Thursday, 9 April 2009

Can an antecedent Ayah (verse) of the Qur’an abrogate a later one?

Yes, it has to, otherwise, Muslims would not have respected Allah’s command..

Some Muslims agree that the Qur’an restricted Muhammad to the wives he had and couldn’t marry any one else per the instruction of Q. 33:52:

It is not lawful for you (to marry other) women after this, nor to change them for other wives even though their beauty attracts you, except those (captives or slaves) whom your right hand possesses. And Allah is Ever a Watcher over all things. Hilali-Khan

Muslims point out that Muhammad marrying more than four wives wasn’t really a privilege per se since he was forbidden from enjoying some of the rights that other Muslims were given, such as divorcing some of his wives and marrying others.

The problem is that other Muslim scholars state that this text didn’t prohibit Muhammad from taking on additional spouses, but forbade him from marrying anyone who wasn’t within the lawful categories mentioned in Q. 33:50. Muhammad could therefore wed additional women provided that they were from among those made lawful to him.

The Arabic text says simply that Muhammad COULD NOT take any other women after that point or replace his then current wives with others:

It is not allowed thee to take (other) women henceforth, nor that thou shouldst change them for other wives even though their beauty pleased thee… Pickthall
It is not lawful for thee (to marry more) women after this, nor to change them for (other) wives, even though their beauty attract thee… Y. Ali
It is not allowed to you to take women afterwards, nor that you should change them for other wives, though their beauty be pleasing to you… Shakir
It is not allowed to thee to marry women after that, nor to change them for other wives even, though their goodness please thee… Sher Ali
Thereafter women are not lawful to thee, neither for thee to take other wives in exchange for them, though their beauty please thee… Arberry

As the readers can see the citation doesn’t say that he was only prevented from marrying those women who belonged to specific categories prohibited for him. No, it clearly states that he was forbidden to marry any further women, periodthough still permitting him to have sex with female slaves in addition to his wives.

But this is where the problem lies, since Muhammad went on to marry other women besides those whom he already had.

According to Muslim sources the traditional dating of Q. 33 is 5 AH, or five years after Muhammad’s flight to Medina (627-628 AD):

Period of Revelation
The Surah discusses three important events which are: the
Battle of the Trench (or Al-Ahzab: the Clans), which took place in Shawwal, A. H. 5; the raid on Bani Quraizah, which was made in Dhil-Qa'dah, A. H. 5; and the Holy Prophet's marriage with Hadrat Zainab, which also was contracted in Dhil-Qa'dah, A. H. 5. These historical events accurately determine the period of the revelation of this Surah. (Syed Abu-Ala' Maududi's Chapter Introductions to the Qur'an; Source)

Yet several years after the composition of this Surah Muhammad married Safiyyah the Jewess and Maymunah, who was the last of his nine wives that he married and left as widows. Noted Muslim historian and exegete al-Tabari provides the details surrounding these marriages:

According to Ibn Humayd – Salamah – Ibn Ishaq, who said: When the Messenger of God returned to Medina from Khaybar, he stayed there months of Rabi‘ I, Rabi‘ II, Jumada I, Jumada II, Rajab, Sha‘ban, Ramadan, and Shawwal, sending out expeditions and raiding parties during the period. Then in Dhu al-Qa‘dah, the month in which the polytheists had turned him back [in the previous year], he set out to perform the "Lesser Pilgrimage of Fulfillment" in place of the lesser pilgrimage which they had turned him back. The Muslims who had been with him on that lesser pilgrimage of his set out with him. It was the year 7. When the people of Mecca heard of it, they made way for him. The Quraysh spoke among themselves of how Muhammad and his companions were in difficulty, distress and want…

According to Ibn Humayd – Salamah – Muhammad b. Ishaq – Aban b. Salih and ‘Abdallah b. Abi Najih – ‘Ata’ b. Abi Rabah and Mujahid – Ibn ‘Abbas: The Messenger of God married Maymunah bt. Al-Harith on this journey while he was in a state of ritual purity; al-‘Abbas b. ‘Abd al-Muttalib married her to him.

According to Ibn Ishaq: The Messenger of God stayed in Mecca three nights. On the third day, Huwaytib b. ‘Abd al-‘Uzza b. Abi Qays b. ‘Abd Wudd b. Nasr b. Malik b. Hisl came to him with a group of Quraysh: Quraysh had deputed Huwaytib to make the Messenger of God leave Mecca. They said to him, "Your allotted time is up; so depart from us!" The Messenger of God said to them: "How would it harm you if you left me and I celebrated the wedding feast among you? We would prepare food for you, and you would attend it." They said, "We do not need your food; so depart from us!" The Messenger of God departed leaving behind Abu Rafi‘ his mawla to take charge of Maymunah. Abu Rafi‘ brought her to him at Sarif, and the Messenger of God consummated his marriage with her there… (The History of al-Tabari: The Victory of Islam, translated by Michael Fishbein [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany 1997], Volume VIII (8), pp. 133-134, 136-137)

558. Dhu al-Qa‘dah of A.H. 7 began on 2 March 629. (Ibid., p. 134)

Then the Messenger of God married Safiyyah bt. Huyayy b. Akhtab b. Sa‘yah b. Tha‘labah b. ‘Ubayd b. Ka‘b b. al-Khazraj b. Abi Habib b. al-Nadir. Previously, she was married to Sallam b. Mishkam b. al-Hakam b. Harithah b. al-Khazraj b. Ka‘b b. al-Khazraj. After his death she was married to Kinanah b. al-Rabi‘ b. Abi al-Huqayq, who was killed by Muhammad b. Maslamah at the Prophet’s order. He was struck at the neck until he died. When the Prophet scrutinized the captives on the day of Khaybar, he threw his cloak over Safiyyah. Thus she was his chosen one (safiyyah) on the day of Khaybar. Then he proposed Islam to her and she accepted, so he freed her. That was in the year 6/627-28.

Then the Messenger of God married Maymunah bt. Al-Harith b. Hazn b. Bujayr b. al-Huzam b. Ruwaybah b. ‘Abdallah b. Hilal. Previously, she was married to Umayr b. ‘Amr of the Banu ‘Uqdah b. Ghiyarah b. ‘Awf b. Qasi, who was [from] Thaqif. She did not bear any children with him, and she was the sister of Umm al-Fadl, wife of ‘Abbas b. ‘Abd al-Muttalib. The Messenger of God married her in Sarif during his Lesser Pilgrimage of Fulfillment (‘umrat al-qada). Al-‘Abbas b. ‘Abd al-Muttalib married her to him. (The History of al-Tabari: The Last Years of the Prophet, translated and annotated by Ismail K. Poonawala [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany 1990], Volume IX (9), pp. 134-135)

The Prophet married Maymunah in Sarif [a place] ten miles from Mecca. She was the last woman he married, in the year 7/628, during the lesser pilgrimage of the Consummation (‘umrat al-qadiyyah). (The History of al-Tabari: Biographies of the Prophet’s Companions and Their Successors, translated by Ella Landau-Tasseron [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany 1998], Volume XXXIX (39), pp. 185-186)

According to al-Tabari (Volume 8, p. 116) the expedition to Khaybar occurred on al-Muharram 7 AH, approximately May-June 628 AD, and Muhammad married Safiyya shortly after this time. Thus, Muhammad broke the command of his own god by marrying more women!

Some Muslim apologist however say that there is no consensus regarding Q. 33 being composed in 5 AH since there are some who place the date at 7 AH.

Indeed, there are sources which say that either the entire Surah was compiled in 7 AH, or at least specific parts of it were written during this time:

This surah was revealed near the end of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh year of the Hijrah… (The Majestic Qur’an: An English rendition of its Meanings [The Nawawi Foundation (Chicago) & The Ibn Khaldun Foundation (London), 2000], p. 418)

The late Maulana Muhammad Ali, although stating that most of this Surah was "revealed" in 4 AH, also believed that certain verses may have been composed later:

The battle of the Allies took place in Shawwal in the fourth year of the Hijrah, and the revelation of this chapter therefore belongs to that year. Most of the other subjects treated herein, such as those relating to the Prophet’s marriage with Zainab, and to his marriages in general, might be fixed a little later, but they cannot be placed beyond the seventh year of the Hijrah… (The Holy Qur’an: Arabic Text with English Translation, Commentary and comprehensive Introduction by Maulana Muhammad Ali, p. 823; Source)

In fact, Abdullah Yusuf Ali believed that Q. 33:52 was recited in the year 7:

This was revealed in A.H. 7. AFTER THAT the Prophet did not marry again EXCEPT THE HANDMAIDEN Mary the Copt, who was sent as a present by the Christian Muqauqas of Egypt. She became the mother of Ibrahim, who died in his infancy. (The Qur’an: Text translation and Commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, fn. 3754)

Sadly for Muslims, this doesn’t really help their case and here is why. It seems rather apparent that the main reason why some Muslims dated Q. 33 at around 7 AH is because they were aware of the difficulties that an earlier dating would have for Muhammad’s credibility. Realizing that Muhammad had contracted marriages with a few women long after the year 5 AH some Muslim scholars decided to date this specific Surah to a period after these marriages had already been consummated in order to safeguard their prophet’s reputation.

The late Muhammad Asad, a renowned commentator and translator of the Qur’an, is one example of a Muslim commentator who explicitly determines the date of revelation based on that reason.

Since it is inconceivable that the Prophet could have disregarded the categorical injunction, "No [other] women shall henceforth be lawful to thee", the passage in question cannot have been revealed earlier than the year 7 H., that is, the year in which the conquest of Khaybar and the Prophet’s marriage with Safiyyah - his last marriage - took place. Consequently, verses 28-29 (with which, as we have seen, verse 52 is closely connected) must have been revealed at that later period, and not, as some commentators think, in the year 5 H. (i.e., at the time of the Prophet’s marriage with Zaynab).

Note the circular reasoning employed by Asad. He dates this specific Surah after Muhammad had already married all his wives on the grounds that he could not have violated the command of his god that forbade him from marrying additional women!

However, there are several instances of Muhammad transgressing the commands of the Qur’an (Link). Based on such reasoning, one would have to readjust some of the other revelations as well. For example, the revelation of the shares of inheritance would have to be placed even after Muhammad’s death, because he did not adhere to it, see this article. Link)

More importantly, even this date doesn’t salvage Muhammad’s reputation. After all, some of the earliest Muslim sources provide examples of Muhammad contracting marriages with women long after 7 AH! Here, for example, is what Al-Tabari writes:

The Messenger of God married al-Shanba bt. ‘Amr al-Ghifariyyah, whose tribe were also allies of the Banu Qurayza. … She menstruated when she entered [the house of] the Messenger of God and [the Prophet’s son] Ibrahim died before she took her ritual purification bath. She said, "If he were a prophet, the person who is dearest to him would not have died," so the Messenger of God dismissed her by [giving her] divorce… He also married Qutaylah bt. Qays b. Ma‘dikarib, sister of al-Ash‘ath b. Qays, but he died before consummating his marriage with her, and she apostatized from Islam with her brother… (The History of al-Tabari, Volume 9, pp. 136, 138-139)

According to Islamic sources Ibrahim died in the year 10 AH, approximately three to five years after the composition of Q. 33 (depending on whether one accepts either 5 or 7 AH as the date of composition):

Besides these, he had two concubines. The first was Mariyah, the Coptic (an Egyptian Christian), a present gift from Al-Muqauqis, vicegerent of Egypt — she gave birth to his son Ibrâhim, who died in Madinah while still a little child, on the 28th or 29th of Shawwal in the year 10 A.H., i.e. 27th January, 632 A.D. The second one was Raihanah bint Zaid An-Nadriyah or Quraziyah, a captive from Bani Quraiza. Some people say she was one of his wives. However, Ibn Al-Qaiyim gives more weight to the first version. Abu ‘Ubaidah spoke of two more concubines, Jameelah, a captive, and another one, a bondwoman granted to him by Zainab bint Jahsh. [Za'd Al-Ma'ad 1/29] (Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (THE SEALED NECTAR) Biography of the Noble Prophet, Saif-ur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri [Maktaba Dar-us-Salam Publishers & Distributors, First Edition 1995], "The Prophetic Household", p. 485: source)

Here are a few
additional women whom Muhammad married shortly before his death:

The Messenger of God arrived in Medina from this expedition toward the end of Dhu al-Hijjah/April 630… In this same year the Messenger of God married al-Kilabiyyah who was called Fatimah bt. Al-Dahhak b. Sufyan.  (The History of al-Tabari, Volume 9, pp. 38-39)

According to Ibn ‘Umar [al-Waqidi] – ‘Abd al-Aziz b. al-Junda‘i – his father – ‘Ata b. Yazid al-Junda‘i: The Prophet married Mulaykah bt. Ka‘b al-Laythi in Ramadan 8/January 630 and consummated the marriage. She was still married to him when she died.

The Prophet married Mulaykah bt. Ka‘b, who was famous for her outstanding beauty. …Mulaykah’s father was killed in the conquest of Mecca, at Khandamah, by Khalid b. al-Walid. (The History of al-Tabari, Volume 39)

And: Al-Kilabiyyah, after whose name opinions differ. Some [scholars] say that she was Fatimah bt. Al-Dahhak b. Sufyan al-Kilabi. Others, that she was ‘Aliyah bt. Zabyan b. ‘Amr b. ‘Awf b. Ka‘b b. ‘Abd b. Abi Bakr b. Kilab, and yet another opinion that she was Sana bt. Sufyan b. ‘Awf b. Ka‘b b. ‘Abd b. Abi Bakr b. Kilab. [Furthermore], some hold that there was only one woman of the Kilab… The Prophet married a Kilabi woman, and when she entered his [room] and he approached her she said …The Prophet had married [the Kilabiyyah] in Dhu al-Qa‘dah 8/February-March 630. She died in the year 60/October 13, 679–September 30, 680. (Ibid., pp. 186-187)

Finally: …The Prophet married her in Dhu al-Qa‘dah 8/February-March 630, on returning from al-Ji‘ranah… The Prophet sent Abu Usayd [Malik b. Rabi‘ah] al-Sa‘idi to ask a woman of the Banu Amir in marriage on his behalf. Her name was Amrah bt. Yazid b. ‘Ubayd b. Ruwas b. Kilab. The Prophet married her; then it came to his knowledge that she had leprosy, so he divorced her. (Ibid., 188)

Whether some of these women were the same person with different names, or whether he didn’t consummate the marriage with some of them at all, this fact remains: Muhammad clearly contracted marriages after 7 AH, the year many Muslims believe to be the actual date that he received the injunction forbidding him from marrying any more women! That some unexpected circumstances prevented the consummation of these marriages doesn’t undermine the point that Muhammad had entered into the marriage contracts and his intention was to have intercourse with these women as his wives. Even if he could not follow through with his intention in some cases, he had taken definite steps to willfully break the clear commands of the Qur’an.

This also (perhaps) explains why Maymunah is said to be the last of his nine wives that he married. Muhammad either divorced these other women, or they or he happened to die before consummation could occur. They were, therefore, never counted among the nine women that Muhammad left behind as widows at the time of his death.

Hence, the conclusion we draw from the foregoing data should be plain to see to any open-minded reader: Muhammad sinned against his god by violating his commandments not to marry any more women. It is no wonder that the Qur’an commands Muhammad to seek forgiveness for his sins:

…And ask forgiveness of thy sin, and hymn the praise of thy Lord at fall of night and in the early hours. S. 40:55 Pickthall

So know (O Muhammad) that there is no God save Allah, and ask forgiveness for thy sin and for believing men and believing women. Allah knoweth (both) your place of turmoil and your place of rest. S. 47:19 Pickthall

He obviously realized that he needed to be forgiven for all those times he willfully disobeyed the express instructions of his lord!

On the other hand, one could ask: did Muhammad take the following statement:

That Allah may forgive you your sins of the past and the future and complete His Favour on you, and guide you on the Straight Path; S. 48:2 Hilali-Khan

To mean that he could now do what he wanted?

No wonder Muhammad could not know whether he was truly forgiven, or still had to beg for forgiveness (or Allah did not know whether he wanted him to be completely forgiven), when we see Muhammad wilfully breaking the commands of Allah.

"Ah ha!" says the Muslim. "You forgot to mention that Q. 33:52 has been abrogated by 33:50!" s/he smiles back, thinking that this sufficiently refutes the argument raised against Muhammad. In fact, the renowned Sunni commentator Ibn Kathir mentioned this view:

More than one of the scholars, such as Ibn ‘Abbas, Mujahid, Ad-Dahhak, Qatadah, Ibn Zayd, Ibn Jarir and others stated that this Ayah was revealed as a reward to the wives of the Prophet expressing Allah's pleasure with them for their excellent decision in choosing Allah and His Messenger and the Home of the Hereafter, when the Messenger of Allah gave them the choice, as we have stated above. When they chose the Messenger of Allah their reward was that Allah restricted him to these wives, and forbade him to marry anyone else or to change them for other wives, even if he was attracted to their beauty - apart from slave-girls and prisoners of war, with regard to whom there was no sin on him. THEN ALLAH LIFTED THE RESTRICTION STATED IN THIS AYAH AND PERMITTED HIM TO MARRY MORE WOMEN, but he did not marry anyone else, so that the favor of the Messenger of Allah towards them would be clear.

Imam Ahmad recorded that ‘A’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, said: ‘The Messenger of Allah did not die until Allah permitted (marriage to other) women for him.’ It was also recorded by At-Tirmidhi and An-Nasa’i in their Sunans. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged), Volume 8, (Suraht Al-Ahzab, Verse 51 to the end of Suraht Ad-Dukhan), abridged by a group of scholars under the supervision of Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore, First edition: September 2000], p. 21) (Link) 

And here is what he also wrote in one of his other books:

When the wives made their choices to be his wives, was the Prophet … prohibited from divorcing them? The scholars suggested firmly that it was not forbidden; however, Allah at first, denied him other women as a good reward to the Prophet's wives (for they chose Allah, his Prophet and the Hereafter), then He … made it lawful for him … ‘Aisha ... said: "Before his death, other women were lawful for him to marry" transmitted by Ashafi. (The Seerah of Prophet of Muhammad (S.A.W.), abridged by Muhammad Ali Al-Halabi Al-Athari [Al-Firdous Ltd., London, 2001: First Edition], Part II, pp. 99-100)

There are at least three problems with the issue of abrogation:

First, abrogation is nothing more than the attempt of trying to explain away the fact that the Qur’an contains contradictions. It also implies that Allah changes his mind and is therefore inconsistent and unreliable! Lest we be accused of distorting the Islamic doctrine of abrogation, or of reading into this something that is not there, here is what the late Maulana Muhammad Ali of the Ahmadiyya sect wrote:

The principle on which the theory of abrogation is based is unacceptable, being contrary to the clear teachings of the Qur'an. A verse is considered to be abrogated when the two cannot be reconciled with each other; in other words, when they appear to contradict each other. But the Qur’an destroys this foundation when it declares that no part of it is at variance with another: "Will they not then meditate on the Qur’an? And if it were from any other than Allah, they would have found in it many a discrepancy" (4:82). It was due to lack of meditation that one verse was thought to be at variance with another; and hence it is that in almost all cases where abrogation has been upheld by one person, there has been another who, being able to reconcile the two, has repudiated the alleged abrogation. (Maulana Muhammad Ali, The Religion of Islam [The Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha'at Islam (Lahore) U.S.A., Eighth Edition 2005], p. 32)

He is followed by Muhammad Asad who made the following comments in regards to Q. 2:106:

… some scholars conclude (…) that certain verses of the Qur’an have been ‘abrogated’ by God’s command before the revelation of the Qur’an was completed. Apart from the fancifulness of this assertion - WHICH CALLS TO MIND THE IMAGE OF A HUMAN AUTHOR CORRECTING, ON SECOND THOUGHT, THE PROOFS OF HIS MANUSCRIPT, deleting one passage and replacing it with another - there does not exist a single reliable Tradition to the effect that the Prophet ever declared a verse of the Qur’an t have been ‘abrogated’. At the root of the so-called ‘doctrine of abrogation’ MAY LIE THE INABILITY OF SOME EARLY COMMENTATORS TO RECONCILE ONE QUR'ANIC PASSAGE WITH ANOTHER; a difficulty which was overcome by declaring that one of the verses in question had been ‘abrogated’. This arbitrary procedure explains also why there is no unanimity whatsoever among the upholders of the ‘doctrine of abrogation’ as to which, and how many, Qur’an-verses have been affected by it; and furthermore, as to whether this alleged abrogation implies a total elimination of the verse from the context of the Qur’an, or only a cancellation of the specific ordinance or statement contained in it. In short, the ‘doctrine of abrogation’ has no basis in historical fact, and must be rejected … (Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’an [Dar Al-Andalus Limited 3 Library Ramp, Gibraltar rpt. 1993], pp. 22-23, n. 87; source) 

To, therefore, claim that Q. 33:52 has been lifted up or abrogated does little to defend Muhammad’s inconsistency since abrogation is simply another away of saying that Allah (or Muhammad) changed his mind and that the Qur’an contradicts itself.

This leads us to the second problem with the Muslim response, namely how this places Muslims in a rather embarrassing position. According to Islamic sources, Q. 33:50 was the passage which canceled the prohibition of Q. 33:52, and yet the former text (33:50) appeared before the latter verse (33:52). This means that an earlier citation has actually canceled out a text that came afterwards! Commenting on Indian Muslim scholar Shah Wali Allah's verdict that there are only five abrogated verses in the Qur’an, Maulana Muhammad Ali wrote:

(4) …As stated before a verse cannot be abrogated by one revealed before it. Apparently what happened was this. When 4:3 was revealed, limiting the number of wives to four, should exceptional circumstances require, the Prophet was told not to divorce the excess number, and this was effected by 33:50; but at the same time he was told not to take any woman in marriage after that, and this was done by 33:52. (Ali, The Religion of Islam, p. 34)

The late Iranian Muslim scholar Ali Dashti said regarding this rather strange phenomenon:

…verse 52 was abrogated by custom and by verse 49 But an abrogating verse ought to come after the abrogated one. Nevertheless Soyuti, in his treatise on Qor’anic problems entitled ol-Etqan, maintains that in this case the earlier verse abrogated the later one. (Dashti, 23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad [Mazda Publishers Costa Mesa, CA 1994; ISBN: 1568590296], p. 128)

Talk about confusion and chaos!

Thirdly, this explanation soundly exposes and refutes those Muslims who try to use Q. 33:52 to show that Muhammad could not add any more wives apart from those he already had.

In light of the foregoing how can a Muslim still believe that Muhammad was sinless, that Muhammad didn’t act inconsistently and commit gross sins? Isn’t it all too obvious that Muhammad did not hesitate to violate his own rules and commands whenever it suited his purpose? If so, how can this man be the pattern for others to follow and emulate?

Moreover, how can anyone sincerely believe that the Qur’an is a miracle in light of its chaotic and incomplete structure, along with how unintelligible and unclear it is for the most part?

It seems (to us, at least) that the real miracle is that people actually believe that Muhammad was a true prophet and the Qur’an a miracle from Allah, in spite of all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Most Muslims simply employing taqiyya (concealment) and khida (deceit) to dupe people into believing that Islam is the religion of truth, which is nothing but an oxymoron. After all, what kind of religion of truth can Islam really be if its top scholars and spokespersons need to consistently lie and deceive people into believing it?

Recommended Reading’an/Contra/index.html’an/Incoherence/index.html’an/Sources/Legends/index.htm



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