Thursday, April 18, 2019

On Abrogation

By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
22 March 2019
Is any part of the Quran abrogated? If the answer is yes, then the question arises why does the abrogated part find a place in the Quran? Logically speaking, when is it necessary to consider whether any verse is abrogated or not? The answer is, when one verse of the Quran contradicts another. Are there verses that contradict other verses? The answer is no. Logically speaking therefore, there is no need even to consider any verse as abrogated. If the Quran were to contain abrogated verses, then its claim that it is a Book without crookedness is a false claim, because the presence of an abrogated verse could mislead many. So either we reject the theory of abrogated verses being present in the Quran or accept that the Quran is a Book of crookedness and misguidance.
There are two exceptions to what is said above and will now be discussed. There is one verse that makes clear that the instruction is for the time being until it is abrogated by a subsequent revelation. In this case, if there was a subsequent revelation covering the same subject, then we know what is abrogated by what and there is no confusion or misguidance.  The verse is as follows:
(4:15) If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, Take the evidence of four (Reliable) witnesses from amongst you against them; and if they testify, confine them to houses until death do claim them, or Allah ordain for them some (other) way.
Verse 4:15 is about lesbianism and is saying that the punishment prescribed is for the time being and likely to be abrogated by a subsequent revelation. Now consider the verse about male homosexuality:
(4:16) If two men among you are guilty of lewdness, punish them both. If they repent and amend, Leave them alone; for Allah is Oft-returning, Most Merciful.
(17) Allah accept the repentance of those who do evil in ignorance and repent soon afterwards; to them will Allah turn in mercy: For Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.
 What is the punishment for male homosexuals? It is an undefined punishment and also made clear that they are to be left alone if they repent and amend. What if they do not repent and make amends? Nothing is said on this. Also, what if they do their act in privacy? There is then no punishment. Male homosexuality is therefore to be strongly discouraged but nothing more. Since both are about homosexual relationships, why is the punishment different for the women and the men? The plausible answer is as follows:
There was a long period during which human population growth was slow and sometimes negative when entire populations were wiped out by disease and pestilence. Procreation was therefore considered among the greatest virtues to ensure survival of the family, clan, tribe, nation and species. If men are lost to the procreative process through war or homosexuality, it makes little difference to population growth but if women are lost, the impact is tangible and direct. Population growth is a function of the fertility of women and not a function of the virility of men as long as there are enough virile men to impregnate the women population.  There is therefore a huge redundancy of men in the population considering only the procreative function. Crime is any act that harms society and the punishment is commensurate with the harm caused and need for deterrence. Lesbianism was therefore discouraged through harsh punishment while homosexuality among men mattered little to society. As far as the sin is concerned, the two acts are equal and will attract equal punishment in the Hereafter.
What then could be the revised treatment for lesbians since Allah has not ordained some other way? With the world population having grown to 7 billion and with there being no danger to human extinction, loss of female fertility to the procreative process because of lesbianism is no longer an issue.  Their punishment can therefore now be identical to the punishment for male homosexuals which means nothing beyond strong social disapproval.
The Fuqaha who have ruled that verse 24:2 which prescribes the punishment for adultery is the new ruling abrogating 4:15 are in error. The two crimes/sins are not identical. While a male adulterer is punished with 100 stripes, a male homosexual can get away with a warning. How can the Fuqaha then equate a female adulterer with a lesbian? The punishment or lack of it for male homosexuality in verses 4:16, 17 is not subject to revision and yet our Fuqaha have prescribed the death punishment following the previous scriptures apparently.
The other exception of an apparent contradiction is also from the same Surah. They are the following two verses:
(4:12)...... If the man or woman whose inheritance is in question, has left neither ascendants nor descendants, but has left a brother or a sister, each one of the two gets a sixth; but if more than two, they share in a third; .....
(4:176) They ask thee for a legal decision. Say: Allah directs (thus) about those who leave no descendants or ascendants as heirs. If it is a man that dies, leaving a sister but no child, she shall have half the inheritance: If (such a deceased was) a woman, who left no child, Her brother takes her inheritance: If there are two sisters, they shall have two-thirds of the inheritance (between them): if there are brothers and sisters, (they share), the male having twice the share of the female. Thus doth Allah make clear to you (His law), lest ye err. And Allah hath knowledge of all things.
Very clearly both verses cover the same subject differently and contradict each other. Verse 4:176 was the very last verse revealed most reluctantly to solve a difficulty faced by the people because of their lack of knowledge of logic and mathematics. Notice that the share of the brother/sister in the absence of children of the deceased is now revised to equal that of son/daughter in 4:11.
(4:11) Allah (thus) directs you as regards your Children´s (Inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females: if only daughters, two or more, their share is two-thirds of the inheritance; if only one, her share is a half. For parents, a sixth share of the inheritance to each, if the deceased left children; if no children, and the parents are the (only) heirs, the mother has a third; if the deceased Left brothers (or sisters) the mother has a sixth....
The laws of inheritance protect some relationships with fixed shares and the children are residuary or they take what is left after those with fixed shares get their share. In such a case, the division is simple. However, when there are no children, then no one is a residuary and every inheritor has a fixed share. The sum of the shares expressed as a fraction, will not in general then add up to 1 and the people then and even many today, do not know how to deal with the situation although it involves simple logic and mathematics. There were therefore incessant demands for guidance. Very reluctantly therefore, the last verse revealed was 4:176 making the siblings residuary on par with own children in the absence of children.
 There would have been no need for 4:176 if people knew the mathematics and logic involved. Today, this later verse can be treated as superfluous or abrogated retaining 4:12 exactly as it is in which case, brothers and sisters of the deceased in absence of children, will get equal share with no one getting more than 1/6 and together their share not exceeding 1/3. How have the Fuqaha explained the contradiction? They have said that 4:12 is about uterine siblings (born to the same mother but different father) and 4:176 about agnate siblings or those born to the same father and full siblings. This is sheer nonsense. Verse 4:12 is an early Medinian verse whereas 4:176 is the very last verse revealed and the gap between the two is 8 to 9 years. Why would there be ruling covering uterine siblings but not full siblings for 8 years or more? What difference is there between uterine, agnate and full siblings that the Quran should make a distinction between them in inheritance? The Quran makes no distinction between uterine, agnate and full siblings.
The above are only two cases of a verse meant to be abrogated (4:15), and a superfluous verse (4:176) that can be abrogated once people learn how to deal with 4:12. What about the common misconception that the peaceful Meccan verses are abrogated by the Medinian war verses? This is absolute nonsense. The Medinian war verses are about fighting an enemy on the battle field. During the Meccan pre-migration period there was no enemy to fight with on the battle field. There is no verse during the Meccan period about war either asking the prophet to wage war or not to wage war. The Meccan kind of peaceful verses are also found in the Medinian period. There are verses on who to fight and how to fight on the battle field and verses on how to deal with people you are not fighting with. Nor, is war a permanent condition. As a matter of fact, after the battle of Badr, the verse:
(8:38)” Say to the kafaru, if (now) they desist (from Religious persecution), their past would be forgiven them; ....)”
is an offer to end hostilities and go back to peaceful co-existence. The treaty of Hudaybiyyah for a period of 10 years is another attempt to end hostilities.
There Are As Many If Not More Peaceful Medinian Verses As There Are In The Meccan Period Such As:
5:2 ….Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancour: fear Allah: for Allah is strict in punishment.
(5:8) O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.
(5:13) ….but forgive them, and overlook (their misdeeds): for Allah loveth those who are kind.
(5:32) …if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people…
(5:48) …To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute;
(5:69) Those who believe (in the Qur´an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
(49:13) O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).     
Verses of Peaceful Preaching Continue In the Medinian Period
(2:21) O ye people! Adore your Guardian-Lord, who created you and those who came before you, that ye may have the chance to learn righteousness;  
(2:168) O ye people! Eat of what is on earth, Lawful and good; and do not follow the footsteps of the evil one, for he is to you an avowed enemy.      
(4:1) O mankind! reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, His mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women;- reverence Allah, through whom ye demand your mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs (That bore you): for Allah ever watches over you.       
(4:170) O Mankind! The Messenger hath come to you in truth from Allah: believe in him: It is best for you. But if ye reject Faith, to Allah belong all things in the heavens and on earth: And Allah is All-knowing, All-wise.  
(4:174) O mankind! verily there hath come to you a convincing proof from your Lord: For We have sent unto you a light (that is) manifest.  
(22:1) O mankind! fear your Lord! for the convulsion of the Hour (of Judgment) will be a thing terrible!       
(22:5) O mankind! if ye have a doubt about the Resurrection, (consider) that We created you out of dust, then out of sperm, then out of a leech-like clot, then out of a morsel of flesh, partly formed and partly unformed, in order that We may manifest (our power) to you; and We cause whom We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term, then do We bring you out as babes, then (foster you) that ye may reach your age of full strength; and some of you are called to die, and some are sent back to the feeblest old age, so that they know nothing after having known (much), and (further), thou seest the earth barren and lifeless, but when We pour down rain on it, it is stirred (to life), it swells, and it puts forth every kind of beautiful growth (in pairs).
(22:49) Say: "O men! I am (sent) to you only to give a Clear Warning:
(22:73) O men! Here is a parable set forth! listen to it! Those on whom, besides Allah, ye call, cannot create (even) a fly, if they all met together for the purpose! and if the fly should snatch away anything from them, they would have no power to release it from the fly. Feeble are those who petition and those whom they petition!
It should be clear to everyone that even in the Medinian period covering war, peaceful preaching continued with those against whom there was no fighting and verses of peace, tolerance, justice and even pluralism were revealed during this phase. There is therefore no question of abrogation of Meccan verses which are of the same nature.
What Then Is Abrogated?
(2:105) It is never the wish of those without Faith among the People of the Book, nor of the Pagans, that anything good should come down to you from your Lord. But Allah will choose for His special Mercy whom He will - for Allah is Lord of grace abounding.(106) None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things?
The Quran is a revelation from Allah about which those without faith from among the People of the Book were envious as they did not like anything good coming down to the Prophet (verse 105). In this context, Allah says that he chooses for His special mercy whom He wills and sends down His revelations which may substitute something better or similar to what came before. In any case, as discussed above, there is no evidence of abrogation of any verse in the Quran. One clear example of substituting what came before with what is better is the Golden Rule in the previous scriptures is substituted by the Rule of Ahsan.
The Rule of Ahsan:
(23:96) Repel evil with that which is best: We are well acquainted with the things they say.
(41:34) Nor can goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: Then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate!
If we ask the question “How do we reciprocate good?” the answer that logically follows from the above is “Reciprocate good with what is better/best”
If we ask the question ‘how do we act with others or “do unto others”?’, the answer that logically follows from the verses cited is “Do unto others what is best or better than what you would have them do unto you” . This is an improvement over the Golden Principle which says, “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you”.
Since both rules are an ethic of reciprocity, it would be odd to include both in the same Book. The Quran therefore has only the rule of Ahsan and abrogates the Golden rule found in the previous Scriptures.
The Quran is consistent with the principle of Ahsan in all contexts. It asks us not to believe in evil said about other people and to put the best construction of what we know as facts.
(24:12) Why did not the believers - men and women - when ye heard of the affair,- put the best construction on it in their own minds and say, "This (charge) is an obvious lie"?
It asks us to obey every command of Allah in the best possible manner:
(39:18) Those who listen to the Word, and then follow the best thereof, those are the ones whom Allah has guided, and those are the ones endued with understanding.
Verses That Say Parts Of Previous Scriptures Are Abrogated

 (5:15) O people of the Book! There hath come to you our Messenger, revealing to you much that ye used to hide in the Book, and passing over much (that is now unnecessary): There hath come to you from Allah a (new) light and a perspicuous Book, -

The verse is saying to the people of the Book that the Quran omits all that is no longer necessary or abrogated while bringing forth what is still applicable which they hide. The People of the Book are being invited to the Quran.

(13:37) Thus have We revealed it (the Quran) to be a judgment of authority in Arabic. Wert thou to follow their (vain) desires after the knowledge which hath reached thee, then wouldst thou find neither protector nor defender against Allah.
(13:38) We did send messengers before thee, and appointed for them wives and children: and it was never the part of a messenger to bring a sign except as Allah permitted (or commanded). For each period is a Book (revealed).
(39) Allah doth blot out or confirm what He pleaseth: with Him is the Mother of the Book.

The meaning is unmistakable. The portions of the scriptures that are confirmed remain valid and the portions replaced by what are better and the portions blotted out are abrogated. These have served their purpose and time and all the previous scriptures were for their times until a fresh revelation came.
The Quran also says that the earlier people were given only a portion of the Book (3:23, 5:3, 4:44, 51,) and not the complete Book and invites them to the Quran. All previous religions and Scriptures were works in progress and the Scriptures valid only for a period. The Quran is the final Book containing the “perfected and completed religion” (5:3).

What Is There In the Previous Scriptures and Completely Passed Over In the Quran and Therefore Abrogated?

The Quran, no longer sanctions war against any people for their beliefs and explicitly proclaims:

(2:256) Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error
(109:6) To you (the rejecter of Islam) be your religion and to me mine.

 Therefore, all the verses in the previous scriptures that are for fighting against nations simply because the people are “godless”, are abrogated as this is no longer a justifiable reason. The punishments for apostasy, heresy are also not found in the Quran and therefore abrogated. The punishment for adultery is reduced from stoning to death to a hundred lashes. The punishment for homosexuality is undefined and can be reduced to strong social disapproval disallowing only open, brazen and wanton acts.

Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to

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