Saturday, October 25, 2008

How to Interpret Quran? - 3

Sajjad wrote:

Mistakes Allah made.Claims Hadeeths. It is in ahaadeeth that there are ayahs which were later abrogated. Were the ayahs abrogated in the lifetime of the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihi Wasallam)?

Dear Mr Sajjad,


1. Two different interpretations

مَا نَنسَخْ مِنْ آيَةٍ أَوْ نُنسِهَا نَأْتِ بِخَيْرٍ مِّنْهَا أَوْ مِثْلِهَا أَلَمْ تَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللّهَ عَلَىَ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

Nothing of our revelation (even a single verse) do we abrogate or cause be forgotten, but we bring (in place) one better or the like thereof. Knowest thou not that Allah is Able to do all things? [AL-BAQARA (THE COW) Chapter 2 - Verse 106]

A reference to this is also made in chapter 16 verse 101 of Surah Nahl.

وَإِذَا بَدَّلْنَا آيَةً مَّكَانَ آيَةٍ وَاللّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا يُنَزِّلُ قَالُواْ إِنَّمَا أَنتَ مُفْتَرٍ بَلْ أَكْثَرُهُمْ لاَ يَعْلَمُونَ

And when We put a revelation in place of (another) revelation, - and Allah knoweth best what He revealeth - they say: Lo! thou art but inventing. Most of them know not. [AN-NAHL (THE BEE) Chapter 16 - Verse 101]

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:

a. 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 Allaah 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.

b. 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. One must agree agree with both the interpretations.

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to mean that some of the earlier verses of the Qur’an were abrogated and no longer hold true for us today, as they have been replaced by the later verses of the Qur’an or the abrogating verses.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 Surah:

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:

قُل لَّئِنِ اجْتَمَعَتِ الإِنسُ وَالْجِنُّ عَلَى أَن يَأْتُواْ بِمِثْلِ هَـذَا الْقُرْآنِ لاَ يَأْتُونَ بِمِثْلِهِ وَلَوْ كَانَ بَعْضُهُمْ لِبَعْضٍ ظَهِيرًا

Say: Verily, though mankind and the jinn should assemble to produce the like of this Qur'an, they could not produce the like thereof though they were helpers one of another. [AL-ISRA (ISRA', THE NIGHT JOURNEY, CHILDREN OF ISRAEL) Chapter 17 - Verse 88]

Later the challenge was made easy in the following verse of Surah Al-Hud:

أَمْ يَقُولُونَ افْتَرَاهُ قُلْ فَأْتُواْ بِعَشْرِ سُوَرٍ مِّثْلِهِ مُفْتَرَيَاتٍ وَادْعُواْ مَنِ اسْتَطَعْتُم مِّن دُونِ اللّهِ إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ

Or they say: He hath invented it. Say: Then bring ten surahs, the like thereof, invented, and call on everyone ye can beside Allah, if ye are truthful! [HUD (HUD)
Chapter 11 - Verse 13]

It was made easier in the following verse of Surah Yunus:

أَمْ يَقُولُونَ افْتَرَاهُ قُلْ فَأْتُواْ بِسُورَةٍ مِّثْلِهِ وَادْعُواْ مَنِ اسْتَطَعْتُم مِّن دُونِ اللّهِ إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ

Or say they: He hath invented it? Say: Then bring a surah like unto it, and call (for help) on all ye can besides Allah, if ye are truthful. [YUNUS (JONAH) Chapter 10- Verse 38]

Finally in Surah Al-Baqarah, Allah (swt) further simplied the challenge:

وَإِن كُنتُمْ فِي رَيْبٍ مِّمَّا نَزَّلْنَا عَلَى عَبْدِنَا فَأْتُواْ بِسُورَةٍ مِّن مِّثْلِهِ وَادْعُواْ شُهَدَاءكُم مِّن دُونِ اللّهِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ صَادِقِينَ

فَإِن لَّمْ تَفْعَلُواْ وَلَن تَفْعَلُواْ فَاتَّقُواْ النَّارَ الَّتِي وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ أُعِدَّتْ لِلْكَافِرِينَ

And if ye are in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto Our slave (Muhammad), then produce a surah of the like thereof, and call your witness beside Allah if ye are truthful. And if ye do it not - and ye can never do it - then guard yourselves against the Fire prepared for disbelievers, whose fuel is of men and stones. [AL-BAQARA (THE COW) Chapter 2 - Verse 23 and 24]

Thus Allah 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'ânic 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.

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:

يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ قُلْ فِيهِمَا إِثْمٌ كَبِيرٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَإِثْمُهُمَآ أَكْبَرُ مِن نَّفْعِهِمَا وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ مَاذَا يُنفِقُونَ قُلِ الْعَفْوَ كَذَلِكَ يُبيِّنُ اللّهُ لَكُمُ الآيَاتِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَفَكَّرُونَ

They question thee about strong drink and games of chance. Say: In both is great sin, and (some) utility for men; but the sin of them is greater than their usefulness. And they ask thee what they ought to spend. Say: that which is superfluous. Thus Allah maketh plain to you (His) revelations, that haply ye may reflect. [AL-BAQARA (THE COW) Chapter 2 - Verse 219]

The next verse to be revealed regarding intoxicants is the following verse from Surah Nisa:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ لاَ تَقْرَبُواْ الصَّلاَةَ وَأَنتُمْ سُكَارَى حَتَّىَ تَعْلَمُواْ مَا تَقُولُونَ وَلاَ جُنُبًا إِلاَّ عَابِرِي سَبِيلٍ حَتَّىَ تَغْتَسِلُواْ وَإِن كُنتُم مَّرْضَى أَوْ عَلَى سَفَرٍ أَوْ جَاء أَحَدٌ مِّنكُم مِّن الْغَآئِطِ أَوْ لاَمَسْتُمُ النِّسَاء فَلَمْ تَجِدُواْ مَاء فَتَيَمَّمُواْ صَعِيدًا طَيِّبًا فَامْسَحُواْ بِوُجُوهِكُمْ وَأَيْدِيكُمْ إِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ عَفُوًّا غَفُورًا

O ye who believe! Draw not near unto prayer when ye are drunken, till ye know that which ye utter, nor when ye are polluted, save when journeying upon the road, till ye have bathed. And if ye be ill, or on a journey, or one of you cometh from the closet, or ye have touched women, and ye find not water, then go to high clean soil and rub your faces and your hands (therewith). Lo! Allah is Benign, Forgiving. [AN-NISA (WOMEN) Chapter 4 - Verse 43]

The last verse to be revealed regarding intoxicants was the following verse from Surah Al-Maidah:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ إِنَّمَا الْخَمْرُ وَالْمَيْسِرُ وَالأَنصَابُ وَالأَزْلاَمُ رِجْسٌ مِّنْ عَمَلِ الشَّيْطَانِ فَاجْتَنِبُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

O ye who believe! Strong drink and games of chance and idols and divining arrows are only an infamy of Satan's handiwork. Leave it aside in order that ye may succeed.[ AL-MAEDA (THE TABLE, THE TABLE SPREAD) Chapter 5 - Verse 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. Allaah (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.

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 Allaah:

أَفَلاَ يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِندِ غَيْرِ اللّهِ لَوَجَدُواْ فِيهِ اخْتِلاَفًا كَثِيرًا

Will they not then ponder on the Qur'an? If it had been from other than Allah they would have found therein much incongruity. [AN-NISA (WOMEN) Chapter 4 - Verse 82]

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