Toward Islamic Reformation: 20,000 Muslim scholars agree to scrap legal category of ‘infidel’

As part of its years-long effort to “transform the prevailing ‘Muslim mindset,'” the world’s largest Muslim organization has abolished the term “infidel” as a legal category in Islamic law.

This development comes after years of discussion among 20,000 Islamic scholars in Indonesia, the world’s most populous majority-Muslim country.

“In a major break with Islamic conservatism, the world’s largest Muslim movement – Nahdlatul Ulama – has abolished the legal category of infidels, those who do not adhere to Islam, which has long cast a shadow over the faith’s relationships with other religions,” the LibForAll Foundation said in a statement today.

The Center for Security Policy has partnered in the past with the LibForAll Foundation’s “Muslims Speak Out” project to combat Wahhabi Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), whose name means “Revival of the Guardians of Islamic Doctrine,” has 94 million members. It presents a devout but more tolerant interpretation of Islam at sharp odds with the Islamism and extremism of the Muslim Brotherhood, the old Saudi and present Qatar regimes, al Qaeda, and ISIS.

This will take some digesting for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Twenty thousand Muslim theologians with the world’s largest Muslim organization have agreed that, under sharia law, sharia is no longer supremacist.

The NU has been holding the theological discussions LibForAll says, to “address the theological underpinnings of jihadi violence.”

Not only that, but the discussions are intended to bring about a long-awaited reformation in Islam worldwide.

Start of long-awaited reformation in Islamic doctrine and thought

“As could be expected, these pioneering decrees elicited a negative response from Muslim extremists, who falsely accused Nahdlatul Ulama of seeking to ‘delete’ certain passages of the Qur’an,” LibForAll said. “In reality, NU theologians are moving to recontextualize (i.e., reform) obsolete tenets of Islamic orthodoxy, and bring Islamic teachings into alignment with the modern world of democracy and human rights, by using the very same principles of usul al-fiqh employed to create Islamic law during the Middle Ages.”

Why the anti-‘Infidel’ decision is important

The rejection of “infidel” or kafir as a category in Islamic law is a major step forward in Islamic thought.

All “infidels,” or non-Muslims, are mandated to be treated as servile subjects or put to death. Under the political entity of an Islamic Caliphate, which would rule in the name of all Muslims and subjugate everyone else, all non-Muslims are infidels and to be treated accordingly.

The Central Board of the NU, after years of discussion among 20,000 Sunni religious scholars in the NU movement, has formally rejected the existence of a caliphate, and with it, the legal concept of an “infidel.”

According to LibForAll, the NU has published documents based on those discussions “that endorsed the concept of a nation state rather than a caliphate and recognized all citizens irrespective of religion, ethnicity, or creed as having equal rights and obligations.”

This development could be the start of a long-awaited Reformation in Islamic religious doctrine.

“The documents decreed that the modern nation state is theologically legitimate; that there is no legal category of infidel (kafir) within a modern nation state, only ‘fellow citizens’; that Muslims must obey the laws of any modern nation state in which they dwell; and that Muslims have a religious obligation to foster peace rather than automatically wage war on behalf of their co-religionists, whenever conflict erupts between Muslim and non-Muslim populations anywhere in the world,” according to LibForAll.

‘The recontextualization of Islamic texts is likely to reverberate throughout the Muslim world’

“With Indonesia being the world’s largest Muslim nation and Nahdlatul Ulama wielding significant influence within the government of President Joko Widodo, the recontextualization of Islamic texts is likely to reverberate throughout the Muslim world at a time of rising religious ultra-conservatism,” LibForAll said.

“This represents the latest step in a long-term, systematic and institutional process, through which Nahdlatul Ulama spiritual leaders are moving to address obsolete and problematic tenets of Islamic orthodoxy often used to justify religious supremacism, hatred and violence,” according to the foundation.

The NU’s reinterpretation of fundamental Islamic doctrine erases the theological basis for jihad.The historic implications of these rulings may be glimpsed from the fact that—absent the category of infidel—there is no theological basis for Muslims to foster enmity or perpetrate acts of violence (e.g., jihadi terrorism) against those perceived to be non-Muslim,” LibForAll said.

About J. Michael Waller

J. Michael Waller is Vice President for Government Affairs at the Center for Security Policy. His areas of concentration are propaganda, political warfare, psychological warfare, and subversion.

Dr. Waller is the former Walter and Leonore Annenberg Professor of International Communication at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school in Washington, DC.

A former instructor with the Naval Postgraduate School, he is an instructor/lecturer at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg.

He is a founding editorial board member of NATO’s  Defence Strategic Communications journal.

He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the George Washington University, was the first John M. Olin Fellow at the Center for Defense Journalism at Boston University, where he received his Master’s in international relations and communication; and holds a PhD in international security affairs from Boston University, where he was an Earhart Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology, and Policy under Professor Uri Ra’anan.

An adaptation of his doctoral dissertation was published as Secret Empire: The KGB In Russia Today (Westview, 1994), in which he warned of the rise of a KGB-gangster state in Russia and predicted the rise of a KGB officer to control Russia.