Stoning married adulterers is the Sunnah, not the Qur'an

Q617 :I read in a book entitled Punishment in Islamic Law by Muhammad Al-Awa that a Qur'anic verse was abrogated. He refers to this in his discussion of stoning as the punishment for adultery. He also says: "Umar asked the Prophet to allow him to write the abrogated verse but the Prophet refused." Am I to infer from what the author says that the Prophet could have hidden from us a Qur'anic verse that Allah has revealed to him. Please clarify.

A617 : Dr. Muhammad Al-Awa is a close friend of mine and over the years I have had the privilege of discussing with him a good number of Islamic issues, particularly their legal aspects, as Dr. Al-Awa is a distinguished lawyer in addition to his being an Islamic scholar. I have consulted what he has written in the book you have mentioned as well as in other books of his, particularly his priceless work, Fundamentals of the Islamic Criminal Law. Let me first of all tell you that at no point does Dr. Al-Awa imply what you have inferred. I would have certainly asserted that on the basis of my personal knowledge of the man. But I referred to his writings in order to find out whether such an inference on your part can be justified. Again I say without hesitation that your inference cannot be supported on the basis of what Dr. Al-Awa has written. Your inference is, therefore, wrong because it is based on lack of knowledge of what is meant by abrogation, which is known in Islamic terminology as "naskh". In order to make things clear, I will first refer briefly to the particular case of the relevant verse before I discuss the concept of abrogation in general. The verse in question is said to indicate in clear terms the prescribed punishment for adultery, which means an illegitimate sexual intercourse between a married man and a married woman other than his wife. When this offense is proven either by a confession made voluntarily by the offenders or by the testimony of four witnesses who state under oath that they have seen the couple actually committing the offense, the offenders are punished by stoning to death. This punishment is agreed by scholars and there is no question about it. Some scholars say that its basis is a verse of the Qur'an which was revealed stating this punishment, but later this verse was abrogated verbally, but its import continued to be retained. This is stated by scholars of Hadith who attribute to Umar saying that he would have written this verse by the side of the Qur'an, except for his fear that people might think that he has added something to Allah's book. Dr. Al-Awa mentions this without discussing it in detail. He, however, argues that the basis of this punishment is the Sunnah, not this verse, whether or not it was actually revealed and subsequently abrogated. We have very clear statements by the Prophet specifying the punishment for married adulterers and we have also his practical example as he enforced this punishment on them. Dr. Al-Awa's argument is most valid, and there is no doubt that the basis of the punishment of stoning for married adulterers is the Sunnah, not the Qur'an. The concept of abrogation is well known, because Allah revealed the Qur'an over a period of 23 years. There were certain rules and regulations which needed a gradual approach. The clearest example of abrogation is the direction the Muslims face when they pray. At one stage, they were commanded to face Jerusalem in their prayers. In the second year after the Prophet's settlement in Madinah, this was changed by a specific order by Allah to the Prophet and to all Muslims to turn toward the Ka'aba whenever they wish to pray. The first order to face Jerusalem is not stated in the Qur'an, but the second which abrogates the first and determines the new direction of the Qiblah is contained in the Qur'an where Allah refers to the first direction as His own order. As you are well aware, the Prophet does not make an order to Muslims on his own initiative. He only obeys what is revealed to him. Revelations to the Prophet were not limited to the Qur'an. Other things were revealed to him either by inspiration or instruction. Allah tells us in the Qur'an that the Prophet "does not speak out of his own fancy. It is all an inspiration sent down to him." (53; 3-4) Therefore, what the Prophet teaches us is part of our religion. It is not something that he has determined by himself. It is certainly revealed to him. When something is abrogated, that abrogation comes through revelation of equal status. A Qur'anic order may be abrogated with a new Qur'anic order, and an order contained in a Hadith can be abrogated either by the Qur'an or by a subsequent Hadith. As the Qur'an was being revealed, it molded the first Muslim community in such a way which makes that community an example to be followed by all Muslim generations. The Qur'an took that community by the hand and guided it through different stages of development. Therefore, the concept of abrogation was necessary as the community moved from one stage to another in its advocacy and implementation of the new faith. The initial orders which required the Muslims to do something, and the subsequent ones which changed that requirement or practice, have been retained, because they are of immense value to us when we study the life and the work of that first Muslim community. I hope that I have clarified this concept adequately. May I come back to your inference which you expressed in the following words: "I infer that the Prophet (peace be upon him) could have hidden from us a verse that Allah revealed to him." May I tell you that this is very serious indeed. The Prophet has conveyed Allah's message to us complete. He has not hesitated to convey anything revealed to him, even though it might have stirred endless tally to his mission, conveying to us every detail Allah has given him. Every Muslim should believe so, otherwise his statement that he believes in Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as Allah's messenger will be called in question. The Prophet has also given us good counsel to follow the divine constitution which was revealed to him. May Allah give him the greatest of regard and blessing He gives to any other messenger of His.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )