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Abrogation in Islam: How Allah changed his words according to demands of new issues and circumstances...


 

[“Don’t judge Muslims that you know by Islam and don’t judge Islam by the Muslims that you know”…]

 

In this continuation of the ‘Words of God’, we will learn ‘how Allah changed His tongue for circumstances that were needed to put [Muhammad’s Allah] Himself at par with the other God’s Words. The cunning Allah knows when to get off track and when change His rules, [as and when needed] and, to please Muhammad or rather to help Muhammad in order to overcome the adversaries in Allah’s battle for land, wealth and pleasures for His chosen peoples.

Now, we all know how this can be done? Simply, one only has to turn around and abrogate his earlier words! So, Muhammad’s Allah uses this very tools to change His sordid mind as often as He could, for Allah knows best. 

Abrogation in Classical Qur’anic Scholarship

Muslim scholars in the classical Islamic period agreed about the principles of abrogation as said in the holy Qur'an. In the eleventh century, Abu Muhammad ‘Ali bin Ahmad bin Sa‘id Ibn Hazim (d. 1064), an Andalusian Islamic theologian, philosopher, historian and jurist, examined the holy Qur'an chapter by chapter to show which verses [ayahs] supplanted other verses.[1]

Whilst classical Islamic scholars also examined these patterns, in which Muhammad is engaged in abrogation during the revelations of the holy Qur’an, because the Qur'anic laws were brief and insufficient for the needs of the growing Muslim community.[2] Muhammad verily changed his Allah’s Qur’anic rules according to the circumstances that were necessary to upheld Allah’s views and ways. Within hadiths, there are a number of examples that we get to know of Muhammad, [for example] as the revealed verse in the Qur’an [Surah 2:187] regulating sex during Ramadan; after ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab questioned Muhammad[3]. Likewise, Muhammad abrogated another verse, encouraging all believers [Muslims] to fight militarily for Allah [Surah 4:95] after he was challenged by a blind man, who could not engage in battle against the Kafirs.[4]

Abu Ja‘far Muhammad bin Jarir al-Tabari [d. 923], a famous Sunni as a historian, argued that "abrogation can only be done with regard to commands and prohibitions."[5] Debates continued over the following centuries after Muhammad’s death, however, giving rise to the science of Asbab an-Nuzul [The reasons of revelations]. The father of the field, Abu al-Hassan Ali bin Ahmad al-Wahidi an-Naisaburi [d. 1075], argued that understanding the reasons for revelations was crucial to resolve apparent inconsistencies in the holy Qur’an.[6] The context here underpins the field...? Some revelations were, for a time, even forgotten,[7] and some were mutually altered,[8] or some were amicably eliminated by Satan's influences.[9] Islamic Scholars argue about whether Allah first revealed chapters 74 or 96.[10]

Abu al-Kasim Hibat-Allah bin Salama [d. 1019] argued that ‘the starting point of any investigations of the Qur'an, is the science of abrogating and the abrogated verses’.[11] He also identified four categories of abrogation: 43 chapters unaffected by abrogation;[12] of which six chapters that augmented the concept of abrogation but, were themselves not abrogated;[13] 40 chapters with abrogated wording but, with authority intact;[14] and 25 chapters with both their wording and authority abrogated.[15]  [See Table 1: Abrogation in Practice, below]

Table 1: Abrogation in Practice

Verse Abrogating

Verse Abrogated

Issue

Surah 2:185

Surah 2:184

Fasting

Surah 2:234

Surah 2:240

Divorced women

Surah 2:285

Surah 2:284

Revelations

Surahs 3:85-6; 9:73

Surahs 2:62; 2:256; 5:69

Tolerance - Ahl al-Kitab

Surah 4:11-12

Surahs 2:180; 2:240

Bequest-Inheritance

Surah 5:90

Surahs 2:219; 4:43

Wine drinking

Surah 8:66

Surah 8:65

Fighting abilities

Surah 9:29

Surahs 2:109; 60:8-9

People of the Book

Surah 9:36

Surahs 2:217; 45:14

Prohibition of fighting

Surah 22:52

Surah 53:19-23

Satan and his daughters

Surah 24:2

Surah 4:15-7

Adultery and fornication

Surah 33:50

Surah 33:52

Muhammad's wives

Surah 58:13

Surah 58:12

Money for conferring

Surah 64:16

Surah 3:102

Fear of God

Surah 73:20

Surah 73:2-3

Night prayer

       

Muhammad's Allah, his ability to add or delete verses [Surahs] according to new questions, issues and circumstances also demonstrates the flexibility of the Qur'an.[16] Classical Islamic theologians accepted that the Medinan chapters supersedes the Meccan ones, not only for chronological reasons, but also because the Medinan verses [Surahs] represented Islam during a period of Islamic strength.

Still, there are internal debates about the various manners of abrogation. Amongst Sunni theologians, there are disputes about whether the Sunnah [the rules for life as shown by Muhammad], as opposed to the hadith which are prescripts traced to Muhammad through his conversations with other people, can abrogate the Qur'an as and when needed! The Maliki and the Hanafi schools of thought suggests that the Sunnah and the Qur'an can abrogate each other, while the Shafi'is do not![17] 

Ahmad bin Muhammad an-Nahhas, an Egyptian Shafi'i [d. ca. 1515], exegetes and catalogues these opinions:

The Egyptian theologian, Abu al-Fadl ‘Abd ar-Rahman Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti [d. 1505] related comments by Muhammad's cousin Ibn ‘Abbas who explained, "Sometimes the revelation used to descend on the Prophet during the night, and then he forgot it during daytime. Thus Allah sent down this verse [Surah 2:106]." Suyuti continued to cite one verse [Surah] whose end abrogated its beginning.[19] In another case, a hadith abrogates the Qur'an, while the Qur'an talks only about scourging and exiling the adulterer.[20] Muhammad stoned some adulterers to death, establishing it as the Islamic Shari’ah penalty.[21] Here, though, Suyuti focuses not only on the abrogation itself but, also on determining the wisdom behind it.[22]

Contemporary Islamic theologians and populists have reopened the debates about the legitimacy of such abrogation. Ali Dashti [1894-1982], a traditionally-trained Iranian Islamic scholar who served sporadically in parliament during the first half of the twentieth century, accepted the explanation that the revelations of the Qur'an was linked to Muhammad's need to answer queries and his need to respond to random incidents.[23] He also suggested that abrogation implied human rather than divine provenance for the Qur'an.

Ahmad von Denffer [b. 1949], a convert to Islam, who writes about religion, argues that the understanding of abrogation is important to understand the correct application of God's laws and is among the most important preconditions for interpretation of the Qur'an.[24]

Other Muslim commentators, however, are more dismissive about abrogation, citing verses [all Meccan] to argue that Allah's laws are immutable.[25] Many contemporary Islamic propagandists fear how abrogated verses might affect proselytizing. On one Islamist Internet site, one participant sought to refute the abrogation principle by attacking "corrupted interpretation" of two verses [Surahs 2:106 and 16:101].[26] Muhammad Asad [1900-92], born Leopold Weiss [who converted from Judaism to Islam, after which he worked with the Pakistani theologian Muhammad Iqbal and later became Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations] argued that classical Islamic theologians misinterpreted the Qur’anic passages, relating to abrogation and then cited another verse [Surah 10:64] to reinforce the idea of immutability. "In short," he argued, "the ‘doctrines of abrogation' has no basis in historical facts, and must totally be rejected."[27]

Abrogation and Classical Islamic Jihad

How does the theological debate over abrogation influences contemporary Islamic policy formulation? While not all-Islamic terrorism is rooted in Islam, the religion itself is an enabler for many. It is wrong to assume that more extreme interpretations of religion are illegitimate. Statements like that there is no compulsion in religion and that the Islamic Jihad is primarily about the internal Muslim struggles and not about the Islamic Holy War, may receive applause in Western university lecture halls and diplomatic board rooms, but they totally misunderstand the importance of abrogation in Islamic theology! It is therefore, important to acknowledge that what any university scholars believe and what most Muslims [or more extreme Muslims] believe is just two different things altogether.

For many Islamists and radical Muslims, abrogation is real and what the West calls terror is, indeed, just.

During the lifetime of Muhammad, the Islamic community passed through three stages of Islamic history. In the beginning of Islam [C.E. 610-622], Allah commanded Muslims restraint. As the Muslims relocated to Medina [C.E. 623-26], Allah permitted Muslims to fight but only in a defensive war. However, in the last six years of Muhammad's life [C.E. 626-32], Allah permitted Muslims to fight an aggressive war first against the polytheists,[28] and later against the monotheists like the Jews of Khaybar.[29] Once Muhammad was given the Holy Permissions to kill in the name of God, he instigated his battles for looting and plundering of Land and Wealth, and for Pleasures.

Chapter 9 of the Qur'an, called "Ultimatum", is the most important concerning the issues of abrogation and holy Islamic Jihads against the unbelievers [Kafirs]. It is the only chapter that does not begin "in the name of God, most benevolent, and ever-merciful."[30] Islamic commentators agree that Muhammad received this revelation in C.E. 631, the year right before his death, when he had returned to Mecca victorious and was at his strongest.[31] Muhammad bin Ismail al-Bukhari [810-70], compiler of one of the most authoritative collections of the hadith, said that "Ultimatum" was the last chapter revealed to Muhammad[32] although others suggest it might have been penultimate. Regardless, since it came at or near the very end of Muhammad's life, verses of "Ultimatum" trumps in earlier Qur’anic revelations also.

Because this chapter contains violent passages, it abrogates previous peaceful content. Muhsin Khan, the translator of Sahih al-Bukhari, says, Allah had revealed the "Ultimatum" in order to discard restraint and to command all Muslims to fight against all the pagans [Kafirs] as well as against the People of the Book [Jews & Christians] if they do not embrace Islam or until they pay religious taxes [Jizyah]. So, at first, aggressive fighting was forbidden in Islam; it later became permissible [Surah2:190] and subsequently obligatory [Surah 9:5].[33] This "verse of the sword" abrogated, canceled and replaced a mere 124 verses that called for tolerance, compassion, and peace in Islam.[34]

Suyuti said that everything in the holy Qur'an about forgiveness and peace is abrogated by verse 9:5, which orders Muslims to fight the unbelievers [Kafirs] and to establish Allah's kingdom on earth!

Prior to receiving the surah "Ultimatum", Muhammad had reached agreements with various factions of the Arab tribes. However, when Allah gave Muhammad a revelation [Surah2:190-2], Muhammad felt justified in breaking his cease-fire with them. For Isma'il bin Kathir [1301-73], a student of Ibn Taymiyya and an influential Qur'anic interpreter in his own right, it is very clear: As the Islamic Jihad involves death and the killing of fellow men, Allah draws attention to the fact that disbelief, polytheism, and avoidance of Allah's path as shown by the Qur'an are worse than killing them[35] 

This creates licenses for the future generations of Muslims to kill all non-Muslims, solely on the basis of their refusal to accepting and submitting to Islam.

According to Ibn Kathir's commentary on Chapter 9:5, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, the First Caliph, used this and other such Qur’anic verses to validate ‘fighting anyone who either did not pay religious taxes to Muslims or convert to Islam’. Ibn ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, one of the hadith transmitters, quoted Muhammad as saying, "I have been commanded to fight the people until they testify that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah". He testified that Ad-Dahhak bin Muzahim, an authentic transmitter of hadiths, said that the verse of the sword "abrogated every other agreements of peace between the Prophet and any idolater, every treaty, and every term."

‘Awfi cited Ibn ‘Abbas argued that "Ultimatum" obviated earlier peace treaties.[36] The Shafi‘i school took this as their justifications for killing anyone who abandoned prayer and for fighting anyone who refused to pay increased religious taxes.[37] Such interpretations resonate Islam!

Muhammad Sa‘id Ramadan al-Buti, a contemporary Al-Azhar Islamic University scholar, wrote:

"the verse [9:5] does not leave any room in the mind to conjecture about what is called a defensive Islamic War…? This verse asserts that the Islamic Holy War [Jihad], which is demanded in Islamic Shari’ah Laws, is not a defensive war because it could legitimately be an offensive Islamic War. That is the apex and most honorable of all holy wars beckoned on Muslims by Allah. Its goal is the exaltation of the words of God, the construction of an Islamic society, and the establishment of Allah's Islamic Kingdom on earth, regardless of the means to achieve it. It is legal and obligatory for all Muslims to carry on an offensive Islamic Holy War for Allah."[38]

Defensive warfare in Islam is nothing but a phase of the Islamic mission that the Prophet practiced. After that, it was followed by another Islamic phase, that is, calling all people to embrace Islam. Even for People of the Book, there can be no alternative to conversion to Islam or subjugation to Muslim rule!

Hence, Muhammad's statement, "They would not invade you, but you invade them..."[39]

Modern Revisionism of Jihad

David Powers, a well-known researcher of classical Islam, agreed that Surah 9:5 abrogates no less than 124 such verses that command or imply anything less than a total offensive against the non-believers. However, he says the verse is itself considered abrogated by the conditional clause with which it concludes: "But if they repent and perform the prayer and pay the alms, then let them go their way."[40] But such a condition is not magnanimous: When infidels repent and perform the Muslim prayer and pay alms, it means they have become Muslims. Once they are Muslims, there is no need to slay them!

The clause thus becomes more coercive than conditional. It suggests that a non-Muslim must convert to Islam or be slain. Still, no verse is more frequently cited by contemporary Islamic preachers and Muslim analysts to depict Islam as peaceful and compassionate as Surah 2:256: "Let there be no compulsion in religion."

For Sheikh Abdur Rahman, the ex-chief justice of Pakistan, this verse is one of the most important, containing a charter of freedom of conscience unparalleled in the religious annals of mankind.[41]

Muhammad offered this verse in his first year of residence in Medina when he needed the Jews' support. Nahhas, with the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas, said: "Scholars differed concerning Surah 2:256. Some said it has been abrogated by Surah 9:73 for the Prophet compelled the Arabs to embrace Islam and fight those that had no alternative but to surrender to Islam. Other Islamic scholars said that Surah 2:256 still has not been abrogated concerning the People of the Book. It is only the infidels [i.e. polytheists], who are compelled to embrace Islam"…?[42] Suyuti does not see Surah 2:256 as abrogated by Surah 9:73, but rather he interprets Surah 9:73 as a case of postponing the fight until all Muslims become strong. He argues that ‘when Muslims were weak, Allah commanded them to be patient [lie in wait]’.[43]

This is also the case of Surah 9:29, which deals with the Jews and Christians. Fighting them as mentioned after the clarification regarding fighting the idolaters [Surah 9:5]. This verse [Surah 9:29] was revealed when Muhammad was commanded to fight the Byzantines and had prepared the expedition to Tabuk. Ibn Kathir declared:

‘The order is to fight the People of the Book until they will pay the Jizyah [protection tax] with willing submission and feel themselves subdued. Had they been true believers in their religions, that faith would have directed them to believe in Muhammad because all prophets commanded them to obey and follow him…. Yet when he was sent, they disbelieved in him even though he is the "mightiest of all messengers because it suits their desires and lusts, and because they disbelieved in the master, the mightiest, the last and most perfect of all prophets."

Ibn Kathir continues: "This honorable verse was revealed with the order to fight the People of the Book. After the pagans were defeated, the people entered Allah's religion in large numbers, and the Arabian Peninsula was secured under the Muslims' control."[44]

Conclusions

The issue of abrogation in Islam is critical to understanding both the Islamic Jihad and Islamic Da'wah (propagation of Islam). Some Muslims may preach tolerance and argue that Jihad refers only to an internal, peaceful struggle to better oneself. Furthermore, Western commentators can convince themselves that such teachings are correct. However, for the learned Islamic scholars and Muslim populist leaders, such notions are or should be risible! They recognize that, in practice, there is compulsion in Islam. They take seriously these notions that the Qur'an teaches not just tolerance among religions, but tolerance among religions on the terms of Islam. To understand the challenge of the current Islamist revival, it is crucial for all non-Muslims and all moderate Muslims alike to recognize that interpretation of Islamic doctrines can have two faces, and that the Medinan face may very well continue to overshadow the Meccan face for a major portion, if not the majority, of contemporary Muslims.

I would like to end on a note of duh_swami: “That God does not change his decrees because he never made any... Some men didn't know how things came to be so, they invented a god that said 'let it be'... No god ever said that, but some men said he said it... So what we believe in are pre-thought thoughts of men who believed in the pre-thought thoughts of others... They said God issued decrees and wrote them in his books... But, did God talk to them directly? Only Moses and lunatics claim that, God made no attempts to reveal the Qur’an to Moses or Moses would have been quoting verses... The writer of the 'burning bush' story was not there to hear the dialogs between God and Moses... He only has Moses account, which may be faulty due to memory, and the intense experiences of talking to a burning bush that identified itself as only God...

All of this, that religious beliefs are based on, is second hand thoughts of men who had their human frailties intact... At the base of it is the attempt to explain the unexplainable... This is a monumental waste of time, efforts, energy and sometimes our lives... The pre-thought thoughts of dead men are killing us... Stop the killings, create apostates...”

Notes:

[1] Abu Muhammad ‘Ali bin Ahmad bin Sa'id Ibn Hazim, An-Nasikh w'al-Mansukh (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyah, 1986).
[2] Ali Dashti, 23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Muhammad (Costa Mesa, Calif.: Mazda, 1994), p. 54.
[3] Muhammad Ibn Isma'il al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 6 (Lahore: Kazi, 1979), book 60, p. 31; Mahmud bin ‘Umar al-Zamakhshari, Al-Kashshaf ‘an Haqa'iq at-Tanzil wa-'Uyun al-Aqawil fi Wujuh at-Ta'wil (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-Arabi, 1967), part I, pp. 337; Abu al-Fadl ‘Abd al-Rahman Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti, Lubab an-Nuqul fi Asbab an-Nuzul (Cairo: Maktabat ‘Alam al-Fikr, 1964), p. 31; Baydawi, Anwar at-Tanzil wa-Asrar at-Ta'wil, pp. 39.
[4] Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 6, part 6, p. 227; Zamakhshari, Al-Kashshaf, part I, p. 555; Suyuti, Al-Itqan fi ‘Ulum al-Qur'an, p. 98.
[5] Abu Ja'far Muhammad bin Jarir al-Tabari, Tafsir: The Commentary on the Qur'an, vol. 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 471-2.
[6] Abu al-Hassan Ali Ibn Ahmad al-Wahidi al-Naisaburi, Kitab Asbab nuzul al-Qur'an (Cairo: Dar al-Kitab al-Jadid, 1969), p. 4.
[7] Qur. 87:6-7.
[8] Qur. 2:106.
[9] Qur. 22:52.
[10] Bell, Introduction to the Qur'an, pp. 108-9; Welch, The Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 5, s.v. "Kur'an," pp. 414-9.
[11] Salama, An-Nasikh wal-Mansukh, pp. 4-5, 8; Nahhas, An-Nasikh wal-Mansukh, pp. 4-12.
[12] Qur. 1, 12, 36, 49, 55, 57, 61-2, 66-9, 71-2, 77-9, 82-5, 89-94, 97-102, 104-10, 112-4.
[13] Qur. 48, 59, 63, 64, 65, 87.
[14] Qur. 6-7, 10-1, 13, 15-8, 20, 23, 27-31, 34-5, 37-9, 43-7, 51, 53-4, 60, 68, 70, 74-7, 80, 86, 88, 109.
[15] Qur. 2-3, 5, 8-9, 14, 18-9, 21-2, 24-6, 33-4, 40, 42, 51-2, 56, 58, 73, 103, 108.
[16] Suyuti, Al-Itqan fi ‘Ulum al-Qur'an, part I, p. 82.
[17] On the Shafi'i school, see Majid Khadduri, Islamic Jurisprudence. Shafi'i's Risala (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1961), pp. 123-7, 195-205.
[18] Nahhas, An-Nasikh W'al-Mansukh, pp. 5-6.
[19] Qur. 9:5 (the sword verse).
[20] Qur. 24:2.
[21] Suyuti, Al-Itqan fi ‘Ulum al-Qur'an, part 3, pp. 59-60, 69-70, 74; Qur. 4:15-16.
[22] Ibid., pp. 60, 69, 72. For further examples of Muhammad changing his mind, see Nisapuri, Sahih Muslim, 15:4044–62.
[23] Dashti, 23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Muhammad, p. 54.
[24] Ahmad Von Denffer, "Asbab al Nuzul" and "Al-Nasikh wal-Mansukh," Ulum al-Qur'an: An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'an (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1989), chap. 5.
[25] Yusuf Ali, The Glorious Qur'an, pp. 46, 47; Qur. 6:34, 115; 10:64; 18:27.
[26] A. Muhammed, "The Lie of Abrogation: The Biggest Lie against the Qur'an," accessed May 7, 2007.
[27] Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur'an (Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus, 1993), pp. 22-3, fn. 87; see also Ernest Hahn, "Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan's Controversy over Abrogation" The Muslim World, Apr. 1974, p. 126.
[28] James Robson, trans., Mishkat al-Masabih, vol. 2 (Lahore: M. Ashraf, 1963-5), book XV, chap. 5, pp. 752-5, book XVIII, chap. 1, pp. 806-16; idem, Mishkat al-Masabih, vol. 3, book XVIII, chap. 5, pp. 836-9.
[29] L. Veccia Vaglieri, The Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 4, s.v. "Khaybar," pp. 1137-43.
[30] See explanations, Suyuti, Al-Itqan fi ‘Ulum al-Qur'an, part 1, pp. 60, 65, 164. 
[31] Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 617-9; Yusuf Ali, The Glorious Qur'an, p. 435; Tabari, The History of Al-Tabari, vol. 8, pp. 160-87.
[32] Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 6, book 60, no. 129.
[33] Muhsin Khan, "Introduction," in ibid., pp. xxiv-xxv.
[34] Ibn Hazm, An-Nasikh wal-Mansukh, pp. 19, 27; Muhi al-Din Ibn al-'Arabi, Tafsir al-Qur'an al-Krim (Beirut: Dar al-Andalus, 1978), p. 69; Burton, The Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 7, s.v. "Naskh," p. 1010; Salama, An-Nasikh wal-Mansukh, p. 130, mentioned only 114.
[35] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir of Ibn Kathir, vol. 4, pp. 375-7.
[36] Ibid., pp. 375, 377.
[37] Khadduri, Islamic Jurisprudence: Shafi'i Risala, pp. 333-52, notes, pp. 33-9.
[38] Muhammad Sa'id Ramadan al-Buti, Jurisprudence in Muhammad's Biography (Damascus: Dar al-Fikr, 2001), pp. 323-4.
[39] Ibid., p. 242.
[40] David S. Powers, "The Exegetical Genre nasikh al-Qur'an was mansukhuhu wa-mansukhuhu," in Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of the Qur'an, Andrew Rippin, ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), pp. 130-1.
[41] Sheikh Abdur Rahman, Punishment of Apostasy in Islam (Lahore: Institute of Islamic Culture, 1972), pp. 16, 18-9.
[42] Nahhas, An-Nasikh wal-Mansukh, p. 80; Ibn Hazm, An-Nasikh wal-Mansukh, pp. 12-9, 27, 42.
[43] Suyuti, Itqan fi ‘Ulum al-Qur'an, pp. 25-6.
[44] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir, pp. 404–9, 546-7; Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 4, book 53, no. 388; Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad, p. 620.