The theory of
1. Two different interpretations
The Glorious Qur’an says in the following verse:
"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?"
A reference to this is also made in chapter 16 verse 101 of
Surah Nahl. The Arabic word mentioned is ayat which means ‘signs’ or
‘verses’ and which can also mean ‘revelations’. This verse of the Qur’an
can be interpreted in two different ways:
The revelations that are abrogated are those
revelations that were revealed before the Qur’an, for example the Torah,
the Zaboor and the Injeel.
Here Allah (swt) says that He does not cause the previous
revelations to be forgotten but He substitutes them with something better
or similar, indicating that the Torah, the Zaboor and the Injeel were
substituted by the Qur’an.
If we consider that the Arabic word ayat in the
above verse refers to the verses of the Qur’an, and not previous
revelations, then it indicates that none of the verses of the Qur’an are
abrogated by Allah but substituted with something better or similar. This
means that certain verses of the Qur’an, that were revealed earlier were
substituted by verses that were revealed later. I agree with both the
Many Muslims and non-Muslims misunderstand the second
interpretation to mean that some of the earlier verses of the Qur’an were
abrogated and no longer hold true for us today, as they have been replaced
by the later verses of the Qur’an or the abrogating verses. This group of
people even wrongly believe that these verses contradict each other.
Let us analyze a few such examples.
2. Produce a recital like the Qur’an / 10 Surahs / 1
Some pagan Arabs alleged that the Qur’an was forged by
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Allah (swt) challenges these Arabs in the
following verse of Surah Al-Isra:
"Say: If the whole of Mankind and Jinns were together to
produce the like of this Qur’an they could not produce the like thereof,
even if they backed up each other with help and support."
Later the challenge was made easy in the following verse of
"Or they may say, "He forged it." Say, "Bring ye then ten
Surahs forged, like unto it, and call (to your aid) whomsover ye can,
other than Allah, if ye speak the truth!’."
It was made easier in the following verse of Surah Yunus:
"Or do they say, "He forged it"? Say: "Bring then a Surah
like unto it, and call (to your aid) anyone you can, besides Allah, if it
be ye speak the truth!’."
Finally in Surah Al-Baqarah, Allah (swt) further simplied
And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from
time to time to Our servant, then produce a Surah like thereunto; and call
your witnesses or helpers (if there are any) besides Allah if your
(doubts) are true.
But if ye cannot – and of a surety ye cannot – then fear
the Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones – which is prepared for those who
Thus Allah (swt) made the challenges progressively easier.
The progressively revealed verses of the Qur’an first challenged the
pagans to produce a book like the Qur’an, then challenged them to produce
ten Surahs (chapters) like those in the Qur’an, then one Surah and finally
it challenges them to produce one Surah somewhat similar (mim mislihi) to
the Qur’anic Surahs. This does not mean that the later verses that were
revealed i.e. of Surah Baqarah chapter 2 verses 23 and 24 contradict the
earlier three verses. Contradiction implies mentioning two things that
cannot be possible simultaneously, or cannot take place simultaneously.
The earlier verses of the Qur’an i.e. the abrogated verses
are still the word of God and the information contained in it is true to
this day. For instance the challenge to produce a recital like the Qur’an
stands to this day. Similarly the challenge to produce ten Surahs and one
Surah exactly like the Qur’an also holds true and the last challenge of
producing one surah somewhat similar to the Qur’an also holds true. It
does not contradict the earlier challenges, but this is the easiest of all
the challenges posed by the Qur’an. If the last challenge cannot be
fulfilled, the question of anyone fulfilling the other three more
difficult challenges does not arise.
Suppose I speak about a person that he is so dumb, that he
would not be able to pass the 10th standard in school. Later I say that he
would not be able to pass the 5th standard, and further say that he would
not be able to pass even the 1st standard. Finally I say that he is so
dull that he would not even be able to pass K.G. i.e. kindergarten. One
has to pass kindergarten before one can be admitted to school. What I am
stating is that the person is so dull as to be unable to pass even
kindergarten. My four statements do not contradict each other, but my last
statement i.e. the person would not be able to pass the kindergarten is
sufficient to indicate the intelligence of that person. If a person cannot
even pass kindergarten, the question of him passing the first standard or
5th or 10th, does not arise.
3. Gradual prohibition of intoxicants
Another example of such verses is that related to gradual
prohibition of intoxicants. The first revelation of the Qur’an to deal
with intoxicants was the following verse from Surah Baqarah:
"They ask thee concerning wine and gambling say: ‘In them
is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the
profit’." [Al-Qur’an 2:219]
The next verse to be revealed regarding intoxicants is the
following verse from Surah Nisa:
"O ye who believe! approach not prayers with a mind
befogged, until ye can understand all that ye say" [Al-Qur’an 4:43]
The last verse to be revealed regarding intoxicants was the
following verse from Surah Al-Maidah:
"O ye who believe! intoxicants and gambling, (dedication
of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination of Satan’s
handiwork; eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper." [Al-Qur’an 5:90]
The Qur’an was revealed over a period of 22½ years. Many
reforms that were brought about in the society were gradual. This was to
facilitate the adoption of new laws by the people. An abrupt change in
society always leads to rebellion and anarchy.
The prohibition of intoxicants was revealed in three
stages. The first revelation only mentioned that in the intoxicants there
is great sin and some profit but the sin is greater than the profit. The
next revelation prohibited praying in an intoxicated state, indicating
that one should not consume intoxicants during the day, since a Muslim has
to pray five times a day. This verse does state that when one is not
praying at night one is allowed to consume intoxicants. It means one may
have or one may not have. The Qur’an does not comment on it. If this verse
had mentioned that one is allowed to have intoxicants while not praying
then there would have been a contradiction. Allah (swt) chose words
appropriately. Finally the total prohibition of intoxicants at all times
was revealed in Surah Maidah chapter 5 verse 90.
This clearly indicates that the three verses do not
contradict each other. Had they been contradicting, it would not have been
possible to follow all the three verses simultaneously. Since a Muslim is
expected to follow each and every verse of the Qur’an, only by following
the last verse i.e. of Surah Maidah (5:90), he simultaneously agrees and
follows the previous two verses.
Suppose I say that I do not live in Los Angeles. Later I
say that I do not live in California. Finally I say, I do not live in the
United States of America. This does not imply that these three statements
contradict each other. Each statement gives more information than the
previous statement. The third statement includes the information contained
in the first two statements. Thus, only by saying that I do not live in
the United States of America, it is obvious, that I also do not live in
California nor New York. Similarly since consuming alcohol is totally
prohibited, it is obvious that praying in an intoxicated state is also
prohibited and the information that in intoxicants is "great sin and some
profit for men; but the sin is greater than profit" also holds true.
4. Qur’an does not contain any contradictions
The theory of abrogation does not imply that there is a
contradiction in the Qur’an, since it is possible to follow all the verses
of the Qur’an at the same time.
If there is a contradiction in the Qur’an, then it cannot
be the word of Allah (swt).
"Do they not consider the Qur’an (with care)? Had it been
from other than Allah, they would surely have found therein much
discrepancy (contradictions)." [Al-Qur’an 4:82]