By S. Arshad, New Age Islam
17 March 2018
The opinion of some exegetes on some verses of the Quran is that they have been abrogated and so they should not be discussed in context of contemporary issues involving Muslims. There are a number of verses that advise Muslims to treat non-Muslims with justice and equality and take care of them as human beings. Some of the verses are:
” And let not your hatred of a folk who (once) stopped your going to the inviolable place of worship seduce you to transgress; but help ye one another unto righteousness and pious duty. Help not one another unto sin and transgression, but keep your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is severe in punishment.” (Al Maidah: 2)
“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.”(Al Maida: 69)
“Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve”.(Al Baqar : 62)
“And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, "We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam)."(Al Ankabut: 46)
But some of the Ulema and exegetes having extremist views declared that the verses that speak of leniency and favourable treatment to non-Muslims stand abrogated and cite some verses from the Quran on abrogation in support of their argument. There are two verses in support of abrogation of verses in the Quran:
“If we abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, we send a better verse or a similar one. “(Al Baqarah: 106)
“We will teach you Quran (O Muhammad) and you will not forget it except what we cause to be forgetten. “(Al A’la: 6-7)
These verses prove that some verses have been abrogated or have been caused to be forgotten. On the ground of these verses some of exegetes of the Quran have argued that the verses asking Muslims to be lenient towards non-Muslims and the People of the Book stand abrogated and only the verses that call for forceful elimination of non-Muslim stand valid. These verses are called Ayat ul Sayf (sword verses).
Therefore, the verses that order the Qital or killing of non-Muslims and even Ahle-Kitab (People of the Book) are considered valid in all ages and circumstances. According to these verses, polytheists and the People of the Book do not deserve any sympathy or affection and the Quran does not allow them to live in harmony with Muslims with their belief and religious identity in a Muslim society.
“Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.”(Al Taubah: 5)
“Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.”(Taubah: 29)
These are some of the verses that according to them have been abrogated. Surah Kafirun which according to them stands abrogated in which God tells the prophet pbuh only to convey His message to the polytheists and after that they will see their fate according to their practices and acts. “To you your faith and to my mine.” The Surah was revealed in Makkah when Muslims were in a weak position and would only convey the message of Islam to the Quraish of Makkah. That’s why some exegetes say that this Surah has been abrogated.
But the following verses contradict their opinion:
“that we are responsible for our doings and ye for yours;” (Al Baqra: 139)
“And when they hear vain talk, they turn away there from and say: "To us our deeds, and to you yours; peace be to you: we seek not the ignorant."(Al Qasas: 55)
Therefore verses encouraging Muslims to treat non-Muslims with sympathy and kindness in all circumstances and Quran’s approach to non-Muslims is same irrespective of whether Muslims are in minority or majority.
But Islamic scholars like Maulana Abul Ala Maududi contributed to this idea of abrogation of peace-sponsoring verses of the Quran by generalizing its meaning:
“In order to enable the Muslims to extend the influence of Islam outside Arabia, they were enjoined to crush with sword the non- Muslim powers and to force them to accept the sovereignty of the Islamic State. As the great Roman and Iranian Empires were the biggest hindrances in the way, a conflict with them was inevitable. The object of Jihad was not to coerce them to accept Islam they were free to accept or not to accept it-but to prevent them from thrusting forcibly their deviations upon others and the coming generations. The Muslims were enjoined to tolerate their misguidance only to the extent that they might have the freedom to remain misguided, if they chose to be so, provided that they paid Jizyah (v. 29) as a sign of their subjugation to the Islamic State.
The third important problem was to crush the mischief of the hypocrites, who had hitherto been tolerated in spite of their flagrant crimes. Now that there was practically no pressure upon them from outside, the Muslims were enjoined to treat them openly as disbelievers (v. 73). Accordingly, the Holy Prophet set on fire the house of Swailim, where the hypocrites used to gather for consultations in order to dissuade the people from joining the expedition to Tabuk. Likewise on his return from Tabuk, he ordered to pull down and burn the 'Mosque' that had been built to serve as a cover for the hypocrites for hatching plots against the true Believers.
In order to prepare the Muslims for Jihad against the whole non-Muslim world, it was necessary to cure them even of that slight weakness of faith from which they were still suffering. For there could be no greater internal danger to the Islamic Community than the weakness of faith, especially where it was going to engage itself single-handed in a' conflict with the whole non-Muslim world. That is why those people who had lagged behind in the Campaign to Tabuk or had shown the least negligence were severely taken to task, and were considered as hypocrites if they had no plausible excuse for not fulfilling that obligation. Moreover, a clear declaration was made that in future the sole criterion of a Muslim's faith shall be the exertions he makes for the uplift of the Word of Allah and the role he plays in the conflict between Islam and Kufr. Therefore, if anyone will show any hesitation in sacrificing his life, money, time and energies, his faith shall not be regarded as genuine. 1
There were other scholars and exegetes of the Quran who promoted intolerant views against non-Muslims. Qitadah ibn-e-Diamah was one of them. Dr Israr Ahmad’s observation on his views on abrogation is quoted here:
Qatādah ibn Di‘āmah observed: “Everything in the Qur’an advising avoidance of conflict with the disbelievers stands abrogated by the āyat al-sayf and āyat al-qitāl.” As per the calculation of Ibn al-Jawzī, around one hundred-ten verses that promote leniency, kindness, patience, and generosity towards non-believers are considered abrogated by āyat al-sayf and āyat al-qitāl. He did not agree to this number but supported the abrogation of only twelve of them. Āyat al-sayf and āyat al-qitāl came down in connection with the situation of war. As for the normal situation, these two verses remain unexecuted. The Prophet’s agreements with the Jews and Arabs, particularly Quraysh, and other warring parties for peace serve as enough evidence for the peaceful coexistence policy of Islam. It seems that the image of Muslims in the west as terrorists is consequent upon the abrogation of generosity towards non-Muslims. 2
In the Quran, there are verses (quoted above) that speak of harmonious co-existence and sympathetic treatment to the polytheists. The Quran enjoins on the Muslims to convey the message of Islam to the polytheists and then leave the decision to accept the message of the Quran to them. The Quran has not asked Muslims to act as a policeman with the Polytheists forcing them to accept the message of Islam and has not mandated them to kill or commit violence against them in normal circumstances. But some extremist exegetes and scholars of the Quran have declared peaceful verses of the Quran as abrogated and have declared those verses revealed during Makkan or Madinian period that speak of Qital against non-Muslims to be valid practicable for all times. These verses have been called Sword Verses though they have been revealed in the context of the period of confrontation between Muslims and non-Muslims.
It is evident from these verses that God has abrogated some verses of the Quran and has replaced them with better or similar verses. But the Quran does not say that such and such verses have been abrogated and so Muslims should not practice what has been enjoined in them. This means that the abrogated verses have been removed from the Quran and been replaced by other verses. If some verses seem out of context and do not fit contemporary social and political milieu they may be seen in historical perspective. These verses give a picture of Islam’s evolution. For example there is a verse in the Quran that forbids Muslims to offer prayer under the spell of wine or intoxication (Al Nisa: 43) obviously, this verse was revealed when wine had not been declared Haram but the verse still exists in the Quran. It cannot be declared abrogated because it still has a lesson for Muslims: Muslims should act tactfully while propagating Islam to non-Muslims. The verse shows how Islam was revealed in phases or in an evolving process.
Another verse that has been abrogated is about Rajam (stoning for adultery). This verse does not exist in the Quran. Scholars believe that in the beginning there was a verse asking Muslims to stone the adulterer to death. The prophet pbuh might have ordered the stoning of some adulterers according to the Rajam verse. One of such persons was Maiz Aslami who belonged to the tribe called Aslam. Obviously, the prophet pbuh could not have ordered the stoning of an adulterer without any Quranic injunction later, verses on adultery, lesbianism and homosexuality were revealed which provided for physical punishment or lesser punishment for sexual crimes. The verse about stoning was abrogated but the Hadiths about Rajam were preserved without context which now provided justification to extremist organizations and scholars for stoning the adulterers ignoring the fact that the Quran had moved ahead from the stone age and had a more civilized approach to punishment of crime. The Rajam verse has been removed from the Quran. So if Surah Kafirun or any other verse had been abrogated they would not have existed side by side with Surah Taubah or other contradictory verses. There would have been only sword verses in the Quran. The verses on adultery, lesbianism and homosexuality are as follows:
The Verse about Lesbianism:
“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. “(Al Nisa: 15)
(Exegetes have explained this verse in terms of adultery between man and woman but since in this verse only women are mentioned, so in my opinion this verse is about lesbianism and its punishment.)
The Verse about Homosexuality:
“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. “(Al Nisa: 16)
The verse about adultery:
“The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication,- flog each of them with a hundred stripes: “(Al Nur: 2)
These Surahs that deal with sexual crimes are all parts of Madani Surahs when the Islamic government had taken shape and Muslims had acquired power. Still, these Surahs do not have an intolerant approach. Only physical punishment instead of stoning of death penalty has been prescribed in these Surahs. Islam had by then ushered from stoning age of the Jewish society into a more civilized penal system. That’s why there is no concept of stoning in Islam. The Quran has no verse about stoning. It only speaks of physical punishment thought it provides the sinners an opportunity for repentance and penance. There is also a verse on adultery revealed during the Makkan period which only says that adultery is a sin.
“Do not go near adultery, it’s an act of vulgarity and a bad path. “(Al Isra: 32)
In this verse the Quran only makes its stand clear on adultery and the punishment is mentioned in Madani verses.
Similarly, it may be construed that the verses on the death punishment for apostasy also might have been abrogated. Exegetes have argued that apostasy is a grave crime and that’s why Islam prescribes death penalty for apostates. To support their argument, they cite some Hadiths that speak of death penalty to apostates (Bukhari 6878 and Muslim 1676). But the Quran does not have any verse that prescribed any physical punishment leave aside death penalty to apostates. The verses in the Quran ask Muslims to ignore apostates as God will give them harshest punishment in the Hereafter. Some verses on apostasy are as follows:
“And if any of you Turn back from their faith and die in unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the Hereafter; they will be companions of the Fire and will abide therein. ‘(Al Baqra: 217)
“Those who believe, then reject faith, then believe (again) and (again) reject faith, and go on increasing in unbelief,- Allah will not forgive them nor guide them nor guide them on the way. “ (Al Nisa: 137)
The above quoted Surahs are Madani. If these Surah had been Makkan, the exegetes would have argued that since Muslims were weak in Makkah, these Surah has a soft stand for apostates. General opinion is that Madani Surahs have aggressive verses against non-Muslims because Muslims here were not under pressure. Still there is no capital punishment for the apostates in these verses. However, there is a Makkan verse also on apostates but that verse also does not have any harsh punishment for them.
“Any one who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters Unbelief,- except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith - but such as open their breast to Unbelief, on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty.(Al Nahl: 106)
Therefore, there is no worldly punishment for apostates mentioned in both Makki and Madani verses. It can therefore be said about the Hadiths on death punishment for apostates that there might have been some verses that prescribed death punishment for apostates on which the prophet pbuh might have made those statements. And after the verses on death punishment for apostasy were abrogated, the Hadith remained in circulation creating the confusion on the issue of punishment for apostasy. This issue needs further inquiry and investigation to clear the confusion.
Dr Israr Ahmad expresses his view on abrogation in the following words:
“The arguments for the abrogation in the Qur’an are based on some Qur’anic verses, views of early generations of scholars, claims about the existence of abrogated verses in the Qur’an, and claims of consensus. In most cases, the Qur’anic verses used as arguments in favour of abrogation theory are misquoted. They are read either outside the context or are advanced only in part. When reading those verses in full and also in context, a totally different message emerges. Reading the Qur’an half-heartedly is manipulation and not interpretation. The concept of abrogation in the eyes of early generations of scholars was not what was construed later. To them, abrogation never denoted permanent suspension of the Qur’anic commands. Claim of consensus is misrepresentation of the situation. There has always been controversy over this matter. To claim that some verses of the Qur’an are abrogated is to cast doubt about the authenticity of the Qur’an. Neither God nor His Prophet ever guided man in a categorical manner that this verse or that verse is practically invalid. There are many verses in the Qur’an that spell out various attributes of the Qur’an (e.g., guide, wise, cure, et cetera.), which necessitate the practical relevance of the Qur’an in its entirety. There is no authentic statement of the Prophet referring to the abrogated verses of the Qur’an. The only viable way to resolve the abrogation-related controversy is to endeavour to interpret the verses concerned. Sincere effort to understand the practical relevance of the verses in dispute will certainly bring results.” 3
From the analysis made above it can be said that those verses that are included in the Quran cannot be said to have been abrogated because the abrogated verses have already been removed by another verses according to the principle of the Quran. The verses should be considered in their right contexts. The abrogated verses were left out when the Quran was compiled in the book form. Declaring some specific verses only on the basis of interpretation of particular school of thought or on the basis of extremist point of view is illogical and unacceptable.
1. Tafhimul Quran: Abul Ala Maududi
2. Arguments in favour of abrogation in the Quran: A critique by Dr Israr Ahmad
3. Arguments in favour of abrogation in the Quran: A critique by Dr Israr Ahmad
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