Worshipping the Same or a Different God?
Ansar Al 'Adl
The allegation is as follows:
Worshiping the Same or a Different God? Muhammad is commanded to speak to the disbelievers: ... nor do you worship what I worship [109:3]. Which disbelievers is this referring to? Other verses in the Qur'an state clearly that those disbelieving his message are in fact worshiping the same God, Allah. People of the Book: [2:139, 3:64, 29:46]. Meccan Idolaters: [29:61-63, 16:35, 39:3]
The referred chapter is as follows:
109:1-6. Say : O you who reject faith!
I worship not that which ye worship,
Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship,
Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
To you be your Way, and to me mine.
1. The first question is who is being addressed by these verses. Such a question deals elates to a science of the Qur'an known as Asbaab An-Nuzool, or the Reasons for revelation. By examining the historical context at the time of the verse's revelation, we may obtain a better understanding of the verses. The majority of scholars are agreed that this was revealed during the Prophet Muhammad's stay in Makkah, before he moved to Madinah. The verse was revelaed in response to an argument of the Makkan idolaters.
And Abul Ala Maududi (d. 1979 CE) also provides some narrations in his commentary Tafheem Al-Qur'an:
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).
Although the original addressees of these verses were the idolaters of Makkah, the scholars are agreed that these verses apply to all who reject faith ion God, as is made clear in the opening verse. Ibn Kathir Ad-Damshqi (d. 1372CE) writes in his renowned Tafsir Al-Qur'an Al-Azim:
(Say: "O you who reject faith!'') includes every disbeliever on the face of the earth, however, this statement is particularly directed towards the disbelievers of the Quraysh. It has been said that in their ignorance they invited the Messenger of Allah to worship their idols for a year and they would (in turn) worship his God for a year. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Abridged, Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, 2000, vol. 10, p.614 )
Thus, those being addressed by these verses include all disbelievers, or those who reject faith.
2. The second point to note is on the phrase "Nor will ye worship that which I worship". There is some confusion on this verse since it was known that the Makkan idolaters and the other rejecters believed in Allah. However, they did not believe in the other aspects of tawheed such as the belief that all acts of worship must be directed to Allah alone. In the verse 109:3, it says that they do not make Ibadah to Allah, which has been translated as they do not 'worship' Allah, but the term Ibadah is a more comprehensive word. They do not worship Allah, since worship in Islam is utmost devotion and love, but they disobeyed Allah by setting up partners with Him. On Ibadah Shaikh ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said,
Ibadah is a collective term for everything that Allaah loves and is pleased with from amongst sayings and inward and outward actions.
He also said,
Ibadah is obedience to Allaah by carrying out what He has commanded through tongues of His Messengers.
Hence, the statement that the polytheists did not worship Allah is correct, since their belief in His existence does not equate the Islamic concept of worship and servitude to Allah. Abu Iyaad As-Salafi writes on Ibadah:
The types of Ibaadah are many and include supplication, fear hope, reliance, love of obedience to Allaah, hatred of disobedience to Him, remorse, repentance, seeking aid from Him, vowing, sacrifice, bowing and prostrating and others besides these. Thus the first thing which a Muslim acknowledges is that he has been created for Ibaadah and that is due to his declaration of Laa ilaaha illallaaha (There is none worthy of worship except Allaah alone).
Hence, the foundation of any Ibadah is the testimony of Islam, that there is none worthy of worship except Allah alone. The simple fact that the polytheists disobeyed Allah, and rejected Islam means that they were not performing Ibadah. (For more information on Ibadah, please click here.)
3. In addition to the above points, we may mention that none of the referred verses state that the disbelievers worshipped Allah. In fact, the very title of "disbelievers" or "rejecters of faith" implies that they do not worship Allah. The other verses only show that the disbelievers accepted Allah's existence.
2:139 Say: Will ye dispute with us about Allah, seeing that He is our Lord and your Lord; that we are responsible for our doings and ye for yours; and that We are sincere (in our faith) in Him?
29:46 And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, "We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our God and your God is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam)."
These verses are supposedly evidence that the disbelievers worshipped Allah, because of the mention that "Allah is our Lord and your Lord" or "Your Lord and Our Lord is One". This phrase simply states the Allah has universal control over everyone. As Ibn Kathir comments on 2:39:
(while He is our Lord and your Lord) meaning, He has full control over us and you, and deserves the worship alone without partners. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Abridged, Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, 2000, vol. 1, p. 414 )
The statement could even be made to an atheist. If one were to say to an atheist, "Allah is my Lord and your Lord", does this suddenly denote that the atheist worships Allah? Obviously not.
In fact, we find the same example in the Qur'an. Prophet Moses made the same statement to Pharaoh who believed that he was a god!
79:21, 24. But (Pharaoh) rejected it and disobeyed (guidance)...Saying, "I am your Lord, Most High"
26:25-26 (Pharaoh) said to those around: "Do you not hear (what he says)?"
(Moses) said: "Your Lord and the Lord of your ancient fathers!"
Clearly, this statement is not evidence that the disbelievers worshipped Allah.
The next verse cited as evidence that the disbelievers worshipped Allah is:
3:64 Say: "O People of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah." If then they turn back, say ye: "Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah's Will).
Quite evidently, this verse does not make any mention of the beliefs of the People of the Book and whether they worship Allah or not. The statement highlight is merely the call of the Muslims to people of other faiths. The Muslim invitation is That we worship none but Allah, which is known as Tawheed. If one were to call an atheist to worship none but Allah, does this mean that atheists worship God? Obviously this is an illogical argument.
Another cited verse:
29:61 If indeed thou ask them who has created the heavens and the earth and subjected the sun and the moon (to his Law), they will certainly reply, "(Allah)". How are they then deluded away (from the truth)?
As previously mentioned, the disbelievers did accept Allah's existence and His supremacy, which is known as Tawheed Ar-Rububiyyah. But, they rejected the other aspects of Tawheed, especially directing all worship to Allah alone. They did not wish to give up the power that they held through their idols. (For more information on tawheed please click here).
So this verse cannot be taken as evidence that they worshipped Allah.
16:35 The worshippers of false gods say: "If Allah had so willed, we should not have worshipped aught but Him - neither we nor our fathers,- nor should we have prescribed prohibitions other than His." So did those who went before them. But what is the mission of apostles but to preach the Clear Message?
39:3 Is it not to Allah that sincere devotion is due? But those who take for protectors other than Allah (say): "We only serve them in order that they may bring us nearer to Allah." Truly Allah will judge between them in that wherein they differ. But Allah guides not such as are false and ungrateful.
These verses indicate that the polytheists did not worship Allah directly. They placed between material idols between themselves and Allah. Their Shirk (associating partners with Allah) was so extreme that they had removed Allah from the spiritual sphere of life.
Clearly these verses are not evidence that the disbelievers were truly worshipping Allah. Their prayers and supplications were made to idols.
4. It is also worth mentioning here that the statement from Surat Al-Kaafiroon, "Nor will ye worship that which I worship" means that they will not worship Allah alone without partners, and in accordance with His attributes. As Muhammad Asad mentioned:
In the above rendering, the particle ma ("that which") alludes, on the one hand, to all positive concepts and ethical values - e.g., belief in God and the believer's self-surrender to Him - and, on the other, to false objects of worship and false values, such as man's belief in his own supposed "self-sufficiency" (cf. 96:6-7), or his overriding, almost compulsive "greed for more and more" (surah 102). (Asad, Message of the Qur'an, The Book Foundation 2003)
So "that which we worship" denotes worshipping Allah alone, and devoting everything for His cause. Syed Qutb also responded to the same question in his tafsir:
Although the Arabs before Islam were not disavowing Allah, they did not know Him by the true identity He accorded Himself as the One and the Eternal. (Qutb, In the Shade of the Qur'an, New Crescent Publishing Co. (Revised Ed. 1996), p.328)
Therefore, even worshipping Allah without affirming His attributes is not true worship.
As Abul 'Ala Maududi writes:
I do not worship that which you worship- Though the disbelievers worshipped Allah also along with other gods, the worship of all their gods has been disowned, because the worship of Allah, in association with other gods, is no worship at all. (Maududi, The Holy Qur'an Translation and Brief Notes with Text, Islamic Publications (Pvt.) Ltd., 1991, p. 1018, emphasis added)
The above should make it clear that the disbelievers did not serve Allah in any meaningful way, hence the Qur'an commands believers to disavow all that the Makkans serve.
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