowed to build mosques in USA until they allow churches to be built in Saudi Arabia. In India, Sangh Parivar sympathizers like Swamy have asked for a ban on conversions very much similar on the lines of the Saudi Government. Saudi Arabia is in a need of a total political re-haul. It’s true that Saudi Arabia is just one of the 51 odd Muslim-Majority countries and its discriminatory practices don’t warrant others to do the same but the fact remains that Muslims just can’t keep justifying the blatant practices prevalent in Saudi Arabia. Islamic scholars in the West have been very vehemently condemning the Islamophobes for their denouncement of the Quran and the Holy Prophet but on the other hand they’ve not shied away from plunging into the defense of the religiously-exclusionary practices in Saudi Arabia by claiming that if we allow Non-Muslims in Mecca they might just spread unislamic activities in our holy land. This is totally unacceptable and unjustifiable. Countries in the Middle East also need to reframe their citizenship laws which have actually accelerated the growing opposition to immigrations in the West. Lastly and most importantly, the Muslim community is in a desperate need of liberals. There are just not enough moderates who are willing to speak up and lead the community into a positive direction. I sincerely hope that this Ramadan leads to the rise of Muslim-moderatism and Muslim-modernism which is the need of the hour.