Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Abrogation of Sura 5:8?

Professor David Bukay, of the University of Haifa, writing in the Middle East Quarterly (Fall 2007, pp. 3-11), asks "Peace or Jihad? Abrogation in Islam"? He notes that Sura 5:8 -- which I wondered about yesterday -- is among the Qur'an's peaceful verses:
Proponents of Islamic tolerance point to a number of Qur'anic verses which admonish violence and advocate peace, tolerance, and compromise.
These peaceful verses include:
Qur. 2:256; 2:285; 3:64; 4:134; 5:5; 5:8; 5:48; 11:118; 29:46; 49:13; 60:8-9. All references are from Ahmed Ali, Al-Qur'an: A Contemporary Translation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001). [Footnote 6]
But there is a complication, Bukay explains, a little hermeneutic principle called "abrogation" that is linked to stages in Muhammad's career:
The Qur'an is unique among sacred scriptures in accepting a doctrine of abrogation in which later pronouncements of the Prophet declare null and void his earlier pronouncements . . . . Rather than explain away inconsistencies in passages regulating the Muslim community, many jurists acknowledge the differences but accept that latter verses trump earlier verses. Most scholars divide the Qur'an into verses revealed by Muhammad in Mecca when his community of followers was weak and more inclined to compromise, and those revealed in Medina, where Muhammad's strength grew.
Bukay also notes a refinement of this point about these stages in Muhammad's life:
During the lifetime of Muhammad, the Islamic community passed through three stages. In the beginning from 610 until 622, God commanded restraint. As the Muslims relocated to Medina (623-26), God permitted Muslims only to fight in a defensive war. However, in the last six years of Muhammad's life (626-32), God permitted Muslims to fight an aggressive war first against polytheists, and later against monotheists like the Jews of Khaybar. Once Muhammad was given permission to kill in the name of God, he instigated battle.
Bukay then introduces Sura 9, a mother-of-all abrogators known as the Ultimatum Sura:
Chapter 9 of the Qur'an, in English called "Ultimatum," is the most important concerning the issues of abrogation and jihad against unbelievers. It is the only chapter that does not begin "in the name of God, most benevolent, ever-merciful." Commentators agree that Muhammad received this revelation in 631, the year before his death, when he had returned to Mecca and was at his strongest. Muhammad bin Ismail al-Bukhari (810-70), compiler of one of the most authoritative collections of the hadith, said that "Ultimatum" was the last chapter revealed to Muhammad[, which] . . . . coming at or near the very end of Muhammad's life . . . . trumps earlier revelations.

Because this chapter contains violent passages, it abrogates previous peaceful content. Muhsin Khan, the translator of Sahih al-Bukhari, says God revealed "Ultimatum" in order to discard restraint and to command Muslims to fight against all the pagans as well as against the People of the Book if they do not embrace Islam or until they pay religious taxes. So, at first aggressive fighting was forbidden; it later became permissible (2:190) and subsequently obligatory (9:5). This "verse of the sword" abrogated, canceled, and replaced 124 verses that called for tolerance, compassion, and peace.
Bukay calls attention to an important Islamic scholar's assessment:
Abu al-Kasim Hibat-Allah bin Salama (d. 1019) argued that the starting point of any investigation of the Qur'an is the science of abrogating and abrogated verses. He identified four categories of abrogation: 43 chapters unaffected by abrogation; six chapters that augmented the concept of abrogation but were themselves not abrogated; 40 chapters with abrogated wording but authority intact; and 25 chapters with both their wording and authority abrogated.
Among those suras abrogated in the fourth category are the following:
Qur. 2-3, 5, 8-9, 14, 18-9, 21-2, 24-6, 33-4, 40, 42, 51-2, 56, 58, 73, 103, 108. [Footnote 39]
That would seem to include the peaceful sura 5. If so, then jihadis will have a ready answer to this graphic novel against jihad in Syria: "Sura 5:8 has been abrogated and is therefore inapplicable. Continue the jihad!"

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