I checked 2 mushaf and internet, and as far as I can see, 3rd ayah and 5th ayah of Surat Al-Kāfirūn are exactly the same. On the other hand, 3rd ayah translated as;

Nor are you worshippers of what I worship

and 5th ayah translated as

Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship.

What is the cause of the difference in translation of these two ayahs?


3 Answers 3


As you said, the two Ayas have exactly the same word, they are copycats.

There are two approaches to understand these ayat (and the context as a whole), both are acceptable, and both depend greatly on Arabic Language, they are:

  • Either there is a repetition in meaning itself, and so the translation should be exactly the same, and reasons for that repetition are available in the source I'll include below below.

  • Or there is no repetition in meaning, and the two ayas are different due to context, this bears three understandings:

    • One is that the first two ayas refer to future and the second two ayas refer to the present time (or current state). The evidence is in the second aya { لا أعبد ما تعبدون }, it is that the negation tool "La لا" can come before verbs that are only present and refer to the future, this is because in Arabic there are no future form for verbs, future is represented in the present form plus a tool, and in this case, this tool is "La لا". So, the meaning becomes that I will not (in the future) worship what you ask me to worship, nor will you worship what I ask you to worship, this actually happened and they never became Muslims (see the revelation reasons of this Aya). Then he said (in Ayas 4&5) that I am not (currently, my state) worship what you worship, nor you worship what I worship.
    • The second is the reverse (this is the situation in the question), the fist two ayas refer to the present time (and current state) and the second two ayas refer to the future. The evidence is in the 4th aya { ولا أنا عابد ما عبدتم }, it's that this sentence is a negation of the sentence أنا عابد ما عبدتم which refers to the future (I'm going to worship what you worship) because the "actor noun" عابد (actor noun is something in Arabic equal to the "doer form" in English, for example, make-> maker, sing->singer, and so on) in the context of the aya includes the meaning of intention, which refers to the future.
    • The third is that each couple of ayas (2&3 and 4&5) can bear the meaning of present (current state) and future at the same time, but we specify one for current state and the other for future to prevent repetition. So if we say that he talked about state firstly, and then about future, then that is reasonable because he is following the order of times (present and then future); on the other hand if we say that he talked about future firstly, then that's because they (Mushrikeen) asked him to make a future deal with them (see the revelation reason of the Sura), and for that future is more important to talk about, hence talked about it firstly and then talked about the present.

Source of the above: Tafseer Al-Razi (or The Big Tafseer) Vol.32, P.145, By Imam Fakhr Aldeen Al Razi (may Allah be merciful to him).

There is also a very nice reasoning for the repetition in Asrar Al-Tikrar fi Al Qur'an (Repetition Secrets in Qur'an) paragraph #585, by Mahmoud Al-Karmani. But I'll not mention here because the question will become too complicated and may lead the reader to confusion.

In fact, this is a good example to see the miraculous wording of Qur'an, which Allah challenged Kuffar to get similar eloquence and wording. I thank you for asking this question and making me read that awesome tafseer by Imam Al Razi!


If you see yusuf ali, he translates them as the same... http://tanzil.net/#trans/en.yusufali/109:3

The problem is putting them in english, not with the arabic.

Did you know that Al-fatihah is 29 words in arabic, but 60-70 (may be more) words in english translations?

Further more,.. The difference in the translation that you quote is only the tense...

The 3rd ayah is in present tense...

Nor are you worshippers of what I worship

While the 5th ayah is in future tense...

Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship

....its choice of words by the translators and each translator tries to put the ayah in context as they translate.


Great question! That is a very subtle difference in translation and it points to the great care that translators take to preserve the context from surrounding verses as well as the reasons of revelations and interpretation of the verse.

The difference in this case comes due to context. The context for each of these verses is set in the respective previous verse. The tafsir that I studied actually has it the other way around - verses 2 and 3 refer to the future and 4 and 5 to the past, so I'm not sure why these translators have it this way. It must be due to another interpretation. Regardless, verse 2 uses the verb form for the first person (a'budu), and verse 4 uses the noun form ('abidun). It is this difference that provides context for the following verse. The tafsir that I heard said that the emphasis in verse 2 was on the future, and so verse 3 has the context of the future, whereas the noun form (seen as permanent and immutable) points to an emphasis on the past, and therefore verse 5 has the context of the past.

As for why these are opposite, perhaps there is another nuance in the usages that gives rise to another difference in emphases. The point of my answer is that the context is provided by the previous verse. Different scholars interpret those contexts differently.

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