Foundation, NJ U. S. A
News Letter January 2006
the Message Continues ... 5/53
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Interfaith, not infidel
By Iftekhar Hai
IN my 15 years as an interfaith peace activist, I have been asked one question over and over again: Who are the "kafirs" — "infidels" — condemned in the Quran? Are they Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, atheists?"
The first few times I heard this question, I was floored. I hesitated. I stumbled, stammered and staggered, "Oh, they are not Christians or Jews. The Quran refers to them as 'People of the Book.'" One kind Episcopalian audience did not pressure me for a deeper answer, and I breathed a sigh of relief, happy to walk off that "Understanding Islam" lecture — though a lot more confused.
*Unacceptable answer *
In order to be declared a Muslim, one must say, "There is one God, and Mohammed is His messenger." I was always told by Islamic religious scholars that anyone who does not accept Mohammed is a kafir. But I could not accept that answer — I knew something was wrong.
All over the Quran, it says anyone who believes in God is a believer, and that people can take any messenger as an example to live their life. In my childhood, Father D'Souza of St. Joseph's High School in Bombay, India, had told me that Christians believe in God and emulate Jesus in their life. Yet for years, I could not find a single imam or Islamic religious scholar to sign on to a statement that, "It is not necessary for any believer in God to take Prophet Mohammed as His last messenger to be a believer."
*Seeking compromise *
I embarked on a decade-long research trip, asking Islamic scholars all over the world how one defines a kafir, in hopes of building bridges of understanding among religions.
We have concluded that the word "kafir" is derived from the Arabic root words kaf, fay and ray — "kufr" which means to cover, conceal or hide with the intention of misleading or misinforming. Just as sophisticated, premeditated perjury can become treason; a kafir can be considered someone who has committed treason against an overwhelmingly explained, omnipotent God.
The intentional deceit must be proven beyond doubt in order for someone to be classified as an infidel. Therefore, people who never had the opportunity to learn about God, and therefore remain ignorant, cannot rightfully be called kafirs.
Furthermore, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and other religious followers say, "I believe in God." So, it is not for any Muslim, scholar, imam or mullah to say that anyone who does not also take Prophet Mohammed as Messenger of God is a kafir. That decision rests only with God, the ultimate judge.
It is blasphemous to collectively accuse people of other faiths of being non-believers, infidels or kafirs. The largest Muslim organization on our continent, the Islamic Society of North America, has now taken that stand in writing.
These reforms are coming from Islamic scholars born or naturalized in the U.S. It is only a matter of time before they spread throughout the world.
( South City resident Iftekhar Hai is president of the United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance. He and three other local columnists take turns writing for Faith ).
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