Surah al-Kafiroon (No. 109: 'The Disbelievers')

Verses 1-6

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful.

قُلْ يَا أَيُّهَا الْكَافِرُونَ

Say, 'O Disbelievers! (109:1).

لَا أَعْبُدُ مَا تَعْبُدُونَ

I do not worship what you worship, (109:2).

وَلَا أَنْتُمْ عَابِدُونَ مَا أَعْبُدُ

nor do you worship what I worship; (109:3).

وَلَا أَنَا عَابِدٌ مَا عَبَدْتُمْ

nor will I worship what you have worshiped (109:4).

وَلَا أَنْتُمْ عَابِدُونَ مَا أَعْبُدُ

nor will you worship what I worship. (109:5).

لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ

To you your religion, and to me my religion. (109:6).

1. Intractable Disbelievers

The address to the disbelievers in this surah - even if it is unqualified (mutlaq) - is directed at a specific group of people in the time of the Prophet (S), and in this group were some of the most intractable disbelievers in history, because they were both ignorant and obstinate! These verses convey the utter hopelessness of this group ever believing. However, it does not apply to all the unbelievers, for there are often those who give up their unbelief, like those who found faith after Mecca was conquered and became good Muslims, or those magicians who believed in Moses (‘a) after they had long been his opponents!

2. Agreements With The Disbelievers

This surah affirms, in four verses, fundamental ideas that are very similar, as an essential truth; these are that there is no common worship between the side of faith and that of disbelief because of the importance of faith in the personality of a believer, especially with regards to divine unity (tawhid). All of his deeds are influenced by this most fundamental principle.

But just because there can be no compromise on this central principle does not mean that people cannot come to agreements for their mutual benefit in those matters not directly affected by faith. That is why the Prophet (S) made treaties with the unbelievers, such as that of Hudaybiyyah. In fact, Allah commanded the Prophet to seek treaties where appropriate with the words:

“And if they incline towards peace, then incline towards it [also].” (al-Anfal, 8:61).

3. No Compromise On Matters Of Doctrine

Using the Arabic particle la (translated: 'shall not') signifies a future negation. This illustrates both the position of the Prophet (S) in relation to worshipping their deities, and that of the disbelievers in relation to worshipping Allah, which in turn demonstrates that there could never be any reconciliation between the Prophet (S) and those who opposed him.

This is why there can be no compromise on matters of doctrine, even if there can be compromises in matters of warfare. The Qur'an settles this decisively when it says:

“Never will the Jews be pleased with you, nor the Christians, unless you followed their creed” (al-Baqarah, 2:120).

meaning that surrendering one's principles is the only way to truly please others - may it never come to pass!

4. The Pronoun ‘Ma’ (What)

The pronoun ‘ma’ (what), which is commonly employed for non­rational beings, is used for the gods of the disbelievers in the verse

“I do not worship what you worship” (al-Kafiroon, 109:2).

because these gods are idols which cannot comprehend anything. But why is the same pronoun then used for the One True God in the verse

“nor do you worship what I worship?” (al-Kafiroon, 109:3).

To resolve this, we must say either that it mirrors the expression in the previous verse - that it refers to the method of worship - or it refers to the worship itself, i.e. 'Nor do you worship my worship.'

5. Worship

The disagreement between the Prophet (S) and the unbelievers of his time did not concern Allah's status as the Creator, because they did not deny this. The Qur'an says:

“those who take guardians besides Him (claiming,] 'We only worship them so, that they may bring us near to Allah ...” (az-Zumar, 39:3).

So, the disagreement is in the method of worshipping Allah, and the practice of associating partners with Him (shirk), which is divine unity in Worship (al­tawhid fi al-'ibadah), which is why these verses revolve around worship and its derivatives.

And let it be known that those who worship ostentatiously, even though they believe in Allah, suffer from the same kind of defect as these disbelievers, for what is the point of worship that is not solely dedicated to Allah?

6. The Purpose Of Repetition

One of the goals of repetition in these clear verses is to firmly establish this truth, which is that neither party can turn aside from what it worships. Although the expression used for the Prophet (S) varies between:

“I do not worship ...” (al-Kafiroon, 109:2).

which uses a verb, and:

'Nor am I a worshipper1 ...' (al-Kafiroon, 109:4).

which uses the active participle, these two expressions - when taken together - are more forceful in their rejection!

7. Repetition Explained

We can explain the repetition of this surah as follows:

a. The repetition in the two verses is addressed to the offer of the disbelievers to the Prophet (S) that he would worship their gods in one year and they would worship his God in another, so, the negation is repeated for the number of alternating years of worship.

b. The pronoun 'what' in the first two verses refers to the object of worship, thus negating the worship of each other's deity, while in the last two verses, 'what' refers to the method of worship. In this case, the verses mean that the two sides disagree not only about the objects of worship, but also, about the very method of worship itself.

c. When the Qur'an says

“I do not worship what you worship,' (al-Kafiroon, 109:2).

this applies to the present because it contains a verb in the present continuous tense, while

“nor will I worship what you have worshipped” (al-Kafiroon, 109:4).

contains a verb in the past tense; so, taken together, these verses negate the act of worship at all times.

8. The Religion Of The Disbelievers Has Nothing To Do With The Prophet (S)

Placing the preposition and the noun it governs before the subject of the sentence in the verse

To you your religion, and to me my religion” (al-Kafiroon, 109:6).

signifies that the religions of truth and falsehood only belong to their respective followers; so, the religion of the disbelievers has nothing to do with the Prophet (S) and vice versa! This declaration also, affirms that there is no common ground between the two, and there is no room for compromise on the fundamentals of faith.

9. Religion Other Than Islam

There is no room to suppose that these verses, which indicate that each group should be left to follow their own religion, also, indicate that people should be free to believe whatever they want, whether true or false. That is a concept promoted by misguided people in every era in order to escape the bonds of the Shariah; the Qur'an in its totality calls people to divine unity (tawhid) and declares false any religion other than Islam. In other words, these verses should actually be understood as a threat; follow your religion and see what becomes of you! And what we have said here also, applies to the verse:

“ ...our deeds belong to us, and your deeds belong to you.” (al-Qasas, 28:55).

10. Taking A Stance

A believer adopts his stance according to the person he is confronted with:

a. So, with a believer who had fallen into heedlessness, he takes a stance of reminding them:

“And remind, for reminding Indeed, benefits the faithful.” (adh-Dhariyat, 51:55).

b. And with a believer who sins openly, he takes a stance of enjoining good and forbidding evil:

“There has to be a nation among you summoning to the good, bidding what is right, and forbidding what is wrong. It is they who are the felicitous.” (Ale 'Imran, 3:104).

c. And with a believer who mistreats him, he takes a stance of seeking reconciliation:

“If two groups of the faithful fight one another, make peace between them. But if one party of them commits aggression against the other, fight the one that commits aggression until it returns to Allah's ordinance.” (al-Hujurat, 49:9).

d. With a disbeliever who attacks him, he takes a fighting stance:

“Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you.” (al-Baqarah, 2:190).

e. But with a disbeliever who seeks peace, the believer takes a stance of compromise:

“Allah does not forbid you in regard to those who did not make war against you on account of religion and did not expel you from your homes, that you deal with them with kindness and justice. Indeed, Allah loves the just.” (al-Mumtahana, 60:8).

11. The Qur’an’s Use Of Repetition

The Qur'an's use of repetition is a familiar device to hone in on a concept to which its Author wants to call attention (and Allah knows best what He means and what will benefit His servants). One such example is when it repeats the phrase

“So, which of your Lord’s bounties will you both deny?” (ar-Rahman, 55:13).

more than thirty times in Surah ar­Rahman, to firmly embed the idea of thanksgiving; or the verse

“woe to the deniers on that day” (al-Mursalat, 77:11).

more than ten times in Surah al-Mursalat to drive home the threat to the deniers. It is similar with the verse

“Perish he, how he decided!” (al-Muddaththir, 74:19).

in Surah al-Muddaththir to underline the invocation against them; or the verse

“No indeed! Soon you will know!” (at-Takathur, 102:3).

in Surah at­Takathur to impress upon them the fear of the Day of Resurrection. This surah is another example of this, in that it categorically rejects the idea that the Prophet (S) will forsake any part of his religion to conform to the wishes of the disbelievers, because it repeats this idea, albeit through two different expressions: 'I do not worship ...' and 'Nor will I worship ...'

12. A Call To A Form Of Disassociation From The Disbelievers

The Qur'an exhorts the disbelievers to take Allah's friends as their allies and disassociate themselves from His enemies, and one of the clearest instances of this is found at the beginning of Surah at-Tawbah:

“a repudiation by Allah and His Messenger to the polytheists with whom you had made a treaty.” (at-Tawbah, 9:1).

In this surah, we also, find a call to a form of disassociation from the disbelievers, which is by refusing to compromise with them on matters of religion. Obviously, this discourse is directed in particular at the leaders of the ummah, particularly the Final Prophet (S), as compromise begins with those who occupy a position of leadership if they are not distinguished by their being god-fearing persons.

  • 1. This is a literal translation of the word “’Aabid” in the verse [Note of Al-Islam].