Muhammad Al-Ghazali’s View on Abrogation in the Qur’an
by Khaleel Mohammed
[Webmaster’s note: The original copy of this document was presented with the diacritical marks characteristic of an academic publication. Since they could not be correctly reproduced in this version, I have omitted them].
The Qur’an makes a very definite statement regarding its nature: “Were it from other than God, they would have found many contradictions therein.” (Q4:82) This claim, however, presented a great problem for the classical exegetes who followed an atomistic typology of interpretation, wherein every verse of Islam’s main document was treated as an independent unit. As John Burton has observed, a verse by verse comparison suggested serious conflict (EI 2.1009), and so a solution had to be found. This was done by recourse to verse 106 of al-Baqara which states: “We do not abrogate an ayah or cause it to be forgotten, except that we come with one better than it.” In this verse the term translated as “we abrogate” (nansakh) gave rise to a term “naskh” which was defined as “abrogation of a previously binding ruling by a latter one, both being established by the Shari’ah” (Shalabi 1986:545).
This concept was accepted by the general body of scholars as a fundamental aspect of Islamic legislation, and there is therefore not a single book on Usul al-Fiqh (The basic legal theories of source methodology in Islam) which does not have a section on the issue. In recent years, however, this seemingly indelible aspect of Islam has come under severe challenge. In this paper, I shall examine the views of one of Islam’s most respected modern thinkers, Muhammad al-Ghazali, on the subject of abrogation, as discussed in the the book “Kayfa Nata’amal Ma’al-Qur’an,” which he co-authored with ‘Umar ‘Ubayd Hasanah (1992). The remainder of this paper will be structured thus:
Muhammad al-Ghazali: His background
Muhammad al-Ghazali’s view of the concept of abrogation
A comparison with the normative position
Muhammad al-Ghazali: His Background
He was born in on September 22, 1917 in a small village in Egypt known as Nakl al-‘Inab—thus sharing the same birth village of such famous personalities as Muhammad ‘Abduh and Mahmud Shaltut (al-‘Awdah 1989:5). In 1937, he enrolled in the University of al-Azhar, studying in the College of Islamic Sciences and then later in the College of Arabic (ibid). After his graduation, he became involved in several reformist activities, although managing to avoid affiliating with any specific organization (al-Ghazali 1981: frontispiece). He later held several government posts, and in 1971 was appointed as the Egyptian Minister of Charities and Endowments, while concurrently holding a teaching position at al-Azhar (ibid). In 1977 he was appointed as a professor at the Umm al-Qura University in Mecca, and then on his return to Egypt in 1981, as a minister in charge of Islamic propagation in the Ministry of Endowments (ibid).
He later taught in Qatar and Algeria, being appointed as President of the Consultative Body at the Emir Abdel Kader University in Constantina, Algeria (al-Corentini 1996:69). He authored around fifty books, and was honoured with the King Faisal International Award for Distinguished Service to Islam (al-‘Awdah 1989:6). After his retirement in 1989 and until his death on March 16, 1996, he was the President of the Egyptian branch of the International Institute for Islamic Thought.
His writing, as suggested by the titles of some of his books, is vocative and hortatory, eschewing technical academic jargon, but in no way devoid of reflections of great scholarly merit. Titles of his works, such as “Jaddid Hayatak” (1988) and “Al-Haqq al-Murr” (1986), show that al-Ghazali felt that the Muslim condition needed some change, and that the present state of affairs is extremely bitter in light of the spirit which the Qur’an foments. His writing has not been without controversy and he has been stated as “uttering harsh words, so injurious as to cause anger and upset, speaking on several issues in a manner that goes against the established views of the majority or the entire umma (al-‘Awdah 1989:8).
The Understanding Of Naskh In The Qur’an
Since his views on naskh are presented in concise form in the source text, I shall, rather than present a summary, provide an annotated translation of Muhammad al-Ghazali’s view on the subject. Unless indicated otherwise, all translations of the Qur’anic verses in the excerpt and the remainder of this paper are mine. I have preserved his punctuation marks as much as possible, and the ellipses in the following do not denote that I have left out any part of his writing, but are rather from his own style of homiletic address, excerpted from pages in the source text. The translation is as follows:
The position taken by all the modern scholars whom I have met, or listened to, or whose works I have read, is contrary to the understanding of naskh that became so widespread among the later exegetes, namely that there exists naskh (if accepted) as meaning the abrogation of verses of the Qur’an. I found that the Shaykh, Jurist and Historian, al-Khidri, categorically rejected this meaning of naskh. He stated: “It does not occur except to make specific, or limit, or explain that which is otherwise general and unconditional.” Shaykh Rashid Rida reiterated the same even more clearly, referring to the verse: “We do not abrogate (naskh) a sign or cause it to be forgotten . . . (al-Baqara:106).
He explained that an ayah can be in the form of religious obligations (ayat taklifiyyah) or cosmic phenomena (ayat takwiniyyah), and that which is abrogated in Sura al-Baqara are the latter; there are no commandments abrogated by the verse. The meaning of takwiniyyah is well known; it is those occurrences contrary to natural laws (miracles) with which the Prophets were assisted. . . Such phenomena are the things that change with the passage of time. As for the verses of commandments, I studied them carefully vis a vis the verse: “And if we substitute one sign for another—and Allah knows best what He reveals in stages—they say, thou art but a forger . . . (Q16:101).”
Al-Khazin  said: “This verse came as a response to the allegations that Muhammad decides a ruling, then abrogates it!” I thereupon asked myself: “The verse (referred to) is from al-Nahl which is a Meccan revelation; where then are the laws at which the polytheists were poking fun—(claiming) that they were abrogated after having been revealed, in such a manner that confusion resulted in the establishment of the legislation? There are no such laws. And as for as the purported reason for the revelation of this verse—it is a lie.”  There was none from among the polytheists claiming that Muhammad was legislating edicts and then abrogating them . . . absolutely none—for there was no law in Mecca that was abrogated by a verse revealed in Mecca. Neither in the history of revelation, nor in the history of jurisprudence is it established that any law was revealed at Mecca and then later cancelled by a verse revealed in that same city. The Qur’an does not state this.
The conjecture therefore is baseless; there are no laws that abrogate the meaning of the verse. All we have occurring in Mecca are several verses that were looked at, in such a manner that there was a reduction, as for example in Allah’s words: “Now Allah has lightened your task, for He knows that there is weakness in you . . . ” (Q8:66).
The first verse ordered that one man should stand against ten (of the enemy), then it was reduced to standing against two (Q8:65,66). Shaykh al-Khidri, may God be pleased with him, stated: “This is a permission based on circumstance, and permission based on circumstance is not considered as abrogation. The permanent lasting ruling is that a Muslim should stand against ten, and he is enjoined to do this. The lessened aspect of facing only two is a permission and this is the correct ruling.”
The verse: “He knows that you cannot keep count thereof, so He has turned to you in mercy. Read therefore of the Qur’an that which is easy for you. He knows that there may be some among you in ill-health, others travelling through the land seeking of Allah’s bounty, and others fighting in Allah’s cause. Read therefore of the Qur’an as is easy for you . . . ” (Q73:20) is said to have abrogated the first part of the chapter al-Muzzammil. This however, is not so, for the chapter is directed to the Prophet and ordains that he prays during the night, and this night prayer remained obligatory upon him until the day he died. This order is reiterated in the chapter al-Isra’: “And from (a portion of) the night exert yourself (in prayer), an additional prayer for you; perchance your Lord will raise you to a station of praiseworthiness” (17:79). What needs to be noted here is that many companions emulated the Prophet in this night prayer in the manner that is described in the first part of chapter al-Muzzammil. But God, being aware of the state of affairs of the group that worked extremely hard during the day at their livelihood, a group which, unlike the bearer of the revealed message, was not enjoined with this commandment, thus said: “Read therefore as much of the Qur’an as is easy for you . . . ”  The Prophet, however, (as) the bearer of the revelation, still remained responsible for performing the night prayer; there is then absolutely no abrogation in the verse.
The allegation that 120 verses on the invitation to Islam were abrogated by the verse of the sword , is in fact one of crassest stupidity and only serves to show that the great number of Muslims are in a stage of regression of either knowledge or intelligence in our time, and have become ignorant of the Qur’an. As a result of this ignorance therefore, they have forgotten how to call to the way of God, how to facilitate the call to Islam, and how to be proper examples, and how to present a good perspective. Perhaps this is the reason for the failure in the propagation of Islam, and the prolonged stagnation of the Islamic message being effected—for it has been assumed that the sword is that which fulfills the obligation of delivering the message. Such a concept is, by the agreement of all those who are rational and discerning, totally absurd.
This tale of abrogation then, or the notion of embalming of some verses, in that such verses are present but are inoperative, is a baseless one. There is no verse in the Qur’an which may be said to be out of commission, and is therefore now invalid; this is nonsense. Each verse is potentially valid, but it is He, the Legislator who knows the conditions in which the verses may be applied, and it is in this manner that the Qur’anic verses are to be considered in light of the state of human affairs—with wisdom and exhortation. Does not the context of the verse “We do not abrogate an ayah or cause it to be forgotten” (Q2:106) denote that the matter pertains to the abrogation of the laws of previous religions by a new one?
It is obvious that there is no room for any assumption that abrogation of responsibility is what is meant here. Shaykh Rashid Rida mentioned this topic, pointing out that the words in the verse (taken in conjunction with those immediately in the following verse are): “We do not nansakh an ayah or cause it to be forgotten (except that) we come with a better one or a similar one. Do you not know that Allah is all powerful over everything? (Q2:106)”—refer to the Divine Omnipotence and not to the laws of (human) responsibility. For if it were in the latter case, the verse would have read for example: “Do you not know that God is the Omniscient,” the Legislator rather than “the Omnipotent.”
The verse “Do you wish to ask your Messenger as Moses was asked aforetime?” (Q2:108) manifestly shows that the verse is referring to the miraculous signs (ayat al-kawniyah). For what was it about which Moses was asked aforetime? It was “We wish to see Allah clearly”; “we wish this and that”; people wanted the cosmological signs, or miracles which verified the message of Muhammad. The use of the expression “aforetime” is to indicate reference to the children of Israel.
Allah says: “And if it is said to them ‘Believe in what Allah has revealed,’ they say we believe in what was revealed to us, and reject that which has come afterwards—even though the latter is true, verifying what is with them. Say: Why then did you kill the Prophets of God before if you indeed were believers?” (Q2:91)
The address to them begins by pointing out that they are not believers in what they profess, nor in that which has come unto others. It goes on further to state: “Those of the People of the Book and the polytheists do not wish that anything good should be revealed to you from your Lord. But God singles out for His mercy whosoever He wishes. Indeed God is the Lord of Mighty Grace.”
The verses here are very clear that when the Qur’an came down, it was as a mercy from Allah to the Arabs, and that He selected them for His special grace. He gave them a new message, not that which had previously come down to the previous Prophets, nor like that which before had been abetted by the raising of the Mountain, nor that which sometimes was completed by the creation of miracles.
The revelation of the Qur’an, as far as the abrogation of the signs of creation is concerned, is an abrogation of some of the legislation of the People of the Scriptures (Jews and Christians). The Qur’an no doubt cancelled some of the laws of the former religions, and started by reshaping the human consciousness anew, by awakening its talents and directing it to Allah. There is no contradiction in the Qur’an whatsoever, for every verse has a context within which it functions. (al-Ghazali 1992:80-84)
A Comparison With The Normative Position
Muhammad al-Ghazali then, as is evident from the above, absolutely denies the concept of abrogation as understood by the classical jurists, thereby seeking to show that the entire gamut of related legislative discourse is in fact constructed on a foundation of misinterpretation and misconception. The language of the above excerpt shows that Muhammad al-Ghazali did not phrase his words in what may be termed a gentle persuasive manner. His denouncing the abrogation of certain verses as “crass stupidity” certainly could not have won him any favor with those jurists who feel that abrogation is indeed part and parcel of Islam, and that knowledge thereof is what distinguishes a scholar from a non-scholar. Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad was alleged to have, upon learning that a lecturer in the mosque was ignorant of the abrogated verses and the abrogating ones, evicted the man from the mosque and forbade him to address the people (al-Nahhas 1986:3).
Another point that becomes clear too is that the thematic reading of the Qur’anic verses can lead to conclusions that are very much at variance with the rulings based upon an atomistic understanding of Islam’s main document. A thematic reading actually shows that the position of the traditional scholars on the issue of abrogation indeed goes against one of the most fundamental laws of Qur’anic exegesis: namely that “Al asl fi’l-kalam al-haqiqah”—The Fundamental Rule Of Speech Is Literalness (Borno, 1990:260). For, were the law applied, the primary understanding of the word ayah in verse Q2:106 would have been “sign,” not “verse,” and the whole aspect of abrogation of legal rulings, if discussed, would have had its foundation on another site.
Inasmuch as al-Ghazali’s interpretation of abrogation went against the traditional understanding, and the language that he used was sometimes abrasive, he demonstrated a great degree of astuteness in the overall method he employed. It will be noted that throughout, he relies on two great Shaykhs—al-Khidri and Rashid Rida. His great reliance on the latter also identifies him, according to the typology suggested by Wael Hallaq, as following the utilitarian school of modernists (1997:254).
In quoting respected Shaykhs, al-Ghazali was showing that his words had been echoed before and that he was not in fact committing that hated sin—innovation in Islamic thought. Never once does he refer to the writing of Muhammad Amin who, like al-Ghazali, rejected the notion of abrogation. We surmise that this pointed lack of mention is that he did not want to identify with someone who had been classified as a heretic by the ‘ulama (infra:12).
In focusing on Rashid Rida’s understanding of the ayah in Q2.106, al-Ghazali brought to the fore something that had been overlooked by scholars to a great extent—that the Qur’anic application of some everyday words to a specific, and sometimes newer, context, effectively obliterated the pre-Islamic understanding of those terms in many cases. As the Japanese scholar Toshihiko Isutzu has shown, one example is the word “kafir” which in the parlance of the Muslims is taken to mean infidel, whereas the original usage of the word simply meant “a man who does not show gratitude to his benefactor” (Isutzu 1964:52).
In addition to the problem of trying to understand the apparently contradictory verses of the Qur’an, it would seem that a misunderstanding of the word ayah gave rise to the concept of abrogation. The word ayah ” . . . has several meanings in the Qur’an, all of which are interrelated through the literal meaning of ‘sign,’ some being at times interchangeable with others” (Mir 1987:24). Since the Qur’an is one of the “signs” sent down by God to guide humankind to Him, it is also regarded as an ayah, and within that document itself the word is used in several places to show that the Qur’anic verses are to be referred to by this name (e.g.Q2:252; Q16:101). Despite ayah being used in its original lexical connotation in many verses, however, (e.g. Q2:118; Q7:73), the classical jurists seem to have understood it to mean a verse of the Qur’an.
Verse Q2:106 then seemed to be the answer to the problem of apparently contradictory verses. But even then, the problem was not solved. The clearest evidence of this is that there are no less than a dozen readings of the verse that is claimed to be the very foundation of the theory of abrogation (Burton 1977:48). Evidence also lies in the fact that despite the general acceptance of the theory by the later scholars, every work that deals with the subject reports some arguments against it. One of the scholars who is mentioned as being opposed to abrogation is the Mu’tazilite Abu Muslim Muhammad ibn Hajr al-Asfahani (d. 322/933). His arguments are documented and rebutted by Fakhr al-Razi in his Mahsul (1992:3.307ff). Although al-Razi, like the rest of his contemporaries, reported these arguments in severely censored form, we can nevertheless understand some of the objections.
If the Qur’an is indeed of divine authorship, and is perfect in its construction and style, no verse can be better than another; how then could one verse abrogate another? Is God not Wise and Far-Seeing enough to give rulings that are permanent, or does He suffer from an occasional change of mind? Abrogation of a law meant that it became illegal in the face of the one replacing it, and that this latter one was illegal while the former was in place. This would be to declare good as evil and evil as good, clearly not a divine activity (Burton 1993:8.1011).
To the above queries, the jurists and exegetes provided some answers which were largely structured on an admixture of semantic acrobatics and doctrinal innovations so typical of medieval scholasticism. As far as some verses abrogating others, they explained that what was abrogated was not the verses of the Qur’an, but rather the rulings derived from such texts (al-Tabari 1954:2.248). On the aspect of God’s laws and their supposed temporality, uncharacteristic of divine behavior, such rulings were to be looked at in terms of their relation to the conditions of the humans. It was quite possible for something to be beneficial for them in one situation, and detrimental in another. An example is the case of fasting, where eating is allowed at night, but forbidden in the day (Ibn Qudamah 1983:2.71). There was too, no change of mind by God, for He knew from the beginning the period of time for which such rulings would be in place, and the change was therefore all part of the Divine Plan (ibid). That which was evil or good was known solely by divine decree, not by any rationalization on the part of humans. God therefore could test us for our obedience by declaring something good at one time and evil at another, as is evidenced by the fact that regulations differ from one previously revealed religion to another, and from period to period.
With these arguments buttressed by the use of hadith of the type quoted earlier, a science known as “‘Ilm al-Nasikh wa’l-Mansukh” (Knowledge of the Abrogating and Abrogated) was created. This science not only investigated if the verses of the Qur’an could abrogate and be abrogated, but if the Sunna could abrogate the Qur’an and vice versa. (It is not within the scope of this research to discuss these issues and those wishing more information on the subject may refer to the works of Burton and Powers listed in my bibliography).
Since the Qur’anic verses, by the consensus of scholars, are not arranged in chronological order, the task of identifying which verse abrogates which can be a daunting task. The fact that there are still differences of opinion among the different schools on several issues pertaining to naskh shows the problems that the concept presents. As a result, the passing of time has seen a tremendous fluctuation in the number of verses alleged to have been abrogated. al-Zuhri (2nd/8th century), reportedly one of the first to write on the subject, mentioned 42 verses, al-Nahhas (4th/10th century), 138; Ibn Salama (5th/11th century), 238; and Ibn al-Ata’iqi (8th/14th century), 231 (Powers 1988:122). But by the 10/16th century, al-Suyutti recognized only 20 instances of abrogation, and by the 12th/18th, Shah Wali Allah only five (ibid:123). Powers points out that one reason for the initial increase was the expansion of the semantic range of the term naskh, which in addition to several of its new meanings was now taken to mean specification, exception etc., and the later decrease was in consideration of theological considerations (ibid:122).
Once the concept of naskh was given sanction from the Qur’an and hadith, the jurists started categorizing the different types of abrogation. They suggested three main ones (Hahn 1974:126):
(1) Abrogation of the text and its ruling such as the verses of Chapter 33 which was supposedly at one time as long as Chapter 2. (al-Nahhas:11)
(2) Abrogation of the text, but not its ruling such as the penalty for adultery. The Qur’an only speaks of a public lashing, but this was supposedly abrogated by the practice of the Prophet with the penalty of stoning to death. (ibid)
(3) Abrogation of the ruling, but not the text. (Such as the verse in which a Muslim is told to face in combat ten unbelievers, which was supposedly replaced by a later verse wherein he is now told to face only two. (ibid)
As stated earlier, there is indication that the idea faced some problems. Most certainly there must have been those who pointed out that the entire controversy could have been avoided had the word ayah been read in its true and original meaning. And this raises the question: Why was the abrogation theory so rigorously defended?
An analysis of the early history of Islam provides several reasons: Modern research shows that there are several rulings in the Qur’an that seem suited to a particular situation, and that the Meccan verses, for example, are of a generally different genre than the Medinan verses. The Qur’anic laws then can in many cases be seen as applying to a specific temporal and spatial setting. That the early Muslims did not view all the Qur’anic legislation as permanent is clear from the fact that as Fazlur Rahman noted, sometime during the 2nd/8th century, the Muslim lawyers began to make a distinction between the clear wording (nass) and what was deducible from it (Rahman 1979:39).
The later jurists interpreted the doctrine of permanency of the Qur’an not to mean that it was a document from which perpetual guidance could be obtained by studying the way it dealt with various situations; rather they interpreted permanency to mean that its laws were immutable. Read in this light, several verses of the Qur’an seemed to be in contradiction to others. The only way to explain the discrepancy was to show that some rulings were abrogated by later ones.
Another reason was that the Qur’an did not provide an answer to every problem that the rapidly expanding Muslim state encountered. The political and legal decisions taken sometimes went clearly against the rulings of the Qur’an, and in such cases, reason had to be found to show that this was permissible (Semaan 1961:12,13). It does not rule anywhere in the Qur’an, for example, that the Prophets do not allow their children to inherit their property. On the contrary, that book clearly states “And Solomon inherited from David” (Q16:27). The later jurists could not show that Abu Bakr, in denying Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, her right to her father’s property, was acting against the letter of the Qur’an. They therefore resorted to claiming that in this case, Muhammad had privately instructed Abu Bakr in matters of inheritance, and that such hadith had therefore either limited the meaning of verse Q16:27 or abrogated it.
Concentrated criticism of the abrogation concept only started in the latter part of the last century with Muhammad Abduh, Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, and Rashid Rida in the vanguard. Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan decided to read the so-called abrogation verse in relation to the one that immediately precedes it, and to claim that what was being abrogated was the Mosaic Law. He dismissed all the ahadith purporting to explain the reasons for revelation of the verse by stating flatly, ” . . . not even a single hadith cited by them is sound.” He even further noted that ” . . . the whole controversy over nasikh and mansukh is nonsensical” (Hahn 1974:126).
An Azhar graduate, Muhammad Amin, at the beginning of this century, also spoke out against abrogation (Mustafa 1988:17). In 1949, ‘Abd al-Muta’al al-Jabri wrote his Master’s thesis at the University of Cairo and entitled it “Naskh As I Understand It In The Islamic Shari’ah.” He later published his work under the title “No Naskh in the Qur’an—Why?” (Mustafa; p.16). The absolute refutation of a classical concept was extremely shocking to the scholars, and both Amin and al-Jabri have been classified as those who overstep the limit, ahl al-tafrit, (Mustafa 1988:16). Indeed the refutation of the concept was tantamount to heresy according to some scholars, as evidenced in the statement of one eleventh century scholar, Ibn Hilal al-Nahwi: ” . . . Whoever says this thing (i.e. against abrogation) is not a believer, but rather a kafir, denying that with which Muhammad came. He must renounce his position or be killed” (Mustafa 1988:18; bolding mine).
Shaykh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Baz, Grand Mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in response to an article that contained some ideas against the concept of abrogation stated: “That which he (the author) did is an act of clear disbelief, a repudiation of Islam, and denial of Allah the Glorious and His Prophet on whom be peace—as any of the people of knowledge and faith who has read his article can perceive. It is obligatory upon the governing authority to have that man brought to the courts and ask that he retract his statements, and to rule upon him according to that which the pure Shari’ah summons” (ibn Baz, 1995:44).
In addition to the damning statements quoted above against those who opposed the naskh theory, the position of the traditional Muslim scholars against Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Amin, and their like is well-known. Yet, when Muhammad al-Ghazali issued his statements, he was not condemned by the body politic of the Muslim umma. To what can we possibly attribute this departure from the norm?
As has been already observed, al-Ghazali studiously avoided reference to Muhammad Amin who had been severely castigated. He instead sought precedent in the writings of the respected scholars and therefore, while introducing a revolutionary concept, coated it with the veneer of traditional scholarship.
His statements have come at a time when the Muslim scholars are grappling not only with the problems presented by the abrogation concept, but with modernity as a whole, and realizing, as noted by Fazlur Rahman, that several aspects of traditional theology and law are now no longer valid (1982:52). This ethos is reflected in the book “Al-Naskh fi al-Qur’an al-Karim” wherein an Azhar scholar, after examining several views, among them that of Muhammad al-Ghazali, concludes that: “I stress here . . . that what is required is a new understanding of naskh . . . ” (Mustafa 1988:62).
Whereas the scholars may greet the postulations of lesser personalities with scorn, they may not as easily dismiss one who has gained the trust of his peers, several governments, and one who has the entire backing of the International Institute of Islamic Thought, an international think tank comprised of the most eminent scholars of the Muslim world, among them, Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Dr. Taha Jabir al-Alwani, founder-members of the Muslim World League and the Fiqh Council. Indeed, the association that published the source text for this research, the International Institute of Islamic Thought, mentioned in the book’s introduction, its mission statement, which is, inter alia, the task of “the reformation of the methodology of Islamic thought” (al-Alwani 1992:5).
Al-Ghazali, while advocating change, has in no way made the mistake of being labeled, as have some modernists, a maghrib zadeh, of being influenced by “Westoxication,” and makes it clear that he harbors a deep dislike of the West and its influence in the Middle East. Such a person then, a winner of the King Faisal award, and one who has not identified himself with any anti-government group, has thereby commanded the respect of his peers. The prognosis then is that, notwithstanding the opposition of some scholars such as ibn Baz of Saudi Arabia, the thrust towards a thematic understanding of the Qur’an will gain greater force among Muslims. How long it will take for the traditional concept of naskh to be abrogated by the reading of Q2:106 as relating to historical and cosmological phenomena, however, is a question for which it is too early to hazard a guess.
1. Ali b. Muhammad b. Ibrahim ‘Ala al-Din, known as al-Khazin was a scholar of Qur’an and Hadith who followed the Shafi’ school of thought. He was of Baghdadi origin, but was given the title al-Shaihi—denoting a district in Aleppo. Born in Baghdad in 678/1280, he lived in Damascus for a period of time. He was the custodian (Khazin) of the books at the Samsaatiya academy in that city. The author of several books, he died in 741/1341 in Aleppo. (Abridged footnote, al-Ghazali, 1992; p.81)
2. For further reading on the material relating to Asbab al-Nuzul, see the thesis of Rippin, Andrew on the subject (Rippin, McGill 1981).
3. Compare this with the counter-historical writings of Lammens, where in reference to the night vigil, he denies Muhammad’s performance, referring to him as a “grand dormeur;” of his companions he further states ” . . . ses premiers compagnons n’ont jamais songe a urger cet ideal.” (Lammens, 1928).
4. This is a verse of Chapter 9:5: “Fight and slay the idolators wherever you find them, and seize them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war. But if they repent, and establish prayer, and the charity, then open the way, then let them be. For Allah is the Forgiving, the Merciful.”
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Previously published in the Concordia Journal of Religion and Culture (Montreal, Canada) (Spring/Winter 1996), Vol 10, p.47-62, and online at http://www.geocities.com/forpeoplewhothink/Topics/Abrogation_in_the_Quran.html
Reprinted in TAM with permission of the author.