Surah Al Kafirun (Arabic: الكافرون) in English translates to “The Unbelievers” referring to atheists or those who deny Islam. It is 109th Surah of the Qur’an and is 6 ayat (verses) long. It is classified as a Meccan Surah meaning the verses were revealed before the migration of Prophet Muhammad’s (ﷺ) and his followers from Mecca to Medina (Hijra).
One of the goals of the My Islam site is to make it easy to read the Qur’an so below every ayat you will find the transliteration and translation to help read and understand the Arabic text. Even then it may be difficult to understand the significance of the Surah without having background knowledge of the history of Islamic events so we provided accompanying tafsir of this surah to help with the interpretation.
It was narrated that Ibn ‘Umar said: “I watched the Prophet (ﷺ) for a month, and in the two Rak’ah before Fajr he used to recite: “Say: O you disbelievers!” [Surah Al-Kafirun (109)] and “Say: Allah is One.” [Al- Ikhlas (112)] Grade : Hasan (Darussalam) English reference : Vol. 1, Book 5, Hadith 1149
Notable Quote From Surah Kafirun:
“For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.”
Read Surah Kafirun With Transliteration and Translation:
Bismillah Hir Rahman Nir Raheem
In The Name of Allah, The Most Gracious and The Most Merciful.
Qul ya ayyuhal kafirun
Ayat 1. Say, “O disbelievers,
Laaa a’budu maa t’abudoon
Ayat 2. I do not worship what you worship.
Wa laaa antum ‘aabidoona maaa a’bud
Ayat 3. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship.
Wa laaa ana ‘abidum maa ‘abattum
Ayat 4. Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship.
Wa laaa antum ‘aabidoona maaa a’bud
Ayat 5. Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship.
Lakum deenukum wa liya deen.
Ayat 6. For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.”
Tafsir of Surah Al Kafirun
Here you can gain a deeper understand and appreciation of this chapter of the Qur’an from four different scholarly texts. It will help understand the background, reason for revelation, history, and significance of Surah Kafirun.
Tafsir by Ibn Kathir Surah Al Kafirun
(Say: “He is Allah One.”) (112:1) in the two Rak`ahs of Tawaf. It is also recorded in Sahih Muslim in a Hadith of Abu Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allah recited these two Surahs in the two Rak`ahs (optional prayer) of the Morning prayer. Imam Ahmad recorded from Ibn `Umar that the Messenger of Allah recited in the two Rak`ahs before the Morning prayer and the two Rak`ahs after the Sunset prayer on approximately ten or twenty different occasions,
(Say: “O Al-Kafirun!”) and
(Say: ” He is Allah One.”) (112:1) Ahmad also recorded that Ibn `Umar said, “I watched the Prophet twenty-four or twenty-five times reciting in the two Rak`ahs before the Morning prayer and the two Rak`ahs after the Sunset prayer,
(Say: “O Al-Kafirun!”) and
(Say: “He is Allah One.”) (112:1)” Ahmad recorded that Ibn `Umar said, “I watched the Prophet for a month and he would recite in the two Rak`ahs before the Morning prayer,
(Say: “O Al-Kafirun.”) and
(Say: “He is Allah One.”) (112:1)” This was also recor- ded by At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and An-Nasa’i. At-Tirmidhi said, “Hasan.” It has already been mentioned previously in a Hadith that it (Surat Al-Kafirun) is equivalent to a fourth of the Qur’an and Az-Zalzalah is equivalent to a fourth of the Qur’an.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
This Surah is the Surah of disavowal from the deeds of the idolators. It commands a complete disavowal of that. Allah’s statement,
(Say: “O disbelievers!”) includes every disbeliever on the face of the earth, however, this statement is particularly directed towards the disbelievers of the Quraysh. It has been said that in their ignorance they invited the Messenger of Allah to worship their idols for a year and they would (in turn) worship his God for a year. Therefore, Allah revealed this Surah and in it
(I worship not that which you worship.) meaning, statues and rival gods.
(Nor will you worship whom I worship.) and He is Allah Alone, Who has no partner. So the word Ma (what) here means Man (who). Then Allah says,
(And I shall not worship that which you are worshipping. Nor will you worship whom I worship.) meaning, `I do not worship according to your worship, which means that I do not go along with it or follow it. I only worship Allah in the manner in which He loves and is pleased with.’ Thus, Allah says,
(Nor will you worship whom I worship.) meaning, `you do not follow the commands of Allah and His Legislation in His worship. Rather, you have invented something out of the promptings of your own souls.’ This is as Allah says,
(They follow but a guess and that which they themselves desire, whereas there has surely come to them the guidance from their Lord!) (53:23) Therefore, the disavowal is from all of what they are involved. For certainly the worshipper must have a god whom he worships and set acts of worship that he follows to get to him. So the Messenger and his followers worship Allah according to what He has legislated. This is why the statement of Islam is “There is no God worthy of being worshipped except Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” This means that there is no (true) object of worship except Allah and there is no path to Him (i.e., way of worshipping Him) other than that which the Messenger came with. The idolators worship other than Allah, with acts of worship that Allah has not allowed. This is why the Messenger said to them,
(To you be your religion, and to me my religion.) This is similar to Allah’s statement,
(And if they belie you, say: “For me are my deeds and for you are your deeds! You are innocent of what I do, and I am innocent of what you do!”) (10:41) and He said,
(To us our deeds, and to you your deeds.) (28:55) Al-Bukhari said, “It has been said,
(To you be your religion.) means disbelief.
(and to me my religion.) means, Islam.
This is the end of the Tafsir of Surat Qul ya Ayyuhal-Kafirun.
Virtues and Characteristics of Surah Al Kafirun
Sayyidah A’shah ؓ reports that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ has said that it is better to recite two surahs in the sunnah prayer of fajr, namely, the Surah Al-Kafirun and Surah Al-Ikhlas. [Transmitted by Ibn Hisham as quoted by Mazhar]. Ibn Kathir cites several traditions in which a large number of Companions report that they heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ often recite Surah Al-Kafirun and Al-Ikhlas in the sunnah prayer of fajr and maghrib. Some of the Companions requested the Messenger of Allah ﷺ to teach them some supplications to recite at the time of sleeping. He taught them to recite Surah Al-Kafirun and said that this will give them immunity from idolatry. [Transmitted by Tirmidhi and Abu Dad]. Sayyidna Jubair Ibn Mut’im ؓ says that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ asked him whether he wished to be the happiest, most prosperous and well-to-do person among his comrades when he goes out on a journey. He replied: “Yes, Messenger of Allah, I certainly do wish that.” The Holy Prophet ﷺ asked him to recite the last five surahs of the Qur’an starting from Surah Al-Kafirun to the end, and to start every surah with Bismillah, and to end with Bismillah. Sayyidna Jubair ؓ says that in those days he used to be distressed, miserable and man of little provisions for journeys compared to his comrades. But when he started acting upon this teaching of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ ، he became more prosperous than others. [Mazhari with reference to Abu Ya` la]. Sayyidna Ali ؓ reports that once a scorpion bit the Messenger of Allah ﷺ ، so he asked for water and salt. He applied the water on the spot where the scorpion bit him, and he recited Surah Al-Kafirun, Surah Al-Falaq and Surah An-Nas. [Mazhari]
Cause of Revelation
Ibn Ishaq reports from Sayyidna Ibn ` Abbas ؓ that Walid Ibn Mughirah, ` As Ibn Wa’il, Aswad Ibn ` Abdul-Muttalib and Umayyah Ibn Khalaf approached the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and proposed a compromise to him to the effect that he should worship their idols for a year, and they would worship Allah for a year. [Qurtubi]. According to Sayyidna Ibn ` Abbas ؓ ، as recorded in Tabarani, the pagans of Makkah proposed to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ : We shall give you so much of wealth that you will become the richest man in Makkah; we shall give you whichever woman you like in marriage; we are willing to follow and obey you as our leader on condition that you do not speak ill of our gods. If you do not agree to this, then let us agree that you worship our gods for a year and we would worship your God for another year” [Mazhari].
According to Abu Salih’s report, Sayyidna Ibn ` Abbas ؓ narrates that the pagans of Makkah made the following proposal for compromise: “At least touch some of our gods, we will believe in you.” Upon this, Jibra’il (علیہ السلام) descended with Surah Al-Kafirun.
This Surah is the Surah of disavowal from the actions of the pagans, and enjoins the Muslims to worship Allah alone to the exclusion of all forms of pagan worship.
The Traditions cited above indicate that the pagans had made many proposals to the Holy Prophet ﷺ not once or in a single session, but on different occasions and in different sessions in the hope that at one time or another a compromise might be reached. Therefore, there was a need to respond to all the proposals definitely and decisively, and thus frustrate their hope once and for all. All these incidents might have taken place at different times and different places. The purport of the Surah is to prevent or prohibit any such compromise.
Verse [109:2] لَا أَعْبُدُ مَا تَعْبُدُونَ (I do not worship that which you worship,) In this Surah, the statements are repeated. The repetition has been explained in different ways by different authorities. Bukhari explains it thus: When two identical, or near identical, expressions occur side by side, many commentators interpret one of them as happening in the present time and the other as going to happen in the future time. Thus there is no meaningless repetition. The second and the third verses refer to the present time, meaning ‘I do not worship at the present time what you are worshipping, nor do you worship at the present time what I am worshipping’. That is, ‘I believe in Oneness of Allah and worship Him only, whereas you believe in multiple gods and goddesses and worship them’. Verses [4 and 5] refer to the future time, meaning ‘neither is there a possibility that I will ever worship what you are going to worship in the future, nor will you worship what I will persist in worshipping.’ In other words, ‘I will persist in my belief of Divine Oneness and worship of Him and you will persist in belief of multiple gods and goddesses and worship of them’. Maulana Ashraf Thanawi (رح) has preferred this interpretation in Bayan ul-Qur’an, (and the translation given above is based on it.) However, he disagrees with Bukhari’ s interpretation of the word din, which Bukhari interprets as ‘the religion of disbelief and the religion of Islam’ respectively, in verse  لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ “For you is your faith, and for me, my faith” meaning the proposed compromise or peace agreement is not acceptable. I shall continue to follow my faith and you may go on following your faith, and suffer its disastrous consequences. In Bayan ul-Qur’an, however, the word din has been interpreted as jaza’ or ‘retribution or requital’.
Ibn Kathir prefers another interpretation. He expounds that the particle ma is used in two ways:  as mawsulah or relative pronoun in the sense of al-ladhi [that which]; and  as masdariyah transforming into infinitive the verb it governs. In this Surah, the first ma is a relative pronoun in the sense of al-ladhi, and the second ma is an infinitival particle. Thus in verses [2 3] the particle is a relative pronoun and may be paraphrased thus: ‘I do not worship the deities that you worship nor do you worship the One Whom I worship’ and in verses [4 5] the particle is an infinitival particle and may be paraphrased thus: لَا أَنَا عَابِدٌ مَّا عَبَدتُّمْ وَلَا أَنتُمْ عَابِدُونَ مَا أَعْبُدُ ‘ I will never adopt your mode or manner of worship, nor will you adopt the manner in which I worship’. In this way, verses [2 3] show that the objects of worship are different from each other, and verses  show the differences in the modes of worship. In sum, ‘neither our objects of worship, nor our manner of worship, are commonly shared by us; they are different.’ In this way, it is seen that there is no real repetition, because while the formal expressions might be identical or near identical, but deeper semantic meanings are different. The mode of worship was revealed to the Prophet by Allah and passed on to the Muslims through him. The pagan manner of worship is self-fabricated. Ibn Kathir prefers this interpretation, and says that this is the exact meaning that emanates from the credo of Islam: لا إلہ إلا اللہ محمد الرسول اللہ “There is no object worthy of worship except Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”. Only the mode and manner of worship sanctioned by Allah is credible, and should be followed by Muslims. Ibn Kathir adds that the concluding verse لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ (For you is your faith, and for me, my faith) yields the sense of other verses in the Qur’an, as for instance in [10: 41] وَإِن كَذَّبُوكَ فَقُل لِّي عَمَلِي وَلَكُمْ عَمَلُكُمْ ; And if they belie you, say, for me, my deeds, and for you, your deeds and in [28:55] لَنَا أَعْمَالُنَا وَلَكُمْ أَعْمَالُكُمْ (For us, our deeds, and for you, your deeds). Thus the sum total of the word din, according to Ibn Kathir, refers to the ‘deeds of religion’ and its purport would be the same as explicated in Bayan ul-Qur’an, in that each one will be requited for his own deeds.
Other commentators have interpreted the two sentences in a third way. According to them, the particle is retained in both places as a relative pronoun, and in both the sentence is taken as representing present tense. They in fact maintain that the repetition of the two sentences have been used as a rhetorical device and employed by deliberate design to secure emphasis. Not every repetition is unpleasant or meaningless, even though the same idea may be reiterated by the same wording, as for instance in [94: 56] فَإِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا (Undoubtedly, along with hardship there is ease. Undoubtedly, along with hardship there is ease) Verse  is the repetition of verse  and is deliberately reiterated to secure emphasis, as well as to reject outright the several proposals made on different occasions. [Ibn Kathir, Ibn Jarir ].
Peace Treaty with Unbelievers is Permissible in Some Cases but not in Others:
Surah Al-Kafirun dismisses out of hand the many proposals of compromise offered by the pagans and declares dissociation from them. But the Holy Qur’an itself has said in [8:61] وَإِن جَنَحُوا لِلسَّلْمِ فَاجْنَحْ لَهَا (And if they tilt towards peace, you tilt towards it.” that is, enter into peace treaty with the infidels or pagans or non-Muslims. Moreover, when the Holy Prophet ﷺ migrated to Madinah, he entered into peace treaty with the Jews. Therefore, some of the commentators have opined that Surah Al-Kafirun has been abrogated. Their basic argument pivots around the verse لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ (For you is your faith, and for me, my faith). They contend that this is apparently in conflict with the ordinances of jihad, but this is not true, because the verse does not guarantee, nor does it even permit the infidels to maintain their infidelity. It simply means what is stated in [28:55] لَنَا أَعْمَالُنَا وَلَكُمْ أَعْمَالُكُمْ (For us, our deeds, and for you, your deeds), that is, as you sow, so shall you reap. In fact, the correct position held by the majority of the scholars is that this Surah is not abrogated. The proposals of compromise that were offered by the pagans at the time of the revelation of the present Surah are still prohibited, and the peace treaties allowed by 8:61 or entered into by the Holy Prophet ﷺ are still permissible. It is necessary to understand the circumstances and conditions of the treaty and take a proper decision accordingly. In one of his Traditions, the Holy Prophet ﷺ laid down the general principle of peace treaty with the infidels and pagans, thus: اَلاِصلحاً احَلّ حراماً او حرّم حلالاً (Every compromise is permitted except the one which turns prohibited things into lawful and lawful things into forbidden.) If the various peace proposals made by the pagans are carefully analyzed, they were all certainly and definitely purported to mix elements of pagan beliefs and practices with Islamic beliefs and practices, thus creating confusion; and in some cases they required Muslims to renounce Islam [albeit temporarily ] and commit themselves to paganism. Surah Al-Kafirun denounces such treaties, and declares dissociation from paganism. Analyzing the peace pact with the Jews, on the other hand, it is seen clearly that it did not in any way require Muslims to denounce or renounce Islam, nor did it require them to mix elements of un-Islamic beliefs with the true faith. Islam is the religion that stands for tolerance, kindness, politeness and peace more than any other religion. However, all these ethical principles can be applied in the matters of human rights. There is no room for compromise in the matter of Divine Law or the basic tenets of Divine religion . Allah knows best!
The Commentary on
denounces such treaties, and declares dissociation from paganism. Analyzing the peace pact with the Jews, on the other hand, it is seen clearly that it did not in any way require Muslims to denounce or renounce Islam, nor did it require them to mix elements of un-Islamic beliefs with the true faith. Islam is the religion that stands for tolerance, kindness, politeness and peace more than any other religion. However, all these ethical principles can be applied in the matters of human rights. There is no room for compromise in the matter of Divine Law or the basic tenets of Divine religion. Allah knows best!
Although the Arabs before Islam did not deny God altogether, they did not know Him by His true identity as the One and the Eternal. They neither showed any true understanding of God, nor worshipped Him properly. On the contrary, they ascribed to Him, as partners, idols that were supposed to represent their great and pious ancestors or, in some cases, the angels whom they claimed to be God’s daughters. Moreover, they alleged a kinship between Him and the jinn. They often ignored all these qualifications, however, and worshipped those idols themselves. But in all cases they claimed, as the Qur’ān quotes them, that they “only worship them [i.e. their various deities] so that they may bring us near to God.” (39: 3)
The Qur’ān also states: “If you ask them who it is that has created the heavens and the earth, and subjected the sun and the moon (to fixed laws) they will say: God.” (29: 61) And again: “If you ask them who it is that sends down water from the sky, and thereby revives the earth after it has died, they will say: God.” (29: 63) Moreover, God superseded their deities in their oaths and supplications.
But in spite of their belief in God, the polytheism they entertained fouled their concepts, traditions and rites to the extent that they assigned to their alleged deities a portion of their earnings and possessions, and even their offspring. In fact, they were at times forced to sacrifice their children. Concerning this, the Qur’ān has the following to say:
Out of the produce and the cattle He has created, they assign a portion to God, saying: ‘This is for God’ — or so they pretend — ‘and this is for the partners we associate [with Him].’ Whatever they assign to their partners never reaches God, but that which is assigned to God does reach their partners. How ill they judge! Thus have the partners they associate [with God] made the killing of their own children seem goodly to many idolaters, seeking to bring them to ruin and to confuse them in their faith. Had God willed otherwise, they would not have done so. Leave them, then, to their false inventions. They say: Such cattle and crops are forbidden. None may eat of them save those whom we permit’ — so they falsely claim. Other cattle they declare to be forbidden to burden their backs; and there are cattle over which they do not pronounce God’s name, inventing [in all this] a lie against Him. He will surely requite them for their inventions. They also say: ‘That which is in the wombs of these cattle is reserved to our males and forbidden to our women.’ But if it be stillborn, they all partake of it. He will requite them for all their false assertions. He is Wise, All-Knowing. Losers indeed are those who, in their ignorance, foolishly kill their children and declare as forbidden what God has provided for them as sustenance, falsely attributing such prohibitions to God. They have gone astray and they have no guidance. (6: 136-140)
The Arabs were also convinced that they were the followers of the religion of Abraham and that they were better guided than the people of earlier revelations [i.e. the Jews and Christians] inhabiting the Arabian Peninsula at the time: the Jews and Christians preached respectively that Ezra and Jesus were the sons of God whereas they, the Arabs, worshipped angels and jinn — the true offspring of God according to them. Their belief, they maintained, was more logical and more conceivable than that of the Christians and Jews. Nonetheless, all were forms of idolatry.
When Muhammad (peace be upon him) declared his religion to be that of Abraham, they argued that there was no reason for them to forsake their beliefs and follow Muhammad’s instead, since they too were of the same religion. In the meantime, they sought a sort of compromise with him proposing that he should prostrate himself before their deities in return for their prostration to his God, and that he should cease denouncing their deities and their manner of worship in reciprocation for whatever he demanded of them! This confusion in their concepts, vividly illustrated by their worship of various deities while acknowledging God, was perhaps what led them to believe that the gulf between them and Muhammad was not unbridgeable. They thought an agreement was somehow possible by allowing the two camps to co-exist in the region and by granting him some personal concessions!
To clear up this muddle, to cut all arguments short and to firmly distinguish between one form of worship and the other, and indeed between one faith and the other, this sūrah was revealed in such a decisive, assertive tone. It was revealed in this manner to demarcate monotheism, i.e. tawhid, from polytheism, i.e. shirk, and to establish a true criterion, allowing no further wrangling or vain argument.
“Say: ‘Unbelievers! I do not worship what you worship, nor do you worship what I worship. I shall never worship what you worship, nor will you ever worship what I worship. You have your own religion and I have mine.” (Verses 1-6) Following one form of negation, assertion and emphasis after another, the sūrah sets its message in absolute clarity. It starts with the word, ‘Say,’ which denotes a clear divine order stressing the fact that the whole affair of religion belongs exclusively to God. Nothing of it belongs to Muhammad himself. Moreover, it implies that God is the only One to order and decide. Address them, Muhammad, by their actual and true identity: “Say: Unbelievers!” (Verse 1) They follow no prescribed religion, nor do they believe in you. No meeting point exists between you and them anywhere. Thus the beginning of the sūrah brings to mind the reality of difference which cannot be ignored or overlooked.
“I do not worship what you worship,” is a statement affirmed by “I shall never worship what you worship.” Similarly, “nor do you worship what I worship,” is repeated for added emphasis and in order to eliminate all doubt or misinterpretation.
Finally, the whole argument is summed up in the last verse: “You have your own religion, and I have mine,” meaning that you, unbelievers, and I, Muhammad, are very far apart, without any bridge to connect us. This is a complete distinction and a precise, intelligible demarcation.
Such an attitude was essential then in order to expose the fundamental discrepancies in the essence, source and concepts of the two beliefs, i.e. between monotheism and polytheism, faith and unbelief. Faith is the way of life which directs man and the whole world towards God alone and determines for him the source of his religion, laws, values, criteria, ethics and morality. That source is God. Thus life proceeds for the believer, devoid of any form of idolatry. Idolatry on the other hand is the opposite of faith. The two never meet.
On the whole, the distinction we are dealing with here is indispensable both for those who call on people to accept Islam and the people themselves, because jahiliyyah concepts are often mixed with those of Islam in those societies which previously followed the Islamic way of life, but have later deviated from it. Of all communities, they are certainly the most rigid and hostile to the idea of regaining faith in its healthy, clear and straightforward form, certainly more so than those who have not known Islam originally. They take it for granted that they are righteous while they grow more and more perverse!
The existence of noble beliefs and thoughts in those societies, albeit mixed with base ones, may tempt the advocate of the Islamic system to hope for their quick return, thinking he may be able to strengthen such good aspects and rightly correct undesirable features! Such temptation is, however, dangerously misleading.
Jahiliyyah and Islam are two totally different entities, separated by a wide gulf. The only way to bridge that gulf is for jahiliyyah to liquidate itself completely and substitute for all its laws, values, standards and concepts their Islamic counterparts. The first step that should be taken in this respect by the person calling on people to embrace Islam is to segregate himself from jāhiliyyah. He must be separated to the extent that any agreement or intercourse between him and jahiliyyah is absolutely impossible unless and until the people of jahiliyyah embrace Islam completely: no intermingling, no half measures or conciliation is permissible, however clever jahiliyyah may be in usurping or reflecting the role of Islam. The chief characteristic of a person who calls on others to adopt Islam is the clarity of this fact within himself and his solemn conviction of being radically different from those who do not share his outlook. They have their own religion, and he has his. His task is to change their standing point so that they may follow his path without false pretence or compromise. Failing this, he must withdraw completely, detach himself from their life and openly declare to them: “You have your own religion, and I have mine.” (Verse 6)
This is a sine qua non for contemporary advocates of Islam. They badly need to realize that they are calling for Islam today in entirely neo-jahiliyyah surroundings, amongst ex-Muslim people whose hearts have grown harder and whose beliefs have deteriorated considerably. They need to understand that there is no room for shortterm or half-baked solutions, compromises, or partial redemption or adjustment, and that their call is for a uniquely distinguished Islam, in contrast to such people’s conception. They must face these people bravely and put it to them explicitly: you have your own religion, and we have ours. Our religion is based on absolute monotheism whose concepts, values, beliefs and laws cover all aspects of human life and are all received from God and no one else.
Without this basic separation confusion, double-dealing, doubt and distortion will certainly persist. And let it be clear in our minds here that the movement advocating Islam can never be constructed on any ambiguous or feeble foundations, but has to be built upon firmness, explicitness, frankness and fortitude as embodied in God’s instruction to us to declare: “You have your own religion, and I have mine.” (Verse 6) Such was the way adopted by the Islamic message in its early days.
A few points in this verse are particularly noteworthy:
Although the Prophet (peace be upon him) has been commanded to tell this to the disbelievers plainly, the theme that follows makes it explicit that every believer should tell the disbelievers plainly what has been said in the following verses; so much so that the person who has just believed and repented of kufr is also bound to express similarly his disgust with and disapproval of the creed and rites of worship and gods of kufr. Thus, though the first addressee of the word qul (say) is the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself, the command is not restricted to him alone but it reaches every believer through him.
The word kafir is no abuse, which might have been used for the addressees of this verse, but it implies the one who refuses to believe or is an unbeliever. As against it the word mumin is used for the believer. Therefore, the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) saying, by Allah’s command, O disbelievers… in fact, means: O you, who have refused to believe in my apostleship and in the teachings brought by me. Likewise, when a believer uses this word, it will imply those who do not believe in the Prophet Muhmmad (peace be upon him).
The word used is O kafirs and not O mushriks; therefore, the addressees are not only the mushriks but all those people who do not acknowledge Muhammad (peace be upon him) as Allah’s Messenger and the teachings and guidance brought by him as the teaching and guidance given by Allah Himself, whether they be Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians or the disbelievers, polytheists and pagans of the entire world. There is no reason why this address be restricted to the pagans of Quraish or of Arabia only.
To address the deniers with the word O kafirs is just like addressing certain people as O enemies, or O opponents. Such an address is not, in fact, directed to the person of the addressee but it is made on the basis of their characteristic of enmity and opposition, and lasts only until they are so characterized. If one of them gives up enmity and opposition, or turns a friend and supporter, he no longer remains the addressee of this word. Likewise, the address of O kafirs to the people also is in view of their characteristic of kufr and not their person. This address would be perpetual for him who continues to be a kafir till death, but the one who believes will no longer be its addressee.
Many scholars from among the commentators have expressed the opinion that in this Surah the address of O disbelievers applied only to a few persons of Quraish, who were visiting the Prophet (peace be upon him) with proposals of compromise regarding religion and about whom Allah had informed His Messenger (peace be upon him) that they would not believe. They have formed this opinion for two reasons. First, that it is followed by La a budu ma ta budun: I do not worship him or those whom you worship. They say that this does not apply to the Jews and Christians, for they worship Allah. Second, that this is also followed by: wala antum abiduna ma aabud: Nor are you worshippers of Him Whom I worship. Their reasoning is that this statement does not apply to the people who at the revelation of this Surah were disbelievers but later believed. Both these arguments are incorrect. As for these verses, their explanation that follows will show that they do not bear the meaning which has been understood from them. Here, to point out the error of the reasoning it would be enough to say that if the addressees of this Surah were only these people, why then does this Surah still continue to be recited when they are dead and gone from the world long long ago? And what was the need of making this Surah a part of the Quran permanently so that the Muslims should continue to read it for ever afterwards?
This includes all those deities whom the disbelievers and the polytheists have been, and are still, worshipping everywhere in the world, whether they are the angels, the jinn, prophets, saints, spirits of the living or dead men, or the sun, the moon, stars, animals, trees, rivers, idols and imaginary gods and goddesses. One may say that the pagans of Arabia also acknowledged Allah as a deity and the other pagans of the world also have never disacknowledged Allah as a deity till today. As for the followers of the earlier scriptures, they also acknowledge Allah alone as the real deity. How then can it be correct to exonerate oneself from the worship of all the deities of all those people, without exception, when Allah too is included among them?
The answer is that if Allah is worshipped along with others regarding Him as a deity among other deities, the believer in Tauhid will inevitably express his immunity from this worship, for in his sight Allah is not a deity out of a collection of deities, but He alone is the real deity, and the worship of the collection of deities is no worship of Allah, although worship of Allah is also included in it. The Quran has clearly stated that Allah’s worship is only that which does not have any tinge of the worship of another and in which man makes his worship exclusively Allah’s. And the only command they were given, was to worship Allah, making their religion sincerely His, turning all their attention towards Him. (Surah Al-Bayyinah, Ayat 5).
This subject has been explained at many places in the Quran forcefully; for example, see Surah An-Nisa, Ayats 145-146; Surah Al-Aaraf, Ayat 29; Surah Az-Zumar, Ayats 2, 3, 11, 14, 15; Surah Al-Mumin, Ayat 14, 64-66. It has been further explained in a Hadith Qudsi (i.e. divine word revealed through the mouth of the Prophet) in which the messenger of Allah says: Allah says, I am Self-Sufficient of the association of every associate most of all. Whoever performed an act in which he also associated another with Me, I am free of it, and the entire act is for him who was associated. (Muslim, Musnad Ahmad, Ibn Majah). Thus, acknowledging Allah as one of the two, three or many gods and serving and worshipping others along with Him is, in fact, the real kufr, declaration of immunity from which is the object of this Surah.
3. The words used are: ma abudu. The word ma in Arabic, is generally used for lifeless or unintelligent things, and the word mun for intelligent and rational beings. The question arises why has ma abudu been used here instead of man abudu? The commentators generally give four answers to it:
(1) That ma here is in the meaning of mun.
(2) That ma here is in the meaning of alladhi (i.e. which or who).
(3) That in both the sentences ma is in the meaning of a noun of action (masdar) and it means: I do not perform the kind of worship that you perform, i.e. polytheistic worship, and you do not perform the kind of worship that I perform, i.e. worship of One God.
(4) That since in the first sentence ma tabuduna has been used, in the second ma abudu has been used to keep the style; in both places there is only the uniformity of the word, there is no uniformity of meaning; instances of this are found elsewhere also in the Quran. For example, in Surah Al-Baqarah, Ayat 194, it has been said: Therefore, if anyone transgresses a prohibition by attacking you, you may do likewise. Obviously, to transgress likewise in retaliation is no transgression, but the word transgression (in retaliation) has been used only for the sake of uniformity in style. In Surah At-Taubah, Ayat 67, it has been said: They forgot Allah, so Allah forgot them. Whereas Allah does not forget. What is meant to be said is that Allah ignored them. The word nisyan in respect of Allah has been used corresponding to their nisyan (forgetfulness) only to keep the uniformity of the study.
Although all these four interpretations are correct in their own way, and there is room in Arabic to take all these meanings, yet none of these explains the real object for which ma abudu has been used instead of mun abudu. As a matter of fact, when mun is used for a person in Arabic, it is meant to say or ask something about his person, and when ma is used, it is meant to ask or express something about his characteristics and traits. This can be explained in English by the questions: who is he, and what is he, about a person. When it is asked, who is he, the object is to know something about his person. But when it is asked, what is he, the object is to know whether, for example, he belongs to the army, and if so, what is his rank, or whether he belongs to some teaching organization, and if so, whether he is a lecturer in it, or a reader, or a professor, what science or art subject he teaches, what are his qualifications, etc.
Thus, if in this verse, it was said: La antum abiduna mun abud, it would mean: You are not worshippers of the being whom I worship, and in response, the disbelievers and the polytheists could have said that they too believed in the Being of Allah and also worshipped Him. But when it was said: La antum abiduna ma abud, it meant: You are not worshippers of the deity who has the attributes of the deity whom I worship.
And this is the real point on the basis of which the religion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is absolutely distinguished from the religions of all kinds of disbelievers, besides the deniers of God, for his God is utterly different from the God of all of them. The God of some of them is such that He stood in need of rest on the seventh day after having created the world in six days, Who is not God of the universe but God of Israel, Who stands in a special relationship to the people of one particular race, which is not shared by other men, Who wrestles with the Prophet Jacob and cannot throw him, Who has also a son, named Ezra. The God of some others is father of an only son, called Jesus Christ, and He causes His son to be crucified in order to make him an atonement for the sins of others. The God of some has wife and children, but begets only daughters. The God of some assumes human form and shape and living in a human body on the earth works like men. The God of some is merely an Essence, or Cause of causes, or the First Cause, Who after giving the system of the universe the initial push is sitting aside unconcerned, the universe is working by itself according to some relentless laws, and now He and man have nothing to do with each other. In short, even the unbelievers who acknowledge God do not, in fact, acknowledge the God, Who is the Creator, Master, Disposer, Administrator and Ruler of the entire universe, Who has not only set the system of the universe but is running and controlling it by Himself every moment, Who is above every defect, fault, weakness and error, Who is free from every similitude, every physical limitation, every likeness, Who is Self- Sufficient of every companion and associate, Who has no partner in His Being, attributes, powers and entitlement to worship, Who is far too Holy that He should have children, or should take some one for a son, or should have an exclusive relationship with a community or race, Who is directly related to each individual creature of His as its Providence, Sustainer and Guardian, Who hears the prayers and answers them, Who alone possesses all the powers to give life and death, to cause profit and loss, and to make and mar destinies, Who not only sustains His creatures but also guides each according to its nature and need, Who is not only our God Whom we worship but also enjoins commands and prohibitions through His Prophets and His Books, which we have to obey, before Whom we are accountable for our deeds, Who will resurrect us after death, call us to account and reward and punish us accordingly. No one in the world except for Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his followers are worshipping the God with these attributes. If at all some others also are worshipping God, they are not worshipping the real and true God but the God who is their self-invented, imaginary God.
A section of the commentators is of the view that both these sentences are a repetition of the theme of the first two sentences and the repetition is meant to strengthen the statement in the first two sentences. But many commentators do not regard it as a repetition. They say that a new theme has been expressed in these which is different from the theme of the first two sentences. In our opinion they are correct in so far as there is no repetition in these sentences, for in these only “nor are you worshippers of Him Whom I worship” has been repeated, and this repetition also is not in the sense in which this sentence was used first. But after negating the repetition the meanings that this section of the commentators has given of these two sentences are very different from each other. There is no occasion here to take up and discuss each of the meanings given by the commentators. Avoiding details we shall only discuss the meaning which is correct in our opinion.
In the first sentence, it has been said: “Nor am I a worshipper of those whom you have worshipped.” Its theme is absolutely different from the theme of verse 2, in which it was said: “I do not worship those whom you warship,” These two things widely differ in two aspects. First, that although there is denial, and a forceful denial, in saying that “I do not, or shall not, do such and such a thing,” yet there is much greater force in saying that “I am not a doer of such and such a thing,” for it means: “It is such an evil thing that nothing to say of committing it; it is not possible that I would even think of it, or have intention of doing it.” Second, that the sentence “whom you worship” applies to only those gods whom the disbelievers are worshipping now. On the contrary, the sentence “whom you have worshipped” applies to all those gods whom the disbelievers and their forefathers have been worshipping in the past. Now, it is a well known fact that the gods of the polytheists and disbelievers have always been changing and their number increasing and decreasing. In different ages different groups of them have been worshipping different gods, and the gods of all the disbelievers have never always been the same everywhere. Therefore, the verse means: I exonerate myself not only from your gods of today but also from the gods of your forefathers, and I am not a person who would even think of worshipping such gods.
As for the second sentence, although its words in verse 5 are the same as in verse 3, yet its meaning at the two places is different. In verse 3, it follows this sentence: “I do not worship those whom you worship.” Therefore, it means: “Nor are you worshippers of the God having the attributes of the One God Whom I worship.” And in verse 5, it follows this sentence: “Nor am I a worshipper of those whom you have worshipped.” Therefore, it means: “Nor does it seem you would become worshippers of the One God Whom I worship.” Or, in other words, “It is not possible that 1 should become a worshipper of each of those gods whom you and your forefathers have worshipped, and on account of your aversion to adopting worship of One God, instead of many gods, it cannot be expected that you would desist from this wrong worship and will become worshipper of Him Whom I worship.
That is, my religion is entirely distinct and separate from your religion. I am not a worshipper of your gods and you are not worshippers of my God. I cannot worship your gods and you are not prepared to worship my God, Therefore, you and I can never follow and walk one and the same path together. This is not a message of tolerance to the disbelievers, but a declaration of immunity, disgust with and dissociation from them as long as they are disbelievers. Its object is to disappoint them absolutely and finally that in the matter of religion the party of Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) and his followers would ever come to terms with them. This same declaration of immunity and expression of disgust has been made in the Makki Surahs revealed after this Surah successively.
Thus, in Surah Younus, it was said: If these people deny you, say to them: 1 am responsible for my deeds and you are responsible for yours: you are not accountable for what I do, and I am not accountable for what you do. (verse 41). Then further on in the same Surah it was said: O Prophet, say: O mankind, if you are still in doubt concerning my faith, know that I do not worship those whom you worship beside Allah, but I worship that Allah alone, Who has the power to cause your death. (verse 104).
In Surah Ash-Shuara it was said: If they disobey you, tell them: I am not responsible for what you do. (verse 216).
In Surah Saba it was said: Say to them: you will not be questioned for the errors we have committed, nor shall we be answerable for what you are doing. Say, our Lord will gather us together, then He will judge between us rightly. (verses 25-26).
In Surah az-Zumar: Tell them plainly: O my people, do whatever you will, so shall I. Soon you shall come to know as to whom comes the disgraceful torment and who gets the enduring punishment. (verses 39- 40).
Then the same lesson was taught in Al-Madinah to all the Muslims: There is indeed an excellent example for you in Abraham and his companions when they said to their people plainly: We have nothing to do with you and your gods, whom you worship beside God; we have renounced you and there has arisen between us and you enmity and hatred for ever, until you believe in Allah, the One. (Surah Al-Mumtahinah, Ayat 4).
These continuous explanations of the Quran do not leave any room whatever for the doubt that the verse Lakum dinu kum wa liya din does not mean: You may go on following your religion and allow me to follow mine, but it is the kind of declaration made in Surah Az-Zumar, Ayat 14: O Prophet, say to them: I shall serve Allah alone, making my religion sincerely His. As for you, you may serve whomever you please beside Him. (verse 14).
From this verse lmam Abu Hanifah and Imam Shafei have deduced that kufr (unbelief), as a whole, is one community, however discordant and different from each other be the religions of the unbelievers; therefore, a Jew can inherit a Christian, and a Christian a Jew, and likewise the unbeliever of one religion can inherit the unbeliever of another religion, if there exists between them a relationship by descent or marriage, or some other connection, which necessitates the passage of inheritance of one to another. On the contrary, Imam Malik, Imam Auzai and Imam Ahmad hold the view that the followers of one religion cannot inherit the followers of another religion. They deduce this from the Hadith which has been related on the authority of Hadrat Abdullah bin Amr bin alAas, saying that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: The people of two different communities cannot inherit each other. (Musnad Ahmad, Abu Daud, Ibn Majah, Daraqutni).
A Hadith with almost the same content has been related by Tirmidhi from Jabir, by Ibn Hibban from Abdullah bin Umar, and by Bazzar from Abu Hurairah. Dealing with this legal problem comprehensively, the well known Hanafi Imam; Shamsul-Aimmah Sarakhsi, writes: The unbelievers can inherit each other mutually for all those reasons for which the Muslims inherit each other mutually, and they can also inherit each other in certain other cases in which the Muslims do not inherit each other. The fact is that Allah recognizes only two ways of life, the religion of truth and the religion of falsehood; that is why He has declared: Lakum dinu-kum wa liya din. And He has classified the people also into two groups, one group will go to Paradise and this consists of the believers, and the second group will go to Hell and this consists of the disbelievers collectively. And He has declared the two groups only as the potential opponents of each other: These are the two parties who have disputed about their Lord. (Surah Al-Hajj, Ayat 19).
That is, one group comprises all the disbelievers collectively and they are opposed to the believers. We do not admit that they are separate and distinct communities according to their beliefs, but as against the Muslims they all form one community. For the Muslims affirm faith in the apostleship of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and in the Quran and they (disbelievers) refuse to affirm faith. For this very reason they have been declared to be unbelievers and are one community as opposed to the Muslims. The Hadith, La yata-warith ahl millatain, points to the same thing as explained above. For the Prophet (peace be upon him) has explained the word millatain (two communities) by his saying: La yarithul Muslim al-kafir wa lal-kafir al-Muslim: The Muslim cannot inherit the disbeliever, nor the disbeliever can inherit the Muslim. (AlMabsut vol. 30, pp. 30-32). The Hadith cited here by Imam Sarakhsi has been related by Bukhari, Muslim, Nasai, Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and Abu Daud on the authority of Usamah bin Zaid.