In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Say: "O disbelievers!(1) I do not worship those whom you worship.(2) Nor are you worshipers of Him Whom I worship.(3) Nor am I a worshiper of those whom you have worshiped.(4) Nor are you worshipers of Him Whom I worship.(5) For you is your religion and for me is mine."(6)
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 have been forgotten, and those Muslims who were disbelievers at the time it was revealed also continued to recite it. Muslims still recite it centuries after they have passed away, because expression of disgust with and dissociation from kufr and its rites is a perpetual demand of Faith.
A few points in this verse are particularly noteworthy:
(1) Although the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) has been commanded to tell this to the disbelievers plainly، the theme that follows makes it explicit that every believer should tell the disbelievers plainly what has been said in the following verses; so much so that the person who has just believed and repented from kufr is also bound to express similarly his disgust with and disapproval of the creed and rites of worship and gods of kufr. Thus, though the first addressee of the word qul (say) is the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) himself, the command is not restricted to him alone but it reaches every believer through him.
(2) The word "kafir' is no abuse، which might have been used for the addressees of this verse، but it implies the one who refuses to believe، or is an unbeliever. As against it the word "mu min" is used for the believer. Therefore, the Holy Prophet's saying, by Allah's command, "O disbelievers, ', in fact, means: "O you, who have refused to believe in my apostleship and in the teachings brought by me." Likewise. When a believer uses this word, it will imply those who do not believe in the Holy Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be Allah's peace and blessings),
(3) 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 (upon whom be Allah's peace and blessings) 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.
(4) To address the deniers with the word "O kafirs" is just like addressing certain people as "O enemies", or "O opponents". Such an address is not, in fact, directed to the person of the addressee but it is made based on their characteristic of enmity and opposition, and lasts only until they are so characterized. If one of them gives up enmity and opposition, or turns a friend and supporter, he no longer remains the addressee of this word. Likewise, the address of "O kafirs" to the people also is in view of their characteristic of kufr and not their person. This address would be perpetual for him who continues to be a kafir until death, but the one who believes will no longer be its addressee.
(5) 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 Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) with proposals of compromise regarding religion and about whom Allah had informed His Messenger than they would not believe. They have formed this opinion for two reasons. First, that it is followed by La a `budu ma to `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: wa la antum `abiduna ma a`bud "Nor are you worshipers 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? Moreover, what was the need of making this Surah a part of the Qur'an permanently so that the Muslims should continue to read it forever afterwards?
This includes all those deities whom the disbelievers and the polytheists have been, and are still, worshiping everywhere in the world, whether they are the angels, the jinn, prophets, saints, spirits of the living or dead men, or the sun, the moon, stars, animals, trees, rivers, idols and imaginary gods and goddesses. One may say that the pagans of Arabia acknowledged Allah also as a Deity and the other pagans of the world have never rejected Allah as a Deity until today. As for the followers of the earlier scriptures, they also acknowledge Allah alone as the real Deity. How then can it be correct to exonerate oneself froth the worship of all the deities of all those people, without' exception, when Allah too is included among them?
The answer is that if Allah is worshiped along with others regarding Him as a Deity among other deities, the believer in Tauhid will inevitably express his immunity from this worship, for in his sight Allah is oat a Deity out of a collection of deities, but He alone is the real Deity, and the worship of the collection of deities is no worship of Allah, although worship of Allah also is included in it. The Qur'an has clearly stated that Allah's worship is only that which does not have any tinge of the worship of another and in which man makes his worship exclusively Allah's. "And the only Command they were given, was to worship Allah, making their religion sincerely His, turning all their attention towards Him." (Al-Bayyinah: 5).
The words used are ma a'budu. The word ma in Arabic, is generally used for lifeless or unintelligent things, and the word man for intelligent and rational beings. The question arises why has ma a `budu been used here instead of man a `budu? The commentators generally give four answers to it:
(1) that "ma" here is in the meaning of man;
(2) that "ma" here is in the meaning of alladhi (i.e. which or who) ;
(3) that in both the sentences ma is in the meaning of a noun of action (masdar) and it means: "I do not perform the kind of worship that you perform، i. e. polytheistic worship، and you do not perform the kind of worship that I perform، i.e. worship of One God;"
(4) that since in the first sentence ma ta'buduna has been used, in the second ma a `budu has been used to keep the style; in both places there is only the uniformity of the word, there is no uniformity of meaning; instances of this are found elsewhere also in the Qur'an. For example, in AI-Baqarah: 194, it has been said: "Therefore, if anyone transgresses a prohibition by attacking you, you may do likewise." Obviously, to transgress likewise in retaliation is no transgression, but the word transgression (in retaliation) Gas been used only for the sake of uniformity in style. In Surah At-Taubah: 67, it has been said: "They forgot Allah, so Allah forgot them", whereas Allah does not forget. What meant to be said is that Allah ignored them. The word nisyan in respect of Allah has been used corresponding to their nisyaa (forgetfulness) only to keep the uniformity of the study.
Although all these four interpretations are correct in their own way, and there is room in Arabic to take all these meanings, yet none of these explains the real object for which ma a'budu has been used instead of man a `budu. As a matter of fact, when man is used for a person in Arabic, it is meant to say or ask something about his person, and when ma is used, it is meant to ask or express something about his characteristics and traits. This can be explained in English by the questions: who is he? and what is he? about a person. When it is asked, who is he? the object is to know something about his person. But when it is asked, what is he? the object is to know whether, for example, he belongs to the army, and if so, what is his rank, or whether he belongs to some teaching organization, and if so, whether he is a lecturer in it, or a reader, or a professor, what science or art subject he teaches, what are his qualifications, etc.
Thus, if in this verse, it was said: La antum abiduna man a `bud, it would mean: "You are not worshipers of the being whom I worship, and in response, the disbelievers and the polytheists could have said that they too believed in the Being of Allah and also worshiped Him. But when it was said: La antum 'abiduna ma a`bud, it meant: "You are not worshipers of the Deity who has the attributes of the Deity whom I worship."
And this is the real point on the basis of which the religion of the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be Allah's peace and blessings) is absolutely distinguish-ed from the religions of all kinds of disbelievers, besides the deniers of God, for his God is utterly different from the God of all of them. The God of some of them is such that He stood in need of rest on the seventh day after having created the world in six days, Who is not God of the universe but God of Israel, Who stands in a special relationship to the people of one particular race, which is not shared by other men, Who wrestles with the Prophet Jacob and cannot throw him, Who has also a son, named Ezra. The God of some others is father of an only son, called Jesus Christ, and He causes His son to be crucified in order to make him an atonement for the sins of others. The God of some has wife and children, but begets only daughters. The God of some assumes human form and shape and living in a human body on the earth works like men. The God of some is merely an Essence, or Cause of causes, or the First Cause, Who after giving the system of the universe the initial push is sitting aside unconcerned, the universe is working by itself according to some relentless laws, and now He and man have nothing to do with each other. In short, even the unbelievers who acknowledge God do not, in fact, acknowledge the God, Who is the Creator, . Master, Disposer, Administrator and Ruler of the entire universe, Who has not only set the system of the universe but is running and controlling it by Himself every moment, Who is above every defect, fault, weakness and error, Who is free from every similitude, every physical limitation, every likeness, Who is Self-Sufficient of every companion and associate, Who has no partner in His Being, attributes, powers and entitlement to worship, Who is far too Holy that He should have children, or should take some one for a son, or should have an exclusive relationship with a community or race, Who is directly related to each individual creature of His as His Providence, Sustainer and Guardian, Who hears the prayers and answers them, Who alone possesses all the powers to give life and death, to cause profit and loss, and to make and mar destinies, Who not only sustains His creatures but also guides each according to its nature and need, Who is not only our God Whom we worship but also enjoins commands and prohibitions through His Prophets and His Books, which we have to obey, before Whom we are accountable for our deeds, Who will resurrect us after death, call us to account and reward and punish us accordingly. No one in the world except for Muhammad (upon whom be Allah's peace and blessings) and his followers is worshiping the God with these attributes. If at all some others also are worshiping God, they are not worshiping the real and true God but the God who is their self-invented, imaginary God.