Answered by Shaykh Shuaib Ally
Question: Assalam alaykum,
Are the people who fought after the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) death disbelievers because of this hadith:
“Do not become disbelievers after me, striking the necks of one another” (Bukhari)?
Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,
There are various narrations reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Do not become disbelievers [variant narration: misguided] after me, striking the necks of one another (Bukhari).
Scholars, such as Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, have explained that while the Prophet’s use of ‘disbelief’ might seem to indicate real disbelief, the apparent legal meaning is not intended. Proof of this is that the overwhelming majority of the Muslim community did not take it literally, and did not use these incidents as cause to, for example, stop praying behind others, or following their orders, in the case of community leaders.
Rather, Ibn Hajar posits, ‘disbelief’ is used in this and similar narrations to:
-Emphasize the gravity of the matter, and to strictly warn against and keep others from perpetrating such an act. He likens it to a Qur’anic verse that speaks of murder: Do you believe in some of the Book, and disbelieve in part? [Qur’an, 2.85], showing that some actions might be denoted disbelief in a manner of speaking, due to the seriousness of the crime.
-Compare such an act to actual disbelief, because killing believers is something that disbelievers do.
-Indicate that such an action can lead to disbelief, because a person who commits major sins will find that they drag him into committing others, leading him astray
In all cases, scholars have not considered the statement of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to be literal, and have not considered people who have committed such acts to be disbelievers in the legal sense of the word.
Source: Fath al-Bari