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Why do some Quranic verses abrogate the others?


Before thinking about abrogated verses we need to understand the nature of how the Qur’an was revealed.  It was not something that came down overnight as a complete revelation.  The verses were revealed to Muhammad {SAW} over a period of 20 something years.  Islam wasn’t just an ideology change but a complete lifestyle change.  People even today are generally reluctant to accept change, they don’t make many alterations to their lifestyles unless forced to and even then have a hard time changing without a continued awareness and desire to keep that change.  Think about how hard it is for example in our modern world for people to change their diets.  If you are eating unhealthy foods regularly you’re unlikely to change that until your health deteriorates and diet change becomes necessary to keep living.  People who do recognize dietary problems and desire a change in their diet generally are more successful by making small changes over a period of time.  Being that Allah is our creator and has perfect knowledge he knows this human weakness and how best to bring about that gradual change in the people.

This was why for example Muslims started off being allowed to drink alcohol (because that was common among the people).  Then they were told drinking has more sin than benefit, then not to drink when they come to pray, then don’t drink at all.  This gradual prohibition allowed people time to adjust their habits.  If you were a heavy drinker the first message to a believer may encourage them to slow their drinking to avoid the sins in it.  Then when the second message of don’t drink when you are going to pray might have them give up drinking at certain times and help them further themselves form this behavior.  Then the outright prohibition of it would be something they are already on the path for and more capable of accepting and implementing.  It is difficult for people to give up something like this cold turkey and we have to have self-motivated people in intensive rehab programs to reform alcoholics in the modern world.  This gradual modification to what was expected is then not as strange.

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In addition to gradual change in our behaviors which get progressively more prohibitive there are also examples of things getting less difficult.  For those questioning the validity of the Qur’an at the time of Muhammad {SAW} and claiming his verses were forgeries or made up Allah asked them to produce something similar.  First he tells them to produce something similar.  Then he makes it easier and says produce just ten Surahs like it.  Then later he makes it even easier in his challenge and tells them bring just one surah like it.  So the challenge was made easier to the unbelievers and they still couldn’t accomplish it.

The Qur’an says Allah {SWT} will only not abrogate it without bringing something similar or better.  As we see from the progression of abrogation in the above examples it is a clear path of progressing towards the end goal.  Something is gradually changed to make this easier on the people who were following it at the time.  One can also take this to mean that the message in the Qur’an is here to abrogate verses from the Torah and Bible.  It does not mean that Allah wasn’t able to foresee these things but rather that his knowledge of his creation is so complete and perfect that he knew exactly the way and time in which these changes should be given to produce the desired effect in the community of believers.