Abrogated Rulings in the Qur’an: Discerning their Divine Wisdom
Published: November 15, 2018 • Updated: October 24, 2022
Author: Justin Parrott
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
We do not abrogate a verse and allow it to be forgotten but that We bring what is better than it or like it. Do you not know that Allah has power over all things?
To each among you We have made a law and a way. If Allah had willed, He would have made you into a single nation, but He tests you in what you have been given. Thus, race towards what is good. Unto Allah will all of you return and He will tell you about that in which you differed.
Do they not reflect upon the Qur'an? If it had come from another besides Allah, they would have found much contradiction within it.
Abrogation: Technical and linguistic meanings
I say: The general meaning of the righteous predecessors when using the words ‘abrogating’ and ‘abrogated’ is sometimes the complete removal of the previous ruling—and this is the technical term of the latter generations—or sometimes the removal of the general, absolute, and outward meaning or otherwise, whether by specification, restriction, interpreting an absolute as limited, or by explanation and clarification. Even then they would refer to it as exceptional and conditional.
Regarding specification and clarification, I say that this is a type of figurative abrogation, as abrogation is the lifting of the original ruling and this specification and clarification in the verses are mentioned as exceptions. Indeed, it is referred to as ‘abrogation’ because it lifts the general ruling, otherwise it is not truly abrogation.
Ibn Abbas said the verse ‘Do not enter houses other than your own houses’ (24:27) was then abrogated and an exception was given by the verse, ‘There is no blame upon you for entering houses not inhabited in which there is convenience for you’ (24:29).
The Qur’an has abrogated and oversees all divine scriptures. There will be nothing after it to abrogate it. What is within it of abrogating and abrogated verses is known to be few and Allah clarifies what is abrogated at the time it is abrogated… As for the Qur'an, despite the opinion of many commentators, it is not abrogated (by the Sunnah). Indeed, it is only postponed and delayed, or it is held back as vague until it is clarified in a necessary moment, or it is a directive that alters another directive before it, or it specifies the general meaning, or a general ruling has been specified, or one meaning contributes to another. There are many directives of this kind that they imagine are abrogated but it is not so. It is the Book overseeing all other sacred books besides it, and it is internally consistent.
The wisdom of abrogation
If We replace a verse in place of another verse, and Allah knows best what He reveals, they say: Indeed, he has forged it! No, rather most of them do not know.
They ask you about wine and gambling. Say: In both of them is great sin and some benefit for people, but the sin of them both is greater than the benefit.
O you who have faith, do not approach the prayer while you are intoxicated, until you know what you are saying.
O you who have faith, wine, gambling, idolatrous sacrifices, and divining arrows are the disgrace of the work of Satan, so stay away from them that you may succeed.
- It was originally permissible.
- Then it was discouraged by verse 2:219.
- Then it was prohibited to drink before prayer by verse 4:43.
- Then it was prohibited in general by verse 5:90.
When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.
As for knowing the circumstances of people, this is a tremendous principle required of the jurisconsult and judge. For if he does not understand it, understand commanding and prohibiting and then prefer one over the other, it will cause more harm than good. Indeed, if he has no understanding of the circumstances of people, the oppressor will appear to him as the oppressed and vice versa, the truth will appear as false and vice versa, and he will aid the cause of deception and deceit. The heretic will appear to him as a righteous person, the liar as a truthful person. He will dress every lie in a false garment underneath which is sin, dishonesty, and wickedness. By his ignorance of the people, their circumstances, their habits, and their customs, he cannot distinguish this from that. Rather, he must have understanding of the plots of people, their deceit, their deceptions, their habits, and their customs. For the judgment (fatwa) changes with a change in time, place, habits, and circumstances. All of that is part of the religion of Allah.
Did the ‘sword verse’ abrogate the peaceful verses?
When the sacred months have passed, then kill the idolaters wherever you find them, besiege them and lie in wait for them in every place of ambush. But if they repent, establish prayer, and give charity, then let them go on their way. Verily, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.
They do not observe for a believer any kinship or covenant. It is they who have transgressed. If they repent, establish prayer, and give charity, then they are your brothers in religion. We make clear the signs for people who know.
If they break their oaths after their treaty and defame your religion, then fight the leaders of unbelief. Verily, nothing is sacred to them, that they might cease. Will you not fight people who violated their oaths and determined to expel the Messenger and yourselves and they attacked you first?
If one of the idolaters seeks your protection, then grant him protection that he may hear the word of Allah, then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are people who do not know.
Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight you, but do not transgress. Verily, Allah does not love transgressors.
Do not kill women, children, the elderly, or whoever comes to you with peace and he restrains his hand (from fighting), for if you did so you would have certainly transgressed.
As for the oppressor who does not fight, then there are no texts in which Allah commands him to be fought. Rather, the unbelievers are only fought on the condition that they wage war, as is practiced by the majority of scholars and is evident in the Book and Sunnah.
I say: This opinion (that the verse 2:190 is not abrogated) is the opinion of the majority of scholars. It is the way of Malik, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and others. The other opinion (that the verse is abrogated) is weak. Indeed, to claim abrogation requires proof and there is nothing in the Qur’an to contradict this verse. Rather, what is in the Qur’an is consistent with it, so where is the abrogating verse?
It is said that verse (2:190) was before they were commanded to fight the idolaters altogether, the combatants among them and those who remain in their places. And it is said that it means those who wage war upon you or from whom that is expected.
If they incline to peace, then incline to it as well and put your trust in Allah. Verily, Allah is the Hearing, the Knowing.
Allah does not prohibit you from those who do not fight you for religion and do not expel you from your homes, that you be benevolent to them and generous to them.Verily, Allah loves those who are fair. Allah only prohibits you from those who fight you for religion and expel you from your homes and assist in your expulsion, that you take them as allies. Whoever takes them as allies, then they are the oppressors.
The first opinion in that is correct, those who say that what is meant by ‘Allah does not prohibit you from those who do not fight you for religion,’ are among all types of creeds and religions, that you are benevolent to them, have good relations with them, and be fair to them. Indeed, Allah Almighty generalized in His saying ‘those who do not fight you for religion and do not expel you from your homes,’ to include all of those who can be described in this way and He did not restrict it for some to the exclusion of others. It does not mean as those who say it was abrogated.
My mother was an idolater and she came to me during the truce with the Quraysh. I asked the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, ‘O Messenger of Allah, my mother has come to me and she is hoping for kind treatment. Should I treat her well?’ The Prophet said, ‘Yes, treat your mother well.’
As for the Verses of Forgiveness and Pardon, they aim to shape morality and are to be followed in a context that does not infringe on pride and dignity. Every situation has its own legislation and these verses are also fixed and unassailable.
Legislation that is built upon consideration for different situations, and for the different conditions of individuals and groups, and asks of people that in each situation they follow what is most suitable, cannot be accused of being a contradictory legislation or that some parts of it abrogate others. Indeed, to people with sound minds, it is a wise and extremely precise legislation that promotes the interest of those who fall under its authority and brings happiness to the individual and the community.
1 Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:106.
2 Sūrat al-Mā’idah 5:48.
3 al-Ṭabarī, Jāmiʻ al-Bayān ‘an Ta’wīl al-Qur’ān (Bayrūt: Mu’assasat al-Risālah, 2000), 10:385 verse 5:48.
4 Sūrat al-Nisā’ 4:82.
5 Imām al-Ḥaramayn al-Juwaynī and Jalāl al-Dīn al-Maḥallī, Sharḥ al-Waraqāt fī Uṣūl al-Fiqh (Filasṭīn: Jāmi’at al-Quds, 1999), 1:58-59.
6 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyah, Iʻlām al-Muwaqqiʻīn ’an Rabb al-‘Ālamīn (Dar al-Kutub al-ʻIlmiyah, 1991), 1:29.
7 Louay Fatoohi, Abrogation in the Qur'an and Islamic Law: A Critical Study of the Concept of "naskh" and Its Impact (London: Routledge, 2014), 13.
8 Ibn ’Aqīlah, Al-Ziyādah wal Iḥsān fī ’Ulūm al-Qur’ān (al-Shāriqah: Markaz al-Buḥūth wal-Dirāsāt al-Shāriqah, 2008), 5:298.
9 al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī (Bayrūt: Dār Ṭawq al-Najjāh, 2002), 1:26 #75, kitab al-’ilm bab qawl al-nabi sall Allahu alayhi wa sallam Allahumma ‘allimhu al-Kitab.
10 al-Shāṭibī, Al-Muwāfaqāt (al-Qāhirah: Dār Ibn ‘Affān, 1997), 3:346.
11 al-Sakhāwī, Jamāl al-Qurrā’ wa Kamāl al-Iqrā’ (Bayrūt: Mu’ssasat al-Kutub al-Thaqāfīyah, 1999), 2:589.
12 al-Qurṭubī, Jāmiʻ li-Aḥkām al-Qur'an (al-Qāhirah: Dār al-Kutūb al-Miṣrīyah, 1964) 2:65, verse 2:106.
13 al-Ṭabarī, Jāmiʻ al-Bayān ‘an Ta’wīl al-Qur’ān, 19:153 verse 24:29.
14 al-Zarkashī, Al-Burhān fī ’Ulūm al-Qur’ān (al-Qāhirah: Dār Iḥyāʼ al-Kutub al-ʻArabīyah, 1957), 2:43-44.
15 See for example the chapters “Does the Mushaf contain all of the Qur’an?” and “Abrogation in the Sunna” in Louay Fatoohi’s study Abrogation in the Qur'an and Islamic Law (London: Routledge, 2014), 122-128 and 207-218.
16 See for example al-Juwaynī’s discussion of ‘general’ and ‘specific,’ with al-Maḥallī’s commentary, in Sharḥ al-Waraqāt fī Uṣūl al-Fiqh beginning on page 1:222.
17 Sūrat al-Naḥl 16:101.
18 al-Suyūṭī and al-Maḥallī, Tafsīr al-Jalālayn (al-Qāhirah: Dār al-Ḥadīth, 2001), 1:360.
19 al-Tirmidhī, Sunan al-Tirmidhī (Bayrūt: Dār al-Ġarb al-Islāmī, 1998), 5:103 #3049, kitab tafsir al-Qur’an bab wa min surat al-Ma’idah.
20 Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:219.
21 Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr al-Qur'an al-‘Aẓīm (Bayrūt: Dār al-Kutub al-ʻIlmīyah, 1998), 1:434, verse 2:219.
22 Sūrat al-Nisā’ 4:43.
23 Sūrat al-Mā’idah 5:90.
24 al-Ṭabarī, Jāmiʻ al-Bayān ‘an Ta’wīl al-Qur’ān, 8:377 verse 4:43.
25 Muslim ibn al-Ḥajjāj al-Qushayrī, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim ([Bayrūt]: Dār Iḥyāʼ al-Kutub al-ʻArabīyah, 1955), 3:1205 #1578, kitab al-musaqah bab tahrim bay’i al-khamr.
26 Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 3:1586 #1733, kitab al-ashribah bab bayan in kull muskir khamr wa an kull khamr haram.
27 al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 6:185 #4993, kitab fada’il al-Qur’an bab ta’lif al-Qur’an.
29 Ibn ’Abd Rabbih, Al-’Iqd al-Farīd (Bayrūt: Dār al-Kutub al-’Ilmīyah, 1983), 5:185.
30 Robyn Burton and Nick Sheron, “No level of alcohol consumption improves health,” The Lancet, August 23 2018. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)31571-X/fulltext.
31 Gar L. Fisher and Nancy A. Roget (eds.), Encyclopedia of substance abuse prevention, treatment, & recovery (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2009) 1005. http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781412964500.n343.
34 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyah, Iʻlām al-Muwaqqiʻīn, 4:157.
35 Khalid Yahya Blankinship, "Sword Verses," in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236/e0979 (accessed 29 Aug 2018).
36 Sūrat al-Tawbah 9:5.
37 Sūrat al-Tawbah 9:10-13.
38 Sūrat al-Tawbah 9:6.
39 al-Ṭabarī, Jāmiʻ al-Bayān ‘an Ta’wīl al-Qur’ān, 14:140 verse 9:6.
40 Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:190.
41 Hassan Shibly, “War, Islam, and the Sanctity of Life: Non-Aggression in the Islamic Code of Combat,” Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research. 03 October 2017. https://yaqeeninstitute.org/en/hassan-shibly/war-islam-and-the-sanctity-of-life-non-aggression-in-the-islamic-code-of-combat/
42 Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal, Al-Musnad (al-Qāhirah: Dār al-Ḥadīth, 1995), 6:233-234 #6681; declared authentic (ṣaḥīḥ) by Aḥmad Shākir in the commentary.
43 al-Ṭabarī, Jāmiʻ al-Bayān ‘an Ta’wīl al-Qur’ān, 3:563 verse 2:190.
44 al-Ṭabarī, Jāmiʻ al-Bayān ‘an Ta’wīl al-Qur’ān, 3:562 verse 2:190.
45 Ibn Taymīyah, Kitāb al-Nubūwāt (al-Riyāḍ: Aḍwāʼ al-Salaf, 2000), 1:570.
46 Ibn Taymīyah, Qāʻidah Mukhtaṣarah fī Qitāl al-Kuffār wa Muhādanatuhum wa Taḥrīm Qatlahum li Mujarrad Kufrihim (al-Riyād: ʻAbd al-ʻAzīz ibn ʻAbd Allāh ibn Ibrāhīm al-Zayr Āl Ḥamad, 2004), 101.
47 al-Ṭabarī, Jāmiʻ al-Bayān ‘an Ta’wīl al-Qur’ān, 3:561-562 verse 2:190.
48 al-Baydạ̄wī, Anwār al-Tanzīl wa Asrār al-Ta’wīl (Bayrūt: Dār Ihỵāʼ al-Turāth al-’Arabī, 1998), 1:270 verse 2:190.
49 al-Dhahabī, Siyar A’lām al-Nubalā’ (al-Qāhirah: Dār al-Ḥadīth, 2006), 14:85.
50 ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Nāṣir al-Sa’dī, Taysīr al-Karīm al-Raḥmān fī Tafsīr Kalām al-Mannān (Bayrūt: Mu’assasat al-Risālah, 2000), 1:89 verse 2:190.
51 Abū Dāwūd, Sunan Abī Dāwūd (Ṣaydā, Lubnān: al-Maktabah al-Aṣrīyah, 1980), 4:112 #4302, kitab al-Malahim bab fi al-nahi ‘an tahyij al-Turk wa al-Habashah; declared good (ḥasan) by al-Albānī in the commentary.
52 Sūrat al-Anfāl 8:61.
53 Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr al-Qur'an al-‘Aẓīm, 4:74 verse 8:61.
54 Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal, Al-Musnad, 1:469 #695; declared authentic (ṣaḥīḥ) by Aḥmad Shākir in the commentary.
55 Ibn Rushd (Averroës), Bidāyat al-Mujtahid wa Nihāyat al-Muqtaṣid (al-Qāhirah: Dār al-Ḥadīth, 2004), 2:150.
56 The verb tuqsitu ilayhim is often translated as “be fair to them.” That is a possible linguistic meaning. However, it more likely means in this context, as Al-Qurtubi said, “give them a payment (qistan) from your wealth for the purpose of good relations.” He further explains, “It does not mean ‘justice’ here, because justice is required for those who fight and those who do not fight, as said by Ibn al-’Arabi” (Jāmiʻ li-Aḥkām al-Qur'an, 18:59 verse 60:8).
57 Sūrat al-Mumtaḥanah 60:8-9.
58 Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:193.
59 al-Ṭabarī, Jāmiʻ al-Bayān ‘an Ta’wīl al-Qur’ān, 23:323 verse 60:8.
60 al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 3:164 #2620, kitab al-Hibah wa Fadliha bab al-hadiyyah lil-mushrikin.
61 al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 8:4 #5978, kitab al-Adab bab sillah al-walid al-mushrik.
62 al-Qurṭubī, Jāmiʻ li-Aḥkām al-Qur'an, 18:59-60 verse 60:8.
63 Ghazi bin Muhammad, Ibrahim Kalin, and Mohammad Hashim Kamali (eds.), War and Peace in Islam: The Uses and Abuses in Jihad (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2013), 17-18.
64 Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Michael D. Coogan, Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins, The New Oxford Annotated Bible: with the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 939.