Abrogation in the Qur’an

The Qur’an is unique among sacred scriptures in accepting a doctrine of abrogation in which later pronouncements of the Prophet declare null and void his earlier pronouncements.

When we cancel a message, or throw it into oblivion, we replace it with one better or one similar. Do you not know that God has power over all things?[
When we replace a message with another, and God knows best what he reveals, they say: You have made it up. Yet, most of them do not know. God abrogates or confirms whatsoever he will, for he has with him the Book of the Books.
If we pleased, we could take away what we have revealed to you. Then you will not find anyone to plead for it with us rather than explain away inconsistencies in passages  regulating the Muslim community, many jurists acknowledge the differences but accept that latter verses trump earlier verses.[14] Most scholars divide the Qur’an into verses revealed by Muhammad in Mecca when his community of followers was weak and more inclined to compromise, and those revealed in Medina, where Muhammad’s strength grew.

Classical scholars argued that anyone who studied the Qur’an without having mastered the doctrine of abrogation would be “deficient.” Those who do not accept abrogation fall outside the mainstream and, perhaps, even the religion itself. Because the Qur’an is not organized chronologically, there has been a whole subset of theological study to determine which verses abrogate and which are abrogated. Muslim scholars base their understanding of theology not only upon the Qur’an but also upon hadiths, accounts of the Prophet Muhammad’s life. One hadith in particular addresses abrogation. It cites Abu al-A‘la bin al-Shikhkhir, considered by theologians to be a reliable source of knowledge about the Prophet’s life, as saying, that “the Messenger of God abrogated some of his commands by others, just as the Qur’an abrogates some part of it with the other.”[17] Muhammad accepted that God would invalidate previous revelation, often making ordinances stricter.[18]

The following verses are abrogated in the Quran:


Out of 114 suras only 43 are not abrogated.


Abrogation occurs not only within the Qur’an, but also by the Qur’an toward earlier revelations, such as those passed on by Jesus or Moses. Sura 2:106 refers to commandments sent to prophets before Muhammad.[19] ‘Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali, commentator and translator of the Qur’an, interpreted the verse to mean that God’s message is the same across time, but its form may differ according to the exigencies of time.[20] ‘Abd al-Majid Daryabadi, a Pakistani Qur’an commentator, suggested, however, that the laws might differ across time but that there should be no shame in the same lawgiver replacing temporary laws with permanent ones.[21]

Also cause for discussion among scholars is the question of whether God withdrew revelations from the memory of Muhammad and his followers, causing such revelations to disappear like some of those mentioned in the Qur’an about which little is known today.[22]

This leads to the classical theological dispute about whether such interpretations dilute the idea that the Qur’an is eternal.[23] Those who discount or downplay abrogation interpret the verses revealed by Muhammad in Mecca to address spirituality and see those revealed later in Medina not as abrogation but rather expanding context to understand the whole.[24]


The abrogated: “Say ‘O men, I am sent to you only to give a clear warning”‘ (32.48). “If they contend with you, say, ‘God knows best what you are doing”‘ (32.67). “Repel evil with that which is best” (23.98). “Leave them (the unbelievers) in their confused ignorance for a time” (33.56). “Be patient at what they say” (20.130, 38.16). “All are waiting, so you too wait if you will” (20.135). “Have patience with what they say and leave them with dignity” (73. 10). “Make no haste against them (19.87). “Warn them of the Day of Distress” (19.40). “Forgive and overlook” (2.103).

The abrogating: “Fighting is prescribed for you” (2.212). “Fight those who do not believe” (9.29). “Fight the unbelievers whom you find round about you” (9.124). “Fight them (the unbelievers) until Allah’s faith prevails” (2.189). “Slay the pagans wherever you find them” (9.5). “Slay them wherever you catch them” (2.187).


Why are the abrogating verses consistently the more violent and less tolerant verses?

A quick look back on Muhammed’s life is in order here. Earlier and more lenient verses were ones dictated during Muhammed’s life in Mecca. Recall that there he was affluent, popular, and hopeful of his newfound belief system. The latter verses, i.e. the latter version of Muhammadan morality, came after years of little progress in attracting followers, after being dishonorably ousted from his hometown, the death of his first wife and all but one child, and after confrontation with even more adamant rejection from the Jewish and Christian audience in Medina.