What is a “real Muslim”?

Who is excluded from any group helps define who is included. We can gain an insight into the orthodox meaning of a “Muslim” by taking a look at what defines a person who has left Islam, according to Islamic Law (Sharia). This is also essential for understanding the basics of Islamo-Fascism. There are Muslims who do not subscribe to the orthodox view; but substantial numbers, probably more than half of Muslims worldwide, do. I’m defining orthodox as believing the Quran was written word-for-word and letter-by-letter by Allah; believing Mohammed was a superior human worthy of emulating; believing in the authenticated Hadith (traditions) and the Sira (early biographies); and believing in the ijma (consensus) of mujtahedin (great scholars) of Sharia. Many Muslims who are orthodox by that definition are unaware of the full implications of accepting that list of doctrines.

My source text for this article is from Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, 1994 Revised Edition. This manual represents the Shafi’i school (and it’s worth noting that all four schools agree on 75% of their rulings, according to the introduction to Reliance of the Traveller). Dr. Taha Jabir al-‘Alwani, President of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and President of the Fiqh Council of North America, writes “There is no doubt that this translation is a valuable and important work, whether as a textbook for teaching Islamic jurisprudence to English-speakers, or as a legal reference for use by scholars, educated laymen, and students in this language….In view of the utility of this eminent work of Islamic jurisprudence and its rank among well known standard Shafi’i legal texts, its translation into English is regarded as a useful, auspicious step….” The book is certified by the prestigious al-Azhar University, whose certification states: “…we certify that the above-mentioned translation corresponds to the Arabic original and conforms to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni Community.”

In addition, the editors had the option to omit anything they felt was not pertinent information for our times. The introduction states that “rulings about matters now rare or nonexistent have been left untranslated unless interesting for some other reason.” For example, rulings on slavery have been left untranslated (even though slavery and near-slavery are still practiced in parts of the Muslim world.) Additionally, Muslim reviewers of the book on Amazon.com generally find the book to be of practical use.

Reliance of the Traveller lists 20 “Acts that entail leaving Islam” (pgs. 596-598), while mentioning that “There are others, for the subject is nearly limitless.” I’ll be discussing five of these 20 acts:

  • Act that entails leaving Islam: “(7) to deny any verse of the Koran or anything which by scholarly consensus…belongs to it, or to add a verse that does not belong to it….”

So, Islamic Law mandates acceptance of every verse of the Quran. Anyone who denies “any verse” is an apostate. Picking and choosing the desirable verses is not good enough. Here is a small sampling of the verses which a Muslim is not allowed to deny, according to Sharia [bracketed words added by me for clarity]:

“Fighting is enjoined on you, and is an object of dislike to you; and it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you, and Allah knows, while you do not know.” (2:216)

“Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.” (4:34)

“Say: O followers of the Book! do you find fault with us (for aught) except that we believe in Allah and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed before, and that most of you are transgressors? Say: Shall I inform you of (him who is) worse than this in retribution from Allah? (Worse is he) whom Allah has cursed and brought His wrath upon, and of whom He made apes and swine, and he who served the Shaitan; these are worse in place and more erring from the straight path.” (5:59-60)

“So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (9:5)

“Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.” (9:29)

“Surely Allah has bought of the believers their persons and their property for this, that they shall have the garden; they fight in Allah’s way, so they slay and are slain; a promise which is binding on Him in the Taurat and the Injeel and the Quran; and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? Rejoice therefore in the pledge which you have made; and that is the mighty achievement.” (9:111)

“Indeed, there is for you a good example in Ibrahim and those with him when they said to their people: Surely we are clear of you and of what you serve besides Allah; we declare ourselves to be clear of you, and enmity and hatred have appeared between us and you forever until you believe in Allah alone– but not [a good example] in what Ibrahim said to his father: I would certainly ask forgiveness for you, and I do not control for you aught from Allah– Our Lord! on Thee do we rely, and to Thee do we turn, and to Thee is the eventual coming.” (60:4)

If you believe these verses could mean something drastically different from what they appear to mean, read here to find out how mainstream Muslim commentators have interpreted them.

  • Act that entails leaving Islam: “(14) to deny the obligatory character of something which by the consensus of Muslims (ijma…) is part of Islam, when it is well known as such, like the prayer (salat) or even one rak’a from one of the five obligatory prayers, if there is no excuse….”

This manual defines ijma: “Scholarly consensus (ijma’) is the agreement of all the mujtahids…of the Muslims existing at one particular period after the Prophet’s death…about a particular ruling regarding a matter or event….[T]he ruling agreed upon is an authoritative part of Sacred Law that is obligatory to obey and not lawful to disobey. Nor can mujtahids of a succeeding era make the thing an object of new ijtihad [expert legal opinion], because the ruling on it, verified by scholarly consensus, is an absolute legal ruling which does not admit of being contravened or annulled.” (pgs. 23-24) There are also specific conditions for ijma to be reached: that a number of mujtahids live concurrently, and that they all without exception agree on a conclusion which each expresses individually and explicitly.

So, it would seem that according to this manual, in order to be a Muslim, a person must support the ijma of mujtahedin. Excerpts from Islamic manuals indicate that this ijma includes: jihad, death penalty for apostates, lower-class (dhimmi) status for non-Muslims in a Muslim state, and more. To deny any one of these, according to this manual, would constitute apostasy. It is understandable that reform efforts within Islam have not succeeded in the past 1000 years.

  • Act that entails leaving Islam: “(17) to believe that things in themselves or by their own nature have any causal influence independent of the will of Allah….”

I have included this one to illustrate why the Islamic world has been in stagnation for about a millennium. While the Christian world embraced scientific principles and strove to discover natural laws, the Islamic world took the position that the concept of natural laws was blasphemous, because it meant that those natural laws ruled the universe rather than Allah. Recently, in a quick backpedal, Muslim apologists have been “discovering” that all of modern science is miraculously in the Quran, without providing any explanation for why Muslims are now learning science from non-Muslims. Despite the backpedalling on matters of science, Islam has somehow also retained the belief that Allah is micro-managing the universe, as shown by the frequent use of “Insha’Allah” (if Allah wills it). Nothing happens without Allah’s will.

  • Act that entails leaving Islam:“(20) … to deny that Allah intended the Prophet’s message…to be the religion followed by the entire world….”

Thus, to accept other religions or non-religion as equal to Islam is to be an apostate.

And what happens to apostates? According to this same manual, “There is no indemnity for killing an apostate (…or any expiation, since it is killing someone who deserves to die).” (pg. 596) In fact, there is an Islamic practice of “takfir” which means declaring a Muslim to be an apostate. This is often used by Jihadists as an excuse to kill Muslims. It’s against Islamic Law for a Muslim to kill another Muslim, but if the intended victim is declared an apostate, suddenly it’s legal. This is what happened to Rashad Khalifa in Tucson, Arizona, who was declared to be an apostate and assassinated.

However, before rushing off to pronounce takfir on someone, it would be good to also be aware of another way to become an apostate:

  • Act that entails leaving Islam: “(13) to describe a Muslim or someone who wants to become a Muslim in terms of unbelief (kufr)….”

So, if Muslim A declares Muslim B to be a disbeliever, but Muslim B is in fact a believer, then Muslim A has, presto chango, made himself an unbeliever.

Given the importance of being correct when pronouncing takfir, a Muslim’s willingness to do so is a good indication of his confidence in his position. Pronouncing takfir is also a way of marking the “line in the sand” between who is a Muslim and who is not. For this reason, it is not a good sign that currently, the most noticeable group who uses takfir to define Islam is the Islamists.

What would let us know the Muslim world no longer advocated fascist doctrines?

One indication that Islam has been successfully reformed and lost its fascist edge would be if and when the following acts would cause a person to be declared an apostate by all Muslim religious authorities, and all Muslim organizations would declare the following acts to be “un-Islamic”:

  • to express the belief that violent Jihad can ever, under any circumstances, be justified;
  • to express the belief that there should be any penalty whatsoever for apostates, heretics, or critics of Islam;
  • to express the belief that non-Muslims or women should be treated differently from Muslim men under the law;
  • to express the belief that every verse of the Quran (in its traditionally accepted interpretations) must be believed and taken literally as the word of Allah;
  • to express the belief that Mohammed’s actions, as recorded in the Sira and Sunnah, are to be emulated;
  • to express the belief that Islamic law should rule any land.

As I’ve never heard of any one of these acts causing a fatwa of takfir by any prominent group of clerics, I’m not expecting this transformation to happen this week, and perhaps not ever.

5 Responses to What is a “real Muslim”?

  1. criticned says:

    [As this comment is long, I will insert my replies in brackets.–CitizensAgainstSharia]


    I refer to your opinion above and would like to comment as follows please:

    “So, Islamic Law mandates acceptance ……” The Sharia is a law, and its source is the Qura’an, can you tell me which approved and accepted law by majority….in a Federal Law can you be selective in which clauses and acts that you deny existence and soundness in a court of law….can you go an break a traffic law because you are not convinced you should stop when the traffic light is Red. You shall ultimately denounced or denied your license…make simple for yourself and your reader.

    [Actually, the Quran is one of the sources of Sharia, but not the only source. Aside from that, you make my point for me. If orthodox Muslims believe, as you appear to, that it is essential to follow all of the verses of the Quran, non-Muslims should know what those verses say, as many of them effect us.–CAS]

    “Fighting is enjoined on you, ……” Do you think that US soldiers in Iraq are there for fun…..don’t you think that like their predecessors in Vietnam that fighting in enjoined on them, so Muslims are not allowed to be encouraged in wars and reminded they are obliged to resist occupation and subduing. Aren’t any soldier in a war is also reminded that he is their to fight evil and make good in spite of their disliking…if you don’t agree refer to the Bush doctrine for full speeches on war on terror and the war in Iraq.

    [Of course, military leaders enjoin soldiers to fight. However, for a religious book to do so is another matter entirely. Self-defense is a human instinct. For a god to say that he wants people to fight people because they have a different religion, and promise paradise in return, goes beyond self-defense.–CAS]

    “Men are the maintainers of women …..” I would like to highlight that your translation of the verse is wrong the “correct translation is quite different in the Arabic language and have completely different meaning …..The meaning is in a marriage relationship the man is the leader and he is to sustain and support his wife due to the what god has bestowed on men rather than women and physically and psychologically). Accordingly the righteous woman is to protect the man property, honor and preserve the integrity of the family and herself in his absence. This the context of the verse….I had to go back to the approved translation of the Qura’an as by Al-Azhar….

    [If you mean Fakhry’s translation, which claims Al-Azhar “approval”, it has received poor academic reviews. In any event, I notice you sidestep the clear sanction of wife-beating in this verse, which is present in the vast majority of translations (except a few modern ones which are quite possibly trying to make the verse more palatable for Westerners.)–CAS]

    I have also noticed that you tried to bestow legitimacy and soundness on your opinions by throwing a lot of references that has nothing to do with your text, pushing names also that you have mutilated their saying due to your bad translations for interior motive.

    [I think you mean “ulterior motive”. In any event, if you wish to criticize a specific reference, with specific reasons for why you think the reference is inappropriate, I will gladly reply.–CAS]

    If you have converted you do not need to verify that to anyone but yourself and God. You don’t need to try to twist versus to convince us that you are right. Please be scientific in your undertaking to gain respect for your actions and deeds.

    [I have no idea what you are referring to, so perhaps you could be a bit more scientific yourself.–CAS]

    “Say: O followers of the ……….” where did you get such ridiculous translation…..I find difficult to understand your purpose except your are twisting words for interior motive that is only beyond a scientific discussion.

    [I got this “ridiculous translation” from the USC-Muslim Student Association Compendium of Muslim Texts. The translator is “Shakir”, perhaps you’ve heard of him. All three of the standard translations they give for this verse agree in meaning, and all three refer to Allah turning people into apes and swine. If you wish to criticize the translation, it would be helpful to give specific evidence of why you think another translation is better than the three offered by the MSA.–CAS]

    ….fascist doctrines:

    Also I would like to ask you why you are not discussing Bush doctrine when he said “ you are either with us or against us” and deny a RELIGION to have the same doctrine.

    [Comparing a religion to a statement made by a political leader is comparing apples to oranges. Even if it were a fair comparison, President Bush’s statement you cite is, on its face, sufficiently different from the excerpts from the Reliance of the Traveller I have quoted that I don’t find it useful to respond to your comparison.–CAS]

    Also I would like to highlight to you that you need to go and get a lot of education, especially on the Old Testimony, Arabic Language and an authenticated version of Qur’an.

    [Yes, I agree that I have a lot to learn, and I hope you feel the same about yourself. As for the version of the Quran, see comments above.–CAS]

    Your righting are so sentimental and lack objectivity especially when you mentioned in your opening statement you mentioned that Islam is fascist…

    [Since I did not, in fact, mention that Islam is fascist, I can only guess that you are responding to my use of the term “Islamo-Fascism”. This is a compound word, meaning “Fascism with roots in Islam”, which is exactly what Sharia and Jihad ideologies are. It does not mean that all of Islam is Fascist, just as the term “African-American” does not mean that all Africans are Americans.–CAS]

    of course any religion or law is a fascist according the true definition of the word…

    [Any religion or law is fascist? So the Saudi Arabian government is the same as the United States government? Anything with rules is fascist? I don’t think this merits a response.–CAS]

    by the way a word fascist is called upon human being not laws….for your education as it means a dictatorial person (American Heritage).

    [Actually, the American Heritage Dictionary (scroll down to second listing) gives two definitions for the term “fascist” as a noun, and two as an adjective, which is how I used the term. I also use the term “Fascism” (note the difference in the final letter) to refer to “laws”, as you say, or “doctrine”.–CAS]

    However any Religion dictates good commandments and social behaviors….please go back and study it half educated people like you that give blogs a bad name.

    [Yes, religions generally give guidelines for behaviors. Not all religions, however, tell their followers to fight the unbeliever with a sword. I will let the reader decide who is giving blogs a bad name.–CAS]

  2. criticned says:


    Thank you for your kind reply and here some of my comments to yours:

    [If you mean Fakhry’s translation, which claims Al-Azhar “approval”, it has received poor academic reviews. …..(CAS)”……As you mentioned it has attracted a poor academic review, so why did you use it, unless for a different motive.

    [Where did I use Fakhry? My quotes are from Shakir, which as I explained, is one of the three standard translations of the USC-MSA Compendium. My policy on Quran translations is: I generally use one of the three standard translations from USC-MSA, although I am not averse to quoting other translations, either. I have found no consensus among Muslims for a single translation being the best, and I’ve also found that the vast majority of translations are in general agreement the vast majority of the time, and arguments about translations are usually red herrings. If I were reading the Quran as a source of inspiration, I’m sure the issue of selecting the best translation for that purpose would be relevant.–CAS]

    As for the issue of women, why have you failed to refer to the following clear verse which precede the verse you referred to (i.e Verse 4:54), as it become a prerequisite and precondition which is Verse 4:19 when is says “….live with them in kindness…” or the teaching Hadith 275 of (Reyad Elsaleheen-Alnawawi) where it says “…Abeliver (male- as per text) should not hate another Believer (female-as per text) even if he hates an action she committed…etc”. Also the Hadith of the Prophet in The last Hijja when the Prophet commended men 3 times to behold women in docile way (look upon), and several other examples…was it more favorable to you go to the beating which is the extreme case, Funny enough the same method is the first resort for lot of men in the west (are they all Muslims)….you can refer to ample references of police cases in that regard. You have also forget to emphasize the clear instruction or the important role for the man to cater for his wife and provide ….can expatiate on the daily hardship which the western women undergo to cater not only for herself and kids but for a man that does not see it as his prime role in the community to provide for his family. The same case is not only in the west but in most countries of religious dominations other than Islam, some African countries it is their prime social problem is single mothers and neglected families. …..I also want to be objective but this proves that the Qura’an for addresses daily workings with the Islamic community, unlike other eastern teachings which half of it is supernatural, refer to nothing but angels or assumed heavenly love and people dying for other. It is a book that addresses the reality of daily relation within a community including the family domestic affairs. please refer to the following article for enlightenment on violence. (NED).

    [Ned, any reader who wants to read the whole Quran can do so. My purpose in listing this verse is to show the clear sanction of wife-beating, if the husband only “fears desertion”. In fact, domestic abuse is a problem everywhere, but it is a major problem in the Muslim world. The fact that this is one of the verses orthodox Muslims cannot deny is of interest to anyone who cares about human rights for women. One day I’ll do an article that focuses on the plight of women under Islam, and will be happy to discuss the topic further at that time, but not today.]

    [I think you mean “ulterior motive”. In any event, if you wish to criticize a specific reference, with specific reasons for why you think the reference is inappropriate, I will gladly reply.–CAS]…I think we have covered that above, and thank you for the correction. (NED)

    Also I would like to ask you why you are not discussing Bush doctrine when he said “you are either with us or against us” and deny a RELIGION to have the same doctrine. [Comparing a religion to a statement made by a political leader is comparing apples to oranges. Even if it were a fair comparison, President Bush’s statement you cite is, on its face, sufficiently different from the excerpts from the Reliance of the Traveller I have quoted that I don’t find it useful to respond to your comparison.–CAS]…if you have resolved to consider what the religion stands for is only war and Jihad, then that makes the Prophet to be a political leader in a state of war, and that is the root of comparison.(NED)

    [Actually, Ned, that is exactly the problem. The fact that Mohammed was both a religious leader and a political/military leader means he created Jihad as a religious war doctrine. Civilized people nowadays consider war to be a “necessary evil”, to be engaged in reluctantly in the face of a threat to survival. You’ll notice that there is much criticism in the West of the war in Iraq, as there has been of every war in recent times. This is quite different from a religious war doctrine, in which believers think killing unbelievers is encouraged by their god. In religious wars, people kill others just for believing differently, even if they are no threat! If this is not a meaningful distinction to you, I suggest we agree to disagree and drop the subject.–CAS]

    [Any religion or law is fascist? So the Saudi Arabian government is the same as the United States government? Anything with rules is fascist? I don’t think this merits a response.–CAS]….but comparing the actions’ outcomes and the hijacking of democracy (please refer to You Tube for relevant documentaries) in both countries creates a state of resemblance but under different tags. You may agree that the police state and facts manipulation, which Americans are currently undergoing in the name of security doesn’t result in anything except analogy (NED).

    [Actually, the American Heritage Dictionary (scroll down to second listing) gives two definitions for the term “fascist” as a noun, and two as an adjective, which is how I used the term. I also use the term “Fascism” (note the difference in the final letter) to refer to “laws”, as you say, or “doctrine”.–CAS] ….I may fail to agree with you a person to dictate and religion to dictate is completely different workings especially in case of legitimacy….a religion to dictate, that is a law, a person to dictate is a subject, both are on the extreme ends.(NED)

    [Yes, religions generally give guidelines for behaviors. Not all religions, however, tell their followers to fight the unbeliever with a sword. I will let the reader decide who is giving blogs a bad name.–CAS]….I have to take you back to where there was a state of defence like the state which currently America is suffering from….you have to agree to the resemblance….if a believer or none believer (as the case was in those days) attacks you have to fight….Also America in currently trying to spread its ideology by micro-nuclear bombs and state terror and not lollipops….so as I said it a book that addressed daily workings and actual affairs, and for it to survive the test of time in such accuracy I think either Bush is a Muslim or it is a heavenly Book.

    Thanks once again..

  3. criticned says:

    P.S : I forgot the following and would like to please comment on that paragraph…

    “Actually, the Quran is one of the sources of Sharia, ………(CAS)” Qura’an is the only source of Sharia’a…in case you are referring to the Teachings of Prophet or the Hadith as source; I assure you it is not. If the teachings of the prophet do not coincide with the Qura’an then it is not correct Hadith, according to source of examination of Hadith.

    [Ned, if the Quran were the only source of Sharia, there would be no death penalty for apostates, as there is no explicit command for that in the Quran. There is, however, in the Hadith, and since it does not contradict the Quran (or that is the apparent reasoning of the Mujtahedin), the Hadith is used as source material for that ruling.]

    By the way you assumed I am an orthodox Muslim that is not bad, especially in may case were I was brought up in a pure Catholic School, I hereby advise you to visit my blog to assess my mode of thinking. (NED).

    [Ned, I said “If orthodox Muslims believe, as you appear to, that it is essential to follow all of the verses of the Quran….” I did not say you were orthodox, I said that you appeared to agree with the orthodox Muslims on that point. I made no statement of fact about your mode of thinking, but remarked on what you appeared to believe (based on your comments) regarding following all verses of the Quran.–CAS]


  4. reformislam says:

    Most of the Western Muslim establishment is comprised of Islamist groups claiming to be moderates. True moderate Muslims reject Islamic supremacy and Sharia; embrace religious equality and democracy.

    What is a moderate Muslim? According to a dictionary, a moderate is a person who is opposed to radical or extreme views or measures, especially in politics or religion. Yet, majority of the public seem to be struggling with the definition of a moderate Muslim. Perhaps we can make this task easier by defining a radical Muslim and then defining the moderate as an opposite of the radical.

    Muslims Against Sharia compiled a list of issues that differentiate moderate Muslims from Islamic radicals. Hopefully you can help us grow this list.
    http://muslimsagainstsharia.blogspot.com/ 2008/01/what-is-moderate-muslim.html

    Poll: Who is a moderate Muslim?
    http://muslimsagainstsharia.blogspot.com/ 2008/01/poll-who-is-moderate-muslim.html

  5. citizensagainstsharia says:


    Thank you for your comment.

    I agree that there is no agreement on the definition for “moderate Muslims”. I differ somewhat with your definitions, because it seems to me that what is extreme depends on what is the norm. I think it’s likely that half or more Muslims worldwide support Sharia, for example, and it does not make sense to me to define half or more Muslims as extreme.

    Most of what you call “radical” I would define as “orthodox”, which is very mainstream. To be “extreme” or “radical” would be to actively participate in Jihad; so, for example, Osama bin Laden is “extreme”.

    You define yourself as “moderate”, yet I find your views to be out of the mainstream (unfortunately), in fact challenging to the mainstream, and therefore I would call you “reform-minded”.

    I generally avoid the term “moderate Muslim”, but would tend to agree with one reformer I read (whose name I don’t recall at the moment) who said that moderate Muslims are Muslims who want peace and freedom, yet they do not challenge the issues within Islam that support Jihad and Sharia. They are content to ignore the problem or even deny that the problem exists. This does not, obviously, describe your group. Even if “moderate Muslims” (as defined in this paragraph) want the same things as “reform-minded Muslims”, I think it is useful to differentiate between the two groups, because moderate Muslims are currently part of the problem.

    When you get half or more Muslims to agree with you, then it might be said that your views are “moderate”. I hope the day comes.

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