|Drawing of two “kufaar” (farmers), plowing a field
The Confusion in English Regarding the Quranic Use of the Word ‘Kafir’
By Abdullah Al Abdalusi
May 5, 2016
An extract below:
Like the Christian concept that no one except God can determine whether someone is ultimately saved or not, or a theological  ‘Kafir’, since sincerity can only truly be known by God, and only He judges the hereafter of anyone.
There will be people on the day of judgement that never labelled themselves a ‘Muslim’ and will not suffer perdition (i.e. a Hanif – rightly inclined). One famous example of this (partly) during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) is Zayd bin ‘Amr who never labelled himself a Muslim before he died (probably because he died before the Prophet Muhammed announced his prophethood ﷺ).
Likewise, on the day of judgement the Quran explains that there will be Christians, Jews and others who will be saved. They are the ones who were sincere, rejected falsehood, accepted whatever of the truth they could find in their time:
‘Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans who believed in God and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve’ [Quran 2:62]
In another verse about ‘People of the Book’ [Jews and Christians]:
‘They are not [all] the same; among the People of the Scripture is a community standing [in obedience], reciting the verses of Allah during periods of the night and prostrating [in prayer]’. [Quran 3:113]
This does not mean that Islam can be rejected with no consequence, or isn’t required for salvation, but only that each soul will be judged in the hereafter by God’s superior wisdom and mercy according to their circumstances, choices and sincerity. Allah (SWT) will judge knowing whether they had access to revelation (Islam), and whether or not they understood it properly, their awareness of truth and whether they questioned or followed blindly their own religions/ideologies they were dogmatically taught growing up
This consideration of circumstances (which will ultimately only be judged by God in the hereafter) is explained by the classical Islamic scholar, Ibn Taymiyyah when he discusses how calling people “Kafir” does not mean they are disbelievers who will be punished in the hereafter:
“Takfir [the calling of a people as ‘Kafir’ in the Quran] is part of God’s warning (but not a promise [of punishment in the hereafter]), for even if a person denies something said by the Messenger [Muhammed] he might be a man who is new to the teachings of Islam, or perhaps he lived in a country far away or something else like that; this person does not become a disbeliever because of what he rejected until the proof is established upon him. Perhaps he has not heard the scriptural text, or he has heard of them but he has not firmly understood them, or they have been presented to him in a contradictory manner requiring an explanation, even though he is mistaken. I always mention the tradition in the two authentic books in which the man said: When I die, then burn me, cremate me and scatter my ashes into the sea, for indeed if God is able to punish me with a punishment unlike that received by anyone else among the worlds, He would surely do so. God asked him why he did that and he said: I feared You. So God forgave him. This man doubted the ability of God to resurrect him when he was turned to dust; rather, he believed God could not resurrect him and this is unbelief by the consensus of the Muslims but he was ignorant. He did not know that and he was a believer who feared that Allah would punish Him and so Allah forgave him for that.”
[in Majmu’ Al-Fatawa, Chapter: Al-Aqeedah]
‘Evil Inclined’ Muslims (Munafiqeen) Will Suffer Perdition in the Hereafter
Someone who labelled them self on earth as a Muslim can still suffer perdition in the hereafter and be revealed to be actually a theological  ‘Kafir’ (disbeliever).
About those who call themselves Muslim but are not saved in the hereafter, the Quran says:
‘When the hypocrites come to you, [O Muhammad], they say, “We testify that you are the Messenger of God” And God knows that you are His Messenger, and God testifies that the hypocrites are liars. They have taken their oaths as a cover, so they averted [people] from the way of Allah. Indeed, it was evil that they were doing’. [Quran 63:1-2)
In the hereafter, someone may have never been labelled a Muslim (i.e. a non-Muslim), but is not a disbeliever under the eyes of God, while someone maybe outwardly a Muslim, but is a disbeliever under the eyes of God. The label ‘non-Muslim’ is not coterminous with disbeliever (nor with ‘a tilling farmer’!), despite the Quranic word describing all three meanings being the same. This is just like the Arabic word ‘Dhann’ can be used in the Quran to mean certainty or its exact opposite, doubtfulness depending on context.
Therefore, it might sound confusing to a non-Muslim English speaker who is unfamiliar with Semitic languages and the Quran, but one could say without any contradiction that all kufaar (pl. of kafir) will be punished by God for their insincerity, whether they called themselves Muslim or non-Muslim, while all hanif (rightly inclined) non-Muslims and Muslims will be saved by their sincerity.
God alone knows who truly are the actual disbelievers are amongst those who call themselves Muslims and non-Muslims, and he alone knows who are the sincere seekers of truth amongst those who call themselves Muslims and non-Muslims. This doesn’t mean that Muslims must refrain from using the Islamic legal category of “kafir” to denote simply a non-Muslim, but it does mean that Muslims cannot comment on the judgement that will be received or the hereafter destination of any specific person – of which only God truly knows.
Read on here.
When the "Derogatory history of kafir, kaffir and caffer" is taken into account, condemning any person - Muslim or non-Muslim - as kafir is prohibited, derogatory use against non-Muslim refrained, and hypocritical politics of takfir not condoned.