Short Answer: Allah abrogated some of the earlier teachings to alleviate hardship. In other cases, abrogation is to establish a certain ruling that needs to be established gradually. Abrogation also helps correct some ideas and remove misunderstandings.
Salam Dear Stefanie,
Let me first thank you for your detailed question and all the thoughts you have presented therein.
Let’s first agree on some points, which I believe you are aware of.
Even Professionals Err
First, there are some scholars who have mastered all the Quranic sciences that qualify them to understand its occasions of revelation, linguistic style, context, structure, etc.
However. even with their near-perfect explanation, we can still safely say that their explanations are not totally perfect. Rather, they are subject to error just like the product of any human mind.
This is actually good because God’s words are beyond the limitations of the human mind. Hence, man can comprehend and grasp only some aspects of those words, but not all of them.
What Is Abrogation?
Coming to the issue of abrogation, we need to understand one key point: Allah Almighty’s knowledge covers everything. It is not subject to change because it is not limited by the boundaries of time.
This means that when Allah Almighty reveals something in the Quran and later on gives a fresh command that adjusts the old one or cancels it, He surely knows already that He is going to reveal something to adjust the old command or cancel it.
In other words, the new command is not new to Him; it is new to us because we have no access to His knowledge and we are bound by time’s limitations.
There is surely great divine wisdom behind this, wisdom which sometimes we are aware of and sometimes we are not.
To illustrate this concept, imagine a teacher is teaching a certain book for his students. He already knows the contents of what he is teaching. Although to the students the information he is giving every time is new, to him it is not.
Based on this, he may give a certain rule at one time and later on speak about other things that contradict this rule.
When one of the students says, “Excuse me, sir! This contradicts what you said last time,” the teacher will simply tell him, “There are exceptions to every rule and this is one of the exceptions. Today’s example is meant to make you aware of the exceptions to last time’s rule.”
Of course, the exception is new to the student but it is not new to the teacher who has already learned it a long time ago.
As for Allah, His infinite knowledge neither has a start nor an end.
Yet, if that is what abrogation is like, what is the benefit or the wisdom of doing that?
Why Does Allah Abrogate Earlier Teachings?
In fact, scholars have counted lots of wisdom behind abrogation.
To Alleviate Hardship
First, abrogation can happen as a way of gradual legislation that aims at making things easy for people.
Sometimes, Allah Almighty commands that a certain strict thing should be observed and then alleviates it to make the life of people easier.
An example of this is when Allah Almighty commanded that anyone who wants to speak to the Prophet (peace be upon him) should offer something in charity.
Later on, Allah (Glory be to Him) removed this requirement and just encouraged people to establish prayer and do good deeds.
But one may ask, “What is the point of this?” The answer is, there is wisdom behind it: to make people aware of the fact that Allah is merciful to them and that He looks after them and cares for their well-being.
Sometimes, abrogation comes to establish a certain ruling that needs to be established gradually because it is difficult for people to apply it completely.
Suppose that you want a drug addict to give up drugs: it would be impractical to ask him to give up on drugs right away. The most practical way will be to train him how to give them up bit-by-bit.
The same is applied in the Quran when Allah Almighty commanded the believing community to give up alcohol. He did not do that at one shot.
Rather, Allah Almighty first spoke about alcohol as being somewhat beneficial for some people (i.e. traders). But He also reminded them that it has some greater harm.
Later on, a new instruction came prohibiting drunkenness during prayer, and this was stage two.
Then, when the community was fully prepared to receive a final decision and were able to apply the law, Allah Almighty told them to avoid drinking alcohol completely.
Focusing more on the verse you referred to in your question (Quran 2:62), I would like to mention one more wisdom of abrogation, which is correcting ideas and removing misunderstandings.
For instance, Allah Almighty gives a rule that whoever does a good deed will get a reward for it in this life and in the hereafter.
Some people may understand that the hereafter reward is also given to non-believers.
Therefore, Allah Almighty explains this in another place in the Quran saying that a condition for reward in the hereafter is to believe in Allah Almighty and adopt Islam.
One of the examples that fall into this category is the example you have referred to.
The Quran Is Interconnected
Another important point is that the Quran is interlinked, which means that verses explain and expound on one another.
So, in some places Allah Almighty says that those Jews, Christians, and Sabians who believe in Allah and the Last Day should fear no harm on the Day of Judgment.
He is actually referring them to a rule that needs further elaboration, mentioned elsewhere in the Quran.
This elaboration exists in the following chapter wherein Almighty Allah explains that the accepted path to God is Islam:
And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter he shall be one of the losers. (Quran 3:85)
Now, we clearly see that there is no contradiction between the two statements because they complement each other.
But why doesn’t Allah make each one self-explanatory without need for the other statement?
Because both statements are considered words of Allah, we should take the words of Allah as a total entity wherein no part can stand on its own without referring to the whole.
We can therefore also understand the sayings of scholars who said that the whole Quran is treated as one verse.
I hope this answer is helpful. Please remain in touch.
(From Ask About Islam archives)
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