Watch Your Mouth: On the divisive vocabulary of the Muslim community

Ok, I am going to warn you straight up right now, this post is going to be a bit of a rant. So if you don’t want to hear a rant, I suggest you go read a happier post or just come back tomorrow.

What I am going to rant about today is how people in our communities seem to throw very strong words at others like they are tossing candy to spectators at a small-town parade. And the three words that tend to get my metaphorical goat the most are: kafir, munafiq, and haram.

Don’t get me wrong, all of these words are necessary, and distinctions that need to be made in our faith. But when they are used all day, every day, by anyone to describe any random person, they really start to grate on my nerves. 

Firstly: can we please, for the love of goodness, stop using “kafir” as some sort of super-negatively charged blanket term for any non-Muslim? As a convert, the first issue I have with this is the fact that I was one of those “kafirs” whom you are so quick to condemn, only two short years ago. And look at me now—I fast voluntary fasts, I wear jilbab, I pray all my five prayers, all the things you would expect a “good” Muslim to do. If there wasn’t someone out there who looked at me as a potential Muslim, instead of a dirty kafir, perhaps none of that would have ever happened. So how about a little perspective shift, people.

The second issue I have with using kafir as a blanket term for non-Muslims is on a linguistic level with the word itself; for one, it has a very negative and slightly derogatory connotation, especially in the way I often hear it used. Secondly, it doesn’t even apply correctly to half the people you are using it for. There are so many different levels and types of non-Muslims, you cannot possibly just give every single person one label.

For instance: my mom is not a kafir. And if you call her a kafir, especially in a derogatory way, I am probably not going to talk to you any more. A kafir is someone who is willfully disobeying God, with knowledge of what they do. Another connotation of the word itself is prideful, arrogant, and ungrateful. They are purposely denying the truth.

My mother just happens to have been born and raised a Christian. She is not actively rejecting Islam. So, my mom fits far more closely into the Ahl al-Kitab, or People of the Book, category (bonus points for her: she totally believes Jesus (as) was a prophet and not the son of God). And if you read many of the passages of the Qur’an regarding People of the Book, it speaks of the good to be found among them, and the respect they deserve on the common grounds of our shared belief in One God, His Scriptures and His Prophets.

The second word I have a massive issue with is the word munafiq, or hypocrite. I agree that one can be called a hypocrite in worldly things if their actions do not match up with their words/preaching. But I really think that people need to stop throwing around the term munafiq for any person (especially public figures like politicians, imams, scholars etc.) who holds an opinion different from theirs. A munafiq is someone who practices Islam in public, or tells you they are a believer, while in private they disbelieve and they side with others against the Muslims.

So if someone is giving you salaam, professing the shahada, praying five times a day, etc., but their wife doesn’t wear a hijab, that does not mean you get to pass the judgement on whether or not they are true believers. It does not mean that you get to tell everybody what a big “munafiq” this guy is. Because you have no idea what is in his heart, and you have no idea what his and his wife’s situation is. In fact, it is none of your business in the first place.

I agree, if someone shows you bad actions (lying, cheating, stealing, etc.), perhaps you shouldn’t trust this guy near your wallet. Maybe you just need to stop hanging out with this guy, instead of trying to figure out what is in his heart, which you cannot know.

“No man accuses a man of being a sinner, or of being a kafir, but it reflects back on him if the other is not as he called him.”

Reported in Bukhari

And none of this is to say that one can’t offer sincere advice to a brother or sister. As long as it is done within the Prophetic guidelines, that is a praiseworthy action. What I am saying is to stop passing judgements that only God can pass, and stop calling people names, in the framework of everyday life.

This is also different from saying that someone is committing an act of kufr-that is a concrete thing that can be measured. But you still don’t know what is in that person’s heart, and they could potentially be ignorant of the magnitude of what they are doing or saying.

This also goes for the new trend of calling everyone that has a different opinion a Wahhabi or a Salafi…Firstly salafi has an entirely different meaning outside of the framework of the relatively recent movement dubbing itself thus, and secondly both of these words are now associated with very specific movements within Islam in different parts of the world and the people who espouse the theology of those movements.

Not everyone who is non-Muslim is a kafir, not everyone who practices a little bit stricter than you is a Wahabi, not everyone whose intentions you don’t understand is a munafiq.

Besides, what one of us can say we have never done any hypocritical action in our lives? How many of us live a life so that our words match our deeds 100% of the time? We all make mistakes and slips, me first and foremost. But to judge my entire faith, my entire way of life by one misplaced word three years ago, I don’t see how that is productive at all.

All the name calling and judgement passing, the “that person practices differently than me so they must not be a real/proper/good Muslim,” mentality is just causing division that we do not need in our communities. When there is already so much hate in the world, why can’t we band together, despite our different madhabs and cultures and practices, and be an example of love and unity (NOT uniformity)?

The last word that I want to have a go at in this vent-y post, is the word “haraam.” Yes, it in and of itself is a pretty neutral word, it means something that is forbidden in Islam. Ok, good. That is a very necessary distinction to be made in our deen, so we can understand what is good for us and what to keep away from.

But when people use it for anything and everything that doesn’t match up exactly with how they practice Islam, and then they throw it at other people all day long, it drives me crazy bananas.

I think of these kinds of people as the “haraam birds” because whenever I am around them I feel like they are just fluttering around my head chirping “haraam, haraam, haraam,” to anything I say and do.

Somebody wishes them a happy whatever holiday, haraam to celebrate kafir holidays, haraam to congratulate, haraam to even look at the Gregorian calendar.

My sleeve slips up and they see my pre-Islam tattoo, haraam tattoos, haraam for your sleeve to slip, and by the way your hair colour is probably haraam too, if we could see it.

American Muslim in a small town eats kosher meat when she can’t find halal meat, it’s not marked “halal” therefore its haraam to eat it, haraam to support it, haraam to even live in a small kafir town.

And my absolute most giant pet peeve: haraam because you are imitating the “kafirs.” While I agree that it is certainly incumbent upon Muslims to stand out from the crowd, as it were, and not take on the traditions of other religions, people, etc. where they are in direct conflict with Islam, this whole “imitating them,” discussion gets taken way to far.

I hear this one a lot about wedding rings- it is haraam to wear a wedding ring, because you are imitating the kafirs. Ok, that’s all fine and dandy if someone who doesn’t come from a culture that wears rings is wearing a wedding ring, solely to imitate American fashion or because they wish they were Christian or something.

But for me, and many, many converts who grew up in non-Muslim countries, we have certain cultural traditions. I’m not imitating anything; I am American and we wear a ring to show we are married. Jewellery is not haraam for me as a woman, whether of gold or silver or precious stones, as long as zakat is paid on it. So why would a ring, by extension become haraam? Really, is my wedding ring the most important discussion we could be having right now?

How about all the brothers and sisters that are struggling with alcohol, or gambling, or smoking, or are buried under a mountain of interest-bearing debt? Why aren’t we doing anything to help all of these brothers and sisters who are in bad situations that are actually haraam? Instead of sitting around lecturing on wedding rings and “kafir” holidays, why don’t we go teach our kids to pray and our daughters to cover, read a beneficial article, clean some trash off the streets, or in general make some sort of positive impact?

If you are an actual scholar of knowledge and you can tell me that by consensus all the scholars regard a certain thing as haraam, OK, I will take that. But if you are just some dude who read some book that one time, go read more books before you come lecture me.

Anyhow, apologies for the rant. I have been experiencing these labels and things a lot lately (from random people, not from any of my friends or readers, by the way!), and I really just had to get my thoughts out there.

Because my husband is tired of hearing me talk about it, and really he just nods his head and agrees with me when I start going on about it anyhow, so I thought perhaps if I can vent it all here it may lead to some more productive conversation (or even someone disagreeing with me), and I may learn something new from one of you!

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7 thoughts on “Watch Your Mouth: On the divisive vocabulary of the Muslim community

  1. Kāfir can also mean farmer 😜

    And its kalāmi meaning applies to probably a whole lot LESS than half of non-Muslims (maybe even most of them; while it does even apply to some Muslims). People confuse it with the fiqhi definition, which really does just mean non-Muslim.

    Too right about the munāfiq thing though. I’ve been called that for some of the valid, classically-supported fiqhi opinions I support. I mean wth man!

    I also appreciate your understanding of the dichotomy that exists of actually being a kāfir and doing/saying something that constitutes kufr. More people need to get clued-in.

    Oh, and kosher meat is totally halāl lol. You probably already know this, but shechita not only meets the requirements of dhabīhah, but exceeds them in strictness. Whoever gave you a browbeating for that is silly… and maybe a Wahhabi 😲😂

    Anyway, all of this is to say I agree 1000% with your post. Good job.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ashleybounoura

      Thanks for the comment!
      Yep I knew about kosher meat-that is why I told my friend, who lives in a small town and doesn’t have access to a lot of halal places for food, to not listen to people telling her it’s “better to just stick with halal or nothing at all;” gotta get some protein somehow!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jazakallahu khayr sister. I’ve been looking for someone that shares the same views as me when it comes to this particular topic. Even if I’ve been born and raised a Muslim, I hate when people use these words randomly without knowing their true meaning or even thinking about the person’s feelings. And please, don’t apologize about your rants, people do need to hear it. By the way, please if you have the time, check out my blog, comment, like, whatever. I’ll really appreciate it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ashleybounoura

      Wa iyyaki, and thank you for your comment! Glad to know some people out there have noticed the same thing cropping up. InshaAllah I’ll go have a look at your blog now!

      Like

  3. Pingback: “Imitating the Kuffar” – Muslimah According to Me

  4. Pingback: Bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem – Muslimah According to Me

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