74) It has been said that some of the rulings in the Qur’an have been abrogated (Mansukh). What is meant by this abrogation?
The Arabic term Naskh implies setting aside, copying and the like. By Naskh is also meant the transcribing of a book and the moving aside of the sunlight by the shade. Technically, however, Naskh implies the abrogation of one religious law by another. The abrogated law is then called Mansukh and the law that replaces it is known as Nasikh. In contradiction from the other animals man continues to grow intellectually, mentally and culturally with the passage of time. His surroundings and environment, too, continue to change. In all probability then, the moral laws which he must accept would also change with his environment.
The moral laws of the first family of humans is a case in point. There it was morally correct for brothers and sisters to be committed in marriage with each other. For the continuation of the human species such a moral code was indispensable. However, the conditions changed as time went by. Numerous families came into being. Then the law that brothers and sisters were not to marry each other came into effect. It was at a particular stage of the development of the human species that this law came into force. With the revelation of this law, that which was permitted previously was now prohibited. The new law thus became the very cornerstone of the institution of the family and, thereby, of the very existence of human society. The old law had been given unto the children of Adam by the Lord Creator Himself. The new law, too, had been given by Him. For it is, indeed, He who is best aware of the intricacies of human society. Who besides He Himself can alter the laws required by humanity as the society evolved with time ? There are various examples from the religious scriptures that show how amendments were made in the laws. Such amendments might have been intended for a particular region or society. It may also have been a wholly general amendment as well. For instance, consider the ruling concerning the issue of divorce. It is clear from the Old Testament of the Bible (Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Jeremiah 3:12) that divorce had been very common among the Israelites. Jesus had to face a society wherein the permission for divorce was misused and in which the women were, thereby, put to undue hardships.
It is now known that in the laws that were revealed to Jesus, there were legislations that sought to strictly curtail the very provision of divorce. The varying manner in which Jesus made his extreme statments against divorce notwithstanding, they have all been quoted faithfully in the collection of the gospels. This ruling against divorce was revealed, perhaps, to bring down the rate of divorce among the Israelites and to restrict that freedom considerably. Jesus himself had made it clear that his mission was confined to the Israelites alone (See Mathew 5:17, 10:5, 15:24). This would then imply that the strict ruling which had prohibited, albeit, in a temporary way, the procedure of divorce, revealed as it was through Jesus Christ, had sought to change the condition of the Israelites whereby the institution of divorce was employed with reckless impunity.
It was the permission for divorce which was, in fact, conceded by the ruling in the Old Testament that was now abrogated by the ruling issued through Jesus. Similarly, many of the rulings in the Old Testament can be seen to have undergone abrogation by other rulings within the Old Testament itself. In similar fashion, too, many of the rulings in the ancient religious scriptures have been abrogated by the Qur’an. Indeed, some of the earlier rulings in the Qur’an itself have been abrogated by the rulings that were revealed at a later date. Factually, of course, such changes were an indispensable necessity in the due course of societal transformation. Will it not affect the status of the Qur’an’s divinity if it is said that it became necessary to change some of the earlier injunctions of the Qur’an at a later period in time ? If the Qur’an is, indeed, from the Omniscient God would such changes have been necessary ?
In truth, the fact that some of the rulings in the Qur’an have been abrogated actually represents one of the evidences to prove its divinity. The Qur’an is the last book that has been revealed by God for the guidance of humanity. It is a book that puts forward wholly practicable methods in the moulding of an ideal society on the basis of a moral code which it, in itself, dictates. It is, in addition, a book that seeks to show how, in the process of creating an exemplary and ideal society out of nothing but the most primitive human conditions, the divine law had influenced the making of such a society in the various stages of its evolution. The Qur’an does not contain certain numbered injunctions like the Ten Commandments that were revealed by God. It is, in fact, the compendium of laws that grew with the beat and rhythm of an evolving society that would eventually result in the fruitful transformation of an entire people. In that chain of legislation, it is but natural that the rulings that came at a time of total decadence will become irrelevant when the society has gone past that stage in its evolution. It is this loss of relevance that is, in fact, implied in the term ‘abrogation.’ Consider, for instance, the verses related to the consumption of intoxicants. It must be remembered that the Qur’an was revealed to a society that virtually bathed in wine. It was not about wine, which turned man into beast, that the Qur’an first talked to them about. The Qur’an firstly impressed upon their minds the purest conception about God and of the unflinching awareness of the Hereafter. Indeed, the Qur’an had, as the first step, sought to create a readiness in submitting one’s entire life before the Creator. It was after having created a mind-set to which the acceptance of all legislations that were confirmed to have been issued from God had become easy that the Qur’an declared: “They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: ‘In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit.’” (Qur’an 2:219) This was the first stage. The Qur’an’s approach here has been to first seek to show the benefits, or otherwise, of a thing and to make it clear that the sin in it would be greater than any benefit that may accrue thereof. With this verse, the society, now trained in alienating itself from sin and in moving along the path of virtue, soon begins to free itself from the vice-like grip of intoxicants and gambling. It was then that the second verse was revealed: “O ye who believe! Approach not prayers in a state of intoxication, until ye can understand all that say …” (Qur’an 4:43)
The prayer constitutes a conservation with the Lord Creator. However, many a man approached prayer in a state of intoxication. Indeed, the degree of their slavery to intoxicants can be seen from this single fact. The Qur’an had then made the second step towards achieving the goal of a society that was free of intoxicants. Prayer must be made only with the acute awareness of that which is being said in the conservation with God; with the mind and heart solemnly
influenced by that which is being uttered therein. Briefly put, therefore, prayer must never be in a state of intoxication. With the arrival of the second ruling a good section of those conscious of God were freed of their slavery to intoxicating drinks.
They resolved, thenceforth, that they would, at least, abstain from intoxicants during the times of the five daily prayers. It was then that the third ruling, which sought to fully abolish all intoxicants, was finally revealed. “O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, sacrificing to stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination – of Satan’s handiwork: Eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper. Satan’s plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer: will ye not then abstain?” (Qur’an 5:90,91) With the revelation of this verse, the other verses that were revealed earlier had now become irrelevant. They were, in fact, verses that had been revealed for the creation of an intoxicant-free society which were revealed in the two stages of the society’s evolution. It can, therefore, be said that with the coming of this verse, the other two verses had, for all practical purposes, become abrogated. It was mentioned earlier that even this abrogation serves only to stress the divine nature of the Qur’an. Prophet Muhammad () was, himself, never one to take intoxicating drinks even before his attainment of prophethood. Even if he were to put forward a law against intoxicants which was of his own making, it would have been in a fashion that straightaway prohibited all intoxicants forthwith. However, it is the Creator who is best aware of the intricacies as well as of the methodology of variation of the human mind. It is for that same reason that He brought a law into effect stage by stage. When such is the implementative process, therefore, it is only natural that the laws issued in the earlier stage tend to be abrogated at a later stage. This is why it has been said that the Qur’an makes it clear that these abrogations are, indeed, from Allah, the Omniscient.