In the light of the Quran a kafir is one who has rejected the truth after receiving God’s message with clarity out of arrogance.
Even after the truth has become
clear to them, many of the People of the Book wish they could turn you back to disbelief after you have believed, out of their selfish envy. Forgive and forbear until God gives his command: He has power over all things.
When a Scripture came to them from God confirming what they already had, and when they had been praying for victory against the disbelievers, even when there came to them something they knew [to be true],
they disbelieved in it: God rejects those who disbelieve. [2:89]
As for those who reject, it makes no difference whether you warn them or not: they will not believe [out of arrogance].
An incident mentioned in the Quran clarifies the point further*:
The Malaika (angels) enquired as to why God was to create a vicegerent (Khalifa) on the Earth that
would create mischief and cause much bloodshed (2:30). God explained this through a process of making the truth absolutely clear to them. He presented evidence of His wisdom by using Adam (peace be upon him) as an example and the knowledge that He taught him
(2:31 and 2:33). The Malaika (angels) accepted the argument and proclaimed God's perfection in knowledge and wisdom (2:32)
After this, the order to prostate was given which the Malaika (angels) accepted
It was only after the truth was first manifested by God and after which the Malaika had no reason to deny it, they accepted that only God knew best and prostrated upon order. It is interesting to note that
God did not instruct the Malaika to prostrate without first making the truth absolutely clear to them as to what He was about to do and to demonstrate the reason why - this is a very crucial point.
(Satan) refused (2:34) to submit. It is here God then informs that Iblis (Satan) entered a state of Kufr (disbelief). Satan's disbelief was not simply because he did not take up the order to prostrate (which in itself is unforgiveable given the circumstances),
it was accentuated by the fact that he refused out of pride to acknowledge the truth even though the truth had been clearly manifested to him.
And when We told the angels, "Prostrate yourselves before Adam!"
- they all prostrated themselves, save Iblis (a jinn), who refused and gloried in his arrogance: and thus he became one of those who deny the truth. [2:34]
So, it is incorrect from Quranic perspective to align any disbelief in God or the Message as entering a state of kufr or a kafir until clear proofs have been manifested to one. Iblis clearly acknowledged his Lord, he feared his
Lord, yet once he denied the truth after its clear manifestation and rejected God's order out of pride - became a kafir.*
It is as such, a kafir that will be condemned to the Hellfire.
And [so,] on the Day of Resurrection you will see all who invented lies about God [with] their faces darkened [by grief and ignominy]. Is not hell the [proper] abode for all who are given to false pride? [39:60]
If anyone opposes the Messenger, after guidance has been made clear to him, and follows a path other than that of the believers, We shall leave him on his chosen path- We shall burn him in Hell, an evil destination. [4:115]
These verses of the Quran qualify any condemnation of people of other ‘belief systems’. However, due to complexities of variables and faculties of the individual circumstances – only God can truly know who
is a Kafir condemned for Hell.
Call people to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and best advice, and reason with them, if you have to, in the most courteous manner: for your Lord knows best who strays
from His Way and He knows best who is rightly guided. [16:125]
*Even Idolaters are not necessarily kafir until the truth has been completely manifested to them. Indeed, mushrikeen can become
kafir upon denial once the truth has reached them, but they are not inherently kafir by virtue of them being idolaters.
And if anyone of the idolaters seeks thy protection (O Muhammad), then protect
him so that he may hear the Word of God, and afterward convey him to his place of safety. That is because they are a folk who know not.[9:6]
Thus, potentially a Hindu person who believes
in multiple Gods who has not received the clarity of arguments (given their faculties and circumstances) for them to change their ways ‘may / could be’ potentially in a better position in the sight of their Lord [God Almighty]
than one who has received the message with full clarity, has understood it and professes belief but yet sets up partners along with God or abandons belief.*
In other words, one professing belief or Islam may / could
be potentially in a worst position in the sight of Allah than one who has not received the message with full clarity, a polytheist or an agnostic.
People who arrogantly reject the truth do so in one of
the two ways:
They listen to the message, realise its truth, yet due to arrogance decide to reject it.
They listen to the message but due to their arrogance they are
in a state of indifference, to try to understand what the message is and therefore they find it apparently not convincing. (2:6)
Both the above are due to arrogance. Arrogance is what made Satan disobey God (2:34) and it
is also what sends a human being to hell. Hell in fact is the home for the arrogant (39:60).
Therefore what makes God condemn some people is not that they do not accept the message of His prophets per say, but that they
reject their message out of arrogance. This is also evident from the promise of the Almighty that no one will be wronged and misjudged in the hereafter.
The earth will shine with the light of its Lord; the Record
of Deeds will be laid open; the prophets and witnesses will be brought in. Fair judgement will be given between them: they will not be wronged[39:69]
Moreover, God impresses on both Muslims and non-Muslims
alike that the differences in their religion should make them vie with one another in doing good works; rather than lose themselves in hostility.
We sent to you [Muhammad] the Scripture with the truth, confirming
the Scriptures that came before it, and with final authority over them: so judge between them according to what God has sent down. Do not follow their whims, which deviate from the truth that has come to you. We have assigned a law and a path to each of
you. If God had so willed, He would have made you one community, but He wanted to test you through that which He has given you, so race to do good: you will all return to God and He will make clear to you the matters you differed
And Allah knows best.
See related article: Muslims and Non-Muslims Friend or Foe?
For Younger Readers
God teaches in the Quran, the holy book of Muslims that:
Only after understanding and knowing, then rejecting God’s message, makes a person a Kafir
God knows truly who is a Kafir
Not all non-Muslims are Kafir
- Only God knows who will go to Hell or Paradise