Abrogation and the Validity of the Qur'an


Some time ago I started reading the Qur'an. I have both a German and an English translation of its meanings. I started reading and found it very interesting but at one point I just had to stop! In Surah 2-62 it says "Verily, those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians and Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve." There is a footnote to this verse and it says that this verse was abrogated by another surah stating that whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the hereafter, he will be one of the losers. Now my question is: As far as I know, there are — besides — other two statements about the Qur'an: Firstly, it is the word of God, every little bit of it and has not been changed since the time that it was revealed to Muhammad (peace be upon him). Unlike the Bible where man added changes, the Qur'an is the unchanged word of God and is valid for all of mankind and for all time. Secondly, there is no contradiction in the Qur'an. So, with these two statements, I do not understand how these two surahs can be found in ONE book. If God decided to change some of his commandments, why was not it erased completely from the Qur'an so that there would be no confusion among the people about it! Now, we have the eternally valid word of God...but some of it is no longer valid? Thinking about this problem, I always end up with two thoughts: Not everything in the Qur'an is valid for all times. In that case, why keep to it at all since you can say, "Ah, this surah is no longer valid!" Secondly, that the Qur'an is not free of contradictions. In that case, how can it be 100 percent the words of God? I already asked some Muslims about it but they could not give me an answer that satisfied me. I would be very grateful if you could help me to understand this issue. Thank you very much and keep doing what you're doing!


Let's first agree on certain points, which I believe you are aware of. First, no one can offer a correct explanation of the Qur'an except scholars who have mastered all sciences that qualify them to understand its occasions of revelation, linguistic style, structure, and all other imports and aspects. Even with their near-perfect explanation, we can still safely say that their explanations are not totally perfect; rather, they are subject to error just like the product of any human mind.

This actually is good because God's words are beyond the limitations of a human mind, hence, man can comprehend and grasp only some aspects of those words but not all of them, otherwise God's words will be limited and restricted.

Coming to the issue of abrogation, we need to understand one focal point, which is that Allah Almighty's knowledge covers everything. It is not subject to change because it is not limited by the boundaries of time. This means that when Allah Almighty reveals something in the Qur'an and later on gives a fresh command that adjusts the old one or cancels it, He surely knows already that He is going to reveal something to adjust the old command or cancel it. In other words, the new command is not new to Him; it is new to us because we have no access to His knowledge and we are bound by time limitations.

In the light of this, we can understand that Allah Almighty has already had knowledge that He is going to give a new command at a certain point in the life of people telling them to change their way of life or correct certain concepts in ways that suit the new stage. Behind this, there is surely great divine wisdom, which sometimes we are aware of and sometimes we are not.

To illustrate this, let's think about a father whose five-year-old child asks him about the origin of life; where do males and females come from? At this point of the child's age, the most suitable answer will be something like "We come from Adam and Eve." But later on when this same child grows up, the simple answer will be abrogated by telling him about the mechanism of production and fertilization. This example gives a bit of an idea about how this process of abrogation works.

Here's another example: When a teacher is teaching a certain book for his students, he already knows the contents of what he is teaching. To the students, the information he is giving every time is new but to him it is not. Besides, he may give a certain rule at one time and later on speaks about other things that contradict this rule. When one of the students says, "Excuse me, sir! This contradicts what you said last time," the teacher will simply tell him, "There are exceptions to every rule and this is one of the exceptions. Today's example is meant to make you aware of the exceptions to last time's rule." Of course, the exception is new to the student but it is not new to the teacher who has already known it a long time ago.

As for Allah, His infinite knowledge neither has a start nor an end. Yet, here we need to ask, if that is what abrogation is like, what is the benefit or the wisdom of doing that?

In fact, scholars have counted a number of wisdoms behind abrogation. First, abrogation can happen as a way of gradual legislation that aims at making things easy for people.

Sometimes, Allah Almighty commands that a certain strict thing should be observed and then alleviates it to make the life of people easier. An example of this is when Allah Almighty commanded that anyone who wants to speak to the Prophet (peace be upon him) should offer something in charity. Later on, Allah (Glory be to Him) removed this requirement and just encouraged people to establish prayer and do good deeds.

But one may ask, "What is the point of this?" The answer is, there are many wisdoms behind it, one of which is to make people aware of the fact that Allah is merciful to them and that He looks after them and cares for their well-being. Another wisdom is to refine the souls of people and train them on how to observe to higher levels of morality.

For instance, if your child is not studying hard and spending much time playing, you can discipline him saying, "You are not allowed to play anymore for the coming month." Later on, you may see that he has complied with the command and became very good in his studies, so what you do is to alleviate the restrictions and allow him to play for a certain number of hours. In this way, you create a balance in his life. In this exact way, Allah Almighty trains us on how to lead a life of balance.

Sometimes, abrogation comes to establish a certain ruling that needs to be established gradually because it is difficult for people to apply it completely. Suppose that you want a drug addict to give up drugs, it would be unpractical to ask him to give up right away. The most practical way will be to train him how to give up bit by bit. The same is applied in the Qur'an when Allah Almighty commanded the believing community to give up wine: He did not do that at one shot. Rather, Allah Almighty first spoke about wine and that it may be beneficial for some people (i.e. traders) but it has some greater harm. Later on, a new instruction came prohibiting any drunken man to engage in prayer and, in fact, that was stage two. Then, when the community was fully prepared to receive a final decision and were able to apply the law, Allah Almighty told them to avoid drinking wine completely and never approach it.

Focusing more on the verse you referred to in your question, I would like to mention one more wisdom of abrogation, which is correcting ideas and removing misunderstandings. For instance, Allah Almighty gives a rule that whoever does a good deed will get a reward for it in this life and in the hereafter. Some people may understand that the hereafter reward is also given to non-believers and therefore Allah Almighty explains this in another place in the Qur'an saying that a condition for reward in the hereafter is to believe in Allah Almighty and adopt Islam. One of the examples that fall into this category is the example you have referred to.

Another important point is that the Qur'an is interlinked which means that verses explain and expound one another. In some places where Allah Almighty says that those Jews, Christians, and Sabians who believe in Allah and the Last Day should fear no harm on the Day of Judgment, He actually refers to a rule that needs further elaboration, mentioned elsewhere in the Qur'an. This elaboration exists in the following surah wherein Almighty Allah explains that the accepted way of Allah being Islam is the way that should be followed by anyone who wants to be safe on the Day of Judgment.

*{And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter he shall be one of the losers. }* (Aal `Imran 3:85)

Now, we clearly see that there is no contradiction between the two statements because they complement each other. If one says, why doesn't Allah make each one self-explanatory without need to the other statement? We simply tell the asker that because both statements are considered the same word of Allah, and we should take the word of Allah as a total entity wherein no part can stand on its own without referring to the whole. In the light of this, we can also understand the sayings of some scholars who said that the whole Qur'an is treated as one verse.

How Is It Possible that Verses of the Qur'an Could Be Abrogated?

As for your question, the word abrogation is a translation of the word "naskh" which means revocation and replacement of a legal ruling with another legal ruling. It does not mean cancellation or amendment in the English sense. 

However, this issue has been a subject of disagreement among scholars. I am of the opinion that there is no cancellation or abrogation but there was always revocation or progression in setting up legal rulings. In other words, the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in a gradual manner, so as to enable the people to have a better understanding of its meanings and teachings. This is stated in the Qur’an, Allah says what means:“And (it is) a Qur’an that We have divided, that you may recite it unto mankind at intervals, and We have revealed it by (successive) revelation.” (Al-‘Isra’: 106) 

However, you should not bother your mind with this view or comment which claims that few verses have been abrogated. Do continue to read and study the Qur’an. Certainly, there is no doubt that what is in the Mus-haf (printed copy of the Qur’an) today is considered the Qur’an." 

Allah Almighty knows best.



Top of Page Contact Mission Islam Home Recommended Links