It has been suggested that this article be merged
) Proposed since January 2021.
) is a Muslim who commits takfir
, i.e. accuses another Muslim(s) of apostasy
, i.e. of not being a true Muslim(s),
potentially a cause of strife and violence in the Muslim community (ummah
), since the sharia
punishment for apostacy is death. Takfirism
has been called a "minority ideology" which "advocates the killing of other Muslims declared to be unbelievers".
In principle, in mainstream Sunni Islam, the only group authorised to declare a Muslim a kafir
(unbeliever) is the ulema
, and this is only done if all the prescribed legal precautions have been taken.
An ill-founded takfir accusation was a major forbidden act (haram
) in Islamic jurisprudence
Traditionally takfir was used against self-professed Muslims who denied a basic tenet of Islam. Groups like the Ahmadiyya
, have been called kafir
and been victims of takfir, by many Muslims because they are accused of denying the basic tenet of the Finality of Prophethood
In Islamic history, a sect originating in the 7th century known as Khawarij
carried out takfir and were a source of insurrection against the Caliphate for centuries. Since the last half of the 20th century, Takfir has also been used for "sanctioning violence against leaders of Islamic states"
who do not enforce sharia
(Islamic law) or are otherwise "deemed insufficiently religious". This application of takfir has become a "central ideology"
of insurgent Wahhabist
) who have drawn on the ideas of Sayyid Qutb
, Abul A'la Maududi
, Ibn Taymiyyah
, and Ibn Kathir
. The practice has been denounced as deviant by mainstream Muslims groups and by mainstream scholars such as Hasan al-Hudaybi
(d. 1977) and Yusuf al-Qaradawi
The accusation itself is called takfir
, derived from the word kafir
(unbeliever), and is described as when "one who is a Muslim is declared impure."
An apostate is a murtad
Issues and criticisms
Traditionally Muslims have agreed that someone born a Muslim or converting to Islam who rejects the faith is deserving of capital punishment, provided legal precautions have been taken (the accused being educated in their error, given a chance to repent, evaluated for mental soundness, etc.).
This is true in the case of a self-professed apostates, or "extreme, persistent and aggressive" proponents of religious innovation (bidʻah
). In modern times (from the 19th century on), liberal/modernist/reformist Muslims have complained that this capital punishment is a violation of the principle of no compulsion in religion, and only those guilty of treason should be executed. Revivalist and conservative Muslims see the punishment as a matter of obedience to sharia
and protection of the faith. Since the 20th century, capital punishment is seldom applied by the state in Muslim majority countries, but instead by "vigilantes" executing their "individual duty".
There is also agreement among Muslims in the case of takfiring
orthodox self-professed Muslims. All Muslims agree takfir is "so serious, and mistakes therein are so grave", great care is needed,
and that if the accused is actually a believing Muslim, then the act of accusing makes the accuser themself guilty of apostasy.
There is also a danger to the Muslim community (Ummah
) that if takfir is "used wrongly or unrestrainedly", retaliation could lead down a slippery slope of "discord and sedition" to mutual excommunication and "complete disaster." ISIL
, for example, tafiring not only Shia and Sufi Muslims
but rival insurgent groups (although they were also salafi jihadis) and all those who oppose it policy of enslaving Yazidis.
Islamists, Salafis, jihadis, takfirs, Khawarij The importance of takfir in modern Islamic insurgency and attacks on civilians is underscored by the fact that as of 2017 (according to Anthony Cordesman
and the CSIS
), "the overwhelming majority" of violent terrorist attacks had occurred in Muslim majority states and the "primary victims" of these attacks were Muslims.
Islamists, Salafis, jihadis, takfirs, and Khawarij are terms often used to describe insurgents. The groups often share similarities and sometimes overlap, but may also have important differences.
Studying the largest Arab country, Egypt, Elie Podeh distinguishes between three groups: conservative Islamists, "jihadi" Muslims and takfiri. All three see the government and society sadly lacking in piety and in need of Islamification and restoration of sharia law. Conservative Islamists do not support armed struggle against the secular government, jihadis and takfiri groups do, and invoke the concepts of jahiliyya,
(regression of Muslims to pre-Islamic ignorance) al-hakimiyya
(God's sovereignty), and al-takfir
(branding as apostate). However, (in Podeh's formulation) takfiri groups are more extreme, and for example, regard not just some Muslims but the whole of Egyptian society as kafir
, and consequently completely disengage from it. Podeh also points out that unlike jihadis, takfiri groups make no distinction between the regime and the ordinary population when employing violence.
Some, (Jacob Zenna, Zacharias Pier,
argue that takfir may serve as a sort of ingenious "legal loophole" for Islamist insurgents, allowing them to bypass the sharia injunction against imprisoning or killing fellow Muslims. Since it is very difficult to overthrow governments without killing their (self-proclaimed) Muslim rulers and officials or any Muslim opposing the Islamists, and since enforcing sharia is the insurgents raison d'être
, the prohibition against killing Muslims is a major impediment against taking power. But if the enemy can be made to be not Muslims but unbelievers claiming to be Muslims, the prohibition is turned into a religious obligation.
Takfiris have also been classified by some commentators as violent offshoots of the Salafi movement
. Though most Salafis oppose terrorism or violence within the Muslim community (ummah),
Takfiris condone acts of violence
as legitimate methods of achieving religious or political goals. Middle East expert Robert Baer
has written that
generally refers to a Wahabi Salafi who looks at the world in black-and-white; there are true believers and then there are nonbelievers, with no shades in between. A takfiri'
s mission is to re-create the Caliphate
according to a literal interpretation of the Qur'an
Takfiris also reject the traditional Muslim duty to obey one's legitimate rulers in all manners that do not contradict the Sharia, as sedition is viewed as a great danger to a nation. However, takfiris consider all political authority that does not abide by their interpretation of Islam to be illegitimate and therefore apostate; this view closely mirrors Qutb's views
As such, violence against such regimes is considered legitimate.
The term takfiri
was brought to a more public prominence by the BBC
investigative journalist Peter Taylor
in his 2005 BBC television series The New Al Qaeda
, a seventh-century offshoot Islamic sect that waged war against the Caliphate, are sometimes sited as the first practitioners of takfir. Opponents of the takfiris often view them as modern-day analogues of Khawarij.
Takfiri views on suicide
also differ significantly from those of orthodox Islam
. Among the Orthodox, suicide is a major sin, but Takfiris believe that one who deliberately kills himself whilst attempting to kill a religious enemy is a martyr
) and therefore goes straight to heaven
without having to wait for Judgement Day
. According to this doctrine, all sins
of the martyr are absolved when they die in martyrdom, allowing carte blanche
for the indiscriminate killing of non-combatants, for example.
In the "early times" of Islam, "charges of apostasy" were also "not unusual, and ... the terms 'unbeliever' and 'apostate' were commonly used in religious polemic"
in hopes of silencing the deviant and prodding the lax back to the straight path. Classical manuals of jurisprudence in Islam sometimes provided fairly detailed lists of practices and beliefs that would render a Muslim an apostate that went far beyond infractions of the basic tenets of Islam. For example, Madjma' al-Anhur
by Hanafi scholar Shaykhzadeh (d.1667 CE), declared such misdeeds as "to assert the createdness of the Quran
, to translate the Quran, ... to pay respect to non-Muslims, to celebrate Nowruz
the Iranian New Year", would make a Muslim an unbeliever.
Nonetheless those accused of apostasy were usually left "unmolested",
and in general executions for apostasy were "rare in Islamic history",
unless the violation was "extreme, persistent and aggressive".
According to researcher Trevor Stanley, the precedent "for the declaration of takfir against a leader" came from the medieval Islamic scholar Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyyah
(1263-1328 CE), who supported the Mamluks
in their jihad against the invading Central Asian Mongols
. After the Mongols converted to Islam, another cause was sought for the jihad against them. In his famous fatwa
, Ibn Taymiyyah reasoned that since the Mogols followed their traditional Yassa
law rather than Sharia
(Islamic law), they were not really Muslims,
and since non-Muslims who called themselves Muslims were apostates
, the Mongols should be killed. Ibn Taymiyya wrote that he "was among the strictest of people in forbidding that a specific person be accuse of unbelief, immorality or sin until proof from the Messenger[to this effect] has been established", yet he "regularly accused his opponents of outright unbelief and has become a source of inspiration to many Islamist and even takfiri movements."
The 18th-century Islamic revivalist Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab
and 20th-century Muslim authors Maulana Maududi
and Sayyid Qutb
have referred to Ibn Taymiyyah when condemning self-proclaimed Muslims as not being real Muslims. ibn Abd al-Wahhab condemned the practices of Shia
and other Muslims as bid'a
(innovation of the religion), and ibn Abd al-Wahhab's followers slew many Muslims for allegedly pagan (kufr
(In his books Risālah Aslu Dīn Al-Islām wa Qā’idatuhu
and Kashf ush-Shubuhaat
(Clarification Of The Doubts
), ibn Abdul-Wahhāb makes an explicit takfir of people who invoke or implore for help from dead people (such as the prophet and his family) or, in other words, intercede for themselves with God by seeking intercession from the prophet and his family.)
Colonial era and after
In the colonial and post-colonial Muslim world the influence and pressure of Western powers meant that not only was apostasy rare in practice, but that it was (contrary to shariah) abolished as a crime punishable by death in state statutes of law.
(The west also encouraged establishing laws giving equal rights to women and non-Muslims in violation of Sharia.) Some Muslims (such as the cleric 'Adb al-Qadir 'Awdah) responded by preaching that if the state would not kill apostates then it had "become a duty of individual Moslems" to do so, and gave advice on how to plead in court to avoid punishment after being arrested for such a murder.
, took an even more extreme line in his highly influential 1964 book Milestones
(Ma'alim fi al-Tariq
), argued that Islam was not just in need of revival but had actually been "extinct for a few centuries", having fallen back into a state of pagan
ignorance" known as jahiliyyah
after abandoning Shariah law.
To rectify the situation, "the organizations and authorities of the [irredeemably corrupt and evil] jahili
would have to be abolished by "physical power and Jihad",
by a "vanguard"
movement of true Muslims, holding itself apart from that Jahili
Takfir in late 20th and early 21st century
By the mid 1990s, one list of Qutb-inspired groups included al-Jihaad al-Islami, Takfir wal-Hijra, Jund Allah, al-Jihaad, Tanzim al-Faniyyah al-Askariyyah
—all of which were fighting violent insurgencies.
While Qutb declared that the Islamic world had "long ago vanished from existence" 
and that true Muslims would have to confront "arrogant, mischievous, criminal and degraded people" in the struggle to restore Islam,
he had not specifically stated that the self-professed Muslim "authorities of the jahili
system" were apostates (or whether they should all be killed)
— but his followers have.
, "jihad's main ideologist," (originally of al-Jihaad al-Islami
aka Egyptian Islamic Jihad
), and the current leader of al-Qaeda
, paid homage to Qutb in his book Knights under the Prophet's Banner
Al Qaeda is commonly described as seeking to overthrow the "apostate" regimes in the Middle East and replace them with "true" Islamic governments,
and having a "habit" of denouncing Muslims who didn't "accept a narrow interpretation" of Sunni Islam as "non-believers and legitimate targets."
In Qutb's home country of Egypt in the 1980s and 1990s many authorities of "the jahili system" were attacked and killed (along with non-Muslims such as tourists and Christians) by extremists.
In 1974, 100 members of the "Islamic Liberation Organization", led by one Salih Sirriya, stormed the armory of the Military Technical College in Cairo, seizing weapons and vehicles,
as part of a plan to kill President Anwar El Sadat
and other top Egyptian officials.
In 1977, the group Jama'at al-Muslimin
(known to the public as Takfir wal-Hijra
for its strategy of takfiring Muslim society and going into psychological hijra/exile from it), kidnapped and later killed an Islamic scholar and former Egyptian government minister Muhammad al-Dhahabi. The group's founder, Shukri Mustaf — who had been imprisoned with Sayyid Qutb
, and was now one of Qutb's "most radical" disciples
— believed that not only were the Egyptian President and his government officials apostates
, but so was "Egyptian society as a whole" because it was "not fighting the Egyptian government and had thus accepted rule by non-Muslims".
Hundreds of members of the group were arrested and Shukri Mustafa was executed but (according to journalist Robin Wright), the group reorganized with thousands of members.
Later its ex-members went on to help assassinate Anwar Sadat,
and be involved in the Algerian Civil War
In 1981, President Sadat
was successfully assassinated (along with six diplomats) by members of the Tanzim al-Jihad movement.
During the 1990s, a violent Islamic insurgency in Egypt, primarily perpetrated by Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya
, targeted police, government officials (but also civilians including tourists). In one particularly bloody year (1993), 1106 persons were killed or wounded, and "several senior police officials and their bodyguards were shot dead in daylight ambushes."
Algerian Civil War
But in addition to the authorities of the jahili system, civilians also were targeted. Unlike the scholars of classical Islam, extremists not only expanded the definition of what constituted an apostate, but enforced its penalty. Along with other traditional socio-economic-ethnic-military-personality factors of insurgency, takfir played a part in the bloodshed of extremist violence.
In the brutal 1991-2002 Algerian Civil War
between the Algerian Government and various Islamist rebel groups, takfir was known to be declared by the hardline Islamist GIA (Armed Islamic Group of Algeria
). Starting in April 1998, a series of massacres in villages or neighborhoods killed tens, and sometimes hundreds, of civilians without disregard to the age and sex of victims.
Although the government had infiltrated the insurgents and it is thought by many that security forces as well as Islamists were involved in massacres,
the GIA amir, Antar Zouabri claimed credit for two massacres (Rais
and Bentalha massacres
), calling the killings an "offering to God" and declaring impious the victims and all Algerians who had not joined its ranks.
He declared that "except for those who are with us, all others are apostates and deserving of death,"
Between 100,000 and 200,000 were ultimately killed in the war.
In August 1998 the Taliban insurgents slaughtered 8000 mostly Shia Hazara
non-combatants in Mazar-i-Sharif
, Afghanistan. The Taliban indicated revenge, or ethnic hatred may have been a motivation for the slaughter, but comments by Mullah Niazi, the Taliban commander of the attack and newly installed governor, also indicated that takfir
may also have been a motive. Niazi declared in a number of post-slaughter speeches from Mosques in Mazar-i-Sharif: "Hazaras are not Muslim, they are Shi’a. They are kofr [infidels]. The Hazaras killed our force here, and now we have to kill Hazaras. ... You either accept to be Muslims or leave Afghanistan. ...".
Ironically, the Taliban seemed to have backed off the "Hazaras are not Muslim" approach and were later denounced by the ISIS for their tolerance of Shia. The 13th issue of the ISIS magazine Dabiq
(19 January 2016) attacked the Taliban for "considering the Rāfidah
[a slur for Shia] to be their brothers and publicly denouncing those who target the Rāfidah:" Dabiq
quoted "Abdullāh al-Wazīr, the official correspondent of the nationalist Taliban media committee":
"The Shī’ah are Muslims ... Everyone who says there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger is a Muslim. The sects are many and Allah will decide between them on Judgment Day.
as evidence of Taliban wrongdoing.
Al Qaeda shared some of the takfir beliefs of ISIS, with, for example senior leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
denigrating Shi’a as "a religious school based on excess and falsehood", but al-Zawahiri (and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi)
also opposed attacks on Shia as a distraction from the more important goal of defeating the "far enemy", the United States. Attacks "on ordinary Shi’a, their mosques, and the mausoleum of their Imams" would "lift the burden from the Americans by diverting the mujahedeen to the Shi’a".
What did provoke it to takfir and "legitimize targeting" was the fighting by Muslim soldiers as the allies of the West against Muslims.
War in Iraq (2013–2017) and aftermath
From its inception in 2013 to 2021, directly or through affiliated groups, ISIS (also Daesh
or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
), "has been responsible for 27,947 terrorist deaths". The majority of these have been Muslims[Note 1]
"because it has regarded them as kafir".
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
, who founded Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad
in Iraq in 1999, is said to have turned "an insurgency against US troops" in Iraq "into a Shia–Sunni civil war
He saw himself as fighting not just the occupying United States military, but what he called "the sects of apostasy" (i.e. Shia Muslims).
In September 2005 he declared "all-out war" on Shi'ites
in Iraq after the Iraqi government offensive on insurgents in the Sunni town of Tal Afar
The 13th issue of the ISIS magazine Dabiq dedicates "dozens of pages" were devoted "to attacking and explaining the necessity of killing Shia", who the group refers to by the label Rafidah
Initiated by a sly Jew, [the Shia] are an apostate sect drowning in worship of the dead, cursing the best companions and wives of the Prophet, spreading doubt on the very basis of the religion (the Qur’ān and the Sunnah), defaming the very honor of the Prophet, and preferring their "twelve" imāms to the prophets and even to Allah! ...Thus, the Rāfidah are mushrik [polytheist] apostates who must be killed wherever they are to be found, until no Rāfidī walks on the face of earth, even if the jihād claimants despise such...
In addition to takfiring Shia, from about 2003 to 2006 al-Zarqawi expanded "the range of behavior" that could make large number of self-proclaimed Muslims apostates: including "in certain cases, selling alcohol or drugs, wearing Western clothes or shaving one's beard, voting in an election—even for a Muslim candidate—and being lax about calling other people apostates".
Yazidi women and children [are to be] divided according to the Shariah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations
... Enslaving the families of the kuffar
and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Koran and the narrations of the Prophet ... and thereby apostatizing from Islam.
Starting in 2013, the ISIL began "encouraging takfir of Muslims deemed insufficiently pure in regard of tawhid
(monotheism)". The Taliban were found "to be "a 'nationalist' movement, all too tolerant" of Shia.
In 2015 ISIL "pronounced Jabhat al-Nusrat
-- then al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria -- an apostate group."
One of ISIL's "most infamous large-scale killings" was the June 2014 Camp Speicher massacre
in Iraq, "when the group murdered more than 1,500 Shi’a army cadets in Tikrit
In a film made by ISIL about the Camp Speicher massacre, a narrator states: "All are apostates who have come from cities of apostates to kill Sunnis here, we have more than 2,000 of them."
Attacks on Sufis
Along with Shia, ISIL and to a lesser extent Al-Qaeda have takfired Sufi Muslims
, considering their the shrines and these living saints a violation of monotheism.
The deadliest attack by ISIL on Sufis, and "the worst terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history",
occurred on 24 November 2017, when approximately 40 gunmen attacked
the al-Rawda mosque
(associated with the Jaririya Sufi order)
Sinai during Friday prayers. 311 people were killed and at least 122 injured. While no group claimed responsibility for the attack,
the Islamic State
's Wilayat Sinai
branch was strongly suspected.
On 25 November, the Egyptian public prosecutor's office, citing interviews with survivors, said the attackers brandished the Islamic State flag
In an interview in the Islamic State magazine Rumiyah
(January 2017 issue five) an insurgent Islamic State commander condemned Sufi practices and identified the district where the attack occurred as one of three areas where Sufis live in Sinai that Islamic State intended to "eradicate."
Syrian civil war
Writing in 2014, Aaron Y. Zelin and Phillip Smyth argue that the combatants in the Syrian Civil War
have used sectarian language to "cast one another" as non-Muslims/infidels, dehumanizing the enemy and intensifying the bloodshed and mayhem. The Shia Hizbollah
, for example has succeeded in "tarred all shades of the opposition, and indeed sometimes all Sunnis", with the brush of "takfiri". The Sunnis and Shiites antagonism has spread from Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, so that "there have been incidents in Australia, Azerbaijan, Britain, and Egypt".
Well-known cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi
, often branded as "moderate," declared Nusayris
(aka Alawiyya) of Syria bigger infidels than even the Jews or Christians in a conference in June 2013 in Cairo (a conference that called for jihad in Syria and was attended by the Grand Imam of al-Azhar).
Indications that executions of the enemy may have religious motivation came from a October 2013 video clip
where Shiite Islamist fighters executed alleged captured Syrian rebels with the claim by one of the shooters that: "We are performing our taklif [religious order] and we are not seeking personal vengeance."
Boko Haram in Nigeria
According to researchers Jacob Zenna and Zacharias Pier, takfir has been a major part of the focus of Boko Haram
under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau
. "after 2010 ... Shekau, believed that jihad was obligatory"
and that not actively joining his jihad was tantamount to apostasy. This did not mean Shekau actively killed anyone after he announced jihad and renamed the group “JAS” in 2010. Rather, there was a “priority scale” with Christians, the government, and publicly anti-JAS Muslim preachers targeted first. This also meant any Muslims killed collaterally were not a concern since they were “guilty” for not having joined his jihad. ... [by] October 2010, ... assassinations targeting Muslim religious leaders, especially Salafists who opposed JAS’s religious interpretation, as well as civil servants, became an almost weekly occurrence in northeastern Nigeria. In addition to this, prisons, banks, churches and beer halls also were common targets of attack 
The policy led to a schism in the group, and after Shekau ordered an “urban invasion
” in Kano
in 2012 where "up to 200 people" were killed,
a splinter group "Ansaru" left, complaining of the excessive killing of Muslims.
Look up takfiri
in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
according to Jamileh Kadivar based on estimates from Global Terrorism Database, 2020; Herrera, 2019; Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights & United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Human Rights Office, 2014; Ibrahim, 2017; Obeidallah, 2014; 2015
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- ^ Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, p. 11
- ^ a b Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, p.55
- ^ Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, p.12
- ^ Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, p.101-103
- ^ Ahmad S. Moussalli, Radical Islamic Fundamentalism: the Ideological and Political Discourse of Sayyid Qutb, American University of Beirut, 1992, p. 244 al-Jihaad al-Islami, Jama'a al Jihaad, and al-Takfir wa al-Hijrah were Egyptian terrorist groups. There was a Jund Allah in Egypt (Ruthven, Malise, Islam in the World, Penguin, 1982, p.315) and Lebanon (mentioned in Radical Islam : Medieval Theology and Modern Politics, 1985 by Emmanuel Sivan).
- ^ Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, p.20
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- ^ a b "Al Qaeda's New Front" Frontline PBS News, 25 January 2005
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