The Muslim asserts that the Bible has been abrogated by the “descent” of the Quran and so, having lost its authority, need not now be read. There is, however, not the least support in the Muslim scripture for such a notion. The Muslim, seeking a simile, sometimes cites the phenomenon of changing dynasties and the rise and fall of kings: but he overlooks the fact that, notwithstanding such changes there tends to persist through all the reigns a body of “common law”, which is not subject to frequent fluctuation. Moreover, his illustration is singularly inappropriate here, since we are considering the All-Wise God and His revealed Word. He, through time and eternity, is the One abiding King, and there can be no such periodic cancellation of the truth He chooses to reveal. He is “the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning” (James 1:17).
Would any Muslim suggest either to a Jew or a Christian, for example, that the Ten Commandments in the Taurat have been thus abrogated by the Injil? Certainly not, and if he pauses to think he must see that this claim of abrogation cannot be seriously entertained. For the Bible may, not inaptly, be likened to a fruit-bearing tree with its roots and stem, its branches and leaves. All parts of the tree serve a useful purpose, but men live by eating the fruit, not the root. Yet the fruit owes much to the root, stem, branches and leaves. So it is with the Bible – there is a Living Word that gives unity to it. That Word attains its perfect unfolding in the Lord Jesus Christ. We remember, too, what Christ Himself said about this very matter, “Think not that I am come to destroy (i.e. annul) the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (i.e. to bring to fruition) – (Matthew 5:17).
Why do Muslims need a theory of abrogation?
It is not difficult, however, to see how this notion has grown up among Muslims. It is obvious to all that the differences in the two books can never be reconciled, and so this plea of abrogation is put forward as an alternative to the charge of corruption; and, once again, support is sought for it in certain statements in the Quran.
The verses commonly cited as establishing this contention are the following:
> “When We substitute one revelation for another, and Allah knows best what He reveals (in stages), they say, “Thou art but a forger” (An-Nahl 6:101).
> “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?” (Al-Baqarrah 2:106)
The first of these statements seems to suggest that Muhammad was found to be making contradictory assertions: “Thou art only a forger”, his opponents declared. But they were reminded that since God is the Revealer, He is at liberty to change or abolish His own laws at His discretion.
Accordingly we find that the old commentators scrutinized every conflicting statement in the Quran, wherever found, and expounded the doctrine, well-known among Muslims, of abrogation. In all the most famous commentaries on the Quran this doctrine is taken for granted, viz: Tabari (d. 310 A.H.), Zamakhshari (d. 538 A.H.), Fakhruddin (d. 606 A.H.), Baidawi (d. 685 A.H.), and in the Itqan fi ‘ulum al-Quran of Jalaluddin as-Suyuti (as-Suyuti d. 911 A.H.). Fakhruddin devotes many pages to a discussion of nasikh and its meaning, and lays it down as established by the ijma’ (agreement) of the Muslim people that the term applies to the Quran, i.e. that passages now in the Quran text, or once in the Quran text have been abrogated.
In keeping with this principle, one verse (ayat) is said to be nasikh, the canceller, and another verse, mansukh, the cancelled. While difference of opinion existed as to the precise number of the abrogated verses it has ranged from five to five hundred; a common figure given is 225.
Examples of how does the doctrine of Abrogation work?
1) “Those who believe (in the Quran), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians, any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve” (Al-Baqarrah 2:62). This ayat is held to have been cancelled by Al-Imran 3:85: “If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah), never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter He will be in the ranks of those who have lost.
2) “To Allah belong the east and the West: Whithersoever ye turn; there is the presence of Allah” (Al-Baqarrah 2:115). This is held to have been abrogated by Al-Baqarrah 2:144: “We see the turning of thy face (for guidance to the heavens: now shall We turn thee to a Qibla that shall please thee. Turn then Thy face in the direction of the sacred Mosque: Wherever ye are, turn your faces in that direction”.
3) “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Al-Baqarrah 2:256). This has been annulled by the famous ayatu’s’saif, The Verse of the Sword At-Taubah 9: 5: “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful”; also verse 29 of the same Surah “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued”.
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