One the question of abrogation: Does God abrogates; can God change his decrees?
[“Don’t judge the Muslims that you know by Islam and don’t judge Islam by the Muslims that you know”…]
“That there is no compulsion in Islam and that Islam is a religion of peace” are the common refrains amongst Muslims (activists, academics, officials and journalists). In an age of jihad terrorism, nowhere, they argue, does the Qur'an allow Muslims to fight Kafirs [non-Muslims] solely because they refuse to become Muslim….? Propagandists of Islamic tolerance point to a number of Qur'anic verses which admonish violence and advocate peace, tolerance and compromise. But not all the verses in the Qur'an have the same weight in assessments...
Unlike the Old or New Testaments, the Qur'an is not organized by chronology but by the size of its chapters (surah). Even within chapters, chronology can be confused. In surah 2, for example, Allah [God] revealed these verses 193, 216, and 217 to Muhammad shortly after he arrived in Medina, but revealed verses 190-192 six years later. This complicates interpretations, all the more when some verses appear to contradict one another?
So let’s see what abrogation is?
Abrogation means ending an agreement or contract formally or publically. God’s covenants have and will always remain in tact; what he promised, he will deliver. Abrogation is NOT a practice that one would ever imagine is a God's doing...! How can an omnipotent and omniscient God, who predestines every event in the universe, change his mind? This would make God changeable, yet he is never changing. He is expected to do as he says and yet remain as He is. Why would God suggest in one section, those earlier of His holy book, something different in a later part of His holy book? God can do anything; after all, we are dealing with God. In the Quran, the passages that were first written and understood were later changed or abrogated...? If this is the book of God, and He spoke these words, then God made those changes deliberately...! But it is more likely that this is the Holy Book IS OF MANY MEN, not just Muhammad’s, and they made those vested changes to suit their needs, and at their convenience! Rewrites were as laws of expediency, more to enable Muhammad to act in deference to what actually was written, and have become then what is written... For God does not abrogate period!
How could a true believer be guided by God, use Him as pure guide, a roadmap to salvation, a GPS to that eternal kingdom, all the while knowing that He could/would change things in the future…? What might God change? If on the right path, can that become ever wrong? Never! I don’t think the wrong path to start can ever remain so, unless and unless a heart for God is changed; then one would simply take the right Way – as was and will always be the path to a true God’s eternal kingdom…!
Abrogation in the Qur'an
The Qur'an is very unique amongst sacred scriptures in accepting the doctrine of abrogation in which later pronouncements of the Prophet/Allah declares null and void the earlier pronouncements. Four verses in the Qur’an acknowledge or justify abrogation:
- When we cancel a message, or throw it into oblivion, we replace it with one better or one similar. Do you not know that Allah has the powers over all things? (Q 2:106)
- When we replace a message with another, and Allah knows best what He reveals, they say: You have made it up. Yet, most of them do not know. (Q 16:101)
- Allah abrogates or confirms whatsoever He will, for He has with Him the Book of the Books. (Q 13:39)
- If we pleased, we could take away what we have revealed to you. Then you will not find anyone to plead for it with us. (Q 17:86)
Rather than explaining away the inconsistencies in the Quranic passages, many Muslim jurists acknowledge these differences, but accept that in case of contradictory verses the latter ones trump earlier ones. Most Islamic scholars divide the Qur'an into verses revealed to Muhammad in Mecca when his community of followers was weak and more inclined to compromise, and those revealed in Medina, where Muhammad's strength grew.
Classical scholars argued that anyone, who studied the Qur'an without having mastered the doctrine of abrogation, would be "deficient". Those, who do not accept abrogation, fall outside the mainstreams and, perhaps, even from the religion itself! The Ahmadiyah sect, for example [today concentrated in Pakistan], consistently rejects abrogation, because it undercuts the notion that the Qur'an is free from errors. All Muslims consider Ahmadis, who also see their founder as a prophet, to be apostates...
Because the Qur'an is not organized chronologically, there has been a whole subset of theological study to determine which verses abrogate and which are abrogated. Islamic scholars base their understandings of theology not only upon the Qur'an but also upon the Hadiths [accounts of the Prophet Muhammad's life]. One hadith in particular addresses abrogation. It cites Abu al-A‘la bin al-Shikhkhir, considered by Islamic theologians to be a reliable source of knowledge about the Prophet's life, as saying: "the Messenger of God abrogated some of his commands by others, just as the Qur'an abrogates some part of it with the other". Muhammad accepted that Allah would invalidate previous revelations, often making ordinances stricter.
Abrogation occurs not only within the Qur'an, but also by the Qur'an towards earlier revelations, such as those passed on by Jesus or Moses. Verse 2:106 refers to commandments sent to the prophets before Muhammad. ‘Abdullah Yusuf Ali, commentator and translator of the Qur'an, interpreted the verse to mean that Allah's message is the same across time, but its form may differ according to the exigencies of time. ‘Abd al-Majid Daryabadi, a Pakistani Qur'an commentator, suggested, however, that the laws might differ across time but that there should be no shame in the same lawgiver replacing temporary laws with permanent ones.
Another cause for discussions amongst the Islamic scholars is the question of whether Allah withdrew certain revelations from the memory of Muhammad and his followers, causing such revelations to disappear like some of those mentioned in the Qur'an about which little is known today. This leads to the classical theological dispute about whether such interpretations dilute the idea that the Qur'an is eternal? Those, who discount or downplay abrogation, interpret the verses revealed by Muhammad in Mecca to address spirituality and see those revealed later in Medina not as abrogation but rather expanding context to understand the whole…!
Surah 2.106 (Maulana Muhammad Ali translation, 1917) reads (paraphrased): Whatever verses we (God) cancel or cause you to forget, we bring a better or its like. The number of verses in this holy book, claimed to be God speaking, were changed, much from revelations in Mecca to revelations in Medina, are estimated at 500. Now understand that a Quran you may purchase off the shelf at Barnes and Noble is written from the longest chapters, ‘surahs’, to the shortest, and not in chronological order. The compilers, after Muhammad’s death, choose to arrange the book chapter-wise from the longest to the shortest. The eternal words of Allah cannot be bound by time, changed from one period (Meccan) to another (Medina). But in the Quran it is so! Other revealed scriptures, namely the Old and New Testament, do not suffer from such fallacies.
Ali Dashti, in his book, Twenty-three Years –A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad, writes: “On the assumption that the Quran is God’s word, there ought to be no trace of human intellectual imperfection in anything that God says.” (1985, London, p. 155)
Ibn Warraq, his book, Why I Am Not A Muslim, writes: “The doctrine of abrogation…makes a mockery of the Muslim dogma that the Koran is a faithful and unalterable reproduction of the original scriptures that are preserved in heaven. If God’s words are eternal, uncreated, and of universal significance, then how can we talk of God’s words being superseded or becoming obsolete?” (Prometheus Books, NY, 2003, p. 115)
A few examples –on alcohol [Early verses] “…of the fruits and palms you obtain intoxicants [sakar], goodly provisions.” First they are good: wine is good. But what Allah once permitted has since disputed [the later verses] in saying: “about intoxicants and games of chance…in both of them is a great sin….”
Qur’anic passages that preach tolerance [the religion of peace so to say] are from the dreams in Mecca, early Meccan surahs. Those passages calling for killings, beheadings [Surah-8:12], and maiming are from Medinian dreams. The later verse [Surah 9:5] (worth remembering), “…slay the idolaters, wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush….” Thus, a word to the wise (at least to the non-Muslims): BEWARE! Ibn Warraq notes (p. 115) that 124 verses considered tolerant were all cancelled…!
God does not abrogate!
Another example: Muhammad once went to visit his adopted son Zayd (the 3rd convert to Islam and a man most loyal to his new father). Zayd was not home and his wife, Zaynab bint Jahash answered the door. She was scantily clad, as it was hot. She was alone inside the house and her physical attributes were obvious. She was a beautiful woman. Muhammad became attracted to semi-nude Zaynab and marveling her beauty, Mohammad exclaimed: “Gracious Lord! Good Heavens! How you do turn the hearts of men.” But to avoid a social problem, since she was his daughter-in-law, Mohammad left in trials and tribulations in his loins… When Zayd returned, Zaynab repeated to him what Muhammad had uttered upon seeing her. Zaid, being a loyal son, went to Muhammad and offered to divorce his wife (Wow!). Muhammad said no, Zayd did it anyway. BUT deep down Muhammad knew it was wrong to marry her [his daughter-in-law], according to his own recitations of the Quran [as an adopted son was the same as a natural son]. Incest was a no-no! What then –a revelation, a new and reforming thought of Allah? Let’s abrogate change things...! Ibn Warraq notes (p. 99) Muhammad was thus enabled to “cast his scruples to the wind.” Before his prepubescent wife, Aisha, he went into one of his [possible] epileptic fits [called a ‘swoon’], and when Mohammad came out of it, he proclaimed, “Who will go and congratulate Zaynab and say that the Lord has joined her to me in marriage?” [Another Wow!!]
Surah-3:37 thus read, “So when Zayd dissolved her marriage-tie, We gave her to thee as a wife, so that there should be no difficulty for the believers about the wives of their adopted sons, when they have dissolved their marriage-tie. And Allah’s command is ever performed."
Please! How difficult it is to not be skeptical and see this as man [Muhammad] and not God allowing this provision? And so, it became that adopted sons of Muslim men are not the same as natural sons...! So be it, says Allah [or says Muhammad]. Dream-on Dude...!
Last example [one of the most interesting], Surah-2:256, “There is no compulsion in religion…”
Here many Muslims lay claims to this ‘verse’ as there stated position of freedom of religion. But they actually lie...!!! Which they are allowed to do [taqiyyah]; the compulsion to deceive is permitted if it is for the advancement of Islam, and Allah is the best of deceivers [Surah-3:54].
While Surah 9:3 states, “…Allah and His Messenger are free from liability to the idolaters…” Oaths [no need to honor as needed for keeping Islam] in Islam, [in that same Surah-2:256] it goes on to proclaim “…the right way is indeed clearly distinct from error.” And the later verses make it obvious that the Quran, in labeling [infidels and those of another religion] those not of the ‘right way’, even Muslims that are not in full agreement with one another, the Islamists believe they are to be totally eliminated! It is their way or the highway, Islam or nothing at all. “Until…religion is only for Allah” [Surah 25:52].
Dealing with doubts
By now, it must become clear whose words are contained in the Quran. The Quran would easily raise doubts in the minds of Muslims or otherwise about its authenticity as the word of God. But extreme fear of the horrible punishments in hell as well as the longing for place in the eternal kingdom [paradise] keep the doubt away from the minds of most Muslims! Even then those Muslims, who may raise doubts, the Quran has a way to deal them too. The Quran says of such doubters [Surah 4:137]: “Those who believe then disbelieve, again believe then disbelieve, then increase in disbelief, Allah will never forgive them nor guide them in the right way.” The author of the Quran is fearful that if an objective and open minded Muslim is exposed to other scriptures and to the writing of humanists and atheists, they would likely grow disbelief in the Quran. And not to give such an opportunity, Allah pronounces such grave warning.
The cry to all Muslims is then ‘remain ignorant to the truth, other truths, as you will be subject to death.’ The Quran does not want a Muslim to be a friend of a non-Muslim [Surah 9:23], resistance is more desirable [Surah 9:29], they are to doubt the Bible, and they are to view the Trinity as polytheism [Christians and Jews as pagans]. Even the Sufi [an Islamic religious sect] uses an intermediary [Muhammad] and has a center as their focus. From tribe-to-tribe, even, there is cause to call another an apostate! The Qur’an’s fear is stated in Surah 2:217: “for they [other than those accepted as Muslim] will not cease fighting you until they turn you back from your religion…” If not Muslim then be prepared to die! “whomever”, the Surah continues, “turns back from his religion, then he dies…” That is the extremist view of Allah, but it is what many non-Muslims witness, that the apostates are killed, Christians in churches in Baghdad are attacked, al-Qaeda calls for the death of all Christians, church-goers are attacked in Pakistan, Egypt and Indonesia, a farm-women in Pakistan is sentenced to death after local Muslims accused her of making derogatory comments against Islam’s prophet, Shiite pilgrims in Karbala are slaughtered by Sunnis, a radical cleric says no permission is needed to kill Americans as they are from the “party of devils”, and so on... This is not what God would ever want of His beloved creations.[?]
God does not abrogate, because God's decrees are eternal. Obviously, it was Muhammad taking in the Qur’an; so arose the issue of abrogation as circumstances demanded new measures.
One last mention: In Surah 10:94. If this be the word of God, or Allah, then read it carefully. “But if thou art in doubt as to that which We have revealed to thee, ask those who read the Book before thee [reference to the Bible]. Certainly the Truth has come to thee from thy Lord, so be not of doubters.” Muhammad with this verse places “the veracity of his words on par with the authenticity of the Bible as it was available in the seventh century,” according to Ergun Caner (Unveiling Islam, Kregel, 2009, Grand Rapids, p. 231). Thus logically Muslims should accept the Bible. From Caner [p. 232]: “The Bible, if the Word of God, cannot be changed [cannot be abrogated]. God does not abrogate! If it were changed, then it was never the Word of God, something that is anathema to Islamic doctrine... How can the Word of God be corrupted by man? Is man greater than his Creator? Did the Creator allow the corruption for some mystical reason?” Why would the Creator, our God, ever change His mind? Is this what God would do? Ask yourself...