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Who is Muslim? Q&A on Islam

OurIndonesia – Controversies about what constitutes to be a Muslim are not new. Muslim had debated this question for centuries, without any prospect of ending it soon. What I am doing here is not to lay this question into a rest forever. What I pursue here is to propose an alternative definition of “Muslimness”, a minimalist one that runs counter to the maximalist definition that, in my view, lands many Muslim into unending war of truth claims. Unless we put an end to this maximalist definition of Islam and Mulimness, prospect of inter-sectarian war and conflict between Sunnis and Shiites would never stop.

My minimalist definition of Muslimness will run like this: Whoever professes the shahadah (the Islamic creedal formula), he or she deserves to be called Muslim (m.) or Muslima (f.). There is nothing in Islam that warrants us to label anyone professing this credo as kafir or infidel, no matter what sect, school of thought or political affiliation the person in question belongs to. Sunnis, Shiites, Ahmadis – all of them are definitely Muslim, due to simple fact that they profess shahadah.

What is the essence of shahadah then? It is the admission of monotheism (tauhid) and the prophecy of Muhammad (nubuwwa). In other words, what lies at the core of Islamic shahada is tauhid and nubuwwa, nothing more or less.

You may suspect the legitimacy of this minimalist definition, asking whether there is any textual support for it in the Islamic foundational text. Of course, there is. A prophetic tradition narrated by Bukhari and Muslim reads: Umirtu an uqatila al-nasa hatta yaqulu la ilaha illa ‘l-Lah wa anna Muhammadan ‘abduhu wa rasuluh. Which means: I (ie Muhammad) am enjoined to go into a war against people until they profess that there is no god but God and Muhammad is His servant and messenger.

I know that this hadith will leave many of us wonder if Islam is propagated through war, violence, and compulsion. I will leave this issue for the next essay.

With such minimalist definition, no one has rights to label others as kafir simply for different opinion or interpretation he holds on certain religious matters. This minimalist definition, I hope, will save us from the pathetic game of takfir, ie accusing others of being non-Muslim. Had we Muslim been able to do this, Muslim and Muslim world would be spared a sectarian conflict, or at least reducing this sectarian tendency to its lowest level.

Muslim has been mired in an unrelenting fight and killing in a race for the title of “Muslim”. A group claims to be Muslim, while barring differing others from this honorable title. For many centuries such war of claims had dragged on without any groups being exhausted. Why such paranoia?

Next question: How about Ahmadis? Are they Muslim? Yes, they are undoubtedly Muslim. And whoever says otherwise has no valid hujjah or argument to do so. They are Muslim because all Ahmadis fulfill all requirements for being one. They profess shahada, pray five times a day, fast during Ramadan, pay religious alms (zaka) and perform pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj). Why should we call a person who observes all these rituals non-Muslim? It just does not make sense.

But, you may inquire further, Ahamadis believe in the new prophet after Muhammad? There are two ways of responding to this. First, Islamic shahada states only that “Muhammad is the messenger”, without any additional theological appendix about the finality of Muhammad’s messengership. Islamic shahada does not say: And Muhammad is the last messenger, does it?

The idea that the finality of prophecy (khatm al-nubuwwa) constitutes what it means to be Muslim is a later invention of Muslim theologian as part of larger inter-sectarian conflict.

Suppose that Ahmadis do believe in the advent of new prophet, there is nothing in such belief that contravenes the Islamic shahada. They, however, had already fulfilled the minimum requirement of being Muslim as taught by the Prophet Muhammad in the above mentioned hadith.

Secondly, the new prophet that Ahmadis believe in, ie Hazrat Ghulam Ahmad, is not the “prophet” in the sense that is understood so far by other non-Ahmadi Muslim. What is meant by “prophet” here is nothing more than a reformer of mujaddid whose main objective is not to annul or invalidate (or abrogate, naskh) the Islamic shariah taight by Muhammad, but rather to confirm it.

In other words, the prophecy claimed by Hazrat Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of Ahmadiyah movement, is not what is called “nubuwwa al-tashri’”, ie a prophecy that comes with new teaching and divine law (sharia), but rather “nubuwwa al-taqrir wa al-tabligh”, ie that which confirms and strengthens the existing sharia.

What ends with the advent of the Prophet Muhammad is not the idea of prophecy in general, but only the specific kind of prophecy, ie the prophecy of tashri’ that teaches people about new sharia and doctrine.

Whereas the prophecy that confirms the previous teaching of Muhammad may continue forever until the end of time. This second kind of prophecy is no different in its basic meaning from what Sunnis widely call “tajdid”, reformation. It is just difference in the use of terminology, but not in essence. Never let ourselves trapped in superficial debate on terminology ignoring the essence.