Shaikh Ibn Uthaimeen is asked O Shaikh, may Allaah preserve you and take care of you – what is the meaning of the statement of Shaikh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah, "Takfir of a specific individual requires specific evidence (takfir ul-mu’ayyan yahtaju ila dalil mu’ayyan)"?
Answer: You know, may Allaah bless you, that the (Shari’ah) rulings are sometimes associated with a description (wasf) and sometimes associated with an individual. For example we say, ‘Every believer is from the people of Paradise’. This is a general statement which is associated with a description, every believer is in Paradise and every disbeliever is in the Fire. However, do we say in the case of a specific individual, so and so is from Paradise? Do you say about this specific individual, so and so is from the people of Fire?
Hence, there is a difference between that which is associated with a description and that which is associated with an individual. When a person utters a statement of disbelief or commits an act of kufr, then we do not declare him to be a disbeliever until we look at what motivated him to do that.
Then, we behave with him (i.e. pass a ruling over him) based upon what his (specific) situation demands.
A man is compelled to prostrate to an idol, so he prostrates. And another is compelled to utter a statement of kufr, so he says it. Have both of these men disbelieved? No. Because Allaah has said,
Whoever disbelieved in Allâh after his belief, except him who is forced thereto and whose heart is at rest with Faith but such as open their breasts to disbelief, on them is wrath from Allâh, and theirs will be a great torment. [Nahl 16:106]
So His statement "Whoever disbelieves in Allaah after having faith" is inclusive of the one who disbelieves by words or deeds. So this man who prostrated to an idol under compulsion and the man who uttered a statement of disbelief under compulsion, is his action one of kufr or not? Yes, his action is one of kufr. But is he a kafir? No. This is because, there exists a preventative barrier that restrains from takfir, and that is compulsion.
And then [there is the case of] the man who exceeded in transgression against his own soul and who said to his family, ‘When I die, burn me and scatter my ashes into the sea’. He did this thinking that he will be saved from the punishment of Allaah by it. Then his family did what he had ordered them. And Allaah – the Mighty and Majestic – gathered his ashes together and brought him back and asked him ‘Why did you do it?’ He replied, ‘My Lord, I feared Your punishment’. And so Allaah forgave him. [Bukhari, Kitab ut-Tawhid].
The act of this man is one of kufr, why? Because he doubted in the power of Allaah, and doubted that Allaah is able to bring him together again and punish him. However, since the reason behind this act of his was his fear of the punishment of Allaah – the Mighty and Majestic – Allaah forgave him.
Hence, the meaning of the words of Shaikh ul-Islam – may Allaah have mercy upon him – it is said: the disbelief that is associated with a description, then judgement can be made by it in all circumstances, [such as] whoever disbelieves in Allaah will be in the Fire, whoever prostrates to an idol is a disbeliever, whoever says that there is another deity alongside Allaah is a disbeliever [and so on]. However, with respect to a specific individual, you must not make a judgement against him until you investigate; he could be ignorant and not know, or he could have made an interpretation (ta’wil) [that is incorrect], or there could be a situation in which he was made to utter words without actually intending them.
The Prophet – may the prayers and peace be upon him – informed us that Allaah rejoices more with the repentance of his servant than [the rejoicing of] a man who has lost his camel in the desert, seeking to find it but to no avail, so he despairs of finding it again. Then he rests under a tree and awaits death. And then he finds that the camel is tied to the tree by its reigns, so he takes it by the reigns and says out of extreme joy, ‘O Allaah you are my servant and I am your Lord.’ [Muslim]. This word here is a word of kufr since he claimed Lordship (rububiyyah) for himself and claimed Allaah is a servant. However, he did not actually intend this, but he was made to err on account of his great excitement and joy, and as the Prophet – may prayers and peace be upon him – said, ‘Allaah will not take him to account’.
Source: Liqaa ul-Baab al-Maftooh (v36. No 1020) (trans. Abu Iyaad)