Infidel (literally "unfaithful") is a pejorative term used in certain religions for those who don't believe the central tenets of one's own religion, are members of another religion, or aren't religious.

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're 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, heathens and pagans. Infidel as a concept is at times contrasted with the concept of religious pluralism.


The origins of the word infidel date to the late fifteenth 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 additional than one's own, specifically a Christian to a Muslim, a Muslim to a Christian, or a Goy to a Jew. Later meanings in the fifteenth century include "unbelieving", "a non-Christian" and "one who doesn't 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"(Muslims), 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 doesn't believe in the doctrine at all and is thus distinct from a heretic, who's one seen as having fallen astray from true doctrine, i.e. by denying the divinity of Jesus. Similarly, the ecclesiastical term was additionally 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 dialogue with persons of additional faiths. Nevertheless, a few apologists have argued for the usage of the term, stating that it doesn't come from a disrespectful perspective, but is similar to using the term orthodox for devout believers.

Moreover, a few 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:

And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? —2 Corinthians 6:15 KJV

But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. —1 Timothy 5:8 KJV


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 at times 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 - practises idolatry of any form, doesn't 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 additional 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 additional sects of Muslims.

The usage of kafir, and related words with root k-f-r for infidel and unbelievers is quite common in the Qur'an and Hadith. Under Islam, an infidel (kafir) is considered unclean and ritually impure (najasat). Many non-credited 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. In reality violence against "Kafirs" was only justified for reclaiming of Muslim land. as a matter of religious duty of the Muslim community (fard ala'l kifāya). Other scholars disagree. Yet additional 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 Meccan Pagans (referred to as Kuffar) as a retaliation.

Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you (Meccan Pagans), but don't 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 don't fight with them at the Sacred Mosque (Kabbah) until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers (Kuffar - Meccan Pagans).

— Qur'an, [Quran ]

The sunnah in various hadiths, which record the teachings and actions of Muhammad, similarly describes violence against Meccan Pagans referred to as Kuffar (Disbelievers). For example:

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 Jihad, don't embezzle the spoils [of war, booty]; don't break your pledge; and don't mutilate the dead bodies; don't kill the children. When you meet your enemies who're polytheists (Meccan Pagans), invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you additionally 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 Muhajirs 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'll have the status of Bedouin Muslims and will be subjected to the Commands of Allah like additional Muslims, but they'll not get any share from the spoils of war or Fai' except when they actually fight with the Muslims against additional Kuffar (Meccan Pagans). If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya (Religious Tax). 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.

— Sahih Muslim,

The term infidel, kafir in Islam, is broad. One group is the so-called murtadd, who're variously translated as apostate or renegades. For Muslims who're leaders of Islamic Caliphate, Islamic law prescribes death for their defectors of the Caliphate. Hence individuals who leave Islam are given the individual freedom to do so (As seen by the verse

There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing

— [Quran ]. But religious leaders and government officials were given death for defecting from the Islamic Caliphate by leaving the religion. The additional group, the so-called kafirun asliyun, or unbelievers proper, have the option to give Jizyah for their change in beliefs.

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're unanimously agreed that the Christians are kaafirs, and even that those who don't regard them as kaafirs are additionally 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're mushrikeen because they worship someone additional than Allah." Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, and additional 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 additionally come to be regarded as offensive.


Judaism has a notion of pagan gentiles who're called acum (an acronym of Ovdei Cohavim u-Mazzaloth or, literally, those who're "star-and-constellation worshippers") or idolaters. Notwithstanding the Hebrew term, kofer, cognate with the Arabic kafir, is reserved only for apostate Jews.

Infidels under Canon Law

Right to rule

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 additionally 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 don't obey, they ought to be compelled by the secular arm and war might 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 couldn't be allowed to preach in Europe "because they're in error and we're 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 authorise 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, legitimised German colonial expansion and practise 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, additionally asserted "... by law infidels should be subject to the faithful." and the heretical quasi-Donatist John Wyclif, regarded as the forefather of English Reformation, additionally 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.

Colonization of the Americas

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 additional 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 colonisation 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.

Native American groups including the Taíno and Onondaga have called on the Vatican to revoke the bulls of 1452, 1453, and 1493.


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.

As a philosophical tradition

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 additionally synonymous with atheism. These traditions additionally sought to set up various independent model communities, as well as societies, whose traditions then gave rise to various additional socio-political movements such as secularism in 1851, as well as developing close philosophical ties to a few 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 additional 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.

Implications upon mediaeval civil law

Laws passed by the Catholic Church governed not just the laws between Christians and Infidels in matters of religious affairs, but additionally 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 throughout the Victorian era, testimony of either self declared, or those accused of being Infidels or Atheists, wasn't accepted in a court of law because it was felt that they had no moral imperative to not lie under oath because they didn't believe in God, or Heaven and Hell.

These rules have now given way to modern legislation and Catholics, in civil life, are no longer governed by ecclesiastical law.