In the Quran we read the following verse that talks about abrogation:
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? (2:106)
So the Quran talks about how certain verses in the Quran are sometimes abrogated for another verse. What this means for example, is that the Quran may have stipulated a ruling at some point, but later came up with another ruling that abrogated the previous ruling.
One such example of this is the issue of alcohol, at the earlier stages of the Quranic revelation, alcohol was allowed to be consumed by the Muslim community, but later on the Quran completely forbade the consumption of alcohol and the earlier allowance for drinking alcohol was abrogated.
Now some critics of Islam often allege that the issue of abrogation somehow disproves the integrity of the Quran, and that is also somehow casts doubt on God’s knowledge, for how can God abrogate a former ruling and so on, shouldn’t he have known from the start?
Does the issue of abrogation actually cast doubt on the Quran’s integrity? Not at all, if anything the issue of abrogation highlights God’s wisdom, rather than the opposite.
Anyone who studies about the Quran, will know that it was revealed over a period of 23 years, that’s more than two decades. The Quran was not revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) for his people at one go, it was revealed in stages and over a long period of time. As such, one would expect some earlier rulings that may have applied, to eventually be replaced by newer rulings. If you want to change or reform someone, you don’t do it in one day, rather it’s a gradual process that takes time. And this in fact shows God’s wisdom, because he allowed the Quran to be gradually revealed to the new community, rather than placing everything on them at one go.
We come back to the issue of alcohol again to highlight this point, if the Quran initially came out and told the early Muslim community to stop drinking alcohol, it would be very difficult on them as they were a community that heavily drank alcohol. So you couldn’t just change these people overnight and tell them to stop drinking alcohol, rather this had to be a gradual process that eventually brought them to the point that would make it possible for them to stop alcohol consumption.
This is what we would expect from an understanding God, and so this highlights the wisdom of the Quran and it’s divine nature, rather than the opposite, as the critics would allege.
The issue of abrogation is not a contradiction either as we have explained, the Quran was revealed gradually so something that may have applied earlier, may have not necessarily applied later on.