Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian.
Non-Muslims and anyone not familiar with Islam may read the Qu’ran and find what seemingly looks like a contradiction.
Muslims don’t believe the Qu’ran contradicts itself. If it did, it would cease to be the Qu’ran nor be considered a book of God. And if it is considered a book of God, it would raise serious questions marks on the God that sent it.
Muslim Belief in the Infallibility of the Qu’ran
We, as Muslims, derive our beliefs from the Holy Book. God makes it clear that the Qu’ran does not contradict itself:
Then do they not reflect upon the Qur’ān? If it had been from [any] other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction.”
What we do have in the Qu’ran are the concepts of abrogated and abrogating verses. This is when one verse is replaced by another. Yet the replacing verse does not contradict the previous verse nor does the previous verse become redundant. The new verse is merely adding information or specificity to the previous verse. Abgroation in the Qu’ran usually occurs in the areas of Islamic law.
Today, Islam is well established and many of us are from families that have been Muslim for generations. Therefore, the concepts of praying, fasting and other laws become the norm and are all we have ever known. However, for Muslims in the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), everything was new. This meant God had to reveal laws, guidelines and regulations slowly over a period of many years. Even when it came to the general invitation to Islam, the Prophet was ordered by God to invite his family/clan/tribe first and then everybody else.
Going back to abrogation. This isn’t something Muslim scholars have thought up as a way to find an excuse for the contradictions in the Qu’ran. Allah (SWT) has spoken about abrogation himself:
We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent?
In this verse from Surah Baqarah, God clearly declares that abrogation does happen but only to replace the abrogated verse with something similar or something better. This is spoken about again in the following verse:
And when We substitute a verse in place of a verse – and Allah is most knowing of what He sends down – they say, “You, [O Muḥammad], are but an inventor [of lies].” But most of them do not know.”
Criticisms of the Qu’ran being full of lies or contradictory have been around as long as our beloved Prophet has. It’s nothing new.
There may be a number of verses people point out as contradictory. It’s too numerous to name them all and we will suffice with the example of the prohibition of alcohol.
The ‘Contradiction’ of Laws Relating to Alcohol
Verses about alcohol were sent in stages. The chronological order of revelation is as follows:
- Surah Baqarah, Verse 219: “They ask you ˹O Prophet˺ about intoxicants and gambling. Say, “There is great evil in both, as well as some benefit for people—but the evil outweighs the benefit.”
- Suran An-Nisa, Verse 43: “O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying.”
- Surah Al-Mai’dah, Verse 90: “O believers! Intoxicants, gambling, idols, and drawing lots for decisions are all evil of Satan’s handiwork. So shun them so you may be successful.”
Although Allah (SWT) is the ultimate Lawgiver, He is Kind, Compassionate and, ultimately, Wise. Perhaps He knows that if He immediately and directly gave the prohibition of alcohol to a society that was so used to it, they may rebel, leave Islam or find it unbearing to follow. As a result, God first acknowledges that there are benefits to alcohol but counterargues and says the evils are far heavier than the good. This is evident in society today. As much as the odd study of alcohol suggests positive health benefits, its and devasting side is far more overwhelming than these small benefits.
In the next stage, God continues to allow the Muslims to drink alcohol but requests that they at least not drink it before praying. Lastly, once God felt the Muslims were at a mature stage, He entirely bans it in all situations and circumstances.
Answering Criticisms of Alcohol Laws
Now, a critic of the Qu’ran may say these verses are contradictory. In one part of the Book, God is only generally discussing alcohol, in another part, He bans it entirely and in another segment, He says “only avoid it before prayer.” Isn’t this a contradiction?
Obviously, it’s not. People who lay such claims usually don’t know the basics of Qu’ranic sciences. That is, the Book was not revealed in one go and rather was revealed over a number of years according to the situation of the time. The laws pertaining to alcohol, when viewed against the time each respective verse was revealed, make complete sense.
Furthermore, let’s assume the Book was given in one go. This does not make the verses contradictory. If anything, the verses complement each other, starting with general verses about alcohol to begin the discourse and ending with a specific law.
If I am never allowed to drink alcohol, that automatically means I am not allowed to drink it before prayer and, subsequently, it is due to the dangers of alcohol that are self-evident.
The verses work in harmony. It’s like saying in one instance “I live in New York.” And in another instance saying “I live in America” And someone responding saying it’s contradictory. Of course, it is not because America is the general, whilst New York is specific. Similarly, the general vs specific verses about alcohol add up.
It’s important we are able to answer these criticisms and defend our Book and religion from those who may have genuine questions and from anyone with malicious intentions. Our knowledge of religion may change someones mind about Islam or, better, bring them to the religion.