Takfir or takfeer (Arabic: تكفيرtakfīr) is a concept in Islamist discourse,[1] denoting excommunication, as one Muslim declaring another Muslim, or any individual, as a non-believer (kafir). The act which precipitates takfir is termed mukaffir. Contemporary formulation and usage of the term have their roots in the 20th-century Islamist theorist Sayyid Qutb's advocacy of takfirism (doctrine of excommunication) against the state or society deemed jahiliyah (state of ignorance and disbelief). According to Qutb, violence is required to be sanctioned against corrupt state leaders, on the premise that quietism is not the Islamic prescription against those deemed apostates. This position is widely held and applied by jihadist organizations to varying degrees. At the same time, the concept is opposed by religious establishment as an ostensible reason for violence.[1] They hold that excommunication against those who profess their Islamic faith is not sanctioned by Islam,[1] or an ill-founded takfir accusation is a major forbidden act (haram).[2]

It has to be noted that Shiraz Maher does specify that the major Salafi jihadi theoreticians like Abu Hamza al-Masri, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, Omar Abdel-Rahman and Abu Basir al-Tartusi ask to exercise caution while doing takfir, as declaring a Muslim unbeliever wrongly makes the one who accuses to himself get out of the religion.[3]

Authority and conditionsEdit

Legitimate authority and conditions that permit the issuance of takfir are major points of contention among Muslim scholars. In general, the official clergy considers that Islam does not sanction excommunication of Muslims who profess their Islamic faith and perform the ritual pillars of Islam.[1] This is due to takfir having major consequences of killing, confiscation of their property and denial of Islamic burial. Ulamas often raise objections by asking rhetorical questions of who holds the right to excommunicate others, on what religious criteria it should be based, and what level of specialized knowledge in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) is required for the qualification of authority.[1]

Some Muslims consider takfir 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).[4] 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. 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:

Sunni AshariEdit

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.


Murji'ah emerged as a theological school that was opposed to the Kharijites on questions related to early controversies regarding sin and definitions of what is a true Muslim.[5] As opposed to the Kharijites, Murjites advocated the idea of deferred judgement of peoples' belief. The word Murjiah itself means "one who postpones" in Arabic.[6] Murjite doctrine held that only God has the authority to judge who is a true Muslim and who is not, and that Muslims should consider all other Muslims as part of the community.[7] This theology promoted tolerance of Umayyads and converts to Islam who appeared half-hearted in their obedience.[8]


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.


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 practised by the first Caliph, Abu Bakr.[9] 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] Abu Bakr did not use the word kafir though.

Status of Jihad (English translation). A letter from Abu Mus'ab to Abu Mohammed relating a meeting with Abu Musab Zarqawi. The author and Zaraqawi agree that the Muslims fighting in Bosnia, Tajikistan, Chechnya, and Kashmir are polytheists and supporters of secular democracy, and that the Taliban are a front for Pakistan. Zarqawi tells Abu Mus’ab that he is accused of Takfir because of his views about the Muslims in Bosnia, Tajikistan, Chechnya, and Kashmir.

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.[citation needed]

Ibn Taymiyyah, the 14th century scholar followed by many modern Salafi, ruled that though Mongol invaders professed to be Muslims their enforcement of the Yasa law in place of Islamic Shariah "reversed their conversion, rendering the Mongols apostate."[10] 18th century revivalist Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab cited Ibn Taymiyyah in his preaching that many mainstream Muslim traditions (such as Sufism) as bid'a (innovation of the religion) caused self-professed Muslims to be unbelievers and his followers slew many Muslims for allegedly kufr practises.[10]

After 1950Edit

Takfir has become "a central ideology of militant groups" such as those in Egypt, "which reflect the ideas" of Sayyid Qutb, Abul A'la Maududi and others, according to the Oxford Islamic Studies Online website.[11] It is rejected by Islamic scholars and leaders such as Hasan al-Hudaybi (d. 1977) and Yusuf al-Qaradawi and by mainstream Muslims and Islamist groups.[11]

In PakistanEdit

Takfir has been used against the Ahmadiyya, who describe themselves as Muslims but who many Muslims and Islamic scholars believe reject the doctrine of Khatam an-Nabiyyin, i.e. the belief that Muhammad was the last and final Prophet and Messenger of God, after whom there can be no other Prophet or Messenger. In 1974 Pakistan amended its constitution to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslims. In 1984, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the then military ruler of Pakistan, issued Ordinance XX,[12][13] forbidding Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim. As a result, they are not allowed to profess the Islamic creed publicly or to call their places of worship mosques,[14] to worship in non-Ahmadi mosques or public prayer-rooms, to perform the Muslim call to prayer, to use the traditional Islamic greeting in public, to publicly quote from the Quran, to preach in public, to seek converts, or to produce, publish, and disseminate their religious materials.

Local ulama (Islamic scholars) have declared takfir on another group in Pakistan, the Zikri of Makran in Balochistan. The Zikri believe that Syed Muhammad Jaunpuri (born in 1443) was the Mahdi (redeemer) of Islam. In 1978 the ulama founded a movement (Tehrik Khatm-e-Nabuat) to have the Pakistan state declare the Zikris as non-Muslims, like the Ahmadis.[15]

Salman RushdieEdit

The case of Salman Rushdie provides an example of takfir that featured prominently in Western media. Rushdie went into hiding after Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989, officially declaring him a kafir who should be executed for his book The Satanic Verses, which is perceived[by whom?] to contain passages that draw into question the basis of Islam. Similar cases have occurred in Egypt: for example, Nasr Abu Zayd was accused[by whom?] of apostasy following his work on Islamic sources, describing the Qur'an as a historical document.[16]

GIA in AlgeriaEdit

During the Algerian Civil War of 1991-2002 the Islamist insurgent group the GIA (Armed Islamic Group of Algeria) under amir Antar Zouabri issued a manifesto in 1996 entitled The Sharp Sword, presenting Algerian society as resistant to jihad and lamented that the majority of Algerians had "forsaken religion and renounced the battle against its enemies". Zouabri at first took care to deny that the GIA had ever declared takfir on Algerian society itself.[17] But during the month of Ramadan (January–February 1997) hundreds of civilians were killed in massacres,[18] some with their throats cut. The massacres continued for months and culminated in August and September when hundreds of men women and children were killed in the villages of Rais, Bentalha and Beni Messous. Pregnant women were sliced open, children were hacked to pieces or dashed against walls, men's limbs were hacked off one by one, and, as the attackers retreated, they would kidnap young women to keep as sex slaves.[19] The GIA issued a communiqué signed by Zouabri claiming responsibility for the massacres and justifying them—in contradiction to his manifesto—by declaring impious (takfir) all those Algerians who had not joined its ranks.[20] While the GIA had been the "undisputed principal Islamist force" in Algeria two years earlier,[21] the slaughters drained it of popular support and led to the end of "organized jihad" in Algeria.[20] (The issue became complicated by evidence that security forces cooperated with the killers in preventing civilians from escaping, and may even have controlled the GIA.[20])


The constitution of Tunisia (passed after the Tunisian Revolution of 2011), criminalized takfir by placing a ban on fatwas that promote takfir.[22]

Islamic State of Iraq and the LevantEdit

The Islamic State has been heavily criticized for applying takfir to Muslims who oppose its rule.[23] According to journalist Graeme Wood in mid-2015,

Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks.[24]

The tendency of the group to target Shia Muslims with suicide bombings has been credited[by whom?] to the fact that the group considers them apostates.[25]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e Karawan, Ibrahim A. (1995). "Takfīr". In John L. Esposito. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ Brown, Michael (2010). Contending with Terrorism. p. 89.
  3. ^ Shiraz Maher, Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea, Penguin UK (2017), p. 75
  4. ^ Asif Iftikhar (March–April 1997). "Murder, Manslaughter and Terrorism -- All in the Name of Allah". 7 (s. 3–4). Al-Mawrid: Renaissance.com. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ Ibn Taymīyah, Abī al-ʻAbbās Taqī al-Dīn Aḥmad ibn ʻAbd al-Ḥalīm. "al-Fatāwá". Cite journal requires |journal= (help), 5: 555-556; 7: 195-205; 7: 223
  6. ^ Nigosian, Solomon Alexander (2004). Islam: Its History, Teaching, and Practices. Indiana University Press. pp. 59.
  7. ^ Isutzu, Concept of Belief, p. 55-56.
  8. ^ Isutzu, Concept of Belief, p. 55.
  9. ^ Abou El Fadl, Khaled (2005). The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. Harper San Francisco. pp. 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.
  10. ^ a b Stanley, Trevor. "Definition: Kufr - Kaffir - Takfir - Takfiri". Perspectives on World History and Current Events. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  11. ^ a b Compare: "Takfir". Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Retrieved 2016-08-09. Takfir[:] Pronouncement that someone is an unbeliever (kafir) and no longer Muslim. Takfir is used in the modern era for sanctioning violence against leaders of Islamic states who are deemed insufficiently religious. It has become a central ideology of militant groups such as those in Egypt, which reflect the ideas of Sayyid Qutb, Mawdudi, Ibn Taymiyyah, and Ibn Kathir. Mainstream Muslims and Islamist groups reject the concept as a doctrinal deviation. Leaders such as Hasan al-Hudaybi (d. 1977) and Yusuf al-Qaradawi reject takfir as un-Islamic and marked by bigotry and zealotry.
  12. ^ The presentation before the parliament: Khan, Naveeda. Mahzaharnama (PDF). Islam International Publications. ISBN 1-85372-386-X.
  13. ^ Khan, Naveeda. "Trespasses of the State: Ministering to Theological Dilemmas through the Copyright/Trademark" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-26. Sarai Reader 2005: Bare Acts. p. 178.
  14. ^ Heiner Bielefeldt: "Muslim Voices in the Human Rights Debate", Human rights quarterly, 1995 vol. 17 no. 4 p. 587.
  15. ^ Talbot, Ian (1998). Pakistan, a Modern History. NY: St.Martin's Press. pp. 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.
  16. ^ Susanne Olsson, "Apostasy in Egypt: contemporary cases of hisbah" i The Muslim World, Volym 98:1, 2008.
  17. ^ Al seif al battar, p.39-40
  18. ^ "Hundreds murdered in widespread Algeria attacks". cnn. January 6, 1998. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  19. ^ "World Report 1999. Human Rights Developments". Human Rights Watch. Archived from the original on 13 November 2008. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  20. ^ a b c Kepel, Jihad, 2002: p.272-3
  21. ^ Kepel, Jihad, 2002: p.265
  22. ^ Al-Haddad, Mohammad (2014-02-03). "Tunisia's New Constitution Criminalizes Takfir". Al-Monitor. Al-Monitor. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  23. ^ BARRETT, RICHARD (November 2014). THE ISLAMIC STATE (PDF). THE SOUFAN GROUP. p. 5. Retrieved 16 June 2016. The Islamic State claims religious legitimacy for its actions. This is based on an extreme salafist/takfiri interpretation of Islam that essentially means that anyone who opposes its rule is by definition either an apostate (murtad) or an infidel (kafir). Although much of the Muslim Middle East is salafist, takfirism is widely considered a step too far, and the absolutism of The Islamic State has already attracted criticism, even from ideologues who support al Qaeda.
  24. ^ WOOD, GRAEME. "What ISIS Really Wants". The Atlantic (March 2015). Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  25. ^ Compare: "Iraq violence: Islamic State attacks kill dozens". BBC News. 9 June 2016. Retrieved 16 June 2016. The Sunni jihadist group has frequently attacked security targets and Shia Muslims, whom it considers apostates.

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