This surah is among those surahs of the Qur’an the very name of which reveals its central theme. It is called Ikhlas which is precisely what the surah is all about. Ikhlas means to have faith in God's being and His attributes or in the essential requisites of His attributes in a way that eliminates any trace of associating others with Him. As far as accepting God is concerned, the world has always acknowledged the existence of a superior being. In fact, this acceptance must be regarded as a self-evident requirement of human nature. An equally stark reality is that Satan has always remained an eternal enemy of Tawhid (oneness of God). He has persisted in trying to deceive man in this matter by contaminating this concept such that believing Allah at times became tantamount to not believing Him. To illuminate the essentials of Tawhid, God sent forth a long series of Prophets. Unfortunately, time and again, man continued to squander this reality every time he acquired it. It was for the sake of Tawhid that the Prophet Abraham (sws) migrated from his people and established the abode of his children in a barren stretch of land -- where they could truly worship God and also remain shielded from the onslaughts of an idolatrous environment. Quite ironically, his own progeny gradually converted the centre of Tawhid (Ka‘bah) built by himself into a temple of idols, as is mentioned in the Qur’an. The prejudice of their self-carved idols became so intense that they vehemently argued with God and His last Prophet (sws) that until and unless the status of their idols is accepted, they would not acknowledge the rights of God. It was as a result of this outrageous attitude that the Prophet (sws) proclaimed his acquittal from them as is mentioned in Surah Kafirun.
Period of Revelation
The proclamation of acquittal was solely meant for the Quraysh and the idolaters of Makkah. Various tribes of the People of the Book also existed in Arab. Although they were the recipients of holy books, Satan had inveigled them too into horrible forms of polytheism. They had considerable influence in Madinah and its whereabouts, and the Arabs had always openly acclaimed their superiority in religious affairs.
As long as the Prophet (sws) was in Makkah, their opposition remained clandestine, but it turned into open hostility after he migrated to Madinah. The People of the Book vainly reckoned that since they were the recipients of Holy Books, the Qur’an would definitely regard their beliefs and deeds as superior to those of the idolaters. But the Qur’an made it very clear to them that as far as their beliefs and deeds were concerned, they were a disgrace to mankind. The Christians, particularly, were impelled into open antagonism like the Jews by the criticism of the Qur’an on their forms of polytheism. A united opposition front was thereby created as the Jews, the Christians and the idolaters became allies against the Islamic forces. The situation called for a comprehensive explication of the meaning of Ikhlas that should completely eliminate any shred of polytheism, and as a result of which the People of the Book and the idolaters should have no doubt about the actual truth. It was in these circumstances that this surah was revealed in Madinah. Although a group of scholars believes that its revelation took place in Makkah, the comprehensive nature of the surah, as will be explained later, testifies that it was revealed in Madinah, when the enmity of the people of the Book, especially, the Christians had become evident.
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