Kafir is a word about which there is a misunderstanding not only among the non-Muslims but also in the Muslims. It is important to know the true meaning of this word because, in our society, people misunderstood many of the principles of Islam by understanding the misinterpretation of the word Kaafir. When the meaning of a word is misunderstood, the concept it will produce will be false or erroneous.
Arabic Root of the Word Kafir
The word ‘Kafir comes from the root KFR’ and the root has 525 cognates in the Quran. The most common cognate of the root KFR is the word ‘Kufr’, which has the literal meaning to hide, Ungrateful, Denier. However, the context of how it is used in the Qur’an generally determines its meaning, and this is what this article will attempt to show.
You may have never heard this interpretation of the word kafir, because as I have written before that even most Muslims do not know the true meaning of this word. The foremost reason for this is that a large number of Muslims do not know the Arabic language. Let us now see some evidence from the Qur’an and then decide whether the meaning of the word Kafir is – to hide, Ungrateful, Denier, or something else.
One Who Hide
In an Ayat of the Qur’an, the farmer is also called Kaafir, because the farmer hides the seeds in the earth for cultivation.
كَمَثَلِ غَيْثٍ أَعْجَبَ الْكُفَّارَ نَبَاتُهُ
Surah Hadeed (57:20)
…Here is a similitude: How rain and the growth which it brings forth, delight (the hearts of) the Farmers…
In this Ayat, the word Kuffar (Plural of Kafir) has taken the meaning of the farmer, because the farmer is the one who hides seeds in the earth.
Following is an idiom of the Arabic language:
کَالکَرمِ اِذ نادٰی من الکَافورِ
Meaning, as the grapes appear from the peel.
According to this Arabic idiom, the peel of the grape is called Kafir as the grape’s peel hides it.
The word Kafir has another meaning – ungrateful. Many Ayaat of the Qur’an proves that the meaning of the word Kafir is Ungrateful. Examples;
إِنَّا هَدَيْنَاهُ السَّبِيلَ إِمَّا شَاكِرًا وَإِمَّا كَفُورًا
Surah Insaan (76:3)
Indeed, We guided him to the way, be he grateful or be he ungrateful.
قالَ هٰذا مِن فَضلِ رَبّي لِيَبلُوَني أَأَشكُرُ أَم أَكفُرُ ۖ وَمَن شَكَرَ فَإِنَّما يَشكُرُ… لِنَفسِهِ ۖ وَمَن كَفَرَ فَإِنَّ رَبّي غَنِيٌّ كَريمٌ
Surah Naml (27:40)
…he said, “This is from the favor of my Lord to test me whether I will be grateful or ungrateful. And whoever is grateful – his gratitude is only for [the benefit of] himself. And whoever is ungrateful – then indeed, my Lord is Free of need and Generous.”
The question that arises is whose denial? Before knowing the answer to this question, it is important to understand that a person denies anything when that thing reaches him and also proven along. If Muslims claim that Islam is a religion of peace, have they proven that Islam is the religion of peace?
Is it fair for a Muslim to label someone as a Kaafir (a denier) without establishing the facts that Islam is Peace? Every person in the world wants peace, if anyone understands that there will be peace this way, why would he deny it?
These are the three meanings of Kafir – one who Hide, Ungrateful, Denier.
Are the two meanings of the word Kaafir that is one who hides and ungrateful not fit on today’s Muslims? You must be wondering how?
If according to the Qur’an and the Muslims, Islam is peaceful and we have not delivered this message to the people in such a way that they understand, then who is the one hiding the truth and peace?
If the Muslims believe that Islam is the greatest blessing on them from God, then who can do the most ungratefulness of this blessing?
There is a misconception in the whole world about the word Kaafir. One of the main reasons for this misconception is the behavior of Muslims and their distance from the Qur’an. And the other reason is the relying of non-Muslims on the half-baked knowledge about Islam.
Kaafir does not mean Hindu, Jew, or Christian, all these are people who are clearly defined in the Qur’an. But the word kafir is used in three meanings that is one who hides, Ungrateful, Denier.
The moral thing is that we should deny every bad thing and everything that guides us should be obeyed. Just as the Qur’an said that you become Kaafirs of the devil and believers in God.
لا إِكراهَ فِي الدّينِ ۖ قَد تَبَيَّنَ الرُّشدُ مِنَ الغَيِّ ۚ فَمَن يَكفُر بِالطّاغوتِ وَيُؤمِن بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ استَمسَكَ بِالعُروَةِ الوُثقىٰ لَا انفِصامَ لَها ۗ وَاللَّهُ سَميعٌ عَليمٌ
Surah Baqarah (2:256)
There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.