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Are Christians Mushrik (Polytheists) or Kaafir (Rejecters)?


Question

Should Christians be considered as Mushrik because they worship the person of Jesus Christ, and there is no forgiveness for that as Allah has told us [in the Qur'an ]. Or Kaafir because Allah tells us that everyone who attributes a son to God is a Kaafir.



Question from United Kingdom
Answer

Before I answer your specific question, it would be appropriate to first take a close look at the two terms "Mushrik" and "Kaafir", as only after that can we say whether the Christians, Jews or adherents of any other religion fall in these categories or not.

Let us first take the term "Kaafir". "Kaafir" in the Arabic language means "rejecter". The term "Kaafir", normally taken to be synonymous with "non-Muslim" or "non-believer", is quite different from the two terms. A "non-Muslim", obviously, is a person who does not adhere to the Muslim faith. Thus, all those who do not ascribe to the Muslim faith are "non-Muslims". A "non-believer" is generally used for a person who does not believe in God and the Day of Judgment. "Kaafir", on the other hand, is a person who knowingly rejects the truth. A person may not believe in some 'truth' for a number of reasons. For instance, he may not be fully convinced of some aspect of that 'truth' or he may have some doubts in his mind regarding that truth. However, if all doubts are removed from his mind and he becomes fully convinced of that truth, yet he persists in not accepting it or persists in ascribing to a wrong belief after becoming certain of its incorrectness, he then becomes a "Kaafir" and is no longer just a "non-Muslim" or a "non-believer".

In other words, all those people who persist in not accepting Islam after being fully convinced that Islam is the truth of the Almighty or persist in ascribing to a false belief after being convinced of its incorrectness are "Kaafirs" or rejecters of the truth. All others for our purposes are "non-Muslims" or "non-believers ".

This explanation, if considered closely, should clarify the fact that we cannot call anyone a "Kaafir" unless we have absolute knowledge of the reasons for his rejection of faith (or Islam), which we do not possess. Thus, for the purpose of this world, we should not call anyone a "Kaafir". It is only God, Who with His absolute knowledge can declare someone a "Kaafir". No one besides God possesses the knowledge that is essential to declare someone a "Kaafir".

Thus, we know on the basis of God's declaration in the Qur'an  that the Jews and the Christians (and those ascribing to other faiths) during the time of the Prophet  (pbuh) refused to believe in the Prophet (pbuh) even after being fully convinced of his prophethood and were, therefore, termed "Kaafir" by the Almighty. As far as the Jews and the Christians of later times are concerned, we do not have adequate knowledge of the reasons for their rejection to term them "Kaafir". God, on the Day of Judgment, shall give the decision regarding these Jews and Christians. Those, among them, who refused to accept Islam and the prophethood of Mohammed (pbuh), although they were fully convinced of it being the truth, shall stand in the category of "Kaafirs" on the Day of Judgment.

The term "Mushrik", like the term "Kaafir" has also been slightly misused. It is not just ascribing to a polytheistic belief that makes a person a "Mushrik". According to the Qur'an , "Mushrik" is one who ascribes partners to God. Christians, though ascribe to a polytheistic belief, according to the Muslim understanding of polytheism, yet they do not ascribe partners to God. They believe that there is only one God and He does not have any partners. Yet they ascribe to a belief, which in the eyes of the Muslims and according to the Qur'an  is a polytheistic belief. Christians, according to the Qur'an , would have been called "Mushrik" had they believed that ascribing a son to God is a polytheistic belief and would still have ascribed to that belief.

The above should also explain why the Qur'an , even though it has pointed out that the Jews and the Christians of the times of the Prophet  (pbuh) ascribe to some polytheistic beliefs has not addressed them as "Mushrik". The Qur'an  has only addressed the Banu-Ishmael and other Arab polytheists who clearly ascribed to polytheism by the term "Mushrik" (as should be clear from Al-Baqarah 2: 105, Aal Imraan 3: 67, Surah Al-Taubah 9: 1 - 33, Al-Bayyinah 98: 1).

In the light of the above explanation, in my opinion, the Christians should not be called "Mushrik" or "Kaafir". We may say that Christians ascribe to polytheistic beliefs but should not call them polytheists, as the Qur'an  has not called them polytheists. Likewise, we can call them "non-Muslims", but should not call them "Kaafir", as we do not know who among them has knowingly rejected Islam and who has not accepted Islam because he was not convinced of it being the final truth from God.

27th December 1999


Answer published by Moiz Amjad