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 The later verse cancels the earlier verse, which is now superseded and the self-contradiction disappears, except that it doesn’t. It’s still there because the older verse is not removed from the Quran.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.