Explanation of Surat al-Kawthar

“Indeed we have granted you the Kawthar (river in heaven). So pray to your Lord and sacrifice. Indeed, your enemy is the one cut off.” (Qur’an, 108)

It’s Name

Some scholars gave it the name “the Chapter of Sacrifice.” Kawthar is the name given to the surah in the old and new copies of Qur’an. In his collection, Imam al-Tirmidhi named it as such. Imam al-Bukhari named it the chapter, “Indeed we have granted you the Kawthar” in his collection of authentic hadith.

Period of Revelation

Scholars differed over the period which this chapter was revealed. Most theorized that it was revealed in Mecca. Hassan al-Basri, Qatada and Mujahid contended that this chapter was sent during the Medina period. Their theory is supported by the following narration found in Sahih Muslim:

Anas said, “Once the Prophet ﷺ was sitting with us and suddenly he dosed off. A short time later he raised his head and said, “A chapter was revealed to me earlier.” Then he read, “Indeed, We have granted you al-Kawthar. So, pray to your Lord and sacrifice. Indeed, the one who insults you, he is cut off.” The Prophet ﷺ asked, “Do you know what is the kawthar?” We responded, “Allah and His Messenger know better.” He responded, “It is a river that God, the Mighty and Exalted, promised me. There is an abundance of good in it. It is a fount that my community will gather by on the Day of Standing [the Day of Judgement].”

Anas bin Malik radiAllahu `anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) was not from those who accepted Islam in Mecca. In fact, it is well known that he became Muslim in Medina. Thus, it was impossible for him to have witnessed any revelation that took place in Mecca. Based on this, it is safe to say that this chapter of Qur’an was revealed in Medina, and that the verse “Your enemy” was not revealed about al-As bin Wail as will be discussed shortly, insh’Allah.

If we say that it was revealed in Mecca, then it is considered the 15th chapter, revealed between al-‘Adadiyat and al-Takathur. If we take the opinion that it was revealed in Medina, which is the opinion we will follow in this discussion, then it was revealed at Hudaybiya.

Number of Verses

Scholars agreed that this chapter is made up of three verses making it, along with Surat`Asr and Surat an-Nasr, the shortest chapters in the Qur’an. What distinguishes this chapter from the others is the least number of words that compose it.

Historical Occurrences Related to this Chapter

When ‘Umar (ra) was stabbed, ‘Abd al-Rahman bi ‘Auf read this chapter and Surat an-Nasr.

Objectives of this Chapter

  1. This chapter brings glad tidings to the Prophet ﷺ reminding him that he is the recipient of abundant good in this life and the next.
  2. It orders the Prophet ﷺ to be thankful to Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (Exalted is He) for these favors by worshiping Him.
  3. It reminds him and his companions that those who insult him, attack his message and reject him, are cut from all good.
  4. Worldly possessions and popularity do not determine that someone is good. True goodness is found in a healthy soul that is thankful to God.

A poet said, “And it is with your soul, not your body, that you are human.”

The First Verse


“Indeed, we have given you the kawthar” (Qur’an, 108:1)

The chapter begins with an article of emphasis, “indeed.” This is used to establish the truth of the information mentioned. It also uses the verb “We gave” utilizing the royal we as its subject. This accomplishes the following:

  1. A verb signifies emphasis and certainty of an act.
  2. The “royal we” signifies honor for the object. Here there are two, “you,” meaning the Prophet ﷺ, and “the Kawthar.” Thus, the recipient and what was received are honored as they are both linked to the subject “We” which is reference to Allah (swt). This is very similar to the opening of the 97th chapter of the Qur’an: “Indeed, We sent the Qur’an down during the Night of Decree.” (Qur’an 97:1)
  3. The combined usage of the above signifies good news to the object and a threat or reminder to those who oppose him.

Thankfulness and Worship

The word for thankfulness in Arabic is shukur. It was used by the Arabs of antiquity when they talked about a well-fed animal who became plump – showing the signs of a generous master. Hence, they would say “Daba Shakur,” a thankful animal.

“The Kawthar”

This word is a noun on the form فوعل which signifies abundant good as noted by al-Zamakhshari. Its origin is كثر which means abundance. However, here the letter و has been added and we have كوثر. There is an important principle in Arabic morphology that applies here: “An addition to the form equates to an increase in the meanings intensity.”

This word was used by the Arabs to describe a person of abundant good. Once a poet praised  ‘Abul Malik bin Marwan saying:

وَأَنْتَ كَثِيرٌ يَا ابْنَ مَرْوَانَ طَيِّبٌ … وَكَانَ أَبوك ابْن العقائل كَوْثَرَا

“And you, o son of Marwan, are abundant in goodness…And your father, the father of bin al-‘Uqali,’ was kawthara (source of abundant good).”

The early scholars gave different interpretations for this word. Ibn ‘Abbas said, “Abundant good.” ‘Ikrama said, “Prophet-hood and the Qur’an.” Al-Hassan said, “The Qur’an.” Al-Mughira said, “Islam.” Abu Bakr ‘Ayyash said, “An abundant community.” Others said, “Light in the hearts,” and others, “the intercession of the Prophet ﷺ.” None of these contradict the statement of the Prophet ﷺ as his statement does not limit the different meanings. The purpose of this chapter was to strengthen the Prophet’s ﷺ resolve and boost his community by reminding them that he is the recipient of abundant good. Therefore, as we discussed in other lessons, the companion’s different explanations of a universal principle, such as good here, is acceptable.

The Second Verse


“Then, pray to your Lord and sacrifice” (Qur’an 108:2)

The word “then” is represented by the letter فاء in Arabic. There are a number of different meanings associated with this letter. Here the meaning is known as tafri’i. Meaning, that what is mentioned before “then” is a cause for what is mentioned after it: “because of the blessings given to you, o Prophet ﷺ, worship your Lord.”

When used in the context of worship, it implies that a person shows the effects of God’s mercy in their life by worshipping Him. Ibn al-Qayyim (ra) wrote, “Thankfulness is the appearance of God’s blessing’s on a servant’s tongue, by praising Him and acknowledging His favors, on his heart, by bearing witness [to His favors] and loving Him and on his limbs by submission and obedience to Him.”1

Imam al-Farazubadi (ra) noted that true thanks is based on five pillars:

  1. Humility from the subject of thanks to the object;
  2. Loving the object of thanks;
  3. Acknowledging his favors;
  4. Praising him for them;
  5. Not using them in a way that would disobey the object.

Ibn Qayyim (ra) said, “These five are the foundations of thankfulness – it is built upon them. If one of them is missing, then one’s thankfulness will be deficient.”

“Your Lord”

The noun “Lord” is mentioned here instead of “Pray to Us,” because the word “Lord” means the provider and sustainer. The theme of this verse is thanks due to benevolence. Thus, according to the scholars, the noun “Lord” is used here fittingly, instead of the “Royal We” because it reminds the Prophet ﷺ, and his community, of God’s benevolence. Hence, “Pray to your Lord” and not, “Pray to Us.” This is a sound proof that thankfulness is rooted in a deep recognition of God’s abundant mercy.

The word “Lord” is also used as possessive with the pronoun, “you,” meaning the Prophet ﷺ. This is a sign of honor showing the closeness of Allah (swt) to the Prophet ﷺ.

Also, “Lord” is used in relationship to the preposition “to.” Thus “Pray to your Lord” implies tawhid of worship; a sharp blow to the polytheists of Mecca.

“And Sacrifice”

Unlike other places in the Qur’an where the Prophet ﷺ is ordered to repel the attacks of the Meccans with prayer and good character,



“Indeed, we know that your chest is tight because of what they say. Then glorify your Lord with praises and be from those who prostrate” (Qur’an, 15:97-98).

In this chapter we find something different. Not only is Prophet ﷺ advised to pray, but to sacrifice? This strengthens the contention that this verse was revealed in Medina at Hudaybiyah. We know that the Meccans refused to let the Prophet ﷺ and his companions (ra) enter Mecca and complete the rights of minor pilgrimage. Thus, to reassure the Prophet ﷺ and his followers that good is with them, the word “And sacrifice” is used as prophecy just like another verse that was sent at that time:

108:1“Indeed, we have granted you a clear victory” (Qur’an 108:1)

Thus, not only was it an order to slaughter at al-Hudbabiyah, but it was a portent of things to come.2

It is also well known that this chapter was sent before Hajj. Thus, a good majority of Muslim scholars say it means to “Pray to your Lord (Eid Prayer) and Sacrifice (after you finish the ‘Eid prayer).”

Other scholars were simply silent regarding the circumstances that surrounded this verse. When Malik was asked about this verse he said, “Nothing has reached me regarding it.”

Since “sacrifice” is a conjunction of “and pray to your Lord (alone)” it is understood “and Sacrifice to your Lord (alone as well).”

Again, this is an attack on the contention of the Meccans that slaughter could be done to other than God.

The Last Verse

“Indeed, your enemy is the one cut off” (Qur’an, 108:3)

The word enemy is from the word “Shan’i” which literally means one who hates. It is found elsewhere in the Qur’an (5:2). It is used as a possessive here to show that anyone who hates the Prophet ﷺ will be cut off from all blessings and good in this life and the next.

Al-Wahidi  (ra) relates that Ibn Abbas (ra) said that al-As bin Wail is one being mentioned here. One day the Prophet ﷺ was in the mosque in Mecca and people asked about him ﷺ and Wa’il said, “The one who is cut off.”3

Abatar in Arabic was used by the Arab’s to mean the one who had no Male offspring. Al-As said this after the Prophet ﷺ lost two of his sons, Qasim and ‘Abdullah.

Based on this, the meaning “cut off” should not be taken literally since Wa’il, although he died as a rejecter of faith, his family was blessed. His son was the great companion ‘Amr bin al-As and his grandson, ‘Amr’s son, was ‘Abdullah. Thus, cut off here means cut off from all good and blessings.

It was used this way by the Prophet ﷺ in the following famous hadith,

“Every action that does not begin with God’s remembrance is cut off (abtar).” Meaning, as my teacher told me, “Cut off from blessings.”

It is important to note that the narration of al-Wahidi is suspect based on what was related by Muslim in his Sahih. There is an important rule in the interpretation of texts: “If there are two contradictory texts and one is weak and the other is strong, consideration is given to the stronger one.” It is also possible that both texts could be reconciled by considering that this chapter was revealed twice. Allah (swt) knows best.

On the Style of the Verse

The form of this verse is that of restriction. For that reason it begins with “Indeed.” What is missing from this translation, and found in the Arabic, is “He” – called Damir al-Fasul in Arabic. Thus, perhaps a better translation would be, “Indeed, your hater, (he) is cut off.” The presence of that pronoun “he” also adds to the meaning, “Indeed, your hater, (he) is cut off (not you).”

  1. Madarij al-Salikin, vol. 2 pg. 234
  2. Al-Tahrir wa al-Tanwir vol. 30 Pg. 574.
  3.  Al-Abatar

About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship. Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010.


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