Are All non-Muslims Really Disbelievers?

22 January, 2017
Q Assalamualikum! I am firm believer that one Creator has created us and all other faculties of nature. I am not an atheist in any sense. Alhumdullilah, I am a Muslim, but lately I’m very disturbed with a few doubts and queries. What does a Muslim mean? The one who submits to the will of one God! Can this include non-Muslims of other monotheistic faiths? What’s a kafir? Is it a non-Muslim? Or one who doesn't submit to the will of one God? In the Quran in numerous verses, Allah says disbelievers are losers or they will be cast in hell. Who are these disbelievers? People of other faiths? What if they also believe in one God and believe that they will be accountable for their actions or are the disbelievers those who don’t believe in Islamic monotheism or its God? Why isn't Islam more flexible and friendly like there can be other ways of reaching the same one God like some other religions profess? Allah says in the noble Quran the He will not accept any other religion other than Islam, and disbelieving is losing in many verses of the Quran. God also says in one place in Quran that He’ll reward the good character and the Christians, Jews, and Sabian too … Does this include other religions? But on the contrary the verses related to the punishments of disbelievers are more and are explicit. I have read the Quran with translations and have figured the above stats. My non-Muslim friends read this and show me and I left dumbfounded as I cannot explain. I feel really hopeless. All I say to them is God is not unjust even a little, but again I am not satisfied with the answer I gave. I do not believe in Jew's exclusivity of chosen people nor Christianity's origin of sin concept nor theory of incarnations or rebirth of oriental religions. I don’t want my Islam, the religion of peace and mercy, to become any of these by differentiating Muslims and non-Muslims ... Sigh!! HELP!! I Have posted this similar question in various other scholarly platforms, but I get all vague, incomplete, and indirect answers! Jazakamullahu khairan.


Asalamu Alaikum Sadaf,

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.

InshaAllah, I shall try to answer your questions as sincerely and clearly as I can.

The Holy Quran uses the word “Islam” in three different senses:

1-One signifies the submission of the whole of creation to the Creator, as expressed in the following verse:

{[…] It is unto Him that whatever is in the heavens and on earth surrenders itself, willingly or unwillingly, since unto Him all must return?} (Quran 3:83)

The idea is: Whatever is in the heavens and on earth – whether an inanimate object, a moving animal or an intelligent, discerning human – must necessarily submit to Allah the Creator.

And His laws include the natural laws which all objects and beings must necessarily obey; and the moral laws which humans have the freedom to obey or not to obey; but they should willingly choose to obey for their own good.

Thus, the first category is the ‘Islam’ or the Submission of all objects and beings in the universe. From this point of view, everything that exists in the world is Muslim (i.e. submitting to Allah).

2-The second idea is expressed in the following verse:

{Say: “We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed to Moses and Jesus; and that which has been vouchsafed to all the [other] prophets by their Sustainer: we make no distinction between any of them. And it is unto Him that we surrender ourselves.”} (Quran 2:136)

The idea expressed in the above verse refers to the “Islam” of all the prophets of God who came before the Last Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him-PBUH), and of their true followers.

From this point of view, the true followers of Moses (Musa-PBUH) were Muslims. Similarly, the followers of Jesus (IsaPBUH) were also Muslims.

Thus, the second category is the “Islam” of all the prophets previous to the Last Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

3-The third category is the “Islam” that has been completed and perfected by the Last Prophet (PBUH). This Final and Perfect Religion taught through the Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad is known at present as Islam.

And today only the adherents of this religion are called Muslims. We read in the Quran the following verse: 

{The Religion before Allah is Islam (submission to His Will): Nor did the People of the Book dissent therefrom except through envy of each other, after knowledge had come to them. But if any deny the Signs of Allah, Allah is swift in calling to account.} (Quran 3:19)

The above verse indicates for instance, that the followers of Moses were Muslims so far as they obeyed the commandments of God given in the Torah, until the arrival of the next prophet who was foretold by Moses. This prophet was Jesus.

When Jesus appeared before the Jews of those days and claimed with evidence that he was the Messiah foretold by Moses (and other prophets as well), the Jews had an obligation to follow him.

With the exception of a minority, the Jews of Jesus’ land rejected him. And those Jews who opposed him through their perversity even after knowledge had come to them, were disbelievers; and certainly Allah would punish them.

Similarly, the Jews and Christians who refused to accept the Last Prophet whose arrival was foretold by Moses and Jesus, would also be considered disbelievers.

All the same, consider today a group of Jews who are completely ignorant of the Messiah Jesus, or a group of Christians who do not know the truth about the Last Prophet: and if these two groups sincerely follow the teachings of their respective prophet, they cannot be called disbelievers in the strict sense.

But if any of them has known about the next prophet, but refuses to listen to his call; he has turned away from the Guidance of God brought by that prophet and consequently becomes a disbeliever.

In the foregoing paragraphs, I have used the word ‘disbelievers’ in opposition to ‘Muslims’, following the general opinion of Muslim scholars.

But the Quran magnanimously calls the Jews and Christians Ahl al Kitab or People of the Book, as they claim to have their respective scriptures namely the Torah (Taurat) and the Gospel (Injeel), which contain original divine revelations.

The Arabic word kafir is normally used as the opposite of mu’min (believer). Kafir comes from the root word, ‘kafara’ meaning ‘to hide’ or ‘to conceal’.

It refers to a person who knows the truth, yet ignores the evidence or conceals it and turns away from it; or does not want to hear more, fearing it might undermine his present beliefs, or topple his status or fancies; and so decides to reject the truth to serve his narrow interests. Such is the mentality of a kafir.

Quranic scholars affirm that a non-Muslim may be called a kafir only if he rejects Islam after properly understanding it. Most non-Muslims, especially where Muslims are absent or few in number, do not have any clear idea about Islam.

It would be quite unjust to call them kuffar (plural form of kafir) in the sense of ‘deliberate rejecters of the truth of Islam’.  

Allah is All-Just and All-Merciful at the same time. On the Day of Judgment, Allah is perfect in his Justice and Mercy; and so no one who is true and sincere to his own self in the matter of his faith and deeds need be afraid, nor shall he grieve.

We cannot say of any person living today in what condition he will die and what his fare in the next life will be.

What we know about the afterlife is what the Quran has described generally about the believers and disbelievers. We can know only another person’s exterior, and the faith or sincerity of that person is an internal spiritual affair.

May Allah the All Merciful guide us to the truth!

Walaikum Asalam.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Did Islam Grow By Killing Non-Believers?

The Quran Tells Who the Believers Are

How Do Muslims Define a Kafir?

Is It OK to Believe in God But Not in Islam‏?

Defining Kafirs (Infidels)?