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The Dangers of Denial May 22, 2006

Posted by Rasheed Eldin in Concepts, Shari'ah.

Have you seen on the train how some seats are reserved between stations, and those seats have a little slip of card placed in them so they are kept vacant for the relevant ticket-holders? Well, someone showed me such a slip today and asked if I could explain the following declaration:

Penalty for unauthorised removal of this label: £200

Penalty for unauthorised occupation of this seat: £50

Surely the act of sitting in the seat is a more serious matter than just taking away the slip of paper, and would naturally incur the greater fine? I tried to think of the logic of the train company, and short of asking them, I can only guess. Here's my idea, and the relevance to the blog will become clear soon!

Sitting in the seat is a way of flouting the rule (i.e. not to occupy that seat), whereas removing the paper is an act of denying the rule, or pretending that it does not exist. The person who does that might actually sit down too, or else will pave the way to someone else to do so, unwittingly breaking the rule. I'm not sure about the train company's assessment of the demerits of these actions, but there is certainly an interesting parallel here with the Islamic concepts of sin and infidelity (kufr).

The Concept of Sin

To sin is to disobey Allah, and that is in one of two main ways: to neglect one of His commands, or to do something He has forbidden. Allah's commands and prohibitions are of varying levels, and sin is also of many levels (and often categorised broadly into major and minor). Committing sexual acts that are forbidden (including any sexual act with someone other than one's husband/wife) are among the most serious of sins, and some of them have severe (yet fair) punishments prescribed for them in the Qur'an and Sunnah.

Putting aside the somewhat complex issue of worldly punishments, what happens to a person when he sins? An intentional bad deed, whether or not it affects other people, is written down as a sin, and may earn Allah's punishment in the Hereafter, or even in this life. Sinning also affects the state of the believer's spiritual heart, which accrues a "black mark" each time. The heart is cleansed, and the record of bad deeds wiped, through repentance to Allah and His acceptance and mercy.

Because we commit sins, we are sinners, and this is due to our weakness. Unlike most Christians, Muslims do not believe in sin as a state of being (like "Original Sin"), but rather as something we fall into day and night, as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) stated: "Every child of Adam is a sinner; but the best of sinners are those who repent often." The term used here for "sinner" (khattaa') suggests one who makes mistakes often, not a belligerent transgressor. Not all humans are equal in the extent to which they are sinners.

The Difference Between a Fasiq and a Kafir

There are some people who have committed major sins without any effort to repent, and people who are continuously committing such major sins, such as drinking alcohol, engaging in illicit sex (including homosexual acts), or even missing prayers regularly out of laziness. We could describe such people as "fasiq" (though it is not encouraged to use such a term for the purpose of insult), meaning a Muslim who is indulging in serious sin.

It is important to emphasise that, while being a fasiq is something terrible indeed, it does not amount to kufr, i.e. departing from the fold of Islam. So the fasiq is still considered Muslim, despite whatever failures are observed in his practice of the religion and respect for its limits. The relevant example here is that people who commit homosexual acts, even as monstrous in the sight of Islam as sodomy (anal penetration), should not be declared as kafirs, i.e. non-Muslims. Even major sins (with the obvious exception of worshipping something other than God) are not tantamount to kufr.

So when can the actions of "gay Muslims" be considered kufr (explicit or implicit rejection of Islam)? This is a sensitive matter, and we should be careful neither to exaggerate, nor to rush to judgement of any individual. What we can state with confidence is that denying any clear prohibition expressed in the Qur'an or authenticated Sunnah is like denying any part of Allah's revelation, and that is like rejecting all of it – a person who does this has nullified his or her claim to be Muslim. The duty of the Muslims is to advise them of their error and urge them to repent; if they persist in their misguidance, then they are considered outside the fold of Islam until they turn back of their own will.

So as for those who declare the haram (forbidden) to be "halal" (permitted), saying that homosexual relationships are acceptable and that any sexual activity is fine as long as it is consensual, they are not only extremely wrong, but also committing an act of kufr if they understand what they are saying. It is not acceptable to hide behind "new interpretations" of the Qur'an, as though all scholars from the Companions until today have been on a mistaken consensus over a textual prohibition. If this "new interpretation" has any actual merit to it, then perhaps the "new interpreters" will have some sort of excuse on That Day; but those who twist Allah's revelations solely out of their worldly desires will face the severest punishment, and we seek refuge in Him from that.

Label-Snatchers Beware! 

I am not going to point the finger at all those people who are committing kufr by their actions, statements and beliefs. That is too difficult (and dangerous) to do, and far from being a real priority. Instead, here I busy myself with refuting their false claims and trying to bring out the sound, reasonable, established Islamic position, even if Muslim scholars have not done enough work in this particular field of study until now. I remind my readers that I am not a scholar myself, but merely a researcher who is keen to think for himself while trusting in the credentials of those who have earned them properly.

As for those people who have snatched away the Qur'anic injunctions against homosexuality, or obscured them so that honest but confused Muslims have fallen into these evil people's traps of desire and deviation, they will no longer be allowed to speak or write without being challenged.

And we ask Allah to help and guide us all.

Please see these related posts:

The role of the “scholars”  –  Gay + Muslim = Gay Muslim?



1. Yousef - May 22, 2006

Thanks for the interesting piece, inshallah people will read it carefully and pay attention to what is being said. As I understand it, this is for us to ponder upon in order to rectify our own selves in order not to fall into these traps and, hence, not fall into these categories.

I also wanted to stress one thing that you mentioned about not labeling others. These categories that you mentioned can only, wallahu alam (God knows best), be applied in an Islamic system context and WHEN NEEDED. It is, most definitely, not a charecteristic of a Muslim to go around and label people this and that but there are situations when living under an Islamic system when this would be requied (albeit rare situations). The example I wanted to give here was that the Prophet Mohammad Peace be upon him, was told who the munafiqeen (hypocrites) were amongst the Muslims but he refused to explicitly point them out to others. The Muslims woud only find out about them AFTER they die as the Prophet PBUH would not attend that munafiq’s funeral (as God has forbidden him to do so).
Allahu alam
God knows best

2. Rasheed Eldin - May 22, 2006

You're right, this is not about sticking labels on people – but it's about knowing the realities of the situation. There are Muslims who say: "You can be gay or Muslim but not both", i.e. that someone who "is gay" cannot be considered a Muslim.

The reality is more complex, as we would need to know what it means to "be gay" in that context:
– If it's about having same-sex attractions, then that's not even sinful in itself.
– If it's about practising homosexual acts, then the one who does it is a major sinner but not necessarily out of Islam.
– If it's about identifying as belonging to that "orientation", then this could be a less serious or more serious matter, and here I think the scholars need to clarify.

We are not in the business of easy-takfeer, but we need to be clear on the limits this religion sets for mankind.

I don't quite agree that people can only be described as fasiq or kafir within a system of Islamic governance: surely knowledgable people can do such, but as you said, only when necessary? I think it has some ramifications in Islamic life: for example, you would not pray behind a kafir, would you? It would also be unseemly to ask a fasiq to lead you in prayer.

3. Yousef - May 22, 2006

Point taken. But, interesting you should mention the issue of prayer, how many times have we prayed behind whoever was just at the mosque or at the prayer room etc. My point is that it’s practically impossible to do such a thing “here and now”. I do, however, believe that the scholars need to refute the statements that such people are making against islam and the “label” should only come when such people are actively leading others astray…and even then it’s a very difficult task.
Allahu a’lam

4. Rasheed Eldin - November 28, 2006

Imam at-Tahawi stated in his famous text of the Creed (al-‘Aqeedah at-Tahawiyyah):
Wa laa nukaffiru ahadan min ahlil-qiblati bi-dhanbin maa lam yastahillahu
“We do not consider any of the people of the Qiblah [i.e. who pray like us towards Makkah] to be an unbeliever because of a sin [he commits], as long as he does not consider it permitted.”

5. Rasheed Eldin - February 28, 2007

Just came across this in-depth article by Sheikh Nuh Keller, which I haven’t read yet but thought must be relevant:

“Iman, Kufr and Takfir”

6. Check your attitude « Eye on ‘Gay Muslims’ - July 14, 2009

[…] understand why, see The Dangers of Denial. NB: I changed the gloss in the square brackets because the author’s version (”to be […]

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