This is a transcript of a commentary on Sūrah al-Kāfirūn given by Shaykh Haider Hobbollah over five lessons. Due to their length, I have split the posts into two parts. This second part consists of commentary on verses 2 to 6. To read part 1 click here.
Verse 2-5 – Lā A’bud Mā Ta’budūn, Wa Lā Antum ‘Ābidūn Mā A’bud, Wa Lā Anā ‘Abid Mā ‘Abattum, Wa Lā Antum ‘Ābidūn Mā A’bud
I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship. Nor do I worship what you worship. Nor do you worship what I worship.
What is ‘Ibādah?
We know all the Prophets (p) brought the message of monotheism (tawḥīd), and this monotheism is not just an article of belief, rather it is a complete worldview as emphasized by ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī. We know tawḥīd has a lot of different meanings, most famous of them being:
1) Tawḥīḍ in Essence – that Allah in His very Essence is one, single, has no partner, is not compound of multiple parts, has nothing that resembles him.
2) Tawḥīḍ in Attributes – meaning Allah’s (swt) attributes are part of His (swt) Essence, although this has always been a debate amongst the different factions of Islam.
3) Tawḥīḍ in Creation – no one has created this existence except Allah (swt).
4) Tawḥīḍ in Lordship – there is no one taking care of the affairs of this world except Allah (swt). This is in opposition to those who believed in delegation (tafwīḍ), that Allah (swt) has created the universe, and has left it run on its own.
5) Tawḥīḍ in Worship – meaning no one is worthy to be worshipped, and no one should be worshipped, except Allah (swt). There should be sincerity in worship. This is in opposition to either worshipping some other entity or worshipping Allah (swt) alongside another entity – both of these are polytheism and contrary to monotheism.
This is what the Muslim theologians have expounded on in detail. The question that needs to be asked is, which type of tawḥīd did not exist amongst the Arabs? Did the Arabs deny tawḥid in God’s essence, attributes, creation, lordship, or worship?
According to the Qurān the Arabs believed in Allah (swt). The atheism which we witness today in the world was very rare in the Arab society. The idea that there is no Allah (swt) or no god at all did not exist amongst the Arabs and in fact the Qurān does not address the phenomenon of atheism at all. The Arabs not only believed in Allah (swt), they also believed in tawḥīd in His (swt) creation and lordship. The Arabs had a problem in worship, as they would primarily worship the idol by the name of Hubal alongside some other idols. Their prayers, devotions and sacrifices were for these idols.
It is extremely important for us to study the theology of the Arabs before Islam and during the period the Qurān was being revealed so that we know what exactly was it that the Qurān was addressing and critiquing. For example, [29:61] If you asked them, “Who created the heavens and earth and subjected the sun and the moon?” they would surely say, ” Allah.” Then how are they deluded?
The Arabs professed that Allah (swt) created them, He is the Lord running the affairs of the world, but they would thank and devote their worships for Hubal.
[29:63] And if you asked them, “Who sends down rain from the sky and gives life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness?” they would surely say “Allah.” Say, “Praise to Allah “; but most of them do not reason.
The Qurān is telling them they should be thanking Allah (swt) especially given they know He (swt) is the one sending down the rain from the skies, but they are so naïve and simple-minded that they thank someone else instead.
[31:25] And if you asked them, “Who created the heavens and earth?” they would surely say, “Allah.” Say, “[All] praise is [due] to Allah”; but most of them do not know.
[43:9] And if you should ask them, “Who has created the heavens and the earth?” they would surely say, “They were created by the Exalted in Might, the Knowing.”
[43:87] And if you asked them who created them, they would surely say, ” Allah.” So how are they deluded?
[10:31] Say, “Who provides for you from the heaven and the earth? Or who controls hearing and sight and who brings the living out of the dead and brings the dead out of the living and who arranges [every] matter?” They will say, “Allah,” so say, “Then will you not fear Him?”
There are other verses, but all of these verses show that they believed Allah (swt) created them, He is the Lord. The Qurān is challenging them on their worship, they did not worship Allah (swt).
Even if you look at the talbīyah that the Arabs would recite, these have been reported in works of history, the ḥadīth and even the ḥadīth of the Ahl al-Bayt (a), this idea becomes very clear. Some of the Arabs would recite:
لَبَّيْكَ اللَّهُمَّ لَبَّيْكَ ، لَبَّيْكَ لا شَرِيكَ إِلا شَرِيكًا هُوَ لَكَ تَمْلِكُهُ وَمَا مَلَكَ
Here I am O Allah, Here I am! Here I am! Thou hast no partner except a partner which belongs to Thee, and Thou possesses him and all that is his.
This talbīyah was changed, and if you look at the talbīya of the Muslims today you will see that it focuses specifically on praise and gratefulness being restricted for Allah (swt):
لَبَّيْكَ اللَّهُمَّ لَبَّيْكَ، لَبَّيْكَ لاَ شَرِيكَ لَكَ لَبَّيْكَ، إِنَّ الْحَمْدَ، وَالنِّعْمَةَ، لَكَ وَالْمُلْكَ، لاَ شَرِيكَ لَكَ
Here I am at Thy service O Lord, here I am. Here I am at Thy service and Thou hast no partners. Thine alone is All Praise and All Bounty, and Thine alone is The Sovereignty. Thou hast no partners.
In summary, the problem with the Arabs was not a problem in tawḥīd of essence, creation or lordship. The discussion on tawḥīd in attributes was not a topic of discussion at the time and was a later theological dispute. The issue was tawḥīd in worship and hence why there is such a significant emphasis on worshiping Allah (swt) alone.
The proposal given to the Prophet (p) in context of Surah al-Kāfirūn is also to do with worshiping, and not believing. They do not ask him to believe in their god, rather they want him to worship their god.
On a side note, some scholars have said that the polytheism the Qurān is prohibiting is the worship of the Arabs because a prohibition is not related to the absence of an act, rather it is related to something that is being done and there is a desire to end it. This is what the polytheism of the Arabs was, or at least this was the predominant understanding amongst the Arabs.
Polytheism is essentially an ethical issue, it is an injustice – [31:13] Indeed, association [with him] is great injustice. You know someone created you, is giving you sustenance and is managing your affairs, yet you praise and show devotion to someone else. This is unjust.
This is the Islamic worldview, present in both the Qurān and the ḥadīth – we worship Allah (swt) alone. This is such an important matter that the jurists have even forbidden the act of prostration for anyone else other than Allah (swt) absolutely, even if it is done without the intention of worship. These rulings can be found in the works of all jurists and it is important to note this, because prostration is symbolic for worship, there are secrets behind it, and as long as Allah (swt) does not tell you to do so, do not even think about doing it for anyone other than Allah (swt).
Observations on Repetition
Amongst a group of Muslim scholars, there is the idea that Qurān does not repeat itself, and they put in every effort to ensure that the verses which seem to apparently repeat themselves are not interpreted in the same meaning. For these scholars, the question which needs to be addressed is how do we understand the combination of these verses which are somewhat repetitive? Verse 3 and 5 are exactly the same verses, while all of them together are repetitive even if they are not formulated in exactly the same words. We have both literal repetition – which appears when addressing the disbelievers – and as well as repetition in terms of meaning – when speaking in first-person. Scholars have offered many different interpretations and explanations of this combination, we will only mention 7 of them:
 Differentiating Between the Two Gods: Some scholars have said the historical context of this chapter has influenced our interpretation, and they have speculated that when the Prophet (p) says “I do not worship that which you worship” it is a rejection of the proposal and will not worship your god. Scholars of this first view say we must be skeptical about this historical event and have no reason to rely on it as it is simply a historical report and very speculative.
We agree that something must have occurred, and the disbelievers must have said something to the Prophet (p), hence the use of qul at the beginning of the chapter. However, we do not know what was said, it is possible that the disbelievers could have said why do you differentiate between our god and your God, we also worship god and so do you. It could have been in response to this question that the chapter says that there is indeed a difference and do not conjure a story for people making them believe there is no difference between the two.
In other words, the verses are saying: ‘that which you worship is not what I worship, and that which I worship is not what you worship, if you think otherwise, you are wrong.’ These verses are then to be read as informative statements, not rejections of a proposal. The conclusion of this is the last verse, which says you have your religion and I have my religion which is completely different than yours and has nothing to do with your religion and way of life.
That which pushed other scholars to say “I do not worship” in the verse is a rejection of a proposal was the historical report, or else if you were to ignore the historical report and just look at the verses themselves you will read them as informative statements. With this pretext, the repetition in these verses is simply emphasizing the difference between the two entities that are worshipped.
This opinion does not face the criticism of later disbelievers converting to Islam because it does not interpret the verses as speaking about the present and unseen.
 Differentiating Between Two Types of Worship: Scholars of this opinion say if you notice the verses, it contains the preposition mā – for example, lā a’budu mā ta’budūn, and that this mā is mā al-maṣdarīyyah (infinitive mā). If it is infinitive then that means the phrase after it needs to be turned into a verbal noun:
lā a’budu ‘ibādatakum, wa lā antum ‘ābidūn ‘ibādatī, wa lā anā ‘ābid ‘ibādatakum, wa lā antum ‘ābidun ‘ibādatī
I do not worship the way you worship, and you do not worship the way I worship, and I do not worship the way you worship, and you do not worship the way I worship.
In other words, the differentiation here is not in who is being worshipped, rather the differentiation is between how one is worshiping. One who is worshiping more than one god is not worshiping the same as one who worships only one god.
The repetition therefore is to emphasize the distinction between the types of worship.
 Some scholars have said the mā in verse 2 and 3 is to be taken as mā al-mawṣūlah (conjunctive mā) and in verse 4 and 5 the mā is infinitive. In this way we can reconcile between the first two opinions, because with the presence of a conjunctive mā we say verse 2 and 3 is making a distinction between the two entities that are being worshiped, while the mā in 4 and 5 is making a distinction between the two types of worship.
It also does not matter if you decide to take the mā in verse 2 and 3 as infinitive and in 4 and 5 as conjunctive, as long as both types of mā are present and there is a distinction being conveyed in the Surah. However, with this interpretation, there is no longer any repetition left and we do not have to worry ourselves with explaining why there is repetition.
This interpretation is a mere possibility, or else it is not clear how the scholars are arriving at the conclusion that certain uses of mā in the verses of this chapter are infinitive and other uses are conjunctive. What is the linguistic criterion for this?
 Some scholars say we consider verse 2 and 3 together with a presumed condition and verse 4 and 5 together without any condition.
Verse 2 and 3 with the presumed condition would read as follows: I do not worship what you worship in the hope that you will worship what I worship; and you do not worship what I worship in the hope that I will worship what you worship.
Verse 4 and 5 without any condition would read as follows: Rather, I will not worship that which you worship – whatsoever under any circumstance; and you will not worship that which I worship – whatsoever under any circumstance.
This also resolves the issue of repetition. Many scholars interpret the Qurān like this and take things into presumption, and in this situation, it seems a condition formulated and taken into consideration only to avoid having to say there is repetition.
 Verse 2 and 4 are saying that it is beneath the Prophet (p) to worship what the disbelievers worship – it is a reference to the dignity (sha’n) of the Prophet. Verse 3 and 5 on the other hand are simply saying you – the disbelievers – are not people who worship what I worship – it is a reference to the relationship (ahlīyyah) of the disbelievers with God.
This is also just another probable interpretation and the proponents do not bring any evidence to back it up.
 Differentiation in Time: Some scholars say there is a linguistic difference between these verses which needs to be acknowledged. In verse 2, the lā occurs on a present tense (a’budu) it conveys permanence and continuity. Meaning I do not worship what you worship – before, now and in the future. The mā which occurs on a present tense (ta’budūn) conveys presence (ḥāl). Meaning, I do not worship what you worship – before now and later – that what you worship currently.
Verse 3 is inverse: You do not worship – now and in the future – that what I worship currently.
Verse 4: This is a nominal sentence and such a statement signifies presence, which would mean: I do not worship – currently – what you worshipped in the past.
Verse 5: This is also a nominal sentence so it would mean: And you do not worship right – currently – what I worship currently.
In conclusion, the apparent repetition in the combination of these verses is referring to differences in time.
 Multiple Revelations: Verse 2 and 3 were revealed on one occasion and that was the end of the chapter at that point. However, the disbelievers probably came back to him again with a proposal and then verse 4 and 5 were revealed.
This interpretation may seem laughable because there is absolutely no evidence for it, but this is something we witness in works of exegesis all the time when a commentator is unable to clarify or explain the meanings of a text. They end up resorting to the most far-fetched possibilities. This scholar seems to have fallen for the same trap, in order to avoid the problem of repetition they came up with this possibility. This possibility can even be rejected because verse 4 and 5 begin with “and” which make this it even less probable for these two verses to have been revealed at a later time.
One is better off saying I do not know why there is repetition then coming up with explanations that are strange and far-fetched. This is an exegetical principle that we should all be aware of Allah (swt) is not going to take a scholar to task if they are unable to answer some of the questions. It is not obligatory to be able to answer all aspects of the Qurān, and it is perfectly fine for one to say they do not know.
Conclusion: In my opinion, the first view that these verses are signifying distinction between the entity being worshiped is correct, and the mā is more apparent in it being conjunctive rather than infinitive. The verses are emphasizing this distinction and there is no issue with repetition. On the contrary, repetition further emphasizes this distinction.
Why is Mā Used for Allah?
In the Arabic language, mā (what) is used for objects that do not have the ability to intellectualize, whereas man (who) is used for things that can intellectualize. The use of mā for the disbelievers is correct because they worship idols, which are material objects with no life. I do not believe this is an issue linguistically, but in the views of some scholars this was a challenge they had to address – I will mention a few of their responses briefly:
1) Allah (swt) is speaking to the disbelievers on their level. They thought their own gods were unable to intellectualize and would use the preposition mā to refer to them, so Allah (swt) speaks down at their level and uses mā as well.
This view is based on a very important discussion in the Qurānic sciences, because it presumes the Qurān was revealed in light of conceptions the Arabs had in their culture – even though some of these conceptions had no reality.
For example, [2:275] Those who consume interest cannot stand [on the Day of Resurrection] except as one stands who is being beaten by Satan into insanity.
What does it mean to be beaten by Satan into insanity? These scholars will say this was a superstition the Arabs had in their culture and the Qurān is referring to it. Another verse they bring as evidence as well is:
[18:86] Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it [as if] setting in a spring of dark mud.
It is worth researching into this topic in more depth, particularly because many of them are cited by materialists to critique the Qurān deeming it contradictory to the findings of science.
In any case, this first explanation is not valid because who said the Arabs would believe their gods and as well as Allah (swt) Himself could not intellectualize? Secondly, the context of the verse is to create distinction between the two entities being worshipped and therefore it would have been more appropriate to use man instead of mā.
2) Mā when used in reference to Allah (swt) is being used in the meaning of man. This opinion has no basis or evidence.
3) Mā is being used for creating harmony and symmetry between the verses. Similar to [42:40] And the retribution for an evil act (sayyi’ah) is an evil one (sayyi’ah) like it where the retribution for an evil act is not really an evil act (sayyi’ah), but the good act is being referred to as an evil act only for symmetrical purposes.
This is plausible.
4) Some scholars say the mā is not referring to Allah (swt) or the gods of the disbelievers, rather it is related to the words falsehood and truth which are to be taken into consideration.
In other words, the verse should be rendered as: I do not worship falsehood and you do not worship the truth.
When we are doubtful of whether there is something taken into consideration in a sentence, but not written, then we apply the principle of absence of consideration.
5) Some say the mā is infinitive, as we discussed in our previous discussion, and that it is related to the types of worship.
6) Some say there is no reason to burden ourselves with all these explanations, the mā is to be taken as conjunctive and means allaẓī. This explanation is logical, reasonable, and the Qurān also uses the word allaẓī for Allah (swt) in many places.
Verse 6 – La Kum Dīnukum Wa Liya Dīn
For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.
This verse has been subject to a lot of discussion in contemporary times and a number of interpretations have been provided for it:
 The initial meaning one may understand from it is that others can remain on their religion and are free to do so, and likewise I am free to remain on my religion. I will not enforce anything upon you, and you do not do the same to me. As such, this verse has been used over the last century as the basis for freedom of religion.
It should also be said that this understanding of the verse is not unique to the 20th and 21st century, rather some scholars before that also understood this meaning from the verse. We know this because some scholars claimed that this verse has been abrogated, and they said it has been abrogated with the verses that speak of jihād. This implies that these scholars understood the notion of freedom of religion from this verse and cited the verses of jihād to argue for its abrogation.
As we know, Muslim jurists predominantly all understood offensive war from the verses of jihād. Meaning the Muslims initiate war against the non-Muslims to invite them to Islam, or at the very least implement an Islamic government over the cities and villages of the non-Muslim – irrespective of whether they convert to Islam or not.
‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī and other commentators have critiqued this interpretation of the verse. They said this understanding is completely contradictory with the life and message of the Prophet (p). If the Prophet (p) was fine with others remaining on their religion then what was the purpose of his mission and all the struggle and wars he had to go through during two decades. Furthermore, this contradicts all the efforts the Prophet (p) put in promoting monotheism and openly critiquing, condemning polytheism and even the religion of the People of the Book.
I believe the aforementioned response is not precise. When a person says, ‘I grant you freedom of religion,’ it does not mean they acknowledge the validity of their religion. Freedom is in opposition of enforcement, not silence towards the invalidity of a belief, or being satisfied with polytheism and sin. No one amongst the Muslim scholars who interpreted this verse as freedom of religion meant one should be satisfied with others committing sin or being on the wrong path, and that we agree with their disbelief – God forbid. On the contrary, proponents are saying we are not satisfied with disbelief and sin, but this does not translate into force and violence, enforcing others to convert. Therefore, the Qurān rejecting and critiquing the beliefs of non-Muslims is not contradictory to freedom of religion.
As for the Prophetic wars then we cannot get into that discussion in detail, but there is a lot of discussion on whether they were offensive or defensive. Even some scholars who reject the interpretation of this verse as being about freedom of religion have opined that the Prophetic wars were not offensive to begin with – they were defensive.
Despite this, we still say that the interpretation of this verse to mean freedom of religion is incorrect.
 The verse is not concerned with freedom. One of the meanings of dīn in Arabic is recompense, as used in the term yawm al-dīn (Day of Judgement because people will be recompensed for their good and evil). This verse is therefore saying, you will be responsible and recompensed for what you do and I will be recompensed for what I do. I will not be asked about your deeds and you will not be asked about my deeds.
This interpretation is plausible. Although as we will see, another interpretation is more plausible because dīn is not used in the meaning of recompense most of the times – even in the Qurān, and perhaps the meaning of recompense does not fit well with the context of the rest of the chapter upon further investigation.
 Dīn means religion, not recompense, but nevertheless the verse is still discussing the notion of recompense. These scholars take lakum jazā and lī jazā into presumption and render the verse as: lakum jazā dīnikum wa lī jazā dīnī (for you is the recompense for your religion and for me is the recompense for my religion). This opinion results in the same conclusion as those with the second view mentioned above.
However, since there are words taken into presumptions, the interpretation becomes more distant from the apparent meaning and there is no evidence to back this presumption up.
 Dīn means religion, but this sentence is a threat to the disbelievers. In other words, it is saying to them, do whatever you want, and I will do whatever I want and we will see who has the last laugh.
This meaning is also a bit difficult to extract from the verse, and it is unclear how the proponent understood threat from it, especially since it also says “and I have my religion” – does this mean the Prophet (p) is threatening himself as well?
 A number of scholars have presented another opinion and I believe this is the most probable meaning of this verse, which says, this verse is highlighting the distance and difference between the two religions and ways of life. This is in context with the rest of the chapter where there are two different ideologies, what we worship is not what you worship, your religion is not the same as our religion, our beliefs are not the same as yours.
What evidence can we bring for this interpretation?
Firstly, the context of the chapter itself. All the previous verses emphasize this distance, distinction and differentiation between the two religions.
Secondly, the letter lām indicates exclusivity (ikhtiṣāṣ). Meaning your religion is exclusive to you and my religion is exclusive to me.
Thirdly, the priority of la-kum over dīnukum (for you is your religion) further emphasizes exclusivity, or else the same message can be conveyed by dīnukum la-kum (your religion is for you). Similar to īyya-ka na’budu (you alone we worship) which restricts our worship just for Allah (swt).
These contextual indicators all further indicate that the word dīn here means religion, not recompense, nor is it threatening them. It is also not in context of giving them freedom of religion – this is not the theme of this chapter.
Yes, there are other arguments one can cite for religious freedom. In fact, scholars have compiled a number of verses and traditions on the subject, the way we previously described it, meaning not in the sense that one is satisfied and happy with disbelief and sins. This is all we mean by religious freedom, not more, and in fact this is nothing strange because such a view exists in Islamic jurisprudence.
Four general categories of verses can be cited from the Qurān for the aforementioned understanding of religious freedom. Some of the verses I will mention below are definitely subject to critique and discussion on as to whether they really prove religious freedom or not, but nevertheless scholars have cited them in their words. Furthermore, there are also verses that one can claim to be in contradiction with these verses, indicating there is no such thing as religious freedom – but I will simply mention the most famous verses cited in the discussion of religious freedom.
1) Prohibition of killing and warfare when there is no enmity: these verses signify that when a group of people have not attacked you or shown enmity towards you, then you have no reason and right to force them into Islam, fight them, or enslave them and so on.
[60:8-9] Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly. Allah only forbids you from those who fight you because of religion and expel you from your homes and aid in your expulsion – [forbids] that you make allies of them. And whoever makes allies of them, then it is those who are the wrongdoers.
[4:90-91] So if they remove themselves from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not made for you a cause [for fighting] against them. You will find others who wish to obtain security from you and [to] obtain security from their people. Every time they are returned to [the influence of] disbelief, they fall back into it. So if they do not withdraw from you or offer you peace or restrain their hands, then seize them and kill them wherever you overtake them. And those – We have made for you against them a clear authorization.
[28:55] And when they hear ill speech, they turn away from it and say, “For us are our deeds, and for you are your deeds. Peace will be upon you; we seek not the ignorant.”
[8:61] And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon Allah. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing.
[2:190] Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors.
Some proponents have used these verses to claim Islam has not asked the Muslims to force anyone to accept Islam in any way whatsoever. Proponents of this view naturally reject offensive war; in fact, they even go as far as to say deny laws of apostasy. We cannot get into a jurisprudential discussion on this topic as it is a whole subject of its own, but these are the verses cited by these scholars.
On the contrary, many of those scholars who believe in offensive war, say that all of these verses speaking of peace and religious freedom have been abrogated by the initial verses of Surah al-Tawbah.
2) Verses granting choice:
[18:29] And say, “The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills – let him believe; and whoever wills – let him disbelieve.” Indeed, We have prepared for the wrongdoers a fire whose walls will surround them.
This verse seems to indicate that the choice of religion is in our hands, and the effects of choosing disbelief will be seen in the Hereafter.
[39:41] Indeed, We sent down to you the Book for the people in truth. So whoever is guided – it is for [the benefit of] his soul; and whoever goes astray only goes astray to its detriment. And you are not a manager over them.
3) Prophet’s responsibility: these verses indicate that the Prophet’s (p) job was merely to warn and guide people towards the truth. If they converted to Islam then they enter the party of Allah (swt) – just like when you enter a group or an organization. However, before entering into this religion there is nothing upon them and they cannot be forced into it. There are many verses speaking about this:
[88:21-24] So remind, [O Muhammad]; you are only a reminder. You are not over them a controller. However, he who turns away and disbelieves – Then Allah will punish him with the greatest punishment.
[54:45] We are most knowing of what they say, and you are not over them a tyrant. But remind by the Qur’an whoever fears My threat.
[5:99] Not upon the Messenger is [responsibility] except [for] notification. And Allah knows whatever you reveal and whatever you conceal.
[3:20] And say to those who were given the Scripture and [to] the unlearned, “Have you submitted yourselves?” And if they submit [in Islam], they are rightly guided; but if they turn away – then upon you is only the [duty of] notification. And Allah is Seeing of [His] servants.
[24:54] Say, “Obey Allah and obey the Messenger; but if you turn away – then upon him is only that [duty] with which he has been charged, and upon you is that with which you have been charged. And if you obey him, you will be [rightly] guided. And there is not upon the Messenger except the [responsibility for] clear notification.”
[29:18] And if you [people] deny [the message] – already nations before you have denied. And there is not upon the Messenger except [the duty of] clear notification.
[16:35] And those who associate others with Allah say, “If Allah had willed, we would not have worshipped anything other than Him, neither we nor our fathers, nor would we have forbidden anything through other than Him.” Thus did those do before them. So is there upon the messengers except [the duty of] clear notification?
[27:91-92] [Say, O Muhammad], “I have only been commanded to worship the Lord of this city, who made it sacred and to whom [belongs] all things. And I am commanded to be of the Muslims [those who submit to Allah] and to recite the Qur’an.” And whoever is guided is only guided for [the benefit of] himself; and whoever strays – say, “I am only [one] of the warners.”
[22:55-57] and the disbeliever is ever, against his Lord, an assistant [to Satan]. And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a bringer of good tidings and a warner. Say, “I do not ask of you for it any payment – only that whoever wills might take to his Lord a way.”
[64:12] And obey Allah and obey the Messenger; but if you turn away – then upon Our Messenger is only [the duty of] clear notification.
[13:40] And whether We show you part of what We promise them or take you in death, upon you is only the [duty of] notification, and upon Us is the account.
[42:48] But if they turn away – then We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], over them as a guardian; upon you is only [the duty of] notification.
[10:108] Say, “O mankind, the truth has come to you from your Lord, so whoever is guided is only guided for [the benefit of] his soul, and whoever goes astray only goes astray [in violation] against it. And I am not over you a manager.”
[6:104] There has come to you enlightenment from your Lord. So whoever will see does so for [the benefit of] his soul, and whoever is blind [does harm] against it. And [say], “I am not a guardian over you.”
[6:107] But if Allah had willed, they would not have associated. And We have not appointed you over them as a guardian, nor are you a manager over them.
[39:41] and whoever goes astray only goes astray to its detriment. And you are not a manager over them.
[42:6] And those who take as allies other than Him – Allah is [yet] Guardian over them; and you, [O Muhammad], are not over them a manager.
[6:66] But your people have denied it while it is the truth. Say, “I am not over you a manager.”
4) Negation of compulsion:
[11:29] And O my people, I ask not of you for it any wealth. My reward is not but from Allah. And I am not one to drive away those who have believed. Indeed, they will meet their Lord, but I see that you are a people behaving ignorantly.
[10:99] And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed – all of them entirely. Then, [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that they become believers?
[2:256] There is no compulsion in religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong.
All four categories of verses together are worthy of discussion and investigation. The notion that all of these verses have been abrogated by a few verses that appear in the beginning of Surah al-Tawbah is absurd. There is a lot of debate on these verses, what they exactly mean, whether compulsion mentioned in some of the verses is ontological or legal and so on. All these verses aside, the last verse of Surah al-Kāfirūn is not speaking about this subject whatsoever.
In conclusion, this chapter is emphasizing the distinction that exists between the Muslim monotheistic belief and the belief of the disbelievers. A Muslim is to stay distanced from disbelief and have nothing to do with it, rather they should maintain their own identity which is rooted in their beliefs. A Muslim should be aware of the differences that exist and not mix these beliefs with disbelief, rather they should be protective of their beliefs lest they are mixed to such an extent that truth can no longer be distinguished from falsehood.
The message conveys rejection of the idea that a Muslim can simply play with their beliefs for the sake of others, but at the same time, it is not implying anything about intolerance in terms of coexistence. Coexistence with non-Muslims can take place despite differences, similar to how there are calls for intra-faith unity between the Muslim sects – these calls for unity and proximity do not negate the idea that there are differences in beliefs and identities, but at the same time push the idea of coexistence.
It is imperative to reflect over this chapter as it gives us an educational principle on what our individual and communal mindset and identities should reflect when it comes to disbelief.
Sayyid Ali Imran studied in the seminary of Qom from 2012 to 2021, while also concurrently obtaining a M.A in Islamic Studies from The Islamic College of London in the summer of 2018. He continued his seminary studies in legal theory, jurisprudence and philosophy, eventually attending the advanced kharij of Usul and Fiqh in 2018. He is also a regular instructor for Mizan Institute.