Unbelievers in the Qur’an

Unbelievers

This article is from The Qur’an: A Complete Revelation.

alladhīna kafarū – those who are indifferent to warning

The Traditionalist renders alladhīna kafarū as those who disbelieve and synonyms thereof. The subtext accompanying this definition is: those who reject the religion of Islam as defined by one of the various accepted schools of thought and who does not submit to the tenets, doctrines and dogmas of said schools of thought.

It is true that kafara means to reject or to deny (and I render it accordingly those cases where such a reading is not overridden, or clarified by a Qur’anic definition). I also admit that alladhīna kafarū in a true, pre-dogmatic sense means what the Traditionalist claims for it now – i.e. those who deny or those who disbelieve. The point I am making is that this collocation has a specific connotation which has been polluted, wearied or compromised by time, tradition and usage, and that the Qur’an contains within it the means to access that original connotation.

The Qur’anic definition then of alladhīna kafarū is clear and found at 2:6:

[alladhīna kafarū:] It is the same to them whether thou warnedst them or thou hast not warned them. (2:6)

On this basis, I render alladhīna kafarū as those who are indifferent to warning throughout.

The discrete compound alladhīna āmanu is identified as the opposite of alladhīna kafarū at 2:257 and is treated as such throughout (see below).

This rendering applies only to this collocation, i.e. those instances where alladhīna kafarū does not take an object (which is the form in which it occurs in the Qur’anic definition above). Where it takes an object, I assume the Qur’anic definition no longer to prevail over the default standard lexicon definition.

All instances in the text are footnoted.

References

2:6, 2:26, 2:39, 2:89, 2:105, 2:161, 2:171, 2:212, 2:257, 2:258, 3:10, 3:12, 3:55, 3:55, 3:56, 3:90, 3:91, 3:116, 3:127, 3:149, 3:151, 3:156, 3:178, 3:196, 4:42, 4:51, 4:76, 4:84, 4:101, 4:102, 4:167, 4:168, 5:3, 5:10, 5:36, 5:73, 5:78, 5:80, 5:86, 5:103, 5:110, 6:1, 6:7, 6:25, 7:66, 7:90, 8:12, 8:15, 8:30, 8:36, 8:36, 8:38, 8:50, 8:55, 8:59, 8:65, 8:73, 9:3, 9:26, 9:30, 9:37, 9:40, 9:40, 9:90, 10:4, 11:7, 11:27, 13:7, 13:27, 13:31, 13:32, 13:33, 13:43, 14:13, 15:2, 16:39, 16:84, 16:88, 18:56, 18:102, 19:37, 19:73, 21:30, 21:36, 21:39, 21:97, 22:19, 22:25, 22:55, 22:57, 22:72, 22:72, 23:24, 23:33, 24:39, 24:57, 25:4, 25:32, 27:67, 29:12, 30:16, 30:58, 32:29, 33:25, 34:3, 34:7, 34:31, 34:33, 34:43, 35:7, 35:26, 35:36, 36:47, 38:2, 38:27, 38:27, 39:71, 40:4, 40:6, 40:10, 41:26, 41:27, 41:29, 41:50, 45:31, 46:3, 46:7, 46:11, 46:20, 46:34, 47:1, 47:3, 47:4, 47:8, 47:12, 47:32, 47:34, 48:22, 48:25, 48:25, 48:26, 51:60, 52:42, 57:15, 57:19, 59:2, 59:11, 60:5, 64:5, 64:7, 64:10, 66:7, 66:10, 67:27, 68:51, 70:36, 74:31, 84:22, 85:19, 98:1, 98:6.

lā yu’minūn – they are lost in darkness

The Traditionalist renders this collocation as they do not believe or similar. The subtext to his reading is comparable to that for alladhīna kafarū above, namely: they reject the religion of Islam as defined by one of the various accepted schools of thought and do not submit to the tenets, doctrines and dogmas of said schools of thought.

As with kafara above, lā yu’minūn in a true, pre-dogmatic sense means what the Traditionalist claims for it now – i.e. they do not believe. Again, the point I am making is that this collocation has a specific connotation and that this meaning has been likewise polluted, wearied or compromised by time, tradition and usage, and that the Qur’an contains within it the means to access that original connotation.

The Qur’anic definition is clear and is found at 2:6-7.

[lā yu’minūn:] God has sealed for them their hearing and their hearts, and over their sight there is a covering. (2:6-7)

The sense central to the clause is that they are lost in darkness, which rightly describes those whose hearing, heart (intellect) and sight have been covered.

Again, the Traditionalist’s reading of they do not believe is not incorrect exactly, but the attendant subtext which he infers (i.e. they do not embrace the religion of Islam and observe all its nuances as defined by a man with a long beard) is entirely absent.

The reasoning here applies only to those instances above where lā yu’minūn does not take an object (which is the form in which it occurs in the Qur’anic definition). Where it takes an object, I assume the Qur’anic definition no longer to prevail over the default standard lexicon definition.

While I render after the accepted formula (i.e. as they do not believe) I include the Qur’anic usage discussed here in the footnotes.

All instances in the text are footnoted.

References

2:6, 2:100, 4:46, 4:65, 4:155, 6:12, 6:20, 6:109, 6:125, 7:27, 8:55, 10:33, 10:88, 10:96, 10:101, 11:17, 11:121, 13:1, 19:39, 21:30, 23:44, 36:7, 36:10, 40:59, 41:44, 43:88, 52:33, 84:20.

al kāfirūn – those who spurn guidance while claiming virtue

The Traditionalist’s reading here is disbelievers or infidels or similar. The subtext to his reading is the same as it is for alladhīna kafarū above, namely: those who reject the religion of Islam as defined by one of the various accepted schools of thought and who does not submit to the tenets, doctrines and dogmas of said schools of thought.

I repeat what I say about kafara (from which kāfirūn derives as the active participle) and agree that it means to reject or to deny. The point I am making is that this particular formula has a specific connotation which has been polluted, wearied or compromised by time, tradition and usage, and that the Qur’an contains within it the means to access that original connotation.

Of the terms defined in the first pages of al baqarah it is al kāfirūn which receives most extensive treatment. In my opinion, this is because this category of persons is the most pernicious and destructive.

Defining (al) kāfirūn as unbelievers, rejecters and infidels (in the connotation identified above) has helped maintain the cult known today as Islam, but it is patently wrong from the Qur’anic point of view.

Verses 2:8-20 together serve to define (al) kāfirūn – a point utterly missed by the Traditionalist. According to these verses al kāfirūn have the following characteristics:

  • they claim to believe in God when they are not among those who truly believe
  • they try to deceive both God and those who believe
  • they are themselves deceived
  • they are diseased in heart
  • they create corruption in the earth while failing to see that they do so
  • they have contempt for the faith of the generality of mankind
  • they claim to believe and side with those who believe in God but in fact side with the shayṭāns
  • they sell guidance for error
  • they are in darkness (the result of the failure of the ‘light’ of their own making)
  • the full power and majesty of true light puts them in fear of death
  • they are permitted to operate only by the grace of God, but fail to acknowledge their own dependence and vulnerability

We should bear in mind that such people are not ignorant of God’s laws; they have access to guidance and claim to follow it. Moreover, they are active in the world and create corruption, convinced that they are doing good. This is a far cry from unbelievers in the typical sense.

A full definition then of such people would be: those deceived and deceiving, who are diseased in heart and oblivious to the fact that what they create is corrupt, and who have contempt for the faith of the generality of mankind; while they claim to believe in God and do good works they side with the satans which fact blinds them to the full power and majesty of God; while they wander lost having traded guidance to buy error, they are ultimately powerless and dependent on God’s grace and utterly compassed about by God and his knowledge.

I have pruned this unwieldy definition down to: those who spurn guidance while claiming virtue and render accordingly throughout.

This rendering applies only to those instances above where (al) kāfirūn or (al) kāfir occur in the form in the definition. Where it takes an object I revert to a standard lexical definition.

This definition of (al) kāfirūn makes perfect sense in contexts where the Traditionalist’s assumed value either falls flat or is at odds with the sense, the context, or both.

The Traditionalist conflates his understanding of (al) kāfirūn with his understanding of alladhīna kafarū (for which he is likewise unaware of the Qur’anic value).

All instances in the text are footnoted.

References

2:19, 2:24, 2:34, 2:89, 2:90, 2:98, 2:104, 2:217, 2:191, 2:250, 2:254, 2:264, 2:286, 3:28, 3:32, 3:100, 3:131, 3:141, 3:147, 4:37, 4:101, 4:102, 4:139, 4:140, 4:141, 4:141, 4:144, 4:151, 4:151, 4:161, 5:44, 5:54, 5:67, 5:68, 64:2, 6:122, 6:130, 7:37, 7:50, 7:93, 7:101, 8:7, 8:14, 8:18, 9:2, 9:26, 9:32, 9:37, 9:49, 9:55, 9:85, 9:125, 10:2, 10:86, 11:42,12:87, 13:14, 13:35, 14:2, 16:27, 16:83, 16:107, 17:8, 18:100, 18:102, 19:83, 22:44, 23:117, 25:26, 25:52, 26:19, 27:43, 28:82, 28:86, 29:47, 29:54, 29:68, 30:45, 33:1, 33:8, 33:48, 33:64, 35:39, 35:39, 36:70, 38:4, 38:74, 39:32, 39:59, 39:71, 40:14, 40:25, 40:50, 40:74, 40:85, 42:26, 47:10, 47:11, 48:13, 50:2, 54:8, 58:4, 58:5, 61:8, 67:20, 67:28, 69:50, 70:2, 71:26, 74:10, 74:31,76:4, 86:17, 109:1.

About the Author Sam Gerrans

Sam Gerrans is an English writer and speaker with professional backgrounds in media, strategic communications, and technologies. He is driven by commitment to ultimate meaning, and focused on authentic approaches to revelation and Realpolitik. He is founder of Quranite.com and author of The Qur’an: A Complete Revelation where his consistent, Qur'an-centric hermeneutical methodology is applied to the text of the Qur’an in its entirety. Read more...

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