Naskh (tafsir)

Naskh (نسخ) is an Arabic word usually translated as "abrogation"; It refers to the theory in Islamic legal exegesis whereby seemingly contradictory material within, or between, the two primary sources of Islamic law — the Quran and the Sunnah — are resolved by superseding or canceling the earlier revelation. Several Qur'anic verses state that some revelations have been abrogated and superseded by later revelations,[1][2] which are understood by many Muslim scholars as pertaining to the verses of the Quran itself. Some examples include a gradual ban on consumption of alcohol and a change in qibla (the direction someone praying salat should face) from Jerusalem to Mecca.[3]

With few exceptions, neither the Quran, nor recorded sayings and doings of Muhammad (known as ahadith) that make up the Sunnah, state which Quranic verses or ahadith have been abrogated. However narrations from Muhammad's companions mention abrogated verses or rulings of the religion; and the principle of abrogation of an older verse by a new verse in the Quran, or within the Hadiths, was an established principle in Sharia at least by the 9th century.[4][5][6] The possibility of abrogation between these two primary sources of Islam (the Quran and Sunnah) has been a more contentious issue.[7] The allowability of abrogation between sources has been one of the major differences between the Shafi'i and Hanafi schools of fiqh (jurisprudence), with Shafi'i forbidding abrogation of the Qur'ān by the Sunnah, and the Hanafi allowing it.[8][9]

Muslim exegetes and jurists disagree over which and how many ahadith and verses of the Quran are recognized as abrogated,[10][11] with estimates varying from less than ten to over 500.[12][13]

Definition and etymology

Naskh has been defined as

  • "Abrogation, revocation, repeal. Theoretical tool used to resolve contradictions in Quranic verses, hadith literature, tafsir (Quranic exegesis), and usul al-fiqh (roots of law), whereby later verses (or reports or decisions) abrogate earlier ones.[14]
  • an exegetical (explaining) theory of the repeal or abolition of a law for divine commands in the Quran and the Hadiths, wherein the contradictory verses, within or between these Islamic scriptures, are analyzed.[11] Through Naskh, the superseding verse as well as the superseded verse(s) are determined for the purposes of formulating Sharia.[11][15][16] The phrase al-nāsikh wal-mansūkh (الناسخ والمنسوخ, "the abrogating and abrogated [verses]") is often used in study of Naskh and both nasikh and mansukh share the same root as naskh.
  • "lifting a ruling indicated by a shar‘i text, on the basis of evidence from the Qur’an or Sunnah".[17]
  • "obliteration, cancellation, transfer, suppression, suspension" depending on the context.[18][19][20]
  • The abrogation (suspension or replacement) of one Sharia ruling by another with the conditions that the suspending/replacing rule is of a subsequent origin and the two rulings are enacted separately from one another.[3]

According to some Muslim sources (Quran Academy, Abu Amina Elias, etc. ) the early generations of Muslims (Salaf) "would often use the word abrogation" in the sense of "specification, exception, or clarification," rather than totally canceling out a verse.[21][22]

Descriptions of Naskh by Sunni legal theorists of the tenth and eleventh centuries include:

  • God’s "replacing a ruling established by the lawgiver’s address with another ruling";
  • "temporal indication of a ruling's duration."[23]

Scriptural basis

Words containing the root stem n-s-kh occur four times within the Qur'ān — in verses 7:154, 45:29, 22:52, and 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).

Verses of abrogation

The Quran contains two "verses of abrogation",[4][5][24] which establish the principle in Islam that an older verse may be abrogated and substituted with a new verse,[4][5][25] a principle that has been historically accepted and applied by vast majority of Islamic jurists on both the Quran and the Sunnah.[4][5][26]

Any revelation We cause to be superseded or forgotten, We replace with something better or similar. Do you [Prophet] not know that God has power over everything? (tr. Abdel Haleem)[27]

Qur'an 2:106, [1][5]

When We substitute one revelation for another, – and Allah knows best what He reveals (in stages),– they say, "Thou art but a forger": but most of them understand not.

Qur'an 16:101, [2][5]

Other verses believed to indicate the principle of naskh are

  • 13:39 ("Allah doth blot out or confirm what He pleaseth: with Him is the Mother of the Book"), which gives confirmation of the two major modes of abrogation — i.e. suppression (naskh) and supersession (mansūkh): "Allah doth blot out or confirm what He pleaseth".[28][29]
  • 17:86 ("... If it were Our Will, We could take away that which We have sent thee by inspiration ...")[30]
  • 87:6-7 ("By degrees shall We teach thee to declare (the Message), so thou shalt not forget, Except as Allah wills: For He knoweth what is manifest and what is hidden.")[31]

(The verse 16:101 was employed by Imam Shafi'i, (the founder of the Shafi'i school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (madhhab)), in his theory of abrogation between sources as proof that a Qur'ānic verse can only be abrogated by another Qur'ānic verse.)

Satanic verses and abrogation

An indication of why (at least) one Quranic verse was abrogated is found in 22:52.

Never did We send a messenger or a prophet before thee, but, when he framed a desire, Satan threw some (vanity) into his desire: but Allah will cancel anything (vain) that Satan throws in, and Allah will confirm (and establish) His Signs: for Allah is full of Knowledge and Wisdom.

Qur'an 22:52, [32]

This verse, cited by Tabarī in connection with the incident of the so-called "Satanic Verses", supported an interpretation of naskh as eradication (izāla) from the Mus'haf of the Quran and thus made acceptable the idea of naskh as the nullification of a verse and ruling — naskh al-hukm wa-'l-tilāwa — without any replacement. According to John Burton, Tabarī's interpretation (Tafsīr), states that God removed some of the early verses that the devil had cast into the Quran and replaced them in later verses.[33]

Ibn Taymiyyah also identified the form of naskh where a satanic verse ("something that Satan has managed to insinuate into Revelation through Prophetic error") is canceled by a divine one, (which he calls al-naw' al-ikharmin al-naskh).[34]

Later exegetes such as Makkī insist that verse 22:52 does not indicate the Islamic legitimacy of the concept of naskh for divine revelation but only shows that God eradicated with later recital what the Devil insinuated into the Prophet's recital.[35] These Islamic scholars relegated verse 22:52 of the Quran to merely lexical significance.

Verses stating what is abrogated

Many cases of naskh depend on "the agreement of scholars" to determine if a verse was abrogated, and on Tafsir reports or the recollection of Hadith transmitters to explain what verse or prophetic statement was revealed before another. However, one Quranic verse and one hadith specifically mention some earlier command to be abrogated and replaced with another[36] — though they do not use any form of the word naskh.

Quranic verse 2:143-50 commands Muhammad and the Muslims to turn their faces away from 'the direction of prayer that you faced before' (Jerusalem) to a new one, one that 'pleases your heart,' (by which is meant the Al-Haram Mosque of Mecca).[36] In one hadith Muhammad changes an earlier command to his followers: 'I had prohibited you from visiting graves, but visit them, for indeed in visiting them there is a reminder [of death].' [37][38]

Need, scope, quantity

Dealing with apparent contradictions

The scope of the doctrine of Naskh has been controversial, and some Islamic scholars (a minority) disagree with its premise, usage and applicability. The Quran was revealed by Muhammad over 23 years, while sunnah in the Hadiths traditionally are held as the sayings and practices of Muhammad over this same period.[11] From the early period of Islam's history, scholars noted that certain early verses and later verses covered the same topic, but were contradictory in their requirements.[39] The contradictory commands exist in the Quran,[40] among ahadith of the sunnah,[41] as well as between verses of the Quran and the ahadith of the sunnah.[42]

Since "a defining claim of Sunni Islam" is that no two authentic hadith could contradict each other or the Quran (and nothing in the Quran could contradict anything else in the Quran), scholars worked to resolve these apparent contradictions.[43]

Working with ahadith, scholars first strove to “harmonize” these, i.e. to make them fit together by reinterpreting them.[44] If that failed they would look for signs of abrogation (that one saying/doing/inaction by Muhammad was earlier than the other and had been replaced by the later saying/doing/inaction). If there was no opportunity for abrogation, they would check the isnad -- chains of transmission of the ahadith -- to see if the transmission of one hadith was superior to another. Finally, if the isnad were not different they would approve the hadith that seemed "closest to the overall message of the Quran and Sunnah".[43]

Meeting needs of Islam

Preachers argue that different situations encountered over the course of Muhammad's more than two decade term as prophet required new rulings to meet the Muslim community's changing circumstances. (Or, since God is all knowing, the expiration points of those rulings God intended as temporary all along were reached.) J.A.C. Brown calls Naskh an expression of “the notion that aspects of the Quran’s message and the Prophet’s teachings developed over time".[23] Abu Amina Elias states that naskh is a recognition "that one rule might not always be suitable for every situation. Far from Allah changing his mind, abrogation demonstrates the wisdom of Allah in legislating rules for their appropriate time and context. For most rules in Islam, there exist circumstances that warrant an exception to the rule."[21]

Naskh applies to only the regulative verses of the Islamic scriptures. 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].[45]

According to scholar Recep Dogan, the "three types of evidence" allowed for naskh are a) report from Muhammad or companions, b) "ijma (consensus of the mujtahids upon naskh) and c) knowledge of the chronology of the Qur'anic revelation".[3]

The plausibility and validity of abrogation is determined through a chronological study of the primary sources, where early revelations are considered invalid and overruled by later revelations.[5][46][47] This has historically been a difficult task because the verses in the Qur'an are not arranged by chronology but rather by size of chapters, and even within a chapter, the verses are non-chronologically arranged. The verses 2:190, 2:191 and 2:192, for example, were revealed to Muhammad six years after the verse 2:193.[48][49] Thus, the context of each revelation is not ascertainable from verses near a verse, or the sequential verse number.[48]

Andrew Rippin complains that naskh texts in Islam do not demonstrate that verses rendered invalid by shariah law were revealed earlier, but simply assume they must be.[50]

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.[51]

Quantity of abrogation

Muslim exegetes and jurists have disagreed and disputed the number of verses of the Quran and sunnah in the Hadiths recognized as abrogated.[10][52][53]

  • According to John Burton 564 verses in all were alleged to have been expunged from the mushaf (internal naskh within the Quran), or 1/11th of its total content.[13]
  • Another source states that by the 10th century CE, Islamic scholars had enumerated over 235 instances of contradictions and consequent abrogation (naskh), which later doubled to a list of over 550.[11]
  • Sadakat Kadri quotes an estimate of seventy-one of the Quran's 114 surah containing abrogated verses.[54]
  • The 10th century Islamic scholar Hibatullāh, according to John Burton, lists 237 instances of abrogation, with the verse 9:5[55] – the so-called "Sword verse" – alone accounting for almost half of the abrogated verses.[11][13]
  • But, the 10th century scholar Abu Ja'far an-Nahaas[56] and 16th century Islamic scholar Al-Suyuti find only 20 cases of abrogation.[13]
  • Az-Zarqaani concludes that only 12 cases of abrogation have occurred.[56]
  • while the 18th century Muslim scholar Shah Wali Allah, have suggested that just five instances of abrogation exist in the Quran.[11]
  • and the 19th century Islamic scholar Sayyid Ahmad Khan stated that "no verse of the Quran is abrogated".[11]

This is explained by Yasir Qadhi explains that one reason for the difference in number of abrogated verses comes from a confusion over "naskh" (abrogation) and "takhsees" (clarification). Qadhi cites the following as an example of "takhsees": verse 8:1 says the "spoils are for Allah and His Messenger", whereas 8:41 says "one-fifth is for Allah and His Messenger"; thus verse 8:41 explains 8:1, it doesn't cancel it. Yet many scholars, he says, include clarified verses with abrogated ones to produce a large total of abrogated verses.[56]

Ibn Al-Qayyim and Abu Amina Elias argue that what early Muslims called abrogating was actually interpretation

The general meaning of the righteous predecessors when using the words ‘abrogating’ and ‘abrogated’ is sometimes the complete removal of the previous ruling – and this is the technical term of the latter generations – or sometimes the removal of the general, absolute, and outward meaning, whether by specification, restriction, interpreting an absolute as limited, or by explanation and clarification. Even they would refer to is as exceptional and conditional.[57][21]

Hadith emphasizing importance

A number of reports of prominent early Muslims — such as Rashidun caliphs ‘Umar bin al-Khaṭṭāb and ‘Alī bin Abī Ṭālib — emphasize the importance of studying naskh. In one report Ali told a judge who had no knowledge of nasikh that he was "deluded and misleading others", in another he evicted a preacher from a mosque for being ignorant of the science of abrogation. Umar is reported to have told Muslims that despite the fact that Ubay ibn Ka'b was "the best Quranic expert among us" "we ignore some of what" he says because he disregarded abrogation and told others he refused to "abandon anything I heard from the Messenger of Allah".[58][59]


Islamic scholars have offered a range of opinion as to the technical meaning and usage of Naskh'. These span between suspension with replacement of the old verse (ibdāl) to the nullification of the old verse (ibtāl). To work around this problem exegetes such as Tabarī interpolated hukm (ruling) in place of the word āya (verse), arguing that the something being replaced is the ruling not the verse, so that if a ruling is replaced the preservation or not of its wording in the mushaf (written record of Quranic revelation) is immaterial.[60] 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,[61] with Q.15:9 cited as evidence of its impossibility. Yet verses Q.17:86, Q.18:24, and Q.87:6–7 may seem to endorse its feasibility. Thus "Qur'ān-forgetting is clearly adumbrated in the Qur'ān".[62] 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[63] (cf. Abū 'Ubaid al-Qāsim b. Sallām).


Three modes of naskh were proposed by the classical exegetes, which apply when one verse of the Quran is being compared to another conflicting ruling in a verse in the Quran, or when one ruling in the sunnah in a Hadith is being compared to another sunnah:[6] (Naskh concerns itself with only revelations pertaining to positive laws — commandments (amr) or prohibitions (nahy).)[64]

  • naskh al-hukm dūna al-tilāwa: abrogation of the ruling but the wording is kept in the scripture (applies to both Qur'ān and Sunnah), or abrogation where there is supersession of an early verse by a later verse.[65] .
  • naskh al-hukm wa-'l-tilāwa: abrogation of both ruling and wording, and its suppression/erasure from the scriptures (scripture being the Quran, not the sunnah).[65]
  • naskh al-tilāwa dūna al-hukm: abrogation of the wording (in the Quran not the sunnah) but not the ruling. (Also known as Naskh al-qirraah). [65]

naskh al-hukm dūna al-tilāwa

Abrogation of the ruling but not the wording. A regulation-embodied within either a Qur'ānic verse or a hadith is replaced with a new ruling, but its wording is retained in the scripture, as text within the mushaf.[65] While retaining the text may cause confusion to those inadvertently following the repealed rule, according to Khan, tampering/doctoring with sacred texts has been rejected since medieval times.[65] Of these three modes of naskh, it was the first — naskh al-hukm dūna al-tilāwa — which received widespread recognition.[66]

naskh al-hukm wa-'l-tilāwa

Abrogation of both ruling and wording. A ruling is voided and its text omitted from the mushaf. Evidence that the verse ever existed is preserved only within tradition. An example is a report from Aisha stating that "Among the things that were revealed of the Qur’an was that ten definite breastfeedings make a person a mahram [i.e. if a woman breastfeeds a child ten times, that child cannot grow up to marry any of the woman's natural children], then that was abrogated and replaced with five definite breastfeedings, and the Messenger of Allah .... passed away when this was among the things that were still recited of the Qur’an." Narrated by Muslim, 1452.[17] Liaquat Ali Khan states that "very few Muslim jurists concede that any portion of the Quran has been removed" through this mode of abrogation.[65] However, Wahhabi scholar Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid describing these three modes of 'Naskh, and quote two other scholars (Muhammad ‘Abd al-‘Azeem az-Zarqaani and Ibn ‘Atiyyah) who do also.[17] And John Burton writes that this second mode is 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.[67]

naskh al-tilāwa dūna al-hukm

Abrogation of the wording but not the ruling. In this mode of abrogation, the text is deleted from the mushaf, but the rule is a still-functional. Proof of the verse's existence is preserved within tradition (i.e through a hadith report) as well as in the Fiqh. This mode raises the question of why a verse important enough to be the basis of immutable hukm (ruling) would disappear from the written Quran. It was accepted by only a minority of scholars.[68] 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 the Shāfi'ī's principle that the Qur'an may not abrogate ahadith or ahadith abrogate the Qur'an:

However strictly Shāfi'ī had approached the question of the feasibility or otherwise of the naskh of the Qur'ān by the Sunnah, 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 Sunnah. 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 Sunnah.[69]

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", as well as acknowledging Aisha's claim that there was a stoning verse in Quran, which had been lost.[67][70]

The elimination of earlier verse from the mushaf that is part of the latter two modes of naskh creates a 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 is a historical reality.[71]

Abrogating Jewish and Christian texts

A fourth mode of naskh, deemed "external," is that between religions. In this mode, some Islamic scholars interpret Muhammad abrogated religious laws handed down by messengers before him from those of Jewish and Christian faiths, in order to, states John Burton, correct the major aberrations in Judaism and Christianity.[72] According to Burton, "that Muhammad accepted a doctrine of external naskh cannot be doubted", since the abrogation verse 2:106 was revealed after a series of verses where Muhammad, among other things, abrogated many aspects of the Jewish Halakha, may intend this sort of naskh.[73] According to Muhammad Sameel ‘Abd al-Haqq there are "many" commentators and other scholars who believe that in ayah 2:106 ("None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause it to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar ...") "Our revelations" refers to the revelations before the Qur’an, "something better or similar" refers to the Quran itself.[74][75]

However, the Arabic word in verses 2:106 and 16:101 that is translated as "revelation" is ayah (i.e. the word used to refer to the verses that make up the surahs of the Quran). The word used to describe the Quran, the Jewish Torah or the Christian New testament is kitab (book).

Process of abrogation

Abrogation in the Quran

Frequently cited examples of abrogation of older verses (mansūkh) with newer verses (nasikh) within Qur'ān are:

The Sword verse

  • Abrogating Verse: Q.9:5 (āyat al-sayf, the "sword verse"), the verse which has been claimed by some Muslim scholars to abrogate the largest number of the early verses of the Quran while others concluded that it does not abrogate any verse.[13][56][55] This claim of abrogation of tolerance of non-Muslims by Muslims, because of the sword verse, according to Fatoohi, has become relevant in recent times as it has been referred to by terrorist outfits, jihadists and individuals who justify their atrocities against non-Muslims by referring to this verse.[52]
    • A group of scholars allegedly claimed that it abrogated dozens of verses enjoining the umma's peacable conduct towards outside groups: Hibat Allāh and al-Nahhās cite 124 and less than 20 verses, respectively.[13][56] Ibn al Jawzī counts less than 22 verses[56] while Mustafā Zayd counts less than 6 cases.[56] The 11th century Muslim scholar Makki bin Abi Talib stated, according to Louay Fatoohi, that verse 9.5 abrogated "all pardoning, amnesty and forgiveness" that Muslims had previously been asked to show to non-Muslims by earlier Quranic verses.[52] In contrast, az-Zarqaanee concludes that it does not abrogate any verse.[56] According to the 12th century Islamic scholar Ibn Al-Arabi, states Fatoohi, this sword verse abrogated "every mention in the Quran of showing amnesty to the disbelievers, ignoring and turning away from them".[52] The Orientalist Thomas Walker Arnold explains that verses enjoining peaceful conduct were also found abundance in non-Meccan Surahs.[76] However, most of these claims of abrogation cannot be considered as legitimate in the least. In point of fact, some of them merely apply to situations other than those that they were revealed for. Almost all of these 'abrogated' verses can still be said to apply when the Muslims are in a situation similar to the situation in which these verses were revealed.[56]
    • Fatoohi includes examples of verses abrogated by 9:5 to be 3:186, 53.29, 43:89, adding Tabari listed 9:5 to be abrogating 15 Quranic verses, Al-Balkhi suggested it abrogated 16 verses, Ibn Hazm claimed it abrogated 94 Quranic verses, Ibn Khuzayma concluded 9:5 abrogated 116 Quranic verses, while Ibn Salama and Ibn al-Arabi stated that it abrogated 124 verses.[52][53] Various medieval Islamic scholars, but not all, considered verse 9:5 abrogated Quranic verse 2:256 ("there is no compulsion in religion").[77] Fatoohi adds that regardless of historical scholarship, it is a serious flaw to suggest that Quranic verse 9:5 abrogated commands in older Quranic revelations that Muslims should be tolerant of non-Muslims, when verse 9:5 is studied in the context of nearby verses and the fact that the Islamic scholars disagree with each other.[78] Yaser Ellethy states that historical exegesis included Jews and Christians as the "Others" in the scope of abrogating verse 9:5, however, the historical analysis by Islamic scholars of "abrogating tolerance against Others" was baseless according to Ellethy.[53]

Other verses

  • Abrogating Verses: Q.58:12-58:13, historically the least disputed instance of Naskh doctrine among Islamic scholars. It states that those who seek a private audience with Muhammad must make a payment in advance to him.[79][80]
    • Verses abrogated: Q.2:234/240, Q.8:65/66, Q.73:1-4/20, Q.2:142.[80]
  • Abrogating Verses: Q.4:11–12, which provide the Islamic law on gender-based inheritance.[11][81]
    • Verses abrogated: Q.2:180, Q.2:240 (also known as bequest verses).[11]
  • Abrogating Verse (nāsikh): Q.8:66, reducing the number of enemies each Muslim is expected to vanquish from 10:1 to 2:1.[82][83]
    • Verses abrogated: Q.8:65[82]
  • Abrogating Verse: Q.5:90, which institutes a complete ban on the consumption of alcohol[82][84]
    • Verses abrogated: Q.2:219, Q.4:43[82]
  • Abrogating Verse: Q.9:29[82][85]
    • Verses abrogated: "Nahhās considers 9:29 to have abrogated virtually all verses calling for patience or forgiveness toward the People of the Book".[86]

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

  • Verse: Q.2:150
    • Abrogatee: The Sunnah 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 Sunnah which establishes stoning to death as the penalty for adultery.

Scholarly disagreement and criticism

The principle of naskh is acknowledged by both Sunnis and Shī'a.[66][87]

Muslim criticism

Some Muslim scholars (Al-Sha`rani and Shah Wali Allah) were skeptical of the use of Naskh, considering it a sort of short cut to be avoided. According to contemporary scholar Jonathan A.C. Brown,

Al-Sha`rani considered claims of abrogation [to be] "the recourse of those mediocre and narrow-minded jurists whose hearts God had not illuminated with his Light. They could not perceive all the interpretive possibilities in the words of God and the Prophet … By taking the shortcut of stamping Quranic verses or Hadiths 'abrogated', such ulama had restricted the interpretive plurality that God had intended in the Shariah. For Sha’rani only when a Hadith included the Prophet’s own clear abrogation, like his report about visiting graves, could it be considered Naskh.

Shah Wali Allah was similarly skeptical of the ulama’s excessive indulgence in abrogation to explain the relationship between Quranic verses or hadiths. In all but five cases, he found explanations for how to understand the relationship between scriptural passages without recourse to abrogation.”[88]

According to David Powers, Islamic scholars have asked if inherent in abrogation is not the question of whether the Quran is really the word of an eternal, all-knowing, omniscient, omnipotent God, since such a God would have no need to change His mind (His eternal divine will), and would not reveal something wrong or imperfect in the first place.[11][65] Why would the Quran — the creation of omniscient, omnipotent God — have contradictions within it, or verses in need of being replaced by another?[11]

The "God changing his mind" problem has led a few Islamic scholars to deny the theory of Naskh, declaring the Quran to be perfect and without any contradictions through rationalizing the contradictions and reinterpreting contradictory verses.[11][89] The vast majority of scholars, however, accept that there are significant contradictions within the Quran, within the Hadiths, between the Quran and the Hadiths, and that the doctrine of abrogation as revealed by the Quran is necessary to establish Sharia.[90]

Among the non-mainstream sects of Islam that rejected naskh were the Mu'tazili, Zaidiyah, and Quranists, on the rationalist grounds that the word of God could not contain contradictions. According to scholar Karel Steenbrink, most twentieth century modernist or reformist scholars, consider the theory "an insult to the integrity and value of the uncreated revelation of God."[91]

More recently the Ahmadiyya also reject the theory of naskh and argue that all Qur'ānic verses have equal validity, in keeping with their emphasis on the "unsurpassable beauty and unquestionable validity of the Qur'ān".[92] 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.[93]

Non-Muslim criticism

Philip Schaff argues that the concept of abrogation was developed to "remove" contradictions found in the Quran which (according to him) abound "in repetitions and contradictions, which are not removed by the convenient theory of abrogation."[94]

Another complaint is that naskh requires time-bound revelation, which is at odds with a revealer of truth who is an all-knowing, all-wise, eternal, self-existent creator and sustainer of the universe.


Aside from the argument that aspects of the Quran’s message and the Prophet’s teachings had to change as circumstances changed, some Islamic scholars defend naskh from the "God-changed-his-mind problem" maintaining that "whoever rejects abrogation has rejected His sovereignty and might" (‘Abd ar-Rahmaan as-Sa‘di),[17] and that "abrogation as a mechanism that perfectly reflects God’s omnipotence. God can change any ruling with another at any point in time He sees fit" (Louay Fatoohi).[58] Cyril Glasse states that "generally" in naskh, a universal meaning was "modified" by a "more specific" meaning, necessary since the 'style' of Divine revelation is "direct and absolute", without "clauses, exceptions and qualification".[95]

Parwez view

In answer to complaints by Christians and Jews that the Quran abrogates (at least) much of the Torah and New Testament, Ghulam Ahmed Parwez states that this is simply God's doing, something that humans should not question,

"The Ahl-ul-Kitab (People of the Book) also question the need for a new revelation (Qur’an) when previous revelations from Allah exist. They further ask why the Qur’an contains injunctions contrary to the earlier Revelation (the Torah) if it is from Allah? (...) Say to them that no one can question why Allah has adopted such a system of revelation. Do they not know that Allah, Who is sovereign over the universe, alone knows which law is to be revealed and at what time? (Say to them that) if despite knowing this fact, they still refuse to obey this code of laws, they will find that no other code can resolve the problems of life. In this context, O Jamat-ul-Momineen (the convinced Muslims)![96]


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 Quran by an early 'ilmic authority figure (usually 'Alī but sometimes also Ibn 'Abbās) on account of his ignorance of the principles of naskh. [97] [98] Whatever the 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.[99]

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).[100]

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 juridical 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]").[71] 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",[101] 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."[102]

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 Sunnah (in its later sense of the Sunnah 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.[103] 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 Sunnah or Qur'ān became apparent to the jurists, the regional fiqhs were not discarded, but became the third source in reformualting Islamic law,[104] on par with and of even greater importance than Sunnah or Qur'ān![105] 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 Sunnah the Muslims would have had no choice but to carry out the rulings of the Qur'ān![106]


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 of reconstruing apparent limitations in the Creator as expressions of solicitude towards His creatures, introducing less onerous requirements:

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.[107]

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.[108] 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 sidestepped 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 previous requirements.[109]

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.[110]

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. [111]

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. [112]

Naskh in Islamic law

In Sunni jurisprudence

The Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali schools of Sunni Islam have maintained that only Quranic verses revealed later can abrogate an earlier Quranic verse, but a Sunnah from a Hadith can never abrogate a Quranic verse. In contrast, the Hanafi fiqh of Sunni Islam, from the days of Abu Hanifa, along with his disciples such as Abu Yusuf, maintained that Sunnah can abrogate a Quranic verse.[8] The Hanafi jurists used Quranic verse 10:15[113] to justify their opinion, stating that abrogation of the Qur’an by the life actions of Muhammad (Sunnah) was based solely on his Divine inspiration, that when he acted or said anything, any abrogation implicit through his action, of the earlier Qur’anic ruling was from Allah alone, according to Yusuf Suicmez.[8] Hanafi school stated, adds Suicmez, that to accept that "a Sunnah can abrogate the Qur’an entails honoring of Muhammad".[8]


While traditional doctrine of naskh has been used to abrogate earlier ayat in favor of later ones, which form the basis of Islamic law, this was reversed by Sudanese scholar Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, who advanced the idea that the Meccan surah, while revealed earlier (and which give more prominence to the position of women and also praise other prophets and their communities—i.e. Jews and Christians), contain "the basic and pure doctrine of Islam", and should form the "basis of the legislation" for modern society.[114] These ayat abrogate some of the later (and less tolerant) but specialized Medinan surah which were revealed while Muhammad was governing that city and contain "compromises" for its political climate. While the Medinan surah were appropriate for their time, their doctrine is not eternal and not necessarily appropriate for the 20th or 21st century.[91]

Between sources

Abrogation is applicable to both sources of Sharia: the Quran and the Hadiths. A Qur'ānic verse may abrogate another Qur'ānic verse, and a Sunnah in Hadiths may likewise abrogate another Sunnah. 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.[7] The scope of Naskh doctrine between sources has been one of the major differences between the Shafi'i and Hanafi fiqhs, with Shafi'i sect of jurisprudence forbidding abrogation by the Sunnah of the Qur'ān, while Hanafi sect allowing abrogation by the Sunnah of the Qur'ān.[8][9]

In Shāfi'ī's source theory the possibility of abrogation between the Sunnah 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 Sunnah 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 Sunnah, or the Sunnah the Qur'ān.[66][115]

This stance was a reaction to larger developments within Islamic jurisprudence, particularly the reformulation of the Fiqh away from early foreign or regional influences[116] 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 Sunnah. Shāfi'ī's insistence upon the impossibility of contradiction between Sunnah and Qur'ān can thus be seen as one component in this larger effort of rescuing the Sunnah:

Asked point-blank whether the Sunnah could ever be abrogated by the Qur'ān, Shāfi'ī had bluntly replied [in the Risāla] that that could never happen. How could the practice of the Prophet be different from the commands revealed to him by God and recited to his followers? Were the Sunnah to be abrogated by the Qur'ān, the Prophet would immediately introduce a second sunnah to indicate that his first sunnah had been abrogated by his second sunnah- in order to demonstrate that a thing can be abrogated only by its like (mithlihi) [ cf. Q.2:106].[117]

Later scholars, writing when the juridical legitimacy of the Sunnah 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 naskh-ed by the Qur'ān and the Sunnah by the Sunnah. The Qur'ān may, in addition, be naskh-ed by the Sunnah, as has occurred in the case of Q.2:180, which was replaced by the Sunnah 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 Sunnah, i.e. the practice of the Prophet.

In the instance of the change of qibla, a Sunnah 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.[117]

Al-Ghazālī employs the same examples in his Mustasfā.[117]


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].[118]

The remainder of the introduction then typically treats the various modes of naskh, naskh 's applicability between Sunnah 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.[119] 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).[120]


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-Karim, 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

See also



  1. 1 2 Quran 2:106
  2. 1 2 Quran 16:101
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  4. 1 2 3 4 Harald Motzki (2006), in The Cambridge Companion to the Qur'ān, Editor: Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521539340, pp. 59-67
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  6. 1 2 John Burton (1990), Islamic Theories of Abrogation, pp. 43-44, 56-59, 122-124, Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 0-7486-0108-2
  7. 1 2 Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, p. 37
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 SUIÇMEZ, Yusuf (2006), Abrogation in Hadith, American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, Vol. 23, No 4, pp. 51-53
  9. 1 2 Ahmed, Rumee (2012). Narratives of Islamic legal theory. Oxford, U.K: Oxford University Press. pp. 49–52. ISBN 978-0-19-964017-1.
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  27. "al-Baqarah 2:106".
  28. Quran 13:39
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  31. Quran 87.6-7 Yusuf Ali translation,
  32. Quran 22:52
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  37. Sunan Abi Dawud: kitab al-jana’iz, bab fi ziyarat al-qubur
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  83. Quran 8:66
  84. Quran 5:90
  85. Quran 9:29
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