Has anyone altered the Quran – 2? All verses are of equal value

Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 27 January 2023

“Whatever message We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring one better than it or one like it. Do you not know that Allah is Powerful over all things?” — ch. 2: Al-Baqarah, v. 106

مَا نَنۡسَخۡ مِنۡ اٰیَۃٍ اَوۡ نُنۡسِہَا نَاۡتِ بِخَیۡرٍ مِّنۡہَاۤ اَوۡ مِثۡلِہَا ؕ اَلَمۡ تَعۡلَمۡ اَنَّ اللّٰہَ عَلٰی کُلِّ شَیۡءٍ قَدِیۡرٌ ﴿۱۰۶

“And when We change a message for a message — and Allah knows best what He reveals — they say: You are only a forger. Rather, most of them do not know.” — ch. 16: An-Naḥl, v. 101

وَ اِذَا بَدَّلۡنَاۤ اٰیَۃً مَّکَانَ اٰیَۃٍ ۙ وَّ اللّٰہُ اَعۡلَمُ بِمَا یُنَزِّلُ قَالُوۡۤا اِنَّمَاۤ اَنۡتَ مُفۡتَرٍ ؕ بَلۡ اَکۡثَرُہُمۡ لَا یَعۡلَمُوۡنَ ﴿۱۰۱

“Will they not then ponder on the Quran? And if it were from any other than Allah, they would have found in it many a discrepancy.” — ch. 4: An-Nisā’, v. 82

اَفَلَا یَتَدَبَّرُوۡنَ الۡقُرۡاٰنَ ؕ وَ لَوۡ کَانَ مِنۡ عِنۡدِ غَیۡرِ اللّٰہِ لَوَجَدُوۡا فِیۡہِ اخۡتِلَافًا کَثِیۡرًا ﴿۸۲

I am continuing with the topic of last Friday’s Khutba. In the verses that I have recited above the word translated as “message”, as in “Whatever message We abrogate or cause to be forgotten” or “when We change a message for a message” is the word āyat. This word is also used to mean a verse of the Quran. This has unfortunately led to the wrong idea that some verses in the Quran, which were revealed later in the Holy Prophet’s life, have abrogated or cancelled certain other verses which were revealed earlier in his life. This has been a widely held view among Muslim religious scholars and commentators of the Quran for centuries. This concept is called nāsikh and mansūkh. Nāsikh is the later verse which is supposed to have abrogated or cancelled an earlier verse which is called mansūkh. In Muslim religious colleges in their courses on the Quran, students were taught about this and given examples of nāsikh and mansūkh verses. They were taught that your knowledge of the Quran remains incomplete unless you know which verses are abrogated by which ones.

The third verse which I recited above disproves this idea of abrogation in the Quran. It tells us that if people ponder on the Quran, and think over it, they will find that there are no discrepancies or inconsistencies in it, no two verse teaching opposite things. So what do the first two verses mean when they mention āyats being abro­gated, forgotten and changed? As you see, we have translated the word āyat here as “message”. What is meant are the previous messages and revelations that came to various nations from Allah before the time of the revelation of the Quran for all mankind. The Quran modified some of those earlier messages and teachings. It abrogated and cancelled those which were only applicable to particular nations in earlier times, and it modified others to make them more generally applicable to all mankind.

Unfortunately, many translators of the Quran into English have translated the word āyat here as meaning a verse of the Quran. Here are some examples: “If We ever abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, We replace it with a better or similar one” (Dr Mustafa Khattab), “We do not cancel any verse nor let it be forgotten instead We bring something better than it or else something similar” (Dr T.B. Irving), “We do not abrogate any of Our verses of the Quran or cause it to be forgotten except that We substitute it with something better or similar” (Dr Farook Malik), and “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” (Sahih International).

It is interesting to note that there is no hadith whatsoever in which the Holy Prophet Muhammad himself is reported as saying that some verse or other of the Quran has been abrogated. It is always an opinion expressed by some Companion or other that a certain verse has been abrogated by a later one. And very often, referring to the same verse, another Companion says that, no, it was not abrogated.

How does belief in abrogation relate to the topic of this khutba: “Has anyone altered the Quran?” We do not accuse any Muslim of altering the Quran. But if a Muslim religious scholar or commentator of the Quran asserts that certain verses of the Quran do not need to be acted upon because they have been superseded by later verses which teach the opposite, then they need to consider whether the result of what they are saying amounts to altering the Quran.

There is an incident dating from shortly after the death of the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement when Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din delivered a lecture on the Holy Prophet Muhammad to the general Muslim public in a city in India. The audience were very impressed by his lecture. One senior Muslim leader said to Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din in private: “Tell me, Did Mirza Ghulam Ahmad really believe in the Quran? I want to remove this doubt from the heart.” Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din replied: “Of course he did. He believed in the Quran from its first chapter to its last chapter. But your maulvis don’t believe in the whole of the Quran.” The man was startled and said: “How is that?” Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din replied: “Your maulvis consider several verses of the Quran to have been abrogated, but Hazrat Mirza sahib did not consider any verse to be abrogated. He considered every word of the Quran to be the word of God and to be acted upon.”

In the last khutba I referred to a revised edition of Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation and commentary of the Quran produced by order of the Saudi authorities. Here I will refer to another English translation and commentary of the Quran which was officially endorsed by the Saudi authorities. Its title is The Noble Quran, and the translation and footnotes are by Dr Muhsin Khan and Dr Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali. Under certain verses of the Quran, these commentators say in their footnotes that the verse has been abro­gated by some other verse, whose reference they give. These alleged abrogations often relate to those verses of the Quran which teach Muslims to show tolerance towards non-Muslims. For example, a verse in the Quran is as follows: “Many of the People of the Book wish that they could turn you back into disbelievers after you have believed, out of envy from themselves, after truth has become clear to them. But pardon and forgive, till Allah bring about His command” (2:109). Muslims are directly instructed by Allah here to pardon and forgive the Jews and the Christians who tried to make Muslims go back to idol-worship. This was due to their feelings of envy that people from an idol-worshipping nation, a nation steeped in ignorance, supers­titions and social evils, had risen to become possessors of knowledge, enlightenment and a high moral character, far excelling their own long-established religions. The words “till Allah bring about His command” mean that a time will come when these people’s efforts will prove fruitless and they will give up because Muslims would have spread rather than shrunk. Under this verse there is a footnote in this Saudi translation which says: “The provision of this verse has been abrogated by the verse 9:29.”

But that verse 9:29 allows Muslims to fight against the People of the Book. According to the Quran, Muslims can only fight against nations who attack them, so this verse doesn’t tell Muslims to attack the nations of the People of the Book for no reason. But their attempts to make Muslims abandon their faith is an entirely different thing. Such attempts would be by means of argument, ridicule, persecution or by the tactic of disheartening the Muslims with Islam. These attempts should be resisted but Muslims should not punish the people who are doing so against the Muslims, but instead forgive and pardon them. Even if circumstances arise in which Muslims have to fight in battle against such people, and they triumph over their enemies, the teaching to forgive and pardon them for causing annoyance to Muslims, or saying offensive things to them, still remains. The Holy Prophet Muhammad himself showed that this teaching of pardon­ing and forgiving applies even more when you have become powerful over your enemies and they are helpless before you. Such was the position of his idol-worshipping opponents when he first defeated them at the battle of Badr and later when he conquered Makkah. He applied no punishment to them for opposing Islam, except if they had committed actual acts of murder.

There are two other verses in the Quran, revealed during the Holy Prophet’s life at Makkah, which instruct Muslims to bear with the unbelievers, ignore their abuses, pardon them and forgive them. One is as follows: “So turn away from them and say, Peace! They will soon come to know” (43:89). “Turn away” or ignore and disregard the persecution and abuse they are subjecting you to, has also been translated by some as “forgive them”, “pardon them” etc. Events will soon show them that Islam is the true religion. The other verse says that the Muslims must forgive those who deny that a time will come when Muslims will receive favours from Allah, and that Allah will recompense everyone, believer or unbeliever, according to their deeds (45:14). In the Saudi translation by Dr Muhsin Khan and Dr Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali, that I have been mentioning, under both these verses it is written in a footnote that this verse was abrogated by a verse requiring Muslims to fight against the unbelievers. More generally, in their trans­lation, wherever they come across a verse which requires Muslims to forgive the unbelievers for persecuting the Muslims, they declare them as having been later abrogated by verses which gave Muslims permission to fight against their enemies. Maulana Muhammad Ali, in his Urdu commentary on the Quran, writes under the second verse mentioned above: “The verses saying that Muslims should forgive the unbelievers are not abrogated by the permission given to them to fight the unbelievers. The permission to fight is conditional upon the unbelievers attacking the Muslims first. There were many other kinds of persecution that the Muslims suffered. The command to forgive is in relation to all of those.”

May Allah bless the Lahore Ahmadiyya elders who clarified all these misunder­stood issues and showed us that all verses of the Holy Quran are equally applicable — Ameen.