CHAPTER – 15
ILMUL NASIKH WAL MANSUKH
DOCTRINE OF ABROGATION
During the period when the commentaries
were being prepared and when the study of the occasion of revelation (shan
al‑nuzul) as well as of identifying Makkan and Medinan surahs
was a subject of study, our scholars felt the necessity for a branch of
knowledge which indicates and explains the gradual development of the
Qur'anic teachings. The Qur'an brought about changes in the society
gradually. A theory was framed that in the Qur'an some ayaat are
cancelled (mansukh) by cancelling (nasikh) ones. According to
some scholars the principle of naskh emerged during the conflicts
between usulis of different schools of fiqh. These discussions
showed no uniformity. Shafi'i and his followers held that some parts of the
Qur'an had superseded its other parts, but had not superseded the `sunnah';
and that some `sunnah’, had superseded the other `sunnah', but
had not superseded the Qur'an.
The supporters of the
'doctrine of abrogation' based their theory on the following ayah:
“Such of Our Ayaat (messages) which
We annul or consign to oblivion We replace with a better or a similar
one..." (Qur’an 2:106)
On the basis of the above rendering it was
argued as follows: "The principle of naskh (abrogation) is
referred to in the Qur'an itself and is not a later historical development
While the basic message of Islam remains always the same, the legal rulings
have varied throughout the ages, and many prophets before Muhammad brought
particular codes of law (shari'a) for their respective
the discussions on the supposition that since the various passages of the
Qur'an were revealed according to the needs of a particular stage some of the
earlier revelations were superseded by the later revelations. When some of
the ayaat looked discrepant to them and since they were unable to
reconcile interpretation of one ayah with another they formulated the
doctrine of abrogation.
There was, however, no agreement regarding
the number of ayaat to which the rule can be applied to.
commentators have elaborated that out of the ayaat which contain
injunctions some are such which appear to be in supersession of the earlier ayaat
pertaining to the same injunction. The earlier injunction, according to
them is thus nullified. In other words some of the later revelations of the
Qur'anic ayaat abrogate some of the earlier ones.
Ilm al‑naskh was a discipline,
developed as auxiliary to the study of the Qur'an. In developing it the
scholars set out to point out precisely how one ayah of the Qur'an
abrogated another, and drew up lists of a abrogating and abrogated ayaat.
They extended this procedure even to the question of abrogation by the Qur'an
of `hadith', or by one `hadith' of another `hadith'.
The Arabic words nasikh and mansukh
both are derived from the same root 'nasakha' which means to
abrogate, to replace or to abolish. Nasikh is an active participle
meaning ‘the abrogating’. Mansukh (passive) means the 'abrogated'. The
supporters of the doctrine of abrogation used these words as terms referring
to certain parts of Qur'anic revelation, which have been 'abrogated' by
others. The Qur'an has however, used them not as term but as words. The word mansukh
is also used in the Qur'an to mean 'renders null and void' such as:
"Yet whenever We sent forth any
apostle or prophet before you, and he was hoping (that his warnings would be
heeded) Sheytan would cause an aspersion on his innermost aims, but Allah
renders null and void (faya nasakhun) whatever aspersions Sheytan may
cast: and Allah makes His messages clear in and by themselves – for Allah is
all ‑ knowing wise." (22:52)
A derivative of this root is
also used to mean 'recorded.' For example:
Our record speaks of you in all truth: for, verily, We have caused to be
recorded (nustansikh) all that you ever did." (Qur’an 45:29)
In Arabic nuskhat
al‑kitab is an idiom meaning 'making a copy of the book.'
The supporters of the 'doctrine of
abrogation' have taken a restricted meaning of ayaat as the ayaat of
the Qur'an. As mentioned earlier 'ayah' in (Qur’an 2:106) refers to
the message of the earlier Books.
information furnished by supporters of the 'doctrine of abrogation' about 'al‑nasikh
wa al‑mansukh' is mostly based on hearsay, conjecture and personal
The supporters of the 'doctrine of
abrogation' have described three kinds of abrogation:
1. The abrogation of the recital (of the
Qur'anic ayaat) as well as
2. Abrogation of the recital (of the Quranic
ayaat) without that of the injunction.
Abrogation of the injunction and
not the recital (of the Qur'anic ayaat).
The consensus of the earlier commentators
was that an 'ayah' of the Qur'an can abrogate another 'ayah' of
the Qur'an. They often made overstatements in this regard and argued that the
source of the Qur'an is the Almighty, who has absolute discretion to cancel
any injunction He deemed proper and to replace it by another injunction.
scholars refused to accept `naskh' and declared that `naskh'
does not go with the holiness (taqaddus) of the Almighty. They argued
that Allah's words are too authoritative, to be considered abrogated in human
Isfahani (d. 332/944) was the first one who refused to accept the 'doctrine
of abrogation.' According to him abrogated ayaat were those Divine
Messages which were found in earlier Books (Taurat, Injeel etc.) Allah
abrogated those earlier ayaat, he argued, due to neglect of the Books
by the respective followers and hence the contents of those books do not find
place in the Qur'an:
convey (to the world) whatever has been revealed to you of the Sustainer's
writ. There is nothing that could alter His words: and you cannot find any
refuge other than with Him". (Qur’an 18 : 27) (18:27)
scholar Zarqani (d. 1367/1948) supported the 'doctrine of abrogation' and
argued in his book, 'Manahil al‑Irfan' that when Allah replaces
an order by another it does not imply that Allah realized something which He
did not realize earlier. He was aware that the expediency of the order will
cease at a particular time.
Gradual implementation of the laws of
Allah does not imply that the revelation meant for one stage were not good
for later stages or that the earlier messages were replaced by the later
and commentators discussed the question as to which ayaat of the
Qur'an are abrogating and which are abrogated: whether the abrogated ayaat
are deleted from the Qur'an or while they remain in the Qur'an their purport
is cancelled In other words they entered into discussions whether alleged
abrogation implied a total elimination of the ayaat in question from
the Qur'an or only cancellation of the ordinance contained therein.
of hairsplitting and trying to identify the abrogated ayaat has lead
many scholars to erroneous and even dangerous conclusions. Such discussions
were introduced which provided justification for the opponents of Islam to
argue that the Prophet made corrections in the Qur'an as and when it suited
him. These discussions also gave rise to corollaries.
prolonged and vain exercise of pursuing the abrogating and abrogated ayaat
several problems came up for discussion:
1. Whether the Qur'an can abrogate the
sayings of the Prophet.
Whether the sayings can abrogate
3. Whether one ayah of the Qur'an can
abrogate another ayah.
"There is of course a difference
between abrogation and specification. By the latter is meant that one
revelation explains in more detail or according to specific circumstances how
another revelation should be understood."
of the scholars for abrogating and abrogated ayaat gave rise to
differences regarding their exact number. The number suggested by a majority
of them was very large. According to them – in 6 surahs only
abrogating ayaat are found; – in 34 surahs only abrogated ayaat
are found; – in 31 surahs both the categories are found. Hence to them
abrogation is rather a rule and not an exception.
the eminent scholar ibn Salama:
1. In 43 surahs there are neither nasikh
nor mansukh ayaat.
2. In six surahs there are nasikh but no mansukh
3. In 40 surahs there are mansukh
but no nasikh ayaat.
4. In 25 surahs there are no nasikh and mansukh
There was no
consensus or unanimity among the classical commentators as to which and how
many of the ayaat in the Qur'an were abrogating or abrogated.
A large number of scholars contributed to this
subject and entered into elaborate discussions. By the end of the
ninth/fifteenth century the literature on the 'doctrine of abrogation' was so
intricate that the great Qur'anic scholar Suyuti (d. 910/1504) in Al‑Itqan
declared that the number of scholars who had contributed to the subject
was beyond count.
21 instances in the Qur'an where messages had been abrogated, and that in
respect of the ayaat 4:8, 24:58 etc there was difference of opinion
among the scholars.
Tafseer Kabeer abrogation of the ayaat of the Qur'an is not
proved by 'ayah’ 2:106. It only describes the Divine principle that if
any 'ayah' (of the Qur'an) will be abrogated, Allah will substitute it
with a better or similar 'ayah'.
In human society the ruler feels the
expediency of issuing an order. Later he realizes the lack of efficacy and
changes the order. Such a situation cannot be associated to Allah.
In fact in ayah
2:106 'ayah' refer to the message in the earlier Books, which were
replaced by the messages of the Qur'an.
The word aunansaha
in the above ayah clearly indicates that when the texts of the earlier
Books were corrupted and forgotten, Allah replaced them by better ayaat
(messages) similar to the earlier ones, in the form of the Qur'an.
The following 'ayah' makes the
position very clear:
"And now that We replace (substitute) one 'ayah'
(message or revelation) by another ‑ Allah is fully aware of what He
bestows from on high, step by step ‑ they (who deny the truth) are wont
to say: you but invent it." (Qur’an 16:101)
commentators were of the opinion that the number of abrogating and abrogated ayaat
was not less than 500. Later when the matter was further examined, the
number gradually decreased. Suyuti, came to the conclusion that the number of
abrogated ayaat was only 19. He declared that the presence of
abrogation is an exception than a rule. In his book Itqan, he declared
that if in respect of any particular ayah abrogation is conclusively
proved by convincing reasons, then alone abrogation can be accepted.
Dr. Subhi Saleh of Beirut, the number of abrogated ayaat is not more
The eminent Qur'anic scholar Shah
Waliullah of Delhi (d. 1172/1759) made a critical study of the 19 ayaat
pointed out by Suyuti as abrogated. On the authority of the commentators who
agreed that any of the 19 ayaat were not abrogated, he eliminated it
and finally came to the conclusion that the number of abrogated ayaat
was only five as under:
supposed abrogated ayaat of the Qur'an decreased from 500 to 5, yet
most of the commentators agreed in principle that certain ayaat of the
Qur'an were abrogated. They did not realize that the abrogation mentioned in ayaat
2:106 and 16:101 refers to abrogation of the ayaat (messages) of
the earlier Books and not of the Qur'an.
Many commentators of the later period do
not subscribe to the doctrine of abrogation.
others hold that there are no genuine (sahih) reports available on
this issue, going back to the Prophet, while those going back to the
Companions contradict each other. Therefore to them the issue of nasikh wa
al‑mansukh is perhaps not of great importance."
"The Qur'an was a public
document transmitted from generation to generation by the entire community.
On the other hand the `sunnah' had come down in hadith reports
transmitted by one, or possibly two or more individuals. The `sunnah' did
not carry the absolute guarantee or authenticity that marked the `mutawatir'
Qur'an texts, which besides were of divine authorship."
The eminent Indian scholar
Moulana Abdul Qadeer Siddiqi in his Urdu booklet 'The question of non‑abrogation'
has discussed the subject in detail and concluded that there is no abrogation
in the Qur’an. According to him the word ayah in ayah 2:106
refers to the signs of nature. According to him when Allah eliminates or
changes any of His ayah (sign) He replaces it with another or a better