The Fate of Non-Muslims in the Next Life According to 20th Century Azhari Reformist Theologians

Apr 08

I’m not quite sure who this Islam al-Buhayri fellow is, or why he has suddenly become controversial in Egypt.  His facebook page describes him modestly as a an “A Reforming [lit.: “correcting”, musahhih] Islamic Researcher.” One issue that seems to have stirred the pot is his claim that it is impossible to describe the People of the Book, i.e., Jews  and Christians, as kuffar, i.e., non-Muslims, from the perspective of the Quran.  Here is a link to a very interesting fatwa by Yusuf al-Qaradawi on this question.  Qaradawi’s basic position is that kafir — disbeliever or non-Muslim — has two meanings in Islam.  The first is a legal category, and applies to anyone who has not affirmatively embraced Islam.  The second is a theological category, and applies for purposes of reward and punishment in the next life.  In the second case, a person is only a kafir and subject to divine punishment if the person, despite subjectively recognizing the truth of Islam, refuses to become a Muslim out of obstinacy and spite. As for this life, Muslims and non-Muslims according to him are supposed to cooperate on the basis of justice, not whether they have the same belief.  This view itself grew out of a series of theological debates that took place in the Azhar in the second-half of the twentieth-century.  I have written on this debate in a paper titled, “No Salvation Outside Islam: Muslim Modernists, Democratic Politics, and Islamic Theological Exclusivism.”  That paper was one chapter in the larger book. “Between Heaven and Hell: Islam, Salvation and the Fate of Others,” edited by Mohammad Hassan Khalil.

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