"Kafir"
August 28, 2007 4:16 AM   Subscribe

In Islamic discourse, how harsh a pejorative is the term "kafir"? Is it necessarily a pejorative at all?
posted by stammer to Religion & Philosophy (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 


The neutral way of referring to non-Muslims is "non-Muslims," or "ghair muslimeen." Kafir doesn't actually just mean "disbeliever". It means "one who rejects the truth," so it contains not only the "non-Muslim" element, but is more like "non-Muslim and therefore misguided."

However, this doesn't necessarily imply hatred or even intolerance. There is a surah of the Qur'an called Al-Kafirun (the plural of kafir):

Say : O you kafirun!
I do not worship what you worship,
Nor do you worship what I worship.
And I will not worship what you worship,
Nor will you worship what I worship.
To you your Way, and to me mine.


So, when the word kafir is used to refer to a non-Muslim it is unflattering, in any degree from mild to severe. For one Muslim to refer to another as a kafir, though, is a severe insult, so much so that there are several hadiths indicating that if one Muslim falsely accuses another of kufr, the accuser himself is a kafir. Such as:

“If a man calls his Muslim brother kafir, it applies to one of the two.” (Bukhari)
posted by textilephile at 5:25 AM on August 28, 2007 [4 favorites]


what he said. anytime i have come across it in conversation, it's definitely a pejorative.
posted by spyke23 at 5:28 AM on August 28, 2007


For one Muslim to refer to another as a kafir, though, is a severe insult, so much so that there are several hadiths indicating that if one Muslim falsely accuses another of kufr, the accuser himself is a kafir.

And it used to be very rare, but takfir has become a common tactic among extremist Muslims, enabling them to get around the prohibition against killing fellow Muslims. Like so much else in extremist Islam, it goes back to the unpleasant medieval theologian Ibn Taymiyyah. You can read about takfir (with an explanation of related words like kufr 'unbelief' and kafir) here.
posted by languagehat at 7:03 AM on August 28, 2007


Don't say this word in South Africa (in the non-muslim context) at all, its considered a racial slur.
posted by Deep Dish at 9:56 AM on August 28, 2007


What Deep Dish said! (in spades) (I'm so sorry, couldn't resist). A friend has explained this to me. He seems to like the word. He's from a farming family. You can get the law on you for using that term here. (I am now very curious about the etiology of the word as used in Zud Afrika)
posted by Goofyy at 5:07 AM on August 29, 2007


Just a piggyback, but...

Does this word have anything to do with the "kafir" in "kafir lime leaves"? If so, is there a non-pejorative way to reference the leaves?
posted by ElectricBlue at 12:29 PM on August 29, 2007


The wikipedia entry gives a little more etymology of the word's use as a racial slur.

For ElectricBlue, Wikipedia also notes that the alternate term "makrut lime" can be used... though I've never heard it, personally.
posted by ITheCosmos at 6:03 PM on August 30, 2007


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