Naskh (tafsir)

Naskh (tafsir)

Naskh (نسخ) is an Arabic language word usually translated as "abrogation"; it shares the same root as the words appearing in the phrase al-nāsikh wal-mansūkh (الناسخ والمنسوخ, "the abrogating and abrogated [verses]"). It is a term used in Islamic legal exegesis for seemingly contradictory material within or between the twin bases of Islamic holy law: the Qur'ān and the Prophetic Sunna. Over the last century, there have come to be serious objections to the very idea of Naskh within the Muslim community; returning to a dissenting attitude from early Muslim history (e.g., Abu Muslim Al-Asfahani 948–1038 C.E).



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 Qur'ān by an early 'ilmic authority figure (usually 'Alī but sometimes also Ibn 'Abbās) on account of his ignorance of the principles of naskh. [1] [2] Whatever the dubious 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.[3]

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).[4]

In time, more complex philological, theological, and philosophical theorizing accrued to this doctrine,[5] and in general the amount of material recognized as either nāsikh (abrogating) or mansūkh (abrogated) has over time decreased as a result, from the 200+ verses cited by the high-medieval jurists to the 20 recognized by the late medieval al-Suyūti and the mere adduced 7 in one modern study.[6][7]


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.[8]

Yet despite its dependence on chronology, naskh is in no way a historiographical enterprise:

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.[9]

Naskh applies to only the regulative parts of God's revelation. 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].[10]

In particular, the central tenets of the faith are excluded from this process.

Between sources

Abrogation is applicable to both sources of Islamic law: the Qur'ān and the Prophetic Sunna. A Qur'ānic verse may abrogate another Qur'ānic verse, and a Prophetic Sunna may likewise abrogate another Prophetic 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.[11]

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.[12][13]

This stance was a reaction to larger developments within Islamic jurisprudence, particularly the reformulation of the Fiqh away from early foreign or regional influences[14] 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:

He campaigned tirelessly to justify use of the Sunna as the second primary source alongside the Kur'ān against those who would accord the hadīth no role in the derivation of the sharī'a on the argument that the degree of conflict in the hadīth, the inadequacies of the guarantee against corruption, fraud or error afforded by the isnāds rendered the hadīth unfit for the sacred role of declaring the divine intent underlying the Kur'ān's declarations.[15]

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].[16]

Later scholars, writing when the juridicial 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 naskhed by the Qur'ān and the Sunna by the Sunna. The Qur'ān may, in addition, be naskhed 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.[16]

Al-Ghazālī employs the same three examples in his Mustasfā.[16]

One outcome of these disputations was the proposal of a mode of naskh known as naskh al-tilāwa dūna al-hukm ("abrogation of the wording but not ruling") in order to provide a Qur'ānic nāsikh, or abrogator, for Q.24:2 (see below).


Three modes of naskh were proposed by the classical exegetes:

  • naskh al-hukm dūna al-tilāwa: abrogation of the ruling but not the wording, or supersession. A regulation- embodied within either a Qur'ānic verse or a hadith report- is replaced but its wording remains- in the former case, as text within the mushaf.
  • naskh al-hukm wa-'l-tilāwa: abrogation of both ruling and wording, or suppression/erasure. 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.
  • naskh al-tilāwa dūna al-hukm: abrogation of the wording but not the ruling. Again, applicable only to the Qur'ān. The text of a still-functional ruling is omitted from the mushaf. 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.[12] 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.[17]

In all, 564 verses were alleged to have been expunged from the mushaf, or 1/11th of its total content.[7][18]

The third mode, naskh al-tilāwa dūna al-hukm, was accepted by only a minority of scholars.[19] 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.[20]

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":

Shāfi'ī shows no interest in the type of theoretical question leading to the postulation of the existence of a hypothetical "proto-Qur'ān" to account for the presence at one time in the Qur'ān of verses no longer surviving. He was none the less forced on one question- the much debated definition of the minimum number of sucklings [from a common wet nurse] required to set up a bar to marriage [due to "consanguinity", or 'adad al-radā al-muharrim; cf. Q.4:23]- to posit the revelation to Muhammed of a verse on this topic, which, however, was not to be found in the Qur'ān texts of his day.[21]

His normal assiduity to ascertain the Prophet's views on disputed legal matters led him to accept a hadīth which, however, comes not from the Prophet, but from his widow. 'Ā'isha declared that God had revealed a Kur'ān verse stating that the minimum number was ten; subsequently a second verse was revealed, declaring that the minimum was five and that this second verse was still being publicly recited when the Prophet died. Mālik had drily rejected this report as not being in conformity with the "practice". Al-Shāfi'ī embraced it and made it the basis of his Fikh.[17]

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 in fact corresponds to a heavenly reality, with the Qur'ān existing as a celestial archetype within the Mother of the Book (umm al-kitāb) (Q.43:4) or upon the Preserved Tablet (Q.85:21). Thus those verses omitted from the terrestrial mushaf may yet be said to still endure in Heaven.[22]

External naskh

A fourth mode of naskh, deemed "external," is that between dispensations. In Islamic prophetology, a messenger may abrogate certain ritual and social laws handed down by his predecessors in order to lighten Man's burden, make lawful what had previously been unlawful, and therefore demonstrate God's mercy for His creation.[23] According to Burton, "that Muhammad accepted a doctrine of external naskh cannot be doubted", and indeed naskh's Qur'ānic "proof text", Q.2:106, coming as it does right after a series of verses abrogating many aspects of the Jewish Halakha, may intend this sort of naskh.[24]

In the Canon

The stem n-s-kh occurs four times within the Qur'ān: at Q.7:154, Q.45:29, Q.22:52, and Q.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). These uses, combined with the secular Arabic usage nasakha al-kitāb- "he copied the book"- led some to equate naskh with transfer (nql)- as in the transfer of an activity from one legal category (e.g. allowed) to another (forbidden). Overall, though, these verses were of marginal importance for the exegesis of naskh.

More significant is the occurrence at Q.22:52:

Never did We send an apostle or a prophet before thee, but, when he framed a desire, Satan threw some (vanity) into his desire: but God will cancel [yansakh] anything (vain) that Satan throws in, and Allah will confirm (and establish) His Signs: for Allah is full of Knowledge and Wisdom
—20px, 20px

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):

The āyas concerning which God here announces that He will endorse them are without any doubt, the āyas of his revealed Book. It is thus clear that what the devil had cast into that revealed Book is precisely what God announces that He has removed from it and suppressed. God then endorsed His book by removing that utterance from it.[25]

The "hint of dualism" in this passage (even Satan, Tabarī seems to say, plays a meaningful role in the dialectical process of God's revelation) is more apparent than real. In order to enlist Q.22:52 as incontrovertible proof of naskh's eradicatory facility, Tabarī must gloss over the essential difference between the activity pledged within it and those forms of abrogation considered the legitimate expressions of naskh- namely, the authentically divine provenance of the latters' abrogated material. Thus his incentive to construe the divine eradication of Satanic material as a purposeful, even constructive, activity, rather than a wholly reactive and defensive one. Later exegetes such as Makkī would carefully guard this distinction, though:

Q.22:52 does not "indicate" the intellectual acceptability of naskh. It merely shows that God eradicates what the Devil insinuates 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.[26]

Thus Q.22:52 was relegated to merely lexical significance.

It was Q.2:106 which served as the chief Qur'ānic "proof-text" for naskh, and indeed it lent the concept its very name[27]:

None of Our revelations do We abrogate [nansakh] or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things?
—20px, 20px

Opinion as to naskh's technical meaning here oscillated between replacement (ibdāl) and nullification (ibtāl). This despite the fact that the former meaning would 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.[28] 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,[29] 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".[30] 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[31] (cf. Abū 'Ubaid al-Qāsim b. Sallām). In the same spirit of "turning lemons into lemonade" which characterizes much else within the theologizing of naskh, divine purpose was attributed to such incidents; Rāzī, for example, speculates that they may have figured among the Prophet's miracles.

Finally, there exist two important linguistically unrelated verses cited in connection with naskh: Q.16:101- "When We substitute [tabdīl] one revelation for another"- and Q.13:39- "Allah doth blot out or confirm what He pleaseth". Besides confirming the two major modes of abrogation (i.e. suppression and supersession), the former verse is employed by Shāfi'ī in his theory of abrogation between sources as proof that a Qur'ān verse can only be abrogated by another Qur'ān verse.

Historical Elaboration

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 juridicial 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]").[22] 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",[32] 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.”[33]

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.[34] 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,[35] on par with and of even greater importance than Sunna or Qur'ān![36] 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![37]

In non-Sunni Islam

The principle of naskh is acknowledged by both Sunnis and Shī'a,[12].[38] Among those groups that did reject naskh were the Mu'tazili and Zaidiyah, 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".[39] 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.[40]


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

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 (see the argument for theodicy from free will, for example) of reconstruing apparent limitations in the Creator as expressions of solicitude towards His creatures, and indeed as tokens of His mercy towards them. This was formalized in the doctrine of tahkfīf and is frequently expressed by commentators such as Tabarī, who argued in his exegesis of Q.2:106 that one motivation for naskh was God's desire to lighten the ritualistic and legal burdens He had imposed upon mankind:

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.[41]

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.[42] 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 side-stepped 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.

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 His previous requirements.[43]

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.[44]

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. 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. [45]

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. [46]


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].[47]

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.[48] 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).[49]


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, 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


The amount of material recognized as abrogated by Muslim exegetes and jurists varied, partly as the result of the continuous refinement of the concept (e.g. Shāfi'ī's introduction of the distinction between naskh and takhsīs), partly as a result of the normally disputatious process of elaborating the law. Hibat Allāh, for example, lists 239 instances of abrogation across 71 suras, with Q.9:25 accounting for almost half of the mansūkh verses. Many modern Muslim scholars have proposed more stringent criteria, arguing that only material which directly (and exactly) contradicts previous rulings can be said to be abrogating (nāsikh).

Frequently cited examples of intra-Qur'ānic abrogation are:

  • Verse: Q.8:65
    • Abrogator (nāsikh): The immediately succeeding Q.8:66, which lightens the ratio of enemies the Muslims are expected to vanquish from 10:1 to 2:1 .
  • Verse: Q.2:180
    • Abrogator: Q.4:10–11, which provides specific allotments for a deceased's relatives. These verses constitute a perfect example of what later exegetes would claim to be takhsīs (specification).
  • Verse: 2.219
    • Abrogator: Q.4:43, whose more explicit disapproval of drunkenness is in turn abrogated by Q.5:90, which institutes a complete ban on the consumption of alcohol:
  • Verse: Q.9:5 (āyat al-sayf, the "sword verse")
    • Abrogatee (mansūkh): Literally dozens of verses enjoining the umma's peacable conduct towards outside groups: Hibat Allāh and al-Nahhās cite 124 and 130 verses, respectively.[7] Ibn al Jawzī and Mustafā Zayd count 140 verses[50] and Ibn Kathir says in his Tafsir that 9.5 abgrogated "It abrogated every agreement of peace between the Prophet and any idolator, every treaty, and every term."
  • Verse: Q.9:29
    • Abrogatee: "Nahhās considers 9:29 to have abrogated virtually all verses calling for patience or forgiveness toward Scriptuaries".[51]

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

  • Verse: Q.2:150
    • Abrogatee: The Sunna which established Jerusalem as the direction of prayer (qibla).
  • Verse: Q.24:2
    • Abrogator: For those unwilling to countenance the existence of a "lost" āyat al-rajm (e.g. Qurtubī, Al-Ghazālī), the Prophetic Sunna which establishes stoning to death as the penalty for adultery.

Abrogation mentioned in hadith literature

See also


  1. ^ Powers, The Exegetical Genre nāsikh al-Qur'ān wa mansūkhuhu, ISBN 0-19-826546-8, p. 124
  2. ^ Rippin 1984, p. 26, 38.
  3. ^ Burton, Journal of Semitic Studies 15, ISSN 0022-4480, p. 250
  4. ^ Rippin, BSOAS 47, p. 41
  5. ^ Burton, The Sources of Islamic Law: Islamic Theories of Abrogation, ISBN 0-7486-0108-2, p. 5
  6. ^ Powers, The Exegetical Genre nāsikh al-Qur'ān wa mansūkhuhu, pp. 122–123
  7. ^ a b c Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, p. 184
  8. ^ Burton, Naskh, Encyclopaedia of Islam (EI)²
  9. ^ Rippin, BSOAS 51, p. 18
  10. ^ Burton, BSOAS 48, p. 458
  11. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, p. 37
  12. ^ a b c Burton, JSS 15, p. 250
  13. ^ Qadhi, An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’aan; UK Al-Hidaayah Publishing and Distribution, 1999, p. 233
  14. ^ Schacht, Fikh, EI²
  15. ^ Burton,Naskh, EI²
  16. ^ a b c Burton, BSOAS 48, p. 466
  17. ^ a b Burton, Naskh, EI²
  18. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, p. 50
  19. ^ Burton, BSOAS 48, p. 452
  20. ^ Burton, BSOAS 48 p. 467
  21. ^ Burton, JSS 15, p. 251
  22. ^ a b Rippin, BSOAS 47, p. 42
  23. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, pp. 166–167, pp. 180–182
  24. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, pp. 182, 205
  25. ^ Burton, JSS 15, p. 265
  26. ^ Burton, BSOAS 48, p. 454 (note 6)
  27. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, p. 55, p. 205
  28. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, pp. 89–90
  29. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, p. 55
  30. ^ Burton, BSOAS 48, p. 457
  31. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, p. 45
  32. ^ Rippin, BSOAS 47
  33. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, p. viii
  34. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, p. 13
  35. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, pp. 30, 37
  36. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, p. 79
  37. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, p. 140
  38. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, p. 95
  39. ^ Friedmann, Jihād in Ahmadī Thought, ISBN 965-264-014-X, p. 227
  40. ^ Friedmann, Jihād in Ahmadī Thought, p. 227
  41. ^ Burton, BSOAS 48, p. 462
  42. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, p. 116
  43. ^ Burton, JSS 15, p. 252
  44. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, p. 33
  45. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, p. 101
  46. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, p. 3
  47. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, pp. 37–39
  48. ^ Powers, The Exegetical Genre nāsikh al-Qur'ān wa mansūkhuhu, pp. 120–122
  49. ^ Powers, The Exegetical Genre nāsikh al-Qur'ān wa mansūkhuhu, pp. 130–132
  50. ^ Reuven Firestone, Jihād: The Origin of Holy War in Islam, ISBN 0-19-515494-0, p. 151 (note 21)
  51. ^ Firestone, Jihād, p. 151


  • "Naskh" (CD-ROM v. 1.0 ed.). 1999. 
  • John Burton (1970). "Those Are the High-Flying Cranes". Journal of Semitic Studies 15 (2): 246–264. doi:10.1093/jss/15.2.246. 
  • John Burton (1985). "The Exegesis of Q.2:106 and the Islamic Theories of Naskh: Mā nansakh min āya aw nansahā[sic] na'ti bi khairin minhā aw mithlihā". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 48 (03): 452–469. doi:10.1017/S0041977X0003843X. 
  • John Burton (1990). The Sources of Islamic Law: Islamic Theories of Abrogation. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-0108-2. 
  • Andrew Rippin (1984). "Al-Zuhrī, Naskh al-Qur'ān and the Problem of Early Tafsīr Texts". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 47 (01): 22–37. doi:10.1017/S0041977X00022126 
  • Andrew Rippin, editor (1988). Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of the Qur'ān'. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-826546-8. 
    • David S. Powers. The Exegetical Genre nāsikh al-Qur'ān wa mansūkhuhu. pp. 117–138. 
  • Andrew Rippin (1988). "The function of asbāb al-nuzūl in Qur'ānic exegesis". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 51 (01): 1–20. doi:10.1017/S0041977X00020188. 
  • Moshe Sharon, ed. (1997). Studies in Islamic History and Civilization in Honour of Professor David Ayalon. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 965-264-014-X. 
  • John Wansbrough and Andrew Rippin, ed. (2004). Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-59102-201-0. 

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