Answer: We can call the present day non-Muslims kāfirs if
we take into consideration the fact that the Qur’an has used the word kāfir in
1. People who have denied the truth regardless of the fact
that this denial is deliberate or because of some other reason. Example of this
usage can be seen in the following verses of Sūrah Qāf, a Makkan sūrah:
ق وَالْقُرْآنِ الْمَجِيدِ بَلْ عَجِبُوا أَن جَاءهُمْ مُنذِرٌ
مِّنْهُمْ فَقَالَ الْكَافِرُونَ هَذَا شَيْءٌ عَجِيبٌ (٥٠:
This is Sūrah Qāf. By the glorious Qur’ān! In fact, they
were confounded by the fact that a warner from amongst themselves had come to
them. So these kāfirs had said: “It is a very strange thing.” (50:1-2)
2. People who have denied the truth deliberately and have
thereby become worthy of God’s punishment and condemnation. Example of this
usage can be seen in Sūrah Kāfirūn, a Madīnan sūrah:
قُلْ يَاأَيُّهَا الْكَافِرُونَ لَا أَعْبُدُ مَا تَعْبُدُونَ (١٠٧:
Say: “O Kāfirs! I shall worship not that which you
It is when used in the latter sense that the Qur’ān gives
many directives of punishment for them. When used in this sense, the alif lām of
‘ahad (specification) appended to the word kāfir points to this specific
category of non-Muslims. It is such non-Muslims against whom Muslims were
required to sever ties of friendship and not mutually receive inheritance and
asked to wage war. This category of non-Muslims comes into being in the time of
the messengers of God since only in their times their deliberate denial can be
ascertained through God.
If today we call non-Muslims kāfirs. then it has to be in
the first sense since we can never know after the termination of the institution
of wahī whether this denial is deliberate or due to some other reason. In other
words, if we use the word kāfir for them today, then we must realize that this
does not refer to a condemned kāfir; it only means the kāfirs who have rejected
Islam for any reason.
As far as the kāfirs of the time of the Companions were
concerned against whom they waged war, they belonged to the second category.
True they did not witness the itmām al-hujjah of the Prophet (sws); however,
they witnessed the result of the itmām al-hujjah in Arabia. About its initiation
in Arabia they had been informed through the epistles of the Prophet (sws).
Coming about of itmām al-hujjah in itself becomes an itmām al-hujjah for the
onlookers. When the sun comes out you do not need to substantiate its appearance
through reasoning. It is a witness on its own existence.
Thus when the Companions attacked the adjacent territories,
news of the beginning of itmām al-hujjah on Arabia had already been communicated
to their rulers through the letters of the Prophet (sws). As far as the masses
were concerned, they were to be spared the fate of being attacked if they had
questions or wanted clarification as was the case of the polytheists (mushrikūn)
in the times of the Prophet (sws).