Abrogation in the Quran


The Problem of Abrogation in the Quran

Farooq Ibrahim

Over the years, a number of Muslims and some non-Muslims have asked me why I had problems defending my Islamic faith. While a Muslim in the late 1980’s, and seeking the truth within Islam, I was faced with a number of issues in defending my faith. One such issue was “abrogation.” Abrogation means to annul or cancel something with appropriate or legal authority. The purpose of writing this response has been to provide an answer to my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters regarding the challenges I faced at that point in my faith. During this time I was not seeking to put down or reject Islam, on the contrary, my goal was to invite others to Islam. In trying to grapple with this topic, I was armed primarily with the Quran, Hadith (the documented words and/or deeds of Mohammad) and other supporting works by Muslims and some non-Muslim authors. Please note that the purpose of this response is not to publish an academic work with a thorough and critical evaluation on the entire topic of abrogation, but mostly a reflection on a personal journey as I was contending with my Islamic faith.

The concept of “abrogation” in the Quran is that Allah chose to reveal ayat (singular ayah – means a sign or miracle, commonly a verse in the Quran) that supercede earlier ayat in the same Quran. The central ayah that deals with abrogation is Surah 2:106:

None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things?

I struggled with the question of how an eternal revelation of Allah could have such time-bound revelation in it. It seemed at odds with the nature of Allah – the all-knowing, all-wise, creator and sustainer of the universe; the eternal, self-existent one. As a Muslim this was one of the bigger challenges I faced with regard to the Quran. Although the Quran is said to be an eternal and universal scripture, I found it to be time-bound.

Not all Muslim scholars agree on what abrogation covers. Briefly here was my discovery.

  • Muslim scholars of old hold to the concept that some ayahs in the Quran abrogate other ayahs in the Quran, but do not all hold to the same set of abrogated and abrogating ayahs.
  • Other Muslim scholars are of the opinion that the Quran may abrogate the Quran as well as the Sunnah (deed or example of Mohammad) and vice versa.
  • Some Muslim scholars hold that the Quran abrogates all the previous scriptures, specifically the scriptures sent to Musa and Isa, but not itself.
  • Some Muslim scholars, especially of recent times do not believe in the concept of abrogation at all.

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