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There are many ayahs in the Quran that have undergone Naskh (abrogation). Some of them are still in the Quran, others have been removed completely from the current Quran we read today.

For instance, the so-called stoning ayah:

الشيخ والشيخة إذا زنيا فارجموهما البتة نكالا من الله والله عليم حكيم

The old man and the old lady if they committed adultery then stone them as a punishment from Allah and Allah is the Most Mighty, Most Wise

According to Sahih Muslim this was part of the Quran then removed.

'Abdullah b. 'Abbas reported that 'Umar b. Khattab sat on the pulpit of Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: Verily Allah sent Muhammad (may peace be upon him) with truth and He sent down the Book upon him, and the verse of stoning was included in what was sent down to him. We recited it, retained it in our memory and understood it. Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) awarded the punishment of stoning to death (to the married adulterer and adulteress) and, after him, we also awarded the punishment of stoning, I am afraid that with the lapse of time, the people (may forget it) and may say: We do not find the punishment of stoning in the Book of Allah, and thus go astray by abandoning this duty prescribed by Allah. Stoning is a duty laid down in Allah's Book for married men and women who commit adultery when proof is established, or it there is pregnancy, or a confession.

How does one reconcile Allah's infallibility with what seems like recanting previous ayahs?

Views of any and all sects and schools of thought welcomed.

  • Do you want clarification regarding just this one alleged verse or this and also naskh in general? – Abdullah Jul 11 '12 at 8:55
  • @Ershad - the concept of Naskh in general – System Down Jul 11 '12 at 16:11
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The structure of answer is: First, I try to establish the reliability of Naskh and to prove that it is doesn't really contradict "Infallibility of Allah" rather it is the wisdom of Allah. Next, I provide explanation for the quoted hadith and "alleged" verse.

Naskh (Abrogation)

Most Sunni Muslims strongly believe in Naskh (Abrogation). The principle of Naskh is mentioned in Qur'an and it is not something made up by scholars.

We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent? [Surat Al-Baqarah]

This verse was explained by lot of classical scholars. One example would be:

Ibn Jarir Al-Tabari (d. 310 H.) said:

“Allah means with (Such of Our revelations as we abrogate): we abrogate the ruling of a verse by another to change and replace this ruling. This is by making Halal to become Haram and vice versa or to let what is permissible to become impermissible. Thus, abrogation is only concerned with matters of commands and rulings such like: permissibility and impermissibility, prohibition and Halal … etc. Therefore, previous nation’s news and stories have no abrogation…” [Tafsir Ibn jarir (jami’e Al-Bayan):1/521]

There are explanations from Ibn Kathir, Al Qurtubi, Mujahid, Qutada and more, which you can find here.

There are many hadiths as well which provide examples of Abrogation. You can find examples of abrogations as well in the above link.

Wisdom behind Naskh

Naskh doesn't contradict "Infallibility of Allah". It is important to realize that, just because an ayah was revealed and later recanted, does not mean that Allah made a mistake. Rather, this is wisdom of Allah. Allah reveals the first verse while knowing he is going to abrogate it with a second and there is a wisdom behind it.

When Qur'an was being revealed to Arabs, it was being revealed in stages and it was something new for them and it was supposed to be implemented in their lives and not just recite it. So, these changes were brought gradually and not suddenly, and this is a mercy of Allah so that people could adjust to these new prescriptions.

An example would be that of verses in Qur'an about drinking wine. Wine drinking was very common in the pre-islamic Arabia and although, it was evil, it was considered with high esteem (and that is even now). So, there were three verses which gradually lead to prohibition of intoxicating substances. It was revealed in stages - Qur'an 4:43, Qur'an 2: 219, Qur'an 5:93-94.

According to Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, there are some wisdom behind abrogations-

  • First, as I told you before, for the ease of implementation of a prohibition or any other ruling among people.

  • Second, it is a test for human beings in which they are closely required to follow certain laws in certain situations while in others they are not required. It tests the willingness to submit and it is a test of steadfastness upon the religion. And that is why the Ansar and the Muhajir were the best of all ummah after the Prophets (peace be upon all of them). The Ansar and the Muhajir never doubted what was revealed to them. When there was a verse that came to them, they would immediately implement them.

  • Third, it shows the love of Allah for the Islamic Ummah. When a naskh repeals one law with one more difficult, Allah gives the believers an opportunity to earn more reward with their obedience. Greater the difficulty, greater the reward.

I recommend reading this book for further knowledge on Naskh — Ulum Al-Qur'an : An Introduction to the Sciences of The Qur'an by Ahmad von denffer (Beautiful Book!)


Coming to the "alleged" verse quoted and regarding the hadith quoted in the question:

Imam ibn Hajar Al Asqalani says in his commentary on Saheeh Bukhari:

Umar said: "When this verse came down I approached the Prophet peace be upon him so I asked him: Should I write it down?' It is as if he hated that" Then Umar said: "Cant you see that if the old man if he commits adultery he does not get the whip, and that if the young man if he commits adultery he gets stoned?" (Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani, Fathul Bari, Kitab: Al Hudood, Bab: Al I'tiraaf bil Zina, Commentary on Hadith no. 6327)

We can clearly see that the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wassalam) never wanted the verse to be written down as a part of Qur'an, and it was never meant to be part of it. And we do know that Prophet prohibited writing down things at one time and encouraged at others. This is because he wanted to prevent people from taking down everything he says (he wanted to differentiate between what was part of revelation and his commands (More)) as part of Qur'an. Scholars of Islam are unanimous that the recitation of this verse has been abrogated but its ruling still remains in effect.

However, the reason why Umar (radiallahu anhu) got worked up and wanted to include that in Qur'an because he was afraid that people would argue about the punishment of stoning and would cancel it ( And how true Umar was when we see people arguing about stoning!). However, the companions did not allow him to do so because they all knew it was abrogated. Umar himself knew it but he got emotional because he feared for people of future (i.e. us).

Imam ibn Hajar Al Asqalani has in his commentary

In the verse whose recitation has been abrogated but its ruling remained, and it has happened what Umar feared. A tribe from the Khawarij or most of them and some of the Mu'tazilites rejected the stoning. And it was reported by Abd al Razzaq and Al Tabari from another view that Ibn Abbas said that Umar said "There will come a people that will lie (or disbelieve) in the stoning" (Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani, Fathul Bari, Kitab: Al Hudood, Bab: Rajam Al Hublah min Zana Eezha Ahsanat, Commentary on Hadith no. 6328)

And there are many reports of consensus from companions of the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wassalam) that the recitation of the verse was always meant to be abrogated but the ruling remained in effect. You can read them here.

This is the Sunni view.

I have linked the sources wherever I used stuff from them.

Thanks to goldPseudo for helping me edit the answer.

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God may change the rules and this is clear from Quran. You can ask the same question regarding the rules sent to Moses and Jews and the Islamic rules that are narrated in Quran. Sometimes some extra rules are added to the laws as a punishment that makes the laws harder (because people have disobeyed God). Other times the situation changes so the rule also needs to change. None of this means that the rules were not right or just at the time they were given. If a verse comes later and changes a law it is not problematic or inconsistent. An explicit example is change of Qibla.

That said, claiming that a part of Quran has been removed or changed needs a very strong support from other sources. Generally, Quran is considered the most authentic source in Islam and there are strong hadith from the prophet that said if someone narrates a hadith which is not consistent with Quran then throw that hadith away. There might be hadith similar to the one that you have mentioned but AFAIR there are also very strong hadith that say Quran has not changed.

Regarding the verse 2:106. If you look at the context, in that part Quran is talking about the people of the book, verses 2:105-106 are as follows:

مَّا يَوَدُّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ وَلَا الْمُشْرِكِينَ أَن يُنَزَّلَ عَلَيْكُم مِّنْ خَيْرٍ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يَخْتَصُّ بِرَحْمَتِهِ مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَاللَّهُ ذُو الْفَضْلِ الْعَظِيمِ

The unbelievers and the people of the book and the pagans do not like that anything good should come down to you from your Lord. But God will choose for his special mercy whomever he wishes, and God is Lord of grace abounding.

مَا نَنسَخْ مِنْ آيَةٍ أَوْ نُنسِهَا نَأْتِ بِخَيْرٍ مِّنْهَا أَوْ مِثْلِهَا ۗ أَلَمْ تَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

What we abrogate from signs or cause to be forgotten, we substitute something better or similar, don't you know that God is omnipotence to do all things?

From the context it seems that the verse can be about God giving a new and better set of laws to Mohammad (PBUH) particularly in comparison to Jews (whose claim is that the laws of Torah are forever and cannot change).

The are various views regarding naskh and its meaning among Islamic scholars and it is a debated issue. You may want to have a look at Naskh article on Wikipedia.

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