Islam and Abrogation

I have always been interested in religion and at different times in my life I read the Quran but found it very confusing. Even after I attained some familiarity with it there was a problem. The Quran is full of contradictions and antitheses and being a nearly normal No Bullshit bloke I had no way of resolving them. Then came the internet and lots of devout Muslims began to post indepth information about their religion. Devout Muslims had long ago solved those contradictions because they knew when Muhammad had reported each "revelation" and the Quran itself explained the method of resolving the contradictions:

  • When we cancel a message, or throw it into oblivion, we replace it with one better or one similar. Do you not know that God has power over all things? - Quran (2:106)
  • When we replace a message with another, and God knows best what he reveals, they say: You have made it up. Yet, most of them do not know. - Quran (16:101)
  • God abrogates or confirms whatsoever he will, for he has with him the Book of the Books. - Quran (13:39)
  • If we pleased, we could take away what we have revealed to you. Then you will not find anyone to plead for it with us. - Quran (17:86)

This is called abrogation in English and it means the later revelation overrides the earlier one. Unfortunately the Quran divides neatly into two parts, the verses revealed in Mecca which contain the tolerant, non-violent teachings and the later verses revealed in Medina which were scarily violent and vicious. It is these later teachings that Muhammad and first Muslims obeyed and that are still divinely authoritative today even though they are ignored by the majority of Muslims.

This explains why some people can truthfully call Islam a religion of peace and quote Quranic surahs as evidence because they are ignorant of the doctrine of abrogation and are picking and choosing the surahs they like. Osama Bin Laden and others of like mind can act out their violent fantasies in the full knowledge that they are obeying Muhammad's final teachings. When a person says Islam is a religion of peace they are revealing their personal beliefs, their ignorance or they are being deceitful.

The idea that the Quran - which is supposedly pre-existent, pre-eternal, beginningless and uncreated - should first have verses of peace and tolerance revealed which are later over-ridden by verses of conquest and rapine is mind-boggling but then it's hard to take many of these Islamic ideas seriously.

These are the final revelations of Muhammad and so they abrogate any contradictory revelations that came before. Allah does not trust any idolaters, most idolaters are evil-doers and should be arrested, besieged, ambushed and killed wherever they can be found. This is the Quran. This is God speaking … or so Muslims believe.

9:3 A proclamation to the people from God and His apostle on the day of the greater pilgrimage: God and His apostle are under no obligation to the idolaters. If you repent, it shall be well with you; but if you give no heed, know that you shall not be immune from God's judgement. Proclaim a woeful punishment to the unbelievers,

9:4 except to those idolaters who have honoured their treaties with you in every detail and aided none against you. With these keep faith, until their treaties have run their term. God loves the righteous.

9:5 When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful.

9:6 If an idolater seeks asylum with you, give him protection so that he may hear the Word of God, and then convey him to safety. For the idolaters are ignorant men.

9:7 God and His apostle repose no trust in idolaters, save those with whom you have made treaties at the Sacred Mosque. So long as they keep faith with you, keep faith with them. God loves the righteous.

9:8 How can you trust them? If they prevail against you they will respect neither agreements nor ties of kindred. They flatter you with their tongues, but their hearts reject you. Most of them are evil doers. Quran (9:1-8)

An exhaustive discussion of abrogation and jihad is available at the Middle East Forum site.