Saifullah and his co-author begin by responding to Jochen Katz's critique of abrogation in the Quran.
The criticism is as follows:
Your scenario accuses God of making mistakes. But God is all-knowing, he is not surprised by new circumstances and new ideas. It is against the nature and attributes of God to change his mind. And clearly, if God had changed the Qur'an before he revealed it then we would never have known about the change. Because we know the abrogated and abrogating verses [at least some] therefore it is clear that you accuse God not only of changing his mind just for himself, but that he took rather long to find out that it was wrong. After all, the Qur'an is uncreated and was with God for eternity, how come he just found out that some things have to be changed after he revealed it to Muhammad?
To me, this does not make sense. It is derogatory of the holy and supreme God. It attributes mistakes to him and that he didn't know what he was doing in the first place. And then he has to abrogate to clean up the mess of wrong revelation.
That is what I cannot accept.
How do the authors respond to this allegation? Do they present a positive case for the validity of abrogation within the Quran? Well, let us read and find out:
And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground anymore for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more everything living, as I have done. [Genesis 8:21]
And in the story of Moses(P), we read
And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people. [Exodus 32:14]
Instead of dealing with the real issues, the authors launch an attack on the biblical usage of anthropomorphism for Deity. Hence, they have now tried to shift the argument from abrogation and its significance on the validity of the Quran to the Bible's ascription of human qualities to God. The only problem with this type of argumentation is that it can be used against the Quran since it also applies human qualities and characteristics to God.
For example, The Quran gives God a face:
The Quran gives God a hand:
The Quran gives God an eye:
The Quran seats God on the throne:
The Quran also attributes forgetfulness and repentance to God:
"And remember Moses said to his people: 'O my people! ye have indeed wronged yourselves by your worship of the calf; so turn (in repentance) to your Maker, and slay yourselves (the wrong-doers); that will be better for you in the sight of your Maker.' Then He relented towards you.: for He is Oft-Repenting (Huwat Tawwaab), Most Merciful." S. 2:54
"Such as took their religion To be more amusement And play, and were deceived By the life of the world." That day shall We forget them As they forgot the meeting Of this day of theirs, And as they were wont To reject Our Signs." S. 7:51
"The Hypocrites, men and women, are alike: they enjoin evil, and forbid what is just, and tighten their purse's strings. They have forgotten Allah: so He hath forgotten them. Verily the Hypocrites are rebellious and perverse." S. 9:67
So taste (the evil of your deeds). Forasmuch as ye forgot the meeting of this your day, lo! We forget you. Taste the doom of immortality because of what ye used to do. S. 32:14
And it will be said: This day We forget you, even as ye forgot the meeting of this your day; and your habitation is the Fire, and there is none to help you. S. 45:34
So do the hadiths:
Let us now apply the authors' statement about Yahweh to Allah and see what we get:
Terms such as God "repenting" or "regretting" are nothing more than literary devices employed to best describe God's acts in finite human language. It is not meant to convey imperfections in the character of God.
Finally, the authors conveniently neglected scores of other passages which help clarify the meaning behind God "repenting" of a certain act or "regretting" for having done something:
It is not God who changes but man who does, entailing God's response to it. This implies that God is not some distant Being totally unconcerned with his creation, but rather One who is completely involved with his creatures, constantly interacting with them. This is brought out clearly in the following passage:
This verse indicates that God's decrees are not necessarily final since he allows enough time for the hearers to act upon the warnings in order that God may relent from destroying them. This is because God's desire is not to destroy man, but to save him:
This is completely unlike Allah of the Quran who not only desires to destroy man, but commands individuals to sin in order that he might destroy them:
The Muslim team continues their attempt of ridicule:
The authors use straw man arguments since informed Christians that believe in the entire Bible as God's inspired Word would not say something so silly as to suggest that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament. It is the same Triune God revealing himself throughout the entire Holy Bible. Hence, the assertion that the God of Israel was either an absolutely strict singularity within unity type of Being or henotheistic is both unfounded and unsubstantiated.
The authors commit the fallacy of equivocation since the Quranic concept of abrogation does not exist in the Holy Bible. Christians do not believe that the Bible preexisted in heaven before the creation of the world. Rather, holy men of God guided by the Holy Spirit wrote of events as they transpired, and addressed the needs of their communities as well as predicting future events. Yet, the Quran is supposedly a replica of the Mother of the Book which has been with God before the creation of the world. (S. 43:1-4) This either implies that the Book in heaven contains both the abrogated and the abrogating verses, or that God was caught by surprise and had to update the Book. Either way, Muslims are left in a difficult position.
ab-ro-gate: v.tr. repeal, annul, abolish (a law or custom).
In the context of the will and law of God (Holy is He above all that is attributed to Him) as expressed in Scripture, it refers to the nullification of an older Law or concept in favour of a newer and more appropriate one.
It is conceivable to think that God would "annul, repeal, abolish" a previous Law and reveal something new in its place in order to meet the needs of his people. This is especially applicable in light of the fact that circumstances and customs change over a 1500 year period. But it is inconceivable to think that an eternal command would be annulled by another eternal decree as is the case with Quranic abrogation.
It actually implies God's concern for the changes faced by his people, entailing his response in meeting those needs. Again, it is not God who changes but circumstances and individuals that change, moving God to respond to those changes. But this is not the case with the Quran since you cannot have abrogation with eternal decrees without it implying that God was ignorant of certain situations. Did God not know what the future would unfold? If he did, why then did he have decrees that needed to be changed? Why not just keep those decrees that were applicable to the times as opposed to revealing both the abrogated and abrogating commands? Hopefully, the authors will respond this time around as opposed to evading the issue.
The authors have correctly understood the reason why God would abrogate certain commands since it is not God who changes, but society that does. In order to meet those changes God out of his love responds. The only problem is that they think that this understanding is applicable to the Quran when it is not. There is a major difference between saying that God's eternal decrees were canceled out by other eternal commands, and that certain commands which were revealed for a specific time and for a specific community were later repealed in order to accommodate the changes within society and peoples. No informed Christian believes that the Mosaic Law preexisted in heaven with God, but was revealed by God to Moses within that time period. This is not the same with the Quranic view of abrogation. Until the authors actually realize this they are bringing up irrelevant issues.
According to Matthew, Jesus(P) said:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)
Presumably, the authors think that by quoting Jesus' statement on fulfilling the Law/Prophets and then demonstrating Jesus' abrogation of that very Law/Prophets will establish the case that the Holy Bible also teaches the Quranic concept of abrogation.
The authors have actually misunderstood Jesus' point in fulfilling the Law/Prophets. Fulfillment did not just entail Christ's perfect observance to the precepts of the Law, but also included the spiritual completion and perfection that Jesus gives to it. This is precisely what Jesus goes on to do in the verses that immediately follow. (cf. Matthew 5:21-48)
God's design was that the Law/Prophets would find their true completion and perfection in the Messiah. Hence, Jesus' meaning was not that he had come to fulfill in the sense that he came to obey, which he certainly did. Rather, it entailed fulfillment in the sense of both interpreting and exegeting the Law, as well as fulfilling the predictions it made about the coming Messiah:
"You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life." John 5:39-40
"Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believed me. For he wrote about me." John 5:45-46
"For being ignorant of the righteousness that God ascribes (which makes one acceptable to Him in word, thought and deed), and seeking to establish a righteousness (a means of salvation) of their own, they did not obey or submit themselves to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the Law- the limit at which it ceases to be, for the Law leads up to Him Who is the fulfillment of its types, and in Him the purpose in which it was designed to accomplish is fulfilled.- That is, the purpose of the Law is fulfilled in Him- as the means of righteousness (right relationship to God) for everyone who trusts in and adheres to and relies on Him." Romans 10:3-4 Amplified Bible
In fact, the OT states that it is the Law of the Messiah in which the nations shall trust:
"Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruise reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope." Isaiah 42:1-4
Hence, it is the Law as interpreted by Christ that is binding on all believers. This is the sense in which Jesus fulfills the Law, in bringing it to its desired goal. In order for Christ to bring the Law to its spiritual perfection, it became necessary for him to both reinterpret and reinforce certain aspects of it, purifying it from the false interpretation that had evolved around it by the religious sects of his day.
Messianic Jew, David H. Stern, elaborates:
Furthermore, Muslim Saifullah must have been aware that the Quran also affirms that part of Jesus' mission was to abrogate certain aspects of the Law:
According to Wahb bin Munabbih, Jesus came to "relieve" the Jews "of some of the hardships" which the Torah imposed on them. (Mahmoud Ayoub, The Quran and Its Interpreters, Vol. II- The House of Imran, p. 149)
These commands were made lawful by Jesus according to al-Qummi (Ibid., p. 150)
So it is amazing for us to find him and his co-author making the following snide remark:
Since the Quran indicates that it was the specific will of Allah for Jesus to abrogate certain aspects of the Law, does this now prove that Allah is a Being who is ignorant and needs to constantly change his mind? This is what we would be led to believe if the authors' logic were sustained.
Abrogation Of Divorce
In the Old Testament we find the following law concerning divorce:
Now without going into the minute of this particular law of divorce, one thing becomes immediately clear. Not only is divorce permitted by God, it is legal for her to remarry.
However in the time of Jesus(P), the rules of divorce seem to have taken a U-turn.
Here Jesus(P) abrogated the former permission to divorce according to the husband's displeasure and strictly allowed it under one condition - adultery. He even went so far as to legislate that divorcees were not permitted to remarry, clearly abrogating the former permission. But what is the reason given for this abrogation? Had God changed His mind? Is this evidence of God not being omniscient? Or more importantly, is this evidence that in fact God was never the author of these laws? Well Jesus(P) himself explains:
Jesus(P) points to the fact that God designs laws that are suitable to the needs and exigencies of the time and audience.
Had the authors done a little research into the background and culture of Jesus' day, they would have understood the reason behind Christ's statements on not just the issue of divorce, but on all the other issues as well:
David Stern comments on Matthew 19:1-9 in light of its Jewish milieu:
"The only text in the Five Books of Moses, dealing with divorce is Deuteronomy 24:1-14, and its discussion of grounds is perfunctory, Hillel and Shammai, who lived in the generation before Yeshua, took opposing sides in interpreting this passage,
'The School of Shammai say a man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her, as it is said, "... because he has found in her indecency in a matter." But the School of Hillel say he may divorce her even if she burns his food, as it is said, "... because he has found in her indecency in a matter." '
"Yeshua in v. 9 agrees with the strict-constructionist Beit-Shammai. But although Beit-Hillel's position became the halakhic norm, Rabbi El'azar, a member of Beit-Hillel, commented in the Gemara to this mishna, 'When a man divorces his wife, even the altar sheds tears,' citing Deuteronomy 24:13-14 as evidence (Gittin 90b). There is a Jewish tradition that in Messianic times the stricter rulings of Beit-Shammai will become the standard." (Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 59 bold emphasis ours)
One might wonder as to why there was so much confusion surrounding the issue of when was it legitimate for a person to divorce? Stern explains:
Hence, Jesus was not abrogating the Mosaic Law per se, but was giving the only legitimate grounds for divorce and clearing the confusion that surrounded the issue.
Law Of Absolute Justice
In the Hebrew Scriptures it is written:
Quite a harsh law of absolute justice that was necessary due to the conditions of Moses'(P) age. But Jesus(P) was inspired by God to reveal a softer code for the believers to practice in individual relationships. By abrogating the harshness of absolute justice, Jesus(P) was inspired to encourage the believers to employ forgiveness and mercy. It is recorded he said:
It is a different story that many Christians do not practice what Jesus(P) has told them to do.
It is really disappointing to see the authors constantly taking Jesus' statements out of the intended context of the entire NT. Jesus was not nullifying the Mosaic injunction of "an eye for an eye" since the Law was given specifically to the Israelite judges who acted as God's representatives to execute judgment upon the guilty. As long as Israel was a nation under God, they were a theocratic government that enacted God's rule, insuring that the inhabitants of the land did not violate God's Law. Hence, Moses' decree was for the Israelite rulers to enforce, making sure that justice was maintained. The common person could not enact punishment upon a criminal.
Jesus was not addressing civil authorities, but his followers. Hence, what Jesus was basically saying is that we should not take the law "into our own hands," but rather be willing to forgive and love our enemies. Vengeance belongs to God. God at times enacts vengeance against the ungodly by using the very government or nation that he has established. The Apostle Paul best sums up the role of believers and their response to crimes committed against them, and the government's role in dealing with those crimes:
Paul then goes on to say:
It is the government that enacts vengeance upon criminals. Believers are not to retaliate by taking justice into their own hands, but rather they are to repay evil with love. This is precisely the point Jesus was making, that believers are to love their persecutors and allow God to take vengeance upon the crimes committed against them. It has nothing to do with Jesus abrogating the Mosaic command of "an eye for an eye" etc.
Law Of Oaths
That is, it is permissible to make an oath for various reasons, however, the swearer must fulfil the oath he makes. In Jesus' time it became necessary for him to abrogate this permission so that the swearing of oaths became forbidden. In Matthew it is recorded:
Was Jesus actually abrogating oaths? Let us see:
Jesus was prohibiting false oaths, not oaths in general. This is similar to Jesus' teaching on praying in private to avoid hypocrisy in Matthew 6:5-6. Jesus was not condemning public prayers, since Christ himself prayed in public, but prohibiting individuals from praying to please men instead of God. Similarly, Jesus was not prohibiting all types of oaths, but any possibility of a false oath from taking place. The best way to do that is not to swear at all.
Jesus(P) Abrogating His Own Commandments
A nice example of Jesus(P) asking his disciples to preach the lost sheep of Israel is:
This prohibition is reinforced by Jesus'(P) own practice:
Even though because of his mercy Jesus(P) healed the sick daughter, he made it clear that his mission was to the Jews, not to the Gentiles. Later on this was abrogated and Jesus(P) commanded his disciples to reach out to all peoples. It is recorded he said:
This is perhaps the weakest argument the authors have thus presented. Jesus' command to his disciples in Matthew 10:5-6 did not mean that the disciples would never preach to non-Jews. Rather, it is referring to that specific missionary journey that they were embarked on. The Gospel was to be presented to the Jews first since it was the Jews who had both the covenant and the oracles of God containing the predictions that the Messiah would come to redeem them. The Gentiles had neither covenant nor prophetic scripture indicating that the Messiah was coming to redeem them. Therefore, the Gospel was to be first proclaimed to the Jews, assuring them that the promises God had made to their ancestors have now been fulfilled in Jesus the Christ. (cf. Acts 3:17-26)
After receiving the news that the Messiah had arrived, the Gospel would then be proclaimed to the Gentiles. Hence, the Gospel was to the Jew first and then to the Gentiles. It was not for the Jews only. (cf. Romans 1:16)
Actually, the only thing that has been made clear is the authors' failure to defend the concept of abrogation as understood by Muslim scholars. It is true that God abrogates previous commands in order to meet the needs of his people, but this only works if one does not assume that these commands preexisted in heaven. Therefore, the problem still remains for the authors' to solve, namely, how can eternal decrees be abrogated by other eternal decrees? Are we to assume that both the abrogated and the abrogating verses were in heaven? If so, why were they? Did God not realize that some of the commands would be nullified and if so why reveal them in the first place? Or do we assume that God was completely unaware that the commands contained in the Mother of the Book would be nullified? If so, how can God be all-knowing? If he is not, then how can he be perfect in all his attributes and qualities? Hopefully, the authors will answer these questions instead of bringing up straw men and using red herring arguments.
Indeed God does know best. And what he does know best is best contained in the Holy Bible, God's inspired and infallible Word.
Responses to Islamic Awareness
Answering Islam Home Page