Two Once Extraordinary Verses About Tolerance
Of all the incongruities that devotees of a religion steeped in incongruities have to accept, the concept of abrogation has to be the most outlandish. Abrogation, i.e. retraction, annulment, cancellation … is common in the real world as better information replaces old information.
In the world of revealed truths, immutable facts revealed to a mortal by a god, abrogation should not even be the exception, it defies logic. Nevertheless, in the study of the Koran, a consensus of scholar agrees: superseding unassailable Divine communications have to be taken into account. Two verses, of the more than two hundred abrogated verses which cannot be ignored, are revealed truths 2:62 and 109:6 which appear to sanction tolerance of practitioners of other religions.
2:62 The believers (Muslims), the Jews, the Christians and the Sabians – whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does what is good, shall receive their reward from their Lord. They shall have nothing to fear and they shall not grieve.
109:6 “You have your religion and I have mine.”
Revelation 2:62 is said to be abrogated by 3:85:
3:85 Whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted from him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.
Revelation 109:6 is said to be abrogated by the Verse of the Sword:
9:5 Then, when the Sacred Months (these are the four months during which war was prohibited in pre-Islamic times) are over, kill the idolaters wherever you find them, take them [as captives], besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every point of observation. If they repent afterwards, perform the prayer and pay the alms, then release them. Allah is truly All-Forgiving, Merciful.
According to the imminent Egyptian theologian Abu al-Fadl Abd ar-Rahman Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti (d. 1505), "Everything in the Qur'an about forgiveness and peace is abrogated by verse 9:5."
No study of the Koran is complete without an introduction to the concept of abrogation, which is why I recommend you read Let Me Rephrase That! Your Guide to Abrogations, Boreal Books, 2015.
Even without taking the impact of abrogation into consideration, these two revelation about tolerance are not all they seem to be.
When you come across a verse like reveal truth 2:62 you are taken aback because the message it appears to convey is so different from what you have been reading.
Like all of Allah’s seemingly universal declarations, there is a catch. Those who do not believe in an omnipotent monotheistic deity whose name is Allah e.g. Indians (Hindus), animists, atheists, agnostics… can do all the good they can, and live an exemplary life, it won’t matter a whit. Allah may not even write their good deeds down. What would be the point!
20:112 And he who does the righteous deeds, while a believer, will fear neither injustice nor inequity.
21:94 Whoever does what is good, while a believer, his endeavour will not be denied, and We are indeed writing it down for him.
22:50 Those who believe and do the righteous deeds will receive forgiveness and a bountiful provision,
22:51 But who strive against our Revelations defying Us – those are the people of Hell.
Then, there are the ambiguous verses about the actual status of the people of the Book: believers, unbelievers or evildoers (people who associate other gods with Allah such as Christians obviously qualify).
29:46 Do not dispute with the people of the Book save in the fairest way; except for those of them who are evildoers. And say: “We believe in what has been sent down to us and what has been sent down to you. Our God and your God are one and to Him we are submissive.”
29:47 And thus We have sent down to you the Book. Those to whom We gave the Book (the people of the Book, Jews and Christians) believe in it, and of these (the Prophet’s Meccans contemporaries) some believe in it. Our Signs are only denied by the unbelievers.
Then there is verse 45:14:
45:14 Tell the believers to forgive those who do not hope for Allah’s Days (evil days from Allah, Moududi, calamities mostly, Fakhry), that He may reward a people for what they used to earn.
Is Allah really expecting the believers to forgive the unbelievers, and who is the reward for, and what is the reward? Is Allah being facetious?
The commentators have given two meanings of this verse and the words of the verse admit of both: (1) "That the believers should pardon the excesses of this wicked group so that Allah may reward them for their patience and forbearance and nobility from Himself and recompense them for the persecutions they have suffered for His sake." (2) "That the believers should pardon these people so that Allah may Himself punish them for their persecutions of them."
Some other commentators have regarded this verse as repealed. They say that this command was applicable only till the Muslims had not been permitted to fight. Then, when they were permitted to fight, this command became abrogated.
Authors like Fouad Laroui ask us to forget all that other stuff. The nasty and pedantic stuff found in the Koran, what he calls, “window dressing”, and concentrate on the good things the Koran has to say about getting along and doing God’s work, such as:
2:215 They ask you (the question was put to the Messenger by a wealthy old man) what they should spend. Say: “Whatever bounty you give is for the parents, the near of kin, the orphans, the needy and the wayfarer. And whatever good you do, Allah is fully cognizant of it."
2:256 There is no compulsion in religion; true guidance has become distinct from error. Thus he who disbelieves in the Devil and believes in Allah grasps the firmest handle that will never break. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.
If only that were possible! Consider a revelation which contains a plea, a prayer; a somewhat amenable near-universal prayer if you ignore the last line. Pity!
2:286 Allah does not charge any soul beyond its capacity. It gets [rewarded for] what [good] it has earned, and is called to account for what [evil] it has committed. Lord, forgive us if we have forgotten or erred. Lord, do not lay on us a burden like that You laid on those before us, and do not burden us with what we cannot bear. Pardon us, forgive us and have mercy on us. You are our Protector. Give us victory over the unbelieving people.
In the Name of Allah,
the Compassionate, the Merciful
109:1 Say: “O unbelievers,
109:2 “I do not worship what you worship,
109:3 “Nor do you worship what I worship;
109:4 “Nor do I worship what you have worshipped,
109:5 “Nor do you worship what I worship (same as 109:3),
109:6 “You have your religion and I have mine.”
Unfortunately, revelation 109:6 is from a Meccan surah, a surah revealed during the Prophet’s time in Mecca when he had few friends and only his say-so to convince his tribesmen that he was God's Messenger charged with delivering His final instructions for mankind, the Koran.
As he became more powerful, after fleeing Mecca for Medina, the Prophet discovered the persuasive power of the sword and Allah became a lot less tolerant, as is evident in the Medinan surah, The Clear Proof.
HE CLEAR PROOF
In the Name of Allah,
the Compassionate, the Merciful
98:1 The unbelievers, among the People of the Book and the idolaters, would not desist till the clear proof comes to them;
98:2 A Messenger from Allah reciting purified scrolls,
98:3 Wherein are valuable books.
Both Jews and Christians were not willing to accept Allah's contention, communicated via His latest self-proclaimed spokesperson, the Prophet Muhammad, and contained within the Book itself, that He sent the Koran to correct errors that had allegedly crept into an earlier scriptural manuscript of His: the Bible.
98:4 Those who were given the Book did not diverge except after the clear proof came to them.
For their refusal to accept the Koran as the overriding Message i.e. "the clear proof", and Islam as the superior religion i.e. "the religion of truth" they will be joining the idolaters in Hell, revelation 98:6.
98:5 And they were only commanded to worship Allah, professing the religion sincerely to Him as upright believers, to perform the prayers and give the alms. That is the religion of truth.
98:6 The unbelievers, among the People of the Book and the idolaters, shall be in the Fire of Hell, dwelling therein forever. Those are the worst of creatures.
98:7 Those who have believed and did the righteous deeds – those are the best of creatures.
98:8 Their reward with their Lord will be Gardens of Eden, beneath which rivers flow, dwelling therein forever. Allah is well-pleased with them and they are well-pleased with Him. That is the lot of whoever fears His Lord.
One more revelation about those who “quarrelled after the clear proofs came to them” being severely punished, revelation 3:105, a revealed truth in which the "clear proof" has morphed into "the clear proofs".
3:100 O believers, if you obey a group of those who have received the Book, they will turn you, after you have believed, into unbelievers.
3:101 How could you disbelieve, while God’s revelations are recited to you, and His Messenger is in your midst? He who holds fast to Allah has been guided to a straight path.
3:102 O believers, fear Allah as He should be feared, and do not die except as Muslims.
3:103 And hold fast to Allah’s Bond (his religion), all of you, and do not fall apart. And remember Allah’s grace upon you; how you were enemies, then He united your hearts (by becoming Muslims) so that you have become, by His Grace, brethren. You were on the brink of the pit of Fire, but He saved you from it. Thus Allah manifests to you His Revelations so that perchance you might be rightly guided!
3:104 And let there be among you a nation calling to goodness, bidding the right and forbidding the wrong. Those are the prosperous.
3:105 And do not be like those who fell apart and quarrelled, after the clear proofs came to them. For those a terrible punishment is in store.