• Raya Shokatfard

ABROGATION : DID GOD CHANGE MIND?

Updated: Jul 12, 2020


By: Raya Shokatfard


It is important to note that the true religion and message of God is one from the time of Adam to the last Prophet, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).


Allah, the Exalted, commissioned all the prophets to impart the message of monotheism to their people. However, some of the rituals, mode of worship, social conduct and the laws differed from one another.


{And, verily, I have not sent any prophet before you without revealing to him that there is no God besides Me, so worship Me.} (Al-Anbiya’ 21: 25)


Reviewing some of the Abrahamic religions, one may find many similarities. Muslims believe in all prophets, the unity in their message and the original scriptures.


Allah declares, {Say you (Muslims): “We believe in Allah and the revelation given to us and to Abraham, Isma`il, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes and that given to Moses and Jesus and that given to (all) Prophets from their Lord we make no difference between one and another of them and we submit to Allah (in Islam).} (Al-Baqarah 2: 136)


Allah further confirms:

{The same religion has He (Allah) established for you (Muhammad) as that which He enjoined on Noah, that which We have sent by inspiration to you (Muhammad) and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus…} (Ash-Shura 42: 13)


Why did the unity of message change? One would wonder!


Some of the core changes we have witnessed in these religions were not divinely inspired but have been the product of man’s reinterpretation of the original message, political influences as well as inclination to exalt man’s status to that of God, which was exactly the opposite of the main message of monotheism.


Other religions chose multiple gods, and yet claimed to believe in one Supreme Being, while considering lesser gods as helpers of the Supreme God.


Allah warns us in the Qur’an how people have divided His religion into different religions and many sects (Q: 42:13). This was not Allah’s intention, but the abuse of human freewill to do as they pleased over time.


With so many scriptures altered, lost, rewritten and the main message shaded over by so many misjudgments, one would wonder what is there left to trust and believe in any more.

One with open mind, extensive research and without prejudice will find the Qur’an, the Holy Book of the Muslims, which was revealed to Prophet Mohammad over a period of 23 years, to be the only unaltered scripture in existence today.


Some critiques of Islam have pointed out to the fact that some verses in the Qur’an have been abrogated, claiming that if Qur’an is truly the word of God, why would God give a commandment or a law and then change His mind, alter or abrogate His own words?


As mentioned above, over time some of the laws in various religions were changed by divine intervention. Allah knows best what is suitable for any given time.


{We have prescribed a Law and a Way for everyone of you.} (Al-Ma’idah 5: 48)


Such is true with the Qur’an. God, with His wisdom may change or replace a divine law with another. This replacement is referred to in Arabic-Islamic terminology as “naskh.”


Allah referred to the existence of this process as follows:[1]

{And if I place a verse in place of another verse— and Allah knows best what He bestows from on high, step by step—they say, ‘You are just inventing it!’} (An-Nahl 16: 101)


Allah further clarifies:

{Whatever verse I have abrogated or caused to be forgotten, I will bring another better than it or equal to it.} (Al-Baqarah 2: 106)


Unlike other religions with unverifiable changes, abrogation and deletion, Islam has strict rules for the acceptability of an abrogated, or replaced verse or sunnah (sayings and acts of the Prophet).


First, we must note that Allah revealed laws according to situation, (2. Naskh doesn’t indicate change of mind but rather change of circumstance, and (3. Naskh only occurred in secondary issues, never in principal issues.


Further explanation is as follows:


Conditions for Naskh (abrogation)

There are three conditions for abrogation:[2]

1. Only a divine law can be replaced. This does not include gradual prohibition in some cases like consumption of alcohol due to the fact that over time each prohibition expanded the previous one and not replaced it, until it was gradually abolished: Al-Baqarah 2: 219; An-Nisa’ 4: 43; Al-Ma’idah 5: 90-1.


2.  The new law has to be a divine law replacing an old one.


3. There can be no time limit or a specific time connected to the abrogated or the abrogating verse. For example fasting during Ramadan is a requirement on a daily basis until sunset. Permission to eat at night or after Ramadan does not include naskh.


It is important to note that statements of facts, stories of prophets, Allah’s attributes, parables or description of Hereafter cannot be abrogated. Same is true with Allah’s warnings and promises.[3] Also, principles of worship and moral conduct are excluded from naskh possibility.


Some Examples:

Ibn `Abbas, one of the Companions of the Prophet, mentioned regarding Allah’s statement:

{O you who believe! Do not enter houses other than your own without first announcing your presence and invoking peace upon its inhabitants…} (An-Nur 24: 27) that it was modified by: {(It is) no sin for you to enter uninhabited houses wherein is comfort for you.} (An-Nur 24: 29)


i.e., an exception was made for abandoned houses. (Al-Bukhari, al-Adab al-Mufrad [hasan].

Another Companion, abu Hurayrah, stated that when the following verses were revealed, the Companions of Allah’s Messenger found them very distressing:

{To Allah belongs everything in the heavens and on the earth; and whether you reveal what is in your breasts or conceal it, Allah will call you to account for it. He will forgive whom He will and punish whom He will. Allah has power over all things.} (Al-Baqarah 2: 284)


They came to Allah’s Messenger, got down on their knees and said, “Messenger of Allah, we have been made responsible for deeds within our capacity, such as salah, fasting, jihad and zakah, but now this verse has been revealed to you, and it is beyond our capacity.” Allah’s Messenger replied, “Do you want to say as the people of the two scriptures before you said, ‘We hear and we disobey’? Say instead, ‘We hear and we obey. [We seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the journey’s end.’” They said, “We hear and we obey. [Grant us] Your forgiveness, our Lord; and to You is the journey’s end.” When people began reciting that and it became constant upon their tongues, Allah sent down:

{The Messenger believes in what has been revealed to him from his Lord and [so do] the believers. Each one believes in Allah, His angels, His scriptures and His messengers—we make no distinction between any of His messengers—and they say, ‘We hear and we obey. [Grant us] Your forgiveness, our Lord; and to You is the journey’s end.’} (Al-Baqarah 2: 285)


When they did that, Allah, the Exalted, made naskh of it and revealed:

{Allah does not burden a person beyond his capacity. He gets reward for what [good] he earns, and he is punished for what [evil] he earns. Our Lord do not take us to task if we forget or make a mistake. Our Lord, do not lay a burden on us like You laid upon those before us. Our Lord, and do not impose upon us what we do not have the strength to bear. Pardon us, absolve us and have mercy upon us. You are our Patron, so give us victory over the disbelieving people.} (Al-Baqarah 2: 286)


The abrogated rule must be established by a reason of Islamic jurisprudence.

Although naskh cannot occur in statements of fact and it only occurs in regards to orders and prohibitions, here on verse 2: 284, it would most likely refer to thoughts that are improper and a person may keep dwelling on it. Otherwise, it would be difficult to eliminate all such thoughts involuntarily.  Verse 2: 286 restricted its scope to passing thoughts that Allah will not hold one to account.[4]


There are other examples of naskh, which are not mentioned here.

Conditions for its occurrence:[5]

The abrogated rule must be established by a reason of Islamic jurisprudence.

The abrogating reason must be from Qur’an or Sunnah.


The abrogating reason must have come after the abrogated ruling. (placement in the Qur’an is not an indication of chronology (2:234; 2:240)


There can be no possibility of reconciling the two.


We further must note the following:

Evidence for its occurrence:

1. Logic

a) Allah is the Lawgiver. He has the prerogative to replace one law with another as He sees fit.

b) Wisdom

2. Development of individuals and societies

3. Ability to take on more responsibility; e.g., optional fasting

4. Relaxation after hardship as a sign of mercy: 2:187; 50

5. Ease in prayers, salahs

6. test of obedience:

Changing the direction of qibla from Jerusalem to Makkah: {And We appointed the qiblah which you formerly observed only that We might know him who follows the messenger from him who turns on his heels.} (Al-Baqarah 2: 143)


Abrogation and/or modifications were not exclusive to the religion of Islam. Other Abrahamic religions have also gone through similar changes as Allah saw fit for the people and time.


Abrogation and/or modifications were not exclusive to the religion of Islam. Other Abrahamic religions have also gone through similar changes as Allah saw fit for the people and time. However, the following examples demonstrate some of changes God made. And some changes made by man as only very few examples:


Changes made by God[6]:

Marriage among brothers and sisters had been lawful for the children of Adam and Eve, not for later generations.

Every kind of animal was lawful to Noah except for blood.

Abraham was ordered to sacrifice Ishmael, then ordered not to so.

Worldly activities were once lawful on the Sabbath, but prohibited to Moses’ people.

Marrying two sisters was lawful in Jacob’s time, forbidden from the time of Moses to Muhammad.

Divorce was lawful in Moses’ time, prohibited by Jesus. (it is unclear if this was truly Jesus’ order or attributed to him by others)


Examples of manmade changes:

1. Circumcision was ordained by God to Abraham : Genesis 17:13-23: “He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.

Canceled by Apostle Paul, and not by God or Jesus who, himself was circumcises:

Romans 3:1 “What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit [is there] of circumcision?”


2. Fulfilling the law was no longer a requirement by followers of Jesus, yet Jesus’ words testify against such abrogation:

“Think not that I (Jesus) am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one title shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach [them], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5: 17-19)


Yet, Paul considered the law to be a curse, old and salvation in need of faith only and not the law:

Galatians 3:13 “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” and Hebrews 8:13 “In that he saith, A new [covenant], he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old [is] ready to vanish away.” And Romans 3:28 “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”


Although Jesus (peace and blessings be upon him) preached oneness and supremacy of Allah (Mark12:29-30) people laid more emphasis on his miracles and personality, thus exalting him to level of Godhood. The oneness of Allah is however re-established by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).


In examining the rules of abrogation in various religions, one would find Islam the only religion with strictest rules in such a matter.


We further notice the following:


Knowledge of the occurrence of naskh:

1. Internal evidence


2. Clear statement from the Prophet or one of his Companions that one of two contradictory texts is later than the other:

The Prophet is reported to have said: “I forbade you to visit graves, but you may now visit them. I forbade you to eat the meat of sacrificial animals after three days, but you may now keep it as long as you feel inclined. And I forbade you [to keep] nabith [in anything] except a water-skin. Now you may drink it from all kinds of containers, but do not drink anything intoxicating.” (Sahih Muslim, No. 2131)


3. Consensus of early scholars


Finally, those sincerely seeking for truth, and clarification of various matters in the Qur’an and the Holy Scriptures, will not be left unguided. They are truly the true servants of Allah.

{Indeed, verily the friends of Allah, there shall be no fear upon them nor will they grieve, those who believe and constantly keep their duty (to Allah). Theirs are good tidings in the life of the world and in the Hereafter….} (Yunus 10: 62-64)


Notes:

[1] Usool at-Tafseer, Dr. Bilal Phillips, Darul Fatah, UAE [2] Ibid. [3] Sharh al-Kawkab al-Muneer, vol. 3, pp. 526-7. [4] Islamic Online University supplementary Tafseer. [5] Ibid. [6] Ibid.

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Published on Reading Islam on Tuesday, 03 July 2012

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