Naskh (tafsir)

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Naskh (نسخ) is an Arabic language word usually translated as "abrogation"; It is a term used in Islamic legal exegesis for seemingly contradictory material within or between the two primary sources of Islamic law: the Quran and the Sunna. Several Qur'anic verses state that some revelations in the Quran have been abrogated and substituted by later revelations.[1][2]

The principle of abrogation of an older verse by a new verse of Quran, or within the Hadiths is a well established principle in Sharia.[3][4][5] The possibility of abrogation between these two primary sources of Islam, though, has been a more contentious issue.[6] The allowability of abrogation between sources has been one of the major differences between the Shafi'i and Hanafi fiqhs, with Shafi'i sect of jurisprudence forbidding abrogation by the Sunna of the Qur'ān, while Hanafi sect allowing abrogation by the Sunna of the Qur'ān.[7][8]

Seventy one of the Quran's one hundred fourteen surah contain abrogated verses according to one estimate.[9] Muslim exegetes and jurists have disagreed and disputed the number of verses of the Quran and sunnah in the Hadiths recognized as abrogated.[10][11]

Definition and etymology[edit]

Naskh refers to the exegetical theory of abrogation for the Quran and the Hadiths, wherein the contradictory verses within or between these Islamic scriptures are analyzed.[11] Through Naskh, the superseding verse as well as the superseded verse(s) are determined for the purposes of formulating Sharia.[11][12]

Naskh literally means "obliteration, cancellation, transfer, suppression, suspension" depending on the context.[13][14][15] It is also referred to as Mansukh doctrine (or, that which has been abrogated).[16]

Naskh shares the same root as the words appearing in the phrase al-nāsikh wal-mansūkh (الناسخ والمنسوخ, "the abrogating and abrogated [verses]").


The stem n-s-kh occurs four times within the Qur'ān in verses 7:154, 45:29, 22:52, and 2:106. The first two occurrences come in the context of texts and scribal activity: "in the writing [nuskhah] thereon" (Q.7:154) and "For We were wont to put on Record [nastansikh] all that ye did" (Q.45:29).

Verses of abrogation[edit]

The verse 2:106 and 16:101 of the Quran are known as the "verses of abrogation".[3][4][17]

None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things?

— Qur'an 2:106, [18][4]

When We substitute one revelation for another, – and Allah knows best what He reveals (in stages),– they say, "Thou art but a forger": but most of them understand not.

— Qur'an 16:101, [19][4]

These two revealed verses establish the principle of abrogation of an older verse and its substitution with a new verse.[20][3][4] This principle has been historically accepted and applied by vast majority of Islamic jurists on both the Quran and the Sunnah.[3][4][21]

Another verse 13:39 in the Quran, states "Allah doth blot out or confirm what He pleaseth".[22][23] Scholars consider this verse as further confirming the two major modes of abrogation (i.e. suppression and supersession), The verse 16:101 was employed by Imam Shafi'i, the founder of Shafi'i madhhab of Sunni Islam, in his theory of abrogation between sources as proof that a Qur'ān verse can only be abrogated by another Qur'ān verse.

Satanic verses and abrogation[edit]

Another significant occurrence of Naskh is in verse 22:52, which offers a theory on why early verses of the Quran must be discarded.

Never did We send a messenger or a prophet before thee, but, when he framed a desire, Satan threw some (vanity) into his desire: but Allah will cancel anything (vain) that Satan throws in, and Allah will confirm (and establish) His Signs: for Allah is full of Knowledge and Wisdom.

— Qur'an 22:52, [24]

This verse, cited by Tabarī in connection with the incident of the so-called "Satanic Verses", supported an interpretation of naskh as eradication (izāla) and thus made acceptable the idea of naskh as the nullification of a verse without any replacement- naskh al-hukm wa-'l-tilāwa. In Tabarī's interpretation (Tafsīr), states John Burton, some of the early verses that the devil had cast into the Quran is precisely what God removed from it and suppressed through later verses.[25]

Ibn Taymiyyah similarly identified two forms of Naskh. The first category of abrogation was by God through divine revelation where an earlier divine revelation of God was replaced, while the second category of Naskh, which he called al-naw' al-ikharmin al-naskh, were cancellation of the verses which the Satan cast as Muhammad was receiving the revelation.[26]

Later exegetes such as Makkī added that verse 22:52 does not indicate the intellectual acceptability of naskh, rather it shows that God eradicated with later recital what the Devil insinuated into the Prophet's recital. It does not indicate the occurrence in the divine revelations of the naskh of what God considers to be part of his truth.[27] These Islamic scholars relegated verse 22:52 of the Quran to merely lexical significance.

Need and scope[edit]

The Quran was revealed to Muhammad over 22 years, while sunnah in the Hadiths traditionally are held as the sayings and practices of Muhammad over this period.[11] From the early period of Islam's history, scholars noted that certain early verses and later verses covered the same topic, but were contradictory in their requirements.[28] The contradictory commands exist between the verses of the Quran,[29] between different sunna of the Hadiths,[30] as well as between verses of the Quran and the sunna of the Hadiths.[31]

By the 10th century CE, Islamic scholars had enumerated over 235 instances of contradictions and consequent abrogation (naskh), which later doubled to a list of over 550.[11] The scope of the doctrine of Naskh has been controversial, and some Islamic scholars disagree with its premise, usage and applicability. One difficulty has been the need for it at all, because abrogation inherently questions whether the Quran is really the word of God, because states David Powers, the need for Naskh questions the wisdom of the eternal God who is supposed to know everything, why such a God would need to change his mind and his eternal divine will, and why the omniscient omnipotent God would reveal something wrong or imperfect in the first place?[11][32] Scholars have asked, states Powers, whether the Quran is really eternal if the text has contradictions within it, and if one verse of the Quran can suspend and substitute another verse of the Quran.[11]

The "God changing his mind" problem has led some Islamic scholars to deny the allowability of Naskh theory. A few Islamic scholars have declared the Quran to be perfect and without any contradictions through rationalizing the contradictions and reinterpreting the contradictory verses.[11][33] The vast majority of scholars, however, accept that there are significant contradictions within the Quran, within the Hadiths, between the Quran and the Hadiths, and that the doctrine of abrogation as revealed by the Quran is necessary to establish Sharia.[34]


Islamic scholars have offered a range of opinion as to the technical meaning and usage of Naskh'. These span between suspension with replacement of the old verse (ibdāl) to the nullification of the old verse (ibtāl). The former, note scholars, make the coordinate clause's "We substitute something better or similar" tautological. To work around this problem exegetes such as Tabarī interpolated hukm (ruling) in place of the word āya, arguing that if a ruling is replaced the preservation or not of its wording in the mushaf is immaterial, thus letting the verse confirm the two main types of naskh.[35] Alternate interpretations were also suggested for the subordinate clause's "cause to be forgotten" (aw nansahā), such as defer or leave. This was primarily motivated by flight from the theologically repugnant idea of prophetic forgetting,[36] with Q.15:9 cited as evidence of its impossibility. Yet verses Q.17:86, Q.18:24, and Q.87:6–7 explicitly endorse its feasibility. Thus "Qur'ān-forgetting is clearly adumbrated in the Qur'ān".[37] Many ahadith also attest to the phenomenon: entire suras which the Muslims had previously recited, claims one, would one morning be discovered to have been completely erased from memory[38] (cf. Abū 'Ubaid al-Qāsim b. Sallām).


Three modes of naskh were proposed by the classical exegetes, which apply when one verse of the Quran is being compared to another verse in the Quran, or when one sunnah in a Hadith is being compared to another sunnah:[5]

  • naskh al-hukm dūna al-tilāwa: abrogation of the ruling but the wording is kept in the scripture, or abrogation where there is supersession of an early verse by a later verse. A regulation-embodied within either a Qur'ānic verse or a hadith is replaced with a new ruling, but its wording is retained in the scripture, as text within the mushaf.[32] Retaining repealed rules from Islamic scriptures, states Khan, contributes to confusion, because Muslim believers may inadvertently continue to accept and rely on the repealed abrogated rules.[32] However, removing text from Quran or Hadiths has been rejected since medieval times because it challenges the integrity of scriptures and indicates tampering and doctoring of sacred texts.[32]
  • naskh al-hukm wa-'l-tilāwa: abrogation of both ruling and wording, and its suppression/erasure from the scriptures. Applicable only to the Qur'ān. A ruling is voided and its text omitted from the mushaf. Evidence that the verse ever existed is preserved only within tradition. Liaquat Ali Khan states that "very few Muslim jurists concede that any portion of the Quran has been removed" through this mode of abrogation.[32]
  • naskh al-tilāwa dūna al-hukm: abrogation of the wording but not the ruling. Again, applicable only to the Qur'ān. It is also known as Naskh al-qirraah.[32] In this mode of abrogation, the text is deleted from the mushaf, but the rule is a still-functional. Proof of the verse's existence is preserved within tradition (i.e through a hadith report) as well as in the Fiqh.

Of these three modes of naskh, it was the first — naskh al-hukm dūna al-tilāwa — which received widespread recognition.[39] The second mode, naskh al-hukmwa-'l-tilāwa, was also generally acknowledged, in part due to the many alleged instances of revelatory erasure:

Of special importance were allegations of actual omissions from the revelation such as those recording the "loss" of a verse in praise of the Bi'r Ma'ūna martyrs, the Ibn Ādam "verse" and reports on the alleged originally longer versions of sūras IX or XXXIII, said to have once been as long as sūra II and to have been the locus of the stoning "verse" [ āyat al-rajm ]. Lists were compiled of revelations verifiably received by Muhammad and publicly recited during his lifetime until subsequently withdrawn (raf'), with the result that when the divine revelations were finally brought together into book-form, there was collected into the mushaf only what could still be recovered following the death of the Prophet. The mushaf has from the outset been incomplete relative to the revelation, but complete in that we have all that God intended us to have.[40]

The third mode, naskh al-tilāwa dūna al-hukm, was accepted by only a minority of scholars.[41] The most prominent alleged instance of this sort of abrogation is the naskh of the so-called āyat al-rajm, or stoning verse. Adduced to exist from a tradition derived from the caliph 'Umar, the verse provided Qur'ānic sanction for the penalty for adultery found within the Fiqh (i.e. stoning) in contravention to the penalty prescribed by Q.24:2 – flogging.

The postulation of this mode stems (indirectly, however) from Shāfi'ī's source theory which rejected abrogation between sources:

However strictly Shāfi'ī had approached the question of the feasibility or otherwise of the naskh of the Qur'ān by the Sunna, the fact cannot be disguised that he had admitted the stoning penalty for adultery into his Fiqh. It is nowhere mentioned in the Qur'ān (Q.24:2) and has no other source than the Sunna. As Schacht observed, on this point, Shāfi'ī's theoretical structure collapses. Shāfi'ī's failure to explain the presence of stoning in the Fiqh which he had inherited exposed his usūl theory to the criticism of follower and opponent alike, leading to its partial abandonment. Ironically, the attempt to ameliorate the usūl position by reconciling the explanation of stoning to the obvious- that the stoning penalty had derived from a stoning-'verse'- led, in turn, to the adoption by followers of non-Shāfi'ī usūl of the rationalizing tag, naskh al-tilāwa dūna al-hukm. They needed no such principle, since they sanguinely accepted the feasibility of the naskh of the Qur'ān by the Sunna.[42]

Though Shāfi'ī thus never in fact postulated the existence of a "stoning verse", in one particular instance he did acknowledge the probability of "abrogation of wording but not ruling", as well as acknowledging that Aisha's claim that there was a stoning verse in Quran, which had been lost.[43][40]

Implicit in the latter two modes of naskh is the distinction between the Qur'ān as temporally contingent document-i.e. the mushaf- and the Qur'ān as the unity of all revelation ever sent down to Muhammed. According to some exegetes this latter conception is not a wholly abstract one, but is a historical reality.[44]

Abrogating Jewish and Christian texts

A fourth mode of naskh, deemed "external," is that between religions. In this mode, some Islamic scholars interpret Muhammad abrogated religious laws handed down by messengers before him from those of Jewish and Christian faiths, in order to, states John Burton, correct the major aberrations in Judaism and Christianity.[45] According to Burton, "that Muhammad accepted a doctrine of external naskh cannot be doubted", since the abrogation verse 2:106 was revealed after a series of verses where Muhammad, among other things, abrogated many aspects of the Jewish Halakha, may intend this sort of naskh.[46]

Between sources[edit]

Abrogation is applicable to both sources of Sharia: the Quran and the Hadiths. A Qur'ānic verse may abrogate another Qur'ānic verse, and a Sunna in Hadiths may likewise abrogate another Sunna. The possibility of abrogation between these two sources, though, was a more contentious issue precipitated by the absence within a source of the appropriate abrogating (nāsikh) or abrogated (mansūkh) material necessary to bring concordance between it and the Fiqh.[47] The scope of Naskh doctrine between sources has been one of the major differences between the Shafi'i and Hanafi fiqhs, with Shafi'i sect of jurisprudence forbidding abrogation by the Sunna of the Qur'ān, while Hanafi sect allowing abrogation by the Sunna of the Qur'ān.[7][8]

In Shāfi'ī's source theory the possibility of abrogation between the Sunna and the Qur'ān was vehemently denied:

Arguing determinedly that any verbal discrepancies between the Qur'ān and the reported sayings or reports of the practices of Muhammed- the Sunna of the Prophet- were merely illusory and could always be removed on the basis of a satisfactory understanding of the mechanism of revelation and the function of the prophet-figure, Shāfi'ī set his face decidedly against any acceptance of the idea then current that in all such cases the Qur'ān had abrogated the Sunna, or the Sunna the Qur'ān.[39][48]

This stance was a reaction to larger developments within Islamic jurisprudence, particularly the reformulation of the Fiqh away from early foreign or regional influences[49] and toward more eminently Islamic bases such as the Qur'ān. This assertion of Qur'ānic primacy was accompanied by calls for an abandonment of the Sunna. Shāfi'ī's insistence upon the impossibility of contradiction between Sunna and Qur'ān can thus be seen as one component in this larger effort of rescuing the Sunna:

Asked point-blank whether the Sunna could ever be abrogated by the Qur'ān, Shāfi'ī had bluntly replied [in the Risāla] that that could never happen. Were the Sunna to be abrogated by the Qur'ān, the Prophet would immediately introduce a second sunna to indicate that his first sunna had been abrogated by his second sunna- in order to demonstrate that a thing can be abrogated only by its like (mithlihi) [ cf. Q.2:106].[50]

Later scholars, writing when the juridical legitimacy of the Sunna could be taken for granted (thanks largely to Shāfi'ī's efforts!), were less inclined to adopt his inflexible stance. To their minds the reality of this sort of inter-source abrogation was proven by several "indisputable" instances: the changing of the qibla towards Mecca and away from Jerusalem, and the introduction of the penalty of stoning for adultery. The following passage from Qurtubī (al-Jāmi' li ahkām al-Qur'ān) is representative in this regard:

...the Qur'ān may be naskh-ed by the Qur'ān and the Sunna by the Sunna. The Qur'ān may, in addition, be naskh-ed by the Sunna, as has occurred in the case of Q.2:180, which was replaced by the Sunna ruling: no wasiya [i.e. extra bequest] in favor of an heir. Mālik admitted this principle, but Shāfi'ī denied it, although the fuqahā all admit, in the instance of the penalty for adultery, that the flogging element of Q.24:2 has been allowed to lapse in the case of those offenders who are condemned to death by stoning. There is no explanation for the abandonment of the flogging element other than that the penalty all now acknowledge is based on the Sunna, i.e. the practice of the Prophet.

In the instance of the change of qibla, a Sunna ruling was set aside in favor of a Qur'ān ruling- there is no reference in the Qur'ān to the Jerusalem direction of prayer.[50]

Al-Ghazālī employs the same examples in his Mustasfā.[50]

Process of abrogation[edit]


Naskh employs the logic of chronology and progressive revelation. The different situations encountered over the course of Muhammad's more than two decade term as prophet, it is argued, required new rulings to meet the Muslim community's changing circumstances. Or, from a more theologically inflected stand-point, the expiration points of those rulings God intended as temporary all along were reached. A classic example of this is the early community's increasingly belligerent posture towards its pagan and Jewish neighbors:

Many verses counsel patience in the face of the mockery of the unbelievers, while other verses incite to warfare against the unbelievers. The former are linked to the [chronologically anterior] Meccan phase of the mission when the Muslims were too few and weak to do other than endure insult; the latter are linked to Medina where the Prophet had acquired the numbers and the strength to hit back at his enemies. The discrepancy between the two sets of verses indicates that different situations call for different regulations.[51]

Yet despite its dependence on chronology, naskh is in no way a historiographical enterprise in the works of some historical Islamic scholars:

While it cannot really be doubted that there is an implicit assumption of the chronological-progressive order of the Qur'ān in the naskh texts, it is notable that the discussions themselves do not generally make this point explicit; naskh, be it with regards to wine or direction of prayer, always assumes that the present law is known (that is, no wine and facing Mecca), and the verses which agree with that fact are necessarily the valid ones. Any verses which contradict this are necessarily invalid, and thus can be logically arranged according to a basic notion of 'progressive revelation.' The arguments found in the naskh texts are, in short, based on logic not chronology.[52]

Naskh applies to only the regulative verses of the Islamic scriptures. In Tabarī's words:

God alters what was once declared lawful into unlawful, or vice-versa; what was legally unregulated into prohibited and vice-versa. But such changes can occur only in verses conveying commands, positive and negative. Verses cast in the indicative and conveying narrative statements, can be affected by neither nāsikh [abrogating material] nor mansūkh [abrogated material].[53]

The plausibility and validity of abrogation is determined through a chronological study of the primary sources, where early revelations are considered invalid and overruled by later revelations.[4][54][55] This has historically been a difficult task because the verses in the Qur'an are not arranged by chronology but rather by size of chapters, and even within a chapter, the verses are non-chronologically arranged. The verses 2:190, 2:191 and 2:192, for example, were revealed to Muhammad six years after the verse 2:193.[56][57] Thus, the context of each revelation is not ascertainable from verses near a verse, or the sequential verse number.[56]

Verses abrogated[edit]

In all, 564 verses were alleged to have been expunged from the mushaf (internal naskh within the Quran), or 1/11th of its total content.[58]

Muslim exegetes and jurists have disagreed and disputed the number of verses of the Quran and sunnah in the Hadiths recognized as abrogated.[10][59][60] The 10th century Islamic scholar Hibatullāh, according to John Burton, lists 237 instances of abrogation, with the verse 9:5[61] – the so-called "Sword verse" – alone accounting for almost half of the abrogated verses.[58][11] In contrast, the 10th century scholar Abu Ja'far an-Nahaas stated that there were only 20 cases of abrogation.[62] az-Zarqaani concludes that only 12 cases of abrogation have occurred.[62] The 16th century Islamic scholar Al-Suyuti argued that there are only 20 attested instances of abrogation within Quran,[58] while the 19th century Muslim scholar Shah Wali Allah, have suggested that just five instances of abrogation exist in the Quran.[11] The 20th century Islamic scholar Sayyid Ahmad Khan stated that "no verse of the Quran is abrogated".[11]

Abrogation in the Quran[edit]

Frequently cited examples of abrogation of older verses (mansūkh) with newer verses (nasikh) within Qur'ān are:

  • Abrogating Verse: Q.9:5 (āyat al-sayf, the "sword verse"), the verse which has been claimed by some Muslim scholars to abrogate the largest number of the early verses of the Quran while others concluded that it does not abrogate any verse.[58][62][63]
    • A group of scholars allegedly claimed that it abrogated dozens of verses enjoining the umma's peacable conduct towards outside groups: Hibat Allāh and al-Nahhās cite 124 and less than 20 verses, respectively.[58][62] Ibn al Jawzī[disambiguation needed] counts less than 22 verses[62] while Mustafā Zayd counts less than 6 cases.[62] The 11th century Muslim scholar Makki bin Abi Talib stated, according to Louay Fatoohi, that verse 9.5 abrogated "all pardoning, amnesty and forgiveness" that Muslims had previously been asked to show to non-Muslims by earlier Quranic verses.[59] In contrast, az-Zarqaanee concludes that it does not abrogate any verse.[62] According to the 12th century Islamic scholar Ibn Al-Arabi, states Fatoohi, this sword verse abrogated "every mention in the Quran of showing amnesty to the disbelievers, ignoring and turning away from them".[59] The Orientalist Thomas Walker Arnold explains that verses enjoining peaceful conduct were also found abundance in non-Meccan Surahs.[64] However, most of these claims of abrogation cannot be considered as legitimate in the least. In point of fact, some of them merely apply to situations other than those that they were revealed for. Almost all of these 'abrogated' verses can still be said to apply when the Muslims are in a situation similar to the situation in which these verses were revealed.[62] This claim of abrogation of tolerance of non-Muslims by Muslims, because of the sword verse, according to Fatoohi, has become relevant in recent times as it has been referred to by terrorist outfits, jihadists and individuals who justify their atrocities against non-Muslims by referring to this verse.[59]
    • Fatoohi includes examples of verses abrogated by 9:5 to be 3:186, 53.29, 43:89, adding Tabari listed 9:5 to be abrogating 15 Quranic verses, Al-Balkhi suggested it abrogated 16 verses, Ibn Hazm claimed it abrogated 94 Quranic verses, Ibn Khuzayma concluded 9:5 abrogated 116 Quranic verses, while Ibn Salama and Ibn al-Arabi stated that it abrogated 124 verses.[59][60] Various medieval Islamic scholars, but not all, considered verse 9:5 abrogated Quranic verse 2:256 (there is no compulsion in religion).[65] Fatoohi adds that regardless of historical scholarship, it is a serious flaw to suggest that Quranic verse 9:5 abrogated commands in older Quranic revelations that Muslims should be tolerant of non-Muslims, when verse 9:5 is studied in the context of nearby verses and the fact that the Islamic scholars disagree with each other.[66] Yaser Ellethy states that historical exegesis included Jews and Christians as the "Others" in the scope of abrogating verse 9:5, however, the historical analysis by Islamic scholars of "abrogating tolerance against Others" was baseless according to Ellethy.[60]
  • Abrogating Verses: Q.58:12-58:13, historically the least disputed instance of Naskh doctrine among Islamic scholars. It states that those who seek a private audience with Muhammad must make a payment in advance to him.[67][68]
    • Verses abrogated: Q.2:234/240, Q.8:65/66, Q.73:1-4/20, Q.2:142.[68]
  • Abrogating Verses: Q.4:11–12, which provide the Islamic law on gender-based inheritance.[11][69]
    • Verses abrogated: Q.2:180, Q.2:240 (also known as bequest verses).[11]
  • Abrogating Verse (nāsikh): Q.8:66, reducing the number of enemies each Muslim is expected to vanquish from 10:1 to 2:1.[70][71]
    • Verses abrogated: Q.8:65[70]
  • Abrogating Verse: Q.9:29[70][73]
    • Verses abrogated: "Nahhās considers 9:29 to have abrogated virtually all verses calling for patience or forgiveness toward the People of the Book".[74]

Examples of inter-Qur'ānic abrogation, where one of the rulings comes from the Sunna, are:[citation needed]

Abrogation mentioned in hadith literature[edit]

Scholarly Disagreement and Criticism[edit]

Wansbrough's Theory[edit]

John Wansbrough in his Quranic studies: Sources and methods of scriptural interpretation (1977) and The sectarian milieu: Content and composition of Islamic salvation history (1978) has challenged the mainstream claims on the authenticity of the Quran.[75] Wansbrough doubts the value of source analysis that seeks to detect historical facts and to reconstruct ‘what really happened’. He also points to ‘the fragmentary character’ of the Quran and to the frequent occurrence of ‘variants’ in both the Quran and other genres of early literature, i.e., texts or narratives that are similar in content but different in structure or wording. Analysis of Quranic narratives with a similar content (‘variant traditions’) also leads Wansbrough to the conclusion that they reflect different stages of literary elaboration and that they were originally ‘independent, possibly regional, traditions incorporated more or less intact’, or sometimes slightly edited, into the canonical compilation of the Quran. "His form-critical analysis leads Wansbrough to the conclusion that the traditional account of the Quran’s formation, that which considers Muhammad to be its main conduit and the canonical version to be the result of a collection and redaction shortly after his death – an account based essentially on Muslim traditions – cannot be true. For him, these reports are fictions which, perhaps following the Jewish model, aimed at dating the canon back to the early period of Islam."[76] He concludes that the canonical version of the Quran was finalized in its current form no earlier than the third/ninth century

Counter Argument to Wansbrough[edit]

Estelle Whelan has presented analysis refuting Wansbrough using the inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock, which confirm a standardized version of the Quran was already present before Wansbrough allows it to be.[77][78] Most Western scholars accept the mainstream Islamic view that the official collection of the Quran took place during the caliphate of Uthman, soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, although these reports also contain problematic details (John Burton exposes these problematic accounts to formulate his own theory.) The text achieved under Uthman is the Quran as we now have it as far as the consonantal text and its structure is concerned.[79] These scholars point out that the variant (stylistic) readings of earlier collections that was suppressed by Uthman when he gave the order to standardize and official version of the Quran suggest that ‘there was no great variation in the actual contents of the Quran in the period immediately after the Prophet’s death’, only the order of the suras (chapters) was not fixed and there were slight variations in reading. Wansbrough simply ignored this evidence without further study of the relevant sources, seemingly because it was incompatible with his theory about the formation of the Quran (ibid.).

In 2015, the University of Birmingham disclosed that scientific tests prove a Quran manuscript in its collection is one of the oldest known and may have been written close to the time of the Prophet Muhammad. “Parts of the Quran that are contained in those fragments are very similar indeed to the Quran as we have it today. This tends to support the view that the Quran that we now have is more or less very close indeed to the Quran as it was brought together in the early years of Islam” said David Thomas, a professor of Christianity and Islam at the University of Birmingham.[80]

John Burton's argument against "Abrogation"[edit]

John Burton in his book The collection of the Quran (1977) has argued that all those ahadith which claim that the Quran was compiled after the death of the Prophet were forged and invented purely to preserve the status quo.[81] According to Burton, neither a collection on Abu Bakr’s behalf nor an official edition made by order of the caliph Uthman ever happened. Burton goes on to suggest that the final version of the Quran was compiled while the Prophet was still alive, although this conclusion does not follow from his premise and is mostly the researcher's own opinion.[82]

In his The Collection of the Qur’ān: A Reconsideration of Western Views in Light of Recent Methodological Developments (2001), Harald Motzki challenges Burton's argument.[83] However Motzki also argues for an early codification of the Quran, placing it in the last quarter of the 1st/7th century.[84] [85]

Ghulam Ahmed Parwez theory[edit]

Ghulam Ahmed Parwez states that abrogation is God's choice, something that humans should not question,

The Ahl-ul-Kitab (People of the Book) also question the need for a new revelation (Qur’an) when previous revelations from Allah exist. They further ask why the Qur’an contains injunctions contrary to the earlier Revelation (the Torah) if it is from Allah? (...) Say to them that no one can question why Allah has adopted such a system of revelation. Do they not know that Allah, Who is sovereign over the universe, alone knows which law is to be revealed and at what time? (Say to them that) if despite knowing this fact, they still refuse to obey this code of laws, they will find that no other code can resolve the problems of life. In this context, O Jamat-ul-Momineen (the convinced Muslims)! You too must note that the Qur’an contains all the laws, which Allah intended to reveal, and what is not mentioned therein is not an oversight on Allah’s part. Hence do not ask your Rasool (Messenger of God) questions about laws which the Qur’an does not mention as the Bani-Israel (Children of Israel) used to ask Moses (the result of such probing was that they made extra-revelatory laws a part of an unchangeable Shariah (civil law) and when they found this Shariah impracticable they repudiated their deen (religion; way of life) itself (5:101). You must not do the same. And whoever, after professing eiman (conviction), reverts to kufr (denial), surely loses the right direction.[86]


The emergence of naskh (initially as practice and then as fully elaborated theory) dates back to the first centuries of Islamic civilization. Almost all classical naskh works, for instance, begin by recounting the incident of the Kufan preacher banned from expounding the Quran by an early 'ilmic authority figure (usually 'Alī but sometimes also Ibn 'Abbās) on account of his ignorance of the principles of naskh. [87] [88] Whatever the historicity of such traditions:

...the elaboration of the theories is datable with certainty to at least the latter half of the second century after Muhammad, when Shāfi'ī, in his Risāla and in the somewhat later Ikhtilāf al-Hadīth was applying his considerable talents to resolving the serious problem of the apparent discrepancies between certain Qur'ānic verses and others; between certain hadīths and others; and, most serious of all, between certain Qur'ānic verses and certain hadīths.[89]

More precisely:

Naskh as a technical term meaning 'abrogation' (although the precise sense of that must be left open) makes its appearance early on in exegesis, for example, in Muqātil's [d. 767] Khams mi'a āya (and, of course, his tafsīr).[90]

Historical elaboration[edit]

Like other technical terms within Islamic exegesis (e.g. asbāb al-nuzūl), naskh attained its formal meaning through a process of theoretical refinement in which early applications of the concept were abandoned upon further logical or religious consideration. Tabarī's ambivalent use of the term for the eradication of Satanic material has already been noted. Among naskh 's other, ultimately discarded, uses in early works of tafsīr are: the abrogation of a ruling from pre-Islamic (i.e. jāhilī) Arabia, and the juridical deflation of a broadly applicable ruling by a succeeding one which narrows its scope (nasakha min [al-āya]- "an exception is provided to [the verse]").[44] The latter usage was reformulated by Shāfi'ī as takhsīs (specification/exception), resulting in a marked decrease in the amount of material considered mansūkh.

Putting aside dubiously attributed works, such as the Naskh al-Qur-ān of "al-Zuhrī",[91] the principle of abrogation (without its naskh terminology) makes one of its earliest documented appearance in the Muwatta' of Mālik:

In his review of the question of whether the Muslim traveler should observe or may postpone the obligation to fast during the month of Ramadān, which involves him in a comparison of conflicting opinion reported from many prominent Muslims of the past, including contradictory reports as to the practice of the Prophet himself, Mālik states that his teacher Zuhrī had told him that the Muslims had adopted as standard the latest of all the Prophet's reported actions... while in another chapter Mālik himself actually states that of the two relevant Kur'ān rulings, one had replaced the other. Elsewhere, Mālik rejects the notion that a ruling remains valid despite the reported withdrawal of the wording of the supposed Kur'ān 'verse' said to have originally imposed the ruling in question."[92]

The impetus for this principle, seen already in Mālik's day, was the need to harmonize the regional variants of Islamic law both with one another as well as the putative sources of Islamic law. That the starting point for these local fiqhs was in fact neither the Qur'ān nor the Sunna (in its later sense of the Sunna of Muhammad) has been shown by Schacht. As authority for local views began to be attributed back in time to the Companions and eventually Muhammad himself (documented by what Schacht terms the "backward growth" of isnāds) the contradictions in regional fiqh became irreconcilable.[93] Naskh allowed for the alleviation of these tensions by the claim that, in the case of two "soundly" documented traditions contradicting one another, one had come later and abrogated the other.

Yet even after the need to ground their legal theories in either Sunna or Qur'ān became apparent to the jurists, the regional fiqhs were not discarded, but became the third source in reformualting Islamic law,[94] on par with and of even greater importance than Sunna or Qur'ān![95] This can be seen in the postulation of "lost" verses whose rulings were still operative and conventiently corroborative of the jurist's own school of fiqh (e.g. the "stoning" and "suckling" verses). It is also evinced in Shāfi'ī's remarkable admission that but for the guidance of the Sunna the Muslims would have had no choice but to carry out the rulings of the Qur'ān![96]


Naskh stimulated several lines of theologizing to reconcile this "reality of the Fiqh" with Islam's core religious doctrines.[citation needed]

Probably the most immediate concern was explaining the very existence of progressive revelation. What could account for God's turn to this expedient outside of limits to His omniscience (subsequent rulings are "better" because they are informed by superior knowledge) or inconstancy in the divine will? Both prospects were repugnant to orthodox theologians (at least of the Sunni variety; compare this to the Shi'ite doctrine of bada', however) and so other rationales were put forth. One of these relied upon the tried apologetic technique of reconstruing apparent limitations in the Creator as expressions of solicitude towards His creatures, introducing less onerous requirements:[citation needed]

The ruling may be better for you in this life, on account of its being easier to perform, where a previous obligation has been withdrawn, relieving you of the more difficult performance. For example, it has once been obligatory for the Muslims to engage in lengthy nocturnal prayers (Q.73:1). They were relieved of that burden (Q.73:20). That is an instance in which the nāsikh [abrogating (verse)] was better for them in this life.[97]

Yet tahkfīf is equally applicable where the nāsikh introduces a more onerous requirement- for example, the extension of the ritual fast from a few days (Q.2:184) to the entire month of Ramadan (Q.2:185)- as its performance is "better" for men on account of it helping them attain greater reward in the Hereafter, or even when the change is indifferent, such as the switching of the qibla, as the reward will not change.[98] Clearly, then, the criteria of tahkfīf is unfalsifiable, completely useless for distinguishing nāsikh from mansūkh, and therefore entirely dogmatic in character.

Another, much more specifically Islamic, problem was raised by the doctrine by mu'jaz- or the literary perfection and inimitability of the Qur'ān. How could one āya be replaced by one which is better than it, as Q.2:106 explicitly promises, if all āyat or inimitable and therefore incommensurable? This issue was sidestepped by interpolation; the superior replacement is the verse's ruling, not the verse's wording, and so no violation of the doctrine of mu'jaz is entailed.[citation needed]

Lastly, there is the issue of abrogated material whose wording is preserved in the mushaf (naskh al-hukm dūna al-tilāwa). Since the verse's ruling is inoperative, what purpose is served by retaining its wording? One common rationale, expressed here by Suyūti (Itqān) and mirroring the tahkfīf argument was:

...the Qur'ān was revealed so that its rulings might be known and their implementation rewarded; but... the Qur'ān is also recited with reverence, since it is the word of God, for whose recitation the pious Muslim is likewise rewarded. Further, to leave the wording, following the abrogation of the ruling was to provide for men a constant reminder of the compassion and mercy shown by their gracious Lord [ar-Rahman] Who had lightened the burden of some his previous requirements.[99]

Overall, though, the Muslim commentators demonstrate a remarkable degree of complacency in the face of naskh 's more theologically disturbing implications, supremely confident (as expressed in the following gloss on a famous Ā'isha hadith) that whatever the mechanisms used to expurgate or cancel the Divine revelation, what has ultimately come down to us is exactly what Allah intended mankind to have:

We were too occupied with the preparations in the Prophet's sick-room to give any thought to the safe-keeping of the sheets on which the revelations had been written out, and while we were tending our patient, a household animal got in from the yard and gobbled up some of the sheets which were kept below the bedding. Those who would account for all events here below in terms of divine agency could see in this most unfortunate mishap nothing incongruous with the divine promise, having revealed the Reminder, to preserve it. Here, indeed, was the working of the divine purpose... their removal, as an aspect of the divine revelatory procedures had been determined by God and had occurred under effective divine control. Having determined that these 'verses' would not appear in the final draft of His Book, God had arranged for their removal. The revelation was never, at any time, at the mercy of accidental forces.[100]

Such complacency reflects the important constitutive effects of naskh's eventual theological sanitization. Once the genuineness of God's abrogation of His own commandments was accepted, the fact that no intelligible pattern underlay His sequence of actions was taken as indicative of important facts about the nature of the Creator, as well as the proper duties of His creatures.[citation needed] In particular this reinforced the extreme deontological currents within Islamic philosophy and ethics:

The Supreme Being imposes or forbids what He chooses. Nothing is either good or evil per se; God does not command 'the good' and prohibit 'the evil'. What God commands is good and what He forbids is evil. God is under no compulsion to any external moral imperative. Adherence to what He commands will be rewarded; performance of what he forbids will be punished. Both command and prohibition being tests of human obedience, God may naskh what He chooses. [101]

The Creator and Sovereign Lord of the Universe shares His absolute power with none. To test man's obedience, God may order them to do whatever he chooses, or to desist from whatever He wills. He may command what was never previously required or forbid what was previously unregulated; equally. He may prohibit what He Himself had actually commanded, or command what He Himself had previously prohibited... Nor may men question anything that God requires of them. They must only identify what God has commanded or forbidden and act immediately to demonstrate their creaturely status and humble obedience. [102]

Naskh in various schools of Islamic jurisprudence[edit]

In Sunni Islam[edit]

The Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali schools of Sunni Islam have maintained that only Quranic verses revealed later can abrogate an earlier Quranic verse, but a Sunnah from a Hadith can never abrogate a Quranic verse. In contrast, the Hanafi fiqh of Sunni Islam, from the days of Abu Hanifa, along with his disciples such as Abu Yusuf, maintained that Sunnah can abrogate a Quranic verse.[7] The Hanafi jurists used Quranic verse 10:15[103] to justify their opinion, stating that abrogation of the Qur’an by the life actions of Muhammad (Sunnah) was based solely on his Divine inspiration, that when he acted or said anything, any abrogation implicit through his action, of the earlier Qur’anic ruling was from Allah alone, according to Yusuf Suicmez.[7] Hanafi school stated, adds Suicmez, that to accept that "a Sunnah can abrogate the Qur’an entails honoring of Muhammad".[7]

In non-Sunni Islam[edit]

The principle of naskh is acknowledged by both Sunnis and Shī'a.[39][104] Among the sects of Islam that rejected naskh were the Mu'tazili, Zaidiyah, and Quranists, on the rationalist grounds that the word of God could not contain contradictions, and the much later Ahmadīs, who argued that all Qur'ānic verses have equal validity, in keeping with their emphasis on the "unsurpassable beauty and unquestionable validity of the Qur'ān".[105] The harmonization of apparently incompatible rulings is resolved through their juridical deflation in Ahmadī fiqh, so that a ruling (considered to have applicability only to the specific situation for which it was revealed), is effective not because it was revealed last, but because it is most suited to the situation at hand.[106]


In addition to being discussed within general works of jurisprudence, naskh generated its own corpus of specialized legal manuals. These treatises invariably begin with an introduction designed to impress the importance and high Islamic credibility of the science, often by an appeal to 'ilmic authority figures of the past (as in the story of 'Alī and the Kufan preacher). As is made clear in these stories, "none may occupy judicial or religious office in the community who is not equipped with this indispensable knowledge and who is incapable of distinguishing nāsikh [abrogator] from mansūkh [abrogatee].[107]

The remainder of the introduction then typically treats the various modes of naskh, naskh 's applicability between Sunna and Qur'ān, and- in appeasement of theological scruples- why naskh is not the same as badā', or inconstancy of the Divine Will. Following this comes the core of the treatise, an enumeration of abrogated verses in sūra order of the Qur'ān.[108] In their consideration of nāsikh wal-mansūkh the taxonomic predilections of these authors comes out, evinced in their discussions of special verses considered "marvels" ('ajā'ib) of the Qur'ān, such as the verse which abrogates the greatest number of other verses (Q.9:5), the verse which was in effect longest until it was abrogated (Q.46:9), and the verse which contains both an abrogatee and its abrogator (Q.5:105).[109]


The following is a list of classical examples of the genre:

  • "al-Zuhrī", Naskh al-Qur-ān
  • Abū 'Ubaid al-Qāsim b. Sallām (d. 838), Kitāb al-nāsikh wal-mansūkh (Book of the Abrogating and Abrogated [Verses])
  • al-Nahhās (d. 949), Kitāb al-nāsikh wal-mansūkh
  • Hibat Allāh ibn Salāma (d. 1019), Kitāb al-nāsikh wal-mansūkh
  • al-Baghādī (d. 1037), al-Nāsikh wal-mansūkh
  • Makkī b. Abū Tālib al-Qaisī (d. 1045) al-Īdāh li-nāsikh al-Qur'ān wa-mansūkhihi
  • Ibn al-'Atā'iqī (d. 1308), al-Nāsikh wal-mansūkh
  • Ibn Hkuzayma al-Fārisī, Kitāb al-mujāz fī'l-nāsikh wa'l-mansūkh
  • Ibn Al-Jawzī[disambiguation needed], Nawāsikh al-Qur-ān
  • Jalāl-ud-Dīn al-Suyūţi, Al-Itqān fi Ulūm al-Qur-ān

Modern examples include:

  • Ahmad Shah Waliullah Dehlvi, Al-Fawz al-Kabīr fi Uşūl al-Tafsīr
  • Mustafā Zayd, Al-Naskh fil-Qur'ān al-Kari-m, Cairo: Dār al-Fikr al-'Arabī, 1963
  • Ali Hasan Al-Arīď, Fatħ al-Mannān fi naskh al-Qur-ān
  • Abd al-Mutaāl al-Jabri, Al-Nāsikh wal-Mansūkh bayn al-Ithbāt wal-Nafy, Cairo: Wahba Bookstore, 1987
  • Mustafa Ibrahīm al-Zalmi, Al-Tibyān liraf` Ghumūď al-Naskh fi al-Qur-ān, Arbīl: National Library, Iraq, 2000
  • Ihāb Hasan Abduh, Istiħālat Wujūd al-Naskh fi al-Qurān, Cairo: Al-Nāfitha Bookstore, 2005

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ Quran 16:101
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  7. ^ a b c d e SUIÇMEZ, Yusuf (2006), Abrogation in Hadith, AMERICAN JOURNAL OF ISLAMIC SOCIAL SCIENCES, Vol. 23, No 4, pp. 51-53
  8. ^ a b Ahmed, Rumee (2012). Narratives of Islamic legal theory. Oxford, U.K: Oxford University Press. pp. 49–52. ISBN 978-0-19-964017-1. 
  9. ^ Kadri, Sadakat (2012). Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari'a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia ... macmillan. p. 65. ISBN 9780099523277. 
  10. ^ a b Jane McAuliffe, Barry Walfish, Joseph Goering (2010). With reverence for the word : medieval scriptural exegesis in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. New York Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 448–450. ISBN 978-0-19-975575-2. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m David S. Powers (Sept 1982), On the Abrogation of the Bequest Verses, Journal: Arabica, 29(3), Brill, pp. 246-247, 249-287
  12. ^ Hossein Modarressi (1993), Early Debates on the Integrity of the Qur'ān: A Brief Survey, Journal: Studia Islamica, Vol. 77, pp. 7-8
  13. ^ Badshah, Naeem et al (2011), Perceptions of different schools of thoughts regarding abrogation in the Quran, Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research In Business, 3(3), pp. 494-498
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External links[edit]