An infidel (literally "one without faith") is a derogatory English word meaning "one who rejects the central tenets of a religion, or has no religious beliefs," especially in reference to the doctrines of Christianity or Islam. Historically, the term has been used by Christians and Muslims to describe those outside their religious group. When used in an Islamic sense it serves as a translation of the Arabic word kafir (literally "one who denies the blessings of God") referring to all non-Muslims or at least to the people not "of the book," which includes the holy books of Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
The term infidel comes from the Latin word infidelis, which means "unbelieving" or "unfaithful." During the Middle Ages (c. 450 – c.1500 C.E.), the Catholic Church used the term to describe Muslims. On occasion, Jews were also included in this category. As the Moors (Muslims of North Africa) moved into Spain in the early eighth century and the Seljuq Turks conquered much of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) during the eleventh century, Christians became increasingly fearful of Muslim influence.
When Muslims occupied lands that had formerly been ruled by Christians, the Muslims forbade Christians from making pilgrimages to the Holy Land in the Middle East (present-day Palestine). In response, western Europeans took up arms in eight religious and military expeditions known as the Crusades, which began in 1095 and lasted for nearly 200 years. During the ensuing hostilities, each of the combatant forces believed that God was on their side and their sworn enemies were infidels, worthy of being killed for that reason.
First used in Middle English circa 1460 (adjective, noun), from the Middle French infidèle, and from Latin infidelis "unfaithful," later "unbelieving." In the fifteenth century, meaning "a non-Christian" (especially a Saracen); later "one who does not believe in religion" (1526). Also used to translate Arabic kafir, from a root meaning "to disbelieve, to deny," strictly referring to all non-Muslims, but often synonymous with "Christian"; hence, from a Muslim or Jewish point of view, "a Christian."
In Roman Catholic Christianity, the term "infidel" is an ecclesiastical term referring to one who does not believe in the divinity of Jesus, or one who has not been baptized. A heretic, in contrast, is an individual who believes in the divinity of Jesus, but also knowingly holds beliefs that contradict Catholic dogma, while a schismatic is an individual who does not hold beliefs contrary to Catholic dogma, but denies the authority of the Catholic Church.
In the Catholic Church, the term infidel applies not only to all who are unaware of the true God and have not pledged their fidelity, such as various kinds of pagans, but also to those who do not recognize Jesus as the messiah or Christ, such as Jews and Muslims. The term may also be used of catechumens, since the Church considers that only through baptism can one enter into the ranks of the faithful. As late as the turn of the twentieth century, Catholic publications held that "No act of an infidel can have any value from the point of view of the spiritual society to which he does not belong."  However, in the current era Christians who do not belong to the Catholic Church are not called infidels, but non-Catholics.
The Crusades, which occurred between the years of 1096 and 1291, were an attempt to take back what the Christians considered to be their holy land from the Muslims. “Taking the Cross” meant for European noblemen to take arms for the Pope against the infidel Muslims of Arabia, also known as the Saracens. To take the cross meant a complete pardon for past sins and favor gained in the eyes of the church.
There were eight crusades in all. So great were the animosities expressed during the Crusades by both sides—who considered each other the "infidel"—that they still resonate today throughout the Muslim and Christian worlds, in individual perceptions and beliefs, religious education, and geopolitical decision-making.
Expeditions from the West to recover Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulcher from the control of the infidel were also a source of religious intoleration and persecution in Europe as well. The undisciplined mobs accompanying the first three Crusades attacked the "infidel" Jews in Germany, France, and England, and put many of them to death, leaving behind for centuries strong feelings of ill will on both sides. When the crusaders stormed Jerusalem on July 15, 1099, they drove the Jews into one of the synagogues and there burned them alive.
Kafir (Arabic: كافر kāfir; plural كفّار kuffār) is an Arabic word meaning an unbeliever, a person who hides, denies, or covers the truth. In cultural terms, it is a derogatory term used to describe an unbeliever, non-Muslims, a Muslim of a differing sect, or an apostate from Islam. It is usually translated into English as "infidel" or "unbeliever."
The Qur'an itself teaches:
- The unbelievers are your sworn enemies...(Sura 8:58)
- Seek out your enemies relentlessly...(Sura 2:216)
- You shall not plead for traitors...(Sura 8:58)
- Allah does not love the treacherous or the sinful...(Sura 4:107)
- Kill the pagans wherever you may find them...(Sura 8:58)
The prophet Muhammad reportedly said: "No Muslim should be killed for killing a Kafir [infidel]." (Hadith vol. 9:50)
- And We made known this decree to him, that the last remnants of those [sinners] should be cut off by the morning. (Sura 15:66)
- O Messenger! Rouse the Believers among you to the fight. If there are twenty amongst you, patient and persevering, they will vanquish two hundred: if a hundred, they will vanquish two thousand of the Unbelievers: for these are people without understanding. (Sura 8:65)
- Remember your Lord inspired the angels with the message: "I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: you smite them above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them. (Sura 8:12}
- The infidels should not think that they can get away from us. Prepare against them whatever arms and weaponry you can muster so that you may terrorize them. (Sura 8:59-60)
Some radical Islamic scholars say People of the Book —that is to say Christians, Jews (including Samaritans), and "Sabians" —are kafir (disbelievers and infidels) because even if they are considered recipients of divine revelation from God, the Qur'an literally stamps them with the term Al-Ladheena Kafaru (those who cover) Walaqad Kaffara (Surely they have become kafirs).
However, this is the more extreme view. Many Muslims reserve the term "kafir" for polytheists, atheists, and those who consciously live in spite of God. Hence, the People of the Book, as worshipers of God are not kafir in the sense of being infidels deserving of death.
Ibn Taymiyah says:
- Kafir is the attribute of everyone who rejects something that God has commanded us to believe in, after news of that has reached him, whether he rejects it in his heart without uttering it, or he speaks those words of rejection without believing it in his heart, or he does both; or he does an action which is described in the texts as putting one beyond the pale of faith.
Contemporary use of "infidel"
In the twentieth century, the ecumenical movement and dialogs among leaders of world religious led to the the "infidel being used less frequently in mainstream religious circles. However, in recent times, the rise of radical Islam has revived the use of the term, especially by Muslim fundamentalists who consider the West to be a civilization of infidels rather than sincere Christians, who who consider those who support the State of Israel, regardless of their faith, have put themselves outside the protection normally granted to "People of the Book."
- Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. Infidel. Free Press, 2007. ISBN 9780743289689
- Darwish, Nonie. Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror. Sentinel HC, 2006. ASIN B000W8SGY
- Dekker, Ted. Infidel (The Lost Books, Book 2). Thomas Nelson, 2008. ISBN 9781595543639
- Shea, Robert. The Saracen: Land of the Infidel. Ballantine Books, 1989. ISBN 9780345335883
- Wheatcroft, Andrew. Infidels. Random House, 2004. B000FC1R4G
All links retrieved April 15, 2014.
New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:
Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.