Correcting teachings that misrepresent Islam – a contribution by Dr Hesham A. Hassaballa


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I often wonder why the real scholars and the ‘good guys’ don’t stand up to throw off the (apparent?) control by fundamentalists.

If you go to some sites it seems as though Islam is teaching that anyone who is not a member of Islam is something close to less than human.  The issues that surround the status of non-Moslems centre around terms such as kufr and kafir in the Qur’an.

Dr Hassaballa himself was surprised when he did some research;

In the Name of God the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

During an extensive conversation about the relationship of a Muslim with non-Muslims, the issue of who exactly is a kafir , or one who “denies the truth” (frequently translated as “infidel”), came up. Yet, when I delved deeper into the meaning of the words kufr and kafir in the Qur’an, I learned that these words have a much deeper, more profound meaning. And it has nothing to do with “being infidels.”

The late Muhammad Asad (God’s Mercy be upon him) eloquently defined the meaning of kufr and kafir in the Qur’an:

This meaning is easily grasped when we bear in mind that the root verb of the participial noun kafir (and of the infinitive noun kufr) is kafara, “he (or “it”) covered (a thing)”: thus, in Quran 57:20 the tiller of the soil is called (without any pejorative implication) kafir, “one who covers”, i.e., the sown seed with earth, just as the night is spoken of as having “covered” (kafara) the earth with darkness. In their abstract sense, both the verb and the nouns derived from it have a connotation of “concealing” something that exists or “denying” something that is true. Hence, in the usage of the Quran – with the exception of the one instance (Quran 57:20) where this participial noun signifies a “tiller of the soil” – a kafir is one who denies (or “refuses to acknowledge”) the truth” in the widest, spiritual sense of this latter term: that is, irrespective of whether it relates to a cognition of the supreme truth – namely, the existence of God – or to a doctrine or ordinance enunciated in the divine writ, or to a self-evident moral proposition, or to an acknowledgment of, and therefore gratitude for, favors received…………………………………….

In the last part of Asad’s statement lies my rediscovery of the meaning of kufr. A kafir can refuse to acknowledge the favors given to him or her, i.e., be ungrateful. In fact, the opposite of the word shukr, or “gratitude,” in Arabic is none other than kufr. The Qur’an explicitly uses the word kufr to mean “ingratitude”:

To read Dr Hesham A. Hassaballa ‘s article go to

The article ends with this striking paragraph;

This is truly amazing. For so many years of my life, I had always thought a kafir was an “unbeliever.” I realize now how primitive and naive such a belief truly is. The Qur’an is such a profound book, with so many layers of understanding that are waiting to be discovered. The more I delve into the Qur’an, the more I want to keep swimming in its words and meanings. And the more I understand why God asks the question, ” Will they not, then, ponder over this Qur’an? – or are there locks upon their hearts?” (Quran 47:24).

For me this a fine article, for which many thanks.   Still it would be nice to know that I am not an infidel – perhaps there is another article for Dr Hassaballa to write?

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