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What is the plural of كافر – “unbeliever”?

There are many options to form the plural of kafir (كافر) which is unbeliever in Islam. The most common are Kuffār and Kāfirūn. Do they mean the same?

Last updated: May 2, 2021

The question which plural form of Kafir (kaafir) you use might sound trivial, but unfortunately it became political in a way.

Kuffar or Kaafiroun – a matter of taste

Many Islamic preachers in the West prefer Kuffār (كُفّار) over Kāfirūn/Kaafiroun (كافِرُون) in their speeches because the doubling of the consonant f, especially when combined with foreign languages – English or Ger­man – gives the word a special accentuation.

So, let’s have a look at the various plural forms of Kāfir, the Arabic word for unbeliever.

The DNA of the word kafir

  • A Kāfir (كافِر) is a male person who denies or does not acknowledge the favors or benefits of Allah.
  • Kāfira (كافِرة) is the feminine form.
  • Both forms are the active participle of the verb kafara (كَفَرَ).

Three possibilities to form the plural of Kafir

  1. Masculine plural: Kāfirūn (كافِرُون) or Kuffār (كُفّار)
  2. Feminine plural: Kawāfir (كَوافِرُ) or Kāfirāt (كافِرات)
  3. Masculine OR feminine plural (same form!): Kafara (كَفَرة)

According to some scholars, the first two plural forms describe a disbeliever or someone who denies Allah whereas the last form (3) is used in the sense of being ungrateful to Allah.

There are forms which look almost the same and have only one dif­ferent vowel – but have a slightly different, mostly intensifying mean­ing.

Not every “unbeliever” is just an “unbeliever”

Arabic knows more possibilities than just the active participle (اِسْم فاعِل) to express this. In Arabic grammar, the following two forms are called an exaggerated form (صِيغة مُبالَغة).

The form كَفُور

A  Kafūr (كَفُور) is an intensive epithet which expresses very ungrate­ful or un­thankful to Allah. It is found, for example, in a verse of sura 11 Hūd (سُورة هُود) – verse 11:9

How desperate and ungrateful man becomes when We let him taste Our mercy and then withhold it!

وَلَئِنْ أَذَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ مِنَّا رَحْمَةً ثُمَّ نَزَعْنَاهَا مِنْهُ إِنَّهُ لَيَئُوسٌ كَفُورٌ

(Alternative translation: And if We give man a taste of mercy from Us and then We withdraw it from him, indeed, he is despairing and ungrateful.)

Note that Kafūr (كَفُور), as mentioned before, can be feminine or masculine because they have the same form in both genders. Its plural form is Kufur (كُفُرٌ) for both masculine and femin­ine.

The form كَفّار

The word Kaffār (كَفّار) – NOT Kuffār, notice the vowel a (فَتْحة) at the beginning – has a more intensive signification than Kafūr (كَفُور) and expresses habitu­ally ungrateful.

It is used in Sura 14 ’Ibrāhīm (سُورة إِبْراهِيم) – verse 14:34.

…and given you some of everything you asked Him for. If you tried to count God’s favours you could never calculate them: man is truly unjust and ungrateful (= most unjust and un­grateful).

وَآتَاكُم مِّن كُلِّ مَا سَأَلْتُمُوهُ وَإِن تَعُدُّوا نِعْمَتَ اللَّهِ لَا تُحْصُوهَا إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَظَلُومٌ كَفَّارٌ

If you wanna know what the original and actual meaning of the root k-f-r (kafara) is and thus what the word kafir means, check out THIS ARTICLE!

More interesting reads about Arabic and Islam:

Picture credit: pixabay

  1. extremely helpful… loved the way you come out with new ideas and pondering over each word of Quran, May Allah swt reward you and the members, and bless with best of both worlds aameen..

  2. Please give an advice about the meaning of Verse 64:2 in the Quran. Especially word “faminkum kafirun wa minkum mukminun”. is the word “KUM” from “faminKUM” and from “minKUM” singular (you) or plural (all of you)

Any thoughts or ideas about this? Leave a comment!

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