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Don Stewart :: What Is the Law of Abrogation in Islam?

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What Is the Law of Abrogation in Islam? (Later Passages in the Qur’an Can Contradict Earlier Ones)

Islam – Question 20

One important concept of Islam is what has known as “the law of abrogation.” It is called naskh. It is vital that this be understood. The following observations need to be made about this practice.

Understanding the Law of Abrogation

Islam teaches that in the Quran there are some verses that “abrogate,” or “cancel out,” other verses. Certain verses are rendered null and void by later verses. Consequently, they are no longer applicable. Thus, one passage is replaced, or cancelled out, by another. What we have left in ht Quran are statements that conflict.

However, Muslims do not consider these abrogations as contradictions by their God Allah. Instead, they seem them as improvements that better suited the changing circumstances, or needs, of the early Muslims. Things changed during the twenty-three year period in which Muhammad spoke the Quran. As the historical circumstances changed, Muhammad’s teachings, which are found in the Quran, changed accordingly. Thus, we find that the Quran abrogates, or cancels itself, in various passages.

Examples of the Law in Practice

There are a number of important examples of the law of abrogation. They include the original acceptance of Christianity and Judaism, the original direction of prayer was toward Jerusalem, and the command for Muslims to allow freedom of worship for all. These three practices were later abrogated, or cancelled out. The evidence is as follows.

Judaism and Christianity Were Once Accepted by Muslims

While there is no universally accepted chronology of the revelations of the Quran, the broad outlines of Muhammad’s life make it clear that the belligerent verses were revealed later than the peaceful ones. In his early career in Mecca, his tone was more pacifying. The prophet hoped to convert Jews and Christians.

However, it later became apparent that neither Jews nor Christians would accept him as a prophet of the true God. At that time, the message of Allah began to change. While at Medina, these later revelations were much more belligerent. Thus, according to the doctrine of abrogation, or naskh, the peaceful verses are not in effect any longer while the violent ones are still in effect.

Unfortunately, Muslim extremists are aware of this. This is why they can feel free to quote the Quran in support of their violent actions. They clearly believe that when they do so, they are using the word of Allah as it was meant to be used, and as it was used by Muhammad. He practiced what he preached in his treatment of non-Muslims.

Prayer Was Originally toward Jerusalem

In his early days as a prophet, Muhammad had some degree of acceptance among Jews and Christians. Consequently, prayer was originally to be made toward the city of Jerusalem, the holy city of Christians and Jews. However, this also changed when the Jews and Christians would not accept Muhammad as their prophet or Islam as their faith. When this occurred the direction of prayer was changed or abrogated. Prayer was now to be directed toward the new holy city, Mecca.

Freedom of Worship for All Was Originally Commanded

Defenders of Islam like to point out certain verses in the Quran that make it seem like it is peaceful religion and tolerant religion. The Quran says,

There is no compulsion in religion. (Surah 2:256)

However, this citation is misleading. This verse is from the earlier teaching of Muhammad. In his later career, he said just the opposite.

So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Surah 9:5)

The following is also said in Surah nine.

O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be unyielding to them; and their abode is hell, and evil is the destination. (Surah 9:73)

Thus, the earlier teaching is cancelled out by this later teaching. It is believed that the verse in Surah two was spoken by Muhammad about seven to eight years earlier than the one spoken in Surah nine. Therefore, the one in Surah nine is the authoritative one. The statement in Surah two has been abrogated.

The following is how the Quran sees the pagans, the Christians and the Jews. Again, we read from Surah nine. It says,

O you who believe! The idolaters are nothing but unclean, so they shall not approach the Sacred Mosque after this year; and if you fear poverty then Allah will enrich you out of His grace if He please; surely Allah is Knowing Wise. Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection. And the Jews say: Uzair is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away! They have taken their doctors of law and their monks for lords besides Allah, and (also) the Messiah son of Mary and they were enjoined that they should serve one God only, there is no god but He; far from His glory be what they set up (with Him). They desire to put out the light of Allah with their mouths, and Allah will not consent save to perfect His light, though the unbelievers are averse. He it is Who sent His Apostle with guidance and the religion of truth, that He might cause it to prevail over all religions, though the polytheists may be averse. (Surah 9:28-33)

Sura 9 is considered to be one of the last, if not the last, of the “revelations” of Muhammad that became of the Quran. It is important to note that it is in Surah 9 that some of the most violent verses in regards to Jihad are revealed. Thus, the revelation from Allah to Muhammad ended on a violent note.

According to this part of the Quran, the Muslims are supposed to fight the Jews and Christians until these two groups submit to Muslim rule and agree to pay special higher taxes aimed at them. This is explicitly specified in the Quran.

Some Do Not Think There Are Contradictions

Some Muslims do not think that these are cases of abrogation or contradictions between one passage and another. Rather, these verses provide examples of delaying or postponing the command to fight the infidels. The command to fight the infidels was delayed until the Muslims become strong. When they were weak they were commanded to endure and be patient.

Muslims say that Allah revealed to Muhammad in his weak condition what suited the situation at the time, because of his mercy to him and his followers. If Allah gave them the command to fight while they were weak, the result would have been embarrassing and difficult for them. However, when the Allah made Islam victorious he then commanded Muhammad with what suited the new situation. Indeed, Allah said that the Jews and Christians had to become Muslims or to pay the levied tax. Infidels had to become Muslims or face death. Therefore, Allah withheld his true intentions toward Jews and Christians until the time Muslims had sufficient ability to overcome them.

The same thing holds true today in countries where Muslims are a minority. They will act peacefully toward the “powers that be” until they are in control. At that time, the non-Muslims are penalized for not being part of “the faith.”

This gives a brief look at the “law of abrogation.”

The Christian Response to the Law of Abrogation

In response, we note that there is no such thing in Christianity as the Law of Abrogation. A few observations need to be made.

1. God Does Not Contradict Himself

The God of the Bible does not contradict Himself. In fact, He cannot contradict Himself. We read the Lord saying of Himself,

“I am the LORD, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already completely destroyed.” (Malachi 3:6 NLT)

The Lord, the God of the Bible does not change.

2. Progressive Revelation versus the Law of Abrogation

What we do find in Scripture is progressive revelation. That is, God progressively reveals doctrines to people over time. However, these later doctrines do no abrogate the earlier ones in the same way as Islam changed its doctrines. Progressive revelation means that God has revealed more complete truth rather than contradictory truths as in Islam. Furthermore, the God of the Bible does not let the situation dictate His actions. He controls all situations, they do not control Him!

3. There Is No Command to Obey Old Testament Laws

For example, the Old Testament commands certain behavior of all believes such as the observation of the Sabbath. We read in the Ten Commandments,

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11 ESV)

The Israelites were obligated to obey the Sabbath.

However, the New Testament specifically says that believers are not to obey any of these laws. Paul wrote to the Colossians,

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17 ESV)

The New Living Translation puts it this way.

So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new-moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules were only shadows of the real thing, Christ himself. (Colossians 2:16-17 NLT)

The Christian is no longer obligated to celebrate the Sabbath or any of the other Old Testament ceremonial laws. These have been done away with.

Indeed, God is not working today through one people, Israel, or through one land, the Promised Land. Instead, New Testament believers are to go out into the entire world and preach the good news about Jesus Christ. This truth was not known in the Old Testament. It was only revealed in the New Testament. This is progressive revelation.

4. Violence Is Not to Be Practiced toward Unbelievers

Something else needs to be noted. There is no violence associated toward those who reject the Christian faith. They are to be evangelized and prayed for but certainly not threatened or harmed physically.

The gospel is never to be equated with physical force. People personally choose whether to believe or not to believe. Violence should never be equated with spreading the message of Christ. Anyone who does this is acting contrary to the teachings of the Lord Himself.

Indeed, as Jesus was being betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane Simon Peter drew out his sword to defend his Lord. Jesus rebuked this type of behavior. We read Him saying the following.

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52 NIV)

The message of Jesus is not spread by the sword.

In sum, the Law of Abrogation has nothing similar in Christianity. The newer revelation does not contradict the older. The God of Scripture does not let situation dictate what He will reveal to His people. He is in complete control.

Summary – Question 20
What Is The Law Of Abrogation In Islam? (Later Passages In The Quran Can Contradict Earlier Ones)

Islam has what it known as the law of abrogation. It basically says that later doctrines may contradict earlier ones. This is important since some sections of the Quran clearly contradict other sections. Indeed, there are a number of beliefs that changed in Muhammad’s lifetime. This includes the direction of prayer, the extent of his message, and the command to put to death those who reject his message.

Some Muslims do not actually consider these passages as contradictions. They say that the initial commands were given while Islam was weak. Once it was in control, then the real commands were given. This way the idea that Allah could have contradicted himself is avoided.

There is no such thing as the Law of Abrogation as far as Scripture is concerned. God certainly does not, and cannot, contradict Himself. He does not change in His character or His promises. Furthermore, He does not let the situation control His actions. Indeed, He controls all situations.

In the Old Testament, there were a number of laws that were later made null and void under the New Covenant. For example, in the Old Testament believers were commanded to observe certain holy days, including the Sabbath. There is no such commandment for New Testament believers. There is no obligation to observe the ceremonial laws.

This, however, is not the law of abrogation but rather “progressive revelation.” God did not reveal everything to His people at once. Instead, He progressively revealed His truth over a long period of time. The later revelation did not contradict the earlier revelation but rather superseded it. Jesus Christ came to the earth and fulfilled predictions which were written about the coming Messiah.

Thus, we again have another conflict between Islam and Christianity. The God of Islam either contradicts himself or waits until certain situations occur before making a move. The God of the Bible does not contradict Himself nor does He allow situations to dictate what He will reveal to His people. The differences are again striking.

What Is the Role of Women in Islam? ← Prior Section
What Should Be the Proper Attitude of Christians toward the Belief System of Islam? Next Section →
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