Who is a Muslim?

Sorry, I haven’t gotten the time to write about why I think “Islam is defined by Muslims.” I have several unfinished posts on the topic lying among my drafts, but they will have to wait when I am less busy. For now, here is a related post about the necessity or otherwise of defining a Muslim by Arafat.

[T]here were three main strains of argument: 1) It is necessary to define a Muslim (preferably through a broad definition with minimal conditions) if at least for the sake of inclusion and preventing takfir. 2) It is necessary to define a Muslim, because people derive identity through membership in communities, and if Muslims form a community (ummah, local and/or global), it must naturally be defined (It seemed to me that this line of argument had certain communitarian tendencies […]). The proponent of this position insisted further that a definition “too broad” is problematic. 3) The third position, in opposition to the first two, was that this debate is practically useless, and likely even harmful: the effort to define necessarily excludes, and that is bad — not only because of the anti-takfir principle (you cannot judge another person’s Muslimness, since God alone decides), but also because we need to be open and welcoming towards everyone. The proponent of this position also maintains, that yes of course, there are normative criteria that make a Muslim, and which for instance we’ll teach our kids, but for the community to practically apply these is harmful and intolerant.

Do read Arafat’s post as he has a bunch of thoughts on this topic.

He also mentions the Murjiite school of thought in early Islam.

[Murji’ites] advocated the idea of “delayed judgement”. Only God can judge who is a true Muslim and who is not, and no one else can judge another as an infidel. Therefore, all Muslims should consider all other Muslims as true and faithfull believers, and look to Allah to judge everyone during the last judgment.

The opposite approach was taken by Kharijites, the original radical fundamentalists, who preferred a very strict and narrow definition of a Muslim and declare jihad against anyone they considered not to be a Muslim (i.e. anyone who committed a grave sin and they included almost everyone in that category).

While I think that we have to define Muslim as anyone who considers himself (or herself) one, there are a few caveats:

  1. This acceptance might or might not mean that the person is a Muslim in the eyes of God. So I am taking the Murjite position here by delaying judgment and staying away from takfir.
  2. On the other hand, the Murjite position and the reaction to the Kharijite violence resulted in giving a pass to the Umayyads as the Murjites (and the Muslim community in general) acquiesced to Umayyad rule. This position of accepting even unjust rulers has survived in some traditional schools of jurisprudence. While I understand the reasons why this arose as a result of civil wars and disturbances, I have to part company with the Murjites and hold the rulers responsible for their injustice. I would still delay judgment on their faith. However, I would hold them accountable for their deeds as rulers. This is probably a secular concept

There is also the issue of determinism as related to Murjite thought but that is a topic for another day.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. The basic is: “A person is Muslim if he says Shahadah.” To say Shahadah does not mean lip service but believing in what is contained in Shahadah. “Who really believes in it” is known only to Allah. So man, having no knowledge what is in other’s heart, cannot dub any person as Kafir till that person does some thing which is clearly given in Qur’aan qualifying a person as kafir / mushrik / munafiq.

  2. Ajmal, indeed. However, what is to do something that is clearly stated as something that will lead you to become a kafir?

    There is only one thing that can be done that God does not pardon in the afterlife and that is dieing while still placing other deities beside Him. At the same time a non Believer who previously did so and repented and accepted a belief in one God is pardoned…

    Every other issue that would lead one to acquiring the qualities of a kafir, or mushrik (for there are many levels of shirk and kufr), is pardonable and forgivable if repented from.

    Therefor one can say quite comfortably that a) we have not the right knowledge nor mandate to determine who is a kafir or not, not even based on what little information we know about acting in kufr or shirk.
    And b) like the Prophet pbuh himself said, we should be so busy in correcting ourselves that we do not take notice of other peoples faults…let alone matters of their inner most selves…

    A very interesting post!

  3. Salams
    There is a hadith that a person who doesn’t offer namaz regularly and is not repentent on it then his ending would be with ummayya bin khalf, pharoh and karoon.
    and there are hadiths that in the end times a group of people will make wine, music and silk halaal for themselves and once thet will be having a party by a mountainside and they will be struck by land slide and nothing will remain of them in the morning.
    Second one is from bukhari and first one is from another authentic book.
    Both these hadiths show that we have to know the halaal and haraam and important rituals to earn God’s salvation.

  4. post more post more!

    As for shahada, is it truly necessary (your school, of course) to be verbal (forthose who speak) and public? Point being: isn’t belief enough? Just curious, of course

    Some fascinating digression on the Murjiite point of view and the possible connection to acceptance of oppression… Hadn’t thought of it in that way before. though. Interesting

  5. Being Muslim: My First & Last Rant

    Over years I have come to learn and love the wisdom of my tradition, Al-Qur’an, Al-Sunnah fil nabiyy islam and the culture and dress. I have learned that a man and woman’s appearance tells a story about them. From our hairstyle or head-cove…

  6. How Do Muslims Pray?

    Let me tell you a little secret… I have been waiting nearly six months to make a post like this. I wanted to wait until readership for Wa Salaam was at a level where it could actually be of benefit. So where do we start?
    Well lets start with the …

  7. saad: The topic under discussion though is not what God would do on the Day of Judgment but rather can we, humans without complete knowledge, decide and classify Muslims.


    post more post more!

    Thanks. I’ll as soon as I can find some time.

    As for shahada, is it truly necessary (your school, of course) to be verbal (for those who speak) and public?

    I don’t think it has to be verbal or public, though I can think of situations in which a public declaration of faith would be useful as well as situations where it won’t be advisable (and we can find both sort of examples from history.)

    My school? There is no school, it’s just me!

  8. Muslim: And you are not?

    On a more serious note, while other Murjite positions were rejected by the later Asharites, their position on not rebelling against even unjust Muslim rulers was adopted by most Muslim jurists.

  9. An interesting debate on the problem of TAKFIR on this link. I also commented on it in particular with regard to the problems created by the declaration of Takfir – by 72 sects of Islam – against Qadiyanis/Ahmadis:


    It’s a lively debate. Create your account there and join in!

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