Misconceptions Refuted

Monday, October 18, 2021

Is it true that there are neither abrogating nor abrogated verses in the Qur’an,...?

Is it true that there are neither abrogating nor abrogated verses in the Qur’an, and that what is stated in the Qur’an regarding Allah’s abrogation of some ’ayahs only refers to the legislations of the previous religions?

     Affirming or denying abrogation in the Qur’an is an old controversial issue among the ʾusūl scholars (i.e., scholars of shari’ah foundations). This dispute began in the fourth century AH, when Abu Muslim Al-ʾAsfahāni (d. 322 AH) stated that there was no abrogation in the Noble Qur’an, based on evidence from shari’ah as well as from reason, contrary to the consensus of his predecessors on the occurrence of abrogation in the Qur’an.

     This disagreement has continued among ʾusūl scholars until now, with evidence provided by each group for their point of view. This disagreement, however, is not supposed to cause division or discord among Muslims; it is only a scholarly issue related to the branches rather than the foundations of shari’ah. Muslims will not be asked in their graves or on the Day of Judgment whether they believe in the theory of abrogation in the Qur’an or not.

Those who deny abrogation rely on the following evidence:

1. The positions where abrogation occurs in the Qur’an (according to the advocates of abrogation in the Noble Qur’an) are so few that they can be counted on the fingers of one hand, or may even be fewer according to some scholars. So, it is not a serious disagreement, at least from the practical point of view.

2. The disagreement over some verses of abrogation is only verbal; what advocates regard as a case of abrogation is sometimes regarded by opponents as  a case of specification. This is only a matter of terminology which should not cause any dispute as long as the two groups agree on the ruling stipulated in the Quranic verse.

3. The reason for disagreement over some aspects has no foundation. Opponents of abrogation in the Qur’an justify their opinion on the grounds that their denial of abrogation is only to exalt Allah Almighty above changing a ruling after the appearance of something that was hidden (i.e. attributing to Allah, Exalted be He, that He legislated a given rule, then it appeared to Him that it was not valid, and so He legislated something else, abrogating the first rule).

     On the other hand, advocates of the occurrence of abrogation do not regard abrogation as a kind of afterthought, but as a way of attending to the changing circumstances of real-life by revealing the rulings on a gradual basis, according to Allah’s eternal knowledge, such that the first ruling suited and applied to the earlier circumstances, while the abrogating ruling suited the later circumstances.

4. Among opponents of abrogation, there is a group who interpret two successive contradicting rulings in one issue in a way that combines the two rulings in effect, without one of them abrogating the other. This is accepted by the advocates of abrogation; for combining two rulings in a way that does not lead to an apparent contradiction takes precedence over regarding the second ruling as abrogation of the first one, as in the case of the waiting period for a pregnant woman whose husband has died.

5. Some of what has been said to be abrogated in the Qur’an both in terms of recitation and ruling or in terms of ruling alone is confirmed in the authentic Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH), and the dispute in such issues is for some reason other than affirming or denying abrogation.