Qur’an-abrogation & collecting


In the name of Allāh,
the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Peace and Blessings of Allāh on Mohammad.
Allāh–the Glorious and the High,
Lord of the worlds
Mohammad–who brought the world
to our feet and eternity to our arms


The Prophet is the only person who could decide which verse is to be in the Qur’an. The Prophet never made any such declaration that one verse has been abrogated by another.

The Qur’an 16:101 and 2:106 is the basis for the supposed ab-rogation in the Qur’an. Qur’an 2:106 which reads: “Whatever message We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring one better than it or one like it” does not refer to the Qur’anic verses. It refers to the Jewish law, as the context shows. The Jews “could not accept a new revelation which was not granted to an Israelite,” notes Muhammad Ali

“This is plainly stated in vv. 90 and 91. …Their objection was: Why was another revelation sent down to Muham-mad, and why was a law containing new commandments promulgated? …The answer is given partly in v. 105, and partly in the verse under discussion. In the former of these they are told that Allah chooses whom He pleases for His revelation. In the latter, that if one law (i.e. the Jewish law) was abrogated, one better than it was given through the Holy Prophet. It should be noted that the new law is here stated to be better than the one abrogated or like it. It is a fact that though the law of the Qur’an is decidedly superior to and more comprehensive than the previous laws in most respects, yet there are many points of likeness in the two. Hence the words one like it are added.  

   …the old law had been partly forgotten, and what re-mained was now abrogated to give place to one better and in certain matters one like it. It will thus be seen that the reference here is to the abrogation of the Jewish law, the statement being really an answer to the objection of the Jews.

   That some of the Qur’anic verses were abrogated by others, though a generally accepted doctrine, is due to a misconception of the words of this verse. The word ayat occurring here has been wrongly understood to mean a verse of the Qur’an. Similar words occur elsewhere: “And when We change one message (ayat) for another message (ayat), and Allah knows best what He reveals, they say thou art only a forger” (16:101). This is a Makkan reve-lation and it is an undisputed fact, admitted by all uphold-ers of abrogation in the Qur’an, that there was no abro-gation at Makkah, because the details of the law were not revealed there. Therefore the word ayat, occurring there twice, could only mean a message or a communication from God, and the first message meant the previous scriptures and by the second message was meant the Qur’an.

   The interpretation adopted by the commentators gene-rally is not based on any saying of the Prophet; it is their own opinion. Nor is there a single report traceable to the Prophet that such and such a verse was abrogated. A companion’s opinion that he considered a certain verse to have been abrogated by another could not carry the least weight. It was the Prophet only on whose authority any verse was accepted as being a part of the Holy Qur’an, and it was he only on whose authority any verse could be considered as having been abrogated. But there is not a single hadith of the Prophet speaking of abrogation.

   Another consideration which shows the erroneousness of the doctrine that any verse of the Qur’an was abrogated by another is the hopeless disagreement of the upholders of this view. In the first place there is no agreement as to the number of the verses which are alleged to have been abrogated; while some accept no more than five verses to be abrogated, others carry the number to hundreds. This shows that the view is based simply on conjecture. Secondly, if one commentator holds a certain verse to be abrogated, another calls this an erroneous view. In Bukhari especially do we find opposite views cited side by side. What happened really was this that when a commentator could not reconcile one verse with another, he held the verse to be abrogated by the other, but another who, giving deeper thought was able to effect a reconciliation between the two, rejected abrogation.   This seems to be the basis on which the theory of abrogation of Qur’anic verses rests, and this basis is demolished by the Holy Qur’an when it says: “Do 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). There are no discrepancies in the Qur’an, and it is want of meditation on it that is responsible for the theory of abrogation.”1  

   “The words “or cause to be forgotten”–(2:106), cannot refer to the Qur’an at all because no portion of it could be said to have been forgotten so as to require a new reve-lation in its place. There is no point in supposing that God should first make the prophet forget a verse and then reveal a new one in its place. Why not, if he really had forgotten a verse, remind him of the one forgotten? ….That the Prophet never forgot what was recited to him by the Holy Spirit is plainly stated in the Qur’an: “We shall make thee recite, so thou shalt not forget”–(87:6)…It was a miracle indeed that he never forgot any portion of the Qur’an, though other things he might forget, and it is to his forget-fulness in other things that the words except what Allah pleases, in the next verse (87:7), refer*. On the other hand, it is a fact that parts of the older revelations had been utterly lost and forgotten, and thus the Qur’an was needed to take the place of that which was abrogated, and that which had been forgotten by the world.”2

*(The Prophet’s forgetfulness in daily matters is not without its benefit. Two occasions of the Prophet’s forgetfulness that proved beneficial to Muslims, (1) Upon given the night in Ramadan when the first Revelation of the Qur’an came–known as the night of Qadr, and which Muslims observe as the 27th night–the Prophet came out to inform his followers but found two of them quarreling. Because of this the Prophet forgot the date and told the Muslims to search for this night in one of the odd night in the last ten days of Ramadan. This is a blessing in that Muslims instead of observing one night observes at least five [or the full ten]. (2) It was once pointed out to the Prophet that he offered one less rakah [sequence] in his prayer. To rectify this mistake the Prophet made two sijdahs [prostrations] and the usual two salaams [recitals to the right and left shoulders, respectively]. This is a blessing to Muslims. But for the Prophet’s forgetfulness, Muslims making similar mistakes would have been at a loss as to how to correct their error of forgetfulness. Perhaps these instances of the Prophet’s forgetfulness are of Divine artistry for the benefit of Muslims).    

   The Qur’an speaking about abrogation and changing of mess-age refers to the replacing of laws/messages of Scriptures pre-vious to the Qur’an. The following are some of the Biblical laws that the Qur’an has abrogated:

  1. (Apostasy): Those who “secretly” entice another to follow an unknown God are to be stoned to death–(Deuteronomy 13:5-16; 17:2-5).
  2. A “stubborn and rebellious son” is to be stoned to death–(Deut. 21:18-21).
  3. (Honor killings): Married damsel without the “token of virginity” is to be stoned to death: “But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you”–(Deut. 22:20-21).
  4. A virginal damsel who lies with a man other than her “betrothed,” both are to be stoned to death–(Deut. 22:23-24).
  5. A witch is to be put to death–(Exodus 22:18).
  6. Who curses his father or mother is to be put to death –(Leviticus 20:9).
  7. Punishment for adultery is death–(Lev. 20:10-12; Deut. 22:22).
  8. Homosexuals are to be put to death–(Lev. 20:13).
  9. A man who takes a “wife and her mother,” both shall be burnt with fire–(Lev. 20:14).
  10. Who commits bestiality are to be put to death–(Lev. 20:15-16).
  11. (Blasphemy):“And the Israelitish woman’s son blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed….And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying…let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him.…And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death.”
    “And Moses spake to the children of Israel, that they should bring forth him that had cursed out of the camp, and stone him with stones. And the children of Israel did as the Lord commanded Moses”–(Lev. 24:11-16, 23).
  12. The adulteress is to be stoned–(John 8:3-5).
    (Jesus may have said to turn the other cheek–(Luke 6:29), and that the one who is without sin to cast a stone at the adulteress–(John 8:3-7). These sayings of Jesus do not abrogate the Mo-saic teachings of an eye for an eye–(Exod. 21:24), and to stone those guilty of adultery–(Lev. 20:10/John 8:5). To turn the “other cheek” is not applicable to infractions against cardinal laws. Jesus not only says that he came to fulfill the law–(Matt. 5:17-18), but he explicitly in-structed his followers to “observe and do” what-ever the “scribes and Pharisees” bid them to do because they sit in Moses’ seat–(Matt. 23:2-3). And the Mosaic teachings are to take an eye for an eye, and to stone the adulterer/adulteress. Jesus could not be said to have abrogated these Mosaic laws and yet tell his followers to ob-serve them. It would be a contradiction. To say that the law of stoning was abrogated because no man is without sin and therefore no one would be able to “cast a stone,” it would have been pointless for God to have given such a law that man could not have carried out. It would have been interesting to note Jesus’ response if the Jews had said to him, since he, Jesus, was with-out sin, and as an upholder of the Judaic law, for him to first cast a stone at the woman. Notably, the woman did not deny the charge of adultery).

   The claim that earlier Makkan “tolerance” was “abrogated by later Madinan “intolerance”” is baseless. Later Madinan revelations of “retribution” did not abrogate earlier Makkan revelations of “compassion.”

   In the human sphere, a nation that is perceived as evil is first requested by the World body–the UN–to change its policy on its own. Failing to comply, the nation is subjected to the second step of sanctions. And followed, if need be, by the third stage of military action against it.

   Allāh is Just; He does not punish a people for its evil without first sending a messenger, to admonish them to reform to goodness:  “And We destroyed no town but it had (its) warners–To remind. And We are never unjust”–(Qur’an 26:208-209. Also 28:59).

At Makkah the Idolaters not only rejected Prophet Moham-mad’s “compassion” with persecution but pursued him to Madi-nah to annihilate him. Hence, they entered the second phase of their war against peace–to be threatened with punishment. Yet, they were heedless. Therefore, the third phase–that of force–became necessary.  

   Makkan “compassion” did not change to Madinan “retribution”: the method of approach changed to suit the prevailing atmosphere. The Qur’anic message is both “compassion” and “retribution”–compassion to those who refrain from transgression and retribution against transgressors. Parent’s have both “softness” and “hardness” of hearts: exercising one or the other depending upon the child’s behavior–whether the child is obedient or delinquent. One does not abrogate the other.
There are no “discrepancies” in the Qur’an, only a lack of meditating on it.

Collecting of the Qur’an

If the Qur’an had no “definitive text” till “the ninth century,” then, seeing that Muslims lived in different countries, there should be more than one version of the Qur’an. How then can one account for the universality of the one Qur’an?

(Muhammad Ali in his preliminary notes to his translation of the Qur’an has refuted all the objections against the authenticity of the Qur’an; including the “great disco-very” of “Dr. Mingana’s Leaves”.

Muhammad Ali has not only proved the authenticity of the Qur’an, but also the collecting of it; and that the arrangement and sequence of the chapters as they appeared in the Qur’an was established by the noble Messenger himself. The material on this matter is voluminous. I enter a few excerpts sufficient to establish the authenticity of the Qur’an, and an “Arabian origin for Islam”):

“The Qur’an was revealed piece-meal (25:32) during a period of 23 years. … The practice was, as will be shown later on, that when a chapter was revealed in parts, the Holy Prophet specified, under Divine guidance, the place of the verse revealed, and thus the arrangement of verses in each chapter was entirely his work. Similarly, later on when a considerable portion had been revealed, the arrangement of the chapters was also the work of the Holy Prophet himself. It is in one of the earliest revelations that the Holy Qur’an speaks of its collection as well as its revelation as being a part of the Divine scheme: “On Us rests the collecting of it and the recitation of it” (75:17). The collection of the Holy Qur’an –which means the arrangement of its verses and chapters– was, therefore, a work which was performed by the Holy Prophet himself under Divine guidance, and it is a mistake to think that either Abu Bakr or ‘Uthman was the collector of the Qur’an, though both of them did important work in connection with the dissemination of the written copies of the sacred text. Abu Bakr made the first complete written copy, by arranging the manuscripts written in the time of the Holy Prophet, in the order of the oral recitation of the Prophet’s time. ‘Uth-man’s work, on the other hand, was only the ordering of copies to be made from the written manuscript of Abu Bakr’s time and the placing of these copies in the various centres of Islamic learning, so that those who wrote the Holy Qur’an might be able to follow the standard copy. The text of the Holy Qur’an has thus been safeguarded from all alterations or corruptions in accordance with the Divine promise contained in one of the earliest revelations: “Surely We have revealed the Reminder and We are surely its Guardian” (15:9). The subject of the purity of the text of the Holy Qur’an has been fully discussed further on.” (p. ii)

“There are numerous anecdotes showing that when the Holy Prophet received a revelation, it was immediately reduced to writing. The general practice is thus described, by no less a personage than ‘Uthman, the third Caliph…. “It was customary with the Messenger of Allah that when portions of different chapters were revealed to him, and when any verse was revealed, he called one of those persons who used to write the Holy Qur’an and said to him, Write these verses in the chapter where such and such verses occur” (AD. 2:123). This report mentions, not what the Holy Prophet did on one occasion, but what he always used to do whenever any verse of the Holy Qur’an was revealed to him. Thus we have the clearest testimony that every verse of the Divine revelation was put into writing by the order and in the presence of the Holy Prophet, while additional care was taken by him to point out the place and chapter of a verse, when there were two or more unfinished chapters, so that the scribes might not confuse the verses of one chapter with those of another.” (p. xxvi-xxvii).

“Other reports of the highest authority support the evidence of ‘Uthman. Thus Bukhari narrates under the heading The Amanuenses of the Prophet: “When the verse….(4:95) was revealed, the Prophet (peace and the blessing of Allah be upon him!) said, ‘Bring Zaid to me, and let him bring the tablet and the inkstand’. Then he said to him (Zaid), ‘Write….(the verse revealed)” (B. 66:4).” (Muhammad Ali gave several more examples, then notes) “In fact as many as forty-two of the Companions are related to have acted as scribes for the Holy Prophet. The importance given to the writing down of the revelation as they came down to the Prophet was so great that in the historic Flight of the Prophet from Makkah to Madinah, pen, inkstand and writing material were among the essential necessities of the journey. ….Not only could men read and write, but even women were taught the art. Among the wives of the Holy Prophet, at least ‘Aishah and Hafsah could read and write, as many reliable reports show.”

“Every portion of the Qur’an was committed to memory as soon as it was revealed. With the Arabs memory was the safest of repositories.…We learn from numerous reports that whenever a passage was revealed, it was recited by the Holy Prophet to those who happened to be present at the time and many of his followers committed it to memory at once, others again learning it from those who heard it from the mouth of the Prophet. (p. xxix).

“Eagerness to commit the Holy Qur’an to memory and recite it frequently was in fact so great that the Prophet had to place a limit as to the number of days in which the whole Qur’an should be recited. …the minimum limit allowed was seven days. (Muhammad Ali notes several sayings of the Prophet) ….It is also clear from these reports that the whole of the Qur’an was committed to memory by many of the Companions, otherwise it could not be spoken of as being finished in a stated interval of time.” (p. xxxi).

“In fact, many persons are mentioned as being able to recite the whole of the Qur’an from memory in the life-time of the Holy Prophet, among these being the four Caliphs, viz., Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, and ‘Ali, and such renowned Companions as Talhah, Sa’d, Ibn Mas’-ud, Salim, Abu Hurairah, etc., while three women, viz., ‘Aishah, Hafsah and Umm Salamah are also named in the same category.” (p. xxxii).

“The entire Qur’an was revealed in the long period of twenty-three years, and if Muslim boys of the age of ten or twelve years can even now commit the whole Qur’an to memory within one or two years, the Arab possessors of wonderfully retentive memories, to whom the importance of the Qur’an was far greater than to any Muslim of a later age, would not find it difficult to memorize it within the long period of twenty three years, especially when it was given to them gradually.”(p. xiii).                                           

“The assertion that no arrangement was followed in the case of single verses revealed at different times is so absurd on the very face of it that it hardly requires a refutation. How was it possible for anybody to commit the Holy Qur’an to memory, if there was no settled order in which the verses were read? (p. xxxvi.)

   Regarding the Shia’s and the Qur’an:

“It is sometimes asserted that the Shi’ahs regard the Qur’an as incomplete. The following remarks from Muir’s Life of Muhammad, which has raised and answered this question, will be a sufficient answer: “Assuming, then, that we possessed unchanged the text of ‘Uthman’s recension, it remains to inquire whether the text was an honest reproduction of Zaid’s, with the simple reconcilement of unimportant variations. There is the fullest ground for believing that it was so. No early or trustworthy tradition throws suspicions upon ‘Uthman of tampering with the Qur’an in order to support his own claims. The Shiahs, indeed, of later times pretend that ‘Uthman left out certain surahs or passages which favoured ‘Ali. But this is incredible. When ‘Uthman’s edition was prepared, no open breach had taken place between the Omeyyads and the Alyites. The unity of Islam was still unthreatened. ‘Ali’s pretensions were as yet undeveloped. No sufficient object can, therefore, be assigned for the perpetration by ‘Uthman of an offence which Muslims would have regarded as one of the blackest dye. Again, at the time of the recension, there were still multitudes alive who had learnt the Qur’an by heart as they had heard it originally delivered; and copies of any passages favouring ‘Ali, if any such passages ever existed, must have been in the hands of his numerous adherents, both of which sources would have proved an effectual check upon any attempt at suppression. Further, the party of ‘Ali, immediately on ‘Uthman’s death, assumed an independent attitude, and raised him to the Caliphate. Is it conceivable that, when thus arrived at power, they would have tolerated a mutilated Qur’an, mutilated expressly to destroy their leader’s claim? Yet we find that they continued to use the same Qur’an as their opponents and raised no shadow of an objection against it.”

To this I would add a few words from a Shi’ah commentator of the Holy Qur’an, Mullah Muhsin, who says in his Tafsir Safi: “Certain men from among us and the Hashwiyah masses have reported that the Qur’an has suffered loss and alteration. But the true belief of our friends is against this, and such is the belief of the vast majority. For the Qur’an is a miracle of the Holy Prophet and the source of all knowledge relating to law and all religious injunctions, and the learned Muslims have taken the utmost pains for its protection, so that there is nothing relating to its vowel-points, its recital, its letters and its verses, which they do not know. With such strong measures of protection and such faithful preservation of the Holy Book (by the Muslims) it cannot be supposed that any alteration or loss could take place” (p. 14).

The learned author goes on to say: “Surely the Qur’an was collected and arranged in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet exactly as it is in our hands. This is inferred from the fact that the Qur’an was even then recited and committed to memory as a whole, and there was a body of the Companions whose duty it was to commit it to memory.   It was also recited and read out as a whole to the Holy Prophet (by the angel).”” (pp. xlviii, xlix).  

The verses of the Qur’an were arranged to the requirements of Allāh. The Qur’an was rehearsed annually by the Angel Gabriel with the Prophet; and rehearsed twice in the year of the Prophet’s death–(Vol. 1, #5; Vol. 3, #126; Vol. 4, #754, 819).

Allāh God says that He will guard the Qur’an from corruption–Qur’an 15:9; 56:77-80; 85:21-22; there are millions who know the Qur’an from memory, there cannot be alteration in the Qur’an.

Not only the Qur’an was written and memorized in the lifetime of the Prophet, but also some of his sayings. Muhammad Ali has noted in his comprehensive work The Religion of Islam that Abu Hurairah says:

“None of the Companions preserved more traditions than myself, but ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr is an exception, for he used to write and I did not” (Bukhari 3:39). Also, “Abu Hurairah is reported to have said: “The Prophet of God came to us while we were writing traditions and said: What is this that you are writing? We said: Sayings which we hear from thee. He said: What! a book other than the Book of God?” Now the disapproval in this case clearly shows fear lest his sayings be mixed up with the revealed word of the Qur’an, though there was nothing essentially wrong in writing these down nor did the Prophet ever forbid this being done.” (p. 64)

For the complete history of the Qur’an see Muhammad Ali’s preliminary notes to his translation of the Qur’an; his translation can be viewed online: www.muslim.org



1. Muhammad Ali, Qur’anic comm; 152. See also Malik Ghulam Farid’s Qur’anic comm; 132).    

2. Muhammad Ali, The Religion of Islam, pp. 38, 39, 40.