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Infidel is an ecclesiastical term in Christianity around which the Church developed a body of theology that deals with the concept of infidelity, which makes a clear differentiation between those who were baptized and followed the teachings of the Church versus those who are outside the faith. The term infidel was used by Christians to describe those perceived as the enemies of Christianity.
After the ancient world the concept of otherness, an exclusionary notion of the outside by societies with more or less coherent cultural boundaries, became associated with the development of the monotheistic and prophetic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
In modern era literature, the term infidel includes in its scope atheists, polytheists, animists, heathen and pagan. Infidel as a concept is sometimes contrasted with the concept of religious pluralism.
The origins of the word Infidel date to the late 15th century, deriving from the French infidèle or Latin īnfidēlis, from in- "not" + fidēlis "faithful" (from fidēs "faith", related to fīdere 'to trust'). The word originally denoted a person of a religion other than one's own, specifically a Christian to a Muslim, a Muslim to a Christian, or a Gentile to a Jew. Later meanings in the 15th century include "unbelieving", "a non-Christian" and "one who does not believe in religion" (1527).
Christians have historically referred to people outside their religious group as infidels, somebody who has actively rejected the Christian religion. It only became a well established notion in English sometime in the early sixteenth century, when Jews or "Mohammedans", were described as active opponents to Christianity, and as such infidel was seen as term of contempt. In Catholic doctrine, an infidel is one who does not believe in the doctrine at all and is thus distinct from a heretic, who is one seen as having fallen astray from true doctrine, i.e. by denying the divinity of Jesus. Similarly, the ecclesiastical term was also used by the Methodist Church, in reference to those "without faith".
Today, the usage of the term infidel has declined; the current preference is for the terms non-Christians and non-believers (persons without religious affiliations or beliefs), reflecting the commitment of mainstream Christian denominations to engage in dialog with persons of other faiths. Nevertheless, some apologists have argued for the usage of the term, stating that it does not come from a disrespectful perspective, but is similar to using the term orthodox for devout believers.
Moreover, some translations of the Bible, such as the Authorized Version, which is still in vogue today, employ the word infidel, while others supplant the term with nonbeliever; the term is found in two places:
Infidel is an English language word commonly used to translate the equivalent Arabic language word for non-Muslims; kafir (sometimes "kaafir", "kufr" or "kuffar"), and the equivalent Turkish loanword gâvur, literally the one who "covers" and "conceals", is usually translated as "infidel" and "disbeliever". Other terms sometimes synonymously used in Islamic literature for infidel are shirk, mushirk, and mushrikun.
In the earliest recited verses of the Qur'an, such as Al-Kafirun, the term kafir simply divided the Meccan community into believers and unbelievers. In later recited verses, particularly those recited after the Hijra in 622 AD, the concept of infidel - kafir - was expanded upon, with Jews and Christians included. The expanded term kafir refers to anyone who satisfies one or more of the following conditions - practices idolatry of any form, does not accept the absolute oneness of God, denies Muhammed as Prophet, ignores God's ayah (evidence or signs), or rejects belief in resurrection and final judgment. Jews were condemned as infidels for their disbelief in God's ayah, Christians were condemned as infidels for their belief in the Trinity, which the Qur'an declared as a form of polytheism. Texts of Sunni sect of Islam, the majority, include other sects of Islam such as Shia as infidel. Certain sects of Islam, such as Wahhabism, include as kafir those Muslims who undertake Sufi shrine pilgrimage and follow Shia teachings about Imams. Similarly, in Africa and South Asia, certain sects of Islam such as Hausas, Ahmadi, Akhbaris have been repeatedly declared as Kufir or infidels by other sects of Muslims.
The usage of kafir, and related words with root k-f-r for infidel and unbelievers is very common in the Qur'an and Hadith. Under Islam, an infidel (kafir) is considered unclean and ritually impure (najasat). Many scholars claim Islam's original sources (Qur'an and Hadith) and derived sources (Ijma, Qiyas and Qitabs) speak of violence against infidel unbelievers living in Dar al-Harb - countries targeted for war because they refused to submit to Islam, as a matter of religious duty of the Muslim community (fard ala'l kifāya). Other scholars disagree. Yet other scholars refer to the historical sequence of the verses, suggesting verses from early Meccan period recommend waiting and living apart from unbelievers. Later recited verses, such as Surah 2:191 discuss violence against k-f-r, widely translated as infidel and unbelievers.
Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors. And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers.
Narrated 'Abdullah: The Prophet recited Surat-an-Najm and then prostrated himself, and all who were with him prostrated too. But an old man took a handful of dust and touched his forehead with it saying, "This is sufficient for me." Later on I saw him being killed as an infidel.
When the Messenger of Allah appointed anyone as leader of an army or detachment he would especially exhort him to fear Allah and to be good to the Muslims who were with him. He would say: Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war, do not embezzle the spoils [of war, booty]; do not break your pledge; and do not mutilate the dead bodies; do not kill the children. When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to accept Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them. Then invite them to migrate from their lands to the land of Muhairs and inform them that, if they do so, they shall have all the privileges and obligations of the Muhajirs. If they refuse to migrate, tell them that they will have the status of Bedouin Muslims and will be subjected to the Commands of Allah like other Muslims, but they will not get any share from the spoils of war or Fai' except when they actually fight with the Muslims against other disbelievers. If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah's help and fight them.
The term infidel, kafir in Islam, is broad. One group is the so-called murtadd, who are variously translated as apostate or renegades. For renegades, Islamic law prescribes death, with the opportunity first of obeying the demand to return to Islam. The other group, the so-called kafirun asliyun, or unbelievers proper, have only to expect death or slavery.
Some scholars claim Islam considers Jews and Christians as fellow believers. They are called the "People of the Book (Ahl al-kitab)". Other Islamic scholars and literature, however, consider Jews and Christians as kafir. Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, for example, claims, "it is well known among the Muslims, and they are unanimously agreed that the Christians are kaafirs, and even that those who do not regard them as kaafirs are also kaafirs." Similarly, Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Baz suggests, "The Jews and Christians are both kafirs and mushrikeen. They are kafirs because they deny the truth and reject it. And they are mushrikeen because they worship someone other than Allah." Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, and other scholars, consider annual religious holidays celebrated by Christians such as Christmas as a celebration of the belief in the "Son of God" which in Islam is blasphemy and kafir.
Kafir, like the term infidel, has also come to be regarded as offensive.
Judaism has a notion of pagan gentiles who are called acum (an acronym of Ovdei Cohavim u-Mazzaloth or, literally, those who are "star-and-constellation worshippers") or idolaters. The Hebrew term, kofer, cognate with the Arabic kafir, is reserved for apostate Jews.
In Quid super his, Innocent IV, asked the question "[I]s it licit to invade a land that infidels possess or which belongs to them?" and held that while Infidels had a right to dominium (right to rule themselves and choose their own governments), however the pope, as the Vicar of Christ, de jure possessed the care of their souls and had the right to politically intervene in their affairs if their ruler violated or allowed his subjects to violate a Christian and Euro-centric normative conception of Natural law, such as sexual perversion or idolatry. He also held that he had an obligation to send missionaries to infidel lands, and that if they were prevented from entering or preaching, then the pope was justified in dispatching Christian forces accompanied with missionaries to invade those lands, as Innocent stated simply "If the infidels do not obey, they ought to be compelled by the secular arm and war may be declared upon them by the pope, and nobody else." This was however not a reciprocal right and non-Christian missionaries such as those of Muslims could not be allowed to preach in Europe "because they are in error and we are on a righteous path."
A long line of Papal hierocratic canonists, most notably those who adhered to Alanus Anglicus's influential arguments of the Crusading-era, denied Infidel dominium, and asserted Rome's universal jurisdictional authority over the earth, and the right to authorize pagan conquests solely on the basis of non-belief because of their rejection of the Christian god. In the extreme hierocractic canonical discourse of the mid-twelfth century such as that espoused by Bernard of Clairvaux, the mystic leader of the Cisertcians, legitimized German colonial expansion and practice of forceful Christianisation in the Slavic territories as a holy war against the Wends, arguing that infidels should be killed wherever they posed a menace to Christians. When Frederick the II unilaterally arrogated papal authority, he took on the mantle to "destroy convert, and subjugate all barbarian nations." A power in papal doctrine reserved for the pope. Hostiensis, a student of Innocent, in accord with Alanus, also asserted "... by law infidels should be subject to the faithful." and the heretical quasi-Donatist John Wyclif, regarded as the forefather of English Reformation, also held that valid dominium rested on a state of grace.
The Teutonic Knights were one of the by-products of this papal hierocratic and German discourse. After the Crusades in the Levant, they moved to crusading activities in the infidel Baltics. Their crusades against the Lithuanians and Poles however precipitated the Lithuanian Controversy, and the Council of Constance, following the condemnation of Wyclif, found Hostiensis's views no longer acceptable and ruled against the knights. Future Church doctrine was then firmly aligned with Innocents IV's position.
The development of counter arguments later on the validity of Papal authority, the rights of infidels and the primacy of natural law, led to various treatises such as those by Hugo Grotius, John Locke, Immanuel Kant and Thomas Hobbes, which in turn led to the transformation of international law's treatment of the relationship between Christian and non-Christian societies and the development of human rights.
During the Age of discovery, the Papal Bulls such as Romanus Pontifex and more importantly inter caetera (1493), implicitly removed dominium from infidels and granted them to the Spanish Empire and Portugal with the charter of guaranteeing the safety of missionaries. Subsequent English and French rejections of the bull refuted the Popes authority to exclude other Christian princes. As independent authorities such as the Head of the Church of England, they drew up charters for their own colonial missions based on the temporal right for care of infidel souls in language echoing the inter caetera. The charters and papal bulls would form the legal basis of future negotiations and consideration of claims as title deeds in the emerging Law of nations in the European colonization of the Americas.
The rights bestowed by Romanus Pontifex and inter caetera have never fallen from use, serving as the basis for legal arguments over the centuries. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1823 case Johnson v. M'Intosh that as a result of European discovery and assumption of ultimate dominion, Native Americans had only a right to occupancy of native lands, not the right of title. This decision was upheld in the 1831 case Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, giving Georgia authority to extend state laws over Cherokees within the state, and famously describing Native American tribes as "domestic dependent nations." This decision was modified in Worcester v. Georgia, which stated that the U.S. federal government, and not individual states, had authority in Indian affairs, but it maintained the loss of right to title upon discovery by Europeans.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Church views Marriage as forbidden and null when conducted between the faithful (Christians) and infidels, unless a dispensation has been granted. This is because marriage is a sacrament of the Catholic Church, which infidels are deemed incapable of receiving.
Some philosophers such as Thomas Paine, David Hume, George Holyoake, Charles Bradlaugh, Voltaire and Rousseau earned the label of infidel or freethinkers, both personally and for their respective traditions of thought because of their attacks on religion and opposition to the Church. They established and participated in a distinctly labeled, infidel movement or tradition of thought, that sought to reform their societies which were steeped in Christian thought, practice, laws and culture. The Infidel tradition was distinct from parallel anti-Christian, sceptic or deist movements, in that it was anti-theistic and also synonymous with atheism. These traditions also sought to set up various independent model communities, as well as societies, whose traditions then gave rise to various other socio-political movements such as secularism in 1851, as well as developing close philosophical ties to some contemporary political movements such as socialism and the French Revolution.
Towards the early twentieth century, these movements sought to move away from the tag "infidel" because of its associate negative connotation in Christian thought, and is attributed to George Holyoake's coining the term 'secularism' in an attempt to bridge the gap with other theist and Christian liberal reform movements.
In 1793, Immanuel Kant's Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, reflected the Enlightenment periods' philosophical development, one which differentiated between the moral and rational and substituted rational/irrational for the original true believer/infidel distinction.
Laws passed by the Catholic Church governed not just the laws between Christians and Infidels in matters of religious affairs, but also civil affairs. They were prohibited from participating or aiding in infidel religious rites, such as circumcisions or wearing images of non-Christian religious significance.
In the Early Middle Ages, based on the idea of the superiority of Christians to infidels, regulations came into place such as those forbidding Jews from possessing Christian slaves; the laws of the decretals further forbade Christians from entering the service of Jews, for Christian women to act as their nurses or midwives; forbidding Christians from employing Jewish physicians when ill; restricting Jews to definite quarters of the towns into which they were admitted and to wear a dress by which they might be recognized.
Later during the Victorian era, testimony of either self declared, or those accused of being Infidels or Atheists, was not accepted in a court of law because it was felt that they had no moral imperative to not lie under oath because they did not believe in God, or Heaven and Hell.
Atheism and irreligion are diseases so much more dangerous than infidelity or idolatry, as infidelity than heresy. Every heretic is in part an infidel, but every infidel is not in whole or part an heretic; every atheist is an infidel, so is not every infidel an atheist.
Kafir means an infidel, but more properly an atheist.
2123 'Many... of our contemporaries either do not at all perceive, or explicitly reject, this intimate and vital bond of man to God. Atheism must therefore be regarded as one of the most serious problems of our time.' 2125 Since it rejects or deniest the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion.
Is it conceivable that a Spirit which is invisible, and imponderable, and impalpable, and yet which is the seat of physical and moral powers, really occupies the universe? The infidel scoffs at the idea. We observe, however, that this same infidel implicitly believes in the existence of an all-pervading luminiferous ether, which is invisible, and imponderable, and impalpable, and yet is said to be more compact and more elastic than any material substance we can see and handle.
It is sometimes translated infidels, because an infidel is without faith; but is also properly rendered unbelievers in the strict Gospel sense of the word.
Likewise, "infidel," which had still been in use in the early nineteenth century, fell out of favor with hymn writers.
When we use the word infidel, we intend nothing disrespectful, any more than we do when we use the word orthodox.
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