What Is Abrogation (Naskh) in the Quran?

Answered by Shaykh Anas al-Musa


What is abrogation in the Quran?


In the Name of Allah, the Merciful and Compassionate.

Abrogation (Naskh)

In the Arabic language, abrogation (Naskh) means lifting and removing, as it is said: “The sun erased the shadow,” meaning it removed it. Abrogation also means in language the act of copying, hence the term: “He copied the book,” meaning he transferred from it to another, and the copy is called a copy because something is transferred to it from another. [‘Itr, ‘Ulum al-Quran; Muhammad Bakr Isma‘il, Dirasat fi ‘Ulum al-Quran]

As for abrogation in the terminology of scholars, it is the lifting of a partial practical Sacred Law ruling established by text by a later partial practical Sacred Law ruling established by text and contradicts it, not being connected to it in the time of its legislation.

It is also defined as the legislator lifting a ruling of his with a later ruling of his. [Zarkashi, al-Burhan fi ‘Ulum al-Quran; Suyuti, al-Itqan fi ‘Ulum al-Quran; ‘Itr, ‘Ulum al-Quran; Qattan, Mabahith fi ‘Ulum al-Quran; Juday, ‘al-Muqadimmat al-Asasiyat fi ‘Ulum al-Quran; Salih, Mabahith fi ‘Ulum al-Quran]

Types of Abrogation in the Quran

Therefore, lifting is abrogation; the Sacred Law ruling that is lifted is called the abrogated (Mansukh), and the later Sacred Law ruling is the abrogator (Nasikh).

The Noble Quran has used the term abrogation in the aforementioned meanings: For abrogation in the sense of transferring, it is mentioned in the verse:

“This record of Ours speaks the truth about you. Indeed, We always had your deeds recorded (by the angels).” [Quran, 45:29]

Meaning: We transfer it with care and precision and record it in a book that misses neither small nor big details except that it encompasses them.

And for abrogation in the sense of lifting and removing, it is mentioned in the verse:

“If We ever abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, We replace it with a better or similar one.” [Quran, 2:106] [Jarmi, Mu‘jam ‘Ulum al-Quran]

Scholars have divided abrogation into multiple categories based on different considerations, and I will suffice in this answer to mention abrogation in terms of recitation and ruling only, which divides into:

Case Studies of Abrogation: Recitation Without Ruling

Firstly, verses whose recitation was abrogated but their ruling remains: This means that the ruling established by the text remains in effect and continuous, but the text is stripped of what establishes the Quran to be recited from rulings, such as the worship through its recitation and the validity of prayer with it, and it does not remain in the Mushaf. An example is the verse of stoning the adulterer who is Muhsan (married): It was narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab said: “I feared that over time, people would say: ‘I do not find stoning in the Book of Allah,’ and thus would go astray by neglecting an ordinance from Allah’s ordinances. Know that stoning is the truth when a man is Muhsan and evidence is established, or there is pregnancy or confession, and I have read it ‘The old man and the old woman, if they commit adultery, stone them outright,’ as the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) stoned and we stoned after him.” [Ibn Maja; Ahmad; Muslim]

The term “the old man and the old woman” refers to a mature man and woman, and this ruling, the stoning of a mature man and woman if they commit adultery, is established, definitive, and acted upon. It is noted that this verse no longer exists between the pages of the Mushaf nor on the tongues of the reciters, and it is not permissible to pray with it, nor is it an act of worship to recite it.

Case Studies of Abrogation: Ruling Without Recitation

Secondly, verses whose ruling was abrogated but their recitation remains: This means that acting upon the ruling established by the text is nullified, while the text remains part of what is recited from the Quran and is an act of worship by its recitation, and it remains in the Mushaf. This is frequent in the Book and the Sunna, an example being the abrogation of the verse of the waiting period:

“And those of you who die and leave behind wives should bequeath for their wives a year’s maintenance without forcing them out,” but then it was abrogated by four months and ten days:

“As for those of you who die and leave widows behind, let them observe a waiting period of four months and ten days.” [Quran, 2:234]

The Theoretical Possibility of Complete Abrogation

Thirdly, abrogation of both the ruling and recitation: This means that acting upon the ruling established by the text is nullified, alongside the removal of the text from the Quran, so it was not established in the Mushaf when the Quran was compiled. This type of abrogation is logically possible, but it did not occur. Some scholars have argued for its occurrence based on what was narrated by Muslim and the authors of Sunan, from ‘Aisha; that she said: “It was revealed in the Quran: ‘Ten known sucklings make (marriage) unlawful,’ then they were abrogated by five known sucklings. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) passed away while they were still recited in the Quran.” [Muslim] [Isma‘il, Dirasat fi ‘Ulum al-Quran; Bagha, al-Wadih fi ‘Ulum al-Quran; ‘Itr, ‘Ulum al-Quran al-Karim]

The Role of Abrogation in Quranic Legislation

The science of abrogation (Naskh) and the abrogated (Mansukh) can be considered a form of gradation in the revelation of the Quran. Abrogation is a type of gradation in legislation, taking into account the immediate and future welfare of people. Indeed, there are matters of obligation that are suitable for one time and not another and for one situation and not another. Thus, Allah took His servants with wisdom, setting for them legislations that suit them across different levels, environments, and circumstances.

The science of abrogation and the abrogated reveals to us a facet of Allah’s wisdom in nurturing creation. The human race evolves as a child through various stages, and each stage has conditions that suit it, unlike those of another stage. When the world reached its maturity, civilization interconnected among its regions and peoples, this pure religion came as the finality of religions, completing the laws; thus, the issue of abrogation arises from the treatment and resolution of people’s problems, to avert harms from them and bring benefits. [Salih, Mabahith fi ‘Ulum al-Quran; ‘Itr, ‘Ulum al-Quran al-Karim]

It should be noted that the Sacred Law of Islam has abrogated all previous laws because it came with a comprehensive legislation that has completed the reasons for guidance, and its rulings encompass all the necessities of life, making the previous legislations unnecessary to remain alongside it in any form. [Isma‘il, Dirasat fi ‘Ulum al-Quran]

Conditions and Limits of Abrogation

One of the conditions of abrogation is that it can only occur in practical Sacred Law rulings established by text, not temporary by time nor eternally stipulated by text, and not among the general principles; hence, abrogation cannot occur in temporary rulings as they end with their time.

Furthermore, abrogation cannot occur in creedal rulings related to the essence of Allah (Most High), His attributes, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day because these are firmly established in all divine religions.

Nor can abrogation occur in practical Sacred Law rulings for which there is no text in the Quran or the Sunna, like rulings whose evidence is consensus or analogy.

Abrogation cannot occur in rulings stipulated to be eternal; because abrogation in these would contradict the stipulation of eternity, provided that the eternity is stipulated.

There is no abrogation in ethical foundations and the mothers of virtues because these are agreed upon in divine religions, as Allah (Most High) says:

“Be gracious, enjoin what is right, and turn away from those who act ignorantly.” [Quran, 7:199] [Isma‘il, Dirasat fi ‘Ulum al-Quran]

Determining Abrogation: Text and Consensus

Abrogation involves the lifting of a ruling established by the legislator and the establishment of another ruling. Such matters cannot be spoken of by a Muslim except with certainty; thus, the only way to know the abrogation of a verse is by:

1. A clear, authentic text that this matter abrogates such and such, or a clear command to abandon the first matter, as Allah (Most High) says:

“It has been made permissible for you to be intimate with your wives during the nights preceding the fast. Your spouses are a garment for you as you are for them. Allah knows that you were deceiving yourselves. So He has accepted your repentance and pardoned you. So now you may be intimate with them and seek what Allah has prescribed for you. ( You may) eat and drink until you see the light of dawn breaking the darkness of night, then complete the fast until nightfall.” [Quran, 2:187]

This text is explicit in abrogating the prohibition of sexual intercourse during the nights of Ramadan.

2. Consensus of the nation without any regarded disagreement that such a matter is abrogated. [Isma‘il, Dirasat fi ‘Ulum al-Quran]

Misconceptions and Misapplications of Abrogation

Based on the above, reliance on abrogation cannot be based on personal reasoning without evidence, nor on the sayings of commentators without the chain of transmission, nor merely on the apparent contradiction between texts, nor on the establishment of one text in the Mushaf after another; because the Quran is not arranged according to the order of revelation.

The companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the followers after them understood abrogation more broadly than contemporary understandings; they saw abrogation as any change that occurs to some rulings, lifting them with other rulings that take their place, or specifying rulings after they were general, or restricting them after they were absolute. Thus, abrogation to them includes total lifting and partial lifting. [Isma‘il, Dirasat fi ‘Ulum al-Quran]

Abrogation and Alcohol: A Case of Misinterpretation

It has become widespread and famous that the verse prohibiting alcohol abrogated the ruling allowing it, but this is not the case because there are matters about which the legislator has remained silent, such as many foods, drinks, clothing, and the like, so the ruling for these matters is that they are permissible due to the legislator’s silence on their ruling. Nonetheless, some of the predecessors, like Ibn ‘Abbas (Allah be pleased with them), referred to this as abrogation when the ruling changed from being permissible to a new ruling by text. Abu Dawud narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas: “O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated” and “They ask you (O Prophet) about intoxicants and gambling. Say, ‘There is great evil in both, as well as some benefit for people—but the evil outweighs the benefit.’” [Quran, 2:219] were abrogated by what is in Surat al-Ma’ida: “O believers! Intoxicants, gambling, idols, and drawing lots for decisions are all evil of Satan’s handiwork. So shun them so you may be successful.” [Quran, 5:90]. [Abu Dawud]

As for the texts that came to explain the ruling on alcohol, they came in the manner mentioned in the narrative of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him), who said: “O Allah, clarify for us the ruling on alcohol with a clear explanation,” then the verse in Surat al-Baqara was revealed: “They ask you (O Prophet) about intoxicants and gambling. Say, ‘There is great evil in both, as well as some benefit for people—but the evil outweighs the benefit.’” [Quran, 2:219]. Umar was called, and it was recited to him, and he said: “O Allah, clarify for us in alcohol a clear explanation.” Then the verse in Surat al-Nisa’ was revealed: “O believers! Do not approach prayer while intoxicated until you are aware of what you say.” [Quran, 4:43]. Umar was called again, and after it was recited, he said: “O Allah, clarify for us in alcohol a clear explanation,” then the verse in Surat al-Ma’ida was revealed: “Satan’s plan is to stir up hostility and hatred between you with intoxicants and gambling and to prevent you from remembering Allah and praying. Will you not then abstain?” [Quran, 5:91]. Umar was called, and it was recited to him, and he said: “We have desisted, we have desisted.” [Tirmidhi]

Thus, what these verses brought – as you see – was not an abrogation of anything; indeed, alcohol was permissible before these verses were revealed, being among what people consumed like their other permissible drinks, as there was no prohibition. When the verse in Surat al-Baqara was revealed, it guided people to its harm and moved it from the circle of absolute permissibility to restricted permissibility. When the verse in Surat al-Nisa’ was revealed, it further restricted (its use) without absolutely prohibiting it. When the verse in Surat al-Ma’ida was revealed, it covered the remaining permissibility not addressed by the previous two verses. These verses do not involve abrogation because one of the conditions for the validity of abrogation is the existence of contradiction between the abrogator and the abrogated, which is not present here among these verses, as the verses related to alcohol did not precede the legislator except by the permissibility established by silence on the ruling, not by text. If it were correct to apply abrogation to the transition of the original ruling of permissibility to another ruling by religious evidence, it would be permissible to say about every verse of prohibition: it abrogates what was the case before its revelation, and this contradicts what the Quran indicates about the meaning of abrogation. [Ibn al-‘Arabi, an-Nasikh wal-Mansukh fi al-Quran al-Karim; Juday‘, al-Muqaddimat al-Asasiyat fi ‘Ulum al-Quran]

Abrogation, Meccan and Medinan Verses

Some scholars who wrote on abrogation concerned themselves with the Meccan and Medinan (verses); because the statement on abrogation is based on knowing the earlier from the later, and the Medinan verses abrogates the Meccan, not vice versa. [Muhasibi, Fahm al-Quran; Nahas, al-Nasikh wa al-Mansukh; Tayar, al-Muhrar fi ‘Ulum al-Quran]

The Importance of Understanding Abrogation for Quranic Interpretation

The science of abrogation is important for the student of the Noble Quran, and the Imams have said: “It is not permissible for anyone to interpret the Book of Allah except after knowing from it the abrogator and the abrogated.” [Suyuti, al-Itqan fi ‘Ulum al-Quran; ‘Itr, ‘Ulum al-Quran]

Notice: Many scholars have expanded on abrogation, claiming abrogation for many verses without evidence for their abrogation, and much of that falls under specification, not abrogation. Among the most famous examples of this is the claim that the verse of the sword – i.e., the obligation of Jihad – has abrogated:

“Be gracious, enjoin what is right, and turn away from those who act ignorantly.” [Quran, 7:199]

Which is not acceptable; because the verse of Jihad and sternness applies in the context of war relations, and the other verses command kindness and noble morals in times of peace, so each of the verses is specific to its appropriate time, and this is not from abrogation. [‘Itr, ‘Ulum al-Quran al-Karim; Mastu and Bagha, al-Wadih fi ‘Ulum al-Quran]


The topic of abrogation in the Quran has witnessed significant disagreement among scholars, both early and contemporary; thus, I advise the questioner to further explore this topic by referring to the books of Quranic sciences, including al-Burhan fi ‘Ulum al-Quran by Zarkashi, al-Itqan fi ‘Ulum al-Quran by Suyuti. And Allah knows best.

Allah’s peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his Family, and his Companions.

[Shaykh] Anas al-Musa.

Shaykh Anas al-Musa, born in Hama, Syria, in 1974, is an erudite scholar of notable repute. He graduated from the Engineering Institute in Damascus, where he specialized in General Construction, and Al-Azhar University, Faculty of Usul al-Din, where he specialized in Hadith.

He studied under prominent scholars in Damascus, including Shaykh Abdul Rahman al-Shaghouri and Shaykh Adib al-Kallas, among others. Shaykh Anas has memorized the Quran and is proficient in the ten Mutawatir recitations, having studied under Shaykh Bakri al-Tarabishi and Shaykh Mowfaq ‘Ayun. He also graduated from the Iraqi Hadith School.

He has taught numerous Islamic subjects at Shari‘a institutes in Syria and Turkey. Shaykh Anas has served as an Imam and preacher for over 15 years and is a teacher of the Quran in its various readings and narrations.

Currently, he works as a teacher at SeekersGuidance and is responsible for academic guidance there. He has completed his Master’s degree in Hadith and is now pursuing his Ph.D. in the same field. Shaykh Anas al-Musa is married and resides in Istanbul.