Islam and the Quran

What is Kufr, Who is Kafir?

The Almighty God states the fact about the “kafir”:
As for those who ignore (God’s signs) -who commit kufr- it is all the same for them whether you warn them or not. They do not believe or trust.” (Al-Baqarah 2:6)
Let us see why any warning does not avail those who commit “kufr”, and why they are called “kafir”.
The word ‘kafir’ derives from the root ‘kufr’, and ‘kufr’ means ‘to cover’. ‘To cover’ is an act aiming not to show something. Those who cover something that is widely heard and known, such as the message of God’s Messenger, in fact, happen to ignore it. It is the same when somebody disregards a favor done to him. Such people are also called ‘kafir’, which means ‘ungrateful’ because what they do is ignoring the benefaction. Similarly, a bad action may also be covered up by pretending not to have noticed it. This is an act that would be done by a good person. That means, the thing covered/ignored can be good or bad; covering something good is a bad deed, and covering something bad is a good deed.
1. Ignoring the Good
 Those who cover up the nice and good things prevent them from being noticed. In Arabic, this is called ‘kufr’ or ‘kufran’. Many people do not like to acknowledge the good done to them. This is a bad deed. The Glorified God commands:
When distress seizes you in the sea, whoever you call for help disappears except God. When He brings you back safe to the land, you turn away. The human is ever ungrateful.” (Isra 17:67)

Surely God does not love anyone who is unfaithful, ungrateful.” (Al-Hajj 22:38)

A lot of people let themselves fall into such a situation. The worst of them are those who ignore God, His Messenger, and His Book. This is literally “kufr”. The Glorified God commands: “Surely We have set forth in this Qur’an every (kind of ) example for humankind. But most of the humankind put up resistance to everything but ignoring (them).” (Isra 17:89)
‘Kufr’, that is, ignoring the truth is a conscientious action; all those who ignore are aware of their own states. They know that they do not rely upon a strong basis. This is why they have to manipulate the truth whenever they need to defend themselves. The verses which expose the manipulations Iblis made are a good example of this:
And certainly We created you, then We gave you shape, then We said to the angels: Prostrate to Adam. So they prostrated except Iblis. He was not among those who prostrated.” (Al-A’raf 7:11)
At that moment, Iblis had disobeyed God’s command, but God did not punish him right away. Instead, He asked his reason not to comply with the command:
“God said: What held up you so that you didn’t prostrate when I commanded you?
Iblis said: I am better than he is: You have created me of fire, where You created him of mud.” (Al-A’raf 7:12)
 Iblis was displeased with the command of prostration in front of Adam. So, he ignored the fact that he was in fact opposing God, and pretended as if he was opposing Adam only. He was not as courageous as to admit that he opposed God directly because he knew that he owed everything to Him and that he himself (just like everything else) was created by God. These clues are hidden in the following words of Iblis:
I am better than he is. You have created me of fire, and You created him of mud.” (Sad 38:76)
 “I am not one that should prostrate before a mortal whom You created of shaped black mud.” (Al-Hijr 15:33)
He had disobeyed the command but when God questioned him about the reason for his disobedience, he could have thought over and repented. However, he manipulated the truth in order to justify his misdeed and persisted in ignoring God’s command arrogantly. It was only then, God called him a “kafir/ignorer”:
“When We said to the angels, “Prostrate to Adam!”, they thereupon prostrated, except for Iblees. He disdained (to comply with the command), acted arrogantly, and became of the kafir/ignorers.” (Al-Baqarah 2:34)
Iblis thus became a “kafir/ignorer”, although he hadn’t the slightest doubt related to the existence and oneness of God. He even acknowledged the existence of the afterworld:
My Master! Respite me until the day that they will be raised (from their graves).” (Sad 38:79)
Ignoring only one of God’s commands had sufficed to make Iblis a “kafir”. After this incident, he was called “Satan”. Humans are the same as Satan. They do not become “kafir” because they are unknowledgeable about God’s commands but because they knowingly and persistently disregard them.

The word “kufr”, thus, can be translated as “ignoring (the truth/God’s commands)”, “ungratefulness”, “disregarding (God’s commands)”, or “disown” depending on the context.

We hereby need to draw attention to one of the facts about traditional Islamic terminology. According to it, a “kafir” is “someone who does not believe in God or in the religion”, but Satan was none of these. He did very well believe in God and the hereafter, and he knew all the facts about worldly life and the afterlife. Yet, he persisted in ignoring God’s command and he acted arrogantly toward Him.
Adam had also disobeyed God’s command when he had eaten from the forbidden tree. However, he had admitted his mistake, turned around from his misdeed, and asked for forgiveness from God (Baqarah 2:37, A’raf 7/22-23). This is why he did not become a “kafir” but Iblis did.

2. Disregarding the Bad
Covering up and disregarding the bad and faulty things is a good action. God also covers them up. He commands:
If you avoid the major (sins) which you are forbidden from, We will cover up your (lesser) faults. We will admit you to an honorable place.” (An-Nisa 4:31)
And (as for) those who believe and do good deeds, We will cover up their evil deeds and We will reward them according to the best of their deeds. ” (Al-Ankaboot 29:7)
O, you who believe! If you refrain from doing wrong (in matters) regarding God, He creates in you discernment between true and falsehood. He covers up [1] your evil deeds and forgives you. God is the holder of enormous bounties.” (Al-Anfal 8:29)

[1] The Arabic word “kaffarna” translated as “covers up” is also of the root “kufr”. That verb form expresses abundance in covering. So, the Almighty God states in this verse that He covers up the bad deeds very often, and His forgiveness is vast.


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