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Sticks and Drones May Break Our Bones, but Fitna Really Hurts Us
on February 18, 2013

Whenever someone calls his brother Muslim a kafir, one of them must be a kafir [either the one being accurately being called a kafir, or the one who falls into kufr, by inaccurately accusing his brother of being a kafir].”
– Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him

Fitna[1] is asleep; may God curse the one who awakens it.”
– Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him

“Takfir should be reserved for one who clearly falls into apostasy, states it openly, chooses it as his din, rejects the testimony of faith, and leaves the religion of Islam altogether.”
– Taqi al-Din al-Subki

“To deem a thousand disbelievers Muslim is safer with God than to deem one Muslim a disbeliever.”
– Imam Abu Hanifah

What is apostasy, and how does it differ from simple error? When a Muslim suspects a fellow Muslim of apostasy, how should he or she act? Recently, certain Muslims have been attempting to “expose” me as a deviant Muslim by highlighting mistakes I have made in my talks that are on the Internet. Some of these attempts[2] have been so ridiculous that I will not waste time refuting them. Nevertheless, they raise some important issues that I want to address: What is a proper response to error? And what should a Muslim do when accused of apostasy? In this essay, I will explain how I fell into one error, and I will apologize for it. I will also review the larger issues of kufr, takfir, and fitna, and their interrelations.

An Error and a Retraction

The error I wish to clear up concerns a statement I made some years ago while commenting on Imam al-Tahawi’s creed. In dealing with the section on the “seal” of prophecy in that text, I brought up the false interpretation of that concept used by the false prophet, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. In retrospect, perhaps I should have refrained from providing a detailed explanation. Instead, I ventured into a thorny area, based upon my understanding of the key figures of the Ahmadiyya movement, and in doing so, I made some statements that I am obliged to retract.

My error was in differentiating between the status of the two groups – the Lahoris and the Qadianis – of the Ahmadiyya movement, and stating that the Lahoris are not outside the fold of Islam. My understanding of this issue came from people I trust, not to mention Al-Azhar University’s approval of Muhammad Ali’s[3] Religion of Islam as well as his insistence in the introduction to his Qur’an translation that he was a Muslim who accepted the finality of the Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him. Though I clearly stated that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a false prophet and is considered outside the fold of Islam, as are his followers, and I warned people about reading Muhammad Ali’s books, I inappropriately commended his English translation of the Qur’an. I am certainly not the first Muslim to have done so, as some well-known scholars of the past have acknowledged the merit of Muhammad Ali’s translation, and some translators, including Yusuf Ali and Marmaduke Pickthall, not only relied heavily on it but also praised it. Regrettably, I was in error by doing so. Adherence to the sound principles of our Prophet, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, is our only salvation from error. According to a hadith, to praise deviants and innovators is to aid in the destruction of Islam. I seek refuge in God from that and ask forgiveness for anything done unwittingly to that disastrous end.

When the issue concerning the difference between the Lahoris and Qadianis was brought to my attention, I made several calls to scholars I know and trust, and received different opinions about the religious category under which the Lahoris fall. One prominent and well-known Pakistani scholar informed me that while there is a nuanced difference between the two groups, both, however, are equally anathematized in Pakistan. Another well-known American scholar of Islam informed me that he was under the same assumption as I based upon Al-Azhar’s certification of Muhammad Ali’s Religion of Islam. He stated that Al-Azhar would never certify an apostate’s work on Islam. Nevertheless, since that time, several fatwas and statements of various scholars I trust stating the contrary opinion have come to my attention and convinced me of my error.

Al-Azhar has ruled that both sects are outside of Islam, and I accept the ruling of the former rector and mufti, Shaykh Al-Azhar, Gad al-Haqq, may God have mercy on him. I am very cautious of takfir, but if a body as meticulous as Al-Azhar issues an official position about a group, we are obliged to concede to them. I have great respect for the balance and moderate tradition that Al-Azhar represents and know that they do not take takfir lightly. Hence, I defer such judgment to them, and retract my previous statement. As the saying goes, “The people of Mecca are more familiar with their mountain trails.”

For all these reasons, I request that my statements about the Lahoris be removed from the Internet, as I am not qualified to have an opinion about the matter and cannot make takfir of a group or individual on my own, as that is a judicial responsibility in Islam.

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