Divine laws were revealed by Allaah to His messengers for the purpose of correcting man’s beliefs about God (‘aqeedah), his methods of worshipping God (‘ibaadah), and his social life or social conduct (mu‘aamalah). Since there is only one correct belief about God, tawheed, whereby Allaah is considered as One, without partner in His essence, His attributes, His actions, and right of worship, all of the prophets invited mankind to that belief in exactly the same way.
“And, verily, I have not sent any prophet before you without revealing to him that there is no God besides Me, so worship Me.”
However, in the case of methods of worship and social conduct, the same format was not used in all cases. It is true that principles of worship and social conduct were all aimed at purification of the soul, protection of society, and tying communities together with bonds of cooperation and brotherhood, but the needs of each nation or people were different.
The needs may even vary from time to time within the same nation. Thus, what may suit a people in one age may not suit them in another. Also, what can be suitably used by a prophet to call the people at the beginning of his prophethood may be inappropriate in the later stages, when Allaah’s message has been established in the land and a state based on divine law has come into being.
Thus, the wisdom behind the various laws takes all of these factors into account, for there is no doubt about Allaah’s all- encompassing mercy and knowledge. It is His right to command and forbid us, as He has informed us:
“He (Allaah) cannot be questioned about what He does, but they (mankind) will be questioned.”
Therefore, it should not in any way seem strange that Allaah may replace a divine law with another based on His knowledge of all things, past, present and future. This replacement of a divine law by another divine law is referred to in Arabic- Islaamic terminology as “ naskh.” Allaah referred to the existence of this process as follows:
“And if I place a verse in place of another verse— and Allaah knows best what He bestows from on high, step by step they say, ‘You are just inventing it!’ ”
“Whatever verse I have abrogated or caused to be forgotten, I will bring another better than it or equal to it.”
Conditions for Naskh
For naskh to have taken place, the following three conditions must have been fulfilled:
- The law which has been replaced has to have been a divine law. This means that the gradual prohibition of alcohol would not be classified as naskh, because each successive verse only expanded the prohibitive scope of the previous verse. The original behavior of the people was to act as if alcohol was lawful. It was their assumption that alcohol was permissible that was gradually abolished by the three verses on this subject, not any previous statement by Allaah that liquor was permissible.
- The proof used to replace the old law has to be a divine command which was revealed after the revelation of the old law.
- The law which is to be replaced cannot have a specific time limit attached to it from the time of its revelation. If it has a limited time period, it simply becomes void when the time period ends, and such a process is not considered as naskh. For instance, fasting is required daily until sunset during Ramadaan. The permission to eat at night during Ramadaan or, after it is over, by day or night, doesn’t involve naskh.
It should be noted that naskh only occurs to divine commands and prohibitions. Naskh cannot occur to statements of fact, because such statements are either true or false, so to say that a previous report has been abrogated really means it was either a deliberate lie or an error, both of which may not be attributed to Allaah.
Therefore, descriptions of Allaah’s attributes, the stories of the previous prophets and their peoples, parables and descriptions of the hereafter are all excluded from the category of naskh. Likewise, the divine promises and warnings are excluded, because Allaah doesn’t break His promises.
Nor could one call it naskh if Allaah promises the believers gardens in paradise in an early verse and in a later verse promises them the pleasure of seeing Him. The promise of gardens has not been replaced by the promise of seeing Allaah; rather, both will happen. It should also be noted that the underlying principles of worship and moral behavior have not changed through the ages.
Salaah, fasting, charity and pilgrim-age have been constant practices of Allaah’s religion no matter which prophet was delivering the message and lying, murder, adultery, cheating, etc. have been condemned by all the prophets. Therefore, the area in which naskh operates is in details of the format of a religious practice or a social law, not in the core principles.
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