The Legal History of Koran

Abrogated Laws

So much for abrogated readings; the case is somewhat different when we come to the abrogation of laws and directions to the Moslems, which often occurs in the Koran. There is nothing in this at variance with Mahomet’s idea of God. God is to him an absolute despot, who declares a thing right or wrong from no inherent necessity but by his arbitrary fiat. This God varies his commands at pleasure, prescribes one law for the Christians, another for the Jews, and a third for the Moslems; nay, he even changes his instructions to the Moslems when it pleases him. (…) (1)

Contents of the Koran

A great number contain ceremonial or civil laws, or even special commands to individuals down to such matters as the regulation of Mahomet’s harem. In not a few definite questions are answered which had actually been propounded to the Prophet by believers or infidels. Mahomet himself, too, repeatedly receives direct injunctions, and does not escape an occasional rebuke. (…)

A decree about the right of inheritance, or a point of ritual, must necessarily be expressed in prose, if it is to be intelligible. No one complains of the civil laws in Exodus or the sacrificial ritual in Leviticus, because they want the fire of Isaiah or the tenderness of Deuteronomy. (…)

After the migration to Medina (a.d. 622) we are told that short pieces—chiefly legal decisions—were taken down immediately after they were revealed, by an adherent whom he summoned for the purpose; so that nothing stood in the way of their publication. (…)

The word mathānī is, as Geiger has conjectured, the regular plural of the Aramaic mathnīthā, which is the same as the Hebrew Mishnah, and denotes in Jewish usage a legal decision of some of the ancient Rabbins. But in the Koran Mahomet appears to have understood it in the sense of “saying” or “sentence” (cf. xxxix. 24).

Medinan Sūras

A part of the Medina pieces consists of formal laws belonging to the ceremonial, civil and criminal codes; or directions about certain temporary complications. The most objectionable parts of the whole Koran are those which treat of Mahomet’s relations with women. The laws and regulations were generally very concise revelations, but most of them have been amalgamated with other pieces of similar or dissimilar import, and are now found in very long sūras. (2)



  1. Encyclpedia Britannica (11th Edition)
  2. Id.

See Also

  • Legal Biography
  • Legal Traditions
  • Historical Laws
  • History of Law

Further Reading






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