Abrogations in the Quran

If the Quran is timeless and uncreated, how is it that it can be abrogated.  Does God change his mind?  Why would he need to adjust it on demand and based on the circumstances?  If Allah decided the previous revelations could be corrupted because the final one is coming next, wouldn’t this one be really final, and not adjusted here and there piecemeal?  There is a very troubling story in the hadith literature about the Quran being adjusted on request of a blind man.

The Quran is the uncreated word of God.  It was revealed by Allah in entirety in to lawh-al-mahfood

إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةِ الْقَدْرِ
Indeed, We sent the Qur’an down during the Night of Decree. (Quran 97:1)
وَالْكِتَابِ الْمُبِينِ
إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ ۚ إِنَّا كُنَّا مُنذِرِينَ
By the clear Book, Indeed, We sent it down during a blessed night. Indeed, We were to warn [mankind]. (Quran 44:1-3)

Then it was revealed piece by piece to the Prophet Muhammad.

وَقُرْآنًا فَرَقْنَاهُ لِتَقْرَأَهُ عَلَى النَّاسِ عَلَىٰ مُكْثٍ وَنَزَّلْنَاهُ تَنزِيلًا
And [it is] a Qur’an which We have separated [by intervals] that you might recite it to the people over a prolonged period. And We have sent it down progressively. (Quran 17:106)

With this in mind, does it make sense that God decided to cancel out some of the verses or cause them to be forgotten and then replace them with similar other ones?  Or does it make more sense that during the 23 year career of Prophet Muhammad he forgot some of the verses and was called out for it?  Thus the Quran came to his defense that God himself causes some verses to be forgotten and gives him better ones.

مَا نَنسَخْ مِنْ آيَةٍ أَوْ نُنسِهَا نَأْتِ بِخَيْرٍ مِّنْهَا أَوْ مِثْلِهَا ۗ أَلَمْ تَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent? (Quran, 2:106)
Here are references from the sunnah where the Quran was changed.  The most freaky example to those with eman is the following story: Zaid was told by Prophet Muhammad to write down a revelation of Allah regarding the believers who stay behind are not equal to those that fight.  Then Amr bin Um Maktum (the same blind man regarding Surah Abasa) asked “what about me..?”.  And then the Prophet told Zaid to cancel the old verse and gave him a different verse that included an exception for blind men who could not fight.  Apparently Allah either forgot about blind men, or needed a suggestion from humans on what to include in his divine eternal revelation?

Narrated Al-Bara:
There was revealed: ‘Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and those who strive and fight in the Cause of Allah.’ (4.95) The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Call Zaid for me and let him bring the board, the inkpot and the scapula bone (or the scapula bone and the ink pot).”‘ Then he said, “Write: ‘Not equal are those Believers who sit..”, and at that time `Amr bin Um Maktum, the blind man was sitting behind the Prophet (ﷺ) . He said, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is your order For me (as regards the above Verse) as I am a blind man?” So, instead of the above Verse, the following Verse was revealed: ‘Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) except those who are disabled (by injury or are blind or lame etc.) and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah.’ (4.95)
Recorded in Bukhari, BukhariNasai, Muslim, Abu Dawud

Or how about the fact that the female companions of Prophet Muhammad felt the Quran was unfair because it kept addressing men, and so Allah decided to reveal a verse talking about women as well?

Take a look at this story as recorded in Ibn Kathir

Sa`id bin Mansur recorded that Salamah, a man from the family of Umm Salamah said, “Umm Salamah said, `O Messenger of Allah! Allah does not mention women in connection with Hijrah (Migration).’ Allah sent down the Ayah,

فَاسْتَجَابَ لَهُمْ رَبُّهُمْ أَنِّى لاَ أُضِيعُ عَمَلَ عَامِلٍ مِّنْكُمْ مِّن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَى

(So their Lord accepted of them (their supplication and answered them), “Never will I allow to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female.)

Yet again we have Allah adjusting what he sends down in response to what people are asking for?

There’s another story in the hadith literature about when Prophet Muhammad scared the people by saying 999 of every 1000 will go to hell.  When he saw their faces change color, he decided to adjust what he said by saying “actually, its Gog and Magog who will be 999, not you guys.”  Then he proceeded to make them very happy by saying they will be half of the people in paradise after just scaring them.  Prophet Muhammad was able to cater and tailor what he said in order to make people follow him.

Narrated Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri:

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “On the day of Resurrection Allah will say, ‘O Adam!’ Adam will reply, ‘Labbaik our Lord, and Sa`daik ‘ Then there will be a loud call (saying), Allah orders you to take from among your offspring a mission for the (Hell) Fire.’ Adam will say, ‘O Lord! Who are the mission for the (Hell) Fire?’ Allah will say, ‘Out of each thousand, take out 999.’ At that time every pregnant female shall drop her load (have a miscarriage) and a child will have grey hair. And you shall see mankind as in a drunken state, yet not drunk, but severe will be the torment of Allah.” (22.2)

When the Prophet (ﷺ) mentioned this), the people were so distressed (and afraid) that their faces got changed (in color)

Whereupon the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “From Gog and Magog nine-hundred ninety-nine will be taken out and one from you.

You Muslims (compared to the large number of other people) will be like a black hair on the side of a white ox, or a white hair on the side of a black ox, and I hope that you will be onefourth of the people of Paradise.” On that, we said, “Allahu-Akbar!” Then he said, “I hope that you will be) one-third of the people of Paradise.” We again said, “Allahu-Akbar!” Then he said, “(I hope that you will be) one-half of the people of Paradise.” So we said, Allahu Akbar.”

There are even worse examples of the Quran being abrogated:
  • They used to recite a surah the length of Surah Tawba (also known as Surah Baraah) but it was forgotten (Muslim 1050).  One of the verses he remembered is still read today as a hadith that talks about the greed of mankind (Bukhari 6439)
  • Umar mentioned there were verses about stoning that were abrogated (Agreed upon,  Bulugh al-Maram 1050).
  • Aisha also said that there used to be verses about stoning and breastfeeding in the Quran (Ibn Maja 1944)
Further reading:

19 thoughts on “Abrogations in the Quran

  1. I was told about yourself by one of my old students and I was interested to read what you had to say. As I graduated from an Islamic University and being a revert myself, I felt that if there was anything I could help you or others shed light on then I would give a try.

    Anyway, before I begin any dialogue, I have to ask. Is your decision a final one? i.e. do you believe that there is no reason to re-assess the situation or maybe have another look at the doubts you’ve come across? I don’t claim to have all the answers, or any for that matter, but I don’t want to attempt to help someone who does not want it.

    Anyway, let me know and I will attempt to answer any of your questions. And hopefully we can do this with respect and good manners.

    Take care and look forward to your reply.

  2. Excellent. It’s late where I am now and I have a big event to plan for for the weekend, so my advice will have to wait until then. I promise, it won’t be a super long post, but I would like it if we could agree on some ground rules before we proceed.

    If the particular topic I’ve managed to answer it adequately, would you agree to then remove that post or point? Or at least note on the post that the issue for you has been answered? Don’t get me wrong, this is your blog, your space and you may do with it as you wish, but I feel that if we could establish certain agreeable and reasonable rules that we both abide by, then the process will move smoothly. Is that ok?

    1. M Tucker, I agree to leave your response there yes. I may or may not delete my post if I feel there’s a strong enough reason to delete it 🙂 You are welcome to comment if you like, its totally up to you at the end of the day.

    2. hi M Tucker

      Could you please tell me how i can communicate with you. I am a muslim who is currently confused and am having major doubts about Islam. I absolutely believe in a God and believe that if any religion is the truth then it is Islam. I love the concept of towhead in Islam and this beauty makes me think it must be from God. BUT i am having many doubts and am scared i will end up being agnostic. I am very scared of this and this depresses me. could I please have your contact details so I could discuss this with you. Thanks

      1. Good luck on your journey my friend. Keep an open mind, doubts are maybe the best thing that ever happened to you! Embrace your doubt, and don’t try to force yourself to follow what is not true but rather look for the truth no matter what it may be, even if it’s not Islam. However after your journey you find Islam to be true, then follow it by all means

  3. dude, your blog rocks! As an ex-Muslim, I appreciate the work you’re doing. Anyway, regarding this particular post, isn’t it possible that maybe Mo was referring to the exact day when he first started to receive the revelations. The Quran in Arabic simply means recitation and Mo the sly also made it to be a work in progress, so that particular verse is just saying that on the night of decree (another made up thing by Mo) he received the first revelation from his so called god.

  4. I dont understand these arguments? Why cant God do this, reveal based on the circustances and Questions and then reveal other verses based on other circumstances ?? Why believe God can’t do that??

    1. The Quran can’t both be perfect and also need to be rewritten. Using Occam’s Razor, along with the fact there is no proof of the existence of a god, it seems more reasonable to conclude that the Quran was very much a ‘human’ document.

    2. The “Why can’t god do this” argument is also terrible, as you can see when that reasoning is turned back the other way; e.g.:

      “Why can’t god eliminate starvation and just provide sustenance through his grace?”

      “Why can’t god prevent millions of small children from dying of cholera and malaria?”

      1. I am lucky to have been taught by an awesome Islamiyat teacher, Sir Khurram Hussain. He taught us the topic of “Nasikh and Mansukh” very well, and also told that this topic is favourite topic of atheists to misguide us, no doubt he was right.
        Here comes the answer why Allah abrogated some verses, changed His divine orders and revealed new ones.
        Yes, He is perfect personality, and could’ve revealed Islam for one and for all at ONCE, in ONE NIGHT, with SINGLE orders, yet he did not. Why? Because Islam is not an easy religion. If I was to tell a newly Muslim to offer 5 times a day, fast for 30 days he’ll probably not be able to do so, because he was not in practice. Hence, Allah revealed Islam in the span of 23 years, span in which Humans, the IMPERFECT personalities, could adopt Islam easily. All Muslims, before Islam, used to drink Alcohol. If Allah ordered them to leave Alcohol on first day of Islam being revealed, none of them could’ve done that. They were addicted, hence first came the orders of leaving Alcohol, but Allah did not labelled it Haram. Years later, came the orders of Alchol being completely Haram as all companions had distanced themselves from it and were now in condition to leave it.
        So, it’s not Allah who is imperfect, rather the Humans are the imperfect personalities who could’ve not adopted Islam all at once. That’s why rules came and then later changed.

        1. Well for commandments yes they can be abrogated. But some of those examples such as “the son of adam had 2 valleys of gold” those are not commandments. Why would that be abrogated? Also, why was slavery not abrogated?

          1. Sorry, I was supposed to give you my thoughts on this post a long time ago, but I’ve always found myself busy with work or just forgot.

            Anyway, as has been said before, the whole topic of abrogated verses of the Qur’aan or even the sunnah only is applicable to laws. ie, either there was a reason to give a lighter law first and then a harsher one (like the prohibition of alcohol that came in stages), or a harsher one and then lighter (like praying the night prayer was an obligation first and then became sunnah). However it does not occur when the text do not conflict, ie when they can be understood and joined together, like the prohibition of marrying women who commit idolatry, but the allowance to marry christian women, or when one text would be referring to a particular circumstance while another a different circumstance, like the verse ordering the fasting of Ramadhaan but the other verse allowing it to fasted on other days outside Ramadhaan due to sickness or travelling. So it cant occur for facts, like angels being made from light and then all of a sudden being made from cheese. I looked above for what you were referring to, ie the valleys of gold, but I could not find it. Could you please clarify what you meant. Thanks

  5. It’s really sad to see a person who once had the big eager to do Dawah and help people! become an ex-muslim! Brother don’t let your nafs win! Fight back! and get back on your feet! giving up is never an option!

  6. You asked a question about slavery not being abrogated.i will attemp to answer that question for you.

    Before islam slavery was accepted by all cultures.main way of getting slaves was through war as war booty.slavery was not race related but it was more about profit.these attitudes were deeply instilled in humanity at the time all over the world.

    The prophet muhammad (s.a.w) and abu bakr saddique (may allah be pleased hims) spent nearly all their wealth to free the slaves.freeing slaves was seen as a noble deed by the muslims. Because slavery was so deeply entrenched in all cultures of the time, it had to be removed from the minds of people slowly for it to have a lasting impact.

    In my opinion there is not much difference between slavery of old and modern day employment.old days it was the master who owned you and you worked for him and he fed you.today the employer owns you.if you dont work and produce to the goods then you lose your job and you can’t eat.over the years the word slave has changed to employee, but its the same thing.

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