The Doctrine of Abrogation

In the comments on Geert Wilders’ open letter to Pope Francis, a reader named MH indicated that he was unfamiliar with — or was pretending to be unfamiliar with — the Islamic doctrine of abrogation as it applies to contradictory verses within the Koran.

In a nutshell, any earlier verse of the Koran is considered “abrogated” if a later verse contradicts it. The chronology of the suras of the Koran has been well-established by a consensus of Islamic scholars, so an observant Muslim can be in no doubt as to whether any particular verse of the Koran is binding upon him under Islamic law.

Retired U.S. Army Major Stephen Coughlin is one of the foremost experts on Islamic law in the Western world. Several years ago I had the privilege of helping with the editing of material that Steve was putting together, including the following section on the Koranic basis for the doctrine of abrogation. The text below is reproduced with his permission.

The Doctrine of Abrogation
By Maj. Stephen Coughlin

At the very pinnacle of Islamic law is the Koran, which is the uncreated word of God as revealed through his Prophet.

So what is abrogation?

This is what Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee has to say about abrogation in Islamic Jurisprudence:[1]

The law was laid down in the period of the Prophet (peace be unto him) gradually and in stages. The aim was to bring a society steeped in immorality to observe the highest standards of morality. This could not be done abruptly. It was done in stages, and doing so necessitated repeal and abrogation of certain laws.

As you can see, Nyazee acknowledges that the Koran contradicts itself. Upon discovering this fact, someone who knows little about Islam might say, “The Koran contradicts itself. Doesn’t this mean it’s broken?” But anyone who takes the time to look into the scholarship will learn that is well understood in Islam that the Koran contradicts itself. This fact is explained, and taken into account. There are methods for dealing with it.

This becomes significant when non-Muslims approach a Muslim cultural expert or “moderate” to ask about certain verses of the Koran that are cited by radicals to justify their violent jihad. The cultural expert or “moderate” will respond with something like this: “You (infidel) must read from the entire body of the Koran to understand the true meaning. Those radicals cherry-pick from the back of the Koran.”

With this reply the cultural expert gives the impression that he does not agree with the radicals, but he never actually says that what they cherry-pick is wrong.

So what is the Koranic basis for the doctrine of abrogation?

It is a Qur’an which We have divided into parts from time to time, in order that thou mightest recite it to men at intervals: We have Revealed it by stages. (Qur’an 17:106)

Concerning this verse, the Qur’an commentator Yusuf Ali says:[2]

The marvel is that these parts, revealed at different times and in different circumstances, should fit together so closely and consistently as they do. All revelation is progressive. The previous revelations were also progressive. Each of them marked a stage in the world’s spiritual history. Man’s mind does not take in more than his spiritual state will have prepared him for. Allah’s revelation comes as a light to illuminate our difficulties and show us the way in actual situations that arise.

I sometimes run into very committed Christians who say, “We have progressive revelation in Christianity, too.” And my answer is: “There’s a pillar, go run your head into it!” When talking about Islamic concepts of progressive revelation, it is totally unprofessional to refer to Christian notions of progressive revelation.

Here is another verse covering the same subject:

When We substitute one revelation for another – and Allah knows best what He reveals in stages — They say, “Thou art but a forger”: But most of them understand not. (Qur’an 16:101)

And once again, a comment by Yusuf Ali:[3]

The doctrine of progressive revelation from age to age and time to time does not mean that Allah’s fundamental Law changes. It is not fair to charge a Prophet of Allah with forgery because the Message, as revealed to him, is in a different form from that revealed before, when the core of the Truth is the same, for it comes from Allah.

Imagine that you are in 7th-century Arabia. Muhammad is receiving a revelation, and it contradicts something from an earlier revelation. Someone in the crowd stands up and says, “Dammit, Muhammad, you’re making this stuff up. You’re just making it up!” This causes a lot of controversy, and Muhammad then has another revelation — remember, he got them over a twenty-year period — in which Allah reveals that when he substitutes one revelation for another, he knows best what he does in stages. So how dare you accuse Muhammad of making this stuff up? You don’t understand!

The final Koranic verse on progressive revelation:

None of Our revelations do we abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but we substitute something better or similar; knowest thou not that Allah hath power over all things? (Qur’an 2:106)

Thus we have three different citations from the Koran in which Allah says he reveals things in stages, and that with each stage he abrogates the previous stages. We would expect — because it is the uncreated word of Allah — that what was said later would overrule what was said earlier. And any Islamic law which did not reflect this fact would be suspect.

That means that if the radicals are cherry-picking chronologically from the back of the Koran, they are correct.


1   Imran Asham Khan Nyazee, Islamic Jurisprudence, (Kuala Lumpur: The Other Press, 2003), 319.
2   Yusuf Ali, Qur’an, Comment 2317.
3   Yusuf Ali, Qur’an, Comment 2140.

Steve Coughlin’s book Catastrophic Failure will be published early next year.

13 thoughts on “The Doctrine of Abrogation

  1. Pingback: The Doctrine of Abrogation | Vlad Tepes

    • Yes. Steve goes through the list in his briefing. He has a slide that shows the chronological order, and separates the Meccan suras from the Medinan ones. But he uses mostly book sources, so I don’t have a link.

      As far as I know, entire suras aren’t abrogated, but only verses that are contradicted by later verses (predominantly among them the ones about killing the Jews, cutting the necks of the non-believers, making war on the infidels until they submit, etc.). Scholars of Islamic law are very precise and pedantic about these “substituted” verses — until non-Muslims look in, and then they start hemming and hawing.


  3. Who the f is “We”–MY holy book refers to G-d as I or He. As in only One. These muzzies are NOT monotheists. They are idol worshippers. Apt pupils of Moloch.

  4. Christians are taught to worship the Creator, not the Creation. Muslims claim to be mono-theists, but they worship Islam as much or more so that God Himself. So who are the actual -polytheists?

    • Read Contra Gentiles, by St. Thomas Aquinas.
      His indictment of Islam is based on it being a creation-worshipping religion, and not a God or Creator-centered one.
      Islam is truly as step back into Arabic and stone age paganism.
      To submit to Islamic authority is precisely that– to submit to the Ummah, not to God.

  5. Logical coherence is not a prime mover for Islam. Even after abrogating the inconsistent verses about violence, we are left with plenty of holy Orwellian nonsense. For instance, the verse which declares that Muslim men and women are equal in their rights and responsibilities (patently untrue), but that ” in all things, men must have the advantage.”

  6. It is no surprise to me that at a time when skepticism and the re-embrace of paganism emerge in the West, Islam gains converts here. Women claim to have been exiled by the historical patriarchy, and yet, in Islam, the same thing disguises itself effectively.
    Truly, deception and force are essential to the spread of Islam.
    Only clear perceptions, strong arms, and a devotion to the existential “NO” will stop it.

  7. An abrogated early verse in the Koran such as, “There is no compulsion in religion”, is replaced by several later verses which state that anybody who leaves Islam shall be murdered. So, while apostates of Islam are murdered, how can there be no compulsion in religion? This shows the double mindedness of Islam. The earlier verse can be useful in gaining adherents who are not aware of abrogation.

    Islam is an evil movement which sets itself out to conquer the world. All infidels, will be brought under submission to Islam, so their mantra goes. Lying (taqiyya), half-truths and any manner of stealth to further Islam. Religion plays a small part in Islam. Jihad plays a larger role.

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