Many have fallen with the bottle in their hand.
Among the most common misconceptions raised against the Qur’an is the issue of “Abrogation”. Some would say: “How come that the verses of the divine Holy book contradict themselves? One time God says one thing, later on, He says another! How could this hesitating attitude be attributed to The Omniscient Creator? It seems that the God of the Qur’an didn’t know any better than this, Way to go Muslims, keep up the spirit of faith!”
When Prophet Muhammad started preaching Islam in Arabia, its teachings were quite different from the Arabs’ customs and daily life traditions. Arabs were addicted to drinking wine and gambling among many other bad customs. Those customs were deeply entrenched in the society that it was so hard to change people’s convictions all at once and force them to abandon them. Therefore, the Qur’an brought important changes gradually, to allow all people to adjust to the new prescriptions, while observing their welfare in the process and reducing any difficulty. Let’s take an example for better understanding. In the Qur’an, there are four verses tackling the issue of wine. Drinking wine was widespread among Arabs before the advent of Islam. Although a social evil, it was highly esteemed and many of them were addicted to it. This is why its prohibition was revealed in 4 stages:
1- “And from the fruits of date palms and grape vines, you obtain intoxicants, and good provision. Surely, in that there is a sign for people of understanding.” [The Qur’an (16:67)]
This verse is a lenient blame from the Creator to the believers. It is an invitation for them to think and ponder over how they make use of Allah’s provision from dates and grapes. They either enjoy their natural taste by directly eating them, or they use them in making wine and intoxicants which are not a good provision. Later on, after this verse was revealed, many of the companions went asking the prophet about wine’s lawfulness and whether it was something evil or not.
2- “They ask you (O Muhammad) concerning wine and gambling. Say: ‘In them is great sin, and some profit for men, but the sin is greater than the profit’.” [The Qur’an (2:219)]
This verse was revealed to the prophet in respond to the previously mentioned incident. The verse here emphasizes that drinking wine is a doorway to sins, as it dulls the senses and weakens your consciousness. Since that consciousness acts as brakes against indulging into lusts and evil deeds, therefore, once it is anesthetized, the doorway to all sorts of evil deeds is left open. As noted in this verse, drinking has not been clearly identified as something unlawful, but its evil has been pointed out, that it may lead man into many sinful acts. This allusion was a kind of good advice urging the believers to reduce the wine dosages they were used to, but complete prohibition was still on hold for a wisdom that only The Creator knew back then.
3- “O you who believe! Approach not prayers with a mind befogged (drunk), until you know (the meaning of) all that you say” [The Qur’an (4:43)]
Now in this verse, Allah clearly prohibited the believers from approaching their prayers while they are still under the effect of wine. They must be completely sober in order to perform the prayers ordained upon them. Since that there are five prayers every day starting with the dawn prayer, followed by the noon prayer, then the afternoon, then the sunset and finally the evening prayers, therefore, the only available time for drinking will be during the night for this is the only period long enough for them to get rid of the drinking side effects. This verse is a semi-prohibition that resulted in a forced decrease to the wine dosages that the Muslims were used to, but still complete prohibition is on hold for a wisdom that only Allah knew back then.
4- “O you who believe! Intoxicants (i.e. all kinds of alcoholic drinks) and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination, of Satan’s handwork: eschew such (abomination), that you may prosper. Satan’s plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer: will you not then abstain?” [The Qur’an (5:90-91)]
These verses were the last stage that led to total prohibition for drinking wine. Humans have no sustainer or helper except their Creator. This gradual prohibition for wine proves that Allah is All-Knowing of his creation, All-Wise and Most Merciful. Had wine been prohibited suddenly in one step without this gradual reduction to the dosages that Muslims were used to, they would have failed to quit. This was to give all people the least possible inconvenience. Regarding Allah’s orders and obligations that He imposes upon mankind, Allah says in the Qur’an: “Allah burdens not a soul beyond its capacity.” [The Qur’an (2:286)]
The demand and need for this wisdom and full knowledge of the human nature that suffers incredibly to cut away from a habit of a life-time, especially like addiction to drinking wine, was what reasoned behind this divine gradual prohibition. After this, drinking intoxicants was made a crime in the Islamic law. The reader here should not think that the verses of the first two steps were abrogated and are no longer required, for what would be the situation if a person was dizzy with a foggy mind under the effect of a medical anesthetic and wanted to pray? The answer is still in the verse of the third stage, he should not approach his prayers with a befogged mind. Also what will be the situation if a person embraced Islam recently, and he or she was addicted to drinking? The same Qur’anic approach should be followed in treating his or her addiction. Through this approach the new Muslim may reduce his drinking habits until he finally stops drinking.
Allah gradates His legal injunctions, knowing full well that the circumstances are going to change in such a way that some laws will no longer be best for people’s interest. Hence, when the circumstances change, a more suitable law is promulgated, till finally, the aimed law from the very beginning is reached and the community’s circumstances are improved. The previous example from the Qur’an was verification for this. This is exactly like a physician who is trying to treat a patient. First, he prescribes a certain medicine in view of the patient’s present conditions, while he knows very well that after the patient uses this medication for two weeks, his condition will change and require a new medicine or new dosages. Therefore, based on his knowledge, he prescribes the proper medicine and dosage suitable for the patient’s current condition and tells him to come back after 2 weeks for recheck and consultation. Two weeks later, when the patient’s condition has developed and the circumstances have changed, the physician prescribes a new medicine and a new dosage. Some may think that the physician can easily give the patient written instructions for the whole course of treatment with all modifications duly indicated. To this logic we say, how will the patient know whether his condition has developed to the next level or not without consulting the doctor?! So this would be putting too much burden on the already feeble patient, and there would be the danger of some harm through possible errors or misunderstanding from the patient’s side. This is the only form of abrogation which has been occurring in the Qur’anic injunctions for the sake of mankind’s reformation. In short, it is not abrogation but gradation in the legal rulings.
Written by: Ehab Shawky
In response to: Bottle