What do you call an unbeliever?

Frequently asked questions / FAQ

What do Muslims mean by "unbelievers"?

People who do not believe in the Koranic revelations and the divine mission of Muhammad are traditionally regarded in Islam as "unbelievers" or, more precisely, as "deniers". (The Arabic word kafir literally means "Verberger, Denierner", the usual translation "Unbeliever" is not correct, because it is neither Koranic nor Arabic, but inspired by the German usage, this in turn by the Latin in-fidelis and Greek a-pistos - both terms for "Unbelieving, non-believing" in the New Testament.)

Since non-Muslims do not usually believe in Muhammad as a messenger of God, they are called kafir denotes because they do not recognize this Islamic truth of faith and thus deny it. This does not mean, however, that non-Muslims are not granted any belief at all, because Jews and Christians are clearly referred to in the Koran as followers of earlier prophets with their own holy scriptures, as "owners of scriptures". In fact, there is an opinion in Islam today that followers of other religions cannot fundamentally be called "unbelievers".

The fact that the term “infidels” is used in the rhetoric of violent Islamists to underline images of the enemy is a completely different matter. According to the Koran, Muslims should treat people of different faiths with tolerance, since only God can guide people.