Why does the Quran refer to Jews and Christians as kufar, or infidels? What kind of respect and tolerance is that?
The translation of the word kafir as infidel is a grave error. The word infidel means someone who does not believe in God. The Qur’an does not allege that Jews and Christians do not believe in God. On the contrary the Qur’an refers to Jews and Christians respectfully as “People of the Book” and says:
“And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, “We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).”
The term kafir, referring to a type of person, or kufr, referring to an act, is used in the Quran in a variety of ways:
- Anyone who believes in one thing is a kafir of its opposite. Here kafir means one who rejects and can even be used in a positive sense.
- Kufr can be used in a neutral/ benign sense as the origin of kufr in the Arabic language means to cover up. So the farmer who is putting a seed in the ground and covering it up is performing kufr.
- The word kafir is used in the Qur’an not only for Jews and Christians but also for those who periodically rejected their prophets. While the Qur’an accords a special respect for Jews and Christians, it does not gloss over the major theological differences. For instance, the Glorious Qur’an says:
“They indeed have disbelieved who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary…”
- The word kafir can also be used to imply a rejection of Islam. It describes one who knows the truth, but rejects it out of pride or vanity. This is someone who knows the truth in their heart and deliberately rejects it.
Nonetheless, Muslims believe it is their duty to convey the message of God to humankind, and leave the matter at that. God alone is the judge.