Chapter Ten

The Abrogator and Abrogated Qur’anic Verses

 In chapter 2:106, the Qur’an plainly indicates, 

"Such of our revelation as we abrogate or cause to be forgotten, we bring (in place) one better or the like thereof."

In their interpretation of this verse (p. 16), the Jalalan say that God’s intention for this verse is,

"To eliminate the ordinance of the verse either with its wording or to keep the wording and eliminate the ordinance, or we make you O, Muhammad, to forget it; namely, we will remove it from your heart" (p. 16).

The Baydawi says in p. 22,

"This verse was given because the Jews and the infidels said that Muhammad ordered his followers to do something, then He prohibited them from it and commanded them to do something opposite to it. Abrogation means eliminating reading it as an act of worship or eliminating the ordinance inferred from it, or both of them. To forget it means to remove it from hearts."  

Refer also to the Zamakh-shari in "al-Kash-shaf" (part I, p. 303). In part 3, p. 59 the Suyuti says, "Abrogation means the removal as it is mentioned in chapter Haj: 52, and it means alteration."

In his book, "The History of Islamic Law" (p. 115), Dr. Shalabi states,

"The abrogation is to rescind something and replace it with something else, as ibn Hazm said. Muslims in general have consented that abrogation has taken place in the Qur’an as it is clearly indicated in the sound verses." 

This statement means that Muhammad was accustomed to stating something to his followers with the claim that it was revealed to him through the angel Gabriel, then later (maybe after a few hours), he would tell them that God had invalidated it. Thus the infidels used to say, "Muhammad utters something today and abolishes it tomorrow" (refer to Zamakh-shari, part I, p. 303).

In Asbab al-Nuzul, p. 19, the Suyuti says that,

"Ibn ’Abbas himself said, ‘Sometimes the revelation used to descend on the prophet during the night and then he forgot it during daytime, thus God sent down this verse: 2:106." 

Is it acceptable or sensible to think that God changes His mind during the night? Ibn ’Abbas is not the only one who insists on that because ibn ’Umar says,

"Two men read a Sura which the apostle of God had taught them, yet one night they rose up to pray but they failed to remember one word of it. The next morning, they went to the apostle of God and related it to him. He told them, ‘It is one of those, which have been abrogated, thus, forget about it.."’ (Refer to the Itqan, 3:74). 

Such strange behavior led the infidels to say that Muhammad is a calumniator and he does not receive inspiration from God for he changes his mind whenever he wishes or says, "I forgot the verse because God made me forget it and it was abrogated". Thus, a verse was written in the Qur’an referring to this debate which was waged between Muhammad and the infidel. The verse says,

"And when we put one revelation in place of another revelation—and Allah knows best what He reveals— they say, ‘To! thou art but inventing"’ (16:101). 

In his above-mentioned book, Dr. Shalabi attempts to defend the concept of abrogation. He remarks,

"God changes His ordinances according to the change of time and circumstances, therefore, the abrogation and the giving of one verse instead of the verses of the Qur’an took place" (p. 116). 

The reader can easily realize that this defense is meaningless and will not suffice because circumstances do not change drastically in a few night hours as ibn ’Abbas has claimed when he said that the verse would be received during the night and abrogated in daytime. Dr. Shalabi, in the context of his defense, says,

"Most of what was alluded to in the abrogated verses was intended to lighten (the ordinances)" (p. 117). 

In part 3, p. 69 of the" Itqan", the Suyuti refers to the same reason. It is left to the reader to answer this question, "Did God not know the circumstances of His worshippers and their abilities so that He made it a habit to decree an ordinance or dictate an order, then change His mind and replace it immediately the next day with a lighter command or an easier commandment?" The fact is that Muhammad has failed to comprehend his followers' circumstances, thus he used to order something, then change it the next day whenever he found it too difficult to be implemented. For example, the Qur’an says,

"O prophet! Exhort the believers to fight. If there be twenty steadfast among you, they shall overcome two hundred and if there be a hundred steadfast among you, they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve. Now has Allah lightened your burden for he knows that there is weakness in you. So if there is among you one hundred who are steadfast, they shall overcome two hundred." 

This verse always confuses Muslims when they fight Israel in their efforts to liberate Palestine and the mosque (Al Aqusa).

The verses say that Allah lightened your (task) for He knows that there is a weak spot in you! Did God not know that each one of them had a weak spot before He told them that "each one of you can vanquish ten"? God had to change His mind and say that "each one of you can vanquish two" only. The Suyuti says,

"When God imposed on them that each one of them should fight ten, it became a burden and an unbearable (task) for them. Thus, God removed the burden from them and each one was (requested) to fight two men." (Asbab al-Nuzul, p. 134). 

Both Baydawi (p. 244), and Dr. Shalabi (p. 117) agree with him. Another illustration on this "lightening" is found in Sura 73:1,2,20.

"O thou wrapped up in your raiment, keep vigil the night long save a little" (73:1,2). "Allah measures the night and the day. He knows that you count it not and turns unto you in mercy. Recite, then of the Qur’an why it is easy for you" (73:20). 

On p. 117, 123, Dr. Shalabi along with Suyuti says,

"The Qur’anic verse: ‘Stand (to pray) by night, but not all night’ was abrogated by the end of the Sura; then was abrogated again by (the implementation) of the five prayers." 

The entire Sura is only 20 verses. Its beginning is abrogated by its end, and its end is replaced by the injunction of the five prayers; that is, the Abrogator has been abrogated. In relation to this verse the Jalalan say (p. 491),

"When God imposed the night prayers, Muslims’ feet swelled as they stood during the night (for prayer); thus, God lightened it for them by saying, ‘Pray as much as you are able."’ 

Did God not know that this ordinance was going to be difficult for Muslims? Why did He not tell them that from the beginning before their feet became swollen?

A third illustration relevant to this discussion is the Qur’anic saying, "Fear Allah as He should be feared" (3:102). This commandment is abrogated by His saying, "Fear God as much as you are able to do so" (64:16). This is the claim of the Muslim scholars (refer to Suyuti in Asbab al-Nuzul, p. 277; Jalalan pp. 53, 473, Dr. Shalabi, p. 122). On p. 53, the Jalalan say,

"On the authority of Sa’id ibn Jubayr, he said, when the verse ‘Fear God as He should be feared’ was sent down, it became very hard for the people to do so; therefore, God bestowed, in order to lighten on the people, ‘Fear God as much as you can."’ 

The question is now why did God send down this abrogating verse after Muslims said to the apostle of God, "Who can do that?" Why, only after this objection, was this easy verse was sent down to abrogate the first one?

I believe that these illustrations are sufficient to prove the points under discussion. If anyone is interested to know more about this subject, we would refer him to the books of Suyuti and many other authors. They are filled with such examples.

Two Reasons: Lightening And Forgetting 

We believe that the reason behind the concept of abrogation is that Muhammad intended to make the performing of the Islamic rites and worship easier on his followers and to obtain their approval and satisfaction with his teachings. If he decreed something which later seemed to be too difficult for them to implement and they remonstrated against it, he would "lighten" it immediately and claim that God had ordered him to rescind what he previously uttered, and all the verses he recited were replaced by new ones.

Whenever he forgot what he related to his followers, he spared himself the embarrassment by claiming that God had abrogated what he conveyed to them before. There is no doubt that Muhammad tended to forget. This is clear from the above illustrations and the incidents recorded in the Sahih of the Bukhari, (part 3, p. 223, and part 8, p. 91). The Bukhari says,

"Aisha said, The prophet heard a man reciting in the mosque. He said, ‘May God have mercy on him, he has reminded me of such and such verses which I dropped from Sura so and so."’ 

So Muhammad sometimes used to forget some verses and his friends had to remind him of them, but whenever he did not find anybody to remind him, he claimed that they had been abrogated. We saw this before when two of his followers came to him to help them to remember some of the verses which he had taught them. Muhammad told them these verses had "... been abrogated, forget about them!" So abrogation in the Qur’an was the result of forgetfulness or to lighten the task for the Muslims.

Forgetfulness is plainly mentioned in the verse we quoted at the beginning of this discussion (Sura 2:106) and it was interpreted by Muslim religious scholars who affirmed that God used to make Muhammad forget and remove from his heart what he had revealed to him before as ibn ’Abbas, who was among Muhammad’s closest friends, admits to us.

Surely none of us believes that God suffers a wavering mind and changes his opinion in a few hours. We can believe that Muhammad himself was subject to forgetfulness and made it a habit to change his mind in order to please his followers.


Types of Abrogation 

Without exception, all Muslim religious scholars state that abrogation not only includes the abolishing, dropping or replacing of a verse by another verse but it also includes abolishing a provision of the verse without eliminating its wording or text from the Qur’an. Refer to Shalabi (p. 119), the" Itqan" (part 3, p. 63), ibn Hazm in "The Nasikh and the Mansukh" and others. Throughout three pages, the Suyuti provides us with many examples, but Dr. Shalabi, who is the professor of Islamic history tends not to agree with him on some of these examples. He says,

"I have a personal inclination to say that not so many abrogations took place in the Qur’an" (p. 118). 

We do not really care whether the abrogated verses are many or few, what we do care for is the concept itself. We wonder if the provision of the verse is abrogated or abolished why its text should continue to be placed in the Qur’an and to be read. The Suyuti attempts to answer this question by saying, "... so as Muslims will be rewarded whenever they read it" (part 3, p. 69). It is as if the rest of the Qur’an were not sufficient reading for obtaining the reward, or as if the reward is acquired by more reciting even if they are verses whose provisions are abolished and are not in effect anymore! !

We have already mentioned some examples pertaining to this type of abrogation, yet it is appropriate to allude to all the verses which call for peace and forgiveness of the infidel here. These verses are all abrogated by other verses which call for war. All religious Muslim scholars attest to this fact as we mentioned in chapter one. Thus, no one should believe that the Qur’an calls for peace because all these ‘peaceful’ verses are recorded in it. All of them are abrogated as all the Muslim scholars attest. The Suyuti says in this respect,

"The order for Muslims to be patient and forgiving was issued when they were few and weak, but when they became strong, they were ordered to fight and the previous verses were abrogated" (part 3, p. 61). 

Ibn ’Arabi said, "The verse of the ‘sword’ has abrogated 124 verses" (p. 69).

What is the second type of abrogation? It is a very strange type of abrogation, stranger than the previous one because it abrogates its recitation and retains its provision; that is, it keeps it in effect. If you wondered and asked what is the wisdom of that, you will find that the Suyuti himself asked the same logical question and endeavored to answer it. In part 3, p. 72, he says

"The recitation of some verses is abrogated though their provisions are retained. Some people in this respect, asked a question, ‘What is the wisdom in abolishing the recitation and retaining the provision? Why was not the recitation retained so that the implementation of the provision and the reward of reciting it will be combined?’ Some have answered, ‘That is to show the extent of this nation’s obedience without any preference to seek a determined path"’ (Al Itqan

. Refer also to Kishk legal opinions, part 4, p. 64. Sheik Kishk admitted this strange type of abrogation). 

The Suyuti throughout these pages, presents many illustrations for this strange type of abrogation. It is obvious that it is utterly meaningless to abrogate and abolish a certain verse and to retain its provisions. Concerning the subject of obedience, this could be manifested in many ways apart from this strange matter. In his illustrations which the Suyuti quoted, he relied on ’Umar ibn al-Khattab’s sayings.


Other Strange Things Related To Abrogation 

1) The abrogator precedes the abrogated

In part 3, p. 69 the Suyuti remarks,

"In the Qur’an there is no abrogator (verse) without being preceded by an abrogated (verse) except in two verses, and some added a third one, while others added a fourth verse" (Al Itqan). 

Then the Suyuti recorded these verses. We tell him that even if there is only one verse (not four) this matter is incomprehensible and unacceptable. Why should an abrogating verse (with which Muslims are to comply) precede the abrogated verse? How would an abrogating verse abolish something which is not yet in existence, then later, the abrogated verse is revealed and recorded in the Qur’an? Why should it be recorded if it is already abrogated?

2) In part 3, p. 70, the Suyuti himself admits to this odd and amazing situation. He indicates,

"One of the wonders of abrogation is a verse in which its beginning has been abrogated by its end. There is nothing like it. It is (placed) in the Sura of the Table 105." 

This is Suyuti’s statement which I quoted word for word.

3) Muhammad’s traditions (sayings and deeds) abrogate the Qur’an. The majority of Muslim religious scholars confirm that this truly took place and there is no room to deny it. One illustration would be the stoning of the married adulterer. The Qur’an talks only about scourging and exiling the adulterer, yet Muhammad himself stoned some adulterers. Thus, stoning the married adulterer (male or female) and not flogging them, has become Islamic law. The reason for that is that Muhammad said and did so. Therefore, the Suyuti (part

3, p. 60), as well as Dr. Shalabi (p. 121), has said that Muhammad’s traditions abrogate the Qur’an. This is also the opinion of ibn Hazm and al-Shafi’i. In this regard Dr. Shalabi says (page 121),

"God is the source of the ideas whether they are included in the Qur’an or in one of Muhammad’s Ahadith (traditions) which is inspired (by God) and not recorded in the Qur’an." 

We believe that such things conform to sound Islamic thought because such events did take place as we mentioned before, but we cannot understand why these inspired traditions which Muhammad received have not been recorded in the Qur’an. Thus, such verses would abrogate other verses, especially since the Qur’an says, "We do not abrogate a verse without revealing a better one or something like it."

Nor do we understand the saying, "... we will reveal a better one," for is there better than the word of God? We understand that there could be something like it, but better? This is something we cannot comprehend or understand.

Before we conclude the subject of abrogation in the Qur’an there are two things which are worth mentioning:

First, the disagreement among Muslim religious scholars in regard to the abrogated verses despite the seriousness and importance of this matter. The Suyuti and Dr. Shalabi (along with all Muslim scholars and chroniclers) agree on a very significant dialogue which took place between ’Ali ibn Abi Talib and one of the jurisprudents which demonstrates the importance of knowing the abrogating and the abrogated verses. On page 120, Dr. Shalabi says,

"Ibn Hazm talks about the necessity of knowing the abrogating and the abrogated (verses) in the Qur’an, and that this knowledge is a necessary condition of legal personal opinion (al-ijtihad). It was related that the Imam ’Ali saw Sa’id ibn al-Hasan presiding in his capacity as a judge in Kufa (Iraq). He asked him, ‘Do you know the abrogating and the abrogated (verses)?’ The judge answered, ‘No.’ He then told him, ‘You have perished and make (others) to perish."’ 

No doubt that if the judge does not know the abrogating and the abrogated (verses), he may issue his sentence based on an abolished ordinance. A Muslim may ask what is wrong with that? The problem and the crux of the matter is that no one knows exactly what the abrogating and the abrogated (verses) are. Scholars disagree on pinpointing the abrogated (verses). In page 118, Dr. Shalabi says,

"Some scholars like ibn Hazm in his book, ‘The Abrogating and Abrogator’ (verses), have exaggerated (the issue of) abrogation to an extent which is unacceptable even to linguistic taste. He examined the Qur’an chapter by chapter and showed the abrogating and the abrogated in each of them. We disagree with him in this procedure." 

Then, in the same book, "The History of Islamic Law", he says,

"We have to pinpoint the abrogating and the abrogated verses to be a ray of light for the students of the history of Islamic law. We will quote the Suyuti because he was sparing in his call for abrogation. He inclines toward rejecting excessive abrogation. Though the Suyuti believes that the abrogated verses are twenty, still we do not agree with him on all of them." 

So what can the students of the Islamic law and the judges like the judge of Kufa do? Ibn Hazm has recorded many abrogating and abrogated verses, then the Suyuti came after him and eliminated many of them and ended with only twenty verses. Later, Dr. Shalabi indicated that he disagreed even with the Suyuti on some of them. The disagreement on this matter is not a simple issue. It is very serious because knowing these verses is a basic condition in applying Islamic law and in the science of jurisprudence, as Dr. Shalabi indicated. It is well known that the "Ijtihad" (deduction of a legal opinion) is the third source of the Islamic law after the Qur’an and the tradition according to all Muslim scholars (refer to p. 24). That was the trend during the time of Muhammad, the companions and the Caliphs—the Qur’an first, then tradition, then the Itjihad (refer to p. 156).

Secondly: God abrogates any desire Satan frames in the heart and the tongue of Muhammad. This means that Satan has the power to infuse certain verses in what Muhammad claims to be an inspiration from God. Satan was able to place on Muhammad’s tongue certain words by which he praised the pagans’ gods. This incident is confirmed and recorded by Suyuti, Jalalan, ibn Kathir (part 3, p. 229), Baydawi, Zamakhshari, ibn Hisham, and even ibn Abbas himself along with the rest of the companions. It is all recorded in the Qur’an, chapter 22:52,

"Never sent we a messenger or a prophet before you but when he recited the message Satan proposed (opposition) in respect of that which he recited thereof but Allah abolishes that which Satan proposes." 

The Suyuti says in Asbab of the Nuzul (p. 184),

"Muhammad was in Mecca. He read the chapter of the Star. When he uttered, ‘Have you seen the Lat, the ’Uzza, and the other third Manat?’, Satan instilled in his tongue, ‘These are the exulted idols (daughters of God) whose intercession is hoped.’ The infidels said that Muhammad had mentioned their gods with good words. Then when he prostrated, they prostrated, too. Thus, the above verse 22:52 was not inspired." 

On page 282 of the Commentary of the Jalalan, we read the same interpretation, and the Jalalan added,

"Gabriel came to Muhammad after that and told him that Satan had thrust these words into his tongue. Muhammad became sad, then Gabriel delivered this verse to him to comfort him." 

This verse, as the Jalalan remarked, comforted Muhammad because it revealed that all the prophets and the apostles who came before Muhammad had experienced this trial and not just Muhammad. It is obvious here that this is false and spurious because no one ever heard that any of the apostles or the prophets had been exposed to such trials in which Satan made them utter what they proclaimed to be a revelation from God, then they later claimed it was Satan and not God who revealed it to them. If we refer to the commentary of the Baydawi (p. 447), we find that he agrees with the Suyuti and Jalalan and adds,

"Muhammad desired that a Qur’an which brings his people closer to God and does alienate them may be bestowed on him; thus, Satan ill-whispered these words to him." 

In his book, "The Kash-shaf’, the Zamakh-shari (part 3, pp. 164, 165), asserts that,

"This episode which Muhammad experienced is common knowledge and unquestionable, and is related to us by the companions of Muhammad." 

Thank you, Mr. Zamakh-shari!

It is appropriate here to refer to ibn Hisham’s statement in his book, "The Prophetic Biography". This book relies on the testimonies of Muhammad’s companions. It is also the major source for all Muslims who always quote it. In part 2, p. 126, ibn Hisham says,

"When some Muslims immigrated to Ethiopia, they received the news that the inhabitants of Mecca had accepted them. They returned to find that it was false news The reason was that the apostle of God, as he was reading the chapter of Star (53:19, 20), mentioned the idols of Mecca. Satan instilled in his recitation their praises and he (Muhammad) acknowledged their intervention. The infidels were overjoyed and said, ‘He mentioned our idols (gods) with good words.’ Then God sent down this verse (22:52). Gabriel told Muhammad, ‘I did not bring to you these verses (about the idols)."’ 

No one can accuse Salman Rushdi, in regard to the Satanic verses, of making false claims against Islam and the Qur’an because this incident is acknowledged by all Muslim scholars along with Muhammad’s companions and his relatives, especially ibn ’Abbas himself.

If we cannot comprehend how God abrogates what He Himself has inspired, we can easily understand that He abrogates what Satan utters as is recorded in verse (22:52). Yet, we have here two important questions:

First, how was Satan able to distort the inspiration and to deceive Muhammad so that he told the people that these were God’s words, then later he reversed himself and told them, "No, Satan was the one who ill-whispered to me with these words?" Muslims believe that prophets and apostles are infallible—in matters of inspiration, at least.

The second question is also very important. How was Satan able to imitate the Qur’anic text with its Arabic eloquence and profound diction? If the Arabic reader re-read Satan’s words to Muhammad he should immediately realize that they possess the same Qur’anic literary characteristics, eloquence and style. It is impossible to distinguish them from the rest of the Qur’anic verses.