The ahadith are numerous, and based upon narrations in Bukhari and Muslim. The most famously recited of them is the one narrated by Abdullah Ibn Umar, The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

أَيُّمَا امْرِئٍ قَالَ لِأَخِيهِ يَا كَافِرُ فَقَدْ بَاءَ بِهَا أَحَدُهُمَا إِنْ كَانَ كَمَا قَالَ وَإِلَّا رَجَعَتْ عَلَيْهِ

“When a man calls his brother an unbeliever, it returns at least to one of them. Either the accused is as claimed, or the charge will return against the accuser.”

[Sahih al-Bukhari 5753, Agreed Upon]

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

إِذَا قَالَ الرَّجُلُ لِأَخِيهِ يَا كَافِرُ فَقَدْ بَاءَ بِهِ أَحَدُهُمَا

“When a man says to his brother: O disbeliever! Then it will return to at least one of them.” [Sahih al-Bukhari 5752]

Abu Dhar reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

لَا يَرْمِي رَجُلٌ رَجُلًا بِالْفُسُوقِ وَلَا يَرْمِيهِ بِالْكُفْرِ إِلَّا ارْتَدَّتْ عَلَيْهِ إِنْ لَمْ يَكُنْ صَاحِبُهُ كَذَلِكَ

“A man does not accuse another man of wickedness or unbelief except that it will return against him if his companion is innocent.” [Sahih al-Bukhari 5698]

Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud, said:

إِذَا قَالَ الرَّجُلُ لِصَاحِبِهِ‏ أَنْتَ عَدُوِّي فَقَدْ خَرَجَ أَحَدُهُمَا مِنَ الإِسْلاَمِ أَوْ بَرِئ مِنْ صَاحِبِهِ‏

“When a man says to his companion: You are my enemy! Then at least one of them has left Islam or his companion is innocent.” [al-Adab al-Mufrad 421 [Sahih]

The prevention of accusing another Muslim of disbelief is there to prevent unjustified violence. The commentary in Fathul-Bari, The Sharh (Explanation) of Sahih al-Bukhari, to this hadeeth states.

فَإِنَّ اسْتِبَاحَةَ دِمَاءِ الْمُصَلِّينَ الْمُقِرِّينَ بِالتَّوْحِيدِ خَطَأٌ وَالْخَطَأُ فِي تَرْكِ أَلْفِ كَافِرٍ فِي الْحَيَاةِ أَهْوَنُ مِنَ الْخَطَإِ فِي سَفْكِ دَمٍ لِمُسْلِمٍ وَاحِدٍ

“Verily, to permit the killing of someone worshiping upon monotheism is a serious mistake. The mistake of leaving a thousand unbelievers to go free is lesser than shedding the blood of a single Muslim.” [Fath ul-Bari 12/314]

Many scholars base these ahadith on the following ayat:

وَلَا تَلْمِزُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ وَلَا تَنَابَزُوا بِالْأَلْقَابِ

“Do not insult one another and do not call each other by offensive names.” [Al-Hujurat 49:11]

Ibn Abdul Barr comments on this verse, saying:

وَقَدْ قَالَ جَمَاعَةٌ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْعِلْمِ هُوَ قَوْلُ الرَّجُلِ لِأَخِيهِ يَا كَافِرُ يَا فَاسِقُ

“A group of scholars have said that offensive names are a man calling his brother an unbeliever or a wicked sinner.” [al-Tamhīd 17/21]

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

إِنَّ مَا أَتَخَوَّفُ عَلَيْكُمْ رَجُلٌ قَرَأَ الْقُرْآنَ حَتَّى رُئِيَتْ بَهْجَتُهُ عَلَيْهِ وَكَانَ رِدْئًا لِلإِسْلامِ غَيَّرَهُ إِلَى مَا شَاءَ الِلَّهِ فَانْسَلَخَ مِنْهُ وَنَبَذَهُ وَرَاءَ ظَهْرِهِ وَسَعَى عَلَى جَارِهِ بِالسَّيْفِ وَرَمَاهُ بِالشِّرْكِ

“Verily, I fear for you that a man will recite the Quran until his delight is seen and he is wicked for Islam and he changes to whatever Allah wills for him, such that it is stripped from him and he throws it behind his back, assaulting his neighbor with the sword and accusing him of idolatry.”

“I said, “O Prophet of Allah, which one is closer to idolatry? The accused or the accuser?”

The Messenger said:

بَلِ الرَّامِي

“Rather it is the accuser.” [Sahih Ibn Hibban 81’]

The caution we must have in this matter becomes all the more clear when we understand the important distinction between actions of kufr and a kafir/kuffar. A Muslim might commit an outward act of disbelief due to ignorance, yet Allah considers them to be believers. This is proven in the following tradition:

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

أَسْرَفَ رَجُلٌ عَلَى نَفْسِهِ فَلَمَّا حَضَرَهُ الْمَوْتُ أَوْصَى بَنِيهِ فَقَالَ إِذَا أَنَا مُتُّ فَأَحْرِقُونِي ثُمَّ اسْحَقُونِي ثُمَّ اذْرُونِي فِي الرِّيحِ فِي الْبَحْرِ فَوَاللَّهِ لَئِنْ قَدَرَ عَلَىَّ رَبِّي لَيُعَذِّبُنِي عَذَابًا مَا عَذَّبَهُ بِهِ أَحَدًا قَالَ فَفَعَلُوا ذَلِكَ بِهِ فَقَالَ لِلأَرْضِ أَدِّي مَا أَخَذْتِ فَإِذَا هُوَ قَائِمٌ فَقَالَ لَهُ مَا حَمَلَكَ عَلَى مَا صَنَعْتَ فَقَالَ خَشْيَتُكَ يَا رَبِّ أَوْ قَالَ مَخَافَتُكَ فَغَفَرَ لَهُ بِذَلِكَ

“A man had indulged himself in sin, so when death approached he enjoined his sons saying: If I die, then burn me, pulverize me, and scatter me to the winds over the sea, for by Allah, if He is able He will punish me in a way he has not punished anyone else. So they did that to him, and when he stood before his Lord, He said to him: What made you do that? The man said: Fear of You, My Lord. Allah then forgives the man because of that.” [Sahih Muslim 2756]

This man did not believe that Allah had the power to resurrect and judge him, a clear act of kufr according to the consensus of Muslim scholars. Yet, Allah pardoned this act of kufr due to the man’s honest ignorance. The man’s righteous fear of Allah, based upon his faith, outweighed the evident act of kufr.

Ibn Taymiyyah comments on this tradition, saying:

فَغَفَرَ لَهُ فَهَذَا رَجُلٌ شَكَّ فِي قُدْرَةِ اللَّهِ وَفِي إعَادَتِهِ إذَا ذُرِّيَ بَلْ اعْتَقَدَ أَنَّهُ لَا يُعَادُ وَهَذَا كُفْرٌ بِاتِّفَاقِ الْمُسْلِمِينَ لَكِنْ كَانَ جَاهِلًا لَا يَعْلَمُ ذَلِكَ وَكَانَ مُؤْمِنًا يَخَافُ اللَّهَ أَنْ يُعَاقِبَهُ فَغَفَرَ لَهُ بِذَلِكَ

“Allah forgave him. This man doubted the ability of Allah to resurrect him when he was turned to dust. Rather, he believed Allah could not resurrect him and this is unbelief by the consensus of the Muslims, but he was ignorant. He did not know that, and he was a believer who feared that Allah would punish Him and so Allah forgave him for that.” [Majmu’ Al-Fatawa 3/231]

Likewise, Ibn Al-Qayyim writes:

وَأَمَّا جَحْدُ ذَلِكَ جَهْلًا أَوْ تَأْوِيلًا يُعْذَرُ فِيهِ صَاحِبُهُ فَلَا يُكَفَّرُ صَاحِبُهُ بِهِ كَحَدِيثِ الَّذِي جَحَدَ قُدْرَةَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ وَأَمَرَ أَهْلَهُ أَنْ يَحْرِقُوهُ وَيَذْرُوهُ فِي الرِّيحِ وَمَعَ هَذَا فَقَدْ غَفَرَ اللَّهُ لَهُ وَرَحِمَهُ لِجَهْلِهِ إِذْ كَانَ ذَلِكَ الَّذِي فَعَلَهُ مَبْلَغَ عِلْمِهِ وَلَمْ يَجْحَدْ قُدْرَةَ اللَّهِ عَلَى إِعَادَتِهِ عِنَادًا أَوْ تَكْذِيبًا

“If one of these matters of faith is denied out of ignorance or misinterpretation, then he is excused and the one who did so does not become an unbeliever, as in the narration in which the man denied the power of Allah and he commanded his people to burn him and scatter his ashes in the wind. Despite this error, Allah forgave the man and had mercy upon him because of his ignorance. The knowledge about the power of Allah that had reached him was not denied out of stubbornness or an intention to lie.” [Madarij As-Salikeen 1/347]

A Muslim can only be considered an unbeliever when they declare themselves to be such, with clear actions opening their breasts to kufr.

Allah Says:

من كفر بالله من بعد إيمانه إلا من أكره وقلبه مطمئن بالإيمان ولكن من شرح بالكفر صدرا فعليهم غضب من الله ولهم عذاب عظيم

“Whoever disbelieves in Allah after his belief… except for one who is forced [to renounce his religion] while his heart is secure in faith. But those who [willingly] open their breasts to disbelief, upon them is wrath from Allah , and for them is a great punishment;”

[An-Nahl 16:106]

The key to the above ayat being, “THOSE WHO WILLINGLY OPEN THEIR BREASTS TO KUFR.” Meaning, they must either show their disbelief via clear cut actions and/or words. Without doubt, Rejecting that which brought them in to Islam in the first place.

Imam At-Tahawi writes in one of the most important work on Sunni creed:

وَلَا يَخْرُجُ الْعَبْدُ مِنَ الْإِيمَانِ إِلَّا بِجُحُودِ مَا أَدْخَلَهُ فِيهِ

“A person does not leave faith except by disavowing what brought him into it.” [Aqeedah At-Tahawiyyah]

Furthermore, Ash-Shawkani writes:

اعلم أن الحكم على الرجل المسلم بخروجه من دين الإسلام ودخوله في الكفر لا ينبغي لمسلم يؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر أن يقدم عليه إلا ببرهان أوضح من شمس النهار

“Know that with regard to the ruling upon a Muslim man for leaving Islam and entering into unbelief, it is not befitting for a Muslim who believes in Allah and the Last Day to apply it unless with a proof that is clearer than the light of day.” [Sayl Al-Jirar 1/978]

Shaikh al-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah states:

فلهذا كان أهل العلم والسنة لا يكفرون من خالفهم وإن كان ذلك المخالف يكفرهم لأن الكفر حكم شرعي فليس للإنسان أن يعاقب بمثله كمن كذب عليك وزنى بأهلك ليس لك أن تكذب عليه وتزني بأهله لأن الكذب والزنا حرام لحق الله تعالى وكذلك التكفير حق لله فلا يكفر إلا من كفره الله ورسوله

“The scholars and people of the Sunnah would not excommunicate those who opposed them even if their opponents declared them to be unbelievers, for the matter of unbelief is a legal judgment and a person may not punish with the like of it, such as if someone lies against you or commits adultery with your family it would not be permissible for you to lie against him or commit adultery with his family. Fornication and falsehood are unlawful by the right of Allah. Likewise, excommunication is the right of Allah, so we do not excommunicate anyone except those whom Allah and His Messenger have declared to be unbelievers.” [Ar-Radd ‘ala Al-Bakri 1/381]

The extreme Mu’atazila sect fabricated their doctrine of the “creation of the Quran”. Due to this fabricated belief, the Mu’atazila charged anyone that disagreed with their claim as a “Kafir’. Imam Ahmad was one of those that opposed them, and he as declared a Disbeliever. And though Imam Ahmad was tortured, imprisoned, mocked and declared an apostate, he did not accuse the Mu’atazila of Kufr. Instead, Imam Ahmad understood that most of them had good intentions, but they had misinterpreted the proofs. In some narrations it is said; “he prayed to Allah to forgive them”.

Ibn Taymiyyah writes:

فَالْإِمَامُ أَحْمَد رَحِمَهُ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى تَرَحَّمَ عَلَيْهِمْ وَاسْتَغْفَرَ لَهُمْ لِعِلْمِهِ بِأَنَّهُمْ لِمَنْ يُبَيِّنُ لَهُمْ أَنَّهُمْ مُكَذِّبُونَ لِلرَّسُولِ وَلَا جَاحِدُونَ لِمَا جَاءَ بِهِ وَلَكِنْ تَأَوَّلُوا فَأَخْطَئُوا وَقَلَّدُوا مَنْ قَالَ لَهُمْ ذَلِكَ

“Imam Ahmad, may Allah be pleased with him, prayed for mercy and forgiveness for his persecutors because he knew it was not clear to them that they were denying the Messenger and disputing what he had brought. Rather, they had a misinterpretation and they were mistaken and imitated those who told them that.” [Majmu’ Al-Fatawa 23/349]

The hadeeth is real, it is sahih, and excommunication is the biggest of burdens to carry on the day of judgment, when even the slightest of our mistakes will be weighed and judged.

Where does this leave us now?

Whether you follow the majority opinion where the hadith is taken literally; Meaning, the accuser becomes a murtad (apostate) if wrong.

Or whether you follow the minority opinion where the hadith is interpreted to mean that the burden of the accusation is as big as kufr, but not kufr that takes one out of the fold of Islam, which is then placed on the accuser.

Either of the two mean damnation and could lead one in to the fire, therefore either of the two understandings must be avoided, unless clear-cut kufr is presented and confirmed.

As for the opinion that as long as the accuser is doing ijtihad, he will get two rewards and if he is wrong he will get one reward, then this opinion is munkar, rejected, as excomunication is not a fiqhi issue but a an issue of the foundamentals & usul al-deen. Iman and Kufr do not fall under the premise of ijtihad. A person is either out or in, there is no grey area where a person is kind of a believer.

Advice to my younger self would be: “Stay inside your lane and cry over your sins public, and private.”

And Allah is the source of all strength and knowledge.

We ask Allah for guidance and blessing in the dunya and the akhira.

والله تعالى أعلم

وصلى اللهم وسلم وبارك على نبينا محمد وعلى آله وصحبه والتابعين

أخوك أبو ناص


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