In an article published by the New Statesman by Ziauddin Sardar titled “Clerical errors in the name of God” it is argued that “the Quran does not denounce non-Muslims as ‘infidels, but describes Jews and Christians as ‘people of the Book.”
The first problem I have with Zia’s statement is the conflation of Ahlul Kitab (people of the Book) with Kuffar (disbelievers), this is unacceptable from someone who purports to carry out Tafsir of the Qur’an. The second problem I have is that it is only half true and it is also disingenuous! Why, because we have in the Qur’an for example; the word “Disbelievers” appears 153 times in 144 verses in Pickthall’s translation. Further the word “unbelievers” appears 175 times in 158 verses in Yusuf Ali’s translation.
Now the root word for disbeliever, unbeliever, non-Muslim or infidel is Kafir the plural being Kuffar. We cannot change the meaning of words and that which it describes either out of its own context nor to serve an inferiority complex. This is not interpretation but linguistic facts well established.
Some may argue that the word infidel is a bit offensive or the words disbeliever, unbeliever are offensive – so what? It does not mean that we change the intended meaning of the word Kafir or the word Kuffar – not at all. We may be aware of those out there that are ‘calling’ for Muslims to stop calling the non-Muslims Kafir or Kuffar! This reminds me of some apologetic Muslims who go round telling anyone that will listen that Islam has no concept of war, they would go to the extreme and deny Jihad, all due to their inferiority complex. When has Allah asked such people to be defenders of this religion? This form of duplicitous argumentation is a root cause for much of the misunderstanding of Islam by non-Muslims.
I don’t want to be unfair to Zia and to balance what I have already said I do believe we need to be clear on the matter of how we perceive non-Muslims. Some have stated that we should in general “hate” non-Muslims as required by the understanding of the concept of Al Wala Wal Bara, however this is not the understanding of the scholars that I have encountered who state that we should in general “hate” the disbelieving actions of the non-Muslims but not them as a person. The example sighted is that of Umar (ra) and the Du’a made by the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, for Allah to guide him to Islam as well as the incident at Ta’if. Now Umar (ra) at that time was very hostile to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and the Muslims yet the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, made Dua to Allah to guide him.
As for those that argue that no, you must ‘hate’ the person even in the general I find that perplexing, how on earth do you give Dawah, make Dua and wish good (as Islam is good) for someone you hate?