A takfiri (Arabic: تكفيري takfīrī) is a Muslim who accuses another Muslim (or an adherent of another Abrahamic faith) of apostasy.[1] The accusation itself is called takfir, derived from the word kafir (unbeliever), and is described as when "one who is, or claims to be, a Muslim is declared impure."[2] Accusing other Muslims of being takfiris has become a sectarian slur, particularly since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011.[3][4][5]

In principle the only group authorised to declare a member of an Abrahamic religion a kafir (unbeliever) is the ulema, and this is only done once all the prescribed legal precautions have been taken.[2] However, a growing number of splinter Wahhabist/Salafist groups, classified by some scholars as Salafi-Takfiris,[6] have split from the orthodox method of establishing takfir through the processes of the Sharia. They have reserved to themselves the right to declare any Muslim an apostate, as well as any non-Muslim.


Takfiris have been classified by some commentators as violent offshoots of the Salafi movement, yet while Salafism is seen as a form of 'fundamentalist Islam', it is not an inherently violent movement that condones terrorism.[7] Takfiris, on the other hand, condone acts of violence as legitimate methods of achieving religious or political goals. Middle East expert Robert Baer has written that

"takfiri generally refers to a Sunni Muslim who looks at the world in black-and-white; there are true believers and then there are nonbelievers, with no shades in between. A takfiri's mission is to re-create the Caliphate according to a literal interpretation of the Qur'an."[8]


Takfiris believe in Islam strictly according to their own interpretation of Muhammad's and his companions' actions and statements, and do not accept any deviation from their path; they reject any reform or change to their interpretation of religion as it was revealed in the time of the prophet. Those who change their religion from Islam to any other way of life, or deny any of the fundamental foundations of Islam, or who worship, follow or obey anything other than Islam, become those upon whom the takfiris declare the "takfir", calling them apostates from Islam and therefore no longer Muslim.

According to at least one source (Trevor Stanley), the precedent "for the declaration of takfir against a leader" came from the Medieval Islamic scholar Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyyah, who issued a famous fatwa declaring jihad against both the invading Mongols. This was not because they were invading but because they were apostates, apostasy from Islam being punishable by death. Though the Mongols had converted to Islam, Ibn Taymiyyah reasoned that since they followed their traditional Yassa law rather than Islamic Sharia law, they were not really Muslims and were thus apostates.[9] More recently the 18th-century Islamic Revivalist Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and 20th-century Muslim authors Maulana Maududi and Sayyid Qutb, referred to Ibn Taymiyyah when condemning self-proclaimed Muslims as not being real Muslims. Al-Wahhab condemned the practices of Shia, Sufi and other Muslims as bid'a (innovation of the religion), and al-Wahhab's followers slew many Muslims for allegedly pagan (kufr) practices. In his influential book Milestones, Sayyid Qutb argued not that some Muslims should no longer be considered Muslims, but that the failure of the world Muslim community to obey Shariah law meant, "the Muslim community has been extinct for a few centuries," having fallen back into a state of pagan ignorance (jahiliyyah).[10][11]

Elie Podeh distinguishes between conservative Islamists, "jihadi" Muslims, and takfiri groups. Like jihadis, takfiri groups advocate armed struggle against the secular regime, invoking the concepts of jahiliyya, al-hakimiyya (God's sovereignty), and al-takfir (branding as apostate). However, takfiri groups are more extreme, regarding the whole of Egyptian society as kafir, for instance, and therefore completely disengaging from it. Also unlike jihadis, takfiri groups (according to Podeh) make no distinction between the regime and the ordinary population when employing violence.[12]

Takfiris also reject the traditional Muslim duty to obey one's legitimate rulers in all manners that do not contradict the Sharia, as sedition is viewed as a great danger to a nation. However, Takfiris consider all political authority that does not abide by their interpretation of Islam to be illegitimate and therefore apostate; this view closely mirrors Qutb's views on jahiliyyah.[13] As such, violence against such regimes is considered legitimate.

In his books Risālah Aslu Dīn Al-Islām wa Qā’idatuhu and Kashf ush-Shubuhaat (Clarification Of The Doubts), Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhāb makes an explicit takfir of people who invoke or implore for help from dead people (such as the prophet and his family) or in other words, intercede for themselves with God by seeking intercession from the prophet and his family.[14]


Takfiri views on suicide also differ significantly from those of orthodox Islam. Takfiris believe that one who deliberately kills himself whilst attempting to kill enemies is a martyr (shahid) and therefore goes straight to heaven. According to this superstition, all sin is absolved when a person is martyred, allowing carte blanche for the indiscriminate killing of non-combatants, for example.[15] An example of such a takfiri terrorist group is the Caucasus Emirate.[16]

Views within Islam

Opponents of the takfiris often view them as modern-day analogues of the Khawarij, a seventh-century offshoot Islamic sect which waged war against the Caliphate.[17]

In mainstream media

The term takfiri was brought to a more public prominence by the BBC investigative journalist Peter Taylor, in his 2005 BBC television series The New Al Qaeda.[18]

See also


  1. https://fas.org/irp/crs/RS21745.pdf
  2. 1 2 Kepel, Gilles; Jihad: the Trail of Political Islam, London: I.B. Tauris, 2002, page 31
  3. Zelin, Aaron Y.; Smyth, Phillip. "The vocabulary of sectarianism". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 17 September 2014. Another popular term used by Shiite jihadis for their Sunni enemies has been "takfiri"
  4. "Lebanon's Hizbollah Turns Eastward to Syria" (PDF). International Crisis Group. Retrieved 15 September 2014. By framing its fight as a preemptive attack on takfiris – those who declare other Muslims to be apostates – Hizbollah has tarred all shades of the opposition, and indeed sometimes all Sunnis, with the same radicalising brush. It has exaggerated, and thereby exacerbated, the sectarianism of the Syrian opposition as well as its own domestic opponents
  5. Miller, Johnathan. "Inside Hezbollah: fighting and dying for a confused cause". Channel Four News. Retrieved 18 September 2014. those they provocatively and [pejoratively] brand “the Takfiris”
  6. Oliveti, Vincenzo; Terror's Source: the Ideology of Wahhabi-Salafism and its Consequences, Birmingham: Amadeus Books, 2002
  7. Oliveti, Terror's Source, (2002), page 45
  8. Baer, Robert (2008). The Devil We Know. New York: Crown. ISBN 978-0-307-40864-8.
  9. Stanley, Trevor. "Kufr – Kaffir – Takfir – Takfiri". Perspectives on World History and Current Events. Retrieved 30 Dec 2013.
  10. Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, p. 11
  11. "Sayyid Qutb's Milestones". tripod.com.
  12. "Egypt's Struggle against the Militant Islamic Groups" by Elie Podeh. in Religious Radicalism in the Greater Middle East, edited by Efraim Inbar, Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, Routledge, Jan 11, 2013
  13. Esposito, John L.; Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, Oxford University Press 2002, page 59/60.
  14. "IslamicWeb". islamicweb.com.
  15. Oliveti, Terror's Source, (2002), page 47/48.
  16. Darion Rhodes, Salafist Takfiri Jihadism: The Ideology of the Caucasus Emirate http://www.ict.org.il/Article/132/Salafist-Takfiri%20Jihadism%20the%20Ideology%20of%20the%20Caucasus%20Emirate
  17. "Al Qaeda History". Retrieved May 21, 2014.
  18. The New Al Qaeda BBC News

Further reading

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