Age of the Different Surahs

Here I shall discuss the objections raised by the mistakes’ author at this page. First of all, let me summarize what he has to say.

  1. There are many verses in the Quran that contradict each other and some of them give rigid order than others.
  2. To solve this problem, the principle of abrogation was devised i.e. to accept the latest verse and consider the other as obsolete. This principle is also mentioned in the Quran
  3. Today the Muslims are reluctant to accept this principle because it proves that Allah is not wise enough to think of the best thing at the very first time. In fact, He also has to go through the process of trial and error to reach a viable solution.
  4. In order to avoid accepting this, the Muslims make excuses that no command is abrogated; it’s just that a flexible command was made rigid.
  5. As soon as the principle of abrogation is accepted an unending question rises that which verse is the abrogator and which one is abrogated.
  6. The concept of abrogator and abrogated is ubiquitous in the Quran but the Muslims today do not accept it. They are just trying to escape from facts. They are in delusion.

There is no doubt that the principle of abrogation is mentioned in the Quran and texts on the Principles of Jurisprudence but it is nothing like what the mistakes’ author has mentioned. The author either is not aware of the whole narrative or just wants to distort it. In order to understand the reality of abrogation please reflect on the following example:

When my son was of one year, I asked my wife to feed him solely on milk. When he became of six months I asked her to feed him something solid but soft e.g. mashed bananas. When he became of one year, I asked her to feed him more solid food. Similarly, when he was one and a half year old I advised her to begin feeding him normal adult food gradually. These changing ‘orders’ are what we call abrogations. The order that was ordained for a child of one day was abrogated for a child of two years. Now if someone, after hearing these sequence, starts complaining that the advisor is not wise or that he learns from trial and error and consequently abrogates previous orders then it only means that the mistake pointer himself is not wise enough. To advise taking in consideration the state of a child is definitely wise and not comprehending this is not!

Similar is the case in the Quran. Some directives of the Quran that are considered abrogated were ordained gradually for training of the Muslims. When they were eventually trained and able to bear further commands they were given new ones. In initial days of the Quran, people were first brought to the ambit of faith. Then they were trained only in ethics; they were encouraged to feed the poor, to help them, to speak the truth, to abstain from fornication etc. When the ethical training reached a certain level, prayers were made obligatory. The commandment to fast was delayed till migration to Medina. It was kept flexible because everyone wasn’t trained to the extent that they may start observing fasts of a whole month all of a sudden. Afterwards when people got used to, the law of fasting was made a little rigid. This is a very prudent way. Had all the obligations of the religion enforced the very first day and the “wisdom” of mistakes’ author employed no one would have accepted Islam. The same procedure was adopted to outlaw drinking. Firstly, drinking being a sin was mentioned (The Cow: 219) Then coming to prayers while drunk was forbidden (The Women: 43). That’s how the Muslims were shown that it is a sin and disliked by God. Then by declaring drinking as a Satanic act it was made unlawful (The Table: 90-91)

Had this gradual process not adopted the mistakes’ author wouldn’t have objected but there wouldn’t have been any believer too. We may call it abrogation but in essence it is a training course through which the believers were passed.  I am not saying this today because someone has raised some objection, the scholars have been saying the same since long. In fact, in the very beginning the wife of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), Aisha (ra) also mentioned the same:

“(Be informed) that the first thing that was revealed thereof was a Sura from Al-Mufassal, and in it was mentioned Paradise and the Fire. When the people embraced Islam, the Verses regarding legal and illegal things were revealed. If the first thing to be revealed was: ‘Do not drink alcoholic drinks.’ people would have said, ‘We will never leave alcoholic drinks,’ and if there had been revealed, ‘Do not commit illegal sexual intercourse,’ they would have said, ‘We will never give up illegal sexual intercourse.’” Volume 6, Book 61, Number 515

Therefore, what mistakes’ author is presenting as a proof against Quran is actually proving that it is from All Knowing and Wise Being.

There are two reasons why the Muslims are denying it today:

Firstly, there has been a difference of opinion in this matter since beginning. That’s why they are opting for a better position out of the two old positions.

Secondly, nowadays the word ‘Naskh’ (abrogation) is not used in the meaning it was used ages ago. Today it just means ‘to abrogate’. Therefore, the concept of ‘Naskh’ that these naive people whether Muslims or non Muslims are presenting does not appeal to the reason. That’s why they are compelled to deny it.

For example, in the works of ancient jurists the word ‘Naskh’ has also been used for exceptions e.g. I announced in my classroom that any students coming late tomorrow will be marked absent. Next day a student arrived late with a bandage on his hand. He injured himself in an accident and had to visit hospital for treatment and thus was delayed. I, due to his special circumstances, didn’t mark him absent. Other students, thought that the previous announcement has been abrogated. However, the previous announcement is intact. It is just that it has not been applied in a particular situation. Similar cases in Quran and Hadith were called ‘Naskh’.

Let’s now analyze the actual status of abrogation. The concept of abrogation is Quran develops from the following verses:

2:106 مَا نَنْسَخْ مِنْ آيَةٍ أَوْ نُنْسِهَا نَأْتِ بِخَيْرٍ مِنْهَا أَوْ مِثْلِهَا أَلَمْ تَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللهَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ‎

“If We abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, We replace it by a better one or one similar to it. Do you not know that God has power over all things?” (The Cow: 106)

وَإِذَا بَدَّلْنَا آيَةً مَّكَانَ آيَةٍ وَاللهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا يُنَزِّلُ قَالُواْ إِنَّمَا أَنتَ مُفْتَرٍ بَلْ أَكْثَرُهُمْ لاَ يَعْلَمُونَ 16:101

“When We substitute one revelation for another, and God knows best what He reveals, they say, “You are but a fabricator.“ Indeed, most of them have no knowledge.” (The Bee: 101)

Meaning of these verses:

The first one mentioned above is in The Cow. In this chapter the stance of the Jews, a group of the People of the Book, is criticized. A simple reading of verse 2:105 to 2:109 will make it clear that an objection of the People of Book is being answered. The objection was: if Quran is a Book of the same God who revealed Gospels to Jesus and Torah to Moses then why is it that Quran is talking something unheard of. It should have been that case that the same law of slavery revealed to Moses, for example, was given to Muhammad as well. To change command implies that it is not from the God of Moses. It is historically proven that Moses was a prophet of God. Therefore, Torah is God’s commands. Now, if a new order is being ordained by God then it should be same as that given to Moses. If it’s not then it is not from God. This actually is the same logic that is being employed by mistakes’ author i.e. God’s commandments cannot be altered. Actually it is not the case. Had the situation and circumstances of Muslims been 100% same as that of the Jews in the times of Moses, the order of God would have definitely been the same. But as culture and conditions were undergoing a change, the world during the times of Islam was entering into a new era, a religion was needed that can be implemented everywhere and remain applicable till the Judgment Day. Therefore, it was necessary that some things that were given according to the old culture be modified to suit the new era. For example, for the Jews the law of God was to free a slave after seven years etc. Islam put forward the law that whenever a slave demands freedom his master must free him whether it is the state who pays his price or he pays it off himself. The value common among the two laws is that the slaves should be freed but its form suggested was different due to differences in cultures. What was good during Moses’ times was ordained then and what was good in Muhammad’s era was ordained now. Quran also clarifies that the basics of God’s religion has always remained the same but the way or law to achieve it kept changing i.e. the slaves should be freed is the principle and what has been to the Jews at one time and to the Muslims at the other is the law:

وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ مُصَدِّقًا لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَمُهَيْمِنًا عَلَيْهِ فَاحْكُم بَيْنَهُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّـهُ وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَهُمْ عَمَّا جَاءَكَ مِنَ الْحَقِّ لِكُلٍّ جَعَلْنَا مِنكُمْ شِرْعَةًوَمِنْهَاجًاوَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّـهُ لَجَعَلَكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَلَـٰكِن لِّيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُمْ فَاسْتَبِقُوا الْخَيْرَاتِ إِلَى اللَّـهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ  جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ فِيهِ تَخْتَلِفُونَ 5:48

“We have sent down the Book to you with the truth, fulfilling [the predictions] revealed in the previous scriptures and determining what is true therein, and as a guardian over it. Judge, therefore, between them by what God has revealed, and do not follow their vain desires turning away from the truth that has come to you. To every one of you (Jews, Christian and Muslims) We have ordained a law and a way, and had God so willed, He would have made you all a single community, but He did not so will, in order that He might try you by what He has given you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works; to God you shall all return; then He will make clear to you about what you have been disputing.” (The Table: 48)

i.e. God’s religion has always been the same but the way to follow it has been different due to various reasons. For example, the traffic laws have been devised to avoid accidents. This is the actual ‘religion’ but the ways of following it may be different e.g. a few decades ago a traffic warden used to stand in between the square. He had special signals. Every signal had a different meaning; when to stop and when to go. As civilization progressed traffic lights replaced him. The original order was the same i.e. traffic must be controlled but the form has changed. Now we follow traffic lights instead of the constable’s signals. Exactly same is the case with God’s religion. Hence, last part of the above quoted verse mentions that do not argue over the form. Try, instead, to excel in the good deeds.

It is not the case that God’s opinion about what is right and what is wrong has been changed but to follow a good in older way has been become difficult for people. Therefore, to achieve the same old good a new and easier form has been suggested.

Result

The basic religion is the same but its form has been changing according to circumstances. Quran has called this “abrogation”. This abrogation is not a proof of God’s trial-and-error but of Providence; that God is alive and active  . Therefore, He has ordained new laws according to changing circumstances which helps following the basic religion in a better way:

مَا نَنْسَخْ مِنْ آيَةٍ أَوْ نُنْسِهَا نَأْتِ بِخَيْرٍ مِنْهَا أَوْ مِثْلِهَا أَلَمْ تَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللهَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ 2:106

“If We abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, We replace it by a better one or one similar to it. Do you not know that God has power over all things?” (The Cow: 106)

The last part of the verse “Do you not know that God has power over all things?” is a narration of God’s authority. That God is the King of the World and He can order whatever He wishes whenever He wants but He always gives a command that is similar or better than the previous, which suits better to the changing circumstances.

The second verse is in The Bee. Its theme is almost same as that of the one mentioned above.

Summary

The word abrogation carries two senses:

  1. To ordain a new law replacing previous laws of Divine Books. In this, the basic religion is the same but Shariah/procedure differs e.g. the original principle of traffic is the same but constable has been replaced by the lights. This is a proof of God being Gentle and Realistic and that He does not ordain laws that become cumbersome to follow in changed circumstances.
  2. The Quran was revealed gradually so that the converts are trained and brought to the whole religion gradually. This is the natural and logical way. This is unwise to impose the curriculum of Masters onto a first grader. He will be brought to Masters gradually. This is the state of affairs adopted by God. This is a proof of God’s Wisdom and Omniscience.

Is the concept of abrogation a hurdle in understanding Quran?

Last two or three questions mean that people don’t know which verse is abrogated and which is not. Well, the concept of abrogation we narrated above which is derived from Quran does not pose any hurdle in understanding Quran. But the concept which Mistakes’ author presents is not only flawed but if it were there it would definitely have caused trouble in understanding Quran. Since this type of abrogation does not exist the Muslims were never troubled. The fact is that the there is no proof in the Quran and Hadith that supports the notion that there has been any abrogation in Quran.

This whole matter began when Muslim scholars started founding Islamic jurisprudence on deductive logic. Consequently, it was narrowed. Common and simple principles of the language faded into oblivion. For example, it was an affect of deductive logic that it was assumed that an imperative is always to declare something obligatory. Therefore, every imperative in Quran will be for obligation except when a contextual indication indicates otherwise. Everyone can read the books of jurisprudence to know the difficulties that were produced for the jurists only because of this rule. The concept of abrogation that is found in our books is a result of deductive way of thinking. This type of abrogation was introduced by scholars while using deductive logic and they themselves rejected it after many centuries. For example, in the Subcontinent it was initiated by Shah Waliullah.

In short, this type of abrogation was not there in Quran. Scholars brought it to existence they themselves obliterated it. The objection of Mistakes’ author can be on scholars but not on Quran.

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