Understanding Naskh in the Quran – A Student Perspective

The issue of Naskh (loosely translated as abrogation) in the Quran is one of contention amongst the scholarly community, with some accepting it, others negating it (apart from abrogation of the previous scriptures) and a third group who allude to a misinterpretation of the definition of Naskh being the cause of the controversy. The latter accept Naskh in some sense of the word and deny it in another sense. While no universal shari’ definition of Naskh exists, the Hanafi school of thought defines abrogation (naskh) as ‘the removal or annulment of one legal ruling by a subsequent legal ruling’


[1]. From a human perspective this is seen as a ‘change’ or ‘amendment’ of the law. From a divine perspective, however, it is seen as a ‘clarification’ of a legal ruling in accordance with Allah’s (swt) pre-eternal will, with each ruling having its appointed term.


The types of abrogation are considered to be: (1) abrogation of the text together with the ruling, (2) abrogation of the ruling without the text, (3) abrogation of the text without the ruling and (4) abrogation of neither the text nor the ruling. With regards to the first this would imply that Allah’s divine promise to protect the Quran from any changes or corruption is false, hence it cannot be accepted. Allah (swt) says in the Quran “We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption)” [15:9]. In addition, no mutawatir[2]  hadith supports this view. It can however be considered true with respect to the previous scriptures e.g. the Torah or Injil. The codes of law conveyed in these scriptures were no longer applicable with the revelation of the Quran. As for the second it is accepted in the sense that a later (better) ruling may replace, extend or limit an earlier ruling. Allah says in the Quran: “We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent?” [2:106]. The previous ruling is not terminated in its entirety but rather changes in its scope and/or applicability or is subjected to a change of context. Evidence of this is the amendment of the ruling on the consumption/prohibition of alcohol, which is confirmed by the ahadith. With regards to the third it is not accepted as the only evidence of this is a single narration from Umar (RA). This narration suggesting that the ruling on the stoning of the adulterer was within the Quran, but was then removed. An ahad[3] narration cannot be used to refute Quran. As for the fourth it is only accepted if the clarification, replacement or limitation of rulings are recognized as existing but not considered to fall under the definition or scope of ‘Naskh’.


Abrogation of the Quran is thought to arise from the Quran itself or from the Sunna. With regards to the former view it is taken to mean that Allah (swt) replaces an older ruling with a later ruling, clarifies how the ruling should be applied, or limits its application. As for the sunna abrogating the Quran, a more nuanced approach is required. The sunna abolishing a ruling of the Quran would imply imperfection in the Kalam of Allah. This would be a direct contradiction of the essential belief of Islam – the perfection of Allah and all his attributes. From an alternate perspective we may discount the proposal that the sunna abolishes a Quranic ruling based on the fact that no mutawatir hadith exists on such an abrogation.  However, the sunna may give light to how a ruling should be applied and in what context.


Consequently the most correct view, in my understanding, are those who accept ‘naskh’ as the clarification, limitation or replacement of a ruling without the removal of the verses denoting the initial ruling in the Quran. Abrogation cannot be seen as a contradiction in the Quran or Allah (swt) ‘changing his mind’ but rather a manifestation of his pre-eternal divine order. Any changes in the law are seen to be a manifestation of Allah’s divine wisdom and mercy rather than a ‘change of mind’ about a previous ruling. No revealed verse is thought to be better than the other, nor does Allah (swt) reveal a verse, only to retract it later. If a ruling is rescinded or restricted it was never intended to be permanent.

By Tazkiyyah Amra



[1] Khan, Faraz. Jihad, Abrogation in the Quran & the “Verse of the Sword”. 06 11 2010. http://seekersguidance.org/ans-blog/2010/11/06/jihad-abrogation-in-the-quran-the-verse-of-the-sword/ (accessed 05 01, 2014).



[2] A hadith narrated by a large number of narrators in each generation of the isnaad (chain), such that anyone who sees these chains would be convinced of the impossibility of collusion of all these people upon lie or error

[3] A hadith narrated through a single chain of transmission in one or all generations.