I once found this fantastic website: Explaining Surah 9:29

One of the things that learned from it is that there are two separate words for a disbeliever:

KAAFIR (sing.) Kaafiroon or Kaafireen (plu.): These are non-Muslims who rejected Islam after knowing and understanding Islam from authentic sources. See Qur'an verses 2:6-7 about them. I would like to translate the term as "Islam-rejecters" but the ignorant translate it as "infidels". Unfortunately, ignorant translators use the term infidel for Mushrik as well as Kaafir whereas these are very different terms.

JAAHIL (sing.) Juhla or Jahiloon or Jahileen (plu.): As a Qur’anic term jaahil means those ignorant people who are unaware of Islamic teachings and they didn’t have a chance to accept or reject Islam. Once a person rejects Islam after knowing its teachings and understanding from authentic sources, this person would be a Kaafir. Literally jaahil is any uninformed or uneducated person including Muslims who did not make efforts to know the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Some learned Muslims have the opinion that a Kaafir may also be a Jaahil; the case in point may be Abul Hakam Amr ibn Al-Hisham knew the message of Islam yet he rejected it and the Prophet called him Abu Jahal, the father of ignorance.

I only ever however hear the term Kaafir used, and it strikes me that in some cases it may be more appropriate to say Jaahil, not Kaafir. Am I wrong in my assumption? The issue is also compounded by the fact that some people can be both, according to some opinions. In this case, which is more correct?

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    To raise a minor point of phrasing... "those ignorant people who are aware of unaware of Islamic teachings" is quite inflammatory, as it suggests they are ignorant in general, but in addition are unaware of Islam. Better phrasing would be "those ignorant of Islamic teachings", which speaks only of their knowledge/awareness of a very specific thing (Islam), and nothing further. Aug 14, 2012 at 5:41
  • Jahil seems like a harsh term. It sounds more inflammatory than the word "ignorant" in English; it's closer to the word "retarded" in tone.
    – Muz
    Aug 18, 2012 at 16:33
  • @Muz it does? Would you mind elaborating? Aug 18, 2012 at 16:47
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    @Pureferret: I'm not sure about the proper Arabian translation, but where I come from, it's used as an insult to call someone really stupid or uneducated, as in trying to sound smart but is actually jahil. A google search would bring up popular usage of the term. Note that Abu Jahal is someone who caused Muslims a lot of trouble, and it's quite an insult. It's also a play on words because Abu Jahal was also known as Abu al-Hakam (meaning father of wisdom).
    – Muz
    Aug 18, 2012 at 17:07

1 Answer 1


Note that there is also the word "unbeliever". It seems that "unbeliever" can be used for a person "who does not believe" whereas "disbeliever" can be used for a person "who is presented and rejected". The prefix "dis" can be used for rejection (compared to the prefix "un" which can be used for "not" without rejection). So "disbelieve" seems to imply "making a conscious decision" to reject/dismiss something.

Disclaimer: I am not a English language expert and my answer is based on limited research. It might be good to ask a question about their differences on English.SE.

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    I made a question about this on English.SE,
    – user44
    Aug 14, 2012 at 3:13
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    Personally I think "non-believer" feels more natural (than "unbeliever") to say/type, and seems (in most definitions) to be synonymous. My concern, however, is that most people would not make any distinction between "disbeliever" , "unbeliever" and "non-believer". I suspect this is ripe for adding even more confusion. Aug 14, 2012 at 5:32

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