What the Koran really says about non-Muslims, part 1
Note: This is an updated re-post of a short series of articles from the old FFI site.
In this article I intend to “get behind” the translations and consider various words used within the Koran to describe people who are not Muslim. In one sense I will still be using translations to ascertain meanings, but here we will delve deeper, by considering the meanings attached to various words and the linkages between them.
I am not claiming this is a complete list – I’ve probably missed something obscure.
My starting point is to use the Hilali-Khan translation of the Koran since this gives “definitions” of many “technical” words and the Quranic Arabic Corpus website. I have also used a number of English translations in order to see how various translators approach the use of language.
In order to save a lot of typing I will use the following to identify translations: A – Arberry, E – Kanz ul-Eeman, HK – Hilali-Khan, I – Irving, M – Malik, MA – Mohamed Asad, P -Pickthall, Q – Quran Corpus, S – Shakir, SD – Stephens-Darwish, SI – Sahih International, Y – Yousaf Ali.
This article may be rather heavy going, at least it is thorough-going (I hope). Feel free to skip to the summary at the end of each section if you wish to avoid the “heavy lifting”.
In this part I will deal with the three words most widely used to describe non-Muslims in the Koran: Kafir, Mushrik and Zalim.
The word “kafir” or “kaffir” literally means “to cover” or “to conceal (the truth)”. In its original meaning it was used of tilling the soil: K.57:20 (Malik, part of): “ …Its similitude is that of vegetation that flourish after rain: the growth of which delights the tillers[Arabic: kufara] ….”. Exactly the same word (“Kufara”) is used elsewhere for “those that do not believe”. Thus within the meaning of “kaffir” as applied to non-Muslims is the implication that they have “covered”, “hidden”, “concealed” in themselves the ‘truth’ of Islam that has been recited (etc.) to them.
According to the Quran Corpus, the word “kaffir”, from the tri-consonental root “kfr”, occurs 289 times in the Koran as a verb “kafaru” meaning “to disbelieve”, 129 times as the participle “kaffirun” meaning “(the) disbelievers”, 27 times as the noun “Kaffir” meaning “non-believer”, 4 times as the adjective “disbeliever” and once as the participle “kafirat” also meaning “non-believers”. Also, once as the verb “akfara” meaning “to be ungrateful” (but see below), once as an adjective meaning ungrateful, 37 times as the noun “khufr” meaning “disbelief”, 3 times as the noun “kufur” meaning “disbelief”, once as “kawaffir” meaning “disbelieving women”, 14 times as the verb “kaffara” meaning “to remove”, 12 times in the form “kafur” meaning “ungrateful” (again see below), 4 times as the noun “kaffarat” meaning expiation (here something that “covers” sin, another case of the original meaning of the root), once as the noun “kufrana” meaning “rejected”.
Note: whilst the Quran Corpus uses the word “disbeliever” for “kaffir” etc it is more accurately translated as “non-believer” or (simply) non-Muslim (although as we will see, such translations cover up much of the meaning of “kaffir”).
Note: “Disbeliever” is, linguistically, a mistranslation of “Kaffir” since in strict (British) English grammar a “disbeliever” would be “one who has ceased to believe” – i.e. an apostate. The Koran generally refers to apostates as “hypocrites” and groups them with those who have a don’t fully hold to Islamic teaching – i.e. “heretics”. The phrase “those who reject faith” is little better than “disbeliever” due to its ambiguity: I can “reject faith” both by leaving a faith or by refusing to accept it in the first place.
Thus the Koran uses “kaffir” words mostly about non-believers about 450 times in 6236 verses. That means that about 7% of all verses in the Koran contain the “kfr” words as applied to non-believers. The total number of verses related to kaffirs is much greater, some sources placing it as high as 64% of the entire text.
A second meaning is that of “removal” (for example see 39:5, 47:2, 48:5, 64:9, 65:5). Thus implicit in the use of the word “kaffir” to describe non-Muslims is the idea that they have also “removed” themselves from Allah and Islam since they neither believe nor, if they are Harbis (i.e. a non-Muslim who lives in the Daru-ul-Harb or “world [or: house] of war”), are they under Sharia law.
The term “Kaffir” applies to a person who practices non-belief (‘khufr’), a person who is active in their non-belief in that it is the result of a choice. Thus, it would be inappropriate to apply the term to a new-born infant (even though some Muslims do) since such a one has had no opportunity to make a choice in the matter.
If the use of these words (disbeliever / rejector) is intended to limit the meaning of “kaffir” to “apostate” this is not supported by the Koran text. An apostate, a “murtadd” is indeed a kaffir, but not all kaffirs are apostates – at least unless we take the Koran’s claim that everybody is born a Muslim (K7:172) literally and deny that people are incapable of preventing themselves being “led astray” by their parents. Such an interpretation of kaffir would be truly vicious since the penalty for apostasy is death this would mean that all non-Muslims, even the new-born, deserve to be killed out of hand.
However, for most – if not all – adults in the world today, we have all been exposed to Islam’s message to some extent or another and thus those of us who choose to “hide from the ‘truth’ of Islam” in non-belief are indeed Kaffirs.
The Koran on many occasions says something along the lines of “… told them about Islam/Monotheism but they did not believe”. This is “khufr”. The act of choosing not to believe and practising this non-belief (by remaining non-Muslim) makes one a Kaffir.
This word is variously translated as either “deny” – as in the truth of Islam, the hereafter(MA,Y), “infidel” (E), “unbeliever” (A), “disbeliever” (HK, P, Q, SD, SI), “those who reject faith” (M, Y), “those without faith” (Y) “deny (the revelation)” (S,Y), “reject Allah” (Y) to render the meaning of “one/those who does not believe”.
Yousaf Ali also extends the meaning to include “blaspheme” in reference to Jesus (see for example 5:72-73), but this is, I think, his own biases coming to the fore in an over-contextualised interpretation.
For general examples of the use of “kaffir”, See for example: 2:6, 2:19, 2:24, 2:89, 2:90, (here the word is used in its first instance for those who did not believe in Judaism), 2:102, 2:104, 2:105, 2:126, 2:161, 2:171, 2:191, 2:212, 2:217, 2:250 (here again the reference is to non-belief in Judaism), 2:253, 2:254, 2:257, 2:258, 2:264, 2:286; to list only those verses occurring in Surah 2.
I should also point out that many translators are not consistent in how they translate “kaffir” words.
An interesting translation of “kaffarin” occurs at 2:276. In the translations of E, M, MA, P, Q, S, SD,Y but not HK, I or SI; the word “kaffarin” is translated as “ingrate” (A,MA) or “impious”(P),“ungrateful”(E,M,S,Y), whereas HK, I and SI use “disbeliever”.
2:276 (Shakir): “Allah does not bless usury, and He causes charitable deeds to prosper, and Allah does not love any ungrateful [kaffarin] sinner.” This word occurs exactly twice in the Koran, the second being at 50:24, which Shakir renders as “Do cast into hell every ungrateful [kaffirin], rebellious[anadin] one”. Yousaf Ali uses “…every contumacious [anadin] rejecter [kaffarin]”. Shakir is followed by E,P, whereas YousafAli is followed by A, HK, I, M, MA, SI, SD. What is interesting is that in the second occurrence only E, P and S translate “kaffarin” consistently with their usage in 2:276, all the others ( M, MA, Q, SD,Y) swap to variants of “disbeliever”, consistent with “kaffir” words in general and HK, I and SI throughout.
A variant on this, “Kafoorun” appears nine times: 11:9, 14:44, 17:27, 17:67, 22:38, 22:66, 39:3, 42:48, 43:15. All the translations consistently translate this as “ingrate”, “thankless” ,”ungrateful”, or “bereft of gratitude” towards Allah. As “Kafoora” it appears in 34:17, 76:3, 76:24, where it is used similarly, as is “Kafoorin” in 25:26.
Note: In K76:5, “kafooran” is rendered as follows: “the righteous shall drink of a cup whereof the mixture is of Kafur” (Shakir decides this is camphor!). This exact same word is rendered as “ungrateful” in 76:3. I can understand why no translator wants to suggest that the “cup of paradise” is mixed with ingratitude and/or non-belief, but this is surely taking a liberty with the text.
“Kaffartum” is found in 3:106, 9:66, 14:7, 17:69, 40:12, 41:52, 46:10, 73:17. It is usually rendered as “ungrateful” or similar in 14:7 and by some translators in 17:69. In all other verses the usual rendering is “disbelieved” or “rejected” or denied”.
Another interesting case is 16:83. Here the word “kaffiroona” is usually rendered “unbelievers” etc., as it is on most other occasions, but a few translators (P,S,Y) use “ungrateful”. Malik uses both “ …ungrateful disbelievers.” Similarly in 16:112, translators use either “became ungrateful for” or similar or “disbelieved in” or similar. In 26:19 we get a similar mix in the translations, see also 31:12, and compare to 31:23 (the same word “kaffara” is used in both) and 34:17, In 28:82 Shakir alone uses “ungrateful” all others “unbelievers” or similar.
34:17 shows a similar uncertainty about whether to use “ingrates” or un/dis-believers.
Thus, it is clear that within the meaning of “kaffir” is the idea the Kaffirs are ungrateful and thankless to Allah/Mohammed because they have not seen the “light” of Islam and converted and/or they have no gratitude to Allah for the bounty of nature.
Not all translators agree with how to translate the Arabic words (this is no surprise, of course) but it does point up the difficulties inherent in deciding when a “Kaffir” is a non-believer, an ingrate, a rebel, or has (somehow) “removed” him/herself from Islam.
Note: On one level this hardly matters. According to Islamic teaching, the failure to uphold correct islamic orthodoxy is enough to render the “transgressor” a murtadd-kaffir. Thus an “ungrateful” Muslim may be deemed a Kaffir.
39:59 links the rejection of Islam “khufr” to pride: “Thou waste haughty(Y) / scornful(P) / proud(S)”, as does 45:31.
3:151 (part). “We shall cast terror in the hearts of the Kaffir, because they associated partners with Allah...” If this verse is taken literally it means that all Kaffirs have “associated partners with Allah”, thus all Kaffirs are also “Mushrikoon”[=’associators’] (see below). Alternatively, it could be taken as a reference to one “section” of Kaffirs – the “associators”.
4:89. “they wish that you [Mohammed/Muslims] should disbelieve [takfuroona] as they disbelieve [kafaroo]...”. “takfuroona” is the intent to become a Kaffir – in this context to apostatise and return to a state of non-belief. Implicit in this is the idea that apostates form a sub-group within the Kaffirs. See also 5:12.
The word “Kaffir” is best understood as meaning “those who do not believe” or, more succinctly, non-Muslims.
“Kfr” words occur in some 7% of the Koran verses. Passages dealing with kaffirs account for a much higher percentage of the Koran.
The term “al-kaffiroon” (the non-believers) is an umbrella term for all types and classes of non-believer.
A “kaffir” is someone who has rejected Islam, generally in the sense of refusing to convert, though an apostate (“Murtadd”) is also a “Kaffir” since they are literally “disbelievers”. This rejection should be understood as an act of will, the person has chosen non-belief. Thus a Kaffir is a practitioner of “khufr” – the act of non-belief.
As well as the concept of non-belief, the word carries within its meaning several other ideas:
That the “kaffir” has somehow “buried”, “concealed” or “hidden” his/her true understanding of the “beauty and truth” of Islam – thus it implies lying or deceit, since the implication is that the Kaffir “really knows” that Islam is right. (See also K.45:7-9)
That the kaffir has “removed” him/herself from the influence of and obedience to Islam, a sort of quasi-apostasy,
That the kaffir is an ingrate – s/he does not show to Allah the respect and worship due for his “beneficence” (if they did they would become Muslim – obviously) and thus impious also.
That the Kaffir is in rebellion and opposition to Allah and Mohammed, thus they are “enemies of Islam/Allah/Mohammed”.
That all of the above is linked to the kaffir’s proud, haughty nature.
Thus to put it in a sentence: “Islam says that “the Kaffir” are haughty, lying, deceitful, ungrateful, impious, quasi-apostate, non-believing rebels against Allah and Mohammed, too proud to admit the truth of Islam.”
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Excursus: “Allah” in Arabia.
It might seem odd in this article to write about Allah, or more accurately the word, its derivation and its use, but the more I looked into the language of the Koran in dealing with non-Muslims, the more I came to feel that that understanding of “where Allah came from” was essential.
By the time of Mohammed’s birth in Arabia Judaism had been present for a millennium or more and Christianity for five-six hundred years. In fact, Christianity and Judaism were so widespread that many of the tribes outside Mecca were adherents to one or the other faith (See: http://www.themicahmandate.org/2009/03/who-was-allah-before-islam-1/ – this link may no longer be extant – and http://answering-islam.org/authors/shamoun/preislamic_allah1.html and following parts.) and large parts of Arabia, including parts of the Gulf, were Christian Kingdoms, or perhaps more accurately, Kingdoms ruled by Christians.
The word “Allah” is a contraction of Al-Ilah – “the God” and there is evidence that the word “Allah” came into Arabic from Syriac and arrived with Jews (and was adopted by Christians) centuries prior to Mohammed. The archaeological and other evidence for this is quite compelling.
One theory suggests that, as a result of this, the God of the Bible had been accepted by many non-Jewish and non-Christian Arabs as the Creator-God and installed as their own chief deity whom they worshiped along with the rest of their tribal-gods. Thus “Allah” was the shorthand way of referring to the creator god (and therefore chief god) of the various pantheons, including that at Mecca. Evidence of this is found, for instance, in the name of Mohammed’s father: Abdullah – “slave of Allah” (or “slave of the god”) as well as in a number of pre-Islamic inscriptions, even if little of this Allah’s original Judeo-Christian nature remained.
This may also have been an example of Henotheism, that is the belief in and worship of a single god whilst accepting the existence (or possible existence) of other deities that may also be worshipped. Were this the case, then “Allah” would be the creator-god and his daughters (Al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat) “demi-gods” or some form of “intermediates”. This latter fits with the “satanic verses” description of “Allah’s daughters” – see below.
Also at the time of Mohammed there was a monotheistic sect called the Sabians living in what is now Iraq. There confession of faith was “La ilaha ila-allah” (“There is no god but the god”). Mohammed and his followers were sometimes confused with the Sabians because of the Shahada, particularly if emphasis was given to the first phrase. The early Islamic scholar Abd al-Rahman Ibn Zayd wrote: “The polytheists [Meccans] used to say of the prophet and his companions, “These are the Sabians,” comparing them to them, because the Sabians who live Jaziartal-Mawsil (i.e., Iraq) would say “La ilaha ila Allah.””
Interestingly, it would appear that Mohammed co-opted this declaration as the first phrase of the Muslim declaration of faith, the “Shahada”, adding “Muhammadun rasûl-ullâh” (“Mohammed [is] messenger of god”) to it to assert his prophet-hood.
A second theory is that Allah was the “use-name” for the moon-god Hubal. In the Meccan pantheon, Hubal had three daughters Al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat (these are the goddesses of “satanic verses” fame – see K.53:19-22 for the “corrected” version) and there are also references to these deities as “the daughters of Allah”; thus it may well be that by the time of Mohammed Hubal had been morphed into the “supreme-creator-god” of the Meccan pantheon.
Note: the “satanic verses” original form was “Have ye thought upon al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat, the third, the other? These are the exalted cranes (intermediaries) Whose intercession is to be hoped for.” (53:19-22)
There is an interesting piece of evidence within ibn Ishaq’s biography of Mohammed (“The Life of Mohammed” trans. Guillame, Oxford Univ. Press) p. 67 …“When the man took the arrows to cast lots with them, ‘Abdul-Muttalib stood by Hubal praying to the god” [i.e. praying to “Allah”]. This implies the identity of Hubal and Allah especially given that Abdul-Muttalib was a pagan and ibn Ishaq was himself a Muslim and thus his choice of phrase “...praying to the god” rather than “…praying to that god” or “…that idol” can hardly be deemed accidental. The Muslim argument that Abdul-Muttalib was praying to the Islamic Allah not Hubal falls on the grounds that Abdul-Muttalib was a polytheist and thus not a worshiper of the Islamic monotheistic Allah, nor even a “Hanif” – a proto-Islamic monotheist.
In the Sahih, Ibn al-Musayyib has reported from his father that: “When Abu Talib approached death, Rasulullah [Mohammed] came to him and found Abdullah ibn Abu Umayyah and Abu Jahl in his company. Rasulullah said: O uncle, witness that there is no God but Allah, and thus enable me to plead for you with Him. Abu Talib answered: Would you forsake the religion of Abdu’l-Muttalib? Rasulullah repeated the request. Adamantly, Abu Talib kept repeating: True to the religion of Abdul-Muttalib! till he expired. Rasulullah said: But I shall continue to pray for your forgiveness as long as I am not prohibited to do so. It was then that Allah revealed the verse: “It is not permitted to the Prophet and believers to pray for forgiveness for the unbelievers.” (K.9:113) and referring to Abu Talib: “It is not you (Muhammad) that guides those whom you love to faith. But Allah will guide whomsoever He wills.” (K.28:56)” (Bukhari; Muslim; Ibn Maajah; Ibn Hibban)
This multiply recorded hadith shows that not only did Abu Talib, an acknowledged polytheist, die a polytheist, but that Abdul Muttalib was one also, since Abu Talib is refusing to forsake the (polytheistic) religion of Abdul Muttalib.
History also relates that Abdul-Muttalib died when Mohammed was eight (or ten) – many years before Mohammed started to preach Islam, thus from history alone Abdul-Muttalib could hardly be seen as praying to an Islamic Allah.
Thus by the time of Mohammed, the Meccan polytheists’ “Allah” was well known as the “Supreme Deity” and the other gods were either subordinate or regarded as “facets” of this god, even if the Meccans’ belief reflected little of Jewish or Christian thinking or, come to that, if it was merely the installation of Hubal as “the (chief) god”.
Thus Mohammed changed the Meccan ‘al-Ilah’ – “the (Supreme Creator) god” into ‘Allah’ – “The (only) God”.
Note: Thus it cannot be denied that “Allah” is a title used for god in all three Monotheistic religions. However, because they share a referent, this does not mean that the concepts of Deity are remotely the same. Further, despite much controversy, the argument that Allah = Hubaal (the moon god) is, in my opinion, on somewhat shaky ground – which is not to dismiss it out of hand, merely to state that I think it somewhat less plausible than the use of “Allah” as a use-name (equivalent to “The LORD” as used used by both Jews and Christians for YHWH) – but whether or not “Allah” was a “use name” for Hubaal, there is little doubt that “Allah” as a supreme-creator-god pre-dated Islam and was part of the Meccan Pantheon.
Evidence for this is found in the Koran itself. Surah 29, v.61-63, this Sura is considered to have been recited in Mecca, pre-Hijra. In it Mohammed is told to ask “them”(here the Meccans) a series of questions about who is the Creator and Provider (rain etc), to which “they will surely reply ‘Allah’ ”. The Koran then wonders why they don’t believe in Islam – the religion of Allah. Unless this is pure hyperbole, then “Allah” was the creator-god and, presumably, chief god of Mecca prior to Islam.
Surah 38, v5: “Has he made (all) the gods into One God? This is such an amazing thing!” hints at the same thing – all the gods “made over” into Allah.
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According to the Quranic Arabic Corpus, the word “mushrikoon” is derived from the triliteral root shin-ra-kaf which occurs 168 times in the Koran in eight different forms.
An important form of “shin-ra-kaf” is the noun-form “shirk”. This occurs five times in the Koran, 31:13, 34:22, 35:14, 35:40 and 46:4, the latter two in the root meaning of having a “share” in an attribute of Allah.
Shirk is the unforgivable sin in Islam.
In its verb-form “ashraka”, “to associate (partners)” – usually either explicitly or more often implicitly with Allah, occurs 71 times in the Koran. See for example 2:96, 3:64, 4:36, 6:19, 7:33, 9:31, 10:18.
“Mushrik” (associator), from which is derived both “Mushrikoon” (“associators”) and “Mushrikat” (the latter meaning a female “associator”) occurs 49 times. See for example 2:105, 2:135, 2:221, 3:67, 3:95, 6:14, 6:79.
As ever, its translation is variable depending on both translator and verse.
The word is variously translated as ‘idolator’ (A, E, P, SD), ‘polytheist’, (S, SI) ‘associator’ (I, Q, MA[he makes a phrase of it: “ascribe divinity to other beings”]), the term “associator” is a little opaque, but is a ‘shorthand’ for “one who associates others with Allah” – more on this later) and ‘pagan’ (M, Y).
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “pagan” as someone who “does not believe in Jehovah, Christ or Allah” and as a second meaning “a non-Christian”. If we assume the Islamic parallel in pagan, then for a Muslim ‘pagan’ means “non-Muslim”. If we take the wider definition then “pagan” would exclude Christians and Jews – but see below.
HK define Mushrikoon thus in 2:105: “Al-Mushrikoon (the disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah, idolaters, polytheists, pagans, etc.)” which is a “catch-all” definition in that no non-Muslim believes “in the Oneness of Allah”, or more accurately no non-Muslim believes this doctrinal position (which is central to Islamic Theological thinking) and this alone makes a person a non-Muslim, or pagan.
As previously described, one “class” of Mushrikoon was clearly the Meccan Polytheists who believed in other gods as well as Allah. Given that they were the original “associators” this lends further circumstantial weight to “Allah” being a pre-Islamic “supreme deity”.
A second potential class, though one which the Koran implicitly denies, is derived from Mohammed’s highly deficient and defective understanding of the Doctrine of the Trinity. (Perhaps I should not criticise him too much here, since this Doctrine is notoriously hard to grasp, never mind cogently explain, even for Christians). In the Christian ‘Trinity’ as misunderstood by Mohammed, the Christians worshipped “two other gods” Christ and Mary (see 5:116) besides Allah in a single “godhead” and thus they associated others with Allah and were Mushrikoon.
However, K2:105 specifically separates “people of the book” (Jews and Christians) from the “Mushrikoon”: “Neither those who disbelieve[Arabic: “kafaroo” – kaffir] among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) nor Al-Mushrikoon (the disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah, idolaters, polytheists, pagans, etc.)…” (Hilali-Khan).
Note: the “kaffirs amongst the peoples of the scripture” were those Jews and Christians who did not convert to Islam rather than “bad” Jews or Christians and that those who are “believers amongst …”, therefore, are converts to Islam.
Then again there is also this verse: K.9:30 (Arberry): “The Jews say, ‘Ezra is the Son of God’; the Christians say, ‘The Messiah is the Son of God.’ That is the utterance of their mouths, conforming with the unbelievers before them…”
This verse’s pertinence here is the claim that “The Jews say ‘Ezra is the Son of God.’…” Setting aside the fact that this is a blatant lie, it also means that the definition of “Mushrikoon” extends to Christians (with some justification) and the Jews (with no justification at all).
(It thus follows that the Koran is having it both ways! The “people of the book” are and are not “mushrikoon”. This is logically impossible.)
Implicit within the meaning of the word “Mushrikoon” is the implication of sin. Shirk is the association of anything with (or instead of) Allah in any way and (as said) it is Islam’s unforgivable sin. Mushrikoon are those who so associate. Therefore Mushrikoon have committed shirk by their association.
9:113 tells us that Mushrikoon are, indeed, “unforgivable”.
6:121 warns that for a Muslim to follow anything – even advice – that is not in accordance with the precepts of Islam makes you a “Mushrikoon”. This is an important verse in that it implies that any action that falls outside the bounds of Sharia – i.e. is illegal within Sharia – is “shirk” (technically “lesser shirk”) and you run the risk (at least) of making yourself a Mushrikoon. A further point here is that this must, logically, apply to all people. The fact that you are a “kaffir” means that you don’t follow Islam, but the fact that you don’t follow Islam means you have set “something” up as a “partner” with, or worse, in opposition to, Allah. Hence almost inevitably, any non-Muslim is an associator – a “Mushrik”, whether or not they have any belief. (I’ll let the reader ponder the Theology in this.)
Note: On this point it is important to remind the reader of the doctrines of “Tayseer” (“ease”) which allows any given prescription of Sharia/Islam to be set aside if it’s implementation is impossible or would cause trouble for the Muslims and that of “Darura (“necessity”) by which a Muslim, if s/he has no other recourse may use un-Islamic means to obtain a beneficial outcome. Implicit is the proviso that once conditions permit, those requirements that have been set aside will be reinstated.
I think this is why a number of Koran translators use the term ‘pagan’ and mean it in its narrow definition (“non-Muslims”) to translate Mushrikoon.
More generally then (following on from the above), “al-Mushrikoon” are considered to be sinful.
6:106 warns Muslims to “turn aside from the Mushrikoon” as does 15:94.
The start of Sura 9 declares that Muslims are free from all treaty obligations to Mushrikoon, except for those who have abided completely scrupulously by every “jot and tittle” of their treaty. Those must be fulfilled until their end, but then the Mushrikoon should be killed (9:5 “verse of the sword”), unless they are Jews or Christians and willing to accept dhimmitude, 9:29. Muslims are also told to be aware that Mushrikoon do not honour treaties and that in any breach of treaty it is a priori their fault. Thus Muslims are taught that Mushrikoon are untrustworthy and unreliable folk who deserve to be killed, unless they accept dhimmitude. The command to fight Mushrikoon is repeated in 9:36.
Note: Dhimmitude is the result of a non-Muslim accepting a Dhimmah (or “treaty of protection”) imposed by the Islamic authorities. As token of this the Dhimmi must pay the Jizya ( a head tax) and abide by strict conditions to ensure his/her safety, see the Pact of Umar. It should be pointed out that what the Dhimmi was primarily protected from was the surrounding Muslim population.
9:28 tells us that Mushrikoon are “najjis”, ritually unclean.
Several times Ibrahim (Abraham) is held up as an example of a “Hanif”, that is a monotheist who worshipped Allah. This meant that he was not a Mushrikoon. (See for example 2:135, 3:67, 3:95, 6:161, 16:120). Thus again we have the implication that anyone who does not worship Allah and follow Islam (now that it has been revealed) is a “Mushrikoon”. A similar implication is found with reference to Mohammed in 28:87, 30:31.
98:6 tells us that Mushrikoon “are the worst of creatures”.
Strictly a “Mushrik” is “one who associates others with Allah”. (Mushrik is the singular of the plural word “Mushrikoon”.)
Many translators extend this definition to cover all those who do not believe in Islam. The grounds for this are found in:
Extensions of the definition explicitly given in the Koran (Jews and Christians are made to be “associators” in 9:30).
Extensions made implicitly by the comparison of Abraham and Mohammed to “others”. This is essentially a negative definition in that it defines what a Mushrikoon is not and so, by implication, what one is: i.e. any non-Muslim. By this sort of definition even atheists and agnostics would fall into the category.
Thus, although the “Mushrikoon” were originally (mostly) the Meccan polytheists, the term was extended to cover almost all non-Muslims and thus it becomes an effective synonym for “kaffir”, who then take on the characteristics ascribed to “Mushrikoon” in the Koran.
The meaning of Mushrikoon implies within it a sinful, untrustworthy, unreliable nature and indeed Mushrikoon are declared “the worst of creatures” (98:6) and they are dirty, polluting, unclean people (9:28).
Muslims are told to “turn away” from Mushrikoon, (probably) both physically in the sense of keeping Mushriks “at arm’s length” societally and spiritually in the sense of not adopting any of their ways and/or beliefs.
Note that in this “turning away” from Mushrikoon we see the birth of the separatist nature of many Muslim communities in the West.
Mushrikoon are to be killed – unless they accept dhimmitude (9:5 and 9:36).
To put it in a sentence (but take a deep breath before trying to say it!): “the Mushrikoon” (or Kaffir) are unclean, dirty persons who are untrustworthy and deceitful sinners who dare to make something equally important (or more so) for themselves than Allah and for this unforgivable sin they justly deserve death (unless they accept dhimmitude) but if you can’t kill them, at least keep them at arm’s length and do not, under any circumstances, become like them in any way.”
According to the Quranic Arabic Corpus “Zalimoon” is derived from the triliteral root “za-la-mim”, which occurs 315 times in the Koran. The words derived from this root carry meanings of “wronged”, “wrong-doing”, “wrong-doers”, “injustice”, “oppression” and “darkness”.
The word “Zalimoon” (or “ththalimoon” in some Romanisations) is translated as: “evil-doers” (A), “wrong-doer” (HK, I, MA, P, SI), “unjust” (S), “harm and transgression” (Y), “transgressors” (E, M, SD), “wicked folk” (I), though translations vary according to context (Arberry is particularly consistent in his usage however).
What is significant is that the translators see “Zalimoon” as doers. They are not “wrong-thinkers” or “evil-sayers”; no, they are wrong or evil doers. Rather like “khufr” this evil or wrongness is practised and a choice (see, for example 14:42). It can be understood in two ways: firstly the evil/wrong/harm could be done to the Zalimoon themselves (e.g. 43:76) (they are “fitting” themselves for hell after all) and/or secondly it could be that this “harm” could be done to the Umma, the Muslim believers.
2:51 (and 2:92-95) extends the meaning to “polytheists” in conjunction with the story about the “golden calf” of the Israelites in Moses’ time, M calls this a “wicked transgression” in the first instance and “evil” in the second, SD use “causing harm” – again presumably to themselves – and in 2:95 SD use “harm-doers”. In this last the implication is, I think, that harm is done to the Umma by these Zalimoon who are identified (in these instances) as the Jews – who elsewhere are identified as the Muslims’ bitterest enemies. Indeed the Jews are the group most often identified as being amongst the Zalimoon in the Koran.
Another point to be made here (2:92-95) is that in these verses we have “Zalimoon” associated with “Mushrikoon” since the act of associating the calf with Allah (by worship of it) made the Israelites both Mushrikoon and Zalimoon. This is repeated in the passage centred on 7:148.
2:145 identifies Jews and Christians as “Zalimoon” (albeit by a negative inference), 5:51 does so in a positive statement. 5:72 defines Christians as Zalimoon.
2:193 (Irving): “Fight them until there is no more subversion [=”fitnah”, otherwise translated as “persecution”, “tumult and oppression”, “mischief”] and (all) religion belongs to God. If they stop, let there be no (more) hostility except toward wrongdoers [Zalimoon]”. This tells Muslims to fight against “zalimoon” because they are “oppressors” (E, M, Q, S, SI, Y), “wrong-doers” (I, MA, P), “evil-doers” (A), “harm-doers” (SD) (again I think SD mean harm-doers as “those that ‘injure’ or ‘oppress’ the Umma”), “the polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc.” (HK). Thus in this verse a majority of translators link the “Zalimoon” to oppressors of the Umma and the Zalimoon must, therefore, have war waged against them.
Note: “Mischief” in this context means rather more than the pranks of a naughty boy. It means something more along the lines of “stirring up trouble or doubt for the Umma” or “engaging in activities that are unlawful according to Sharia”, or “impeding a fully Sharia-compliant lifestyle” – this latter is quite important since this is considered “oppression” by Islam.
Note the significance of this verse: at first sight this verse is “a command to be hostile only towards ‘wrong-doers’” – but since, in essence, all non-Muslims are wrong-doers this verse may be understood to command hostility towards non-Muslims for simply refusing to be Muslim.
2:229. This verse is primarily about divorce (the requirement for a man to divorce a wife three times to make it legally binding), but it ends as follows (Kanz-ul-Eeman): “whoso transgresses the limits of Allah, then they are the oppressors [Zalimoon, or: wrongdoers (P, M, Q, Y), “unjust” (S), “evil-doers” (A, MA), “wrong-doers (i.e. unjust)” (SI – yes, it does get two meanings in), “harm doers” (SD).] The main point here (irrespective of the exact language) is that the “limits of Allah” are, ultimately, defined by Sharia law and that anyone (Muslim or not) who breaks Sharia law is therefore a “Zalimoon” as is someone who breaks a command of Allah (see 2:35, 7:19, 60:9). From previous arguments this will be any non-Muslim. A second point is the inference that anything that is not “Sharia-compliant” is (or can be) deemed “oppressive” to the Umma by Islam.
2:254 “...the unbelievers [kaffirs], they are the [Zalimoon].” This verse equates kaffirs to Zalimoon. The same equation is made in 2:258, 3:86, 3:127-128, 3:140 (this verse is a little opaque), 3:151, 4:75-76, and more obliquely in 6:33.
2:270 tells us that “the Zalimoon will have no helpers [ansarin]” and 2:271 speaks of charitable acts. Implicit here is a “do not help Zalimoon/Kaffirs” statement. Similarly 3:192 and several other verses, though the context in these is eschatological.
4:75 “And what is wrong with you that you fight not in the Cause of Allah, and for those…whose cry is: “Our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are the oppressors[al-Zalimi]” (HK, I, M, MA, P, S, SI,Y); or: “evil-doers” (A), “unjust” (E), “harm-doers” (SD)]. Although most translators render “zalimi” as “oppressors”, it is not unanimous and in general terms carries the same meanings as Zalimoon.
In 4:97, the same word “zalimi” is translated as “harming” (I), “wronging / wronged” (A, E, M, P, Q, SD), “unjust” (S), “sinning” (MA). This verse clearly shows that the “wronging” that “al-Zalimi” – Zalimoon – do is against themselves, as does 18:50, 43:76.
5:45 “… Those who do not judge by what God has sent down are wrongdoers[Zalimoon].” Here anyone who does not judge (live by) Sharia law is a “Zalimoon”. Thus being a Zalimoon carries with it an element of illegality and criminality. This is also implicit in 9:19, 9:23.
6:21 says that the “zalimina” make up lies about Allah, as does 6:33, 6:144, 11:18, One element of this “lying” is that Zalimoon think Mohammed is “bewitched” (e.g. 17:47, 25:8), another is that they deny the “signs” [ayat = proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, miracles, revelations, etc. – according to HK] of Allah (e.g. 6:33), This latter extends the meaning of Zalimoon to all non-Muslims, since were a non-Muslim to believe these “ayat” they would, logically enough, convert.
9:47-48 (Saheeh International): “Had they [hypocrites, in this case ‘half-hearted’ Muslims] gone forth [to the battle at Tobuk] with you, they would not have increased you except in confusion, and they would have been active among you, seeking (to cause) you fitnah (i.e., chaos and dissension). And among you are avid listeners to them. And Allah is Knowing of the wrongdoers [Zalimoon]. They had already desired dissension before and had upset matters for you…” This verse links two things: it links the “hypocrites” (in this instance “half-hearted” Muslims) to the Zalimoon and it also shows that the harm/wrong/evil done by Zalimoon can be done to the Umma. Thus this verse shows that both meanings (that Zalimoon “harm” both themselves and the Muslim Umma) are correct. The different translators use a variety of words to convey the same meaning.
14:22(Malik): “I [Satan] reject [kafaru] what you did before, that you associated [ashraktumūni] me with Allah. Certainly such wrongdoers [Zalimoon] will have painful punishment.” This verse links the “associators” (Mushrikoon) with Zalimoon explicitly. The same is found in 22:71,
17:99 links the Zalimoon to the act of Khufr: “but the Zalimoon refused (anything) except (acts of) disbelief [kufooran].” (My own rendition). Thus by definition the Zalimoon are Kaffirs. This link is also made in 18:29.
In 21:59 an idolator speaks of someone who destroyed idols as being “of the zalimoon”. Here a “Zalimoon” is clearly doing harm/evil/wrong to his host society, in a sort of “mirror image” to the way that non-Muslim Zalimoon inflict harm on the Umma.
23:28 (Hilali-Khan): “And when you have embarked on the ship [= the Ark, this is part of a Noah story], you and whoever is with you, then say: “All the praises and thanks be to Allah, Who has saved us from the people who are Zalimoon (i.e. oppressors, wrong-doers, polytheists, those who join others in worship with Allah, etc.).” In this verse praises are to be offered to Allah for saving “the faithful” from the Zalimoon, thus implying that the Zalimoon were harming the “faithful” and thus that Zalimoon harm the Umma. Similar attitudes are found in 28:21, 28:25, 66:11. SD translate Zalimoon in these cases as “harm doing nation” again implying harm done to the “faithful”. You will also note HK’s “catch all” definition of Zalimoon. In particular they make a specific equation of Zalimoon = Mushrikoon, as well as declaring Zalimoon to be “oppressors”.
On many occasions in the Koran the Zalimoon are placed in hell (e.g. 3:151, 5:29, 6:40, 6:93, 7:41, 9:109, 19:72, 21:29) and are cursed (e.g. 7:44, 11:18), unloved (e.g. 3:55, 3:57, 3:140, 42:40) and threatened with punishment (e.g. 8:25, 14:13, 25:7, 52,47, 76:31) by Allah and that they will be “done away with” or destroyed (e.g. 6:47, 10:39, 11:44, 14:13, 23:41, 28:40). They are also “losers” (e.g. 6:20, 6:135, 12:23, 28:37) and without guidance (e.g. 2:258, 3:86, 5:51, 6:144, 28:50, 62:5 )
The “Zalimoon” are “wrong-doers”. This doing is active, not passive and it is effective and harmful. It is a wilful act.
The“wrong” (or harm, or evil) is done both to the Zalimoon themselves, who ‘wrong’ themselves by not following Islam; and also against the Muslim Umma by spreading tumult, discord etc., and by “oppressing” Muslims (In this context “oppression” may be considered as anything that impedes an Islamic life, i.e. anything considered un-Islamic or unlawful under Sharia), so much so that, on occasion, Muslims need to be rescued from them.
Implicit in the term “Zalimoon” is an element of illegality and criminality, both in the physical and spiritual realms. In the physical realm those who “do not judge by what Allah has sent down”, ultimately Sharia, are Zalimoon (5:45) since, in the eyes of Islam their judgements are deemed “unjust” and thus “oppressive” to Muslims. In the spiritual realm Zalimoon are accused of making up lies about Allah, these “lies” include that they deny Allah’s “signs”. Logically, if one accepts “Allah’s signs”, one becomes Muslim. Therefore this “spiritual deceit” is (partly) that of refusing to accept Islam – the act of “khufr” which makes one a Kaffir. Thus kaffir are Zalimoon. This is made explicit in 17:99.
Note: Thus the relatively “benign” verse 2:193 “Fight them until there is no more subversion and (all) religion belongs to God. If they stop, let there be no (more) hostility except toward Zalimoon” which appears to limit hostility to “wrong-doers” actually extends this hostility to all Kaffir (or more accurately non-dhimmi ones) and also underpins the idea that if a dhimmi becomes a “wrong doer” (by breach of the dhimmah) then (active) hostility could and should resume (though some Sharia authorities permit the ex-dhimmi to repent, make amends and be “restored to his privileges” – such as keeping his head on his shoulders). I should further state that many Muslim authorities consider this verse abrogated by the far less elliptical “verse of the sword”, K9:5 and/or the “fighting verse” K.9:29.
Mushrikoon are identified as Zalimoon. Here an element of their wrong-doing is definitely Spiritual, linked to the fact that they “associate others” with Allah.
Thus we find that the descriptor “Zalimoon” is linked back to “Mushrikoon” and to “Kaffiroon” (this latter both directly and indirectly).
The Zalimoon also stand accused of spreading “fitnah” – variously rendered as “tumult”, “discord”, “sedition”, “persecution”, “oppression”; in fact anything that disturbs the peace and harmony of the Umma – i.e. anything “un-Islamic”, such as criticism of Islam.
This (assumed) attribute of the “Zalimoon” (that they act against the interests of the Umma) is one reason why Islam (in all four main Sunni as well as the Shi’a schools of Law) justifies the murder of apostates on the grounds that they are “treasonous”. This is particularly common in cases of apologia to the West on the grounds that we can all understand why a traitor should be punished. However, this carefully (and deliberately) overlooks the fact that in Islam the act of open apostasy itself is deemed treasonous to the Umma and deserving of death – a sort of “pre-emptive ‘justice’” on the grounds that if they are left alive they will act against the Umma because the Koran says they will.
Jews are frequently reviled as Zalimoon.
Zalimoon are to be fought against.
To put it in a sentence: the Zalimoon, aka Kaffirs, are active unjust criminal oppressors of the Umma, both physically and spiritually, who seek to spread dissent and discord with their lies about Islam within the body of the Umma and their refusal to abide by Islamic precepts and who should, therefore, be fought until they either accept Islam or Dhimitude.
Conclusion to part one.
In this part I’ve tackled the “big three” Kaffirs, Mushriks (Mushrikoon)and Zalims (Zalimoon).
Already we are starting to see a web-like inter-relationship between the words used to describe “classes” of non-believer. In practice what we are seeing is that these classes merge and totally overlap.
Thus, although “Zalimoon” are literally “wrongdoers”, we discover that all non-believers are “wrong-doers” in some way or other. For example, they “do wrong/harm” simply by not converting to Islam; in this case the “wrong-doing” is their rejection of the “signs” of Allah.
Similarly, although a “Mushrik” is “one who associates others with Allah”, to do this is wrong (Islamically speaking), thus Mushrikoon are, a priori, Zalimoon. Further, we find (again) that all non-believers are “Mushrikoon” since they are all deemed to have their “gods” who are thus set up alongside or – worse – in opposition to to Allah. Thus all non-believers are also Mushrikoon.
“Kaffir” is an umbrella term. It describes those who, through an act of will, practice “khufr” – the refusal to believe in Allah/Mohammed. Except for those who have never heard of Islam and (perhaps) children every person who has refused to believe is a Kaffir and also a Mushrik and a Zalim, with all the negative attributes of both in addition to the negative attributes of a Kaffir.
Note: I use the phrase “negative attributes of” because I know not of a single case in which Kaffirs, Mushrikoon or Zalimoon are described in a positive light in the Koran.