Louay Fatoohi

Louay Fatoohi

May 232013

I received by email a thoughtful review of my book Jesus the Muslim Prophet: History Speaks of a Human Messiah Not a Divine Christ. The review was also circulated by the reviewer to others, who have interest in Christian theology or may be even qualified in the subject, whom the reviewer at times addresses in his review. The reviewer has welcomed my reply to the review, so I am publishing his review followed by my reply.

This is how the reviewer Juan A. Ayala-Carmona introduced himself:

This writer (yours truly) is an ordained Christian minister and theologian who has degrees in Comparative Religions and Theology. I received my D. Min. in Theology from the Colgate Rochester Divinity School, 1982 and have served as professor of church history, religion, and theology at various colleges and theological schools. I retired as a prison chaplain with the New York State Department of Correctional Services in 2009.

This is the text of the review:

My intention is to evaluate Dr. Fatoohi’s book relative to both its strengths and weaknesses. Dr. Fatoohi is receiving a copy of this critique and his response is welcome. Your comments and responses are also welcome, and I think that they would be helpful to both Dr. Fatoohi, myself, and to all others who are interested in examining the beliefs and practices of the both the Christian and Islamic communities with the greatest degree possible of impartiality, objectivity, and open-mindedness, bearing in mind that pure “objectivity” does not exist. Dr. Fatoohi’s biases are reflected in his book, and my biases are reflected in this response. Absolutely none of us has a 100% handle of the truth. As one of my professors of theology (Dr. Paul Fries) used to say, “All theology is partial and tentative.” The Apostle Paul says “We see dimly through a mirror.” All of our positions are subject to correction and any necessary revision.

I will begin by stating my appreciation for Dr. Fatoohi’s approach to this subject from the standpoints of both faith and scholarship. Contrary to the notion that many believers (both Christian and Muslim) have about scholarship diminishing and eroding faith and spirituality, Dr. Fatoohi makes it very clear that if anything, scholarship strengthens faith. The book calls for a faith which is informed by history, science, and other branches of human knowledge as well as by experience and tradition, both oral and written. This fact, in and of itself, makes Dr. Fatoohi’s book a “must read” type of document. I strongly recommend the reading of this book to all of you. By reading his book, you will be in a much stronger position to evaluate both the book and my critique of it. Dr. Fatoohi makes it clear that he accepts reader responses.

The major strengths of Dr. Fatoohi’s book are:

1. His familiarity with the history, scriptures, and traditions of the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish faiths. Dr. Fatoohi is very conversant with the Torah, New Testament, and Qur’an, as well as with the experiences and traditions which gave rise to and generated those sacred books.

2. His familiarity with the historical-critical approach to the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), Christian Scriptures (New Testament), and the Qur’an. He demonstrates knowledge of authorship, intended audience, reasons for writing, and the variety of literary styles in each of the sacred books.

3. His familiarity with the historical development of Christian theology, especially relative to the issue of the Christian doctrine of Jesus being God-in the flesh. He points out in a very succinct manner the views of Jesus in the Gospels as contrasted with the views of Jesus in the Pauline writings.

4. Dr. Fatoohi clearly points out the distinction between the doctrines of the early Church (1st century), and the teaching of the Church in the post-Apostolic era. He specifically points out that the doctrine of the Trinity in systematic form was a later development.

5. His clarification about the words “Islam” and “Muslim” meaning submission and one who submits respectively. Thus, it opens the door for Christians to avoid being offended by his use of the word “Islam” and “Muslim” in relation to Jesus and other Bible figures.

The major weaknesses of Dr. Fatoohi’s book are the following:

1. His unstated but clear assumption that divine revelation in the Bible (especially the New Testament) is superseded by divine revelation in the Qur’an. Dr. Fatoohi, like most Muslims that I know, is of the persuasion that the Qur’an is a correction to and revision of the “corruptions” of the New Testament.

2. Subsequently, Dr. Fatoohi assumes and believes that the contents and teachings of the New Testament are true only to the extent that they concur with the contents and teachings of the Qur’an. In a sense, Dr. Fatoohi commits the same mistake that many Christians commit. In the same manner that many Christians are guilty of “Christianizing” the Old Testament by reading it in the light of the New Testament, Dr. Fatoohi “Islamicizes” the New Testament by reading it in the light of the Qur’an.

3. Dr. Fatoohi readily accepts the statements supposedly made by Jesus about Himself relative to His being “the Son of Man,” but when he encounters statements about Jesus referring to Himself as being something other than human, he attributes these sayings not to Jesus, but to Paul, John, and others who wanted to make Jesus equal to God, and/or being “God in the flesh.” Consistent with his Islamic beliefs, Dr. Fatoohi thus endorses the notion that the Bible is true only to the extent that it is in harmony with the Qur’an.

4. By constantly (and consistently) stating throughout the book that it was Paul and subsequently John who introduced the notion of the God-man into Christian theology in order to accommodate to pagans of non-Jewish and non-Christian origins, Dr. Fatoohi is thus making the Apostle Paul and other writers of the New Testament to be false teachers because they have elevated Jesus to the status of divinity. Because the teachings of Paul and others are found in the book which we Christians believe to be divinely inspired. Dr. Fatoohi is in essence saying that certain parts of the Bible are humanly concocted and constructed. I know that many Muslims would be offended if any one were to suggest anything similar about the Holy Qur’an. This reminds me of an experience that I had in 1972 in New York. A Muslim neighbor of mine (in the Bronx) invited me to attend his Masjid. Out of curiosity to know more about what other people believe and practice, I accompanied the brother to the Masjid. After the congregation completed their prayers, he directed me to the Imam with whom I sat and conversed for a short time. The Imam explained the basic tenents of Islam to me. I asked him if Muslims believe in the Bible. He responded by stating that they do, but mostly the Old Testament Scriptures. I asked him if they believe in the New Testament Scriptures. He stated that they do, but only parts of the New Testament, because the New Testament has been “corrupted.” When I asked him for evidence that the New Testament has been “corrupted,” he said to me “It says so in the Qur’an.” I asked him “how do you know that the Qur’an hasn’t been corrupted?” He asked me to leave.

In essence, Dr. Fatoohi is taking the same approach as the Imam. The Bible, in his view, is to be evaluated in the light of the “truths” of the Qur’an and not the other way around, even though the Bible was written many years and centuries prior to the Qur’an. To sustain this position is to invalidate the divine inspiration of the Bible, and in essence making the writers of the Bible (especially the New Testament) false teachers while claiming total divine inspiration for the Qur’an. Sorry Brother Fatoohi, but with all due respect to you, your faith, and the Qur’an, “no can do.” Only a historical act, such as the Incarnation of God in Christ can help us to make sense out of human history. To you as a fellow scholar and as a sincere believer, I say Asalaam-alaikum. To all others I say to God in Christ be the glory now and forever more. Amen!

I would end this piece by saying that since I am not infallible or perfect, and since I do not have a monopoly on God’s truth, I welcome comments, reactions, responses, and any suggestions that any of you may deem necessary.

Grace and peace,

Juan A. Ayala-Carmona

This is the end of the review. 

Thank you Dr Ayala-Carmona for your interest in reading my book, reviewing it, and sharing the review with me. I would also like to thank you for the scholarly tone of your review.

I like to start by saying that I fully respect your views. I would also like to thank you for your generosity in highlighting strengths of the book. As you have kindly invited my reply, I would like to say a few things about the four weaknesses you identified in my book.

Points 1 & 2. I should clarify that this book and two other smaller books (The Mystery of the Crucifixion and The Mystery of the Messiah) were derived from my major and detailed study The Mystery of the Historical Jesus. In the latter, I covered all aspects of Jesus’ life. I later took specific materials from that comprehensive book and revised and extended them into the focused book you have read. The book on the historical Jesus starts with a chapter called “Approaches to the Study of History in the Qur’an and the Bible.” As its title suggests, this chapter reviews the relevant methodologies which I categorize into four approaches: secular, Biblical, secular-Biblical, and Qur’anic. It discusses the assumptions of each approach and the weaknesses of the first three approaches, and presents the Qur’anic approach as the most reliable methodology. The book makes it clear that it advocates the Qur’anic approach. In fact, the last section in that chapter starts with the following:

Having introduced the main approaches to the study of history in the Bible and the Qur’an and explained why it is important to understand what approach a study takes, I need to make it clear that this book follows the Qur’anic approach. Any information in the canon, apocrypha, and history that is relevant to the subject of this book will first be presented and then explained from the Qur’an’s point of view. Presuming that the Qur’an is the Word of God, this book seeks to show the consistency of the Qur’anic story of Jesus and its alignment with historical facts. It also compares the Qur’an’s consistent account of Jesus’ life with the problems that the same story has in Christian sources.

That section and chapter then conclude with the following:

As it follows the Qur’anic approach, this book will argue that the historical Jesus is that of the Qur’an, and that his real role in history is accurately explained by the Qur’an’s view of the world, not the view of the Bible or any secular approach. However, it will consider in detail the arguments of the other approaches and any counter argument to the Qur’anic approach. 

I will make every effort to differentiate between bare facts and their interpretations according to the Qur’anic approach. These facts can then be looked at by others to examine the validity of the given interpretations and test whether a different approach gives better interpretations of these facts. I will point out the similarities and differences between the Qur’an and relevant Jewish and Christian sources, and I will explain and relate them to established historical facts, using the Qur’anic perceptive. It is then to the reader to decide whether this Qur’anic interpretation of history is more consistent, convincing, and in line with established facts, or other alternatives, including the Bible’s. 

Let me repeat again, this book does not claim to be a dispassionate, neutral study of Jesus’ history. I am not sure that such an attempt is possible at all anyway. Nevertheless, I will ensure that I make my assumptions clear and differentiate between facts and their interpretations, allowing the reader to decide whether the arguments of the book are likely or unlikely, credible or absurd.

I think this is fair to say that I could not be clearer about the approach that the book takes.

This substantial chapter is not something that I could have added to the three smaller books that I derived from the source book. However, the “Preface” of the current book still says enough to make clear what the book tries to achieve:

Like my other writings, this book tries to bring the Qur’an to the study of the historical Jesus which Western scholarship has mainly restricted to the Old and New Testaments, along with historical writings. My other, related goal is to get Islamic scholarship to show more interest in historical sources and to also look at the Old and New Testaments and other Jewish and Christian sources from a historical perspective. 

This book focuses on contrasting the human Jesus of the Qur’an with the divine Jesus of Christian sources. Admittedly, this subject has been examined by Christian, Muslim, and other scholars considerably more than other topics of the historical Jesus. However, one new contribution to the literature that my book makes is to show that the human Jesus as presented in the Qur’an is the one that fits in history. The concept of a divine Jesus can only be an invention from the post-Jesus era.

Nevertheless, I appreciate how the absence of the original introductory chapter might have given the impression that I have not stated my assumptions explicitly.

Point 3. You are right in your observation that I use the Qur’an to differentiate between which statements attributed to Jesus that are likely to be historical and which are not. This is consistent with the approach of the book, as explained in detail above.

Point 4. I should make it clear that I do not intend to offend anybody by any claim I make in my writings. I respect the right of every person to take whatever view they want. It is not my intention to insult or demean anybody or faith in the past or present. But I also have to accept the obvious fact that some beliefs are contradictory and cannot be reconciled with each other. Furthermore, in the same way I do not believe that a reading of history that is different from mine is intrinsically offensive to me, I do not consider my reading of history to be offensive to anybody.

But I also know that offense can be read into things. Let me give a relevant example. The Qur’an claims that all people, including Christians should believe in Muhammad and the Qur’an. Most Christians do not, meaning they do not believe in the message of the Qur’an. This means that they do not believe that the Qur’an is a divine book, which implies that either Muhammad deliberately lied or, at best, was himself deluded. These two conclusions, which mean that Muhammad was a false prophet, are easily seen as offensive by Muslims. You can see then how easy for a Muslim to take offense from the very fact that someone does not believe in the message of the Qur’an. But that should not be the case. If we accept that people have the right to hold different beliefs, then we have to accept that at times these beliefs might contradict and reject each other. If we consider this to be offensive in anyway, then talking about the right to freedom of belief and expression becomes meaningless.

I disagree with the Imam who asked you to leave the mosque because you questioned his belief about the Qur’an, but I equally reject any assumption that a serious work that questions one version of history in favour of another is offensive to those who believe in the former, not least because the former can be equally accused of being offensive! This is particularly so when the Muslim reading of history immensely venerates Jesus, albeit not as God. Can the same be said about the Christian reading of history regarding Prophet Muhammad? I do not think so. Still, no offense should be taken by Muslims.

You likened my approach in the book to the behaviour of that Imam. Unlike the Imam who only made a statement about his faith and refused to discuss it, I have written extensively to show that this statement is not a matter of faith only. I also encourage and respect serious dialogue and debate. I often say that I learn a lot more from those I do not agree with than those I agree with, because challenge and the need to work harder comes from the former not the latter. I hope that publishing your review on my website further confirms that my approach differs completely from the Imam’s. .

There is one last important point I should add. Muslim scholars have always written about Jesus using Islamic sources only. While I write about Jesus from a Qur’anic perspective, my writings are not based on the Qur’an only. The genuinely new contribution I try to make to the literature is bringing in historical facts and sources. My writings attempt to start a study of the historical Jesus from a Qur’anic perspective. The historical Jesus has been studied extensively by Christian and Western scholars, and I try to encourage the development of a similar discipline in Islamic scholarship.

Thank you again for your thoughts about the book and for sharing them with me. I also welcome any further thoughts you may like to share.

Copyright © 2013 Louay Fatoohi
Blog: http://www.louayfatoohi.com
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The review is copyright by Juan A. Ayala-Carmona
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Apr 172013

In a previous article on The Meaning of “Sunna” in the Qur’an, I explained how this term developed the technical meaning of the way of life of Prophet Muhammad. In an earlier article on The Meaning of “Ḥadīth” in the Qur’an, I discussed that this term developed the specific meaning of reports about the Sunna of the Prophet.

The terms “Sunna” and “Ḥadīth” are often used interchangeably. This use is inaccurate. As I explained, “Sunna” denotes what the Prophet said, did, approved, and disapproved of, explicitly or implicitly. “Ḥadīth,” on the other hand, refers to the reports of such narrations. 

Furthermore, while “Ḥadīth” and “Sunna” are used synonymously because the Ḥadīth literature is the main source of the Sunna of the Prophet, it is not its only source. There are two others sources. First, practices of the people of Medina were considered to have come from the Prophet. Medina is the city where the Prophet lived his last ten years, where most legislations of the new religion were revealed in the Qur’an or devised by the Prophet, and where the first three caliphs and most Companions continued to live. The assumption, which was effectively promoted by Mālik bin Anas (93/715-179/796), is that Medinese practice could not have come from other than the Prophet. Even what is attributed to Companions is linked to the Prophet on the assumption that these elite Muslims could have only behaved and legislated in accordance with what they learned from their Master. Malik even rejected ḥadīths that contradicted the established practices of the people of Medina. 

The third source of Sunna is the biography of the Prophet or “sīra.” The Prophet’s oldest surviving and most accepted biography is by Ibn Hishām (d. 218/833), which is a freely edited version of Ibn Isḥāq’s (d. 151/768). 

Copyright © 2013 Louay Fatoohi
Blog: http://www.louayfatoohi.com
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Jan 262013

This is a summary of the third Abdullah Yusuf Ali Memorial Lecture which I will deliver. For more information about the lecture, visit my blog or the lecture page on the organizer’s website.

The term “Qur’an” stands for verses that God revealed to Prophet Muhammad over 22 years. These revelations were compiled and written down in what is known as the “mushaf.” So the mushaf is the written record of the Qur’an. Most people, including many Muslims, use the terms “Qur’an” and “mushaf” interchangeably.

However, there are a number of narratives in the books of Hadith that specify or refer to verses and even complete chapters (surahs) of the Qur’an that are said to have been “withdrawn” by God during the life of the Prophet. The total number of these alleged verses is in the hundreds! As a result, these Qur’anic verses and chapters were not included in the mushaf. Such narratives are found in all major compilations of Hadith, including Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i, and others.

These hadiths suggest that the withdrawn verses fall in two categories. First, verses that the Prophet and the Muslims were made to forget by God. Second, verses that were still being remembered. Accepting such narratives as authentic, scholars have considered the process of withdrawing verses a form of a broader divine phenomenon that they called “naskh” or “abrogation”. Abrogation is mainly a legal principle, but it has been applied to the withdrawal of the texts of Qur’anic verses.

Abrogation refers to the mechanism used by God to withdraw the ruling of a verse, its text, or both its ruling and text. In the last two modes of abrogation, the verse does not exist in the mushaf. Most of the alleged verses that are not found in the mushaf are said to have been abrogated with their rulings, but there are a few that are said to have had their texts abrogated even though their rulings are still operative. An example of these is the so-called “stoning verse.”

Scholars have needed to resort to what they consider a divine mechanism to explain how the texts of some Qur’anic verses were withdrawn. Otherwise, it would have looked as if some verses of the Qur’an were wrongly not recorded in the mushaf. This would have questioned the process of compiling the mushaf and, ultimately, the integrity of the latter. This is why they resorted to abrogation, and which is why this doctrine is at the heart of the ongoing debate between Muslims and non-Muslims about the integrity of the process of compiling and writing down the revelation of the Qur’an. But is abrogation the real answer to this extremely important question? If no, what could be the real answer?

I will present the kind of Hadith narratives that suggest that he mushaf does not contain all of the Qur’anic verses and discuss serious issues concerning their credibility. I will also introduce abrogation, trace its historical development, discuss its various modes, and give examples of its role in forming Islamic law and its explanatory function with respects to the withdrawal of the supposed verses.

I will also introduce the controversies surrounding this doctrine and explain how different assumptions, interpretations, and approaches lead to completely different views of abrogation. While most scholars have given abrogation a major role in both the formation of Islamic law and the compilation of the mushaf, a growing minority has rejected the historicity of abrogation, considering it a confused doctrine under which different concepts and phenomena have been lumped together. Indeed, even scholars who accept abrogation have expressed very different understandings of what this doctrine is supposed to be!

Exposing the inauthenticity of those hadiths and the non-historicity of abrogation while quoting the Qur’an itself, I will show that the mushaf has preserved every verse and word of the Qur’an that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad.

Copyright © 2013 Louay Fatoohi
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Dec 262012

I have received a question by email about the following verses:

He is the One who knows the unseen (ghayb), and He reveals His unseen (ghayb) to no one (72.26), except to the messenger He is pleased with, so He sends guards before of him and behind him (72.27) so that He may know that they (the messengers) have delivered the messages of their Lord. He encompasses what they have and He has reckoned everything in number. (72.28)

The question in the word of the enquirer is this: “Verse 26 says that Allah (swt) knows all ghaib and does not disclose this knowledge to anyone (including the angels). So verse 26 seems to imply that Allah (swt) would have already known if the message was delivered by the messenger to the people…so why does verse 28 says “so that He may know“”?

This is a very clever observation, and the answer requires a discussion of a number of verses and concepts.

I should first note that the Qur’an stresses in various places that Allah is omniscient and that He knows the “ghayb (unseen). The latter is one term that the Qur’an uses in a number of verses to refer to God’s knowledge of everything in the past, present, and future. I have written an article about The Concept of “Ghayb” (Unseen) in the Qur’an. But there are many other verses that emphasize God’s absolute knowledge of everything that do not use this term. For instance, there are 16 verses that describe Allah as being “bikulli shay’in ‘alīm” which translates as “He is knowledgeable of everything,” “He is aware of everything,” or, less literally, “He knows everything.” These verses are 2.29, 2.231, 2.282, 4.176, 5.97, 6.101, 8.75, 9.115, 24.35, 24.64, 29.62, 42.12, 49.16, 57.3, 58.7, and 64.11. There are many other verses that convey the same meaning using different wordings.

Similarly, verse 72.28 is not the only one that uses the term “liya‘lam” with reference to God. There also the following verses:

If a wound touches you (O you who believe!), a similar wound already has touched the other people. These are days which we make to alternate amongst people so that Allah may know who are the believers and that He may take witnesses from among you. Allah does not love the evildoers. (3.140) 

What befell you the day when the two armies met was by Allah’s permission, so that He may know the believers (3.166) and He may know those who act hypocritically, having been said to them: “Come to fight in Allah’s way,” or “repel [the enemy],” they said: “If we knew how to fight we would surely follow you.” They were that day nearer to disbelief than they were to faith. They say with their mouths what is not in their hearts, but Allah knows best what they hide. (3.167) 

O you who believe! Allah will try you with something of the game that your hands and your lances take, so that Allah may know who fears Him on faith. Whoever transgresses after that, there awaits him a painful chastisement. (5.94) 

We sent Our Messengers with clear signs, and We sent down with them the Book and the Balance so that people might uphold justice. We sent down iron, in which is both great might and many uses for people. So that Allah might know who helps Him and His Messengers on faith. Allah is mighty, impregnable. (57.25)

There are another two verses that use the similar term “laya‘lam.” This term, however, has a slightly different meaning from “liya‘lam.” The letter “l” in “laya‘lam” is used for making an oath. These are the two verses:

We tried those that were before them. Allah will surely know the truthful and He will surely know the liars. (29.3) 

Allah will surely know those who believe and He will surely know the hypocrites. (29.11)

Interestingly, exegetes of the Qur’an have felt the need to comment on the use of the expression “so that He may know” in 72.28 but not in the other verses! Many have suggested that “He” here does not stand for God but “Prophet Muhammad” or “Satan.” Other views have suggested that the referent is “the messengers” or “the disbelievers,” even though the pronoun in question is singular. Obviously, scholars give different interpretations to the verse when using different meanings for the pronoun.

There are verses that use other variations of the Arabic verb “ya‘lam (know)” in a similar meaning, like this:

We will try you until na‘lam (We know) those among you who fight strenuously and the patient. (47.31)

None of the verses above suggest that Allah will know only when the events described in those verses take place. This is one verse that stresses God’s foreknowledge of all people:

We know those who have gone before and those who will come later. (15.24)

The wordings in those verses refer to the realization of God’s foreknowledge. God talks in those verses about the realization of knowledge from the unseen, that only He has access to, into knowledge in the visible world that many can acquire. The classical exegete al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1273) puts it very succinctly when he says in his commentary on verse 72.28: “so that He knows that by witnessing as He knew it from the unseen.” Put differently, the Qur’an distinguishes between the world of the unseen (ghayb), and the world that is accessible to our senses, which scholars have called the world of “shahāda” – a term derived from the verb “shahada (to witness)”. Verses that talk about God coming to know  something are referring to the realization of His knowledge from the unseen into knowledge in the visible world.

I would like to comment a little more specifically about 72.26-28. The “raṣada (guards)” in 72.27 refers to angels whom Allah sends to protect the integrity of the revelation so that the prophet, that is any prophet, does not get confused by Satan as the latter tries to  communicate to him suggestions that could get mixed with the divine revelation. This is the same protection that is referred to in this verse:

We have not sent any messenger or prophet before you [O Muhammad!] but that when he wished, Satan cast into his wish. But Allah yansakhu (annuls) what Satan casts, then Allah confirms His verses. Verily, Allah is all-knowing, all-wise. (22.52)

This is one of the main verses that is said to confirm the veracity of the doctrine of “naskh (abrogation). In my book Abrogation in the Qur’an and Islamic Law: A Critical Study of the Concept of “Naskh” and its Impact, I discuss this verse in detail and show that this is not its meaning, as I have pointed out above. 

To sum up the thesis of this article: history is the realization of God’s foreknowledge.

Copyright © 2012 Louay Fatoohi
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Dec 162012

Chapter 1 begins with a brief introduction to the generic meaning of the term “naskh” in Arabic before it moves to focus on the technical meaning of this term. Tracing it in the earliest sources, the chapter discusses how this concept developed from its most basic form to the complex principle it became. It demonstrates that the technical meaning of the term as the abrogation of a divine ruling by a later divine ruling was unknown to the first generation of Muslims, is a later development, and that the three different modes of abrogation developed at different stages. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the three types of abrogation and the main points of difference between scholars about this doctrine.

Abrogation is one of the mechanisms that guided the development of Islamic law. Chapter 2 considers whether changes to the laws of previous religions can be seen as cases of abrogation, i.e. whether abrogation is a concept that operates within Prophet Muhammad’s divine message only or whether it existed in the messages of previous prophets also. We will study such changes from the point of view of the Qur’an, not their respective religious laws, as we are interested in examining whether the concept of abrogation, even in reference to changes involving pre-Islamic religious laws, exists in the Qur’an.

There are four variants of the term “naskh” in as many verses in the Qur’an, and these are the subject of Chapter 3. Two use the term in the generic sense of “transcribe,” but the other two have been seen by scholars as providing support to the principle of abrogation. A detailed examination of both verses shows that neither refers to the concept of abrogation. In other words, the term “naskh” never appears in the Qur’an in the meaning it acquired in Islamic law.

There are two other verses that do not use the term “naskh” but which have been seen as referring to abrogation. Chapter 4 shows that, like the verses that have the word “naskh,” these verses have nothing to do with the principle of abrogation. Chapters 3 and 4 leave no doubt that abrogation is not a Qur’anic concept. This concept did not originate from the Qur’an but was read into it.

The shaky conceptual grounds on which abrogation stands must have had inconcealable practical consequences for the development of this principle. There must have been a lot of confusion about what abrogation exactly means and how it is applied. This, indeed, is what Chapter 5 illustrates. It first discusses differences between scholars about the concept of abrogation and then examines the type of mistakes scholars have made when applying their definitions of this concept. It then presents statistics showing the significant differences in identifying the number of abrogated verses according to a select group of scholars from different times.

Chapter 6 deals with the first of the three modes of abrogation: the abrogation of the ruling but not the wording of a Qur’anic verse or what I call “legal abrogation.” Many verses are said to have been abrogated in this manner. In this chapter, I review the six cases that have attracted the most agreement among scholars. All of these claims turn out to be based on misinterpretations of the verses in question.

One case may be claimed to be an instance of abrogation, but even in this solitary instance the non-abrogation interpretation is more plausible. One verse that is claimed to have abrogated numerous verses is what scholars have called “the verse of the sword.” This verse is claimed to have abrogated many verses that instruct Muslims to be tolerant to non-Muslims, accommodate other religions, show forgiveness, and seek peace. These abrogation claims have been used in modern times by terrorists who have committed various atrocities under the name of Islam. Chapter 7 shows that all those abrogation claims have no foundations in the Qur’an. They take the application of abrogation to a new level of absurdity. Although the subject of this chapter represents a specific alleged case of legal abrogation, I have given it its own chapter because of its significance in today’s world.

The case of the verse of the sword is particularly useful in elucidating how the principle of abrogation became itself a major driver for the growth of claims of abrogated verses. The list of verses that this verse is supposed to have abrogated continued to grow over time. Once the concept of abrogation was accepted, it started to be the source of various abrogation claims. Abrogation became one tool that could be called upon in legal and exegetical debates to substantiate one’s position.

The Ḥadīth makes a critical difference between the content of the “muṣḥaf” and the “Qur’an.” It claims that the muṣḥaf does not contain all Qur’anic verses, as some of these were “withdrawn” by God during the life of the Prophet and consequently not recorded in the muṣḥaf when it was compiled after his death. This withdrawal was at times performed by God making the Prophet and the Muslims forget verses that had been revealed, and at other times by the divine will ensuring that those verses were not included in the muṣḥaf. Chapter 8 demonstrates how the concept of withdrawn verses, which translates into the conclusion that the muṣḥaf does not contain all Qur’anic verses, is fundamentally flawed. The chapter also explains how one of the three modes of abrogation was introduced to present the alleged absence of some verses from the muṣḥaf as a divine act, thus averting any questioning of the process of compiling the muṣḥaf and, ultimately, the integrity of the latter.

The claim that the Prophet was made to forget some Qur’anic verses is a major driver in the development of the theory of abrogation, leading to the formulation of the legal-textual mode of abrogation. Indeed, it has broader implications for the history of the Qur’anic text. This is why I have dedicated Chapter 9 to a detailed discussion of it. I first show that the claim of forgotten verses has no foundation in the Qur’an. I then examine the Ḥadīth narratives that promote this notion and expose their serious problems.

One of the anonymous reviewers of the book suggested combining Chapters 8 and 9. The two chapters are related and can be combined. But whether the text of the muṣḥaf contains the whole of the Qur’an, which is addressed in Chapter 8, does not depend only on whether Prophet Muhammad forgot some verses, which is discussed in Chapter 9. It also depends on when the text was recorded, how it was transmitted, the reliability of the transmission process, etc. I chose to focus Chapter 9 on whether Muhammad forgot verses because this is at the heart of the argument of abrogation — hence my preference for separating the two chapters.

Chapter 10 discusses the second mode of abrogation: the abrogation of the wording and ruling of a Qur’anic verse. I call this “legal-textual abrogation.” In Chapter 8, I explained that this mode of abrogation was developed to explain why the muṣḥaf does not contain certain Qur’anic verses. In Chapter 10, I show how this view is promoted by various ḥadīths and I discuss problems in this concept.

I also study the main relevant ḥadīths and show that they lack credibility. We will see, for instance, that most of these alleged verses are non-legalistic, yet all modes of abrogation imply that they deal with verses that introduce legal rulings. Using legal-textual abrogation to explain the absence of the alleged verses from the muṣḥaf is not only doomed to fail, but is also self-contradictory as abrogation, by definition, cannot be applied to those missing passages.

The abrogation of the wording but not the ruling of a Qur’anic verse is the subject of Chapters 11 and 12. There are two passages that are not found in the muṣḥaf and a missing word from a verse in the muṣḥaf that are claimed to represent “textual abrogation,” as I call this mode of abrogation. I examine the so-called “stoning verse” separately in Chapter 11, because of the length of this discussion, and I deal with the other two cases in Chapter 12.

Again, Ḥadīth narratives are used to support these claims. Yet my examination of these ḥadīths will show that they cannot be linked to the Prophet. As is the case with the instances of legal-textual abrogation, the alleged passages are not historical, i.e. they were never part of the Qur’an. Their absence from the muṣḥaf is not due to abrogation, another mechanism, deliberate manipulation, or accident. It is simply a reflection of the fact that none of them is a Qur’anic verse.

Having reviewed the three modes of abrogation, my conclusion is that abrogation is a phenomenon that lacks any support from the Qur’an. The three modes were developed to address three different concerns. Legal abrogation, which was probably the first mode of abrogation to appear, was the result of perceived contradictions between certain Qur’anic verses. These misinterpretations were at times chosen by exegetes to explain the prevalence of certain practices that contradicted Qur’anic rulings.

Legal-textual abrogation was needed to rationalize the belief driven by certain narratives that the muṣḥaf did not contain all verses of the Qur’an. In the case of textual abrogation, which is the last mode of abrogation to be proposed, the alleged two passages and one missing word from the muṣḥaf were invented to give Qur’anic support to widely accepted legal rulings. In the case of stoning, this ruling was in conflict with verses in the muṣḥaf. The fact that the rulings of the two passages and the word are operative meant that they could not be covered by legal-textual abrogation, so they had to be given their own mode of abrogation.

The three modes of abrogation were driven and supported by a large number of ḥadīths. The fact, however, is that there is nothing in the Qur’an to substantiate abrogation, let alone portray it as a major principle in the formation of Qur’anic law.

While this book is focused on abrogation in the Qur’an, for completeness, Chapter 13 tackles briefly abrogation in the Sunna. The term “Sunna” denotes all that the Prophet said, did, and approved and disapproved of. These include not only non-Qur’anic instructions from God but personal opinions of Muhammad the man. It is natural, therefore, to expect the Prophet to have changed his mind at times, permitting something he had once banned, prohibiting something he had allowed, or, generally, replacing one instruction with another. This conclusion has no implications for the non-historical concept of abrogation in the Qur’an.

Some of the flaws in the principle of abrogation reflect a fundamental misunderstanding by Muslim jurists of the concept of Islamic law in the Qur’an and the role of the Prophet in implementing it. There are at least serious inconsistencies in how these have been understood and used in formulating Islamic law. This critical issue is discussed in Chapter 14. A coherent model for understanding the concept of Islamic law is presented.

The findings of this book are summarized in Chapter 15. The chapter draws together the main conclusions of this study.

Appendix A explains the concepts of “Ḥadīth” and “Sunna” and the differences between them, as this understanding is essential for reading the book.

For the reader’s convenience, the book has two indexes, one for the Qur’anic verses and the other for names and subjects.

I have added a Glossary covering the technical terms used in the book for easy reference.


Copyright © 2012 Louay Fatoohi
Blog: http://www.louayfatoohi.com
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All Rights Reserved

Oct 282012
This article is from the book The Prophet Joseph In The Qur’an, The Bible, And History

وَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ إِلَّا رِجَالًا نُوحِى إِلَيْهِم مِّنْ أَهْلِ الْقُرَى أَﻓَﻠَﻤْ يَسِيرُواْ فِى الْأَرْضِ فَيَنْظُرُواْ كَيْفَ كَانَ عَـٰقِبَةُ الَّذِينَ مِن ﻗَﺒْﻠِﻬِﻤْ وَلَدَارُ الْأَخِرَةِ خَيْرُ لِّلَّذِينَ اتَّقَوْاْ أَﻓَﻼَ تَعْقِلُونَ ﴿109﴾

And We have not sent [messengers] before you [O Muhammad!] but men to whom We gave revelations, [who were] from the people of the towns. Have they (the disbelievers) not then traveled in the land and seen what was the end of those before them? And surely the abode of the hereafter is better for those who act dutifully; do you [O people!] not understand? (109)

Allah says that all the messengers that He sent before Prophet Muhammad, such as prophet Joseph, were men from various towns, to whom He revealed the Message. In describing the “men to whom We gave revelations” as being “from the people of the towns,” Allah emphasizes that those messengers were human beings who were known to their people. They were not “jinn” men, who are also mentioned in the Qur’an:

وَأَنَّهُ كَانَ رِجَالُ مِّنَ الإِنسِ يَعُوذُونَ بِرِجَالٍ مِّنَ الْجِنِّ فَزَادُوهُمْ رَهَقًا ﴿6﴾. (سورة الجِـنّ).

And that human men used to seek refuge with jinn men, so they increased them in tiredness. (72.6)

The statement “We have not sent [messengers] before you [O Muhammad!] but men to whom We gave revelations, [who were] from the people of the towns” stresses that sending Muhammad, who was a man from the people of the town of Mecca, as a Messenger was not an innovation that had no precedent:

قُلْ مَا كُنْتُ بِدْعًا مِّنَ الرُّسُلِ وَمَآ أَدْرِى مَا يُفْعَلُ بِى وَلَا بِكُمْ إِنْ أَتَّبِعُ إِلَّا مَا يُوحَىٰ إِلَىَّ وَمَآ أَنَاْ إِلَّا نَذِيرُ مُّبِينُ ﴿9﴾. (سورة الأحقاف).

Say [O Muhammad!]: “I am no new thing among the messengers [of Allah], and I do not know what will be done to me or to you. I do not follow anything but that which is revealed to me, and I am but a manifest warner.” (46.9)

These are some of the verses that stress the human nature of all the messengers that Allah sent to people, and that they were men from the people of the towns:

وَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَا قَبْلَكَ إِلَّا رِجَالًا نُّوحِىٓ إِلَيْهِمْ فَسْـٔلُوٓاْ أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ  لَا تَعْلَمُونَ ﴿7﴾ وَمَا جَعَلْنَـٰهُمْ جَسَدًا لَّا يَأْكُلُونَ الطَّعَامَ وَمَا كَانُواْ خَـٰلِدينَ ﴿8﴾. (سورة الأَنبيَـاءِ).

And We did not send before you [O Muhammad!] but men to whom We gave revelations, so ask [O people!] the people of the revelations [those who know about the messengers of Allah] if you do not know. (21.7) And We did not give them bodies that would not eat food, and they were not immortal. (21.8)

وَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَا قَبْلَكَ مِنَ الْـمُرْسَلِينَ إِلَّآ إِﻧَّﻬُﻢْ لَيَأْكُلُونَ الطَّعَامَ وَيَمْشُونَ فِى الْأَسْوَاقِ وَجَعَلْنَا بَعْضَكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ فِتْـنَةً أَتَصْبِرُونَ وَكَانَ رَبُّكَ بَصِيرًا ﴿20﴾. (سورة الفُرقَـانِ).

And We have not sent before you [O Muhammad!] any messengers but they surely ate food and went about in the markets. And We made some of you a test for others whether you will have patience. And your Lord is ever Seeing. (25.20)

وَمَا قَدَرُواْ اﻟﻠَّﻪَ حَقَّ قَدْرِهِ إِذْ قَالُوا مَآ أَنزَلَ اﻟﻠَّﻪُ عَلَىٰ بَشَرٍ مِّنْ شَىْءٍ قُلْ مَنْ أَنزَلَ الْكِتَـٰبَ الَّذِى جَآءَ بِهِ مُوسَىٰ نُورًا وَهُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ تَجْعَلُونَهُ قَرَاطِيسَ تُبْدُونَهَا وَﺗُﺨْﻔُﻮنَ كَثِيرًا وَعُلِّمْتُم مَّا ﻟَﻤْ تَعْلَمُوٓاْ أَنتُمْ وَلَآ ءبَآؤُكُمْ قُلِ اﻟﻠَّﻪُ ثُمَّ ذَرْهُمْ فِى خَوْضِهِمْ يَلْعَبُونَ ﴿91﴾. (سورة الأَنْعَام).

And they do not appreciate the real status of Allah when they say: “Allah has not sent down anything to a human being.” Say [O Muhammad!]: “Who sent down the Book which Moses brought as a light and a guidance to people, which you have made into parchments some of which you show and much of which you conceal? And you were taught that which you and your fathers did not know.” Say: “Allah,” then leave them sporting in their vain discourses. (6.91)

The following verses respond to the disbelievers’ misguided belief that Allah did not send human messengers:

وَمَا مَنَعَ النَّاسَ أَن يُؤْمِـنُوٓاْ إِذْ جَآءَهُمُ الْـهُدَى إِلَّآ أَن قَالُوٓاْ أَبَعَثَ اﻟﻠَّﻪُ بَشَرًا رَّسُولًا ﴿94﴾. (سورة الٕاسرَاءِ).

And nothing prevented people from believing when guidance came to them except that they said: “What! Has Allah sent a human as a messenger?” (17.94)

قَالَتْ رُسُلُهُمْ أَفِى اﻟﻠَّﻪِ شَكُّ فَاطِرِ السَّمَـٰوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ يَدْعُوكُمْ لِيَغْفِرَ لَكُم مِّنْ ذُنُوبِكُمْ وَيُؤَخِّرَكُمْ إِلَى أَجَـلٍ مُسَمًّى قَالُوٓاْ إِنْ أَنتُمْ إِلَّا بَشَرُ مِّثْلُنَا تُرِيدُونَ أَن تَصُدُّونَا عَمَّـا كَانَ يَعْبُدُ ءَابَـآؤُنَا فَأْتُونَـا بِسُلْطَـٰنٍ مُّبِينٍ ﴿10﴾ قَالَتْ لَهُمْ رُسُلُهُمْ إِن نَّحْنُ إِلَّا بَشَرُ مِّثْلُكُمْ وَلَـٰكِنَّ اﻟﻠَّﻪَ يَمُنُّ عَلَىٰ مَن يَشَآءُ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ وَمَا كَانَ لَنَآ أَن نَّأْﺗِﻴَﻜُﻤ بِسُلْطَـٰنٍ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِ اﻟﻠَّﻪِ وَعَلَى اﻟﻠَّﻪِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْـمُؤْمِنُونَ ﴿11﴾. (سورة إبرَاﻫِـﻴﻤ).

Their messengers said: “Can there be doubt about Allah, the Originator of the heavens and the earth? He invites you to forgive you your sins, and He reprieves you till an appointed term.” They said: “You are nothing but humans like us seeking to turn us away from what our fathers used to worship. Bring us therefore some clear authority.” (14.10) Their messengers said to them: “We are not but humans like yourselves, but Allah bestows favors on whom He pleases of His servants. And it is not for us to bring to you an authority except by Allah’s permission; and on Allah let the believers rely.” (14.11)

وَقَالُواْ لَوْلَآ أُنزِلَ عَلَيْهِ مَلَكُ وَلَوْ أَنزَلْنَا مَلَكًا لَّقُضضِيَ الْأَمْرُ ﺛُﻤَّ لَا يُنظَرُونَ ﴿8﴾. (سورة الأنعَامِ).

And they [the disbelievers] say: “Only if an angel has been sent down to him [Prophet Muhammad]!” And had We sent down an angel, the matter would have certainly been settled, and then they would not have been given a respite. (7.8)

It is important to realize that these verses talk specifically about Allah’s Messenger to all people for the purpose of bringing the good news and warning about the Day of Resurrection. Allah also has non‑human messengers, such as the angels, whom He sends to particular individuals on special assignments:

الْحَمْدُ ﻟِﻠَّﻪِ فَاطِرِ السَّمَـٰوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ جَاعِلِ ُ اﻟملائكةَ رُﺳُﻼً أُوْلِىٓ أَجْنِحَةٍ مَّثْنَىٰ وَثُلـٰثَ وَرُبَـٰعَ يَزِيدُ فِى الْخَلْقِ مَا يَشَآءُ إِنَّ اﻟﻠَّﻪَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَىْءٍ قَدِيرُ ﴿1﴾. (سورة فاطر).

Praise be to Allah, the Originator of the heavens and the earth, the Maker of the angels as messengers who have two, three, and four routes; He increases the creation as He pleases; surely Allah has power over all things. (35.1)

One task that Allah assigned to angels is conveying His messages to righteous people, such as informing those who surrender to Allah and follow the straight path that they will go to paradise:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ قَالُواْ رَبُّنَا اﻟﻠَّﻪُ ﺛُﻤَّ اسْتَقَـٰمُواْ تَتَنَزَّلُ عَلَيْهِمُ اﻟملائكةَ أَلَّا ﺗَﺨَﺎﻓُﻮاْ وَلَا ﺗَﺤْﺰَﻧُﻮاْ وَأَبْشِرُواْ ﺑِالْجَنَّةِ الَّتِى ﻛُﻨﺘُﻤْ  تُوعَدُونَ ﴿30﴾ نَحْنُ أَوْلِيَآؤُكُمْ فِى الْحَيَـٰوةِ الدُّنْيَـا وَفِى الْأَخِرَةِ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَشْتَهِىٓ أَنفُسُكُمْ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَدَّعُونَ ﴿31﴾. (سورة فُصِّلت).

As for those who say: “Our Lord is Allah,” and follow the right way, angels descend upon them, saying: “Fear not, nor be grieved, and here is the good news about paradise which you were promised (41.30). We are your guardians in this life and in the hereafter, and you shall have therein that which your souls desire, and you shall have therein what you ask for.” (41.31)

Another example is informing prophet Zachariah that he was going to have prophet John as a son:

هُنَالِكَ دَعَا زَكَرِيَّا رَبَّهُ قَالَ رَبِّ هَبْ لِى مِن لَّدُنكَ ذُرِّيَّـةً طَيِّـبَةً إِنَّكَ سَمِيعُ الدُّعَآءِ ﴿38﴾ فَنَادَتْهُ اﻟملائكةَ وَهُوَ قَآﺋِﻤُ ُ يُصَلِّى فِى الْمِحْرَابِ أَنَّ اﻟﻠَّﻪَ يُبَشِّرُكَ بِيَحْيَىٰ مُصَدِّقَا بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنَ اﻟﻠَّﻪِ وَسَيِّدًا وَحَصُورًا وَنَبِيًّا مِّنَ الصَّـٰلِحِينَ ﴿39﴾. (سورة آلَ عِمْرَان).

There did Zachariah pray to his Lord; he said: “My Lord! Grant me from You good offspring; surely You are the Hearer of prayers.” (3.38) Then the angels called him as he stood praying in the pulpit: “Allah gives you the good news of [the birth of] John, who will confirm with a Word from Allah [the previous messengers], be honorable, chaste, and a prophet from among the righteous.” (3.39)

One special assignment that Allah gives to angels is the infliction of revenge on wrongdoing people, as in the angels’ destruction of the people of prophet Lot:

فَلَمَّـا جَآءَ ءَالَ لُوطٍ الْـمُرْسَلُونَ ﴿61﴾ قَالَ إِنَّكُمْ قَوْﻣُ ُ مُّنكَرُونَ ﴿62﴾ قَالُواْ بَلْ جِئْنَـٰكَ بِمَا كَانُواْ فِيهِ يَمْتَرُونَ ﴿63﴾ وَأَتَيْنَـٰكَ ﺑِالْحَقِّ وَإِنَّا لَصَـٰدِقُونَ ﴿64﴾ فَأَسْرِ بِأَهْلِكَ بِقِطْعٍ مِّنَ الَّيْلِ وَاتَّبِعْ أَدْبَـٰرَهُمْ وَلَاَ يَلْتَفِتْ مِنْكُمْ أَحَدُُ وَامْضُواْ حَيْثُ تُؤْمَرُونَ ﴿65﴾ وَقَضَيْنَآ إِلَيْهِ ذَٰلِكَ الْأَمْـرَ أَنَّ دَابِرَ هَـؤُلَآءِ مَقْطُوعُ مُّصْبِحِينَ ﴿66﴾ وَجَآءَ أَهْلُ الْمَدِينَةِ يَسْتَبْشِرُونَ ﴿67﴾ قَالَ إِنَّ هَـؤُلَآءِ ضَيْفِى ﻓَﻼَ تَفْضَحُونِ ﴿68﴾ وَاتَّقُواْ اﻟﻠَّﻪَ وَلَا ﺗُﺨْﺰُﻭﻥِ ﴿69﴾ قَالُوٓاْ أَوَلَمْ نَنْهَكَ عَنِ الْعَـٰلَمِينَ ﴿70﴾ قَالَ هَـؤُلَآءِ بَنَاتِىٓ إِن ﻛُﻨﺘُﻢْ  فَـٰعِلِينَ ﴿71﴾ لَعَمْرُكَ إِنَّهُمْ لَفِى سَكْرَتِهِمْ يَعْمَهُونَ ﴿72﴾ فَأَخَذَتْهُمُ الصَّيْحَةُ مُشْرِقِينَ ﴿73﴾ فَجَعَلْنَا عَـٰلِيَهَا سَافِلَهَا وَأَمْطَرْنَا ﻋَﻠَﻴْﻫِﻢْ حِجَارَةً مِّن سِجِّيلٍ ﴿74﴾. (سورة الحِجْر).

So when the messengers came to Lot’s family. (15.61) He said: “Surely you are an unknown people.” (15.62) They said: “We have rather come to you with that which they have rejected. (15.63) And we have come to you with the truth; and we are surely truthful. (15.64) Therefore, go forth with your household in a part of the night, and follow their rear, and let not any one of you turn round, and go to where you are commanded.” (15.65) And We revealed to him this decree: the roots of these [his people] shall be cut off in the morning. (15.66) And the people of the town came [to him] with joyful expectations. (15.67) He said: “These are my guests, so do not disgrace me. (15.68) And act dutifully toward Allah, and do not put me to shame.” (15.69) They said: “Have we not forbidden you from [talking to] people?” (15.70) He said: “These are my daughters [to marry], if you must do so” (15.71). Verily! They are blindly wandering on in their intoxication. (15.72) So the blast overtook them at sunrise. (15.73) Thus, We turned it upside down, and rained down upon them stones of Sijjīl. (15.74)

There are non‑human messengers who are sent on other special missions, such as Gabriel who delivered the Message of Allah to Prophet Muhammad to guide the human beings and jinn:

قُلْ مَن كَانَ عَدُوًّا لِّجـِبْرِيلَ فَإِنَّهُ نَزَّلَهُ عَلَىٰ قَلْبِكَ بِإِذْنِ اﻟﻠَّﻪِ مُصَدِّقًا لِّـمَـا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ وَهُدًى وَبُشْرَىٰ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ ﴿97﴾. (سورة البقرة).

Say [O Muhammad!]: ‘Who is an enemy of Gabriel?’ For he brought it down to your heart by Allah’s command, confirming that [the Book] which was before it, and as guidance and good news for the believers. (2.97)

Allah also aided prophet Jesus with Gabriel (Rūḥ al‑Qudus):

وَلَقَدْ ءَاتَيْنَا مُوسَى الْكِتَـٰبَ وَقَفَّيْنَا مِن بَعْدِهِ ﺑِالرُّسُلِ وَءَاتَيْنَا عِيسَى ابْنَ ﻣَﺮْيَمَ الْبَيِّنَـٰتِ وَأَيَّدْنَـٰهُ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ ﴿87﴾. (سورة البقرة).

And certainly We gave Moses the Book and sent messengers after him one after another; and We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, clear proofs and strengthened him with the Rú< al‑Qudus. (from 2.87)

Allah, therefore, has non‑human messengers whom He sends to elite individuals, not common people, in order to deliver a particular message, or whom He sends to execute a particular task. The messengers that Allah sent to common people to deliver the good news and warning about the Day of Resurrection, such as the messengers that are referred to in verse 12.109, however, were all human beings.

Let us get back to the verse under discussion and turn our attention to the words “have they not then traveled in the land and seen what was the end of those before them?” This is also an indirect criticism of the polytheists and disbelievers. It is a denouncement of their adherence to polytheism and disbelief despite the fact that they have seen the relics and heard the stories of Allah’s punishment of past polytheistic and disbelieving nations.

Allah’s words “surely the abode of the hereafter is better for those who act dutifully” stress, implicitly, that the dutiful servants will have good in this world and, explicitly, that their reward in the hereafter will be even greater. They encourage people to seek the path of dutifulness.

Allah concludes the verse saying “do you [O people!] not understand?” emphasizing that His words and His other signs should convince every person with sound mind. Anyone who does not believe in Allah’s signs is therefore failing to understand properly.


Sep 232012

 This article has been extracted from the “Introduction” to Abrogation in the Qur’an and Islamic Law: A Critical Study of the Concept of “Naskh” and its Impact

The overwhelming majority of Muslim scholars, past and modern, have accepted abrogation in both the Qur’an and the Sunna as an indisputable fact. Only a very small minority has rejected Qur’anic abrogation. We know this opposition existed because it is condemned and vilified in the earliest works on abrogation. But this ostensible consensus of the majority conceals enormous differences in the way abrogation is understood. For instance, some scholars have identified over two hundred Qur’anic verses that they claim to have been abrogated by other Qur’anic verses or by sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad, whereas others have reduced the number to a single digit! How many and which verses were the subject of abrogation is only one aspect of the enormous disagreements between scholars. Differences about abrogation date as far back as the earliest surviving writings on the subject. In the late 4th to early 5th century Hijri, Hibat Allāh b. Salāma explained that he wrote his book on abrogation because “exegetes ignored this science, did not preserve it, and have been confused about it.”[i]

Western scholars, on the other hand, have held a completely different view of abrogation and its origins. They see it as a mechanism that Muslim scholars had to introduce to explain away intrinsic contradictions within the Qur’an:

Of immediate concern to these men were certain passages that bore on the same issues but that seemed mutually contradictory. Their attempts to harmonize such Qur’anic texts marked the rudimentary beginnings of the theory of abrogation (naskh), a theory that later stood at the center of legal hermeneutics.[ii]

Abrogation was later used to deal with contradictions between the Qur’an and the Sunna as the literature of the latter grew along with the contradictions between the two.

Burton, however, has shown that the perceived contradiction within the Qur’an is often the result of misinterpretation of verses. The contradiction is not intrinsic in the Qur’an but is the result of unsuccessful attempts at interpreting the text.[iii] This view was earlier suggested by a Muslim scholar in the first half of the 20th century who rejected the concept of abrogation.[iv]

Another established concept among Western scholars is that the practices of the early Muslim communities did not always reflect the Qur’an’s teachings. Ingenious interpretation of specific verses was one way of dealing with these conflicts. Exegetes sought to reconcile those differences between the Qur’an and practice using the Qur’an itself, thus interpreting verses in a manner that would give practice Qur’anic foundations and, therefore, remove any suggestion that it contradicted the Book of Allah.

Western scholars have identified another approach that grew in the decades after the Prophet which is the authoring of statements attributed to him, his Companions, and their Successors to support the legitimacy of such common practices. The Prophet’s sayings are seen by Muslim scholars as extra-Qur’anic revelation from God. Teachings attributed to the early pious Muslims are considered to have been influenced by and originated from Muhammad. This extra-Qur’anic material was then used to supplement the Qur’an, becoming over time the second source of Islamic law. The theories of abrogation then used exegesis and this secondary source to present any practice as genuinely Islamic. If practice contradicted the Qur’an, the supportive statements by the Prophet are considered to have abrogated the Qur’an and to have been the bases for the practice. More broadly, many Western scholars believe that the study of Islamic law focused on reconciling practices that had developed in the regional Muslim communities with the Qur’an and the Prophetic legacy:

Legal scholars appealed to the principle of abrogation continually to resolve the apparent contradictions between the legal practice of the various regions of the Islamic world and between all of these and their putative sources in the revelation.[v]

Burton has rightly pointed out that another source of abrogation theories has been the belief that the written record of the Qur’anic revelation, the “muṣḥaf,” does not contain all of that divine revelation. The missing verses were said to have been abrogated.


[i] Hibat Allāh Ibn Salāma, Al-Nāsikh wal-Mansūkh, p. 8.

[ii] Wael B. Hallaq, The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law, p. 66.

[iii] John Burton, The Sources of Islamic Law: Islamic Theories of Abrogation.

[iv] ʿAbd al-Mutaʿāl al-Jabrī, Al-Naskh fī al-Sharīʿa al-Islāmiyya Kamā Afhamuh: Al-Nāsikh wal-Mansūkh Baina al-Ithbāt wal-Nafī, p. 102.

[v] John Burton, “Abrogation,” I, p. 16; see also Wael B. Hallaq, “Law and the Qur’an,” III, p. 154.


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Sep 082012

“Naskh,” or “abrogation” as it is translated, has been the subject of numerous studies by Muslim scholars down the centuries. As the mechanism describing how divine rulings from the Qur’an and the actions and teachings of the Prophet (Sunna)1 were superseded by others from these sources, it is natural for naskh to acquire such prominence in Islamic sciences, particularly in Islamic law. Scholars, naturally, needed to know the chronological order of the revelations in order to identify which rulings were abolished and which ones were still operative. The latter, then, are seen as the rulings that should be followed by Muslims. So while abrogation is very much a scholarly subject, it touches on the daily life of every Muslim. As we shall see, abrogation has played a major role in Islamic law, and thus its influence on the life of the average Muslim cannot be exaggerated.

Scholars have quoted a number of reports attributed to prominent early Muslims in support of the importance of studying naskh. One report states that ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib (40/661), the Prophet’s cousin and the fourth caliph after him, once asked a judge he came across whether he had knowledge of the “nasikh (abrogating rulings)” and the “mansukh abrogated rulings),” to which the man answered “no.” ‘Alī told him that he was fatally deluded and misleading others. This narrative is found in the earliest surviving book on abrogation, which dates back to the second decade of the 3rd century Hijri.2 In his early collection of Ḥadīth, Dārimī (255/869) has a narrative stating that one should consider giving rulings to people only if he has distinguished “the abrogating verses from the abrogated ones in the Qur’an” or is a ruler who needs to enact laws.3

In his book on naskh, Aḥmad al-Naḥḥās (338/949) also quotes a number of accounts emphasizing the necessity of learning the science of naskh. ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib once saw a man in a mosque who made people fearful. ‘Alī asked about what the man was doing and he was told that the man was making people fear Allah. ‘Alī said that the man was instead showing off . He asked for the man to be brought to him and questioned him on whether he knew the science of the abrogating and abrogated rulings to which the man answered in the negative. ‘Alī told him to leave the mosque and to not preach in it again.4 Naḥḥās also says that Ibn ‘Abbās (68/687) is said to have interpreted the Qur’anic verse “and anyone who is given Wisdom has been given much good” (2.269) as referring mainly to the science of naskh.5

The 5th century Hijri scholar Yūsuf b. ‘Abd al-Bir quotes Yaḥyā bin Aktham (242/857) as having said that “none of all sciences is more of a duty to learn on the scholars, students, and all Muslims than the science of the nasikh and mansukh.”6 He explains that it is necessary for the Muslim to know which rulings should be implemented and which had been abolished. The renowned 9th century scholar Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī quotes the consensus of earlier scholars that “no one should try to interpret the Book of Allah before learning its abrogating and abrogated verses.”7

But there is at least one ḥadith suggesting that a well-known Companion of the Prophet did not believe in naskh. In a ḥadith in Bukhārī (256/870), Ibn ‘Abbās has reported that ‘Umar b. al-Khaṭṭāb (23/644) has said:

The best Qur’anic expert among us is Ubayy and the best legal expert among us is ‘Alī. But we ignore some of what Ubayy states because he says: “I will never abandon anything I heard from the Messenger of Allah,” yet Allah has said: “Whatever aya We nansakh (abrogate) or cause to be forgotten (nunsiha)” (2.106).8

‘Umar here denounces Ubayy’s rejection of the concept of abrogation. Verse 2.106 is seen as one of the main verses that confirm the principle of naskh.9

Muslim scholars see abrogation as a mechanism that perfectly reflects God’s omnipotence. God can change any ruling with another at any point in time He sees fit. This does not contravene God’s omniscience, because He knows the temporariness or permanence of any ruling from the time He issues it. Abrogation does not reflect any change in God’s knowledge. It is one way in which He delivers His commandments and runs the affairs of the world.

The significance of abrogation is not confined to its important role in the development of the Islamic legal system. Assessing this concept and its historicity is critical to understanding the process of transmission and compilation of the Qur’anic text and its integrity. In my view, a researcher cannot write unambiguously about the history of the Qur’anic text without clarifying their position on abrogation, whether they accept it as a genuine Qur’anic principle or no, and explaining the implications of this position for their assessment of the various claims in the primary sources about the Qur’anic passages that are not part of the written Qur’an. Even presuming the historicity of abrogation while overlooking the fact that it has meant very different things to different scholars undermines the value of any work on the history of the Qur’anic text. This is a serious flaw I find in works such as Muḥammad al-A‘ẓamī’s The History of the Qur’anic Text From Revelation to Compilation.10

Other legal principles, such as “qiyas (analogical reasoning),” are concerned only with the hermeneutics of the text but not its history. Abrogation, therefore, is unique in its implications for the history and transmission of the Qur’anic text as well as its meanings and objectives.


For the meanings of “Sunna” and “Ḥadith,” see Appendix A.
2 Abū ‘Ubaid al-Qāsim b. Sallām, Al-Nāsikh wal-Mansūkh fī al-Qur’an al-‘Azīz wamā fīhi min al-Farāid˙ wal-Sunan, p. 4. Some versions of this narrative, like Abū ʿUbaid’s, identify the person as a “storyteller” rather than a “judge,” whose Arabic words are similar, but the context suggests that “judge” is the correct one.
3 ‘Abd Allāh al-Dārimī, Musnad al-Dārimī, I, no. 178, pp. 272–73.
4 Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Naḥḥās, Al-Nāsikh wal-Mansūkh fī Kitāb Allah ‘Azza wa-Jall wa-Ikhtilāf al-‘Ulamā’ fī dhālik, II, p. 410.
5Ibid., II, p. 411.
6 Yūsuf Ibn ʿAbd al-Bir, Jami‘ Bayān al-‘Ilm wa-Faḍlih, I, p. 767.
7 Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūt˙ī, Al-Itqān fī Ulūm al-Qur’an, IV, p. 1435.
8 Muḥammad al-Bukhārī, Al-Jāmi al-Ṣaḥīḥ, III, no. 4300, p. 8.
9I will discuss this verse in detail later in the book (pp. 47–54).
10 Muḥammad Aẓamī, The History of the Qur’anic Text From Revelation to Compilation.


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Apr 212012

As the unchanged and unerring Word of God, the Qur’an has naturally been considered by Muslims as containing miracles. Many scientific claims have been identified in the Qur’an. Of course, any such identification presumes that the specific scientific claim is a definite fact. Linking a Qur’anic text to any conceived scientific fact often requires preferring one particular interpretation of a word or expression in that Qur’anic text over possible alternatives. Such effort is, of course, open to error. The supposed scientific fact may be later proved to be wrong and/or the interpretation of the relevant Qur’anic passage may be wrong. In this article, I will discuss such a case of misidentification where a misinterpretation of a Qur’anic text is linked to a supposed scientific fact in the Qur’an.

In order to explain certain observations that the view that the universe was static could not explain, astronomers in the twenties of the 20th century developed the theory that the universe is expanding. That the universe is expanding is now considered an established scientific fact.Some Muslims claim that the Qur’an contains a verse that state that the universe has been expanding. This is the verse in question:

And the heaven We built it with might and We lamūsi‘ūn. (51.47)

The term “lamūsi‘ūn” is usually understood as meaning “expanding.” The word “heaven” is taken to mean the “universe” and to be the object of the action of “expanding,” and thus it is claimed that this verse shows that the Qur’an has revealed that the universe is expanding. This, however, is a misunderstanding of the word “lamūsiūn.” I should first note that most translations do not suggest a link between this verse and the concept of expanding universe:

Translator Translation
Pickthall We have built the heaven with might, and We it is Who make the vast extent (thereof).
Palmer And the heaven — we have built it with might, and, verily, we do surely give it ample space!
Rodwell And the Heaven — with our hands have we built it up, and given it its expanse.
Sale We have built the heaven with might; and we have given [it] a large extent.
Shakir And the heaven, We raised it high with power, and most surely We are the makers of things ample.
Sher Ali And We have built the heavens with Our own hands, and, verily, We have vast powers.
Yusuf Ali With power and skill did We construct the Firmament: for it is We Who create the vastness of pace.

But some translations allow a link between the verse and the expanding universe concept:

Translator Translation
Arberry And heaven — We built it with might, and We extend it wide.
Hilali-Khan With power did We construct the heaven. Verily, We are Able to extend the vastness of space thereof.
Khalifa We constructed the sky with our hands, and we will continue to expand it.

Whether or not accommodating linking the verse to the concept of expanding universe, all nine translators link the term “lamūsi‘ūn” to “expansion,” “space,” “vastness,” and such concepts.

Some classical exegetes of the Qur’an have also established this link in the verse. For instance, Qurṭubī (d. 671/1272) and ibn Kathīr (d. 774/1372) interpret this term as meaning “We have expanded its borders.” Others, however, have differed. For instance, Zamakhsharī (d. 538/1144) and Baiḍāwī (d. 685/1286) take it to mean “We are capable.” Rāzī (d. 606/1209) considers both interpretations as possible, so he says that it may mean “we expanded it” or “We are capable.” Obviously, those who linked “lamusi’un” to “expansion” did not have the concept of expanding universe in mind. Nevertheless, linking this term to “expansion” is the result of wrong interpretation.

The article “la” in “lamūsi‘ūn” is used for oath or emphasis, so the term we are interested in is “mūsi‘ūn.” This term is the masculine plural of an active participle “mūsi‘.” The plural of this word and the plural pronoun “We” are used in the verse because they refer to God. In Arabic, the plural is often used as a mark of respect and authority. For instance, a king may refer to himself in the plural with “we.”

The active participle “mūsi” is derived from “sia.” The latter may mean “expanse.” For instance, “wāsi,” which is another active participle of “si’a,” is used 5 times to mean “vast.” This is the case when it is applied to describe God’s “land” (4.97, 29.56, 39.10) “mercy” (6.147), and “forgiveness” (53.32) as being “vast”. But in its remaining 8 occurrences, the term “wāsi” has the broader meaning of “accommodating” or “encompassing.” In these verses, “wāsi” is used to describe God Himself, i.e. it is is one of the Beautiful Names of God. I will revisit this particular use of “wāsi” later.

But the term “si’a” also means “capability,” or “capacity.” This is an example:

Allah does not charge a soul but to its wusahā (capacity). (2.286)

So what does active participle “mūsi” then mean? In addition to its occurrence in verse 51.47, this term occurs also in this verse:

There is no fault in you if you divorce women before you have touched them or appointed a settlement for them. But make provision for them, the mūsi (affluent man) according to his means, and the needy man according to his means; [it is] a provision in reason — an obligation on the good-doers. (2.236)

Clearly, the term “mūsi” has no sense of expansion, but it stands for the person who can afford higher provisions, i.e. it describes capability. This sense of the word becomes even clearer when we consider the use of its verb “wasia.” This verb occurs six times in the Qur’an. These occurrences are particularly instructive because they are used with reference to God in some way or another, like the use of the term “lamūsiūn” in 51.47. The first three verses use the verb to describe the fact that God encompassed everything with His knowledge:

My Lord wasia (encompasses) everything in His knowledge. (6.80)

Our Lord wasia (encompasses) everything in His knowledge. (7.89)

[He] wasia (encompasses) everything in His knowledge. (20.98)

The Qur’anic expression that is repeated in the three verses emphasizes that God comprehends everything with His knowledge, so there is nothing that He does not know. There is no knowledge beyond God’s knowledge. His knowledge contains all knowledge.

The forth verse applies the verb to God’s mercy:

My mercy wasiat (encompasses) everything. (7.156)

The fifth verse combines the meanings of the four verses above:

Our Lord! Wasita (You encompass) everything in Your mercy and knowledge. (40.7)

Now, if we then try and derive the active participle “musi” from the verb “wasia,” we have to conclude that it the former means “encompassing.” If this is the case, then verse 51.47 must be understood as follows:

And the heaven We built it with might and We lamūsiūn (are encompassing it). (51.47)

This verse confirms that the heaven is completely within and under God’s control. There is no reference whatsoever to expansion of the heaven. The term “lamūsiūn” describes God not the heaven. This interpretation becomes even more emphatic when we consider the sixth and last verse in which the verb wasi’a occurs:

His Throne wasia (encompasses) the heavens and the earth and preserving them does not cause him any tiredness. (2.255)

This is the closet verse of all to 51.47. Clearly, it reiterates the fact that the heaven and the earth are within God’s control.

I pointed out earlier that the active participle “wāsi” is used 8 times in the Qur’an to describe God. Interestingly, in 7 verses, the term appears in the expression “wāsi alīm” (2.115, 2.147, 2.261, 2.268, 3.73, 4.54, 24.32) and once in the expression “wāsian ḥakīman” (4.130). The term “alīm” means “knowledgable” and “ḥakīman” means “wise.” You can see here also that the term “wāsi” is related to vastness of knowledge not special vastness.

Now note the concept of God being “encompassing” in knowledge in this verse also:

It is Allah who created seven heavens, and of earth their like. The Command descends between them, that you may know that Allah is powerful over everything and that Allah encompasses everything in knowledge. (65.12)

The Arabic term that I have translated as “encompasses” here is “aḥāṭa,” which may also be translated as “surrounds.” This verse and verse 51.47 have clear similarity in meaning.

This article in no way suggests that there are no miracles in the Qur’an. It only points out that the particular claim that verse 51.47 talks about an expanding universe is not supported by how the critical term “wasia” is used in other verses in the Qur’an.

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Nov 282011

This article is adapted from The Mystery of the Crucifixion: The Attempt to Kill Jesus in the Qur’an, the New Testament, and Historical Sources

The four Gospels differ on a number of details in their accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus. I have dealt in previous articles with two disagreements, namely whether Jesus was arrested on or before the Passover and what charges were brought against him before Pilate. In this article, I discuss another conflict between the Gospel reports, which concerns the time of Jesus’ alleged crucifixion.

The day of the ancient Jewish lunar calendar was reckoned from sunset to sunset. The night and the daytime consisted of 12 hours each, with the first hour of the night starting around 6 pm and the first hour of the daytime around 6 am. John (11:9) says that in one of his dialogs with his disciples Jesus said: “Are there not twelve hours in the day?

According to Mark (15:25), Jesus was crucified at the 3rd hour in daytime: “And it was the third hour when they crucified him.” At the 6th hour the land was covered with darkness which lasted until the 9th hour, at which point Jesus died:

33And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.

The 3rd, 6th, and 9th hours correspond to 9 am, 12 am, and 3 pm, respectively.

Both Matthew (27:45-50) and Luke (23:44-46) reiterate Mark’s statement that the darkness lasted from the 6th to the 9th hour and that Jesus died at the 9th hour:

45Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

44It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

John (19:14-16) disagrees with Mark, Matthew, and Mark, claiming that it was the 6th hour in daytime, that is midday, when Pilate handed over Jesus to be crucified:

14Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

John does not say when Jesus died or specify how long his ordeal lasted so the time of death remains unknown.

To resolve the conflict between John and the Synoptists (i.e. Mark, Matthew, and Mark) about when Jesus’ crucifixion started, it has been suggested that John followed the Romans in reckoning time from midnight, so his sixth hour corresponds to 6 am. In addition to the fact that there is no evidence to support this assumption, this attempt would still require presuming that three more hours passed before the crucifixion started to reconcile John’s account with the Synoptists. Furthermore, it is far more likely that John reckoned the time the Jewish way because that would make the crucifixion coincide with the slaughter of the Passover lambs — something that reflects his description of Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 1:36) and works well for his theology.

The time of Jesus’ alleged crucifixion is one of the unresolved contradictions in the Gospels.


Bible translations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible.


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