The disbelievers tried to bargain with the Prophet (pbuh), saying:
“O Muhammad! Come, let us worship what you worship and you worship what we worship so that you and we share the matter. If what you worship is better than what we worship, we will take a share of it. And if what we worship is better than what you worship, you will take a share of it.”
The answer came down in Ayat revealed from heaven1:
(Say: “O disbelievers! I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshipers of what I worship. Nor will I be a worshiper of what you worship. Nor will you be worshipers of what I worship. For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.”)2
The Arabs before Islam did not deny Allah Almighty, but at the same time they did not know Him in the true essence He described Himself with: the One God, the Self-Sufficient Master, Whom all creatures need. They set up partners with Allah in worship and did not make a just estimate of Allah such as is due to Him, nor worship Him such as is due to Him.
They worshipped idols besides Him, which they made to symbolize their pious ancestors, great figures of the past or the angels whom they claimed to be the daughters of Allah. Or else they just forgot the symbols and worshiped them as gods. In all cases, they used these idols as mediators between themselves and Allah Almighty. The Noble Qur’an quotes them as saying:
(“We worship them only that they may bring us near to Allah.”)3
They admitted that it is Allah Who created the heavens and the earth, controls the sun and the moon, and sends down rain from the sky, as stated in Surat Al-‘Ankabut:
(If you asked them, “Who created the heavens and earth and subjected the sun and the moon?” they would surely say, “Allah.”)4
(If you asked them, “Who sends down rain from the sky and thereby gives life to the earth after its lifelessness?” they would surely say, “Allah.”)5
Moreover, Allah superseded their gods in their oaths and supplications (i.e. they said, “by Allah” and “O Allah”).
But in spite of their faith in Allah, their Shirk corrupted their beliefs, traditions and rites, to the extent that they assigned to their alleged gods a portion of their harvest, their cattle, and even their offspring. This portion often obliged them to sacrifice their own children.
The Arabs also believed that they were the true followers of the religion of Ibrahim (Abraham (pbuh)); that they were more rightly guided than the People of the Scripture (the Jews and Christians) inhabiting the Arabian Peninsula at that time.
The Jews and Christians preached respectively that Ezra (pbuh) and ‘Isa (Jesus (pbuh)) were the sons of Allah, whereas they, the Arabs, worshiped the angels and jinn – the true offspring of Allah as they alleged. They consequently considered themselves more rightly guided because, as they alleged, the kinship of the angels and jinn with Allah was closer than that of Ezra (pbuh) and ‘Isa(pbuh). All of this constituted absolute Shirk.
(They join the jinn as partners in worship with Allah, although He has created them (the jinn), and they falsely attribute sons and daughters to Him without knowledge. Be He Glorified and Exalted above (all) that they attribute to Him.)6
Therefore, when Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) came to them and declared his religion to be that of Ibrahim (pbuh), they argued that there was no reason for them to forsake their beliefs and follow Muhammad’s instead.
At the same time, they tried a plan for a middle ground between them and the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). They suggested to him that he should prostrate himself before their gods in return for their prostration before his God! And that he should stop censuring their gods and their manner of worship in return for whatever he stipulated.
The confusion in their beliefs and their worshiping various gods while acknowledging Allah made them feel that the gap between them and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was not unbridgeable. They believed that an agreement was somehow possible by splitting into two camps that would meet in the middle and grant him some concessions.
To clear up this muddle in their minds and block any future attempts, and to firmly distinguish between one worship and another, and one doctrine and belief and another, this Surah (Qur’anic chapter) was revealed to the Prophet (pbuh) in such a decisive, assertive, repetitive tone to demarcate Tawhid7 from Shirk and to establish a true criterion, allowing no bargaining or vain arguments.8
- Ibn Hisham, As-Sirah An-Nabawiyyah: Circumstances of the revelation of Surat Al-Kafirun, vol. 2; Safi-ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri, Ar-Rahiq Al-Makhtum; Second Phase (Open Preaching): Compromises and Concessions.
- Translated meanings of Al-Kafirun 109: 1-6.
- Translated meanings of Az-Zumar 39: 3.
- Translated meanings of Al-‘Ankabut 29: 61.
- Translated meanings of Al-An‘am 6: 100.
- Monotheism; belief in the Oneness of Allah.
- Sayyid Qutb, In the Shade of the Qur’an, interpretation of Surah Al-Kafirun , thirty-sixth edition, Dar Al-Shorouk.