A Primer on Abrogation: al-Zarkashi

In his landmark manual of the Qur’anic sciences, sheikh Badr al-Deen al-Zarkashi mentioned the following important discussion in his chapter on naasikh and mansookh – abrogated and abrogating – verses:

قسم بعضهم النسخ من وجه آخر إلى ثلاثة أضرب

Some scholars have taken another approach to categorizing abrogation, resulting in three categories:

الأول : نسخ المأمور به قبل امتثاله ، وهذا الضرب هو النسخ على الحقيقة ، كأمر الخليل بذبح ولده ، وكقوله تعالى : إذا ناجيتم الرسول فقدموا بين يدي نجواكم صدقة ( المجادلة : 12 ) ثم نسخه سبحانه بقوله : أأشفقتم ( المجادلة : 13 ) الآية . ـ

One: Abrogation of a command before it could be carried out, which is indeed abrogation. An example of this would be the command for Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, or Allah’s statement:

إِذَا نَاجَيْتُمُ الرَّسُولَ فَقَدِّمُوا بَيْنَ يَدَيْ نَجْوَاكُمْ صَدَقَةً

When you [wish to] privately consult the Messenger, present before your consultation a charity. [58:12]

which Allah then abrogated by saying:

أَأَشْفَقْتُمْ

Have you feared … [58:13]

until the end of the ayah.

الثاني : ويسمى نسخا تجوزا ، وهو ما أوجبه الله على من قبلنا كحتم القصاص ولذلك قال عقب تشريع الدية : ذلك تخفيف من ربكم ورحمة ( البقرة : 178 ) وكذلك ما أمرنا الله به أمرا إجماليا ثم نسخ ، كنسخه التوجه إلى بيت الله المقدس بالكعبة ، فإن ذلك كان واجبا علينا من قضية أمره باتباع الأنبياء قبله ، وكنسخ صوم يوم عاشوراء برمضان . ـ

Two – which can only be loosely called “abrogation” – is what Allah had mandated on those before us, such as the decree of legal retribution. It was in this vein that immediately after the legislation of blood-money Allah said:

ذَٰلِكَ تَخْفِيفٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَرَحْمَةٌ

This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. [2:178]

And likewise what Allah commanded in general terms and then abrogated, such as His abrogation of facing towards Allah’s Sacred House in Jerusalem by facing instead towards the Ka’bah, for that had been something binding on us under His commandment to follow the previous prophets. Another example of this is the abrogation of fasting the Day of ‘Aashooraa’ by fasting Ramadan.

[ ص: 173 ] الثالث : ما أمر به لسبب ثم يزول السبب ; كالأمر حين الضعف والقلة بالصبر وبالمغفرة للذين يرجون لقاء الله ونحوه من عدم إيجاب الأمر بالمعروف ، والنهي عن المنكر ، والجهاد ونحوها ، ثم نسخه إيجاب ذلك . وهذا ليس بنسخ في الحقيقة ، وإنما هو نسء ، كما قال تعالى : ( أو ننسأها ) ( البقرة : 106 ) فالمنسأ هو الأمر بالقتال ، إلى أن يقوى المسلمون ، وفي حال الضعف يكون الحكم وجوب الصبر على الأذى . ـ

Three: What Allah commanded due to a specific reason which then ceased to be, such as the commands to exercise sabr or to forgive those who longed to meet their Lord or other such things during the time when the Muslims were weak and few in number in lieu of any instructions to command the good, forbid evil, engage in jihaad, etc. Then those earlier things were abrogated by the command to engage in the latter acts. But in actuality, this was not abrogation; rather, it is a deferment or delay, just as Allah said:

مَا نَنسَخْ مِنْ آيَةٍ أَوْ نَنْسَأْهَا

We do not abrogate any ayah or delay it … [2:106 according to the qiraa’ah of Abu ‘Amr and ibn Kathir]

So the command to fight was delayed until the Muslims became stronger, while an obligation to remain patient in the face of harm was in place while they were weak.

وبهذا التحقيق تبين ضعف ما لهج به كثير من المفسرين في الآيات الآمرة بالتخفيف أنها منسوخة بآية السيف ، وليست كذلك بل هي من المنسأ ، بمعنى أن كل أمر ورد يجب امتثاله في وقت ما لعلة توجب ذلك الحكم ، ثم ينتقل بانتقال تلك العلة إلى حكم آخر ، وليس بنسخ ، إنما النسخ الإزالة حتى لا يجوز امتثاله أبدا . وإلى هذا أشار الشافعي في ( الرسالة ) إلى النهي عن ادخار لحوم الأضاحي من أجل الدافة ، ثم ورد الإذن فيه فلم يجعله منسوخا ، بل من باب زوال الحكم لزوال علته ; حتى لو فجأ أهل ناحية جماعة مضرورون تعلق بأهلها النهي . ـ

By knowing this, we can see the weakness of a position that many mufassiroon like to repeat which is that any ayah which commanded restraint from fighting was abrogated by “the ayah of the sword” [9:5], however this is not the case. On the contrary, this is an example of “delayed revelation”, a term which refers to any command that was required to be followed at that time due to some reason which mandated its ruling but then the ruling changed to something else due to a change in the underlying reason. This is not abrogation; “abrogation” only refers to the lifting of a ruling such that it is no longer permissible to comply with it.*

In his Risalah, Imam al-Shafi’ee initially indicated a prohibition of saving up some of the Udhiyah meat due to the presence of those poor people who had come from outside the city for the ‘Eid but then later he brought a different report granting permission to save up some of that meat. This second report did not make the first one abrogated; instead it is an example of a ruling no longer being in effect because the reason for the ruling was no longer in place. However, if a group of needy people were to unexpectedly come to the city, then the residents of the city would be subject to that same earlier prohibition again.

ومن هذا قوله تعالى : ياأيها الذين آمنوا عليكم أنفسكم ( المائدة : 105 ) الآية ، كان ذلك في ابتداء الأمر ، فلما قوي الحال وجب الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر والمقاتلة عليه ، ثم لو فرض وقوع الضعف كما أخبر النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم في قوله : بدأ الإسلام غريبا وسيعود غريبا كما بدأ عاد الحكم ، وقال صلى الله عليه وسلم : فإذا رأيت هوى متبعا وشحا مطاعا [ ص: 174 ] وإعجاب كل ذي رأي برأيه فعليك بخاصة نفسك . ـ

Another example of this would be Allah’s statement:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا عَلَيْكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ ۖ لَا يَضُرُّكُم مَّن ضَلَّ إِذَا اهْتَدَيْتُمْ ۚ إِلَى اللَّـهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ

O you who have believed, look after your own souls. Those who have gone astray will not harm you when you have been guided. To Allah is you return all together; then He will inform you of what you used to do. [5:105]

This was revealed early on, but when the Muslims became stronger they were required to command good, forbid evil and engage in battle. But if it were decreed that a state of weakness should befall them again – as the Prophet informed us would indeed happen when he said

“Islam began as something strange and will return to being strange just as it began”

then in that case we would return to that earlier ruling. And the Prophet said

“If you see desires being followed, stinginess being practiced, and every person being amazed with his own opinion, then focus on taking care of yourself.”

وهو سبحانه وتعالى حكيم أنزل على نبيه صلى الله عليه وسلم حين ضعفه ما يليق بتلك الحال رأفة بمن تبعه ورحمة ، إذ لو وجب لأورث حرجا ومشقة ; فلما أعز الله الإسلام وأظهره ونصره ، أنزل عليه من الخطاب ما يكافئ تلك الحالة من مطالبة الكفار بالإسلام أو بأداء الجزية إن كانوا أهل كتاب ، أو الإسلام أو القتل إن لم يكونوا أهل كتاب . ـ

Allah, Exalted and Elevated is He, is all-Wise; when the Muslims were in a position of weakness He revealed what was fitting for that state to the Prophet, which was kindness and mercy to those who followed him. Had it been otherwise, it would certainty have brought about much hardness and difficulty. But then when Allah strengthened, elevated and gave victory to Islam, He addressed the people in a way that was appropriate for that situation – such as calling for the disbelievers to enter into Islam or else pay the Jizyah if they were People of the Book, or to enter into Islam or fight if they were not People of the Book.

ويعود هذان الحكمان – أعني المسألة عند الضعف والمسايفة عند القوة – بعود سببهما وليس حكم المسايفة ناسخا لحكم المسالمة ، بل كل منهما يجب امتثاله في وقته . ـ

And these two rulings – i.e. inviting people to Islam in states of weakness or engaging in combat during times of strength – revolve around the underlying reasons that cause these rulings to come into effect. It is not the case that the command to engage in combat abrogated the command to live in peace. Rather, each one of these rulings must be respected and followed in its proper time.

فائدة : قيل في قوله تعالى : ما ننسخ من آية ( البقرة : 106 ) ولم يقل ( من القرآن ) لأن القرآن ناسخ مهيمن على كل الكتب ، وليس يأتي بعده ناسخ له ، وما فيه من ناسخ ومنسوخ فمعلوم وهو قليل ; بين الله ناسخه عند منسوخه ، كنسخ الصدقة عند مناجاة الرسول ، والعدة والفرار في الجهاد ونحوه ; وأما غير ذلك فمن تحقق علما بالنسخ علم أن غالب ذلك من المنسأ ، ومنه ما يرجع لبيان الحكم المجمل ، كالسبيل في حق الآتية بالفاحشة ، فبينته السنة ، وكل ما في القرآن مما يدعى نسخه بالسنة عند من يراه فهو بيان لحكم القرآن ، وقال سبحانه : وأنزلنا إليك الذكر لتبين للناس ( النحل : 44 ) [ ص: 175 ] وأما بالقرآن على ما ظنه كثير من المفسرين فليس بنسخ ; وإنما هو نسأ وتأخير ، أو مجمل أخر بيانه لوقت الحاجة ، أو خطاب قد حال بينه وبين أوله خطاب غيره ، أو مخصوص من عموم ، أو حكم عام لخاص ، أو لمداخلة معنى في معنى ، وأنواع الخطاب كثيرة فظنوا ذلك نسخا وليس به ، وأنه الكتاب المهيمن على غيره ، وهو في نفسه متعاضد ، وقد تولى الله حفظه ، فقال تعالى : إنا نحن نزلنا الذكر وإنا له لحافظون ( الحجر : 9 ) .

An additional benefit: Some have pointed out that Allah says

مَا نَنسَخْ مِنْ آيَةٍ

We do not abrogate any ayah … [2:106]

instead of saying “We do not abrogate any of the Qur’an …” because the Qur’an is the one that abrogates and acts as a final word over all the other scripture; there is nothing that will come later to abrogate it. And all of the abrogating and abrogated ayaat in the Qur’an are well-known and documented, and they are few in number. Allah has made His abrogation clear and in close proximity to the abrogated verse, such as with the charity to be given prior to consulting with the Prophet [58:12 and 58:13], the waiting period of widow [2:234 and 2:240], fleeing from jihaad [8:15 and 8:16], etc.

Other than that, then whoever has a good understanding of abrogation will know that most other items are in fact instances of delayed revelation. One instance of this is something that is sent down in order to clarify something that was previously left undefined, such as with “the way” for the women who committed unlawful sexual intercourse [c.f. 4:15]. This way was later clarified by the Sunnah. And every part of the Qur’an which is alleged to have been abrogated by the Sunnah according to those who hold the position that the Sunnah can abrogate the Qur’an is in fact just a clarification of the Qur’anic ruling. Allah said:

وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ

And we have sent down the dhikr to you in order for you to clarify for the people what He was sent down to them [16:44]

As for abrogation of the Qur’an by the Qur’an, which most of the mufassiroon agree does take place, then often it is not actually abrogation but rather

1) deferral or delayed revelation, or
2) something initially revealed in less defined terms whose clarification was delayed until the need arose, or
3) an injunction that has been interrupted mid-address by another injunction, or
4) something that initially applied generally but was later further specified, or
5) a ruling whose wording is general but whose ruling is only applicable to a certain group, or
6) when one ruling falls under the umbrella of another ruling.

So there are many different types of legal injunctions, and because of this people sometimes thought that abrogation had occurred when in fact it had not. The Qur’an is a the final word over other scriptures, and within itself its various parts all support one another. Allah has taken its protection upon Himself, for He said:

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ

Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian. [15:9]

[al-Burhan fee ‘Uloom al-Qur’an 2/172-175]

*Translator’s Note: al-Suyooti borrowed heavily from al-Zarkashi’s discussion of Abrogation for his own chapter on the subject in his manual on the Qur’anic sciences. In the context of these points, he added the following quote from Makki ibn Abi Taalib, one of the great scholars of Qur’anic sciences among the earlier generations:

وقال مكي : ذكر جماعة : أن ما ورد في الخطاب مشعر بالتوقيت والغاية ، مثل قوله في البقرة : فاعفوا واصفحوا حتى يأتي الله بأمره [ البقرة : 109 ] محكم غير منسوخ ; لأنه مؤجل بأجل ، والمؤجل بأجل لا نسخ فيه . ـ

Makki said:

A large number of scholars have mentioned that whatever comes in a legal injunction that indicates a time period or a specific purpose – such as Allah’s statement in surah al-Baqarah:

فَاعْفُوا وَاصْفَحُوا حَتَّىٰ يَأْتِيَ اللَّـهُ بِأَمْرِهِ

So pardon and overlook until Allah delivers His command. [2:109]

– whenever this is the case then its ruling remains without being abrogated since it is tied to a specific time frame, and whatever is tied to a specific time frame is not subject to abrogation.

[al-Itqan fee ‘Uloom al-Qur’an 1/650]

See also: Makki and Madani Series

See also: What the Salaf Meant by “Abrogation”: Ibn al-Qayyim

See also: If They Incline Towards Peace, then Incline Towards it: Tafsir ibn Kathir

See also: The Sources for Determining What Has Been Abrogated: al-Suyooti [Forthcoming, inshaAllaah]

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3 thoughts on “A Primer on Abrogation: al-Zarkashi

  1. Pingback: What is the wisdom of abrogating a command before it can be acted on?: Imam al-Shinqitee | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: What the Salaf Meant by “Abrogation”: Ibn al-Qayyim | Tulayhah

  3. Pingback: Were the Commands to Pardon and Excuse Abrogated?: Tafsir al-Tabari | Tulayhah

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