Abrogation in the Holy Qur’an, and the order of its chapters and verses?

Question

Are there any verses that have been abrogated, i.e., erased from the Qur’an and replaced with others? Is there any book that speaks about the verses and chapters, i.e., whether they were put in order by the Ṣahābah=Companions of Prophet Muhammed or by the Prophet himself or by Almighty Allah, and the names of the chapters, and so on?

Answer

Praise be to Allah.

Firstly: 

Naskh (abrogation) in Arabic means lifting and removing. In Islamic terminology it means lifting a ruling indicated by a sharī’ah text, on the basis of evidence from the Qur’an or Sunnah. 

The concept of abrogation is based on the Qur’an and Sunnah, and on the consensus (Ijma) of Ahl as-Sunnah, and there is great wisdom behind it. In most cases the abrogation was for the purpose of making things easier for the Muslims or increasing the rewards. 

Allah, may He be exalted, said (interpretation of the meaning):

“Whatever a Verse (revelation) do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, we bring a better one or similar to it. Know you not that Allah is able to do all things?

Know you not that it is Allah to Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth? And besides Allah you have neither any Walee (protector or guardian) nor any helper.”

[al-Baqarah=chapter the Cow 2:106-107]. 

Shaykh ‘Abd Ar-Rahmaan as-Sa‘di (may Allah have mercy on him) said: 

Naskh (abrogation) means moving; thus, the meaning of abrogation is moving those who are accountable from one prescribed ruling to another or waiving the ruling. The Jews used to condemn abrogation and claim that it was not permissible, even though it was referred to in the Torah; thus, their rejection of it constituted disbelief and was based on pure whims and desires. 

Allah, may He be exalted, has told us of His wisdom in abrogation, and that whenever He abrogates any verse “or cause[s] [it] to be forgotten” i.e., causes people to forget it and removes it from their hearts

“We bring a better one” that is more beneficial for you

“Or similar to it.” 

This indicates that the abrogation will not be less beneficial to you than the original ruling, because Allah’s bounty always increases, especially for this ummah, for which He has made its religion very easy. 

And He tells us that whoever rejects abrogation has rejected His sovereignty and might, as He says: “Know you not that Allah is able to do all things? Know you not that it is Allah to Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth?”. 

As He is a Sovereign over you, controlling your affairs in the manner of the Sovereign Who is Most Merciful and Most Kind in all His decrees, commands, and prohibitions, then just as there are no limits to whatever Allah wants to decree with regard to His slaves, so too no one can object to Him for whatever He prescribes to His slaves of rulings.

The slave of Allah is subject to the commands of his Lord, in terms of both religious commandments and the divine decree (qadar wa qada’), so what right does he have to object? 

Moreover, He is the Guardian and supporter of His slaves; thus, He guides them to that which will benefit them and supports them by warding off that which will harm them. Part of His guardianship of them is that He prescribes rulings for them in accordance with His wisdom and His mercy towards them. 

The one who ponders the abrogation that occurred in the Qur’an and Sunnah will come to know thereby the wisdom of Allah and His mercy towards His slaves, and how He helps them to attain that which is in their best interests in ways that they do not realize, by His grace. 

Tafseer as-Sa‘di, p. 61 

Secondly: 

By learning about the different types of abrogation, the questioner will find the answer to his question and more. Abrogation is of different types, which are: 

Abrogation of the verses and the ruling 

such as the abrogation of the ten breast feedings which used to establish the relationship of mahram between the infant and the woman who breastfed him; both the wording and the ruling were abrogated. 

Abrogation of the verses but not the ruling such as the abrogation of the verse which speaks of the five breast feedings by which the relationship of mahram is established between the infant and the woman who breastfeeds him, and the verse which speaks of stoning the adulterer and adulteress. 

Abrogation of the ruling but not the verses 

Such as the verse, “And as for those who can fast with difficulty, (e.g. an old man, etc.), they have (a choice either to fast or) to feed a Miskeen (poor person) (for every day)” [al-Baqarah 2:184]; and the abrogation of the prohibition on fleeing from the battlefield if the enemy is ten times more numerous than the Muslims or more.

Thus, the prohibition on fleeing when the number of the enemy was double that of the Muslims was abrogated. 

Ibn ‘Atiyyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said: 

Complete abrogation is when both the verses and the ruling are abrogated, of which there are many examples. Also, the verses may be abrogated but not the ruling, or the ruling may be abrogated but not the verses. The verses and the ruling are two different things; one of them may be abrogated but not the other. 

Al-Muharrar al-Wajeez, 1/131 

Shaykh Muhammad ‘Abd al-‘Azeem az-Zarqaani (may Allah have mercy on him) said: 

The abrogation that occurred in the Qur’an was of three different types: abrogation of both the verses and the ruling, abrogation of the ruling but not the verses, and abrogation of the verses but not the ruling. 

1.Abrogation of both the ruling and the verses

There is consensus on this type of abrogation among those Muslims who accept the concept abrogation. Proof that it occurred is seen in the report from ‘Aa’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) who said: Among the things that were revealed of the Qur’an was that ten definite breastfeedings make a person a mahram, then that was abrogated and replaced with five definite breastfeedings, and the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) passed away when this was among the things that were still recited of the Qur’an. Narrated by Muslim, 1452. 

Although this report is mawqoof and its isnaad ends with ‘Aa’ishah, it is deemed to be marfoo‘ (attributable to the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him)) because such a thing could not be said on the basis of personal opinion; rather such matters must inevitably have been learned from the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him). It is well known that the phrase “ten definite breastfeedings make a person a mahram” does not exist in the Mushaf and the ruling mentioned is no longer in effect. 

This proves that abrogation of both the verses and the ruling is something that occurred, and if it is proven that it occurred, then it is proven that this idea is sound, because proving that is occurred is the first evidence that it is possible and sound. And the view of those who deny that the idea of complete abrogation is not possible, such as Abu Muslim [al-Isfahaani, a Mu‘tazili scholar of usool] and his ilk is proven to be invalid. 

2.Abrogation of the ruling but not the verses

this is indicated in many verses, such as the verse which speaks of giving charity before speaking to the Messenger, which is the verse in which Allah, may He be exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning): “O you who believe! When you (want to) consult the Messenger (Muhammad SAW) in private, spend something in charity before your private consultation” [al-Mujaadilah 58:12]. 

This was abrogated by the verse in which Allah, may He be exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning): “Are you afraid of spending in charity before your private consultation (with him)? If then you do it not, and Allah has forgiven you, then (at least) perform As-Salat (Iqamat as-Salat) and give Zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger.” [al-Mujaadilah 58:13]. The ruling mentioned in the first verse is abrogated by the ruling mentioned in the second verse, although both verses remain. 

Another example is the verse in which Allah, may He be glorified, says (interpretation of the meaning): “And as for those who can fast with difficulty, (e.g. an old man, etc.), they have (a choice either to fast or) to feed a Miskeen (poor person) (for every day)” [al-Baqarah 2:184]. 

This was abrogated by the verse in which Allah, may He be exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning): “So whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night of) the month (of Ramadan i.e. is present at his home), he must observe Saum (fasts) that month” [al-Baqarah 2:185]. The earlier ruling was abrogated by this later ruling, although both verses remain, as you can see. 

3.Abrogation of the verses but not the ruling 

this is indicated in the saheeh report from ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab and Ubayy ibn Ka‘b, according to which they said: Among the words that were revealed of the Qur’an were the words, “If an old man and an old woman commit zina, stone them both.” But we know that this verse no longer exists on the pages of the Mushaf or of the lips of those who recite the Qur’an, even though the ruling remains in effect and has not been abrogated. 

It is also indicated in the saheeh report from Ubayy ibn Ka‘b, according to which he said: Soorat al-Ahzaab was similar in length to Soorat al-Baqarah or more. [Narrated by Abu Dawood at-Tayaalisi in his Musnad (no. 540); ‘Abd ar-Razzaaq in al-Musannaf (no. 5990); an-Nasaa’i in as-Sunan al-Kubra (no. 7150). Its isnaad is saheeh, although this large amount of verses that was abrogated could not have been devoid of rulings concerning ‘aqeedah (beliefs) that could not be abrogated. 

It is also indicated by the abrogated verse about breastfeeding mentioned under the first heading. 

It is also indicated by what was narrated in a saheeh report from Abu Moosa al-Ash‘ari, according to which they used to recite a soorah at the time of the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) that was as long as Soorah Baraa’ah (at-Tawbah), then it was caused to be forgotten except one verse of it, which is the words: 

“If the son of Adam were to have two valleys full of wealth, he would wish for a third, and nothing could fill the mouth of the son of Adam but dust, and Allah accepts the repentance of those who repent.”

Narrated by Ahmad (19280); its isnaad is saheeh and was classed as such by the editors of al-Musnad.

Manaahil al-‘Irfaan (1/154, 155) 

Thirdly: 

With regard to the order in which verses appear, the scholars are unanimously agreed that the order in which they appear in a single soorah is a tawqeefi matter (i.e., as determined by Allah and His Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him)), and the matter was not subject to the ijtihaad of the Sahaabah. 

With regard to the order in which the soorahs appear, there is a difference of scholarly opinion concerning this matter. The majority are of the view that it resulted from the ijtihaad of the Sahaabah (may Allah be pleased with them), although they that the order of some of those soorahs was determined at the time of the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him). 

With regard to the naming of the soorahs, some of them were named by the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him), and some were named by the ijtihaad of the Sahaabah (may Allah be pleased with them). 

The scholars of the Standing Committee were asked: 

Is the one who named the soorahs of the Holy Qur’an the Messenger (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him), or what? 

They replied: 

We do not know of any text from the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) that indicates that he named all of the soorahs; rather in some saheeh hadeeths it says that the names of some of them came from the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him), such as al-Baqarah and Aal ‘Imraan. With regard to the other soorahs, it appears that they were named by the Sahaabah (may Allah be pleased with them). 

Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azeez ibn Baaz, Shaykh ‘Abd ar-Razzaaq ‘Afeefi, Shaykh ‘Abdullah ibn Ghadyaan, Shaykh ‘Abdullah ibn Qa ‘ood 

Fataawa al-Lajnah ad-Daa’imah, 4/16 

All of the above are matters that you will find in books that deal with ‘Uloom al-Qur’aan, such as al-Itqaan by as-Suyooti, al-Burhaan by az-Zarkashi and Manaahil al-‘Irfaan by az-Zarqaani 

And Allah knows best.

 ———————————————————————————————————–

Question 2:

I’ve recently been reading about abrogation in the Qur’an, and I am now supremely confused. Some people say that there is no abrogation, some people say that only a few verses were abrogated (mostly dealing with inheritance), and some say that over 200 verses were abrogated, including all the verses about peace and restraint.

I’m not sure what to believe. For me, the opinion that makes the most sense is acknowledging the fact that abrogation is possible, but it only occurs a few times in the Qur’an.

I am also confused about the “Verse of the Sword” Qur’an (9:5). I’ve heard some people say that it abrogated all verses dealing with peace, including “but if the enemy inclines towards peace, you also incline towards peace”, “there is no compulsion in religion”, and “fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for Allah loveth not transgressors”.

There are others that say that this verse must be taken in context, which if you read the preceding and following verses in Surah Tawbah, is referring to the specific case of the Makkans who continuously broke treaties and were constantly aggressive.

I have always been taught, and believed, that Islam is essentially peaceful and reasonable, but with some of the stuff I’ve read, they’re making it seem like Islam is harsh and unreasonable (I’ve even heard people quote hadiths saying that it’s okay to kill innocent women and children if they belong to the “people of the enemy”).  I am so confused, and I have no idea what to think. Can you shed a little light on this?

Answer: 

Abrogation is one of the lengthiest, most complex, and most important topics in both the science of Qur’anic exegesis [tafsir] as well as that of Legal theory [usul al-fiqh]. Imam Suyuti mentions that a countless number of scholars authored works solely on the topic of abrogation, and that many Imams said, “No one is allowed to give explanation [tafsir] of the Book of Allah until they understand abrogation.” 

Our Master Ali [may Allah ennoble his face] asked a judge if he knew which verses abrogated others, to which the judge replied that he did not. Imam Ali said, “You are ruined, and you have ruined others.” [Suyuti, Al-Itqan fi Ulum al-Qur’an]

Insha’Allah=Allah willing, the discussion below will serve as a brief overview of abrogation, followed by answers to the various points you bring up in your question. May Allah Most High provide us all clarity with these and related issues.

Abrogation: Definition

According to Hanafi legal theorists, “abrogation” [naskh] is defined as “the removal or annulment of one legal ruling by a subsequent legal ruling.”

Of course, the “change” entailed in abrogation is perceived only by humans. In Allah’s pre-eternal knowledge, each ruling had its appointed term. Therefore, some Hanafis school of thought in Islam put forth a more detailed definition as follows:

“A clarification of the end point of one legal ruling, an end point that was pre-eternally known to Allah Most High yet nevertheless concealed from those addressed by the Sacred Law, such that it appeared to be a lasting ruling from the perspective of humans.”

Hence, abrogation entails replacement from our perspective, yet mere clarification from the Divine perspective, i.e., clarification of the termination of a legal ruling and the beginning of a new legal ruling in its place.

[Ibn Malak/Nasafi, Sharh al-Manar; Bazdawi, Usul al-Bazdawi; Ibn ‘Abidin/Haskafi, Nasamat al-Ashar Sharh Ifadat al-Anwar]

The key aspect of these definitions is the concept of “complete annulment or termination of a legal ruling,” that is, such that it is no longer applicable whatsoever [i.e., irrespective of whether abrogation itself is that termination or merely a clarification of that termination].

This basic understanding is shared in the definitions of major legal theorists of other schools as well, such as Imam Baqillani, Imam Ghazali, Imam Amidi, Imam Baydawi, Imam Mahalli, Imam Qarafi, Imam Razi and others. [Amidi, Ihkam fi Usul al-Ahkam; Ghazali, Mustasfa; Baydawi, Minhaj al-Wusul ila `Ilm al-Usul; Dimyati/Mahalli/Juwayni, Hashiyat ala Sharh al-Waraqat; Qarafi/Razi, Nafa’is al-Usul fi Sharh al-Mahsul]

Abrogation: Differences in Technical Usage
It is important to understand that definitions were formalized later in Islam. Earlier scholars, especially of the first few generations [our pious predecessors=salaf], might have used similar terms yet with different meanings. One would have to examine the exact intent of an early scholar and how he used the term before arriving at any conclusions.

As Mufti Taqi Usmani (may Allah preserve him) explains in his “An Approach to the Qur’anic Sciences,” the term “abrogation” had a very wide scope in the technical usage of earlier scholars, due to which in their view it included many verses that later scholars did not consider to be abrogation based on the above technical definitions [Terminology=mustalah].

A common example is if an earlier verse is very general in its wording and then a later verse limits its scope or conditions it in some way – they would deem the earlier verse to be “abrogated” and the later verse to be its “abrogator.” They did not mean that the ruling of the earlier verse was completely replaced or annulled, but rather that it is no longer general but instead limited or contextualized in some way.

An example is the verse, “And marry not polytheist women until they believe.” Qur’an (2:221) The ruling here is general in that it is unlawful for Muslims to marry any type of polytheist women, whether idol-worshipers or People of the Book.

Yet a later verse state, “[And you may marry] the chaste of those given the Book.” Qur’an (5:5) This verse serves to limit the general scope of the earlier verse, whereby it is known that the prohibition refers only to polytheist women that are not from the People of the Book.

Earlier scholars would deem this to be a case abrogation: Qur’an verse (5:5) serves to “abrogate” Qur’an verse (2:221). However, it is clear that their understanding of abrogation was not a complete annulment of a previous ruling but rather a change in its scope or applicability.

Later scholars, however, would not deem such cases as abrogation, but only cases in which the earlier legal ruling is completely annulled. According to them, therefore, there are far less cases of abrogation in the Qur’an.

Imam Suyuti states that there were many verses that served to give exceptions or limitations to other verses, and “those who considered them as cases of abrogation were incorrect.” [Al-Itqan fi Ulum al-Qur’an]

[Mufti Taqi Usmani, “An Approach to the Qur’anic Sciences;” Muhammad A. Zurqani, Manahil al-Irfan]

Finally, scholars of legal theory mention that limitation or specification of a general verse is not complete annulment but rather can be related to context and circumstances, while abrogation is complete annulment and therefore negates any usage or applicability of the earlier abrogated verse. [Ghazali, Mustasfa]

This is important in understanding the verses of fighting and peace discussed below.

Number of Abrogated Verses

Because of this difference between earlier and later scholars in the technical usage of the term abrogation, scholars differed as to how many verses in the Qur’an are abrogated. As you mention in your question, some did indeed say that up to 200 verses were abrogated.

This, again, is based on a broader understanding of “abrogation.” Others said less than 100. Imam Suyuti stated that only 19 verses of the Qur’an were abrogated, and Shah Wali Allah agreed with Imam Suyuti on only 5 of those 19.

Incidentally, those 19 verses do not deal with the Verse of the Sword or the like vis-a-vis the verses of peace that you mention in your question.

[Suyuti, Al-Itqan fi Ulum al-Qur’an; Mufti Taqi Usmani, “An Approach to the Qur’anic Sciences”]

Of course, some scholars differed on the number merely because the nature of such discussions is difference of opinion.

The Verse of the Sword Qur’an [9:5] and Abrogation

Imam Suyuti specifically discusses this verse in relation to other verses of peace, patience, and forgiving. He explains that contrary to what some Imams believed, this is not a case of abrogation but rather of context.

In certain situations, the verses of patience and forgiving apply, while in other situations the verse of the sword applies. No verse was completely abolished by another, but rather each has a specific context and applicability.

[Al-Itqan fi Ulum al-Qur’an]

This understanding is reinforced by the eminent jurist and legal theorist Imam Zarkashi in his masterful work on Qur’anic sciences, “Al-Burhan fi Ulum al-Qur’an.” He explains that many commentators of the Qur’an were incorrect in their understanding that the Verse of the Sword abrogated the various verses of patience and forbearance.

This is because “abrogation” entails a complete termination of a legal ruling, never again to be implemented. This is definitely not the case with these verses. Rather, each verse entails a particular ruling conjoined to a particular context and situation. As circumstances change, different verses are to be applied instead of others.

No ruling is permanently terminated though, which is what is entailed by true abrogation. He concludes his discussion by saying, “The verse of the sword by no means abrogated the verses of peace – rather, each is to be implemented in its appropriate situation.”

[Al-Burhan fi Ulum al-Qur’an]

Context of the Verse of the Sword – Qur’an [9:5]

As you mention in your question, the Verse of the Sword deals specifically with the situation of Meccan polytheists breaking peace treaties and openly declaring war on the Muslim polity. The verse, then, commands the Muslim state to take up arms and defend itself against those that breached their covenants and attacked out of treachery.

This explanation is confirmed by the most reliable Imams of Qur’anic exegesis [tafsir], including Imam Razi, Imam Jamal, Imam Zamakhshari, Imam Baydawi, Imam Nasafi, Imam Biqa`i, and others.

[Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb; Jamal, Hashiyat al-Jalalayn; Zamakhshari, Kashshaf; Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanzil; Nasafi, Madarik al-Tanzil; Biqa`i, Nadhm al-Durar]

The verse, therefore, can by no means be generalized to refer to all disbelievers. Such an interpretation is not confirmed by scholars of Qur’anic interpretation. It would be both contrary to the intent of the verses as well as disastrous for the security of both Muslim and non-Muslim citizens and nation-states.

Citizenship and Visas: Binding Covenants

Muslims are commanded according to Islamic Sacred Law [sharī’ah] to honor and fulfill all covenants and contracts, as Allah Most High unequivocally states, “O believers, fulfill your covenants.” Qur’an (5:1)

Citizenship and visitor visas are legal contracts [‘uqud aman] between an individual and the state; the individual agrees to abide by all laws of the state in return for the right to live there in security and peace.

Muslims in non-Muslim lands must fulfill these covenants by respecting and following the laws of those lands, the foremost of which are respecting the life, property, and honor of their fellow citizens.

Muslim governments must do the same with non-Muslims in their lands, that is, respect and secure their life, property, and honor.

These rules are binding, unequivocal, and absolute. They are affirmed by major classical texts of all four schools of Islamic law, amounting to scholarly consensus [ijma’].

[For details of ‘aqd aman and ‘aqd al-dhimma, see in the Hanafi school: Marghinani, Hidaya; Kasani, Bada’i al-Sana’i; Sarakhsi, Mabsut. In the Maliki school: Sawi, Hashiyat al-Sawi ala l-Sharh al-Saghir. In the Shafi’i school: Ibn Hajar al-Haytami/Nawawi, Tuhfat al-Muhtaj fi Sharh al-Minhaj. In the Hanbali school: Buhuti, Kashshaf al-Qina`; Ibn Qudama, Al-Mughni]

It states in the Kuwaiti Fiqh Encyclopedia [which was authored in the last century by a council of scholars and jurists, and which is based on classical legal works of all four schools of Sunni Islam]:

“It is unlawful for a Muslim that enters non-Muslim lands with a covenant of security to be treacherous because they [the non-Muslim government] only granted the Muslim the covenant of security [f: such as a visa or citizenship] with the condition that the Muslim is not treacherous.

Even if that condition is not explicitly mentioned in the contract, since it is understood in context [f: which is the case with citizenship, as there is no explicit contract but rather an implied agreement of mutual security that is akin to a contract and which is just as binding].

For that same reason, if a non-Muslim comes into our lands with a security covenant and then proves treacherous [by attacking civilians], he would have broken his covenant.

Based on this principle, a Muslim that enters non-Muslim lands with a covenant of security may not be treacherous towards non-Muslims since that entails deception, which has no place in our religion.

Our Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] said, ‘Muslims are bound by the conditions of their contracts.’ [Sunan Abu Dawud, Sunan Daraqutni, Mustadrak Hakim]”

It also states later: “Such a contract [i.e., visa or citizenship] protects both life and property, and necessitates withholding from any sort of violence.”

The Qur’an on Covenants and Treachery

In many verses, Allah Most High both commands believers to fulfill covenants and harshly condemns those who break them, such as:

“And fulfill every covenant. Verily, covenants will be reckoned.” Qur’an (17:34)

“Those who break the covenant of Allah after ratifying it, and sever that which Allah ordered to be joined, and (who) make mischief in the earth: Those are they who are the losers.” Qur’an (2:27)

“Or is it that every time they make a covenant, a group among them casts it aside. Nay, rather most of them are not true believers.” Qur’an (2:100)

“Those with whom you made a treaty, and then at every opportunity they break their treaty, and they do not fear [Allah with respect to covenants].” Qur’an (8:56)

These and other primary texts were used by jurists classically to formulate the above rulings regarding the absolute binding nature of citizenship and visa contracts, irrespective of whether the contracts are among Muslims or between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Hadiths on Treachery

Our Beloved Messenger [peace and blessings be upon him] also sternly emphasized the enormity entailed in deception and treachery, whether by an individual towards society or by a government towards an individual.

The Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] listed among the signs of a hypocrite, “When he enters into a contract, he breaks it treacherously.” [Sahih Bukhari]

He [peace and blessings be upon him] also stated, “When Allah gathers the first and last of humanity on the Day of Resurrection, every treacherous person will be given a huge, raised banner and it will be announced, ‘This is the treachery of so-and-so.’” [Sahih Muslim]

This particular hadith is cited frequently by jurists when discussing the enormity of breaking covenants of mutual security, whether with Muslims or non-Muslims. One narration of the hadith actually ends with, “And there is no treachery greater than that of the national government.”

Commentators explain that the significance of the large banner is to humiliate such people in front of all of humanity. One narration has the addition, “It will be raised commensurate to his treachery,” and yet in another narration, “It will come out of his anus” – the absolute epitome of disgrace, shame, and humiliation.

The enormous crime of treachery – a sin based on secrecy – is fittingly met with a gross punishment for all eyes to see. [Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani, Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih Bukhari; Ibn Battal, Sharh al-Bukhari; Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id, Ihkam al-Ahkam Sharh `Umdat al-Ahkam]

Is Islam Peaceful or Harsh?

This question is of course far too broad to be addressed in this discussion, but perhaps it is sufficient to examine the three verses dealing with peace that you mention in your question.

1) “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for Allah loveth not transgressors.” Qur’an (2:190)

In his Qur’anic exegesis, Imam Fakhr al-Din Razi rejects the opinion that this verse was abrogated and interprets the phrase “do not transgress limits” as a timeless prohibition of deception, breaking covenants, or attacking non-combatants such as women, children, or the elderly.

This interpretation of “transgression” is affirmed by major commentators of the Qur’an, such as Imam Baydawi, Imam Biqa`i, Imam Abu Suud, and others.

[Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb; Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanzil; Biqa`i, Nadhm al-Durar; Abu Suud, Irshad al-Aql al-Salim]

2) “But if the enemy inclines towards peace, you too incline towards peace.” Qur’an (8:61)

The great exegete Imam Zamakhshari denies that this verse was abrogated, as many claimed. Imam Biqa`i also interprets the verse as applicable to all times.

[Zamakhshari, Kashshaf; Biqa`i, Nadhm al-Durar]

It is also important to keep in mind what we mentioned above, namely, that many of the early Muslims [pious predecessors=salaf] that understood the verses of fighting as abrogators of the verses of peace did so based on a very broad definition of abrogation, which would include specification or limiting general verses or making exceptions to general verses.

And many later scholars would often simply cite those early Muslims as stating that such-and-such was “abrogated.” The intent was not that the earlier verses of peace had no application anymore, but rather that their application was no longer broad and general for all situations.

This is why several later scholars [as we have seen] rejected the notion of abrogation of these verses, based on their more formal definition of “complete annulment of a legal ruling,” which certainly is not the case with verses of peace.

This also sheds light as to what our illustrious early Imams might have meant with statements such as, “No one is allowed to give explanation [tafsir] of the Book of Allah until they understand abrogation.” That is, unless they understand which verses serve to limit the scope of other verses, specify the generality of other verses, make exceptions to other verses, and completely annul the rulings of other verses. It is no wonder, then, that commentary on the Qur’an was not allowed without understanding this very broad meaning of “abrogation.”

3) “There is no compulsion in religion.” Qur’an (2:256): The concept that this verse was abrogated is directly related to the understanding – or misunderstanding – of the following hadith.

Explanation of usually misunderstood hadith “I was ordered to fight people…”

One well-known hadith that is often misunderstood is as follows:

“I was ordered to fight people until they bear witness that there is no deity except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; establish the ritual prayer; and pay almsgiving. So, if they do that, their lives and wealth are safe from me, except for a right recognized in Islam. Their accounting, however, will be with Allah.” [Bukhari, Muslim]

Unfortunately, this text is often grossly misinterpreted as calling for continuous “holy war” against all non-Muslims until and unless they become Muslim. But examination of context and scholarly interpretation reveals that the hadith by no means refers to all people and is not calling for any sort of war, holy or unholy. The key to understanding the hadith, then, is to understand who exactly is meant by the word “people” in the statement, “I was ordered to fight people.”

This same hadith has various narrations as recorded by different hadith scholars. Imam Nasa’i’s narration reads: “I was ordered to fight the polytheists” rather than the word “people,” and it is an established principle in hadith methodology that various narrations of the same hadith serve to clarify its actual meaning.

Hence, the narration of Imam Nasa’i indicates that the word “people” in the first narration does not refer to all people, but rather a specific group of people, namely, certain polytheists. This understanding is confirmed by both the Qur’an and the Sunna, as many incidents in the life of the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] clearly show that all of humanity was not intended in the hadith.

This understanding is also confirmed by our codified legal tradition, which is a reflection of the Qur’an and Sunna. Imam Abu Hanifa and his legal school limited this hadith to only the polytheists among the Arabs. And Imam Malik and his legal school limited it to only the Quraysh tribe among them.

[Ibn Battal, Sharh al-Bukhari]

That is to say, according to both schools of law, all non-Arabs are excluded from the hadith – whether polytheists, atheists, Jews, Christians, or otherwise. Among the Arabs, any group that does not worship idols are also excluded, whether Jews, Christians, Magians, or otherwise.

Only Arab polytheists – or perhaps just the tribe of Quraysh among them – were being addressed by the Messenger [peace and blessings be upon him]. Incidentally, the Hanafi and Maliki schools historically and up to today have constituted the vast majority of the Muslim world.

Imam Kasani, the eminent 6th-century Hanafi jurist, explains that the reasoning of this position is based on the difference between Arab polytheists and all other peoples, including People of the Book [i.e., Jews and Christians, Arab or non-Arab] and non-Arab polytheists.

With respect to peoples other than Arab polytheists, it is hoped that by mutual coexistence between them and Muslims, they will be drawn to Islam after reflecting over the beauty of the religion and its Sacred Law [sharī’ah]. [f: And that hope is sufficient; whether they become Muslim or not is irrelevant to the Hanafi and Maliki perspective that they are not addressed by the hadith.]

The nature of Arab polytheists, however, was to reject anything that conflicted with their customs and traditions, deeming all else to be madness and worthy of scornful ridicule. They were a people – as repeatedly mentioned in the Qur’an – that refused to reflect over anything but “the ways of their forefathers.”

Therefore, because the Messenger of Allah [peace and blessings be upon him] was from their same tribe and knew them intimately, he gave them no option but acceptance of Islam or fighting [f: And this statement, of course, was after years of being oppressed by those Arab polytheists].

[Kasani, Bada’i al-Sana’i]

The great early Hanafi jurist and legal theorist, Abu Bakr al-Jassas, confirms this understanding with respect to both the above hadith as well as the related verse, “There is no compulsion in religion” Qur’an (2:256).

In fact, he states that all the early Meccan verses of peace and forbearance with respect to non-Muslims remain in effect and are not abrogated with respect to all peoples other than the Arab polytheists. And with respect to all the later verses commanding Muslims to fight the polytheists, they abrogate the early verses of peace only with respect to the Arab polytheists.

This understanding is also confirmed by the early Hanafi scholar Abu Layth al-Samarqandi, who comments on the verse “There is no compulsion in religion” Qur’an (2:256), “That is, do not compel anyone whatsoever to this religion, after the Conquest of Mecca and after the Arabs become Muslim [i.e., the Arab polytheists of that time].”

[Jassas, Ahkam al-Qur’an; Samarqandi, Bahr al-Ulum]

Killing Innocent Women and Children

Our Beloved Messenger [peace and blessings be upon him] sternly condemned the killing of women and children in battle. He made this statement after being informed by his Companions that a woman was found killed in the battlefield.

This hadith is recorded in all six canonical books of hadith: Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, and Ibn Maja. According to Imam Suyuti and Imam Kattani – both of whom were hadith masters [hafidh] – it is related by multiple-chain transmission rendering it undeniable [mutawatir].

In other words, the narration is so strong that it is logically impossible for the Prophet not to have said it, such that it is akin to a verse of Qur’an in its strength of transmission.

For this reason, all four schools of law are in agreement that women and children cannot be killed in battle [and a fortiori outside of battle]. Imam Nawawi mentions scholarly consensus [ijma’] on this matter.

[Munawi/Suyuti, Fayd al-Qadir Sharh Jami` al-Saghir; Kattani, Nadhm al-Mutanathir min al-Hadith al-Mutawatir; Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim]

As mentioned above, this is also how many scholars understood the “transgression” mentioned in the verse “And do not transgress limits, for Allah loveth not transgressors.” Qur’an (2:190) It is related that the great Companion Ibn `Abbas [may Allah be pleased with him] understood the verse as such. [Buhuti, Kashshaf al-Qina`]

We hope this helps to answer your questions. Islam in undoubtedly peaceful, reasonable, and a manifestation of Allah’s infinite kindness on earth. Its Sacred Law is applicable for all times and places, without exception. And its Blessed Messenger is as Allah states, “Not sent except as a mercy to all of creation.”

May Allah Most High provide us all with clarity from any confusion we might have regarding His perfect religion and pristine Sacred Law [sharī’ah]. Amin.

And Allah alone gives success.

Almighty Allah is the highest and most knowledgeable, and the attribution of knowledge to him is the safest.

Right from Almighty Allah and wrong from me and Satan

Prepared by Mohamad Mostafa Nassar- Australia.

www.IslamCompass.com 

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Arrogance is not only a sign of insecurity, but also a sign of immaturity. Mature and fully realised persons can get their points across, even emphatically without demeaning or intimidating others.