Belief and disbelief are cases that are determined by God alone. No one may be called an unbeliever without clear evidence from God.

Faith, disbelief and hypocrisy: Which property enjoys sanctity?

Belief and disbelief are cases that are determined by God alone. No one may be called an unbeliever without clear evidence from God. In their life on earth people are divided into two categories: believers and unbelievers. God says:

‘It is He who has created you, yet some of you are unbelievers and some do believe’. (64: 2)

Rulings that apply to them are those which God has revealed in His book, the Qur’an, and in the Prophet’s Sunnah.

A hypocrite is treated according to what he does and says in public, which means that he is treated like the rest of Muslims and what they do and say. Hypocrites are of two types:

1. Unbelievers who harbour disbelief but pretend to believe. Thus, a hypocrite may pretend to believe in God, His messenger and book while in reality he denies them all. This is the worst type of hypocrisy.

2. Muslims who pretend to obey God but secretly intend to disobey Him. An example is a person who pretends to be true to his pledges but secretly resolves to break them. He may pretend to speak the truth but entertains the opposite thoughts and opinions, which is the lesser type of hypocrisy.

The basic rule is that the life and property of a believer are protected and unlawful to anyone. With regard to an unbeliever, they have no such protection. However, this does not apply universally and to all. An unbeliever may have protection because of his pledges or his promise of security and loyalty. On the other hand, a believer may be killed for an offence he commits, such as murdering someone or adultery when he is married.

No one is to be considered an unbeliever except those whom God and His messenger pronounced as such. For example:
-A person who denies God or His messenger (peace be upon him).

-A person who ridicules either God or His messenger. God says: ‘Should you question them, they will say:

“We have only been indulging in idle talk and jesting.” Say: “Was it, then, at God, His revelations and His Messenger that you have been mocking? Make no excuses. You have disbelieved after you have professed to be believers.” Though We may pardon some of you, We shall punish others, on account of their being guilty’. (9: 65–6)

-A person who in all arrogance refuses to submit to God and His messenger.

-A person who denies a definitive Islamic ruling.
- One who invents a falsehood and attributes it to God. God says:

‘It is only those who do not believe in God’s revelations that invent falsehood. It is they indeed who are liars’. (16: 105)

‘Who commits a greater injustice than one who invents lies against God or denies the truth when it reaches him? Is not hell the proper abode for the unbelievers?’ (29: 68)

As used in this verse, and similar ones, injustice is synonymous with disbelief.

- One who offers worship to anyone other than God. He says:

‘He that invokes besides God any other deity – a deity for whose existence he has no evidence – shall be brought to account before his Lord. Most certainly, the unbelievers shall never be successful’. (23: 117)

This is applicable whether his worship is completely addressed to any being other than God or he considers those

to whom he addresses his worship intermediaries between him and God. God says: ‘They worship side by side with God what can neither harm nor benefit them, and say: 

“These will intercede for us with God.” Say: “Do you presume to inform God of something in the heavens or on earth that He does not know? Limitless is He in His glory and exalted above whatever they may associate with Him”’. (10: 18).

- One who ascribes to others than God what belongs to God alone, such as God’s right to legislate and rule. Such a person may describe without authority things as permissible or forbidden. The issuance of legislation and giving rulings are called by God as acts of worship. God says:

‘All judgement rests with God alone. He has ordained that you should worship none but Him’. (12: 40).

- One who claims that anyone other than God has knowledge of what belongs to ghayb, i.e. what lies beyond the reach of creatures’ perception, such as those who practise magic or astrology. God says:

‘None in the heavens or earth knows what is hidden except God’. (27: 65).

- One who claims that anyone other than God has the power to create or control the universe, or cause life or death. God says: ‘Do they assign to God partners that have created the like of His creation, so that both creations appear to them to be similar? Say:

“God is the Creator of all things. He is the One who has power over all things”’. (13: 16).

- The same applies to anyone who takes unbelievers as allies instead of believers, and addresses his love and support to them. God says:

‘Whoever of you allies himself with them is indeed one of them’. (5: 51)

Whoever is able to know and understand Islam but chooses to disregard it and turn away from it is an unbeliever, even though he is really unaware of it. The fact is that his ignorance of Islam is easy for him to remove. Therefore, God says in description of unbelievers:

‘But nay, most of them do not know the truth, and so they stubbornly turn away’. (21: 24)

The verse clearly mentions that they are ignorant, even though by choice. He also says:

‘Yet the unbelievers ignore the warnings they have been given’. (46: 3)

If a person remains ignorant of the details of the truth because he turned away when it was presented, this cannot be an excuse. In fact it is the reason that most people go astray. They learn some of it then turn away, unwilling to learn its details.

Most unbelievers pay little heed to proofs that are in the universe around them and in religious sources. God says:

‘Yet many are the signs in the heavens and the earth which they pass by, paying no heed to them’. (12: 105)

‘Nay, We have given them all that brings them glory. Yet from this their glory they turn away’. (23: 71)

Turning away from learning the whole when one knows a part does not remove people’s rights in their dealings with one another. How can it remove God’s rights?

If we do not contemplate God’s signs when we see them we are bound to miss their purpose. The quicker we turn away the more we miss. Thus we do not benefit by them even though the proof they provide is clear and powerful, and
observed every day:

‘We have set up the sky as a well-secured canopy. Yet they stubbornly turn away from all its signs’. (21: 32).

When man thinks that his turning away from the details of the truth and putting them behind him exempts him from what they entail, he is grossly mistaken. Turning away from the truth is motivated either by arrogance or by one’s preference for play and pleasure. Hence, when he faces catastrophes and his pleasure is lost, he may realise the truth and revert to it.