All praise is due to Allah. May Allah's peace and blessings be upon the seal of all the Prophets and Messengers, our master Muhammad, his family, Companions and upon those who follow in his guidance to the Day of Judgment.
The issues of Takfir (declaring Muslims disbelievers) and issuing fatwas on the permissibility of killing Muslims and fighting them are undoubtedly from among the most dangerous problems which our Islamic and Arabic Nation suffers from nowadays. In fact, our communities suffer terribly from such dreadful ordeal. We actually thought that those mukaffirun (those who give themselves the right to declare Muslims disbelievers) had actually got rid of such affliction and its destructive consequences since the 1990s of the last century, in Egypt and the other Muslim countries, by getting the true understanding of their religion. But, we were in surprise to see such affliction severely affects our country and disturbs all the Arab and Islamic countries, in Asia and Africa alike, by killing, destructing, bombing, assassinating the innocent and making the life of the people unbearable.
It is of deep grief, however, that these crimes are committed under the name of Islam and its pure Shari'ah, and that their destructive crimes are carried out with cries of tahlil (saying "la ilah ill Allah" or there is no God but Allah), takbir (saying "Allah Akbar" or Allah is great) and under the claim of practicing jihad and seeking martyrdom in the Cause of Allah; a matter that has been fully exploited by the Western Media to defame the image of Islam and present it to the World in the form a barbarous religion that is always thirst to shed bloods, kill the innocent and provoke violence, hatred and grudge among the different classes of its followers.
As a matter of fact, the phenomenon of declaring Muslims disbelievers and its consequent results including the legitimization of the sacred bloods are not new for the Islamic societies and so is its jurisprudence. All of us had actually studied the history of the Kharijites and its early emergence in the beginning of the Islamic State. We are also fully aware of how it slipped into this disaster as a result of its previous deviation in understanding the conceptions of theology and jurisprudence, that is, their confusion between the concept of belief in Allah as origin, and the concept of deeds as a branch; all of us are also fully aware of how this group i.e. the Kharijites had deviated the way when adhering to some phenomena, while turning away from other phenomena which are in contradiction to their own understanding of some Qur'anic texts.
We, as a matter of fact, cannot shed light on all the details of this topic as to its origin, reasons, development, theology, jurisprudence and content, however, it may be suitable to talk in brief about the re-emergence of the issue of Takfir, highlighting the deepest reason that offered the means for its re-emergence and the continuity of its destructive activity once again.
Examining the history of the issue of Takfir, we reached the conclusion that our communities, in Egypt and in the Arab and the Islamic World, did not know about the emergence of such groups legitimatizing the Takfir of the society, declaring it ignorant of the Divine guidance, and the necessity of emotional disunion among the members of one and the same society. This happened before the year 1967 of the last century. As well, we reached the conclusion that the new group of Takfir was originated in jails as a result to the policy of violence and severe torture adopted in punishing the youths of the Muslim Movements to the effect that when they i.e. youths were asked, at that time, to declare their support to the leader, the majority of them hastened to do that. As for the minority, they rejected this offer and considered the stance of their colleagues a failure on the side of religion and thus firmly adhered to their previous rejection to the extent that they used to perform prayers alone and declared their colleagues disbelievers because they gave support to a disbelieving ruler. In addition, they declared the whole members of the society disbelievers due to their loyalty to a disbelieving ruler. Furthermore, they held the position that the prayers and fasting offered by the members of the society are of no avail to the extent that they declared that those disbelievers, if they want to become believers once again, must join their group and give oath of allegiance to their Imam.2
This incident represents the first emergence of Jama't al-Takfir in 1967 C.E. after the Kharijites and the other esoteric sects became of the past. As such, the phenomenon of Takfir re-emerged at the hands of those youths who were not qualified either educationally or culturally to get the profound knowledge of Islam. In fact, their only tools were just enthusiasm and the extreme and sharp reactions. Accordingly, Takfir was the ideal and fastest means to express their bitter reality.
That is why it is believed that their judgments and conceptions were not the outcome of adequate understanding or even a guided thought; rather, they were a result of a circumstances full of coercion and pressures; a matter that causes some of the advocates of this movement to view the issue of Takfir in their thought i.e. the members of Jama't al-Takfir as "A Crisis in Thought", and not an original approach adopted by the Islamic Movement.3
On the other hand, others held the position that the emergence of Takfir in the modern age was not initiated by those youths, who- in the mid 1960s- declared the ruler and the whole members of the society disbelievers; it was, however, initiated in jails at the hands of another group called "Jam'at al-Muslmiin", later known as "Jam'at al-Takfir wa al-Hijra". This was in 1968 C.E. Later, other Islamic groups followed in the track of Jama't al-Takfir.
Leave aside now the reasons behind the emergence of the mukaffirun, jails and the violations that took place in them were undoubtedly the motives that pushed those youths forward to adopt corrupt and deviant ideologies. As a matter of fact, whoever examines the writings composed in the era when freedoms were confiscated- in the old and in the present-, will find a lot of ideas and opinions whose content and frame would have been changed if written in an atmosphere of freedom.
However, jails were not the very reason that caused the re-emergence of Takfir in our modern time. In truth, I believe that there is another main reason that stands aside and makes people feel easy about the Takfir of others, that is, the huge accumulated heritage that we may call "The Heritage of Extremism and Fanaticism in the Islamic Thought". In reality, this heritage, since inception, is deviant from the theologies of the Ummah and its members; it is, in a way or another, attributed to the heritage of the Kharijites whom the Prophet (PBUH)4 warned against and whom the crowds of the Ummah, in the past and in the present, rejected.
From my personal point of view, I believe that the main difference between the creed of the e mukaffirun and that of all the other members of the Ummah is evident in the relationship between deeds and the essence of Imaan (Belief) included by the scholars of theology under the topic of Imaan and Islam.
Even though the information I am going to tell you about now is not new, it is not taken into account by a lot of researchers and analysts who are concerned with that issue. As well, our nowadays condition necessitates it. It is taken for granted that Ahl al-Suunah wa al-Jam'aa hold the position that the essence of Imaan is to heartily believe in Allah, His Angels, His Scriptures, His Messengers, the Last Day, …as well as what has been mentioned in the other authentic Hadiths explicating the concept of Imaan by the heartily-decisive conviction. The prophet (PBUH), for his part, defined it, according to what has been narrated by al-Bukhari in his Sahih on the authority of Abu Hurayra who said that the Messenger of Allah had said, "(Imaan is to) believe in Allah, His Angels, His Scriptures, His Messengers and the Last Day." 5
As for the other acts of worship including prayers, fasting, pilgrimage and almsgiving as well as doing obligations and keeping away from prohibitions, they, according to the Prophetic definition, are not included in this essence of Imaan. In other words, these acts are conditions for perfection. They have a big role in the increasing and decreasing of disbelief. That is to say that in case these deeds were not performed, this does not mean that Imaan has been originally violated; rather, man is still a believer even though he does not perfect his acts of worship or even commits sins and acts of disobedience. As such, it is absolutely prohibited to declare him a disbeliever as long he still has belief in his heart, which is the essence of Imaan.
This point actually represents the demarcation between the belief of the followers of Ahlus Sunnah wa Jamaah and the Congregation including the Ash'arites and the Maturidis and the People of Hadith on one hand, and the others who hold the position that the essence of Imaan requires the performance of acts of worship to the effect that they are of the opinion that whoever commits a major sin is declared a disbeliever, and thus opens the door widely to the shedding of bloods and the spoiling of properties.
As well, it is the demarcation point between the creed of the majority and the Mu'tazilite group who are of the position that the doer of a major sin is neither a believer nor a disbeliever; rather, he occupies an intermediate position, and thus calls him a faaseq (a wicked person). Actually, the Sunni scholars did not accept this notion.
What I want to shed light on in this context is the fact that some of today's schools of law adopt an extremist approach as to the understanding of the concept of Imaan to the extent that they show blind adherence, through teaching, writings, compositions and satellite channels, to implanting in the minds of youths that the true doctrine is that which views Imaan as a mixture of conviction and work and that belief of the heart is not enough to achieve the true meaning of Imaan.
I wish if the holders of such extremist views would see them as just an opinion among many others or even a doctrine among many others; if this was actually the case, the situation would not be complex as it is today. But, they used to declare that their doctrine is the only true one and that the creed of the Ash'arites is deviant and does not express the essence of Islam. They hold this position even though more than 90% of Muslims in the east and the west are of the opinion that Imaan is the belief of heart and that acts of worship cause Imaan to increase or decrease, but they did not eliminate the roots of Imaan.
Now, I call, in my present essay, on building the awareness of the doctrine of the Ash'arites and the Maturirdis once again on that issue. I call to a doctrine upon which the majority of the Muslim Ummah throughout its long history had been brought up, that is, the doctrine that narrows down the circle of Takfir in such a way that it is only those who dare to deny one of the fundamental pillars of Imaan or what is known from religion by necessity would be decaled true disbelievers.
I call for a doctrine whose golden maxim states that none will render the believer a disbeliever except negating what one had previously believed in; a doctrine supported by the verses of the Qur'an which testify that the reality of Imaan is different from the reality of deeds. This is crystal clear in the fact that the Noble Qur'an had stated that the two items are different from each other although in conjunction. In this regard, Allah, in different positions in the Qur'an, says, "Indeed, those who have believed and done righteous deeds."
Also, it is stated in many verses of the Qur'an that even though the Muslim may commit sins and acts of disobedience, he is still a believer. Allah says, "And if two factions among the believers should fight, then make settlement between the two." (Q 49: 9). It is actually known that killing is one of the most serious of major sins, however, Allah called the two fighting parties believers.
As well, He, the Most Exalted, says, "[It is] just as when your Lord brought you out of your home [for the battle of Badr] in truth, while indeed, a party among the believers are unwilling. Arguing with you concerning the truth after it had become clear, as if they were being driven toward death while they were looking on." (Q 8: 5- 6). In the above-mentioned two verses, Allah, the Almighty, described the companions of the Prophet (PBUH) with two of the major sins- namely: unwilling to perform jihad with him (PBUH) and arguing with him (PBUH) although truth was evident for them; however, the Qur'an called them "A party from among the believers.
Proofs of the Qur'an also include the Sayings of Allah, "….. except for one who is forced [to renounce his religion] while his heart is secure in faith." (Q 16: 106); " O you who have believed, why do you say what you do not do? (2) Great is hatred in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not do." (Q. 61: 2- 3); and " O you who have believed, what is [the matter] with you that, when you are told to go forth in the cause of Allah, you adhere heavily to the earth?" (Q 9: 38). There are also other proofs that clearly address the wrong-doers as "O you who have believed." Accordingly, this is decisive evidence that the doer of the major sin is a believer and that it is not permissible to declare him a disbeliever except in case where he commits the major sin of polytheism and denied or negated what is know from religion by necessity. As such, he is to be declared a disbeliever because of his disbelief and denial.
This is the doctrine of the Ash'arites; this is the doctrine of the majority; it is a doctrine that shows the hope of people and the disobedient in the Forgiveness and Mercy of Allah; a matter that reflects the ease of that religion and its mercy upon its followers.
Upon reading the introduction to our Imam Abu al-Hassan al-Ash'ari's (may Allah be pleased with him) book entitled "Maqalaat al-Islamyyin", one gets astonished at the surprising Islamic tolerance shown by this honorable Imam. This was evident when he collected and gathered the essays, doctrines and differences among Muslims under the umbrella of Islam, calling them "Maqalaat al-Islamyyin wa Akhtelafaat al-Musallyyin."
The following passage is quoted from the introduction to his book where he said, "Following the (death) of the Prophet (PBUH), people differed concerning a lot of things; they accused each other of deviation and claimed no relations among each other to the effect that they became into different groups and fictions, however, Islam gathers them all under (its umbrella)."6 In truth, this passage by Imam al-Ash'ari should be adopted as an approach by scholars while examining the division and difference among Muslims today.
Actually, the doctrine of the Ash'arites has greatly participated in protecting the bloods of Muslims and preserving their properties and honors which the Prophet (PBUH) declared prohibited in his decisive saying, "The blood, honor and property of a Muslim is inviolable for another Muslim."7 This prohibition is also crystal clear in his (PBUH) speech to the People in the Farewell Sermon, "Verily your blood, your property and your honor are as sacred and inviolable as the sanctity of this day of yours …"8 It is also the same doctrine that has a balanced view towards man who frequently and naturally commits sins in as the Prophet (PBUH) states in his Hadith, " All the sons of Adam are sinners, but the best of sinners are those who repent often.”9
You know, upon examining the doctrines of the Ash'arites, that neither a man, nor an association, nor a group, nor an organization can claim the right as to the issue of Takfir; rather, it is a mere legal affair which is restricted to the narrowest part by the conditions and principles that must be provided (if one was to be declared a disbeliever). In addition, it is warded off by doubts. Furthermore, it is the task of judiciary and those in authority, and none hastened to it but the ignorant. In this context, the Proof of Islam Abu Hamed al-Ghazaali said, "To commit a mistake by not to declare one thousand disbelievers as such is not as grievous as shedding a drop of blood from a Muslim."10
As well, Imam Muhammad 'Abdu held the position that keeping away from Takfir is one of the fundamental principles of Islam, stating, "In case one says something which may, in one hundred aspects, indicate disbelief and may, in just one aspect, indicate belief; he is to be regarded a believer and it is not permissible to view him a disbeliever."11
Allah knows that I am not here to create division among Muslim scholars and al-Azhar, Allah forbids, was never the institution that provokes division among Muslims. Al-Azhar, since one thousand years ago, taught, and will still teach, the different jurisprudential subjects, theological topics and Islamic sciences. In fact, al-Azhar had defined its way from the very beginning by adopting the doctrine of Ahl al-Suunah wa al-Jam'aa, which is viewed by al-Azhar as the life boat for Muslims whenever they were disturbed by the affliction of division and fanaticism to one particular doctrine viewed by its holders as representing the truest meaning of Islam. Al-Azhar's way, in the past and in the present, is the same, that is, exerting the utmost efforts to gather and reunite the Muslim Ummah before all the afflictions and ordeals.
As a matter of fact, al-Azhar al-Sharif, which adopts the principle of "Reuniting the Ummah" and which does not adopt different stances as to those schools of law fighting waves of atheism, westernization and moral corruption, spares no effort in resisting the causal deviation in thought, which is rejected by the Muslim Ummah in the past and in the present.
In order to achieve this goal, we have no choice but to faithfully continue our efforts to reunite the Muslim scholars so as to face the dangers which threaten all, to achieve the interests of the Ummah and to ward off harms. Without such gathering, goals achieved will be unsatisfactory and not complying with what we hope for our Ummah in light of the current circumstances and conditions.
I, since the first day for assuming the office of al-Ahzar, decaled that the "Unity of the Ummah" is one of the essential objectives of the Shari'ah, and that holding one position by its scholars on the decisive issues is the only way to safeguard our interior security and our presence in the world, if not the peace of the whole World. Actually, what brings about a lot of questions is that my repeated and urgent initiative for the "Unity of the Ummah", the cooperation between its different schools of law and the interaction among its scholars falls on deaf ears in such a manner that does not bring hope of the ability of the Ummah to face its challenges; hope, which I ask Allah, the Almighty, to bring at your hands by your sincere work and the truthfulness of your good intentions.
According to our religion, our Ummah is the best of all nations and its proper position is to lead all other nations. It is in this context that al-Azhar al-Sharif opens the door widely for all in love, taking into account the different conditions of place and time and respecting the different opinions of scholars; al-Azhar, once again, calls for both the rulers and the subjects of the Ummah to adopt a middle course in understanding, conviction and work; course- to which the Qur'an and the Sunnah called for in order to protect the presence and the future of our Ummah , and, furthermore, in accordance with the Saying of Allah, the Almighty, "And thus we have made you a just community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you." (Q 2: 143). Sadaq Allah Al-'Azeem (True are the words of Allah, the Almighty.)
Jamada Al-Awwal 24, 1435 A.H.
March 25, 2014 C.E.
Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh.
1 Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayyeb is Al-Azhar Grand Imam. 2See Salem Ali Al-Bahnsawi, Al-Hukm wa Qadyyat al-Takfir (Cairo: Dar al-Ansar, 1397 A.H. / 1977 C.E.), pp. 24- 25. 3Sayyed Qutb wa al-Takfir: Azmat Fikr Am Mushkelat Qera'a, ed. Mu'tazz al-Khatib (Cairo: Madboli, 2009), p. 44. 4For example, Abu Said al-Khudari, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, "…. (There) will be some who will recite the Qur'an but the Qur'an will not reach beyond their throats (i.e. they will recite like parrots and will not understand it nor act on it), and they will renegade from the religion as an arrow goes through the game's body. They will kill the Muslims but will not disturb the idolaters." (Sahih al-Bukhari: 3344; Sahih Muslim 1064). 5Al-Bukhari, Sahih, Book of Imaan, chapter "The question of Jibreel to the Prophet (PBUH) about Imaan... / 50). 6 Imam al-Ash'ari, Maqalaat al-Islamyyin, pp. 1- 2. 7Muslim, Sahih, no. 2564. It is narrated on the authority of Abu Hurayra. 8An agreed upon Hadith. Al-Bukhari, no. 67; Muslim no. 1679. It is narrated in different positions in their Sahihs on the authority of Abu Bakrah, may Allah be pleased with him, and others. 9 Al-Tirmidhi, al-Jam'e, no. 2499; Ibn Majah, Sunnan, no. 4251. It is narrated on the authority of Anas ibn Malik. Al-Tirmidhi said, "Hadith Gharib". 10Al-Iqtisaad fi al-I'atiqaad (Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmyya, 1424 A.H. - 2004 C.E.), p. 135. 11Muahammad 'Abdu, Al-'Amaal al-Kaamela, ed. Muhammad 'Emaara (Cairo: Dar al-Sharouk, 1414 A.H. / 1993 C.E.), vol. 3, p. 302.