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THE CONCEPT OF NSKH IN THE QUR’AN

It is a common belief that certain verses of the Qur’an are abrogated, and although they can be found in the present version of the Qur’an, they are not in any practical sense applicable to our lives. This perception is based on the following verse of the Qur’an: If We abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, We will replace it by a better one or one similar to it. Do you not know that God has power over all things? (2:106)

But this interpretation is not correct. In fact, the word ‘nskh’ does not have the sense of eternal abrogation; it is used in the sense of temporary suspension. In principle, it is applicable in every age, but its applicability depends upon the situation. If the situation allows it, the message of these verses will be applicable, but if the situation does not allow it, then the message of these verses will remain suspended.

At present, the Qur’an would appear to be a complete book in bound form but this kind of binding dates from a later period. The fact is that the Qur’an was revealed in a piecemeal fashion in accordance with the situation. This revelation continued for all of the twenty-three years of the Prophet’s life. (It was only in the final days of the Prophet’s life that the Qur’an was compiled in its present form). Irrespective of the fact that the applicability of Qur’anic injunctions may be contingent upon a number of factors relevant to different periods and situations, the injunctions, in essence, remain eternal in nature. For example, let us take fasting. In the initial stage, fasting was meant to be observed for only a few days, namely ten days. But in the later period, it was revealed that believers had to continue fasting for the whole month of Ramadan. Now, generally speaking, believers are required to fast for the whole month of Ramadan, but for newcomers, the number of days may be reduced, if they cannot manage to fast for the whole month.

Islam does not believe in going ahead with new measures without first seeing whether people are ready to accept them or not. In the initial period of Islam, the same was true of social laws, in that they were not specifically laid down in the Qur’an. This was the situation throughout the Makkan period, but when the Prophet migrated and settled in Madinah, these social laws were revealed, because in Madinah the Prophet was able to establish a society and people were ready to accept these laws. This holds true for all of the injunctions of the Qur’an. They are not absolute principles but are applicable rather to the varying capacities of individuals and societies.

Islam believes in a gradual rather than a sudden introduction of commandments. That is, Islam does not believe in going ahead with new measures without first seeing whether people are ready to accept them or not. The same principle is applicable to the state, whose duty it is to have all the edicts of Islam carried out. But this is not absolute. In principle, the Islamic state does bear the responsibility for the implementation of the commandments of the Qur’an, but it is also mentioned in the scriptures that this will be done only according to the capacity of the people. If Islamic commandments are not acceptable to the people because of the latter’s lack of mental preparedness, they will be brought into force by a slow and gradual process.

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