Abrogation, the way that self-contradiction in the Quran is resolved

Abrogation – this is the way that  self-contradiction in the Quran is  resolved. Surah 2:106 “We do not  abrogate a verse or cause it to be  forgotten except that we bring forth one  better than it or similar to it. Do you  not know that Allah is over all things competent?” Here’s the problem. How do you handle the  situation where one verse in the Quran  contradicts another verse? It’s very  important to Muslims to believe that the  Quran contains no contradictions. So how  is this dealt with? Very simply. The later  verse cancels the earlier verse, which is  now superseded and the  self-contradiction disappears, except  that it doesn’t. It’s still there because  the older verse is not removed from the  Quran. Think of a software manual showing  the way to use the software and with  more recent updates, the way to use the  software changes. You don’t add the new  way and leave the old chapters in place,  you take out the old chapters and  replace them with the new ones. But that  doesn’t happen in the Quran. The old, now  known to be incorrect material, is still  there. A good example is Surah 16:67 “And from the fruits of the palm trees  and grapevines, you take intoxicant and  good provision. Indeed, in that is a sign  for a people who reason.” So intoxicants  are good. Then Surah 4:43 “O you who have believed,  do not approach prayer while you are  intoxicated until you know what you are  saying or in the state of junuban except  those passing through a place of prayer,  until you have washed your whole body.” So  don’t pray while drunk, which means that  it’s okay to get drunk but not to pray  while drunk. Then we get verse Surah 2:219 “They ask you about wine and gambling. Say ‘In them is great sin and yet some  benefit for people, but their sin is  greater than their benefit.’” So now  intoxicants have some benefit but the  sin is greater. Then the fourth in  this series Surah 5:90 “You who have  believed, indeed intoxicants, gambling,  sacrificing on stone altars to other  than Allah and divining arrows are but  defilement from the work of Satan, so  avoid it that you may be successful.” With that verse, intoxicants are at  last forbidden.

We have four verses  contradicting each other but the law of  abrogation means that only the most  recent one is relevant and the older  ones are abrogated. In what order were  the verses revealed? Not in the order in  which they are printed in the Quran. Chapter 16 was the 70th to be  revealed, chapter 2 was the 87th, chapter  4 was the 92nd and chapter 5 was the 112th. So the Quran goes from  “wine is good” to “wine is part-good-and-part-bad” to “wine is bad”. That’s why  Muslims today prohibit wine. But you  might ask “Why did Allah change his mind?” Good question. How come the knower of all  knowledge didn’t realize sooner that  wine was bad for people? The obvious  answer is that Muhammad didn’t think he  could impose a ban on alcohol at first,  and only as his acceptance as the  apostle of Allah became stronger, then he  could come out against alcohol. 

But  abrogation has much wider implications. Just as there cannot be any  contradictions in the Quran (even though  any sensible person can see them), also there cannot be any contradictions in  the earlier revelations from God. Although Muslims like to say there are  because of this same law of abrogation. 

The idea that the Torah and Bible  are changed by people is also denied by  the Quran. Surah 10:64 “For them are  good tidings in the worldly life and in  the hereafter. No changes there in the  words of Allah. That is what is the great  attainment.” Surah 6:115 “And the word of  your Lord has been fulfilled in truth  and justice. None can alter his words and  he is the hearing the knowing.” Surah 18:27 “And recite O Muhammad what  has been revealed to you of the book of  your Lord. There is no changer of his  words and never will you find in other  than him a refuge.” This means that the  Torah and the Bible are not self  contradicting nor are they changed by  people. 

Here’s a verse that abrogates  many others: Surah 9:5, which is the 113th chapter to be  revealed, which therefore abrogates  all previous verses. “And when the sacred  months have passed, then kill the  polytheists wherever you find them and  capture them and besiege them and  sitting wait for them at every place of  ambush. But if they should repent,  establish prayer and give zakah. Let them  go on their way. Indeed Allah is  forgiving and merciful.” That is why  just after Ramadan, some Muslims think  that they have permission to kill  polytheists and Muslims believe that  Christians are polytheists. Truly the law  of abrogation has many consequences.