Concept of abrogation of Ayahs

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

The traditionalist’s concept of abrogation (نسخ) of ayas of Al-Quran is that some of the ayahs in Al-Quran have been abrogated or superseded by other ayahs. The concept originated from their inability to explain some ayahs of Quran so they termed those ayahs as abrogated and considered ayat 2:106 as the justification of the concept of abrogation of ayahs.

The abrogated ayahs are not indicated in Quran nor in any hadith, the prophet mentioned any ayat to be abrogated or replaced with other ayat. It was later scholars who faced difficulty in explaining certain ayahs in relation to other ayahs, therefore they used the ayat 2:106 as pretext for declaring a number of ayahs as abrogated. Scholars have differed considerably in the number of abrogated ayahs. Some consider the number of abrogated ayahs to be over 500 and some consider it to be less than 10. However, no one dares to strike out from the book, the ayahs they deem abrogated.

The book (Al-Quran) has been sent for all people and for all ages. Is it not impossible for Allah to send a book whose instructions are valid for all times? It does not make sense that ayahs of Al-Quran were abrogated so frequently within a period of 23 years in history, because of changing conditions, and then after 23 years, it was set solid for the rest of eternity. Were all the changes in the world, happening during these 23 years and after that no changes were to occur to warrant further abrogation of ayahs. This concept of abrogation does not hold ground as we know that conditions of the world change all the time.

We will review the concept of abrogation in the light of ayahs of Quran to see if this concept is really about the cancellation of ayahs or it means something else:

11:1   الر ۚ كِتَابٌ أُحْكِمَتْ آيَاتُهُ ثُمَّ فُصِّلَتْ مِن لَّدُنْ حَكِيمٍ خَبِيرٍ

A.L.R. a Book, whose ayahs have been (firmly) established , and then explained,- from One Who is Wise and Well-acquainted.

2:106  مَا نَنسَخْ مِنْ آيَةٍ أَوْ نُنسِهَا نَأْتِ بِخَيْرٍ مِّنْهَا أَوْ مِثْلِهَا ۗ أَلَمْ تَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

What we abrogate/cancel or cause to be forgotten (concepts different from spirit of Allah) from an ayat, We substitute something better or similar. Don’t you know that Allah Has power over all things?

Normally with ayahs there are preconceived notions attached to them. These notions are not from Allah but they are widely known and spread in the society. So Allah, cancels these notions (by other ayahs) and confirms the true spirit/understanding of ayahs. Therefore, what is cancelled from the ayahs, are the things introduced by satan and not the ayahs themselves.

22:52   وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ مِن رَّسُولٍ وَلَا نَبِيٍّ إِلَّا إِذَا تَمَنَّىٰ أَلْقَى الشَّيْطَانُ فِي أُمْنِيَّتِهِ فَيَنسَخُ اللَّهُ مَا يُلْقِي الشَّيْطَانُ ثُمَّ يُحْكِمُ اللَّهُ آيَاتِهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ

And We have not sent  before you a Messenger nor a Prophet except when he wishes, Satan encounters in his wishes. So Allah cancels what Satan encounters, then Allah confirms His ayahs/signs and Allah is knowing, wise.

16:101  وَإِذَا بَدَّلْنَا آيَةً مَّكَانَ آيَةٍ ۙ وَاللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا يُنَزِّلُ قَالُوا إِنَّمَا أَنتَ مُفْتَرٍ ۚ بَلْ أَكْثَرُهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

When We substitute the place of one ayat with another ayat and Allah knows best what He reveals ,- they say, “You are but a forger”. but most of them do not understand.

When the messenger delivers understanding of a certain topic from Al-Quran to the people, he explains it with the help of ayahs from various suras of Al-Quran. The order of these ayahs related to a certain topic is not necessary in their original order in the book. For example if a topic of ‘talaq’ is explained by the messenger, he will explain with the help of ayahs from sura 66 (Al-Talaq), sura 2 (Baqara) and various other suras.  The order of ayahs in this explanation will not be in the order in which they occur in Al-Quran. When this is done and the spirit of the words of Allah related to the said topic is conveyed to people, and if this understanding/spirit is different from people’s previous beliefs, they say that the messenger has invented it himself.

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