The Surah takes its name from the word al-kafirun occurring in thefirst verse.
Period of Revelation
Hadrat Abdullah bin Mas'ud, Hadrat Hasan Basri and Ikrimah, say thatthis Surah, is Makki, while Hadrat Abdullah bin Zubair says that it isMadani. Two different views have been reported from Hadrat Abdullahbin Abbas and Qatadah, first that it is Makki, and second that it isMadani. However, according to the majority of commentators, it is aMakki Surah, and its subject- matter itself points to its being a Makkirevelation.
There was a time in Makkah when although a storm of opposition hadarisen in the pagan society of Quraish against the message of Islampreached by the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace), yet theQuraish chiefs hall not yet lost hope that they would reach some sortof a compromise with him. Therefore, from time to time they wouldvisit him with different proposals of compromise so that he acceptedone of them and the dispute between them was brought to an end. Inthis connection, different traditions have been related in the Hadith.
According to Hadrat Abdullah bin Abbas, the Quraish proposed to theHoly Prophet; "We shall give you so much of wealth that you willbecome the richest man of Makkah; we shall give you whichever womanyou like in marriage; we are prepared to follow and obey you as ourleader, 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 toyour as well as to our advantage."When the Holy Prophet asked what itwas, they said that if he would worship their gods, Lat and Uzza, fora year, they would worship his God for the same space of time. TheHoly Prophet said: "Wait awhile; let me see what my Lord commands inthis 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?" (IbnJarir, Ibn Abi Hatim, Tabarani). According to another tradition fromIbn Abbas, the Quraish said to the Holy Prophet: "O Muhammad, if youkiss our gods, the idols, we shall worship your God."Thereupon, thisSurah was sent down. (Abd bin Humaid).
Said bin Mina (the freed slaveof 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'speace and blessings), let us agree that we would worship your God andyou would worship our gods, and we would make you a partner in all ourworks. If what you have brought was better than what we possess, wewould be partners in it with You, and have our share in it, and ifwhat we possess is better than what you have brought, you would bepartner in it with us and have your share of it."At this Allah sentdown: Qul ya-ayyuhal-kafirun (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Abi Hatim, Ibn Hishamalso has related this incident in the Sirah).
Wahb bin Munabbih hasrelated that the people of Quraish said to Allah's' Messenger: "If youlike we would enter your faith for a year and you would enter ourfaith for a year."(Abd bin Humaid, Ibn Abi Hatim).
These traditionsshow that the Quraish had proposed such things to the Holy Prophet notonce, in one sitting, but at different times and on differentoccasions; and there was need that they should be given a definite,decisive reply so that their hope that he would come to terms withthem 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 itwas not revealed to preach religious tolerance as some people of todayseem to think, but it was revealed in order to exonerate the Muslimsfrom the disbelievers religion, their rites of worship, and their gods,and to express their total disgust and unconcern with them and to tellthem that Islam and kufr (unbelief) had nothing in common and therewas no possibility of their being combined and mixed into one entity.Although it was addressed in the beginning to the disbelievingQuraish in response to their proposals of compromise, yet it is notconfined to them only, but having made it a part of the Quran, Allahgave the Muslims the eternal teaching that they should exoneratethemselves by word and deed from the creed of kufr wherever and inwhatever form it be, and should declare without any reservation thatthey cannot make any compromise with the disbelievers in the matter ofFaith. That is why this Surah continued to be recited when the peopleto whom it was addressed as a rejoinder, had died and been forgotten,and those Muslims also continued to recite it who were disbelievers atthe time it was revealed, and the Muslims still recite it centuriesafter they have passed away, for expression of disgust with anddissociation from kufr and its rites is a perpetual demand of Faith.
As for the esteem in which the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) heldthis Surah, it can be judged from the following few ahadith:
HadratAbdullah bin Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) has related that onmany an occasion he heard the Holy Prophet recite Surahs Qul Ya-ayyuhal- kafirun and Qul Huwu-Allahu ahad in the two rakahs before theFajr obligatory Prayer and in the two rakahs after the Maghribobligatory Prayer. Several traditions on this subject with a littlevariation in wording have been related by Imam Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Nasai,Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban, Ibn Marduyah from Ibn Umar.
Hadrat Khabbabsays: "The Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) said to me: when you liedown in bed to sleep, recite Qul ya-ayyuhal kafirun, and this was theHoly Prophet's own practice also; when he lay down to sleep, herecited this Surah." (Bazzar, Tabarani, Ibn Marduyah).
According to IbnAbbas, the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) said to the people:"Should I tell you the word which will protect you from polytheism?Itis that you should recite Qul ya-ayyuhal kafirun when you go tobed."(Abu Ya'la, Tabarani).
Hadrat Anas says that the Holy Prophetsaid to Hadrat Mu'adh bin Jabal; "Recite Qul ya-ayyuhal-kafirun at thetime you go to bed, for this is immunity from polytheism." (Baihaqi inAsh-Shu'ab).
Both Fardah bin Naufal and Abdur Rahman bin Naufal havestated that their father, Naufal bin Muawiyah al-Ashjai, said to theHoly Prophet (upon whom be peace):"Teach me something which I mayrecite at the time I go to bed."The Holy Prophet replied: "Recite Qulya-ayyuhal kafirun to the end and then sleep, for this is immunityfrom polytheism." (Musnad Ahmad, Aba Da'ud, Tirmidhi, Nasai, Ibn AbiShaibah, Hakim, Ibn Marduyah, Baihaqi in Ash-Shuab). A similar requestwas made by Hadrat Jabalah bin Harithah, brother of Hadrat Said binHarithah, to the Holy Prophet and to him also he gave the same reply.(Musnad Ahmad, Tabarani).