Al-Qur'an, Abrogation, and Islam
Question: Assalamu’ alaikum! Recently I read your answer about abrogation in the Qur’ān , and there is a point that I couldn't understand. I was always under the impression that abrogation mentioned in the Qur’ān referred to the Qur’ān 's supremacy over older scriptures, and I understood that because older scriptures were particular to their regions while the Qur’ān was meant for all mankind. The point about alcohol did not bother me, because none of the statements about alcohol in the Qur’ān invalidates the others. I always read verse 85 of Surah Al `Imran to mean “And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him; and in the hereafter, he will be one of the losers." Please clarify this point for me.
In the Name of Allāh, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allāh, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
Let's focus first on the nature of abrogation, since we always think that abrogation means cancellation. In the first instance with the revelation of Al-Qur’ān, it means an abrogation, total cancellation or amendment of the previous scriptures. But as far as in the context of the Qur’ān and other particular verses it would mean as an amendments, revocation or progression in setting up legal rulings.
As it had been indicated in one of my previous answers on this topic, people may not be ready yet to receive a full and final ruling on an issue; and therefore Allāh Almighty, out of His mercy, trains them little by little and introduces them to the ruling in a gradual way.
It is undoubtedly the Qur’ān itself is an abrogation of all previous scriptures. This statement is true when we take the word "abrogation" to refer to the above-mentioned two meanings: cancellation and amendment.
When the Qur’ān was revealed, it declared its cancellation of many of the previous ruling details that were suitable for the previous messages because they were limited to certain regions and certain people. For instance, the Torah established that people who wanted to repent from a sin was to end their life as a way of showing total repentance to Allāh. When the Qur’ān was revealed, it declared that repentance can be achieved without people taking their own life, but rather by doing the following: quitting the evil deed, feeling remorse over it, resolving never to repeat it, and — if the sin involved harming other people — making suitable amends for them.
Of course this last approach better suits the universality of the message of the Qur’ān and better copes with the real nature of human beings who would fall into sins every now and then.
Besides, it shows that the message of the Qur’ān is the message of balance. The Qur’ān has kept certain rulings that were originally revealed by Allāh to previous believing nations because such rulings are still suitable for application, like the "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" ruling. However, the Qur’ān gives some amendments there as it acknowledges the fact that wronged people may forgive the ones who harmed them; and in such cases, people should accept this. In this way, Islam promotes a peaceful society.
With that said, we can simply realize the fact that the Noble Qur’ān itself constitutes an abrogation, in either meaning of previous scriptures, by means of cancellation sometimes and amendment some other times.
Of course, this proves the Qur’ān’s position as the final revelation from Allāh and the last testament, so to say, sent to show humankind the way to their Lord. Allāh Almighty says what means:
“And unto you have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever scripture was before it, and a watcher over it.” [Al-Ma'idah, 5:48]
This brings us to the verse you referred to:
“And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him; and in the hereafter, he will be one of the losers." [Al-`Imran, 3:85]
The verse, as it appears in the Arabic text, refers clearly to Islam as a religion. This cannot be understood as referring just as "submission", because submission is one of the aspects of the religion of Islam but not all of them.
In fact, the word "Islam" comes from the Arabic root s-l-m, and from these three letters, we can deduce three words with three meanings that correlate to each other: submission, purity, and peace. The Islamic meaning of the word "Islam" comprises all three aspects; that is, the word "Islam" means submitting oneself to the will of Allāh and worshipping Him purely without associating anyone with Him, therefore reaching the level of peace and harmony in this life and in the hereafter.
Bearing this in mind, we find that we cannot limit the word "Islam" to mean mere submission, because anyone can submit themselves to their idol or god. Christians submit themselves to Jesus; lovers submit themselves to their beloved ones, and so on.
Allāh tells us about this fact:
“Yet of mankind are some who take unto themselves (objects of worship which they set as) rivals to Allāh, loving them with a love like (that which is the due) of Allāh (only).” [Al-Baqarah 2:165]
Therefore, the word mentioned in verse 85 of Surat Al-`Imran refers to Islam as a religion, not just something we submit to. We need to understand it as meaning the following: Any religion sought other than Islam will not be accepted. This becomes more understandable when we bear in mind that Islam is the religion of all prophets from Adam to Muhammad (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) .All of them came with the same message and for the same mission: to guide people to the way of their Creator.
The core of that message is to bear witness that there is no god worthy of worship except Allāh. This is what we actually mean when we say that Islam is the religion of all messengers and prophets. Yes, the details of each ruling sent with each prophet particular to his time differed, but the core of the message and the main religion, which is Islam, is the same. This becomes clear when we understand the following words of Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam):
"And prophets are consanguine brothers; their religion is one and their mothers are many" [Al-Bukhari]
This means that they came with the same religion — Islam — at different periods of time (expressed by the word "mothers").
In light of this, we can understand that Allāh Almighty says that any path sought other than Islam, which encompasses complete monotheism and total acceptance of all prophets from Adam to Muhammad, will not be accepted. Rather, we have to accept all messengers and purely worship Allāh as the only Lord.
Therefore any change in the core of the message or any humanly fabricated version falsely ascribed to Allāh and claimed to be true is totally rejected and never accepted by Allāh Almighty.
[Excerpted with modifications from Islam Online, Asked about Islam, published 5 April 2007]