“We do not abrogate an ayat or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent?” (Qur’an 2:106)
“And when We substitute an ayat in place of an ayat – and Allah is most knowing of what He sends down – they say, “You, [O Muhammed], are but an inventor [of lies].” But most of them do not know.” (Qur’an 16:101)
This entry looks at the concept of ‘Abrogation’ as espoused by our brothers from the Ahl Sunnah.
I find that it holds doctrines that are not consistent, and in fact, are tenuous at best.
I have recently done a review of the book ‘Abrogation in the Qur’an and Islamic Law’ by Dr. Louay Fatoohi. To me, this is an absolute must-have addition to your library.
The above two verses are often quoted by the proponents of abrogation for advancing its claims.
Let us first talk about some difficulties in understanding these verses in the way that some have understood them.
If you understand “ayat” above to mean both a verse of the Qur’an and its ruling than we need to ask the following:
How is it that some verses (words of Allah) become better than other verses (words of Allah)? The concept of a verse being better than another verse is alien to the Qur’an.
Though the reply will be, ‘what is meant is the ruling, but the ruling is being expressed through new wordings‘. So this is simple semantics that advocates of the doctrine will use to salvage their doctrine.
For those who advocate that the Qur’an is the Speech of Allah and therefore an attribute of Allah (swt) the following question needs to be put forward.
Can Allah (swt) be improved upon? I think we all know that the answer to that question is absolutely not.
Does the term ‘ayat’ need of necessity refer to a verse in the Qur’an?
The answer is no.
“We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. But is it not sufficient concerning your Lord that He is, over all things, a Witness?” (Qur’an 41:53)
We also have scholars who affirm that the Sunnah can abrogate the Qur’an. Such a concept as you can imagine is anathema to Prima-Qur’an!
The Sunnah of the Blessed Messenger (saw) is not called an “ayat”.
Next, if we understand “ayat” in the above verses of the Qur’an to mean what some of the traditionalists tell us, in relationship to abrogation than it could mean the following at any given time:
What is abrogated
the wording of the verse and its ruling
the wording of the verse but not it’s ruling
the ruling of the verse but not it’s the wording.
Next, almost all scholars agree that verse 16:101 of the Qur’an was revealed in Mecca. Yet, “No Muslim scholar has alleged that any instance of naskh affecting Islamic enactments occurred during the Meccan period of the Prophet’s ministry.” Source: (Burton, The Sources of Islamic Law: Islamic Theories of Abrogation, page 190)
I think first it is important for the readers to understand three distinct terminologies. As this web site uses English as a medium, I will use English definitions. I would strongly encourage you to consult with the Arabic source text.
“It should be pointed out that the salaf did not use the term ‘naskh’ to refer exclusively to abrogation. They also used the term to apply to specification (takhsees) and initiation (badaa’ah). The first person to limit the meaning of the word nask to apply to abrogation only was Imam Ash Shafi’i, in his famous treaties on usul al-fiqh ar-Risalah.” (page 234 An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’an by Yasir Qadhi)
1) Abrogation is defined as To abolish, do away with, or annul.
2) The specification is defined as Making something specified, or the act of making it specific.
3) Initiation. The right or act of being admitted.
Now because Sheikh Yasir Qadhi belongs to a sect that believes in abrogation he was careful in the way he worded the sentence. He says, “did not use the term ‘naskh’ to refer exclusively to abrogation”. That was a rather clever way to word it.
“The vast majority of scholars have upheld the validity of naskh. Only some Shi’a and Mutazalite scholars (such as Abu Muslim Al-Isfahani, d.322 A.H.), have raised objections concerning naskh. Abu Muslim claims that, while it is not inconceivable that naskh can occur, there are no rulings to demonstrate it. However, as Ibn Al Jawzi mentioned, Abu Muslim was the first scholar to deny the validity of naskh, and in this, he went against the consensus (ijma’) of all the scholars before him. Source: (page 235 An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’an by Yasir Qadhi)
As far as ‘Abu Muslim was the first scholar to deny the validity of naskh’ this is not true.
Ibn Abbas reports that Umar bin Al Khattab has said: “The best expert of the Qur’an is Ubayy and the best legal expert among us is Ali. But we ignore some of what Ubayy states because he says: “I will never abandon anything I heard from the Messenger of Allah.” yet Allah has said: “Whatever aya we nasakh (abrogate) or cause to be forgotten (nunsiha).”
Source: (Al Bukhari vol. 3 no. 4300, pg 8)
So Ubay is the best expert on the Qur’an, but never mind his position on such and such a matter!
This is flatly contradicted by the following hadith
“Umar said, “Ubay ibn Ka‘b is the most knowledgeable among us on abrogation.” Source: (Ibn al-Jawzī, Nawāsikh, p.19)
Also the statement above, “and in this, he went against the consensus (ijma’) of all the scholars before him.” Again this is clearly a sectarian statement; because the author just said that some Shi’a and Mutazalite scholars do not agree with the concept!
So please keep in mind when someone tells you to ‘take knowledge from the scholars’ often than not they mean to take from their denomination only!
Apparently, we also have this statement attributed to Ali
“Alī asked a storyteller to tell him rather he was aware of the abrogating (al-nāsikh) and the abrogated (al-mansūkh). When he answered in the negative, ‘Alī warned him: You destroyed yourself as well as others” Souce:(Ibn Al-Jawzi, Nawasikh, p.29-31)
In other words, those people who are not aware of what abrogates what. What is canceled and what is now in vogue are ‘destroying themselves and destroying others‘.
Well, keep that in mind when looking at the following charts:
When we look at these tables it becomes blatantly obvious that this is not sound doctrine. This is not a doctrine that I personally wish to place my faith. The huge disparity between the statements of the scholars on this issue speaks volumes.
The first table* above is taken from (pg 251 An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’an by Yasir Qadhi)
The author goes on to say on the same page,
“It can be seen from this table that there is a very wide difference of opinion regarding the exact number of cases of naskh in the Qur’an. The opinions range from 214 for Ibn Hazm, all the way down to only five for ad-Dehlawi.”
“The reason that such a diverse opinion exists is that many verses are considered examples of naskh, when in fact they are examples of takhsees, or do not fall under naskh, at all. In particular, with regards to those who have over a hundred examples of naskh, they all consider the ‘Verse of the Sword’ as having abrogated dozens of verses.”
The table* above is taken from (pg 131 Abrogation in the Qur’an and Islamic Law by Louay Fatoohi)
* (special thanks to brother Joseph Islam who provided a professional and polished look for the tables)
Dr. Louay Fatoohi makes the following powerful observation
“The fact that the total number of verses and the total number of chapters do not increase in the same proportion for each scholar must mean that scholars often did not report the same number of verses from the same chapter. For instance, Ibn Hazm who reported a total of 213 verses, had 26 of them from chapter 2, whereas Nahhas who reported almost half of the total of Ibn Hazm had as many as 30 verses from chapter 2.”
“The differences do not stop here. Even when scholars report the same number of verses from any one chapter, they at times, identified different verses! This is why, for instance, although the highest number of identified verses in chapter 2 is 37, the number of different verses is actually 42. Because of this, although the highest number of abrogated verses reported by anyone scholar is 247, the total number of different verses from these nine scholars is as many as 294. Incredibly, this is as much as 4.7% of the mushafs 6,236 verses!“
“What is significant is the scale of the scholar’s disagreement on the number of supposedly abrogated verses, the number of these in each chapter, and what these verses are. It is clear from the broad range of figures that some of those who accept the authenticity of abrogation think that many scholars have highly exaggerated its scale.” (pgs 132-133 Abrogation in the Qur’an and Islamic Law by Louay Fatoohi)
Though it may seem rather harsh in light of the statement attributed to Ali, ‘You destroyed yourself as well as others‘, which of these scholars are ‘destroying themselves and destroying others’ in the process? Consensus -ijma’? I think not!
We could stop right here but it gets even worse.
Accordingly, the following can happen:
1) Qur’an can abrogate Qur’an (The founders of the four remaining Sunni schools of jurisprudence agree; however as we have seen above, the specifics of this is a disjointed mess.)
2) Qur’an can abrogate the Sunnah (Imam Shafi’i dislikes this view, though he escapes a major contradiction in his Usul by a form of verbal camouflage. )
3) Sunnah can abrogate the Sunnah (The founders of the four remaining Sunni schools of jurisprudence agree, however, there is great divergence in this area as well.)
4) Sunnah can abrogate the Qur’an. (Apparently, Imam Malik and Imam Abu Hanifa allow this in the case of mass transmitted sunnah, Imam Ahmad says no, and Imam Shafi’i says no; although we will show shortly his view is inconsistent)
The three different types of abrogation.
Apparently, there are three different types of abrogation. The disparity and arbitrary nature of this doctrine of abrogation are self-evident.
Example 1) The abrogation of the ruling and the verse ( Naskh al-Hukm wa at-Tilawah)
In this, the ruling is voided and the text is omitted.
Example 2) The abrogation of the ruling without the verse (Naskh al-Hukm duna at-Tilawah)
The ruling is voided but the text remains.
Example 3) The abrogation of the verse without the ruling (Naskh at-Tilawah duna al-Hukm)
The ruling remains but the text is omitted.
Now go and ask those who believe in such concepts the reasoning behind each of these. Once they explain the reason for one of these so-called modes of abrogation then ask yourself it makes sense in relation to the other two.
Let’s take a look at two examples given above:
Example: #2) The ruling is voided but the text remains. Why? Well, if I may be blunt is it simply for decoration. Is it there so you can get blessings for reciting it? But this obviously makes little sense when you look at Example #3. Where the ruling remains but the text is omitted. What would be the point of that?
The case of the infamous stoning “ayats”.
Abdullah b Abbas reported that Umar bin Al Khattab sat on the pulpit of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: Verily Allah sent Muhammad (may peace be upon him) with truth and He sent down the Book upon him, and the verse of stoning was included in what was sent down to him. We recited it, retained it in our memory, and understood it. Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) awarded the punishment of stoning to death (to the married adulterer and adulteress) and, after him, we also awarded the punishment of stoning, I am afraid that with the lapse of time, the people (may forget it) and may say: We do not find the punishment of stoning in the Book of Allah and thus go astray by abandoning this duty prescribed by Allah. Stoning is a duty laid down in Allah’s Book for married men and women who commit adultery when the proof is established, or it there is pregnancy, or a confession.
Source: (Sahih Muslim Book 017, Number 4194)
In this case, the “ayats” of stoning were a part of the Qur’an.
“Ubay bin Ka’b asked me: “How do you recite the chapter of Ahzab” or “How do you count it?” I said: “Thirty-seven verses.” He said: “Enough! I have seen it when it was as long as the chapter of Baqara. We recited in it this: ‘If the shaikh and the shaikha commit adultery then stone them, absolutely, as a punishment from Allah, and Allah is mighty, wise.”
Source: (Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad Al-Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, 36, n0 21207, page 134)
Compare that with the following:
“By the One in whose hands my soul is, was it not for fearing that people would say ‘Umar bin Al Khattab has added to the book of Allah, “I would have written it: “As for the shaikh and the shaikha, stone them, absolutely,” for we read it.”
Source: (Muwatta, Imam Malik,5, no, 3044, page 1203)
So in the case of Ubay Ibn Kaab if we are to believe the report, he saw the “ayats” and he recited it.
Umar didn’t see the “ayats” but recited it.
Both of these conflicting reports make one wonder when the revelation was being revealed where the ayats penned down or not?
It makes no sense as to why these “ayats” IF indeed they are a revelation; and still in effect are not in the Qur’an.
This narration is a bit odd. Since when did Umar fear people?
Also was Umar not aware of the following verse?
“Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands, and then say:” This is from Allah,” to traffic with it for miserable price!- Woe to them for what their hands do write, and for the gain they make thereby.” (Qur’an 2:79)
Imam Shafi’i claims that the 100 lashes penalty (as per Qur’an 24:2) was abrogated for the non-virgins. (Al Shafi’, Al-Risala p 129)
This is a contradiction of his Usul ul fiqh which is that the Sunnah cannot abrogate the Qur’an!
If you read the hadiths carefully above it is obviously directed at Muslims who were not firm on believing the idea of stoning. In my opinion, these hadith were created by a redactor who wanted to force this perspective on Muslim denominations who did not hold this perspective. In fact, the hadiths hint very strongly that such people came short of actually superimposing such a text on the Qur’an.
Not only this but such hadith is ammunition for those who want to assail and attack the textual integrity and history of the Qur’an.
There is so much more we can add. Those who uphold the doctrine of abrogation feel that all they have to do to prove their point is to convince you of one case of the Qur’an abrogating the Qur’an to prove their point.
Yet, as noted by the tables above what one accepts as abrogation another may not even see that to be the case at all. I personally have found it interesting that those who have seen the largest number of verses as a case for abrogation are those who belonged to schools of jurisprudence that were fond of taking the outward meaning of verses, like Ibn Hazm, or where thought to be closely associated with them, like Ibn Arabi.
I would like to quote Dr. Louay Fatoohi who has made some groundbreaking research into this matter:
“I do not think its an exaggeration to say that the subject of abrogation represents a major crisis in Islamic scholarship.” Source: (Abrogation in the Quran and Islamic Law Dr. Louay Fatoohi page 358)
We as Muslims know that Allah (swt) gave Moses the Torah. Who did Moses give the Torah to? It would make sense that he gave the Torah to his scholars, shyookh, imams.
We as Muslims know that Allah (swt) gave Jesus the Injeel. Who did Jesus give the Injeel to? It would make sense that he gave the Injeel to his scholars, shyookh, imams.
In other words, the corruption of the previous scriptures had to have come from within. Yet in the case of the Qur’an Allah (swt) has promised to protect it. However, don’t think that Iblis certainly didn’t try.
Those familiar with this web site and those who even have a cursory knowledge about the history of the hadith know full well how various factions would invite ahadith in order to advance a particular political position or viewpoint. Not being content with this it is obvious to all and sundry that there were factions who tried to make the Qur’an subservient to the oral traditions-seeing that these could be crafted by men.
“And recite (and teach) what has been revealed to you of the Book of your Lord: none can change His Words, and none will you find as a refuge other than Him.” (Qur’an 18:27)