Islamic Jihad and the Doctrine of Abrogation

SoldierHoldingKoranWhile other scriptures contain contradictions, the Koran is the only holy book whose commentators have evolved a doctrine to account for the very visible shifts which occur from one injunction to another. No careful reader will remain unaware of the many contradictory verses in the Koran, most specifically the way in which peaceful and tolerant verses lie almost side by side with violent and intolerant ones. The ulema were initially baffled as to which verses to codify into the Shari’a worldview—the one that states there is no coercion in religion (2:256), or the ones that command believers to fight all non-Muslims till they either convert, or at least submit, to Islam (8:39, 9:5, 9:29). To get out of this quandary, the commentators developed the doctrine of abrogation, which essentially maintains that verses revealed later in Muhammad’s career take precedence over earlier ones whenever there is a discrepancy. In order to document which verses abrogated which, a religious science devoted to the chronology of the Koran’s verses evolved (known as an-Nasikh wa’l Mansukh, the abrogater and the abrogated).

But why the contradiction in the first place? The standard view is that in the early years of Islam, since Muhammad and his community were far outnumbered by their infidel competitors while living next to them in Mecca, a message of peace and coexistence was in order. However, after the Muslims migrated to Medina in 622 and grew in military strength, verses inciting them to go on the offensive were slowly “revealed”—in principle, sent down from God—always commensurate with Islam’s growing capabilities. In juridical texts, these are categorized in stages: passivity vis-á-vis aggression; permission to fight back against aggressors; commands to fight aggressors; commands to fight all non-Muslims, whether the latter begin aggressions or not.[1] Growing Muslim might is the only variable that explains this progressive change in policy.

Other scholars put a gloss on this by arguing that over a twenty-two year period, the Koran was revealed piecemeal, from passive and spiritual verses to legal prescriptions and injunctions to spread the faith through jihad and conquest, simply to acclimate early Muslim converts to the duties of Islam, lest they be discouraged at the outset by the dramatic obligations that would appear in later verses.[2] Verses revealed towards the end of Muhammad’s career—such as, “Warfare is prescribed for you though you hate it”[3]—would have been out of place when warfare was actually out of the question.

However interpreted, the standard view on Koranic abrogation concerning war and peace verses is that when Muslims are weak and in a minority position, they should preach and behave according to the ethos of the Meccan verses (peace and tolerance); when strong, however, they should go on the offensive on the basis of what is commanded in the Medinan verses (war and conquest). The vicissitudes of Islamic history are a testimony to this dichotomy, best captured by the popular Muslim notion, based on a hadith, that, if possible, jihad should be performed by the hand (force), if not, then by the tongue (through preaching); and, if that is not possible, then with the heart or one’s intentions.[4]

That Islam legitimizes deceit during war is, of course, not all that astonishing; after all, as the Elizabethan writer John Lyly put it, “All’s fair in love and war.”[5] Other non-Muslim philosophers and strategists—such as Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and Thomas Hobbes—justified deceit in warfare. Deception of the enemy during war is only common sense. The crucial difference in Islam, however, is that war against the infidel is a perpetual affair—until, in the words of the Koran, “all chaos ceases, and all religion belongs to God.”[6] In his entry on jihad from the Encyclopaedia of Islam, Emile Tyan states: “The duty of the jihad exists as long as the universal domination of Islam has not been attained. Peace with non-Muslim nations is, therefore, a provisional state of affairs only; the chance of circumstances alone can justify it temporarily.”[7]

Moreover, going back to the doctrine of abrogation, Muslim scholars such as Ibn Salama (d. 1020) agree that Koran 9:5, known as ayat as-sayf or the sword verse, has abrogated some 124 of the more peaceful Meccan verses, including “every other verse in the Koran, which commands or implies anything less than a total offensive against the nonbelievers.”[8] In fact, all four schools of Sunni jurisprudence agree that “jihad is when Muslims wage war on infidels, after having called on them to embrace Islam or at least pay tribute [jizya] and live in submission, and the infidels refuse.”[9]

Obligatory jihad is best expressed by Islam’s dichotomized worldview that pits the realm of Islam against the realm of war. The first, dar al-Islam, is the “realm of submission,” the world where Shari’a governs; the second, dar al-Harb (the realm of war), is the non-Islamic world. A struggle continues until the realm of Islam subsumes the non-Islamic world—a perpetual affair that continues to the present day. The renowned Muslim historian and philosopher Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406) clearly articulates this division:

In the Muslim community, jihad is a religious duty because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the jihad was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense. But Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations.[10]


[1] Ibn Qayyim, Tafsir, in Abd al-’Aziz bin Nasir al-Jalil, At-Tarbiya al-Jihadiya fi Daw’ al-Kitab wa ‘s-Sunna (Riyahd: n.p., 2003), pp. 36-43.
[2] Mukaram, At-Taqiyya fi ’l-Islam, p. 20.
[3] Koran 2: 216.
[4] Yahya bin Sharaf ad-Din an-Nawawi, An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths, p. 16, accessed Aug. 1, 2009.
[5] John Lyly, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (London, 1578), p. 236.
[6] Koran 8:39.
[7] Emile Tyan, The Encyclopedia of Islam (Leiden: Brill, 1960), vol. 2, s.v. “Djihad,” pp. 538-40.
[8] David Bukay, “Peace or Jihad? Abrogation in Islam,” Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2007, pp. 3-11, f.n. 58; David S. Powers, “The Exegetical Genre nasikh al-Qur’an wa-mansukhuhu,” in Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of the Qur’an, Andrew Rippin, ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), pp. 130-1.
[9] Jalil, At-Tarbiya al-Jihadiya fi Daw’ al-Kitab wa ‘ s-Sunna, p. 7.
[10] Ibn Khaldun, The Muqadimmah. An Introduction to History, Franz Rosenthal, trans. (New York: Pantheon, 1958), vol. 1, p. 473.

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  • Isfahani

    Mr Ibrahim,

    A question to you about the source of the doctrine of nasikh, which you describe thus:

    “the commentators developed the doctrine of abrogation”

    Isn’t abrogation hard-wired into the evil book? Although the key verse denies that abrogation is in fact abrogation, the pig prophet, with typical muzzy logic, contradicts himself in the same breath…

    Surah 2:106:

    None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things?

    • Bamaguje

      There’s another one:

      “And when we (Allah) abrogate one verse for another, Allah knows best… the unbelievers say You (Mohammed) are a forger…” – Quran 16:101.

      Even the Quran gets that abrogation (Naskh) undermines the credibility of the Quran, hence pagan Arabs called Mohammed a liar and forger.
      This is particularly so because several other verses in the same Quran assert that the Quran cannot be altered:

      “Perfected are the words of your lord… none can change them” – Q 6:115
      “There’s no changing the words of Allah” – Q 10:64, 18:27
      “None can alter the words of Allah” – Q 6:34

    • moraywatson

      Agreed. The doctrine is hardwired into the quran. Apparently though (according to Islamic scholars such as Ingrid Mattson), only “literalists” and “islamophobes” ascribe to the requirement to apply abrogation when reading the quran. How convenient.

  • Stephen Powell

    And to feel fear and revulsion towards these monsterous teachings is a ‘phobia’?

  • Roger Skelton

    Remember when Muslims say that Islam is a religion of peace
    and are not here to spread Islam or Sharia law they are lying to you.

    Taqiyya a word for lying used in Islam (deceiving

    word; Taqiyya (تقية)

    meaning: Dissimulation – to conceal, partially conceal or
    disguise one’s true feelings, beliefs or information when there is threat of
    death or serious harm and when there is a threat of great evil.

    Contrary to popular beliefs, this is not just a tenant of
    the Shia Islamic sect. All Muslims uphold it and it is logically and ethically
    necessary. It was practised by the Sahabah (RA), the companions of the Prophet
    Muhammed (SAW), under threat of death from the pagans.

    • swemson

      If you ever hear anyone ask why Obama lies so much… thanks to Mr. Skelton’s excellent comment above, you now have the answer.

      There’s no question in my mind that Obama is more of a Muslim, than a Christian…. although there’s a good possibility that he ascribes to NO set of moral or ethical principles at all, and is just a narcissistic criminal in the process of pulling off the biggest heist of all times.

      How the Republican establishment can sit by and NOT do everything in their power to put this POS in prison for treason & fraud is totally beyond me. Consequently, since true conservatives / libertarians have no representation in the halls of congress, I fear that the time has come to take matters into our own hands, as our founding fathers did when their RULERS in England treated them as the slaves that they really were.

      Thomas Jefferson’s “Tree of Liberty” has never been so thirsty in the last 200 + years. It’s in desperate need of nourishment….


      • CaoMoo

        I swear the only God he worships is the one he sees in the mirror. That said he does have strong muslim sympathies as is evident in his actions and speeches. He also does not seem to like christians after all they are just bible clingers in his speeches.

  • Rick

    It seems that Allah just changed his mind about his own words and decrees in the Koran. Odd how the most perfect and infallible being in the universe would need to correct himself.

    • Bamaguje

      ‘Abrogation’ implies that Mo’ was making up the Quran and whimsically altering it as circumstances demanded.
      So much for Islam’s purported divine scripture.

  • ObamaYoMoma

    Given the above, can anyone please explain how our politicians on both sides of the political aisle can be so incompetent as to allow millions of Muslims to migrate and infiltrate our country given their perpetual holy obligation to subsume all infidels either through persuasion or force?

    • Sniper’s Oath

      Simply fear of death and control. We would have to acknowledge the truth and then take on that truth. The only way left would be to fight for our lives. We have become very weak. Not complicated, but sad on our part.

  • iluvisrael

    I’ve said it many time, and I’ll say it again : I’m no ‘islamophobe’ I’m islamoSAVVY, having read the koran (in English) books about islam and seeing atrocity after atrocity committed around the globe IN THE NAME OF islam. That said, I sure don’t blame anyone for fearing monsters that constantly threaten to maim and kill.

  • nopeacenow

    How can you tell a Muslim is lying? His lips are moving. Old joke which applies here more than anywhere else.

  • ObamaYoMoma

    How can Congress discus reforming immigration and at the same time never discus or ever propose banning and reversing mass Muslim immigration with all of its excess baggage? Indeed, can anyone point to just one infidel country anywhere in the world where mass Muslim immigration with all of its excess baggage didn’t turn into an unmitigated disaster for the host infidel country? Isn’t that the whole reason why the Department of Homeland Security was created, in anticipation of defending the homeland from what will eventually be domestic jihad as a direct result of mass Muslim immigration?

    As for as the problem of creeping Sharia goes, there is only one solution and that again involves banning and reversing mass Muslim immigration with all of its excess baggage ASAP. As the first and foremost prerequisite of Islam is the total, complete, and unconditional submission of all Muslims to the “will of Allah” under the penalty of death for blasphemy and apostasy, and what is the “will of Allah” that all Muslims totally, completely, and unconditionally submit to under the penalty of death? In essence it is Sharia, which is Islamic totalitarian law. Thus, all Muslims are totally, 100 percent committed to Sharia. Otherwise, they are blasphemous apostates in which case they must be executed per the dictates of Islam.

    Hence, every time we allow another Muslim to migrate into the country, at the same time we are bringing in more and more Sharia.

    Ever wonder why in country after country where mass Muslim immigration with all of its excess baggage is occurring, just like clockwork the Muslim immigrants always flat out refuse to assimilate and integrate? It’s because the act of assimilating and integrating into a host infidel society is extremely blasphemous, and again blasphemy is a capital offense in Islam.

    Nonetheless, all I ever hear emanating from our politicians from both sides of the political aisle regarding mass Muslim immigration is crickets. Meanwhile, everyone like me that knows the truth and sees the reality is dismissed as a mentally incompetent Islamophobe. Does knowing and stating the truth about Islam make me an Islamophobe? I guess it does today in our PC multicultural society I’m afraid.

    • Johnny

      We are locked into an ideology that is self destructive. Commonly called Political Correctness, or PC, really is should be called Social Correctness because it functions as a general moral ideology.

    • cacslewisfan

      You are right about both sides of the aisle being quiet. It’s about money and staying in office. We are being betrayed so they can continue to steal our money and feather their own nests with it. The idiots in favor of increasing taxes don’t realize that the money goes to the politicians and their cronies, and all we get is the leftovers and “If we only had more tax money” speeches.

  • David

    On reading the article, one might get the impression that commentators on the Quran constructed the doctrine of abrogation out of whole cloth, and that it is therefore subject to review. I feel the article could have been significantly improved as an information source if it was made clear that the doctrine of abrogation is rooted in the Quran itself, and therefore extremely difficult to reform among orthodox muslims. The verses on which this doctrine is based are:

    “None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things?” Surah 2: 106

    “When We substitute one revelation for another, and Allah knows best what He reveals (in stages), they say, “Thou art but a forger”: but most of them understand not.” Surah 16:101

    • cacslewisfan

      Thank you for your comment. Abrogation comes straight from Allah in the Quran.

  • donqpublic

    Although off topic, I seem to recall reading that it is the obligation of Muslims to take back former Muslim lands, for example Spain under the Moors. In other words, once a Muslim land always a Muslim land. So wouldn’t that imply that all those subsequent Spanish colonial possessions–the Caribbean, the Americas, etc.,are considered lost Muslim lands and subject to jihad for that reason as well?

  • Mladen_Andrijasevic

    Now that you have read Raymond Ibrahim article you can answer question 2 from the Kerry Middle East Competency Quiz: How many other verses does verse 9:5 abrogate?

    A mini 5 + 1 question quiz for Secretary Kerry

  • garyfouse

    In February 2012, a group of us attended a town hall on sharia held at Muzammil, Siddiqi’s Islamic Center of Orange county mosque in Garden Grove (Ca). Everybody was there from LASD sheriff Lee Baca to Michael Downing of the LAPD counter terror group to Maxine Waters to Loretta Sanchez to US Attorney Andre Birotte. All chimed in that there was no threat from sharia law.

    During the (cut-short) q and a, one Lebanese Christian woman asked about abrogation in connection to wife beating. Siddiqi angrily cut her off by stating that he didn’t want to discuss abrogation.

  • Harry Archibald Tuttle

    The great sadness and irony is that the intentions are all laid out in writing, and if that’s not enough by history itself. In fact you don’t even have to go too far back – all you have to do is pickup a newspaper. Yet most people are willfully blind, preferring to buy the “peaceful” rhetoric just to avoid confrontation and simply get on with their trivial pursuits…