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Tafsir Surah al-Kafiroon

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    Tafsir Surah al-Kafiroon

    Tafsir Surah al-Kafiroon

    What is Asbab ul-Nuzul?

    The Qur'an has been revealed for guidance, for all times and situations to come. However, various ayat were revealed at a particular time in history and in particular circumstances. The Arabic word sabab (pl. asbab) means reason, cause and "marifa asbab al-nuzul" is the knowledge about the reasons of the revelations, i.e. the knowledge about the particular events and circumstances in history that are related to the revelation of particular passages from the Qur'an.

    Wahidi (d. 468/1075), a renowned classical scholar in this field wrote: “The knowledge about Tafsir of the ayah is not possible without occupying oneself with their stories and explanation of (the reasons) for their revelation” [Asbab al-Nuzul, by al-Wahidi al-Nisaburi. Cairo, 1968, p 4].

    Knowledge about the asbab al-nuzul helps one to understand the circumstances in which a particular revelation occurred, which sheds light on its implications and gives guidance to the explanation (tafsir) and application of the ayat in question for other situations.

    With this in mind, this article seeks to examine Surah Al-Kafiroon and explore some of its implications for us today.

    Asbab ul-Nuzul of Surah Al-Kafiroon

    This Surah was an early Makkan sura, which was revealed to the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) at a very crucial time during the early stages of the Islamic Da’wah. The books of Seerah narrate that after the Quraish realised the implications of the Islamic Da’wah, becoming frustrated they resorted to three major methods to fight the Da’wah: torture, propaganda and boycott.

    Ibn Kathir in his tafsir mentions that the Quraish sought a sort of compromise with the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) and proposed that he should prostrate himself before their gods in return for their prostration to his God, and that he should cease denouncing their gods and their manner of worship in reciprocation for whatever he demanded of them.

    The Quraish thought that the gulf between them and Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) 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 cut all arguments short and firmly distinguish between one form of doctrine and worship and the other, this Surah was revealed in such a decisive and assertive tone. It was revealed in this manner to demarcate monotheism (tawheed) from polytheism (shirk), and to establish a true criterion, allowing no further vain arguments.

    Tafsir of Surah Al-Kafiroon

    Using all the mentioned means, the Surah goes on to emphasize a negation in one sentence and an affirmation in another.

    (“Qul…") [TMQ Al-Kafiroon: 1], (Say) in the imperative form denotes a clear-cut divine order, which conveys the fact that the whole affair of the religion belongs exclusively to Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala), nothing of it belongs to Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) himself, and that Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) is the only one to order and decide.

    Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) instructs Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) to address them by their actual and true identity; “Say: O Disbelievers!” [TMQ Al-Kafiroon: 2]

    Ibn Kathir states that “disbelievers” includes every disbeliever on the face of the earth. They follow no prescribed religion, nor do they believe in you. No meeting-point exists between you and them anywhere. Thus we see that the beginning of the Surah brings to mind the reality of a difference, which cannot be ignored or settled.

    "I do not worship what you worship" [TMQ Al-Kafiroon: 2] is a statement affirmed by

    “…shall never worship what you worship.” [TMQ Al-Kafiroon: 4]

    "Nor do you worship what I worship…" [TMQ Al-Kafiroon: 5], is also repeated for more emphasis and in order to eliminate all chances of doubt or misinterpretation.

    Finally, the whole argument is summed up in the last verse, áóßõãú Ïöíäõßõãú æóáöíó Ïöíäö “To you be your religion and me my religion.” [TMQ Al-Kafiroon: 6]

    Meaning that you (disbelievers) and I (Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam)) are very far apart, without any bridge to connect us - a complete distinction and a precise, intelligible demarcation.

    Islam, on the one hand, is the way of life, which directs man and the whole world towards Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) alone and determines for him the source of his religious concepts, laws, values, criteria, ethics and morals. That source is Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) and nobody else. Thus life proceeds for him accordingly, devoid of any form of polytheism, which on the other hand, represents another way of life entirely dissimilar to that of faith. The two never meet.

    Ibn Kathir states that Islam is based on absolute monotheism whose concepts, values, beliefs and laws cover all aspects of human life and are all received from Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) and none else. Without this basic separation confusion, doubt and distortion will certainly persist. Let it be clear in our minds here that the movement advocating Islam can never be constructed on any ambiguous or feeble foundations, but rather it must be built upon firmness, explicitness, frankness and fortitude as embodied in Allah's (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) instruction to us to declare: áóßõãú Ïöíäõßõãú æóáöíó Ïöíäö “To you be your religion and me my religion.” [TMQ Al-Kafiroon: 6] Such was the way adopted by the Islamic call in its early days.

    Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) revealed this Surah and in it he commanded his Messenger (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) and thereby the believers, to disavow themselves from the religion of Kufr completely. Hence, the disavowal is from all of what they are involved in. The Messenger (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) and his followers worship Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) and must live according to what He (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) has legislated.

    The Implications of Surah al-Kafiroon

    The implications of this Surah for this noble Ummah today are numerous. Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) reminds us stating, “Here is a Book which, We have sent down unto thee, full of blessings, that they may mediate on its signs, and that men of understanding may receive admonition.” [TMQ Sad: 29]

    1. We learn from the example of the Messenger (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam), that even in the face of the sternest of circumstance and adversity in the Da’wah, we must refer to Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) and the Shari’ah and not make the reality or the circumstances our reference point, irrespective of the conditions.

    The offer of compromise by the Quraish in today’s context could be analogous to the offer of compromise that the Western Kafir states offer this Ummah. However, the first lesson to be extrapolated is that our response should be one based upon Islam.

    2. Secondly, in response to the call of a compromise, Allah’s (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) address didn’t cloud or leave any ambiguity in responding to the calls of a merger between Kufr and Iman.

    Rather Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) made an extremely profound statement through the verses of Surah Al-Kafiroon. For the linguist or non-linguist, it is all too apparent to see that Allah’s (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) address to the Quraish could have been far more moderate or subtle.

    Rather, we find that the style of the address and message in distinguishing between belief and disbelief was absolutely clear, setting a precedent and a premise for the believers until the Last Day. Even the Surah was subsequently named Surah Al-Kafiroon - namely the disbelievers.

    In similar circumstances today, some pragmatists go “an arms length” in naively appeasing, and behaving in an apologetic manner towards the Kuffar. How many amongst the pragmatists would recite out Surah Al-Kafiroon to the Kuffar when they summon the Ummah under the umbrella of Kufr, through the guises of interfaith dialogue, common good and compromise between “all faiths and religions”?

    The aftermath of September 11th and the intellectual campaign against the Islamic Ummah to subvert Islam makes it even more poignant that the Ummah of Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) should follow in this Sunnah, making clear our identity and the distinction between Islam and Kufr.

    Furthermore, compare this stance of Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) and His Messenger (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) with that of the corrupt Muslim rulers especially in the aftermath of 11th September. Rather than aligning with Islam, they subserviently succumbed to Kufr headed by America.

    3. The Surah makes it clear that the Kuffar will never accept or believe in Islam - on the contrary, numerous ayat are indicative to their utmost endeavour of assimilating and confusing our identity with Kufr.

    David Blunkett, the British Home Secretary, stirred up a row recently when he stated, “Immigrants should ensure their children grow up feeling British.” The Muslim community should adopt "British norms of acceptability", said David Blunkett.

    Many integrationists amongst the Muslims and the Kuffar feel that Muslims should adopt “British norms of acceptability” or “Western norms”. Some integrationists would make you believe that this is acceptable for the Muslims. For all those who bring forth this call let us recite this Surah to them.

    Ibn Kathir states that the verse, "I do not worship what you worship" [TMQ Al-Kafiroon: 2] is a statement affirmed by “…shall never worship what you worship.” [TMQ Al-Kafiroon: 4] "Nor do you worship what I worship…" [TMQ Al-Kafiroon: 5], is also repeated for more emphasis and in order to eliminate all chances of doubt or misinterpretation.

    So why should we, the Muslims with the Haq, naively succumb to the mirage of their Kufr thoughts and way of life, when they would never compromise from their Kufr? Rather, we are the ones with the truth and should be seeking to enlighten them.

    4. Inevitably with the dawah will come the toils of hardship, pain and rejection, and it is within this context that this Surah teaches us to be patient, holding firmly to the truth and being brave in our stance. Our stance in such circumstances should mirror the stance of Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) and His Messenger (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) namely, “To you be your religion and me my religion.” [TMQ Al-Kafiroon: 6]


    To conclude, Surah Al-Kafiroon marks a clear benchmark not only in the history of the Islamic Da’wah and the Da’wah of the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam), but also for this Ummah today.

    Just as its revelation candidly and vehemently earmarked the annihilation of any last possible hopes that Quraish could have had in averting the Da’wah of Islam, its implications and effects must equally be paralleled within the Da’wah today.

    The distinction we are dealing with here is indispensable. The need to understand that there is no room for short-term or half solutions, compromises, or partial redemption or adjustment, and that our call is uniquely for Islam, in contrast to Kufr.

    We must face these people bravely and explicitly put it to them: “To you be your religion and me my religion.” [TMQ Al-Kafiroon: 6]

    Sha’ban Ul-Haq

    Khilafah Magazine January 2002 Edition