Islam vs Kufr: the Futility of Denial (Al-Kafiroon Analysis)

Yellow verses 1 and 6 frame verses 2-4 in center

Surah 109, Al-Kafiroon, is not a straightforward ring composition, but rather takes a form one could describe as “circuitous” that makes a clear point about its subject matter: kafiroon, often translated as “disbelievers,” but the word deniers or denial is closer in meaning to the root word kufr, even in English sounding like “cover” as in “to cover up”:  In the Quran, Truth is Reality, not a “point of view” or “opinion.” “Belief” in English is used to mean an assumption of truth, not reality itself. Denial itself can be a kind of “religion” or path with a focus on worldly values, debunking and mocking Divine wisdom, thus closing one’s heart to it.

The first and final ayat 1 and 6 (in yellow above) match as follows:

Aya 1 begins with the directive to Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) to call upon the deniers/ disbelievers (aya 1) and “say” or recite to them this surah. Aya 6 tells the kafiroon/ deniers “for you is your religion and for me is my religion”, thus summarizing the message to be delivered to them. As a final aya, it also “seals” the disconnect between Prophet Mohammad and his followers (believers) and the deniers. 

Aya 1 and aya 6 are like the “frame” in which the other 4 ayat (2-5) are placed. Those 4 ayat are the “heart” of this Surah: a back-and-forth between two disconnected parties which find no meeting place or common ground—thus this Surah has no center or “turn” —nothing changes! 

This shows us that kafiroon “deniers/ disbelievers” are distinct from believers and have reached a point of kufr/ denial where the prophet has no further message for them: he neither blames them nor compliments them; they are parallel universes.

The only message the Prophet can deliver to them is “you go your way and I go my way” – he cannot guide them!

The middle is an exchange between kafiroon and Prophet Mohammad (and believers as his followers) which is going in circles. It is not a true exchange and the deniers/ disbelievers refuse to be receptive. Denial makes itself impenetrable by “covering” (the sense of kufr) any point of contact, receptivity, or even listening, let alone transformation or epiphany. 

There is a significant aspect here in that ayat 2 and 3 are both in the present tense, and ayat 4 and 5 are in the future tense, showing that both present and, importantly, future change of the situation are impossible. The arguments are circuitous, because on the one side are adherents of truth and on the other adherents of anti-truth or falsehood-commitment, showing the latter’s hearts are sealed from listening or engaging in discussion or an exchange of views. One must also understand that the prophet has already made an effort to reach out to the deniers and teach them, using examples from their experience in a common language and culture, and so it is not a matter of the deniers trying to convince the prophet of their point of view which he already knows since childhood. He brought a beautiful revitalizing and unifying message based on justice and a worldview that encompasses not only the prophet’s era and community, but that of all human eras and communities. This surah is addressed to those who rejected it. The sense of “covering” or denial here becomes “sealing” or closing the heart off from truth.  

What is interesting in this arrangement is the “heart” of this Surah is a sterile one in which no exchange is made. It is as if the “dead blood”, sealing itself off from “oxygen/ life”, enters the heart in a “hydrophobic”-like state, akin to Teflon, in this case “oxygen-rejecting”, so the blood is pumped as usual through the heart and oxygen is pumped to the blood, but the blood is in a condition/ state of rejection, hence can not be oxygenated. 

Oxygen here is a metaphor for truth; without truth, the soul, represented here by the metaphor of blood, will “die”, not a death of the body, but rather of the soul, and because Allah is Truth (one of His Names is Al-Haqq “The Truth”), a soul that rejects Truth is rejecting Allah Himself the Glorious, and hence, by the law of reciprocity, Allah the Exalted will reject that soul, and Hell by definition is separation from/ rejection by Allah, the Truth. So this very simple and repetitive Surah illustrates graphically the horror of what happens in this situation. 

It should also be noted that in Arabic the first letter here in aya 2 is no, or la (lam-aleph). The four central ayat then begin in aya 2 with the word meaning “no.” The remaining 3 central ayat all begin with waw, the single-letter word meaning “and,” followed by “no”, giving us these 4 beginnings: “no…and no…and no…and no.” This shows us how very powerfully the disconnect between faith and denial is described and illustrated by the word choices in this surah. 

And because the entire Surah is initiated (by Allah’s command) by Prophet Mohammad, it preempts any further attempts by the kafiroon to influence or mislead the believers. 

Also, we should be aware that having free will doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter what choices one makes. That is an illusion or I should say delusion. The whole message of the Quran, the Gospel and the Torah, and indeed all of Allah’s messages, is making this whole point clear: the free will issue for bani Adam “the children of Adam” (humanity) is one of right and wrong and consequential in the extreme, because its consequences are eternal and can only be amended in this life. It’s not comparable to the autonomy of animals, plants, stars, etc., because they chose to be obedient by nature and not to have free will, a specific type of autonomy referred to in the Quran also as the amana or “responsibility”/ trust which our souls agreed to before we were born; hence the repeated phrase, “will you not remember?” That commitment was to worship/ serve our Creator willingly, despite being given the choice not to. Here Allah the Exalted reminds us of that promise and exhorts us to think about this. It starts with our attitude: will we be grateful or arrogant, trusting Allah’s guidance or suspicious of it? Our attitude, one of receptivity and humility or one of denial and “covering-up,” influences how easy or difficult it is for us to make the right choices, but people so often reject Allah’s help, reject even guidance. 

One final lesson in this Surah is that the use of “worship” and “religion” here reveals that, from the perspective of Allah, we are all by definition worshipers of something, even atheism itself being a “belief system” wherein the very idea of God/ Allah is automatically, even unthinkingly, rejected as a matter of “faith,” hence one’s “worship” becomes the ardent practice of denial, debunking, and seeking that which is left over after such denial, the life of this fleeting world, beyond which is neither meaning nor comfort, except the hope and comfort in death itself. Unfortunately, what we think or want to believe will not change what reality and truth are. It’s not a holographic projection, but an actual reality, including an impending event/ catastrophic change over which we have no control, but whose consequences we are given the means and guidance to alleviate in the best possible way — from the One with authority and total control over it and everything that exists. 


Numerical Analysis of Surah 109

Examination of the numbers in this Surah, perhaps of interest to a certain type of nerd, is below, noting the focus here is not on presenting numerical miracles, but rather on showing how the numbers actually relate to and even help illustrate the meaning. Nonetheless, some of these connections are nothing short of amazing.

Word/ Letter counts

  1. 4 words, 16 letters: sum 20
  2. 4 words, 14 letters: sum 18
  3. 6 words, 19 letters, sum 25
  4. 6 words, 17 letters, sum 23
  5. 6 words, 19 letters, sum 25
  6. 5 words, 14 letters, sum 19

Total: 31 words (same as Al-Fatiha, associated with salat prayer), 99 letters (an amazing number itself, also 9•11): the sum of which is 130, interesting insofar as it is a multiple of 13•10 (being a multiple of ten makes it a simple matter of moving the decimal), 13 being a reversal of the digits of 31, the total number of words in this surah. 

Looking at the numbers in this list above, fascinating patterns emerge. Regarding word counts, we find two 4’s, three 6’s, and a final 5-count, in that order. This suggests an alternate arrangement which shows other aspects of meaning.

It begins with the pair of 4’s signifying the heart, whose total is 8, a number associated with paradise (examples in Surat Al-Rahman 55), and with the number of “carriers of the throne” (69:17). This merges ayat 1 and 2 as showing how the “hearts” of believers, by calling upon the deniers and telling them “I do not worship what you worship,” is reinforced in faith by initiating this “exchange,” taking the upper hand by flatly denying the deniers

This whole Surah in a sense preempts the deniers’ attempts to undermine faith by mockery, sowing doubt, and “muddying the waters” by taking the believers in the weaker position of having to respond to their underhanded falsehoods. By stating “nor are you/ will you be worshipers of what I worship” the kafiroon are denied any attempt on their part to attempt to influence the believers (as stated above), reinforced by the matching word and letters counts in those two surahs referring to the deniers’ worship.

Ayat 3, 4, and 5 all have the same word count of 6, the total of which would be 18 (6•3), or 9•2 which both matches the sum of words and letters in aya 2, the initiating declaration mentioned above, and matches in its factor 9, the sum of words in the “frame” ayat 1 (4) and 6 (5): 4+5=9. This is a numerical confirmation of the resilience in the believers’ hearts of their initial declaration “I do not worship what you worship:” that phrase started this “exchange” and even after the 3 ayat with 6 words each were exchanged, the number 18 remained the same, unchanged, the believers’ faith intact. This is despite being “surrounded” by the 2 declarations of denial of faith, showing the point of view of the kafiroon had no effect on the believers. 

Note the two denials of the kafiroon expressed in ayat 3 and 5 are matching both word and letter counts; 19 letters implies the number of angels guarding hell, number of words 6 is a number implying “service”, each total is 5^2 or 5•5, the number 5 signifying “hand”, thus 5•5 indicates “both hands”, implying the kafiroon are “all in it” with both hands. It shows both present and future “locked in” by their own two hands: the present choice expressed in present tense, the refusal to turn back to Allah and change their attitude/ ways expressed here as future tense; it is that refusal that locks them in. This is further “sealed” in the final aya 6, showing 5 words, the final “hand” of God on both parties: the total words of each of the 2 deniers’ ayat 3 and 5 equals sum of words and letters in this Surah,19, again the number of angel-guardians of hell per the Quran in 74:31 — thus showing the sealed fate of the deniers.

The final aya has a word count of 5, the sole odd number here, further “sealing” the results, with 14 letters (7 pairs) matching the letter count of aya 2, the believers’ present declaration of faith, putting them, on the one hand, in Allah’s mercy. On the other hand, the sum of 19 matching the two ayat 3 and 5 as mentioned above, refers to the deniers’ fate in hell. 

Totals by formal groupings of ayat indicated in the color-coding above: 

Paired ayat 1,6 “framing” the surah (9 words, 30 ltrs, sum 39 or 13•2); 

paired ayat 2,4 “declarations of faith” (10 words, 31 letters, sum 41); 

paired ayat “declarations of denial” 3,5 (12 words, 38 letters, sum 50)

Reinforcing that this fate is not for the believers, Prophet Mohammad and his followers, the 14 letters of the final aya match the 14 letters of aya 2, Prophet Mohammad’s initial declaration (and that of his followers) like the “7 pairs” of Al-Fatiha, associated with salat prayer, also implied in the total words of this Surah matching the total words in the essential prayer Al-Fatiha, 31, which number also matches the total letter count in the two ayat that are declarations of faith, 2 and 4, indicating salat prayer as a saving grace

Even the sum of words and letters for those two ayat is 39, whose factor with 2 is 13, the reverse of the digits of 31, implying reciprocity, the response of Allah to prayer. Further, the 4th aya, Mohammad’s declaration of faith in the future — and in this sense, this aya is in the #4 “heart” position — contains 17 letters, matching the number of words in Surat Al-Ikhlass 112, the declaration of Tawheed or monotheism; also matching the number of rak’at (sets of bowing and prostration) in the traditional requirement for salat prayer. It here indicates “protection” (by Allah because of prayer and faith in Allah as One) from the fate indicated by the total 19, which itself, applied to the Surat Al-Muddathir reference to it (74:30), is a “trial for those who disbelieve” and “those who believe will increase in faith” (74:31), showing us in this single number connection that the meaning is to be interpreted differently for believers than deniers, and this aya makes it eminently clear who wins and who loses.

The two acceptances of Prophet Mohammad and his followers are exemplified in ayat 2 and 4, where the digits, in contrast to the “unchanged” kafiroon ayat, do not match but have changed: from 4 words in aya 2 to 6 words in aya 4, and from 14 letters (7 pairs per above) to 17 letters in aya 4, an increase of 2 words and 3 letters. This difference adds to 5, which is also the total number of words in the final 6th aya, where it represents the “hand” of God. Implied is the “hand of God” is a hand of mercy to the believers; whereas His judgment against the deniers/ rejecters is simply reciprocity for their rejection of Him: rejection is their freely-chosen expression of worship as denial, thus betrayal of their promise to freely praise and worship Allah, for which the Quran (as were other Divine revelations) is a reminder. 

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