Abrogation of the Recitation

Abrogation of the Recitation and Ruling in the Qur’an: a Defect?

Answered by Ustadh Shuaib Ally

Question: Assalamu alaykum,

I do not understand the concept of ‘naskh’, when naskh refers specifically to the concept of ‘deleted’ verses of the Qur’an.

Isn’t our belief as Muslims based on the idea that the Quran is a single perfect scripture sent down from God, and His word is unchanging, and the entire miracle of the Quran is that it is a single, unchanging, preserved text? How then, can God have ‘taken back’ parts of the Quran by ‘deleting’ them?

Answer: Assalamualaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

I pray this finds you well.

Types of Qur’anic Abrogation

In the field of Qur’anic sciences, naskh (abrogation), with respect to the Qur’an, is recognized to refer to one of three scenarios:
(a) The recitation and the ruling are both abrogated
(b) The recitation abrogated; the ruling remains
(c) The recitation remains; the ruling abrogated

Abrogating the Ruling Alone

The third scenario, as you’ve mentioned, is the most obvious type of naskh; examples given for abrogation are usually of this nature. The reasons for this type of abrogation occurring vis a vis the Qur’an are also readily apparent. They include considerations of facilitating rulings for the fledgling community, giving rulings that fit circumstances, testing obedience, and others.

Abrogating Both the Recitation and Ruling

The first and second scenarios listed above, akin to withdrawal or omission, are not obvious forms of naskh, and the reasons for their occurrence might not be readily apparent. However, scholarship in the field has held that:
(a) its occurrence is not logically impossible; God can reveal as He deems fit, and then cause certain portions to be replaced by others, withdrawn, or outright forgotten; and
(b) there are sound narrations that indicate that this has occurred (such as the narration you have referenced regarding al-Ahzab).
Putting these two together, Qur’anic Sciences scholarship has largely been willing to confine itself to what it can establish – that it does appear to have occurred – and consign the rationale to God.

Consequences for the Divine Nature of the Text

They have, however, held that verses or sections being withdrawn in this manner does not impugn the perfect nature of the received text, as they were never intended to be part of the final scripture. For that reason, the Qur’an is not considered to be missing anything, incomplete, or lacking in any regard. They did not stake claims of the Qur’an’s divine origin on it never being changed by God; God had indicated that he would protect it from outside interference, but He remains free to do with it as He pleased.

Consequences for God’s Attributes

They also did not consider such changes to be in contradistinction to any of God’s perfect attributes. They rather saw it as a reflection of his omnipotence, in that He can do as He pleases with His revelation. They also did not see it as contravening his omniscience, because He had always been aware that these verses would be withdrawn or forgotten prior to its occurrence.

Sources: al-Itqan; al-Ziyada wa’l Ihsan; Manahil al-‘Irfan

Shuaib Ally