It’s probably likely that you’ve associated the term “infidel” with Islam. However, the term “infidel” is a Catholic-Christian term, originating from the Latin language. It has no roots in Islam or Arabic terminology. Some have attempted to equate “infidel” with “kafir”, but these are two different terms, from two different languages that carry two different meanings. “Kafir” – كفر in the Arabic language means a “rejector” or “one who covers”. When used theologically in Arabic-Islamic literature, it refers to one who “rejects the truth of Islam”. The Islamic usage is clarified by Shaykh Abu Yusuf Riyad ul Haqq from the UK lower down in this article.
The Origin of the Word Infidel
The word infidel, is actually a Catholic term, used by the Iberian (Spanish + Portugese) Catholics to describe a person with any other religious affiliation beside that of Christian Catholicism. This might come as a shock to many but the list of persons referred to as infidels, are Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Protestants, Arians have been subject to use of this terminology by Catholic Christianity. My evidence isn’t Muslim scholarship, but the 1910, Volume 8 of the Catholic Encyclopedia:
(Latin in, privative, and fidelis.)
As in ecclesiastical language those who by baptism have received faith in Jesus Christ and have pledged Him their fidelity and called the faithful, so the name infidel is given to those who have not been baptized. The term applies not only to all who are ignorant of the true God, such as pagans of various kinds, but also to those who adore Him but do not recognize Jesus Christ, as Jews, Mohammedans; strictly speaking it may be used of catechumens also, though in early ages they were called Christians; for it is only through baptism that one can enter into the ranks of the faithful. Those however who have been baptized but do not belong to the Catholic Church, heretics andschismatics of divers confessions are not called infidels but non-Catholics.
The relation in which all these classes stand to the Catholic Church is not the same; in principle, those who have been baptized are subjects of the Church and her children even though they be rebellious children; they are under her laws or, at least, are exempt from them only so far as pleases the Church. Infidels, on the contrary, are not members of the ecclesiasticalsociety, according to the words of St. Paul: Quid mihi de his qui fortis sunt, judicare? (1 Corinthians 5:12); they are entirely exempt from the canon law; they need to be enlightened and converted, not punished. Needless to say, infidels do not belong to the supernatural state; if they receive supernaturalgraces from God, it is not through the channels established by Jesus Christ for Christians, but by a direct personal inspiration, for instance, the grace of conversion. But their condition is not morally bad; negative infidelity, says St. Thomas (II-II, q. x, a. 1), does not partake of the nature of sin, but rather of punishment, in the sense that ignorance of the Faith is a consequence of original sin.
That is why the condemnation by the Church of proposition lxviii of Baius: Infidelits pure negativa, in his quibus Christus non et praedicatus, peccatum est (purely negative infidelity in those to whom Christ has not been preached is a sin), was fully justified.
But it is different with regard to positive infidelity, which is a sin against faith, the most grievous of all sins, apostasy. Being endowed with reason, and subject to natural law, infidels are not excluded from the moral order; they can perform acts of natural virtue; and so the ecclesiastical authorities had to condemn proposition xxv of Baius which declared that: Omnia infidelium opera peccata sunt, et philosophorum virtutes vitia (all works of infidels are sinful, and all the virtues of the philosophers arevices; cf. St. Thomas, loc. cit., a. 4; Hurter, Theol. dogm., III, thes. cxxvi and cxxvii).
Not only was the term ‘infidel’ supposed to refer to all non-Christians, it was also used as a basis to create religious and state laws to demean the “unfaithful”:
The laws regulating the dealings between Catholics and infidels in civil life were inspired also by religious motives, the danger of perversion, and the high idea entertained in the ages of faith of the superiority of Christians to infidels. These regulations, of course, did not refer to all acts of civil life; moreover, they were not directed against all infidels indifferently, but only against Jews; at the present day they have fallen almost completely into desuetude. – [Ibid].
Does “Infidel” mean “Kafir” in Islam?
Shaykh Abu Yusuf Riyad ul Haqq [db] explains the use of the word “kafir” in Islam. The term itself has many meanings and it does not necessarily refer to solely “those who disbelieve in Islam”, as explained by the Shaykh, it holds varying contexts, one surprising example is that in reference to a farmer in the Qur’an:
Despite popular usage and its association with Islam, the term “infidel” has no real relation to the faith. Similarly, its equation with the Arabic-Islamic term of “kafir” is also without justification. Some Muslims may unfortunately perpetuate this confusing of terms by adopting the usage of “infidel” in their religious vocabulary, but that does not legitimize nor validate it. Share this article with your friends and let’s help clear the air on these terms!
and God knows best.
Note: This article was originally published on 29/7/2012 @ 6:20. After being featured on AlterNet, Salon and Raw Story under the section of “Heretics”, I realised the main video link was not working and have since fixed that issue while making some minor changes to the article itself. It was later featured on Higher Perspective and Waking Times.