As-salaamu `alaykum wa rahmatullaah
Following on from this previous post, below is some interesting research I’ve managed to dig up.
Before delving into this topic however, it’s important we understand that in the Islamic sciences, whether it be ‘Aqeedah, Fiqh, Tafseer etc, words and their meanings are always taken from two perspectives. They are either looked at linguistically (لُغَةً) or legalistically (شَرْعاً) – majority of the time, both are used to explain concepts. An example is the term ‘Mandoob’ (مندوب). Linguistically, it comes from the word ‘nadb’ which means ‘a call towards an important matter’. In Sharee’ah, however this term is given to the recommended acts after the faraa’idh (obligatory acts).
This post will be going into all the different linguistical meanings of the word kaafir (كَافِر), however only one meaning is covered in the Islamic sciences, and that is the legalistic term – kaafir as in ‘a disbeliever’ etc.
The verb kafara كَفرَ literally means to cover up/conceal something (التغطِيَة). This is the asl (original meaning).
As mentioned previously, kaafir is also an ingrate who is ungrateful to the favours and good given to him by someone. It is said كُفْرُ النعمة (to ‘disbelieve’ in the favour/blessing).
The disbeliever who chooses to disbelieve in his Lord can have both meanings applied to him as Ibn as-Sakeet mentions: “The disbeliever is called ‘kaafir’ because he has covered up the blessings of Allaah.” Al-Azhari said, “And the blessings of Allaah are His verses which all point to His Oneness (Tawheed).”
The plurals of the word ‘kaafir’ (when used in above meanings) are: Kuffaar (كُفَّار), Kafara (كَفَرَة), and Kifaar (كِفارٌ)
The farmer is also called ‘kaafir’ because he covers up the seed after planting it. Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta’aala) uses this meaning in various verses,
كمَثَلِ غَيْثٍ أَعْجَبَ الكفارَ نباتُه
“as the likeness of vegetation after rain, thereof the growth is pleasing to the tiller (kuffaar)…” [al-Hadeed: 20]
It is even said that the term used in this verse (kuffaar) points to the disbelievers who disbelieve in Allaah (as opposed to ‘farmers’) because they are the most pleased with the beauty and glamour of this world compared to the believers.
The night is also called ‘kaafir’ because according to the Sihaah, it covers up everything with its darkness. It is said, “The night covered up (كَفَرَ) the footsteps of its companion”, just like it’s said, “Ignorance has covered up (كَفَرَ) the knowledge of so-and-so”
The sea is also termed ‘kaafir’ due to the fact that it hides and covers up what is beneath it. The plural of kaafir here would be ‘kifaar’
Al-Lihyaani said in a piece of poetry,
وغُرِّقَتِ الفراعِنَةُ الكِفَارُ
“And the Pharoahs were drowned by the kifaar (seas)”
Wide valleys and rivers are also called ‘kaafir’ and in fact there is a river somewhere in the peninsula called ‘kaafir!’
The rain hasn’t escaped all the name-calling either! Yes, مَطَر (rain) is also termed kaafir. Ibn Bari in his explanation of ‘Asaa said, “الكافرُ المطرُ, – the rain is (called) kaafir.” And he recited the lines of poetry,
وحَدَّثَها الرُّوَّادُ أَنْ ليس بينهما
وبين قُرَى نَجْرانَ والشامِ، كافِرُ
“And the visitors said to her that there was not between them and the villages of Najran and Shaam, a kaafir (rain)”
Dark clouds are also referred to as ‘kaafir’. Darkness in general is called kaafir and kafr because again, it covers what is under it. Dust and sand are also called kafr due to the same reason.
Amazingly, the tar that is used to paint ships is also a kaafir! This is due to its extremely dark colour and the fact that it covers and conceals everything its painted with.
And finally, as mentioned by Ibn as-Sakeet, the person who wears his armour and weapons and then conceals it with his normal clothes is termed as ‘kaafir’ because he is concealing all his weaponry.
A very interesting piece from al-Layth and al-Azhari:
Al-Layth: “It is said that the Kaafir (disbeliever) is called such because disbelief has covered up his heart.”
Al-Azhari said: “This statement of al-Layth requires some clarification, that in language ‘Kufr’ means ‘to cover up’ and ‘wrap.’ Hence the kaafir possesses disbelief i.e. a covering over his heart due to his disbelief. This is just like the one covered up in weapons (silaah) is called ‘kaafir’ (linguistically).”
“And there is a better explanation than he alluded to and that is: When Allaah called the disbeliever to His Oneness (Tawheed), He has indeed called him to His blessings and liked for him to answer (that call). So when he (the disbeliever) refused what Allah had called him to, then he is a kaafir (ingrate) to the blessing of Allaah, i.e. covered up and concealed the blessing by his refusal.
And in the hadeeth of the Messenger (sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam), when he said in his farewell pilgrimage: “Do not become disbelievers (kaafireen) after me by striking the necks of one another.”
Abu Mansoor said, “In his saying there are 2 meanings (for this):
Firstly - ‘kaafireen’ i.e. wearing armour, weaponry and artillery (1 of the meanings above taken), preparing militarily to fight (against one’s brother)…”
Secondly - ‘kaafireen’ i.e. like what the khawaarij did, in considering the people to be disbelievers and pronouncing takfeer upon them and this is like his (sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam)’s saying, “Whoever says to his brother ‘O kaafir’ then one of them is surely that”…
Isn’t this just incredible?! Mashaa’Allaah, there was so much information and they were all amazingly linked into one another, but I’ve had to cut it short as post was getting too long.
I highly recommend everyone (including myself) to study arabic before embarking on the Islamic sciences because the depth it’ll brings to your studies is breath-taking.
[Information taken from Lisaan al-Arab]