By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
(Translated from Urdu by New Age Islam)
22 August 2015
According to Marxism, as it is generally
interpreted, human society is divided into basically two classes-the working
class and the bourgeoisie. The word ‘bourgeoisie’ is of French origin. In the
beginning it denoted the middle classes, but later, when it was employed as a
key term in Marxist discourse, it came to be seen in a derogatory sense.
Consequently, in Marxist analysis the bourgeoisie came to be regarded as the
source of all social ills, while the working class was considered to be the
epitome of virtue.
Somewhat the same thing has happened with
the term kafir. In the beginning, the term simply meant what its dictionary
meaning denotes-’one who denies’. However, later it came to be used and seen in
a derogatory sense, and today this latter sense in which the term is generally
understood is the source of much conflict between Muslims and others.
Let me cite an instance to illustrate the
possible consequences of the wrong use of the term kafir. The noted poet
Muhammad Iqbal penned a Persian couplet in which he mentioned his Hindu Pandit
origins, referring to himself as a Brahmanzada or ‘descendant of a Brahmin’.
Now, the term Brahmanzada is not seen as offensive by anyone. But
suppose it was replaced by the term Kafirzada or ‘descendant of a
kafir’, lovers of Iqbal’s poetry would react in horror. This is because the
term kafir has come to be widely perceived and used in a very derogatory sense.
The general usage of the terms kafir and
momin (‘believers’) by Muslims causes a great deal of anguish for many
non-Muslims. So much so that some extremists opposed to Muslims and Islam have
even demanded that the word kafir should be expunged from the Islamic lexicon,
claiming that till this is done Muslims and non-Muslims can never live in amity
with each other.
In actual fact, the misuse of the word
kafir is not something that only extremists in other communities are vehemently
opposed to. To be honest, it has become a major problem for many Muslims
themselves. In today’s age, Muslims and non-Muslims live and work together, and
in this context many educated Muslims feel that they cannot properly adjust to
a pluralistic situation while continuing to uphold traditional understandings
of the term kafir. Consciously or otherwise, many of them feel that many
aspects of the sort of Islam that they have been reared on have lost their
relevance in today’s age. They have no idea how they can live respectably in
society today if they continue to cling to this sort of Islam.
I know of a certain very well-educated
Muslim man who lives in Delhi, and who often meets me. He says that although he
was born in a Muslim family he has lost faith in Islam. Democracy, he tells me,
is his religion, not Islam, because, according to him, Islam sharply divides
humankind into Momins and Kafirs, while democracy regards all human beings as
So, as I just mentioned, this issue has
become a very real and serious one for many Muslims today. It is imperative,
therefore, to seriously address it. This is essential in order to answer the questions
people are asking about the contemporary relevance of Islam as well as to help
create a climate wherein Muslims and others can live together amicably.
If the issue is studied carefully and
deeply, it emerges that the entire question is based on gross misunderstanding.
In the general Muslim understanding, the term kafir is seen as synonymous with
non-Muslim. Consequently, most Muslims think that anyone who is not a Muslim is
a kafir. However, this is a completely wrong notion. The word kafir is not synonymous
According to the Shariah, the role of true
Muslims is that of dais or those who invite others to the path of God. The
status of non-Muslims, therefore, is that of Madu, or those who are to be
invited to God’s path. This relationship between dai and Madu, between true
Muslims and others, necessarily demands that true Muslims, as dais, must
constantly seek to maintain good and friendly relations with people of other
faiths. It is said that a shopkeeper must always be customer-friendly.
Likewise, a true Muslim must always be Madu-friendly.
A true dai must be inspired by a genuine
sense of concern, love and welfare for the madu. If that is really the case,
the dai would never tolerate using any term that might stir hatred in the heart
of the Madu. In addition, a true dai can never have hatred in his own
heart for the Madu.
The ancient Aryan invaders of India
referred to the indigenous people of the country as Mlecchas. Likewise,
medieval Christian scholars referred to Muslims as ‘infidels’. Both terms were
used in a derogatory sense, and those whom these terms were used to refer to
obviously did not approve of them. The
proper way in such cases is to use terms that do not have this derogatory implication.
Unfortunately, the Muslim scholars have not adopted a proper approach in this
regard. In their writings and their translations of the Quran they have
indiscriminately used the term kafir to mean ‘infidels’. In the Indian context,
this has led to much misunderstanding and conflict between Hindus and Muslims.
And because the term kafir has been used by the Ulema in this sense it has
created a particular sort of mind-set among Muslims generally, as is reflected
in the writings and speeches of many Muslim scholars. It has played a major
role in fashioning an entirely negative approach in the Muslim community in
general towards people of other faiths. It has built up a pronounced sense of
‘Muslims versus Others’, ‘We versus Them’, which is very unfortunate and
My own reading of the Quran leads me to
believe that when it says, ‘Say, ‘You who deny the Truth [...]‘ (Quran, 109:1),
using the term Kafirun for this, it refers only to the Quraish of Makkah of the
Prophet’s time who, despite the Prophet having provided them all proof of his
divine mission, rejected and opposed him.
It was then that God declared that they had become Kafirs or deniers of
the truth in His eyes. Nowhere else in the Quran has any other group been
declared in such clear and specific terms as kafir. This way of addressing
people does not, I believe, apply to other non-Muslims, who should be addressed
as human beings, rather than as Kafirs.
More on the Term Kafir
As I indicated earlier, the Arabic word Kufr
means ‘denial’, and the related term kafir denotes ‘one who denies’, that is
‘one who refuses to accept’. Thus, the word kafir denotes an individual
character rather than being a label for a specific community or race. In many
English translations of the Quran, the word has been translated as
‘unbelievers’, but this, I feel, is wrong. An unbeliever is someone who does
not believe, but a kafir is a person who refuses to believe despite all the
proofs of God having been presented to him in an appropriate way.
In the early part of the Prophet’s mission,
as evidenced in the initial verses of the Quran, the people he addressed were
not referred to as Kafirs, but, rather, as people. For instance, addressing the
Prophet the Quran says: ‘O Messenger, deliver whatever has been sent down to
you by your Lord. If you do not do so, you will not have conveyed His message.
God will defend you from mankind (al-Nas). For God does not guide those who
deny truth.’ (Quran: 5:67). In this verse, God says that He would protect the
Prophet from ‘mankind’ (al-nas), and does not use the word al-Kuffar or Kafirs.
There are numerous such verses in the Quran that indicate the use of the
general word Insan (‘people’) or related words to refer to all human
It was only after thirteen years of the
Prophet’s struggling to present the Quraish of Makkah of his time all the
required proofs of his mission while addressing them as ‘people’ that, after
they deliberately denied him, the above-mentioned Quranic commandment ‘Say,
“You who deny the Truth [...]”’ (Quran, 109:1) was revealed. And that too was
an announcement from God Himself, and it was not the Prophet’s own statement.
The Difference between Deeds and the
Elsewhere in the Quran the words Kufr and
kafir have been employed in the sense of referring to certain deeds or acts that
are tantamount to Kufr, and the person who does this is a kafir in God’s eyes.
However, other than with regard to the Quraish of Makkah, and that too only
after the Prophet’s mission among them for thirteen long years which they
rejected, there is no specific declaration in the Quran labelling any
particular community as kafir. From this it appears that while a dai or an
Islamic scholar can point out that a particular deed amounts to Kufr he does
not have the right to declare any particular community as Kafirs. As I
mentioned above, the word kafir relates to a certain set of actions, and is not
the name of or label for any community.
This point can be further clarified with
the help of a Hadith report attributed to the Prophet which talks about the sin
of a Muslim deliberately abandoning his regular prayers and linking it with Kufr.
In this context, it is acceptable for someone to appeal to Muslims in general
to regularly pray and also tell them about the grave implications of abandoning
regular worship. But it would be totally incorrect if he were to prepare a list
of Muslims in his area who do not regularly worship and then specifically name
them as having turned Kafirs for this sin.
In exactly the same way, a true Muslim who
calls people to the path of God can, on the basis of Quranic teachings, point
out the actions which lead people to be seen as Kafirs in the eyes of God. But
he would be exceeding his boundaries if he were to address non-Muslim
individuals and communities by name and declare that so-and-so non-Muslims are Kafirs.
Hence, on the matter of Kufr and kafir it
is crucial to make a distinction between an act or deed of Kufr and the person
who commits that act or deed. It is only God’s prerogative to make a specific
declaration in this regard, and that He has done just once, with regard to the
Quraish deniers and opponents of the Prophet in Makkah to whom the Prophet had
provided complete proofs of God’s revelation. With regard to the rest of
humanity, God will decide Himself, and this would be made known in the
Hereafter. Hence, the task of a true Muslim is simply to invite others to the
path of God, and not to declare people to be Kafirs.
Consequently, in my opinion, from the
Islamic point of view the status of non-Muslim communities all over the world,
including of the Hindus of India, is simply that of being human beings (Insan).
None of these communities can be branded as Kafirs, because as of yet the
essential conditions that characterized thirteen years of the Prophet’s
preaching in Makkah among the Quraish have not been fulfilled, only after which
the Quraish were declared as Kafirs. Likewise, it is incorrect to term them as
I believe that the many of the conflicts
and complaints that characterize relations between Muslims and non-Muslims are
essentially communal and economic. These are, at root, conflicts about worldly
or material interests. These cannot be considered to be religious as such.
Muslims must take the initiative to desist from these conflicts over worldly or
material interests and focus all their intention on their real mission, which
is to invite people to the path of surrender to God.
When can it be established with regard to a
particular person that he has become a ‘denier’ (Munkir)? The Quran supplies an
answer to this. The revelation of the Quran started in 610 C.E. in Makkah, and
through the Quran the Prophet invited the Makkans to the path of worship of the
one God. In this period, he never referred to his fellow Makkans as kafirs. Instead,
as I mentioned before, he referred to them as ‘human beings’ or by similar
terms, such as ‘Quraish’ or ‘my community’. He conveyed to them God’s message
while considering them part of his own community (Qaum). This, therefore, shows
that the words kafir and kufr relate to a particular attribute and not to an
entire community as such.
In his mission to invite the people of
Makkah to God’s path, the Prophet was filled with a sense of deep concern for
the welfare of those he was addressing, and even though they heaped all sorts
of oppression on him he always beseeched God to guide them. And the Prophet
continued to do this steadfastly throughout the thirteen long years after
receiving his prophethood in Makkah. Even after that he did not refer to these
people as kafirs on his own. It was only later that God revealed this
commandment ‘Say, “You who deny the Truth [...]”’ (Quran, 109:1). From this it
appears that only after these thirteen years of the Prophet’s dedicated mission
in Makkah that God declared those whom he had addressed but who had rejected
him as ‘deniers’, and it was then that God revealed this commandment. It is
thus impermissible to declare anyone to be a ‘denier’ or kafir without having
engaged in this sort of dedicated, sustained mission as the Prophet did in
Makkah. To repeat what I have written earlier, it was only after thirteen years
of the Prophet’s mission in Makkah that God declared certain people or be Kafirs
or deniers, and for ordinary Muslims like us to do so even a hundred and thirteen
years of preaching work will not be adequate.
In some Quranic verses revealed while the
Prophet was in Makkah there are certain references to non-Muslims living
outside Arabia. For instance, the Quran mentions the Romans, who were
Christians, over whom the Persians had secured a temporary victory. But here it
refers to them as Romans, not as Kafirs. Likewise, the Quran refers to the
non-Muslim ruler of Yemen, Abraha, but it does not label him as a kafir ruler.
In contrast, the Quran uses the terms kafir and Kufr with regard to the Quraish
of Makkah who denied the Prophet. It did not refer to all non-Muslims as
kafirs. For instance, when the Prophet migrated to Madinah, he did not refer to
the people of Madinah as kafirs, but, rather, as ‘people’. There were several
non-Muslim tribes living around Madinah at that time, but they, too, were not
referred to as Kafirs by the Prophet. Instead, he referred to them by their
usual names, such as Ahl-e Saqif (‘the people of Saqif’), Ahl-e Najran (‘the
people of Najran’), Ahl-e Bahrain (‘the people of Bahrain’), and so on.
In the same way, in the early Islamic
period, soon after the Prophet’s demise when the Arab Muslims spread out of
Arabia into other countries, they referred to the non-Muslim communities they
encountered there by their own names, not as kafirs. For example, they called
the Christians of Syria as ‘Christians’ (Masihi), the Jews of Palestine as
‘Jews’ (Yahud), the Magians of Iran as ‘Magians’ (Majus), the Buddhists of
Afghanistan as ‘Buddhists’ (Bodh or Boza), and so on.
Likewise, when the first Muslims landed in
India they did the same. They referred to the non-Muslims of India as ‘Hindus’,
which is the Arab way of pronouncing the word ‘Sindhu’. One of the earliest
Arab Muslim chroniclers of India, Abu al-Rehan al-Biruni, author of the
well-known Kitab ul-Hind (‘Book of India’), referred to the non-Muslims of
India as ‘Hindus’, not as Kafirs.
Some Historical Instances
As I have repeatedly mentioned above, the
form of address contained in the Quran ‘Say, ‘You who deny the Truth [...]‘
(Quran, 109:1) applies only to those Makkans who denied the Prophet even after
he preached among them for thirteen years and provided them with all the
necessary proofs. The Quran does not address anyone else in this specific
manner besides these people of Makkah of the Prophet’s time. After the
Prophet’s victory over Makkah, several Arab tribes sent delegations to meet
him. For instance, some people came to meet him from Yemen. He addressed them
as ‘people of Yemen’ (Ahl-e Yaman), not as ‘Kafirs from Yemen’. Similarly, the
Prophet sent letters to the rulers of various lands near Arabia, inviting them
to the path of God. He did not refer to them in these letters as Kafirs [....]
To reiterate what I have said above, the
investigation of Kufr with regard to a particular person can happen only after
all the necessary proofs of the faith have been presented before him, and the
model of setting out the proofs (Itmam-E Hujjat) is just one-that is, the
thirteen year preaching mission of the Prophet in Makkah. Further, even after
one has properly and adequately set out the proofs of the faith it is only for
God to specify, if He wishes, a particular person to be a kafir or ‘denier’ of
the Truth. We cannot do this ourselves.
When the British ruled India, Muslim and
Hindu preachers engaged in heated public polemical debates (Munazara). This
took the place of what rightly belonged to dawah or inviting, with love and
concern, people to the path of God. These debates contributed in a major way to
the rapid worsening of Hindu-Muslim relations across the country.
This is not the Islamic way of approaching
others. The true Islamic way is through addressing others by being inspired by
a spirit of love, compassion and concern for their welfare, even despite their
opposition. On the other hand, polemical debates aim at defeating and demeaning
others. Instead of love and understanding, they produce only more hate and
conflict, thereby creating even more problems.
The Notion of Dar ud-Dawah (‘The Abode
of Inviting People to the Path of God’)
The terms Dar ul-Kufr (‘the abode of
infidelity’) and Bilad Al-Kuffar (‘the land of the infidels’) are not found in
the Quran. They are a later invention which emerged after the demise of the
Prophet and date to the Abbasid period. They were not in use among Muslims
before this. In my opinion these terms are not proper. Lands other than those
that can, if at all, be called ‘Islamic’ countries, must be seen and termed as Dar
Ud-Dawah, abodes of inviting others to the path of God, and these include even
those countries that some Muslims might regard as opposed to them.
In the Quran, God addresses the Prophet
and instructs him thus:
‘This is a blessed Book which We have
revealed, confirming what came before it, so that you may warn the ‘Umm al-Qura
[Mother of Cities] and the people around it’ (Quran, 6:92).
The Term ‘Umm Al-Qura In This Verse
Refers To Makkah.
When this verse was revealed, Makkah was in
the control of non-Muslims, so much so that they had installed numerous idols
inside the Kaaba. Yet, despite this, the Quran did not refer to the Makkah of
this period as dar ul-kufr, but, rather, as ‘Umm al-Qura or ‘Mother of Cities’,
and asked the Prophet to engage in the work of dawah there. From this one can
infer that all places that are under the control of non-Muslims can be
considered as dar ud-dawah, thus indicating to Muslims their duty of dawah or
inviting to God’s path the people of these lands. To refer to them with terms
such as dar ul-kufr or bilad al-kuffar is not proper.
We see that
Muslims in general are unable to come to terms with the notion that not all the
Mushrikin of Mecca were considered Kafir by God when Surah Al Kafirun was
revealed. What I am saying with clear evidence from the Quran is that not all
were considered Kafir even when Surah Taubah was revealed. This is because of a
general human tendency to stereotype. Was not the Prophet driven out of Mecca?
Did the Mushrikin of Mecca not fight battles to exterminate Islam? The fact of
the matter is that a few who are powerful and influential carry the masses with
them even when the masses are themselves not convinced and God does not give up
on those who are still capable of asking for pardon. Fear of persecution kept
many of the Mushrikin of Mecca from accepting Islam just as the fear of Pharaoh
and his Chiefs kept his people from believing in Moses. Such Mushrikin were not
But none believed in Moses except some children of his people, because of the
fear of Pharaoh and his chiefs, lest they should persecute them; and certainly
Pharaoh was mighty on the earth and one who transgressed all bounds.
The verse cited below is from a
Medinian Surah Al-Anfal and God is clearly seeing that most would end up
accepting Islam and ask for pardon.
(8:33) But Allah was not going to
send them a penalty whilst thou wast amongst them; nor was He going to send it whilst they could ask for pardon.
An example of
God pronouncing the verdict of kufr on a people:
(11:36) It was revealed to Noah: "None of thy people will believe
except those who have believed already! So grieve no longer over their (evil)
believed after this and were drowned in the flood including the son of Noah.
the Story of Prophet Lut (pbuh)
(The Messengers) said: "O Lut! We are Messengers from thy Lord! By no
means shall they reach thee! now travel with thy family while yet a part of the
night remains, and let not any of you look back: but thy wife (will remain
behind): To her will happen what happens to the people. Morning is their time
appointed: Is not the morning nigh?"
When Our Decree issued, We turned (the cities) upside down, and rained down on
them brimstones hard as baked clay, spread, layer on layer,-
verdict was pronounced on all including Lut’s wife and only Lut and his
daughters were saved.
pronounces a people as Kafir, they will not believe even if they live for
another thousand years and the fact that all the Mushrikin of Mecca eventually
believed, is proof that these people were never considered or addressed as
Kafir by God. Those who are addressed as Kafir in Surah Al-Kafirun were few and
met their end in the battles.
does the same understanding elude others even though the Quran is clearly
speaking about the Kafaru among the Mushrikin in Medinian Surahs (98:1, 6) clearly
telling us that not all of them are kafir? Or making a distinction between the
Mushrikin and Kafirin in Surah Taubah (9:1 to 6)? Because they are pre disposed
to think so. They make the same mistake as those who judge the present day
Muslims by what a few terrorists do. Stereotyping is a very common form of blind
prejudice which ails even the "moderate" Muslims.
Khalid Suhail can keep
on arguing with what Maulana Waheeduddin Khan says and what Maududi and others
say even after both are clearly shown to be in error.
The errors of Maulana
Waheedudin Khan are:
1. He says that Surah Al Kafirun is a late Meccan
Surah just before the Prophet's migration to Medina.
2. That the word Kafir was not used for previous
The fact is that Al
Kafirun is a very early Meccan Surah revealed some 8 to 9 years before the
migration to Medina.
The Maulana therefore incorrectly
assumes that it is addressed to all the Mushrikin because they had not accepted
Islam even after 13 years of preaching by the Prophet.
The fact is that the
Surah addresses only the Kafir among the Mushrikin and not all the Mushrikin. The
Kafir were all those who had rejected the message of Islam and were actively
engaged in opposing the Prophet and the religion of Islam. This behavior describes
on a few among the Mushrikin and certainly not all of them.
The Surah is clearly
valid for all times from the day Adam was born until eternity and is a simple
statement of "Agree to Disagree" with all those who are "Kafirin
or those who have rejected the message of Islam" and an intention to go
our separate way and in peace. At the time of the revelation of this Surah,
there may or may not have been Kafirin among the "People of the
Book". Rejection is a conscious and deliberate act after due consideration
and different from non-acceptance for any reason including lack of conviction,
understanding, knowledge etc.
Surah 98 is an early
Medinian Surah and verses 98:1 and 98:6 refer to the “Kafaru” among the people
of the Book and the Polytheists clearly implying that the kafaru can be among
followers of any faith including “People of the Book”. And yet, by referring only
to the kafaru among the Mushrikin, it makes clear that not all not even among
the Mushrikin are Kafir. Who these people are and why they are Kafaru is clearly
defined in this short Surah of 8 verses. The Kafaru can be among the Muslims
also, but since Muslim by definition means those who submit to Allah, to call
them Kafir would be a contradiction in terms. Therefore such Muslims are called
Munafiq or the hypocrites.
Surah Taubah was revealed
a year or 16 months after the conquest of Meccan and yet it does not consider
all Mushrikin of Mecca to be Kafir and makes a distinction between the two.
Verses 9:1 and 9:2 declare amnesty of four months to all Mushrikin
but with a warning that the kafirun (not Mushrikin) among them will be covered
with shame at the end of the period.
9:3 and 9:4 announces dissolution of all treaties with the
Mushrikin except with those who never broke their treaty and warns the kafirun
(not Mushrikin) of a grievous penalty.
Verse 9:5 is a command to kill all Mushrikin at the end of the
four month period with the exception of:
1. Those who never
broke their treaty or never fought the Muslims (9:4)
2. Those who
accept Islam offer prayers and pay zakat (9:5)
3. Those who seek
If the command was to kill only the Kafirin, then the problem
would have been how to identify them since there was no longer an enemy
standing in battle. The verse identifies the non-kafir among the Mushrikin
through the exceptions listed above. Verse 9:5 read together with 9:4 and 9:6
then becomes a command to kill only the Kafirin among the Mushrikin. Asylum
seekers are not defiant and therefore not kafir even though they may have
fought with the Muslims earlier.
Whether it is
Maulana Waheeduddin Khan or another moderate Javed Ghamidi or even Muhammad
Yunus, they find it difficult to accept that the Mushrikin of Mecca were
anything but Kafir and therefore they assume that Surah Al-Kafirun addresses
all the Mushrikin of Mecca even though such an assumption leads to several
1. What was the Prophet doing in Mecca for another
8 to 9 years after saying to the Mushrikin “To be your way and to me mine”? Why
was he still preaching to them and trying to make them change their way? He should
have focused only on those who had become Muslim and left alone the rest. And
why especially after saying “Nor will ye worship that which I worship”? The
answer is simple. He was preaching to the Mushrikin and not to the Kafirin
2. The Prophet’s migration is often the signal that
no more will believe and the disbelievers are destroyed by an act of God as in
the case of the people of Noah, Hud, Salih, Shoaib, Lut etc. No such
destruction took place after Prophet Muhammad migrated to Medina because God
had not pronounced the verdict of “Kufr” on all those who remained Mushrikin. In other words, God did not
consider all Mushrikin as Kafir even after 13 years of the Prophet preaching to
them. On the contrary there is a clear
verse which indicates that many among the Mushrikin may yet ask for pardon and
accept Islam in a Surah revealed after the Prophet had migrated to Medina .Verse
8:30 refers to the circumstances surrounding the migration and 8:33 clear
indicates that they could still ask for pardon.
(8:30) Remember how the Unbelievers (yamkuru) plotted against
thee, to keep thee in bonds, or slay thee, or get thee out (of thy home). They
plot and plan, and Allah too plans; but the best of planners is Allah.
(31) When Our Signs are rehearsed to them, they say: "We have
heard this (before): if we wished, we could say (words) like these: these are
nothing but tales of the ancients."
(32) Remember how they said: "O Allah if this is indeed the
Truth from Thee, rain down on us a shower of stones form the sky, or send us a
(33) But Allah was not going to send them a penalty whilst thou
wast amongst them; nor was He going to send it whilst they could ask for
Not surprisingly, Khalid
Suhail did not comment on my article:
What Is Kufr And Who Is A Kafir In The Quran? (Full and
Revised Text of the New Age Islam Series on the Subject)
Since he cannot find any inconsistency or contradictions in the article.
the word 'kafir' refers only to the Quraish of Mecca of the Prophet’s time who,
despite the Prophet having provided them all proof of his divine mission,
rejected and opposed him, then why doesn't that word slowly disappear from
our lexicon because of disuse?”
Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 8/22/2015 12:47:46 PM
This is exactly what Maulana Maududi said in his comments on sura 109 ( Al- Kafirun) which I produced in my comment in another thread, “Does
Islam hold All Non-Muslims to be Kafirs? No, This Term Was Only Used For
Certain Contemporaries of Prophet Mohammad” By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan.
“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.
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? and they still recite it centuries
after they have passed away, for expression of disgust with and dissociation
from kufr and its rites is a perpetual demand of Faith.” - Maulana
Kafir, Mushrik and idol worshipper are not synonyms
It is the majesty of the Quran, that a proof of the thesis of this section is contained in a short Surah that most of us have memorized! And yet, Muslims think that the terms kafir, Mushrik and idol worshipper are synonyms!
Surah 109 Al-Kafirun:
(1) Say : O ye Kafirun!
(2) I worship not that which ye worship,
(3) Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
(4) And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship,
(5) Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
(6) To you be your Way, and to me mine.
This is an early Meccan Surah which was revealed 8 to 9 years before Hijra or the migration of the Prophet (pbuh) to Medina. We know that hostile opposition to Muhammad (pbuh) and his mission started early by the likes of Abu Jahal, Abu Lahab, Walid ibn Mughiyrah etc. It is to such Kafirun who openly rejected Islam and opposed it physically that the surah is addressed and not to the Mushrikun of Mecca. Now substitute Mushrikun in place of Kafirun and see the effect! It can only be said about those against whom Kufr is proved that they will not worship what the Muslims worship. The same could not be said about the Mushrikun many of whom accepted Islam in later years. Else, what was left for the Prophet (pbuh) to preach to the Mushrikin for the remaining 8 to 9 years before Hijra after having said “To you be your Way and to me mine”? The enemies of Islam would have pointed out to the apparent falsehood in “To you be your Way, and to me mine”, if this verse was understood as meant for all the Mushrikin and not just for the Kafir among the Mushrikin.
This Surah is also proof that there is no scope to war against the peaceful rejecters of the "Truth" or the peaceful Kafirun. It is a simple “To you be your Way and to me mine” And this has nothing to do with this being a Meccan period Surah. There is no contradiction between any two verses of the Quran.