The Center for Security Policy hosted a Defeat Jihad Summit in Washington D.C. today. Among the speakers were Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, Representatives Steven King and Mike Pompeo, Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, Danish free speech advocate Lars Hedegaard, and Major (ret.) Stephen Coughlin.
The video below shows Maj. Coughlin’s brief but comprehensive explanation of the Doctrine of Abrogation as practiced in Islamic law. Many thanks to Vlad Tepes for excerpting this clip:
Watch the full six-hour video here.
The more lengthy explanation of abrogation below is adapted from previous briefings by Maj. Coughlin. As always, his material is scrupulously sourced.
The Doctrine of Abrogation
At the very pinnacle of Islamic law is the Koran, which is the uncreated word of God as revealed through his prophet. Every word in the Koran comes from God himself, and is inerrant. Yet the Koran sometimes contradicts itself. These seemingly intractable differences are reconciled through the doctrine of “abrogation”.
So what is abrogation?
This is what Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee has to say about abrogation in Islamic Jurisprudence:
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 very little about Islam might say, “The Koran contradicts itself. Doesn’t this mean it’s broken?” But it 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:
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.
Here’s 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:
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.
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.
Anyone who looks at the entire body of the Koran to get its true meaning is actually not oriented on the legal parts, because it is weighted, just as our legal system is weighted to recognize the most recent precedent.
Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee has this to say on the principle of naskh:
The literal meaning of naskh is canceling or transferring. In its technical sense it is used to mean the “lifting (raf’) of a legal rule through a legal evidence of a later date.” The abrogating text or evidence is called nasikh, while the repealed rule is called the mansukh.
In Outlines of Muhammadan Law, Asaf A.A. Fyzee remarks:
The Koran according to this theory is the first source of law. … It is for this reason that the verse of the Koran (ayat), although only a few of them deal specifically with legal questions, are held to be of paramount authority. In interpreting the Koranic verses, one important principle has to be observed. Some verses are deemed to be the abrogating (nasikh) verses and some to be the abrogated (mansukh) ones. Generally speaking the earlier verses are deemed to be repealed by the later ones.
Thus, because the later Koranic verses are always considered to be the valid and binding points of Islamic law, it becomes important to arrange the Koran chronologically. When the Koran is arranged that way, it is divided into the early, middle, and late Meccan periods, and the Medina period. Surah 2 is generally understood to be the first surah of the Medina period. Surah 9 is the penultimate surah of the Koran, and 5 is the last surah of the Koran. However, there is some disagreement among scholars about the ordering, and different orderings exist. Some authorities name 110 as the final surah, rather than 5, and some say 9 is the last.
What is important in this context is the general agreement that Surah 9 is the last to talk about jihad, 5 is the last to talk about relations with non-Muslims, and 3 is understood to come after 2. All four schools of Sunni Islamic are in general agreement on abrogating/abrogated texts, and on the major issues they are in general agreement. 75% of Sunni Islamic law is recognized in common across all four schools.
So a Muslim jurist does not read Islamic law and decide what is or is not abrogated. These issues have already been decided. If you are a Hanbali, or Hanafi, or Shafite, or Maliki Islamic scholar, you will refer to your school’s books on abrogated texts. No one can become a judge unless he knows them by heart.
How are the surahs in the Koran arranged? When you open the Koran, you see Surah 1, which is very brief, and serves as an introduction. Next comes Surah 2, which is the largest surah in the Koran, about 150 pages long. Surah 3 is the second largest, Surah 4 is the third largest, and so on. It becomes obvious that when the scholars constructed the Koran, they put the introductory surah first, but after that the Koran was ordered by the size of the surahs, from the largest to the smallest chapter. It is not arranged chronologically.
When you look at the entire body of the Koran, the Meccan period seems much bigger than the Medinan period. But surahs 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, and 9 — all from the Medinan period — comprise about 80% of the Koran, while surahs 109, 112, 113, and 114 — from the Meccan period — occupy less than entire pages. In other words, the number of a surah does not refer to its order in the chronology, but to its size.
Islamic law is entirely derived from the Medinan period. Anything said during the Medinan period overrules anything on the same subject that was said in the Meccan periods. And anything said in the later part of the Medinan period overrules anything said in the earlier part.
Whenever a “moderate” finally concedes that there is such a thing as jihad, he will quote Surah 2 (with some support from Surah 8), because the first jihad was mentioned in Surah 2, and can reasonably be expected to be defensive jihad. But remember: the last surah that talks about jihad is Surah 9.
So how does this affect our understanding of Islam?
Surah 2 says:
Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold. (Qur’an 2:256)
Virtually any Westerner who knows anything about Islam has heard this. But what most people have not heard is this:
Whoever seeks a religion other than Islam will never have it accepted of him, and he will be of those who have truly failed in the hereafter (Qur’an 3:85)
Oh ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors; they are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them for friendship is of them. Verily Allah guideth not the unjust. (Qur’an 5:51)
So who are the unjust, besides the Christians and Jews? The Muslims who take Christians and Jews as friends.
As you can see from the chart, Surah 2 is abrogated by Surah 3, which is abrogated by Surah 5. This means that 5:51 is the final word on how a pious Muslim must regard Christians and Jews.
|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.|
|4.||Nyazee, Jurisprudence, 318.|
|5.||Asaf A. A. Fyzee, Outlines of Muhammadan Law, 4th ed. (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1974), at 19-20.|
|6.||Keller, Reliance of the Traveller, vii.