To You Your Religion and To Me Mine (Qur’an 109:1-6)
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Surah 109 “Al-Kafirun” contains a core message which on its surface seems to be one of reconcilliation with the non-believers (the Disbelievers, Atheists): “to your religion and to me (my) religion.” Although often pointed to as an example of religious tolerance, freedom and pluralism, the traditional understanding of the verse in classical commentaries and hadith is altogether different from this more modern understanding.
- 1 Qur’an
- 1.1 Pickthall
- 1.2 Shakir
- 1.3 Yusuf Ali
- 2 Analysis
- 2.1 Context
- 2.1.1 Maududi
- 2.1.2 Ibn Kathir
- 2.1.3 Al Wahidi
- 2.1.4 Al Jalalayn
- 2.1.5 Ibn Abbas
- 2.2 Summary
- 2.1 Context
- 3 Conclusion
- 4 See Also
- 5 References
According to the traditional chronology of the Qur’an’s surahs, this surah was revealed in Mecca before Prophet Muhammad became a military leader. Islamic historian al-Zuhri writes that during this period “the unbelievers of the Quraysh did not oppose what he [Muhammad] said. If he passed the place where they sat together, they pointed to him and said: ‘This young man of the tribe of Abd al-Muttalib proclaims a message from heaven!’” However, “this they continued to do until Allah began to attack their gods…, and until He proclaimed that their fathers who died in unbelief were lost [to hellfire]. Then they began to hate the Prophet and show their enmity to him.” 
Muslim chronicler al-Baihaqi further records (in The Signs of Prophethood) Muhammad’s disciple Amru ibn al-Aas’ testimony of Quraysh leaders’ discussion concerning Muhammad’s verbal attacks on them and their religious beliefs: “Never have we had to tolerate from anyone what we have had to tolerate from this man. He slanders our fathers, criticizes our religions and divides our people, and blasphemes our gods. Such grievous things have we tolerated from this man…” Muhammad, who was nearby and heard this conversation, responded with, “Men of Quraysh! I will surely repay you for this with interest.”  The rest of the details are covered by the tafsir literature:
There was a time in Makkah when although a storm of opposition had arisen in the pagan society of Quraish against the message of Islam preached by the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace), yet the Quraish chiefs hall not yet lost hope that they would reach some sort of a compromise with him. Therefore, from time to time they would visit him with different proposals of compromise so that he accepted one of them and the dispute between them was brought to an end. In this connection, different traditions have been related in the Hadith.
According to Hadrat Abdullah bin Abbas, the Quraish proposed to the Holy Prophet; “We shall give you so much of wealth that you will become the richest man of Makkah; we shall give you whichever woman you like in marriage; we are prepared to follow and obey you as our leader, only on the condition that you will not speak ill of our gods. If you do not agree to this, we present another proposal which is to your as well as to our advantage.”When the Holy Prophet asked what it was, they said that if he would worship their gods, Lat and Uzza, for a year, they would worship his God for the same space of time. The Holy Prophet said: “Wait awhile; let me see what my Lord commands in this regard.”Thereupon the revelation came down: Qul ya-ayyuhal- kafirun. and: Qul afa-ghair Allahi. (Az-Zumar: 64): “Say to them: ignorant people do you bid me to worship others than Allah?” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Abi Hatim, Tabarani). According to another tradition from Ibn Abbas, the Quraish said to the Holy Prophet: “O Muhammad, if you kiss our gods, the idols, we shall worship your God.”Thereupon, this Surah was sent down. (Abd bin Humaid).
Said bin Mina (the freed slave of Abul Bakhtari) has related that Walid bin Mughirah, As bin Wail, Aswad bin al-Muttalib and Umayyah bin Khalaf met the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) and said to him:”O Muhammad (upon whom be Allah’s peace and blessings), let us agree that we would worship your God and you would worship our gods, and we would make you a partner in all our works. If what you have brought was better than what we possess, we would be partners in it with You, and have our share in it, and if what we possess is better than what you have brought, you would be partner in it with us and have your share of it.”At this Allah sent down: Qul ya-ayyuhal-kafirun (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Abi Hatim, Ibn Hisham also has related this incident in the Sirah).
Wahb bin Munabbih has related that the people of Quraish said to Allah’s’ Messenger: “If you like we would enter your faith for a year and you would enter our faith for a year.”(Abd bin Humaid, Ibn Abi Hatim).
These traditions show that the Quraish had proposed such things to the Holy Prophet not once, in one sitting, but at different times and on different occasions; and there was need that they should be given a definite, decisive reply so that their hope that he would come to terms with them on the principle of “give and take” was frustrated for ever.
Theme and Subject Matter
If the Surah is read with this background in mind, one finds that it was not revealed to preach religious tolerance as some people of today seem to think, but it was revealed in order to exonerate the Muslims from the disbelievers religion, their rites of worship, and their gods, and to express their total disgust and unconcern with them and to tell them that Islam and kufr (unbelief) had nothing in common and there was no possibility of their being combined and mixed into one entity. Although it was addressed in the beginning to the disbelieving Quraish in response to their proposals of compromise, yet it is not confined to them only, but having made it a part of the Quran, Allah gave the Muslims the eternal teaching that they should exonerate themselves by word and deed from the creed of kufr wherever and in whatever form it be, and should declare without any reservation that they cannot make any compromise with the disbelievers in the matter of Faith. That is why this Surah continued to be recited when the people to whom it was addressed as a rejoinder, had died and been forgotten, and those Muslims also continued to recite it who were disbelievers at the time it was revealed, and the Muslims 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.
As for the esteem in which the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) held this Surah, it can be judged from the following few ahadith:
Hadrat Abdullah bin Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) has related that on many an occasion he heard the Holy Prophet recite Surahs Qul Ya- ayyuhal- kafirun and Qul Huwu-Allahu ahad in the two rakahs before the Fajr obligatory Prayer and in the two rakahs after the Maghrib obligatory Prayer. Several traditions on this subject with a little variation in wording have been related by Imam Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Nasai, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban, Ibn Marduyah from Ibn Umar.
Hadrat Khabbab says: “The Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) said to me: when you lie down in bed to sleep, recite Qul ya-ayyuhal kafirun, and this was the Holy Prophet’s own practice also; when he lay down to sleep, he recited this Surah.” (Bazzar, Tabarani, Ibn Marduyah).
According to Ibn Abbas, the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) said to the people: “Should I tell you the word which will protect you from polytheism?It is that you should recite Qul ya-ayyuhal kafirun when you go to bed.”(Abu Ya’la, Tabarani).
Hadrat Anas says that the Holy Prophet said to Hadrat Mu’adh bin Jabal; “Recite Qul ya-ayyuhal-kafirun at the time you go to bed, for this is immunity from polytheism.” (Baihaqi in Ash-Shu’ab).
Both Fardah bin Naufal and Abdur Rahman bin Naufal have stated that their father, Naufal bin Muawiyah al-Ashjai, said to the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace):”Teach me something which I may recite at the time I go to bed.”The Holy Prophet replied: “Recite Qul ya-ayyuhal kafirun to the end and then sleep, for this is immunity from polytheism.” (Musnad Ahmad, Aba Da’ud, Tirmidhi, Nasai, Ibn Abi Shaibah, Hakim, Ibn Marduyah, Baihaqi in Ash-Shuab). A similar request was made by Hadrat Jabalah bin Harithah, brother of Hadrat Said bin Harithah, to the Holy Prophet and to him also he gave the same reply. (Musnad Ahmad, Tabarani).
It has also been narrated that Surah Al-Kafirun is equivalent to one quarter of the Qur’an. The Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, also said: “Read: ‘Say: ‘Oh, you who disbelieve,’, then sleep at the end of it because it is freedom from shirk (associating partners with Allah).” This Surah is freedom from shirk and it is an order to purify our faith (for Allah only) and the Words Say: ‘Oh you who disbelieve,’ includes all those who disbelieve in the world although those specifically addressed are the pagans of the Quraysh. It was said that they proposed that the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, worship their gods for a year, then they would worship that which he worshipped (Allah) for a year, and so on. And so this Surah was revealed containing an order to the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, to declare his rejection of all that which they worship, and to say: I do not worship that which you worship, that is, their idols and the partners they associate with Allah.
“Nor do you worship that which I worship,” that is, Allah, Alone without partners.
“Nor will I worship that which you have been worshipping, neither will you worship that which I worship,” that is, I will not follow your mode of worship and I will worship only Allah in the way which pleases Him.
“Neither will you worship that which I worship” means, neither will you follow the Commands of Allah and His prescribed way of worship; indeed you have invented a thing for yourselves, as in His Words: “They follow nothing but their own opinions and the (vain) desires of themselves, and Guidance has already come to them from their Lord.” [Al-Qur’an 53:23] And so he rejected all of their shirk, for the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and all those who follow him worship Allah in the way prescribed by Him; for this reason the testimony of the Muslim is La ilaha illallah, Muhammad ar-Rasulullah – None is worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. And there is no way to worship Him except that which was brought by the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. The polytheists worship deities besides Allah in a way not permitted by Allah and so He told the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam to say to them: “To you your religion and to me mine”, as in His Words: “And if they reject you, then say: ‘To me my deeds and to you your deeds and you are innocent of my accounts and I am innocent of yours,’ ” [Al-Qur’an 10:41] and, “For us our deeds and for you your deeds.” [Al-Qur’an 28:55] According to Al-Bukhari your religion means kufr (disbelief) and my religion means Islam.
Abu ‘Abdillah ash-Shafi’i says that the verse “To you your religion and to me mine” shows that the disbelievers are one people . because disbelief in all its many manifestations has one thing in common – that is, falsity.
(I worship not that which ye worship) of idols beside Allah;
(Nor worship ye that which I worship) that which I will worship in the future.
(And I shall not worship that which ye worship) beside Allah.
(Nor will ye worship that which I worship) that which I worshipped in the past; it is also said this means: I do not believe in the divinity in which you believe nor will I believe in the divinity which you believe in beside Allah nor will you believe in the divine Oneness of Allah which I believe in.
(Unto you your religion) of disbelief and ascribing partners to Allah, (and unto me my religion) Islam and faith in Allah. The verses of fighting then abrogated this and the Prophet (pbuh) did fight them’
The traditional Islamic sources tell us that, following Muhammad’s “shameful”  verbal attacks on the native pagan beliefs, the people of Quraysh still had hopes for reconciliation. In a process that bears streaking resemblances to modern inter-faith dialogue with the followers of the fledgling Islam, they would visit Muhammad with different proposals of compromise so that he could accepted one of them and the dispute between them would be brought to a peaceful resolution.   They were even willing to part with their wealth and offer Muhammad his pick of women, and follow and obey him as their leader, on the condition that he would not speak ill of their gods.  In response to their efforts at making peace, Muhammad recited surat al-Kafiroon, declaring his “rejection of all that which they worship” and showing that the disbelievers are all “one people . because disbelief in all its many manifestations has one thing in common – that is, falsity”.  It was at this point that they finally “despaired of him.”  According to the traditional chronology of the suwar and the doctrine of abgrogation, the content of surat al-Kafiroon was then later abrogated by verses ordering Muslims to physically attack disbelievers, and “the Prophet (pbuh) did fight them.”  
When read in the context of the classical Muslim commentaries, surat al-Kafiroon advocates the opposite of what it appears to claim to many modern eyes and ears. In this context the surah is not a proclamation on religious tolerance and freedom or a recognition of religious pluralism. In fact, according to the traditional narrative, this surah unequivocally forbids inter-faith dialogue, expresses Muslims’ “total disgust” of non-Islamic beliefs  and advocates an “us versus them” mentality  between Muslims and disbelievers. This is how the surah is understood today by mainstream Islamic clerics and laity as well as the most widespread understanding amongst the majority of classical and contemporary Islamic religious scholars. Furthermore, even ignoring the traditional commentaries, the tradition renders this verse abgrogated by “the verses of fighting”, rendering its doctrinal impact on Muslim theology mute.