I have written two previous articles about abrogation in the Qur’an: Abrogation in the Qur’an and Intoxicants and Abrogation in the Qur’an. My views have not changed since I wrote those articles, and I don’t intend to do a lot of repeating in this present article. I’ll just reiterate that the 3 passages which speak of abrogation (2:105; 13:38 and 39; and 16:101) refer to the fact that the Qur’an abrogates some of the things in previous Revelations (that is, in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible for instance), not that later portions of the Qur’an abrogate earlier portions.
In addition, the Qur’an’s testimony concerning itself forbids the notion of ‘abrogation’ of any of its contents, in such verses as the following (quoting from the Abdel Haleem English version):
(39:23) God has sent down the most beautiful of all teachings: a Scripture that is consistent and draws comparisons…
(4:82) Will they not think about this Qur’an? If it had been from anyone other than God, they would have found much inconsistency in it.
However, there are still those who despise the religion of Islam who wish to maintain that ‘later verses’ about warfare abrogate ‘earlier verses’ about peace – despite the fact that verses about peace are part and parcel of the very (supposedly ‘later’) verses about warfare. For instance, someone recently pointed out to me that a contemporary and ‘Companion’ of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be with him and his family) – in fact, one of his cousins – who is highly respected by both Sunni and Shiite writers, said that “the sword verse” (9:5) abrogates another verse (said to be 8:61, a ‘verse of peace’). This very brief quote from Ibn Abbas – merely a portion of a sentence – says this: This has been abrogated by the “sword verse” [Q. 9:5]’. The ‘Tasfir’ (commentaries) in which the quote may be found are given at that site; and one presumes that reading the actual ‘Tasfir’ would confirm that the abrogated verse is said by Ibn Abbas himself to be 8:61. Here are the two verses:
(8:61) But if they incline toward peace, you [Prophet] must also incline towards it, and put your trust in God: He is the All Hearing, the All Knowing.
(9:5) When the [four] forbidden months are over, wherever you encounter the idolaters, kill them, seize them, besiege them, wait for them at every lookout post; but if they repent, maintain the prayer, and pay the prescribed alms, let them go on their way, for God is most forgiving and merciful. (6) If any one of the idolaters should seek your protection [Prophet], grant it to him so that he may hear the word of God, then take him to a place safe for him, for they are people who do not know.
Frankly, any serious and careful reading of the two passages concerned will convince the reader that Ibn Abbas either had a very different understanding of the meaning of ‘abrogation’ from what we think, or he was seriously ‘challenged’ intellectually! And I’m not ready to accuse him of being ‘mentally challenged’, considering the high regard in which his contemporaries held him, so I opt for the first alternative. 🙂
The portion of Sura (Chapter) 8 of the Qur’an in which verse 61 is found concerns fighting against people who have violated their treaties and attacked the believers. (55) The worst creatures in the sight of God are those who reject Him and will not believe; (56) who, whenever you [Prophet] make a treaty with them, break it, for they have no fear of God. (57) If you meet with them in battle, make a fearsome example of them to those who come after them, so that they may take heed. (58) And if you learn of treachery on the part of any people, throw their treaty back at them, for God does not love the treacherous. It is in this context of fighting treaty breakers, and abrogating any treaties made with such treacherous people, that verse 61 is given – in which the believers are told that if the enemy wishes to reestablish peaceful relations, the believers must do so.
When one reads the first part of Sura 9, he/she will see that it is precisely this kind of situation which is being addressed: the believers are told to announce the abrogation of a treaty because the other side had violated it – but nothing is said of abrogating a previously revealed verse (or previously revealed verses) of the Qur’an. That is, Sura 9 presents a fulfillment of what 8:58 had anticipated.
Now what ‘God fearing’ person can seriously imagine that, when (in Sura 9) God brings about a fulfillment of what He had previously revealed (in Sura 8), He would say: “But I made a slip of the tongue when I previously told you to establish peace if your opponents desire it. I didn’t really mean it, so you can ignore that verse!”? Anyone who would make such an accusation against God falls very far short of being ‘Muslim’ (submitted and devoted to God)!
This is not just a logical and reasonable conclusion, though. Sura 9 itself tells us that 8:61 (and similar verses in other Suras) is still valid. First, verses 4 and 7 say that those abrogated treaties are still intact (not abrogated) for those who have been faithful to them and have not supported anyone in fighting against the believers:
(9:4) As for those idolaters who have honoured the treaty you [believers] made with them and who have not supported anyone against you: fulfill your agreement with them to the end of their term. God loves those who are mindful of Him.
(9:7)… But as for those with whom you made a treaty at the Sacred Mosque, so long as they remain true to you, be true to them; God loves those who are mindful of Him.
So with respect to them, they have shown that they desire peace and the believers must also be inclined to peace with them. 8:61 was not abrogated with respect to them.
In addition, though, there are two ways given by which those with whom the believers are fighting may show they wish peace – and because of which the believers must grant that wish. First, naturally, if the opponents of the believers repent and embrace Islam they are to be forgiven and allowed to go their way in peace. Secondly, though, if those who have not converted ‘seek protection’, they are to be granted that protection and taken to safety so that they will have further opportunity to hear the word of God which perhaps will dispel their ignorance. (See verses 5 and 6, quoted above).
So again, if the enemy inclines toward peace, the believers must also be so inclined. This is, in fact, in keeping with the reason for fighting the treaty breaking disbelievers: to get them to stop their treachery –
(9:12) But if they break their oath after having made an agreement with you and revile your religion, then fight these leaders of disbelief – oaths mean nothing to them – so that they may stop.
The aim of Islam (both religiously and politically) is the establishment of justice and peace; and if the only way to get the disbelievers to honor peace treaties and uphold justice is to fight them until they cease fighting (surrender, or are subdued) then such fighting is necessary. The only ones being fought (even in Sura 9, which supposedly ‘abrogates’ all those verses of peace) are those who have first attacked the believers:
(9:13) How could you not fight a people who have broken their oaths, who tried to drive the Messenger out, who attacked you first?…
It is not those who desire peace whom Sura 9 enjoins the believers to fight, but those who show no inclination to peace. How in the world does that ‘abrogate’ 8:61, or any other verse which says not to fight those who don’t fight you?
No, there is simply no way that 9:5 (the so-called “verse of the sword”) abrogates 8:61 – not, at least, by any definition of ‘abrogation’ which most people today would use.
What, then, could Ibn Abbas have meant when he said This has been abrogated by the “sword verse”? I can only speculate, since I have not read the ‘Tasfir’ in which the statement occurs – and therefore don’t know what the context of his statement might indicate concerning its meaning. I have read one ‘Tasfir’ on 9:5 and 6, and another on 8:61, which are said to be from Ibn Abbas, but the statement about abrogation was not in those selections. (I have to wonder if Ibn Abbas is being falsely accused).
The only possible meaning of his statement which comes to mind – which would be consistent with the plain meaning of both Sura 8 and Sura 9 – is that since the disbelievers have shown that they’re not interested in peace, then the verse of peace no longer applies to them (or is ‘abrogated’ with reference to them). The treaty of peace which had previously been made with them was founded on such verses as 8:61, because they had previously indicated a desire for peace. But since the disbelievers had turned away from that desire and had ‘abrogated’ their oath, the believers were instructed that the treaty based on that desire for peace was abrogated on their part as well – and consequently that the ‘verse of peace’ was abrogated so far as those particular disbelievers were concerned. (At least, that is perhaps what Ibn Abbas had in mind, if he actually made the statement). The verses which had become valid and effective were those which called on the believers to fight those who fight them.
That’s really a ‘no brainer’, though, and doesn’t require any ‘authoritative’ commentary from one of the Prophet’s Companions to make it clear. And as I have pointed out, Sura 9 says that the verses of peace are not actually ‘abrogated’ even for those whom they were being required to fight – because it still remained true that if they sought the protection of the Prophet he was to grant that protection. The fighting was only to get the disbelievers to cease their fighting; and those who converted, sought protection, or surrendered fulfilled that aim. Terms of peace could then be reestablished with them.
To conclude, then: Sura 9:5 (the “verse of the sword”) clearly does not ‘abrogate’ (or render ‘null and void’) 8:61 or any other ‘verse of peace’ – except perhaps for those who have themselves broken their treaty which was based on such verses. Anyone who says otherwise is simply not a ‘careful reader’ of the Qur’an and is not using his/her reason. Since I am not about to accuse Ibn Abbas of not being a ‘careful reader’ of the Qur’an and not using his reason, I simply do not believe he meant what some people quote him to prove. 🙂