Elaboration Of Naskh (Abrogation) ‚Äď Its Terms and Conditions

Elaboration Of Naskh (Abrogation) ‚Äď Its Terms and Conditions

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


[By Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ Usmani (rahmatullah alayh)]

Whenever  we  abrogate  a  verse  or  cause  it  to  be  forgotten,  We  bring  one  better  than  it  or  one  equal  to  it.  Do you  not  know  that  Allah  is  powerful  over  everything? Do  you  not  know  that  to  Allah  alone belongs  the  kingdom  of the  heavens  and  the  earth?  And,  you  have  none,  other than  Allah,  to  protect  or  help you.

[Surah Baqarah 106-107]

Verse  106  speaks  of  Allah  abrogating  certain  verses,  or  making  men  forget  certain  others.  The  first  phrase  of  the  verse,  thus  covers  all the  possible  forms  in  which  a  verse  of  the  Qur’an  can  be  abrogated.

The¬† Arabic¬† word¬† in¬† the¬† text¬† is¬†¬†Naskh,¬† which¬† has¬† two¬† lexical¬† meanings¬† ‚Äst

(1) to  write,  and 

(2)¬† to¬† abolish,¬† to¬† repeal.¬† According¬† to¬† the¬† consensus of¬† all¬† the¬† commentators,¬† the¬† word¬† has¬† been¬† employed¬† in¬† this¬† verse¬† in the¬† second¬† sense¬† ‚ÄĒ¬† that¬† is,¬† the¬† repeal¬† or¬† abrogation¬† of¬† an¬† injunction.¬†

So,¬† in¬† the¬† terminology¬† of¬† the¬† Holy¬† Qur‚Äôan¬† and¬† the¬† Hadith,¬†¬†Naskh¬† signifies¬† the¬† promulgation¬† of¬† an¬† injunction¬† in¬† place¬† of¬† another¬† ‚ÄĒ¬† whether¬† the¬† later¬† injunction¬† merely¬† consists¬† in¬† the¬† repeal¬† of¬† the¬† earlier¬† or,¬† substitutes¬† a¬† new¬† regulation¬† in¬† its¬† place.¬†

The  other  form  of  Naskh  mentioned  in  this  verse  is  that  sometimes  Allah  made  the  Holy  Prophet   and  the  blessed  Companions  forget  a  certain  verse  altogether.  The  commentators  have  cited  several  instances  of  this  kind  of  Naskh,  and  the  purpose  in  such  cases  has  usually  been  to  repeal  a  certain  regulation.

The  Kinds  of  Abrogation

Making  laws  and  repealing  them  to  promulgate  new  ones  in  their  stead  is  a  regular  and  well-known  practice  in  human  governments  and institutions.  But  in  the  case  of  man-made  laws  abrogation  takes  place sometimes  because  the  law-makers  do  not  understand  the  situation  properly  while  making  a  certain  law.

And  have  to  change  it  when  they  realize  their  mistakes,  and  sometimes  because  when  a  law  is  promul- gated,  it  is  in  accord  with  the  prevailing  situation,  but  when  quite  unforeseen  changes  alter  the  situation,  the  law  too  has  to  be  changed.  But  these  two  forms  of  abrogation  are  out  of  the  question  in  the  case  of divine  injunctions.

There  is,  however,  a  third  form  too.  The  lawmaker  makes  a  law, knowing  fully  well  that  the  circumstances  are  going  to  change  in  such  a  way  that  the  law  will  no  longer  be  suitable  for  the  new  situation;  so, when  the  situation  changes  as  he  already  knew,  he  changes  the  law  too,  and  promulgates  a  new  one  which  he  had  thought  of  at  the  very  start. 

For¬† example,¬† a¬† physician¬† prescribes¬† a¬† medicine¬† for¬† a¬† patient¬† in¬† view¬† of¬† his¬† present¬† conditions,¬† but¬† he¬† knows¬† that¬† when¬† the¬† patient¬† has¬† been¬† using¬† it¬† for¬† two¬† days,¬† his¬† condition¬† will¬† change¬† and¬† require¬† a¬† new medicine¬† ‚ÄĒ¬† with¬† this¬† realization,¬† he¬† prescribes¬† a¬† medicine¬† suitable¬† for¬† that¬† day,¬† but¬† two¬† days¬† later,¬† when¬† circumstances¬† have¬† changed,¬† he prescribes¬† a¬† new¬† one.¬†

The  physician  can  easily  give  the  patient written  instructions  for  the  whole  course  of  the  treatment,  with  all  the  changes  in  the  medicines-duly  indicated.  But  this  would  be  putting  too  much  burden  on  the  already  feeble  patient,  and  there  would  also  be  the  danger  of  some  harm  through  a  possible  error  or misunderstanding. 

This  is  the  only  form  of  abrogation  which  can  occur,  and  has  been  occurring  in  divine  injunctions  and  in  divine  books.  Every  new  Shari’ah  and  every  new  revealed  Book  has  been  abrogating  many injunctions  of  the  earlier  Shari’ah  and  of  the  earlier  Book. 

Similarly,  within  the  same  Shari’ah,  too,  it  has  always  happened  that  a  certain  law  was  in  force  for  a  time,  but  Divine  Wisdom  chose  to  abrogate  it  and  to  promulgate  another  in  its  place. 

A¬† hadith¬† reported¬† by¬† Imam¬† Muslim¬† says:¬†¬†¬†¬†‚ÄúThere¬† has¬† never¬† been¬† a¬† prophethood¬† which¬† did¬† not¬† abrogate¬† some¬† injunctions.‚Ä̬†

This  is  a  principle  which  it  should  not  be  difficult  to  understand.  It  was  only  some  malicious  and  ignorant  Jews  who  confused  the  divine  abrogation  of  injunctions  with the  two  forms  of  the  repeal  of  man-made  laws,  and  began,  in  their  impudence,  to  taunt  the  Holy  Prophet  (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam)  in  reply  to  which,  as  we  have  said,  these  two  verses  were  revealed.  [Ibn Jarir, Ibn  Kathir]

As  for  the  Muslims,  it  was  probably  in  their  desire  to  avoid  giving  occasion  to  the  enemies  of  Islam  for  such  taunts  that  some  from  among the  Mu’tazilah  tried  to  explain  away  the  whole  question  of  Naskh. 

Logically¬† speaking,¬† there¬† is¬† a¬† possibility¬† ‚ÄĒ¬† so¬† ran¬† their¬† argument¬† ‚ÄĒ¬† of¬† abrogation¬† in¬† the¬† case¬† of¬† divine¬† injunctions,¬† and¬† the¬† possibility¬† cannot¬† be¬† denied¬† on¬† any¬† rational¬† ground,¬†

but  abrogation  has  not  actually  occurred  in  the  Holy  Qur’an,  and  there  is  no  verse  in  the  Holy  Book  which  abrogates  another  (Nasikh)  and  no  verse  which  has  been  abrogated  (Mansukh). 

This¬† view¬† is¬† attributed¬† to¬† Abi¬† Muslim¬† al-Isfahani,¬† but¬† the¬† ‚ÄėUlama‚Äô¬† in¬† general¬† have¬† always¬† rejected¬† this¬† opinion,¬† and¬† refuted¬† the¬† argument.¬†

Thus,  we  read  in  Ruh  al-Ma’ani:

‚ÄúThe¬† people¬† belonging¬† to¬† all¬† the¬† Shari‚Äôahs¬† are¬† unanimous¬† in accepting¬† the¬† validity¬† of¬† abrogation¬† and¬† its¬† actual¬† occurrence¬† both. Only¬† the¬† Jews¬† ‚ÄĒ¬† with¬† the¬† exception¬† of¬† their¬† ‚ÄėIsawiyyah¬† sect¬† have¬† denied¬† the¬† possibility¬† of¬† abrogation,¬† and¬† Abu¬† Muslim¬† al-Isfahani;¬† has¬† denied¬† its¬† occurrence, for¬† he¬† says¬† that¬† it¬† is¬† rationally¬† possible,¬† but¬† has¬† not¬† actually¬† taken¬† place.‚ÄĚ

Imam  al-Qurtubi  says:

‚ÄúIt¬† is¬† essential¬† to¬† understand¬† the¬† question¬† of¬† abrogation,¬† and great¬† benefits¬† flow¬† from¬† such¬† an¬† understanding,¬† which¬† no scholar¬† can¬† dispense¬† with,¬† and¬† no¬† one¬† can¬† deny¬† abrogation¬† except¬† the¬† ignorant¬† and¬† the¬† dull-headed.‚ÄĚ

In¬† this¬† connection,¬† al-Qurtubi has¬† related¬† a¬† very¬† illuminating incident.¬† The¬† fourth¬† Khalifah¬† Sayyidina¬† ‚ÄėAIi¬† (radhiyallahu¬† anhu)¬† saw¬† a¬† man¬† preaching¬† in¬† the¬† mosque.¬† He¬† asked¬† the¬† people¬† what¬† the¬† man¬† was doing.¬† On¬† being¬† told¬† that¬† he¬† was¬† preaching,¬† the¬† blessed¬† Khalifah¬† said:¬†

‚ÄúHe¬† is¬† not¬† doing¬† anything¬† of¬† the¬† sort,¬† but¬† only¬† announcing¬† to¬† the¬† people¬† that¬† he¬† is¬† such¬† and¬† such¬† a¬† man¬† and¬† the¬† son¬† of¬† such¬† and¬† such, and¬† asking¬† them¬† to¬† recognize¬† and¬† remember¬† him.‚Ä̬†

Calling  the  man  to  his  side,  he  asked: 

‚ÄúDo¬† you¬† know¬† the¬† injunctions¬† which¬† have¬† been¬† abrogated¬† and¬† those¬† which¬† have¬† abrogated¬† the¬† earlier¬† ones?‚Ä̬† When¬† he confessed¬† that¬† he¬† did¬† not,¬† the¬† Khalifah¬† turned¬† him¬† out¬† of¬† the¬† mosque, and¬† ordered¬† him¬† never¬† to¬† preach¬† there.

It  is  not  feasible  to  cite  here  all  the  sayings  of  the  blessed Companions  and  their  immediate  Successors  (Tabi’in) which  affirm  the  actual  occurrence  of  abrogation  in  the  case  of  injunctions  laid  down  by  the  Holy  Qur’an  and  the  Hadith. 

Some  of  these  have  been  quoted,  along  with  the  evidence  for  the  authenticity  of  the  reports,  in  the  commentaries  of  Ibn  Jarir and  Ibn  Kathir etc.  and  in  Al-Durr al-Manthur. As  for  the  reports  less  strongly  authenticated,  they  are  just  innumerable. 

That¬† is¬† why¬† there¬† has¬† always¬† been¬† a¬† total consensus¬† of¬† the¬† ‚ÄėUlama¬† on¬† the¬† question¬† of¬†¬†Naskh,¬† except¬† for¬† Abu Muslim¬† al-Isfahani¬† and¬† a¬† few¬† others¬† from¬† among¬† the¬† Mu‚Äôtazilah¬† who¬† have¬† denied¬† the¬† actual¬† occurrence¬† of¬† abrogation¬† ‚ÄĒ¬† but¬† Imam¬† Razi¬† has,¬† in¬† his¬† commentary, exposed¬† in¬† detail¬† the¬† hollowness¬† of¬† their¬† opinion.

The  Terminology  of  the  Naskh

It  is  also  essential  to  keep  in  mind  a  certain  distinction  in  the  use of  the  word  Naskh  as  a  technical  term  of  the  Shari’ah. The  technical  sense  of  the  word  implies  changing  an  injunction,  and  replacing  one injunction  by  another. 

Now,¬† this¬† change¬† may¬† consist¬† in¬† repealing¬† an¬† injunction¬† altogether¬† and¬† replacing¬† it¬† by¬† another¬† (for¬† example,¬† fixing¬† the¬† Ka‚Äôbah¬† as¬† the¬†¬†Qiblah¬† ‚ÄĒ¬† the¬† direction¬† towards¬† which¬† Muslims¬† turn¬† in¬† their¬† prayers¬† ‚ÄĒ¬† instead¬† of¬† the¬† Baytul-Maqdis); the¬† change¬† may¬† equally¬† consist¬† in¬† retaining¬† an¬† injunction¬† but¬† adding¬† certain¬† condition¬† and¬† provisions¬† to¬† it.¬†

The¬† ‚ÄėUlama¬† of¬† the¬† early¬† period¬† of¬† Islam¬† have used¬† the¬† word¬†¬†Naskh¬† in¬† this¬† general¬† and¬† comprehensive¬† sense¬† which¬† includes¬† the¬† total¬† repeal¬† of¬† an¬† injunction¬† as¬† well¬† as¬† a¬† partial¬† change¬† in¬† an¬† injunction¬† with¬† the¬† addition¬† of¬† certain¬† conditions,¬† provisions¬† or exceptions.¬†

That¬† is¬† why¬† the¬† ‚ÄėUlama¬† of¬† the¬† earlier¬† period¬† have¬† indicated¬† some¬† five¬† hundred¬† verses¬† of¬† the¬† Holy¬† Qur‚Äôan¬† which,¬† according¬† to¬† them,¬† have¬† been¬† abrogated.

But,¬† according¬† to¬† the¬† ‚ÄėUlama¬† of¬† a¬† later¬† period,¬† only¬† that¬† change¬† is¬† to¬† be¬† called¬† a¬†¬†Naskh¬† which¬† cannot¬† in¬† any¬† way¬† be¬† brought¬† into¬† consonance¬† with¬† an¬† earlier¬† injunction.¬† Obviously,¬† this¬† approach¬† greatly¬† reduces¬† the¬† number¬† of¬† abrogated¬† verses.¬† For¬† example,¬† there are,¬† according¬† to¬† al-Suyuti,¬† only¬† twenty¬† such¬† verses.¬†

Later¬† on,¬† Shah Waliullah,¬† seeking¬† to¬† bring¬† the¬† abrogated¬† injunctions¬† in¬† consonance¬† with¬† the¬† earlier¬† injunctions,¬† reduced¬† the¬† number¬† of¬† abrogated¬† verses¬† to¬† only¬† five¬† ‚ÄĒ¬† these¬† being¬† the¬† cases¬† where¬† later¬† injunctions¬† could¬† not¬† be¬† made¬† to¬† correspond¬† with¬† the¬† earlier¬† ones¬† without¬† far-fetched¬† interpretations.¬†

This  effort  is  highly  commendable,  because  the  basic  postulate  behind  an  injunction  is  its  permanence,  while  abrogation  goes  against  this  postulate,  and  hence  it  is  not  proper  to  posit  abrogation  in  a  verse  laying  down  an  injunction  which  can,  in  some  justifiable  manner,  be  shown  to  be  still  valid.

But¬† this¬† effort¬† to¬† reduce¬† the¬† number¬† of¬† abrogated¬† verses¬† does¬† not,¬† and¬† cannot¬† in¬† the¬† least¬† imply¬† (as¬† the¬† ‚Äėmodernists‚Äô¬† have¬† been¬† all¬† too¬† impatient¬† to¬† believe.)¬† that¬† the¬† presence¬† of¬† abrogation¬† is¬† in¬† any¬† way¬† ‚ÄĒ¬† may¬† Allah¬† forgive¬† us¬† for¬† reproducing¬† a¬† blasphemy¬† ‚ÄĒ¬† a shortcoming¬† or¬† defect¬† in¬† the¬† Holy¬† Qur‚Äôan¬† or¬† Islam,¬† that¬† the¬† ‚ÄėUlama¬† have¬† for¬† the¬† last¬† fourteen¬† hundred¬† years¬† been¬† trying¬† to¬† remove¬† it,

that  the  ultimate  inspiration  came  to  Shah  Waliullah  whose  extraordinary  achievement  lies  in  having  reduced  the  number  of  abrogated  verses  to  five,  and  that  now  one  may  wait  for  a  few  geniuses  who  would  bring  the  number  down  to  zero.

To¬† adopt¬† such¬† an¬† approach¬† towards¬† the¬† question¬† of¬†¬†‚ÄúNaskh‚Ä̬† is¬† no¬† service¬† to¬† Islam¬† or¬† to¬† the¬† Holy¬† Qur‚Äôan (to¬† which¬† pretends¬† the¬† whole¬† tribe¬† of¬† self-styled¬† scholars,¬† researchers, ‚Äúexperts¬† in¬† Islamic¬† studies‚ÄĚ and¬† ‚Äúrevivificateurs of¬† Islam.‚ÄĚ),¬† nor¬† can¬† it¬† obliterate¬† the¬† profound¬† investigations¬† into¬† truth¬† of¬† the¬† matter¬† made¬† by¬† the¬† blessed¬† Companions,¬† their¬† Successors,¬† and¬† the¬† ‚ÄėUlama¬† of¬† the¬† generations¬† that¬† followed¬† them¬† during¬† the¬† last¬† fourteen¬† hundred¬† years,¬† nor¬† can¬† it¬† stop¬† the¬† recriminations¬† of¬† the¬† enemies¬† of¬† Islam.¬†

In¬† fact,¬† all¬† it¬† would¬† do¬† is¬† to¬† furnish¬† a¬† weapon¬† to¬† the¬† present-day¬† traducers¬† of¬† Islam¬† and¬† those¬† who¬† wish¬† to¬† rebel¬† against¬† Islam,¬† who¬† would¬† now¬† be¬† saying¬† that¬† what¬† the¬† ‚ÄėUlama¬† of¬† the¬† Islamic¬† Ummah¬† have¬† been¬† maintaining¬† on¬† the¬† subject¬† for¬† the¬† last¬† fourteen¬† hundred¬† years¬† has¬† finally¬† proved¬† to¬† be¬† wrong. May¬† Allah¬† forbid¬† such¬† a¬† thing!¬†

If¬† this¬† door¬† is¬† opened,¬† it¬† would¬† let¬† in¬† all¬† kinds¬† of¬† disorders,¬† and¬† all¬† the¬† injunctions¬† of¬† the¬† Shari‚Äôah¬† would¬† come¬† under¬† suspicion.¬† Then,¬† is¬† there¬† any¬† guarantee¬† that¬† the¬† results¬† of¬† this¬† ‚Äúmodernistic‚Ä̬† research¬† would¬† not¬† turn¬† out¬† to¬† be¬† wrong¬† tomorrow!¬†

We¬† have¬† come¬† across¬† certain¬† recent¬† writings¬† in¬† which¬† an¬† attempt¬† has¬† been¬† made¬† to¬† revive¬† the¬† argument¬† of¬† Abu¬† Muslim¬† al-Isfahani.¬† Such¬† writers¬† begin¬† with¬† the¬† assumption¬† that¬† the¬† Arabic¬† word¬†¬†‚ÄėMa‚Äô¬† in¬† verse¬† 106¬† is¬† not¬† a¬† relative¬† or¬† adverbial¬† pronoun¬† signifying¬† ‚Äúwhenever‚ÄĚ,¬† or¬† ‚Äúwhichever‚Ä̬† but¬† a¬† conjunction¬† implying¬† ‚Äėif‚Äô¬† that¬† introduces¬† a¬† conditional¬† clause;¬† so,¬† they¬† translate¬† the¬† first¬† phrase¬† of¬† the¬† the¬† verse¬† not¬† as¬† ‚Äúwhichever¬†¬† verse¬† We¬† abrogate‚ÄĚ,¬†

but¬† as¬†¬† ‚Äúif¬† We¬† abrogate¬† a¬† verse‚ÄĚ,¬† and¬† say¬† that¬† the¬† statement¬†¬† pertains¬† to¬† a¬† supposition¬† or¬† to¬† an¬† imaginary¬† situation¬† as¬† do¬† the¬† phrases¬† beginning¬† with¬† the¬† Arabic¬† word¬†Laww¬† (if) ‚ÄĒ¬† for¬† example:¬†‚ÄúIf¬† there¬† were¬† in¬† the¬† sky¬† and¬† the earth¬† another¬† god¬† beside¬† Allah‚Ä̬†[21:22]¬†¬†‚ÄúIf¬† the, All-Merciful¬† had¬† a¬† son‚Ä̬†[43:81].¬†

On  this  basis,  they  argue  that  abrogation  is  possible,  but  has  never  actually  occurred.  Such  writers,  we  are  afraid,  do  not  show  an  intimate  knowledge  of  Arabic  grammar,  for  there  is  a  great  deal  of  difference  between  a  condition  suggested  by  the  word  Ma  and  the  imaginary  situation  introduced  by  the conjunction  Laww. 

Moreover,  it  is  on  the  basts  of  this  verse  itself  that the  blessed  Companions  have  affirmed  the  occurrence  of  abrogation,  and  have  even  cited  many  instances.  So  have  their  Successors  and  all  authentic  Commentators.  In  view  of  such  unanimity,  the  new-fangled  interpretation  cannot  be  acceptable.  Even  Shah  Waliullah, in  reducing  the  number  of  abrogated  verses,  has  never  thought  of denying  the  fact  of  abrogatim. 

In¬† short,¬† all¬† the¬† authentic¬† and¬† authoritative¬† ‚ÄėUlama,¬† from¬† the¬† days¬† of¬† the¬† blessed¬† Companions¬† down¬† to¬† our¬† own¬† day,¬† have¬† always¬† affirmed¬† not¬† only¬† the¬† possibility,¬† but¬† also¬† the¬† actual¬† occurrence¬† of¬† abrogation.¬† This¬† has¬† been¬† the¬† position¬† of¬† all¬† the¬† ‚ÄėUlama¬† of¬† Deoband¬† too,¬† without¬† any¬† exception.

Allah kniws Best.