Doctrine of Abrogation

Doctrine of Abrogation 

The supporters of the ‘Doctrine of Abrogation’ base their argument on the following verse, on the supposition , that since the various passages of the Qur’an was revealed according to the needs of a particular stage some of the earlier revelations were superseded by later revelations.

(2:106) Any message which We annul or consign to oblivion We replace with a better or similar one.87 Dost thou not know that God has the power to will anything?

87 The principle laid down in this passage – relating to the supersession  of the Biblical dispensation by that of the Qur’an – has given rise to an erroneous interpretation by many Muslim theologians. The word ayah (“message”) occurring in this context is also used to denote a “verse” of the Qur’an ( because every one of these verses contains a message ). Taking this restricted meaning of the term ayah, some scholars conclude from the above passage that certain verses of the Qur’an have been “abrogated” by God’s command before the revelation of the Qur’an was completed. The fancifulness of this assertion  calls to mind the image of a human author correcting, on second thought, the proofs of his manuscript, deleting one passage and replacing it with another. At the root of the so called “doctrine of abrogation” may lie the inability of some of the earlier commentators to reconcile one Qur’anic passage with another: a difficulty which was overcome by declaring that one of the verses in question had been “abrogated”. This arbitrary procedure explains also why there is no unanimity whatsoever among the upholders of the “doctrine of abrogation” as to which, and how many, Qur’an-verses have been affected by it; and furthermore as to whether this alleged abrogation implies a total elimination of the verse in question from the context of the Qur’an, or only a cancellation of the specific ordinance or statement contained in it. In short, the “doctrine of abrogation” has no basis whatsoever in historical fact, and must be rejected. On the other hand, the apparent difficulty in interpreting the above Qur’anic passage disappears immediately if the term ayah is understood, correctly, as “message”, and if we read this verse in conjunction with preceding verse (2:105), which states that the Jews and the Christians refuse to accept any revelation which might supersede that of the Bible: for, if read in this way, the abrogation relates to earlier divine messages and not to any part of the Qur’an itself. 

Other verses which gives weight against the ‘Doctrine of Abrogation’ are as follows:

(13:39) God annuls or confirms whatever He wills [of His earlier messages ] – for with Him is the source of all revelation.77

77 I.e., He is the fountainhead or source of all revelation. – As regards the preceding reference to the abrogation of earlier divine dispensations and their supersession by later ones – ending with the final revelation, the Qur’an, – see 2:106 and the corresponding note 87.

(16:101) And now that We replace one message by another125  — since God is aware of what He bestows from on high, step by step126 they [who deny the truth] are wont to say, “Thou but inventest it!” Nay, but most of them do not understand it!127

125 I.e. by substituting the message of the Qur’an for earlier dispensations – and not, as some Muslim scholars maintain , “abrogating” one Qur’anic verse and replacing it with another. (Regarding the untenable “doctrine of abrogation”, in the latter sense, see 2:106 and the corresponding note 87; see also note 35 on 41:42.

126 I.e., the gradualness of revelation (implied in the verbal form yunazzil) corresponds to God’s plan, according to which He has gradually unfolded His will to man, substituting one dispensation for another in the measure of mankind’s intellectual and social development, bringing it to its culmination in the message of the Qur’an.

127 I.e., they do not understand the necessity of a new dispensation and, therefore, do not really understand the Qur’an.

(18:27) AND  CONVEY [to the world] whatever has been revealed to thee of thy Sustainer’s writ. There is nothing that could alter His words;35 and thou canst find no refuge other than with Him.

35 According to Razi, it is on this passage, among others, that the great Qur’an commentator Abu Muslim al-Isfahani based his rejection of the so called “doctrine of abrogation” discussed in note 87 on 2:106.

(41:41-42) Verily, they who are bent on denying the truth of this reminder as soon as it comes to them – [ they are the losers]: for, behold, it is a sublime divine writ: (42) no falsehood can ever attain to it openly, and neither in a stealthy manner,35 [since it is] bestowed from  on high by One who is truly wise, ever to be praised.

35 Lit., “neither from between its hands, nor from behind it”, i.e., it cannot be openly changed by means of additions or omissions (Razi), and neither surreptitiously, by hostile or deliberately confusing interpretations. The above is one of the Qur’anic passages on which the great commentator Abu Muslim al-Isfahani (as quoted by Razi) bases his absolute rejection of the theory of “abrogation” (for which see note 87 on 2:106). Since the “abrogation” of any Qur’an-verse would have amounted to its ibtal – that is, to an open implied declaration that it was henceforth to be regarded as null and void – the verse in question would have to be considered “false” (batil) in the context of the Qur’an as it is before us: Abu Muslim points out, would clearly contradict the above statement that “no falsehood  (batil) can ever attain to it”.

Conclusion: Hence any abrogation, as could be interpreted in verse 2:106  relates to earlier divine messages and not to any part of the Qur’an itself.

Reference: All the verses above, together with the commentaries are from: The Message of the Qur’an by Muhammad Asad. Published by Dar al-Andalus Ltd., 3 Library Ramp, Gibraltar.