Is abrogation present in the Quran?

Details of the Question

Is abrogation present in the Quran?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Abrogation-abrogated (Naskh-mansukh)...

NASKH (ABROGATION): “To change a decree, to abrogate.”

NASIKH (ABROGATING): “Something that makes another thing invalid, something that changes other things.”

MANSUKH (ABROGATED): “Something that is (was) made invalid, Something that is (was) changed.”

AHKAM FAR’IYYA (SECONDARY DECREES): “Decrees that are not related to fundamentals.” “Decrees other than fundamental and unchangeable decrees.”

First, I would like state that naskh is mentioned in the Quran. The decrees of Islam abrogated the decrees of previous religions.

All of those naskhs took place in the secondary decrees related to worship and penal code not in the fundamental decrees and decrees related to creed.  

This fact is stated as follows in the Risale-i Nur Collection:

“Sacred Laws change depending on ages. Indeed, in one age different prophets may come, and they have come. Since subsequent to the Seal of the Prophets, his Greater Shariah is sufficient for all people in every age, no need has remained for different Laws.” Sözler (Words), 485

“One of the secondary decrees may be beneficial at a certain time and harmful at another time. A drug may be a cure for someone and trouble for another. Therefore, the Quran abrogated some secondary decrees. That is, their time ended, it is the turn of other decrees.” İşarât-ül İ’caz, 50

Fundamental decrees are the same for all prophets; they do not change, they are not abrogated. For instance, the principles of belief are the same in all true religions and worship is present in all of them. However, there are some differences in the secondary decrees of worship, that is, there are some differences in detail. Some naskhs took place in decrees like the form and time of worship, the direction of qibla (direction to be faced while praying).

In parallel to the material and spiritual progress Allah granted human beings, He abrogated some of the secondary decrees and ordered others instead. That change seen in the shariahs of prophets was not seen, in essence, in the shariah of the last prophet. The verse “This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed my favor upon you” (Chapter al-Maeda, 3) has stated it clearly. Since then, there has been and there will be no change in the times of prayers, qibla, decrees of halal (lawful, permissible) and haram (unlawful, forbidden), the month in which fasting is observed. However, some ijtihads were applied in decrees that could be regarded as details of shariah. For instance, witr prayer (final night prayer) is three rakats in all sects. However, the issue of performing three rakats (units) intermittently, or praying two rakats first, and then praying one rakat separately is something secondary. The issues that are not involved with fundamental decrees of the religion like those became subject to ijtihad.

On the other hand, as the verse points out, the perfection and completion of Islam did not take place at once, but in phases. During those phases, some secondary decrees were allocated. It should be understood easily; as a matter of fact, it should be regarded as evidence for the fact that Islam is a universal religion.

The fact that a decree was abrogated does not mean it was wrong and was replaced by the correct one. A verse regarding the issue:

“None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar.” Chapter al-Baqara, 106

The expression “something better or similar” in the verse is very important at this point. That is, the abrogated degrees are good like the new ones. The quality of being good for human beings is valid for all verses.

Let us give only one example: the verse in Chapter al-Kafiroon “To you be your religion, and to me my religion” was allocated by jihad verse. However, today, in many places in the world Chapter al-Kafiroon is valid. Muslims in non-Muslim countries do not interfere with the religion of that nation, like the first period in Makkah, and live their own religions. They do not choose the way to make jihad against them using arms. So the decree of the verse in Chapter al-Kafiroon was not abrogated, it will be applied exactly when there are appropriate conditions for it.

On the other hand, the relevant verses have some other meanings apart from their meaning in terms of fiqh; they were not abrogated. It is because they are not decrees. Let us give an example for it. It is said that the decree, “...Wherever you turn, there is Allah's countenance.” in verse 115 of Chapter al-Baqara was abrogated by verse 114 of the same chapter: “Turn then your face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque.” However, the meanings of the first verse that denote beyond the direction of qibla, are still valid.  Wherever man looks, he sees another work of Allah, and reads another divine name that is manifest there. In this sense, we are surrounded by signs and evidence that inform us about Allah and direct us towards Allah. Another meaning of the verse denotes the following: if a person does not know the direction of qibla and cannot find anybody to ask, he does not quit prayer; he performs prayer by turning towards the direction he estimates to be qibla. Even if he estimates the direction of qibla incorrectly, his prayer is valid. “Wherever you turn, there is Allah's countenance.” It can be said that the decree of the verse is still valid under some conditions.

Some of the verses that were subject to abrogation teach human beings a lesson in a different area. For instance, alcoholic drinks were prohibited gradually. A very good divine guidance is hidden in it, showing us that it is necessary to have patience while correcting wrong behaviors of people and that it is not right to utter, at the beginning, the word that is difficult to accept and that needs to be uttered in the end. What is more, the meanings of those verses are still true. The first verse says, “In alcohol is great sin, and some profit for men; but the sin is greater than the profit”. This decree is true today, too. It is a fact that alcohol is used in pharmaceutical industry and that alcohol gives a person a temporary ease when it is taken. In the second phase, it was prohibited to approach prayer when drunk. That decree is still valid. It is still necessary today that a drunken person should not approach prayer. In the third phase, alcohol was prohibited completely and made haram.

Abrogation is also present in the book of the universe, but the abrogated things are not void or mistaken. For instance, first man was created directly out of the dust of the ground, then that decree was abrogated; after that, men have been born out of their mothers. Both ways are nice.

When we consider the day and night, the changing of seasons, the childhood, youth and senility phases of man, and the phases of the universe, we will see endless abrogation. Each of them is nice in their place.

Prof. Dr. Alaaddin Başar

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