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Chapter 109: Al-Kafirun (The Unbelievers)
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Chapter 109:

The Unbelievers

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

  1. Say: O disbelievers,
  2. I serve not what you serve,
  3. Nor do you serve Him Whom I serve,
  4. Nor shall I serve that which ye serve,
  5. Nor do you serve Him Whom I serve.
  6. For you is your recompense and for me my recompense.

This chapter was revealed at Makkah and in it we are presented with a perfect conception of the Oneness of Allah in a practical manner. We are told that a true believer is not merely a lip professor of beliefs but rather he is such a person whose practical life is clothed in the true concept of the Oneness of Allah as he seeks to win the pleasure of the Almighty.

To appreciate fully the idea of the perfect Oneness of Allah we must first understand what worship means. Man is said to worship something when he either hopes for some benefit from it or fears some injury from it. It is solely because of these two reasons that the world worships other gods besides Allah, whether they be elements of nature, or heavenly bodies, or trees, rocks, human beings, animals, past saints, prophets, shrines or some other force. In order to negate the alleged divinity of these false deities, the Holy Quran appeals to the inner nature of man as it asks: Say: Shall we call besides Allah, on that which profits us not, nor harms us… (6:70). In other words, whatever things you worship in the hope of gaining some benefit or in the fear of receiving some injury, in reality has no power whatever, and there is not need, therefore, to worship them.

However, behind the worship of all these gods there is another hidden reality, and that is, in adoring all these false deities besides Allah, the real objective of man is to gain some advantage for himself or to save himself from loss. In other words, at the back of all these devotions and sacrifices lies man’s ego which is the greatest of all hidden idols. It was indeed the duty of the Holy Quran to disclose the reality of this false god and so it does in the verse: Seest thou him who takes his desire for his god… (45:23). Thus according to the Holy Quran, perfect acceptance of the Oneness of Allah entails not only the abandonment of all expectations of benefit or harm from anything except Allah but also the sacrifice of all egoistic pleasures and desires which incite man to worship false gods either for gain or through fear of injury. The first requirement of the belief in the Oneness of Allah is that man should hope for benefit only from Allah, Most High, and should fear harm only from Him. And in the depth of his heart he should be convinced that nothing in creation and no human being can profit or harm him without the permission of Allah.

This is no doubt an advanced stage in the belief in the Unity of Allah, but it has not yet reached perfection, for among the things that are worshipped besides Allah, so far, only worldly concerns and interests are relinquished. Not yet achieved is the extinction of the ego in which the hope for benefit or the fear of loss still exists. True belief in the Oneness of Allah demands that together with worldly ambitions and wealth, interests connected with the “self” are also sacrificed.

In other words, any desire for personal gain or fear of injury must be totally expunged from the heart to such an extent that the servant of Allah should not demur in sacrificing his personal aggrandizement for the sake of the pleasure of his Lord. In the pursuit of this pleasure, he should display no reluctance even if he has to endure the severest of trials and difficulties. It is only then that the concept of the Unity of Allah can reach perfection in him.

This is what Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani in his book, Futuh al-Ghaib, meant when he wrote that genuine Unity of Allah is only attained when man sacrifices the world and his own self for the sake of his Lord: when, as regards the world he entertains no hope of gain and fears no danger from anything besides Allah, and when, as regards his own concerns, he sacrifices all personal benefits and fear of injury only for the pleasure of his Master. This is the perfect conception of the Oneness of Allah which the Holy Quran has taught and which, in this chapter, Al-Kafirun (The Unbelievers), has been perfectly exhibited in the practical life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas).

The command is given to the Holy Prophet to say to the unbelievers who rejected his message concerning the Unity of Allah and thus refused to believe in the Prophet’s God:

La ‘abudu ma ta‘budun

I do not (and shall not) worship that which you worship.

To grasp fully the deep import of this verse it is necessary to cast a cursory glance at the Holy Prophet’s life which was the epitome of dedication to the worship of One God. His teaching concerning the Oneness of Allah had raised such a commotion in Makkah that the unbelievers, impelled by these disturbances, approached the Holy Prophet for a mutual consultation and presented the purportedly conciliatory proposition to him, that both parties should take turns in worshipping each other’s gods for a year (to determine which one was better and so maintain peace in Makkah).

This was the time in the Holy Prophet’s life when all the physical persecutions the unbelievers had wreaked on him had come to an end. But with one stroke of the sword of the Unity of Allah in the form of the verse, I do not (and shall not) worship that which you worship, he slayed and put to rest all gods besides Allah — those of nature and those of the ego. He thus categorically negated not only the worship of every other god besides Allah but even those things which could have brought comfort to himself and from which he could have expected benefit, he sacrificed completely only for the sake of the pleasure of this Lord and for the establishment of His Unity. Indeed this was an unprecedented event in world history.

Having failed in this plan, the Makkan unbelievers came up with another strategy. Addressing the Holy Prophet, they said: “If you desist from condemning our gods, and if you desire sovereignty over us, we are more that prepared to make you our king. If it is wealth that you want we are willing to amass however much you may wish. If it is some beautiful maiden that you will like to have, then give the command and we will be only too happy to marry you to the most beautiful damsel.”

Thus they appealed to the three most powerful desires in the heart of a human being — honour and power, wealth and riches and beautiful women — and offered them all to him. However, he laid low all those false gods with the sword of the Unity of Allah and displayed to the world the most exalted example of perfect conviction in the Oneness of Allah. His steadfast response was: I do not worship and I shall never worship that which you worship, or as he explained in his own words:

“For the sake of the pleasure of my Lord I have already killed all those desires of the lower self with which you tempt me so that even if you place the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, I cannot refrain from rejecting your false gods even if I have to face the most frightful dangers or perish in the attempt.”

Whereupon this categorical rejection ushered in the season of oppression which was an inevitable result of this repudiation as the unbelievers unleashed persecution after persecution on him and even blockaded him in a valley in Makkah. They also inflicted all kinds of pains and indignities on his companions — they killed some and forced others into exile. But he never budged an inch in the face of all these calamities and perils and the only words that he uttered were: I do not (and shall not) worship that which you worship. Is there a more heart-inspiring example of the belief in the Oneness of Allah than this?

There is another matter worthy of consideration. It is natural for the disposition and ideas of man to change in accordance with the conditions of the time. For example, a person may be living a righteous life but if he has a case in the courthouse he may see no other solution to his predicament than giving false evidence. However, let us look for a moment at how perfect was the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s faith in Allah. There was no trial that he ever faced in life but whatever the condition in which he found himself his faith never suffered even an atom’s weight of loss. In the Battle of Uhud, for instance, he was under the severest pressure. He had only a handful of his companions around him whilst in front of him stood a large army of unbelievers cutting off all avenues of help or escape. Showers of arrows together with the incessant attacks of the enemy left no place safe from danger when suddenly Abu Sufyan, the leader of the enemy forces shouted out to the besieged Muslims: “Is Muhammad alive?” Receiving no reply, he asked again: “Is Abu Bakr with you?” Still receiving no answer, he inquired: “Is Umar with you?”  On each occasion the Holy Prophet forbade his companions from responding for the time was such when silence was indeed golden.

However, when Abu Sufyan, thinking that all of them were dead, in an uncontrollable upsurge of joy and ecstasy shouted at the top of his voice the triumphal war cry: “Long live Hubal!” (Hubal was the chief idol of the Arabs), the Holy Prophet’s sense of honour for the Oneness of Allah could not permit him to remain silent to this taunt. And throwing caution to the winds and risking his life even in the face of frightful dangers, he ordered his companions to reply thus: “Allah is the Triumphant, the Lord of Glory and Honour.” Again, Abu Sufyan cried out: “We have Uzza with us and you have no Uzza!” (Uzza was a most beloved goddess of the Arabs.) Once more, the Holy Prophet asked his companions to respond: “Allah is our Patron and you have no Patron.”

Can we find in the history of religion a greater exemplification of the truth of the verse: I do not worship and shall never worship that which you worship?

Let us now turn our attention to the temptations of comfort and luxury. Within a few years Makkah was conquered and the whole of Arabia lay under the Holy Prophet’s control, yet the same simplicity, the same hatred for the adornment and splendour and the comfort and luxury of worldly life, the same toil, and diligence, worship, generosity, compassion for the poor and the needy, the very meekness, humility, courtesy and generosity that he practised in the time of penury, those very same he displayed in his regal status. When his wives, for whose love and honour his blessed heart overflowed, saw that in the train of victories even rank and file Muslims were enjoying wealth and property, they, too, sought of him some of the wealth and property and adornment and fineries of this world. He replied that he was willing to grant them their request but on one condition - that henceforth all connection with him would be severed and through divorce they would be given their freedom, for as he explained further, the wealth and property were public property and an indispensable provision for the poor and the needy.

His beloved daughter, Fatimah, overcome by physical and mental distress through drawing water with her own hands, and using the hand-mill to grind grain, asked him for a maid or a slave to help her, but he responded thus: “The needs of the poor and the needy have not yet been fulfilled. After every salah (prayer) you should recite: Subhan-allah and Al-Hamdu-li-llah thirty-three times each and Allahu Akbar thirty-four times and you will not be overtaken by fatigue.”

Provisions for comfort, wealth and power he had all at his disposal, but he never seized the opportunity to satisfy his own personal desires through them, which, if he had done was his legal right. However, he never did so because the sublime status of his faith in Allah had already eradicated the love for these concerns. This constituted a practical manifestation of the Oneness of Allah which had already been proclaimed to the world in the verse: I do not worship those whom you worship. And the verse: You do not worship Him Whom I worship addresses those unbelievers and deniers who obstinately persisted in worshipping their false gods and rejecting the true God of the Prophet Muhammad (sas). That is why they were spoken to in the words of the above verse, that is, You do not worship Him Whom I worship.                             

We now come to the next two verses of the chapter:

  1. Nor shall I worship that which you worship,
  2. nor do you worship Him Whom I worship.

By speaking to them in the present tense: I do not worship that which you worship, the Holy Prophet is telling the unbelievers that throughout his life, even from the very beginning, he had never been a worshipper of those gods which they adored. This is clear evidence that even from his childhood days our Holy Prophet’s faith in one God was firmly established and that the worship of idols was repugnant to him.

At first sight, it would appear that the Holy Prophet should have mentioned his past rejection of those gods first, and then spoken of his present repudiation of them. However, the sequence was changed because at the time of speaking, the unbelievers’ opposition to the Holy Prophet was at its peak and the Holy Prophet and his companions were being subjected to the most cruel forms of persecution and they were even hatching plots to kill him. So, because of the importance of the current state of affairs, the Holy Prophet addressed the present situation first and told them: “Try your utmost against me if you wish, but I will never worship those false gods that you worship.”

He then turned to the evidence of his past life as he reminded them that he had always hated their gods and had never ever worshipped them before. “It has become even more impossible for me to do so,” he continued, “for I  have found My Lord Who has chosen me and clothed me in the mantle of prophethood and has sent me to the world as His messenger.”

As regards the unbelievers, one will notice that they are addressed twice in the same words: Nor do you worship Him Whom I worship. This is for the sake of emphasis and also to underline the point that they were stubbornly following a deviant path.

The last verse of the chapter reads thus:

Lakum dinukum wa liya din

To you, your recompense and to me, mine.

Here the meaning of din is recompense or retribution as it is in the phrase: Maliki yaumid-din (Master of the Day of Retribution).

In the above verse a clear and decisive sequel has been promised concerning the matter between the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas) and the unbelievers. The former was steadfastly sticking to the worship of One God and the latter obstinately holding on to their gods and goddesses with both parties being antagonistic to each other in terms of Who or what was to be worshipped, so it was necessary that a definitive judgement on the way of life of these two contending groups to emerge so that when they clashed head on the question of whose God was true and was the Possessor of triumph and power and really held sway over the Universe and Whose worshippers possessed triumphant power and success and whose gods were false and whose devotees faced destruction and humiliation, would be settled once and for all.

And so it happened. When the devotees of false gods came face to face with Muhammad (sas) the worshipper of One God, so clearly did the world see the respective end of each party that a clear differentiation between the true God and the false gods finally came to pass. And when Abu Sufyan, the erstwhile enemy of truth and leader of the pagans entered into the fold of Islam at the conquest of Makkah, and was asked by the Holy Prophet what was the reason he joined the faith and what signs of truth really influenced his heart to accept the truth, he replied: “The fact of the matter is that in order to save my gods I opposed you with all the power at my command and in order to destroy you I left no stone unturned. We were many and you stood alone. Yet in spite of this you emerged victorious and we suffered defeat. I thought to myself that if our gods possessed any power or any authenticity then they would have come to my assistance and I on the other hand should not have had to help them all the time. In fact, they should have been able to save themselves at least. So what power could they have against that One God Whose followers gained such an unprecedented victory over a whole nation in just a few years?”

From the above example of the practical application of faith in One God which the Holy Prophet (sas) demonstrated in his lifetime, we can see clearly that unless faith in Allah takes root in the day to day lives of Muslims, a clear distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims cannot emerge in the way it did in the Holy Prophet’s time. So those who pay lip-profession to faith in Allah, but who are in reality enmeshed in the curse of worshipping graves and shrines and who swear unswerving loyalty to their religious leaders and are blind followers who worship ceremonies and rituals etc; or those for whom the love for wealth and property or power and honour, or fame and reputation, and women and children takes precedence over the pleasure of Allah and obedience to Him; or those who so revere customs and traditions and fear the wrath of men so that they are afraid to incur their displeasure even if it means their disobeying Allah Himself; or those who, influenced by the vicissitudes of time or fluctuating circumstances of ease and adversity, or who in trials, lose faith and slacken in their steadfastness and their dependence and reliance on Allah, these indeed really belie their professed faith in Him by their very actions. This is why the Mujaddid of the Age found it necessary to include in his oath of allegiance the condition: “I shall put religion above the world.” His aim was to instill in the lives of Muslims a practical manifestation of their faith in Allah.

Next: Chapter 110: Al-Nasr (The Help)
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