The Question of Abrogation
Our discussions have been about Islamic jihad. Tonight, there are three issues that I wish to speak about, one of which has a Quranic basis, the other, reason as a basis, and the third, has both a Quranic basis and a historical one.
The issue that has the Quranic basis is in connection with the Quranic
verses about jihad. Before, we had said that some of the
Yet, some commentators have brought up this issue of abrogation. They agree that many verses of the Quran set conditions for fighting against the non-Muslims, but they say that other verses have been revealed that abrogate all those instructions and conditions. Thus, we come to abrogations, about that which abrogates and that which is abrogated. Some think that the first verse of Surah at-Tawba - which issues the complete command of jihad and immunity to the polytheists, fixing a period for them to stay in Mecca after which they had to leave and the Muslims were to besiege them in their fortifications and hiding places and kill them, and which, furthermore, was revealed in the ninth year of the Hejira - has in one blow abrogated all the instructions about jihad that were previously revealed. Is this the correct view?
No, this view is incorrect. Why? For two reasons. One is that we can only consider a verse to have abrogated another when it is incompatible with it. Imagine a verse being revealed commanding not to fight the polytheists at all followed by another allowing for fight. Good. This would mean that God has canceled the previous instruction. This is the meaning of abrogation, that the first instruction is annulled and replaced by another. So the second instruction must be such that it is fully incompatible with the first. However, if collectively, the contents of the first verse and the second one are compatible, so that one clarifies the other, then there is no further question of one being an abrogator and the other being abrogated.
The verses of Surah at-Tawba are not such that they can be said to have
been revealed so as to nullify the previously revealed ones, which attached
conditions to jihad. Why not? Because, when we consider all the verses
of Surah at-Tawba collectively, we see that they tell us to fight the polytheists
because they do not observe one of the essential principles of humanity
- keeping one's promises - which one and all know, must be kept, even if
the law of one's particular nation does not stress this duty or heed it
at all. Thus the verses tell us to fight, because if we conclude an agreement
with them. whenever they see the opportunity to violate it, they would
do so and strive to destroy and annihilate us. Here, what does reason tell
us? If we know for sure that a nation intends to destroy us on the first
opportunity, does reason tell us to wait for them to do so before we do
anything about it? If we wait, they will destroy us. In today's world,
we may see a nation attacking another because of clear evidence that the
other nation has made the decision to attack them, and when that nation
attacks, the whole world will say that it is permissible, that they did
the right thing. No one would say that although they knew and had clear
evidence that, for example, the enemy had the intention of attacking on
a certain day, yet they had no right to attack the enemy today, that they
should have waited
The Quran in those same verses of Surah Bara'at, the most strict verses of the Quran, tells us:
«What! And if they prevail over you, not observing any relationship
with you, nor treaty. They mollify you with their
It tells us that, if they find the opportunity, they observe no promise or treaty, and whatever they say comes only from their tongues, while their hearts are in opposition. So these verses are not so unconditional as has been thought. What they actually say is that, on sensing danger from the enemy, for us to fold our arms and delay would be a mistake. Thus we must not think that these verses are completely out of accord with the other verses and they should not be considered as abrogators. This is the first reason why these verses are not abrogative.
The second reason was given by the ulema of usul ul-fiqh - and if I can explain it to you, then the meaning concerning this verse will become clear.
The ulema say:
"Maa min 'amman illa waqad khussa"
"There is no generality that is without an exception." And this is absolutely right. We are told to fast, but not when we are ruled as traveling, or too sick. There are similar exceptions generality that has no exception. Even this very rule has exceptions. There are some generalities that really have no exceptions and admit none.
The point of this is that some issues refuse to be abrogated, refuse all exceptions. The tone of these generalities is that they can admit no exceptions. For example, in the Quran we are told:
«If you are thankful God is pleased with it.» (39:7)
and to this there can never be any exception. It is not possible that there will come a time when a person will be sincerely grateful to God, and God will not be pleased. No. This is not something that in certain circumstances will be any different, unless that person becomes ungrateful.
Similarly concerning abrogation, some verses are such that undamentally
abrogation is not applicable to them because the
For example, let's take the verse of the Quran which tells us:
«And do not transgress, God loves not the transgressors.» (2:190)
This has a generality in regard to individuals and a continuity in regard
to time. Is it possible for us to maintain exceptions to this
We can see how in one of the verses about jihad the Quran says:
«And fight in the way of God with those who are fighting with you and do not transgress, God loves not those who transgress.» (2:190)
With those who fight us, with those who have commenced some type of
aggression against us, we are to fight. But we are not
According to this, the Quran limits jihad strictly to a type of defense and only permits it in the face of aggression. But in our last lecture, we said that jihad for the expansion of human values, even if they are not threatened, cannot be condemned, and we also said that the meaning of aggression is a general one, meaning that it is not necessary for aggression to be against life, against property, against chastity, against land - it is not even necessary for it to be against independence, against freedom - if a group transgresses against values that are counted as human values, then this is aggression.
I wish to cite a simple example. In our age, huge efforts are being
directed at uprooting various diseases. So far the primary causes of some
diseases like cancer have not been discovered, and their cure is likewise
still not known. But at present, there exists medicines which can temporarily
delay the effect of these diseases. Supposing that some institution discovers
the cure to one of these diseases, and that those other institutions which
profit from the very presence of that disease, those factories which manufacture
the medicines that can be used to postpone the effects of that disease,
in order to prevent their market from collapsing - in which case millions,
billions of dollars would be lost - destroy that newly discovered cure
which for humanity is so beneficial; destroy those who are connected with
it; destroy the newly discovered formula so that no one would know about
it. Now, is such a human value to be defended or not? Can we say that no
one has attacked our lives or our property, no one has interfered with
our chastity, our independence or our territory, but that in one of the
corners of the world, somebody has
So, when we say that the basis of jihad is defense, we do not mean defense in the limited sense of having to defend oneself when one is attacked with the sword, gun or artillery shell. No, we mean that if one's being, one's material or spiritual values are aggressed or in fact, if something that mankind values and respects and which is necessary for mankind's prosperity and happiness, is aggressed, then we are to defend it.
Here, we come again to our previous discussion about whether tawhid
is a personal issue, whether it is one of the values of humanity. If it
is the latter that must be defended, so that if amongst a set of laws there
is one which dictates that tawhid must be
Nevertheless, I will again repeat that Islam does not say we must fight
to impose tawhid, for tawhid is something that cannot be
That religion must not be imposed on the individual and that people must be free in their choice of religion is one thing. That belief, however, in the current phraseology, must be free, is quite another. In other words, whereas freedom of thought and choice is one thing, freedom of belief is quite another. Many beliefs have "thought" for a foundation, meaning that many beliefs have been discerned and found to be true and have been freely chosen. The alignment and commitment of an individual's heart to his beliefs in many cases is built on discernment and selection, but are all human beliefs built on thought, discernment and selection? Or are the majority of mankind's beliefs no more than alignments and commitments of the human soul that have not the slightest relationship to thought at all, that have a mere sentimental basis? An example the Quran cites on the subject of imitation by one generation of the previous generation is:
«Verily we found our fathers on their creed and verily we are followers of their footsteps.» (43:23)
The Quran puts great stress on this point, and the same applies to a
belief that is formed by the imitation of the patricians of society. In
such places, the phrase freedom of belief is completely without meaning,
for freedom means the absence of obstacles to the activities of an active
and advancing force, whereas this type of belief is a kind of constriction
The final issue to be discussed is jezyah, i.e. tribute. In one of the Quranic verses, it has been revealed that we are to fight the People of the Book unconditionally or those who do not have real faith until they pay jezyah. What is jezyah? Is the meaning of jezyah some kind of "protection money" or "danegeld?" Were the Muslims who took jezyah in the past taking protection money? Protection money, seen from any angle, is injustice and oppression and the Quran itself negates it in all its forms. Jezyah finds its root in the word jaza. Jaza in the Arabic language is used both for reward and for punishment. If jezyah in this context means recompense or punishment, then it can be claimed that its meaning is "protection money" or "danegeld," but if it means a reward, which it does, then the matter changes.
Previously we said that some have claimed that jezyah is fundamentally a non-Arabic word, that it is originally Persian, that it is the Arabicized form of the Persian word "gaziyeh," the name of a head-tax which was first introduced by the Persian king, Anoushiravan, and that when this word reached the Arabs, the "gaf" ("G") was changed into a "jim" ("J") in accordance with the normal rule, so that the Arabs instead of saying "gaziyeh", called it "jezyah." Thus, jezyah means a tax, and paying taxes is not the same as extorting protection money. The Muslims too must pay taxes and the only difference is between the actual types of taxes that the Muslims have to pay and those the People of the Book have to pay. There is no proof however, for this view, that the origin of the word is not Arabic, and furthermore, we have no immediate interest in this word. Whatever the root of the word may be, what we must do is find out the nature of jezyah from the laws that Islam has introduced for it, and by which it is defined practically.
To put it in a different way, we must look to see whether Islam considers
jezyah to be a reward or a punishment. If in return for
When we perceive the essence of this law, we notice that jezyah is for that group of the People of the Book who live under the protection of the Islamic state, who are subject to the Islamic state. The Islamic state has certain duties towards its nation and likewise, the latter has its respective duties towards the Islamic state, and the first of these is to pay taxes to maintain the state budget. These taxes include that which is taken as zakat and that which is taken as other than zakat in the form of various taxes that the Islamic government introduces in accordance to the best Islamic interests. All these must be paid by the people. In case they do not, then the Islamic government would automatically not be able to function. There is no governmental, budget which is not fully or partly financed by the people. Any government to have a budget, must sustain it either directly or indirectly by taxes.
The second duty of the citizens is to provide soldiers and undertake
sacrifices for the sake of the state. There may be future dangers when
the citizens of the state must help in its defense. If the People of the
Book are living under the protection of the Islamic state they are not
bound to pay those Islamic taxes and are not bound to take part in jihad,
even though any advantages resulting from the jihad will also benefit them.
In accordance with this, when the Islamic government secures the safety
of a people and places them under its protection, whether they are its
own people or not, it requires something in return from them; financial
or other than financial. From the People of the Book, instead of zakat
and the other taxes, it requires the jezyah and even instead of soldiers,
it requires jezyah. So that in early Islam, it was such that whenever the
People of the Book volunteered to come and fight in the ranks of the Muslims
in the interests of the Islamic state and the Muslims, the latter didn't
collect the jezyah and saying that the jezyah was received from them for
the reason that they were not bound to provide soldiers, but, as they had
themselves come forth to fight, that money was theirs and the Islamic state
could not rightfully take it. In the
According to this, whether or not jezyah is Arabic or Persian, whether
it is from jaza or from gaziyah, this much is clear: from its
Now the first problem of how and why Islam stops its jihad for the sake of jezyah becomes clear. The answer is provided by the question, "Why does Islam want jihad?" It does not want jihad for the sake of the imposition of belief it wants jihad for the removal of barriers. When the other side tells us that it has no wish to fight us, and that it will not create a barrier to the call of tawhid, and keeps to its word, it is to be ruled in accordance with this verse:
«And if they incline to peace, then incline to it.» (8:61)
If they have been humbled, and manifest a mind and heart of peace and
compromise, then we are not to be severe anymore.
Some Christian historians like Gustav Le Bon and George Zaydun have discussed this issue in detail. Will Durant in Vol. II of his series "The History of Civilization" has also discussed the Islamic jezyah and tells us that the Islamic jezyah was so trivial an amount that it was even less than the taxes the Muslims themselves paid and thus there was never any question of exaction.