The Injunction for Salatul Layl: A Case Study for Abrogation (Naskh) As a Changing Concept in Shi’i Literature

The injunction for Salātul Layl: a case study for abrogation (Naskh) as a changing concept in Shi’i literature

By Sr. Maleeha Abdullah


The issue of abrogation in the Qur’ān has been one that has been discussed since the revelation of the Qur’ān itself. The occurrence – or lack thereof – of the abrogation of Qur’ānic verses has theological and legal implications for Muslims, and so the subject has been a topic of discourse both in jurisprudential and exegetical works by scholars across the Islamic world, not only regarding its occurrence, but the number of instances (if any) of abrogation in the Qur’ān.

This article aims to show that the concept of abrogation has not been a fixed one, changing over time, and this has led to much discussion – and sometimes confusion – as later scholars used, critiqued and analysed the opinions of earlier scholars to strengthen their own opinion on the subject. To further illustrate this, a case study has also been brought in which this changing concept of abrogation has been a factor for the different opinions of scholars, and will be discussed subsequently.

What is abrogation?

The Arabic term for abrogation is نسخ naskh, coming from the root letters ن س خ. From a linguistic perspective, the Arabic term indicates primarily on two meanings: to transfer, and to remove.1 The author of Mu’jam-e maqāyīs al-lugha comments that both of these linguistic equivalents indicate that something is put in replacement of the object that is removed or transferred, and thus the idea of ‘swapping’ or ‘replacing’ one thing for another can be extracted from these linguistic equivalents.2

On the other hand, the technical meaning of a term, particularly in jurisprudential or exegetical discourse, is rarely equivalent to its linguistic meaning. Though there is likely to be a similarity between the two, the technical meaning is usually a more nuanced definition with a narrower scope and remit, often having been refined as a result of centuries-long critique and analysis by scholars in the field.

In the case of abrogation or naskh, Sheikh Tūsi, one of the most influential scholars in Shi’I jurisprudence, writes in his canonical book of jurisprudences, al-Udda: “When a clear verse of the Quran indicates that an existing ruling (that is also clear and was revealed previously to it) is removed – in a way that if the [second verse] was not there, the first would apply as it is – and the second ruling sits in the place of the first ruling, then we use the word naskh for it.”3 This definition of naskh entails a number of things:

  1. Both verses should be clear, i.e. nass, a technical term for a verse which has a single meaning that is undeniable, with little possibility for it to indicate on another meaning
  2. The second verse (abrogator) should ‘remove’ the ruling of the first verse (abrogated).
  3. The second verse must be revealed after the first verse.

Syed Khūi, a meticulous thinker in exegesis, Qur’ānic sciences and jurisprudence (among other disciplines), defines naskh as “the removal of a fixed ruling in the legal sources because of a lapse of its time period, regardless of whether the removed ruling is in relation to a hukm-e-taklifi or a hukm-e-wadh’i.”4 5 Similarly, Ayatullah Hādi Ma’rifat, a prominent scholar in the field of Qur’ānic sciences defines naskh in the following way: “when a new law completely replaces an earlier one, which continually applies up until the time the new one is instigated.” Thus, all of these definitions carry similar connotations: a ruling contained in a particular verse is negated and replaced by a ruling in another verse, revealed later than it. The choice of words here is deliberate: it is not the verse itself that is replaced, and the original verse still appears in the Qur’ān. According to the majority opinion, a verse itself can never be abrogated or replaced, such that it no longer appears in the Qur’ān – this would lead to the distortion or changing of a divine book, something that is theologically unacceptable for most.6

Having understood what is meant by abrogation, it must now be seen whether abrogation has occurred within the Qur’ān or not.

Proofs for the occurrence of abrogation naskh in the Qur’ān

Before looking at possible instances of abrogation in the Qur’ān, it must be seen as to whether reason, as well as textual sources can allow for belief in abrogation, or whether it is rationally and theologically problematic. As for the textual sources, the Qur’ān is the source that can best speak for itself, and it is found that the term نسخ appears in 2 verses in the Qur’ān: Surah Baqarah verse 106 and Surah Nahl verse 101.

Surah Baqarah verse 106 says:

۞ مَا نَنسَخْ مِنْ آيَةٍ أَوْ نُنسِهَا نَأْتِ بِخَيْرٍ مِّنْهَا أَوْ مِثْلِهَا

أَلَمْ تَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ ﴿١٠٦

“For any verse that We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring another which is better than it, or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah has power over all things?”7

Here, major exegetes agree that this is a clear indication that abrogation does in fact occur in the Qur’ān, and Allah (s.w.t), when a verse is to be abrogated, brings another verse that is ‘better’ than it. Similarly, in Surah Nahl verse 101:

وَإِذَا بَدَّلْنَا آيَةً مَّكَانَ آيَةٍ ۙ

وَاللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا يُنَزِّلُ قَالُوا إِنَّمَا أَنتَ مُفْتَرٍ

بَلْ أَكْثَرُهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ ﴿١٠١

“When We change a verse for another in its stead—and Allah knows best what He sends down—they say, ‘You are indeed a fabricator.’ Indeed, most of them do not know.”

It is important to note that there are some scholars that refute these two verses as proofs for the occurrence of abrogation. For example, Murtaza Askari, a contemporary scholar of Qur’ānic sciences and Hādith, points out that the word ایه does not only have one meaning (i.e. a verse of the Qur’ān), and can have other meanings, for example a verse/injunction present in one of the earlier books such as the Tawrāt and Injīl. In such a case, where two possible meanings for one word are plausible, jurisprudential methodology indicates that evidence must be present to support one of the possible meanings and reject the other meaning(s). Thus, Murtaza Askari uses the surrounding verses, context(s) and reasons for revelation to make his case. The surrounding verses and contexts of revelation are largely about the books of Tawrāt and Injīl, and thus he takes this as evidence that the term ایه refers to verses in those books, not the verses in the Qu’ran. Thus, he holds that these two verses indicate that the Qur’ān abrogated previous systems of law and cannot be taken as proof for abrogation within the Qur’ān.8 Murtaza Askari himself takes an alternative view and does not subscribe to the belief of abrogation in the Qur’ān, but rather suggests that abrogation of certain laws happened in extra-revelatory circumstances (i.e. in conversations between the Holy Prophet and Gabriel, the messenger of Allah), and the verses that apparently indicate on the abrogated and abrogating laws were revealed later, simply as a narration of these events for the Muslim community, and thus do not directly abrogate each other; Askari employs the use of Hādith to illustrate his view.9

However, most Shi’i Twelver scholars cite these two verses as textual proofs for the occurrence of abrogation in the Qur’ān, even if there is disagreement regarding the number of actual instances of abrogation.

As for rational argument in favour of abrogation, much of the rational argument seen in the relevant books appears to be framed as responses to those who find abrogation theologically problematic, and so take on a defensive stance. Usually, those who deny abrogation in the Qur’ān suggest that it indicates a lack of wisdom on the part of Allah (s.w.t), who is all-Knowing and all-Wise and thus should have foreseen any “problems” in a particular ruling, such that it no longer applies to the Muslim community. In other words, Allah (s.w.t) in His infinite wisdom should not have needed to replace one ruling with another ruling, because His laws are perfect.10

In defence against this stance, abrogation in the works of scholars such as Syed Khūi, Bāqir al-Sadr and Hādi Ma’rifat is rationalised in the following way:11 abrogation should not be understood as real abrogation, in the sense that Allah (s.w.t) changed His mind after seeing the effects of a ruling on the population. Rather, it should be seen as a type of metaphorical or temporal abrogation, and what is understood by man as abrogation but is not abrogation for Allah (s.w.t) in His infinite knowledge. This is because the abrogated ruling has a fixed time period known to Allah but not to man, and when that time period ends (unknown to man), another ruling is sent down. Thus, from man’s perspective, the first ruling was to carry on indefinitely, but was ‘abrogated’ by another ruling; from Allah (s.w.t)’s perspective, the time limit of the original ruling simply ended and needed another ruling for the next period of time. The reason that a limited time period exists for a ruling is, according to the abovementioned scholars, due to a limited exigency or benefit12 for the ruling and is to be beneficial for the Muslim community only for a limited period of time, after which exigency demands another ruling. This rationalisation circumvents the theological implications of abrogation, in which Allah would be seen as limited or deficient in some way.

Naskh نسخ as a changing concept

Before turning to possible instances in which abrogation has occurred, there is a discussion that must be carried out relating to how the term نسخ has been understood and employed by scholars at different time periods.

When examining the usage of the term نسخ, an interesting phenomenon is observed: up until a certain period, the term was not used in the meaning mentioned in the above sections. Rather, multiple generations of scholars known popularly as the سلف salaf – who comprise of scholars from the time of the Prophet up to the 3rd century AH – used the term in their works in an entirely different way. The salaf is popularly understood as the companions of the Prophets and 12 imams, as well as their direct companions (known as the tabi’in), as well as a 3rd generation who were the companions of the tabi’in (tabi’in-e-tabi’in). It has been observed that when these generations of individuals used the word naskh, it did not mean abrogation in its modern sense, but took the meaning of any change in an earlier law. Thus, this term was employed in the following instances:

  1. Abrogation of one verse by another i.e. very similar to the modern understanding of naskh
  2. Explaining the remit of one verse by another – known as تبیین
  3. Narrowing the scope of one verse by another to include fewer instances – known in jurisprudence as takhsis تخصیص
  4. Qualifying one verse by another – known in jurisprudence as taqyid تقیید
  5. A verse indicating exclusions for another verse i.e. for which instances a particular verse doesn’t apply استثنا.13

Thus, the more modern understanding of naskh (seen in the works of Sheikh Tūsi c. 5th century onward, and first alluded to by Sunni scholar Shāfi’I in the early 3rd century) forms only a subset of the older understanding of naskh, which has a much wider scope and many contemporary scholars mention this difference in understanding (Ibn Arabi14, Zarqāni15, Tabari, Ibn Taymīyya, Syed Khūi16, Hādi Ma’rifat[‎note]Ma’rifat, H. Talkhīs al-tamhīd, vol 1, p. 378.[/note]), although they do not dwell on it at length.

Thus, where the term نسخ is used, it is possible that it may be intended in any of the two meanings – either the wider meaning used by the salaf, or the more narrow meaning used by later scholars. This is likely to have practical implications, especially if this point is not appreciated when a later scholar examines the texts of previous scholars. The following pair of verses illustrate how this may be so. In Surah Baqarah verse 228, it is ordained that divorced women should wait for 3 menstrual cycles/3 months before marrying again. In Surah Ahzab verse 49, the scope of this ruling is narrowed by excluding women who divorce before consummating the marriage – i.e. تخصیص has occurred. Thus, the first verse has not been abrogated and still applies to women who divorce after consummating the marriage and has simply been specified by the second verse to exclude a number of individuals. However, when discussing this pair of verses, Qatādah, an early companion of the Prophet, narrates that the second verse has done نسخ of the first verse. Here, he evidently uses the term in its earlier sense, which includes the concept of specification or تخصیص 17. It is easy to see how a later scholar who does not take notice of the different possible meanings of the term may understand this narration to mean that the first verse has ‘abrogated’ the second verse, when in fact this is not so.

Another example is found in Tafsir al-Tabari, where Akrimah (a student of the illustrious companion and exegete, ibn Abbās) narrates that with respect to Surah Shu’ara verse 224 in which it is said that “the ones on the wrong path follow the poets”, verse 227 of the same Surah notes an exception to this by excluding those who believe [in God] and do good deeds (i.e. they do not follow the poets in their words). Here, Akrimah uses the term نسخ to describe this relationship of exclusion استثنا. As in the previous example, the term has been used in its wider sense, and not in the narrower sense that strictly indicates abrogation.18 Any contemporary scholar (for whom the term نسخ takes a much narrower meaning) would not employ the term when commenting on this set of verses.

Thus, the term نسخ has (at least) two distinctive meanings as seen in Islamic literature; in jurisprudential language, it is mushtarak e lafdhī (a homonym). Considering this, it is easy to see how this may have led to difference in opinion when trying to demonstrate the (quantity of) occurrence of abrogation – in the narrow sense – in the Qur’ān. A scholar who uses narrations from early companions as textual proof – conditional on their probative force and ability to be binding as a proof – for a particular stance may use narrations (such as those mentioned above) to show that certain verses have been abrogated, particularly if an unbroken chain to an infallible Imam can be ascertained, when in fact the narrations in question alluded to a meaning much wider than simply abrogation. This phenomenon may be able to account for some of the differences seen in the number of abrogated verses believed to be present by different scholars; some believe up to 200 verses have been abrogated, whereas others such as Syed Khūi only accepts the presence of 1 abrogated verse in the Qur’ān.

This phenomenon may also be the reason why many exegetic scholars have taken care to define their understanding of naskh in a very precise way. Scholars such as Hādi Ma’rifat take special care to emphasise that for a verse to abrogate another, it cannot simply be to narrow the scope of the verse by decreasing the number of individuals for whom it applies, but that the second verse must negate the first verse – using the term تنافی.19 He goes on further to say that the difference between تخصیص (specification) and نسخ (abrogation) is that the former is a qualification of the verse with respect to the number of individuals it applies to, whereas the latter is a qualification of the verse with respect to the time period for which it applies.20 It is interesting to note that many scholars skirt around using any logical terms such as contradiction or mutual exclusion to describe the relationship between the abrogating and abrogated verses and suffice by saying that one verse simply negates the other with respect to its time span. This reluctance to mention such terms often stems from a theological belief that there can be no contradiction in the Qur’ān, as backed up by the Qur’ān itself in Surah Nisa verse 82, and strongly argued for by Syed Khūi.21 In contrast, scholars readily accept the existence of contradiction in the narrations and have extensively discussed how to resolve such contradictions in order to extract religious edicts.

Having understood the concept of abrogation and its changing meanings, the discussion can be applied to an instance in the Qur’ān in which there is disagreement as to whether abrogation has occurred.

The injunction for Salātul Layl in the Qur’ān

One of the instances for which it is debated as to whether abrogation has taken place is in Surah Muzammil with respect the injunction to recite Salātul Layl. Surah Muzammil, being one of the first chapters to be revealed to the Holy Prophet near the beginning of his mission, in its 2nd verse gives a command to the Prophet to stand up in the night and recite prayer – taking up half of the night, or slightly less, or slightly more.22 This was revealed to the Prophet in Mecca. Subsequently, most major exegetes describe that the final verse of Surah Muzammil (verse 20) was revealed after a delay – some narrations suggest a delay of one year, others suggest up to 10 years23 – in which God apparently tells the Prophet and some of his companions to, instead of reciting the prayer for half of the night, to simply do as much as is possible. Some take this ‘change’ to be an abrogation of verse 2, while others disagree. In any case. there are narrations that explain the cause of this apparent change, as will be discussed. It is here that there are a number of different opinions related to a variety of aspects of this event. These aspects include:

  1. Whether the command was made obligatory on the Prophet at the start (by verse 2)
  2. Whether the command was made obligatory on the companions at the start (by verse 2)
  3. Whether the command was later made to be recommended on the Prophet and/or companions, and thus abrogated by verse 20, or whether another phenomenon occurred, such as lightening of the ruling or specification for certain individuals.

The manifold possibilities of opinion based on the above aspects has in turn led to a number of different opinions, particularly in regards to whether verse 20 abrogates verse 2, which is the focus of this section. For ease of understanding, the possible opinions have been arranged into a flow chart (Figure 1), as well as classifying the scholars’ opinions that will be discussed in this section within said flow chart. The scholars have been chosen based on the presence of clear discussions in their books of exegesis with respect to this matter, as well as them being major scholars in the Shi’i Twelver school of thought.

Figure 1: Infographic to show the possible opinions regarding Salātul Layl and the verses surrounding the command.

Thus, this section attempts to be comprehensive of the major opinions in this school of thought. It should be noted that scholars such as Syed Khūi and Ayatullah Ma’rifat, while discussing abrogation in great detail, have not commented on this particular set of verses, and thus cannot be included in this analysis.

Sheikh Tūsi and Tabarsi

Sheikh Tūsi is one of the earliest Shi’i Twelver exegetes who has applied a level of ijtihad (critical analysis using rational arguments and/or narrations to arrive at a valid interpretation) when writing about the exegesis of the Holy Qur’ān, and prior to this scholar, major Shi’i works were largely compilations of narrations from the Prophet and Imams about different verses. His opinion regarding the abovementioned matter is that Salātul Layl was not obligatory on the Prophet, and by extension, neither on the believers, and thus no form of نسخ occurred between the 2nd and 20th verse of Surah Muzammil.24 Although he does not state so clearly, it is probable that he believed that verse 20 simply lightened or qualified the earlier ruling in verse 2, based on Sheikh Tūsi’s inclusion of the opinion of Hasan, another early exegete, in which the phrasing تخفیفا عنهم ([it was] lightened on them).25 It must be noted that under verse 79 of Surah Isra, which is largely understood to be about the same matter of Salātul Layl, he does venture that it is possible that it was obligatory on the Prophet based on narrations of Ibn Abbās, a forerunner of the companions of the Prophet who specialized in exegesis in early Islam,26 but does not concede any occurrence of نسخ with respect to Surah Muzammil verse 20. Tabarsi, a Shi’I Twelver exegete who generously made use of the works and opinions of Sheikh Tūsi to construct his own exegetical work takes a similar stance, using almost the same phrasing as Sheikh Tūsi to describe his own – very similar – opinion.27

What is most interesting, particularly about the writing of Sheikh Tūsi in this matter, is that he brings the opinions of early exegetes such as Akrimah (a student of Ibn Abbās) and Hasan in which they clearly state that نسخ did take place between verse 2 and 20, but openly rejects this opinion.28 Sheikh Tūsi is a later scholar with a clear modern understanding of نسخ to be an abrogation of a ruling by another such that the time period of the first ruling has now ended, while the opinions of exegetes such as Akrimah and Hasan contain the same word نسخ, but with a meaning that is much wider than that intended by Sheikh Tūsi. Thus, there are two possibilities. The first is that it is possible that these early exegetes did mean that one verse was abrogated by another (in the strict sense) and thus Sheikh Tūsi’s rejection of that opinion holds, as he believes there is no abrogation taking place. However, it is also possible (if not more likely) that the usage of نسخ in these opinions and narrations referred simply to verse 20 being a lightening or qualification of the length of time required to pray at night, which would in modern terminology be referred to as تقیید (qualification) or تخصيص, an explanation of verse 2, and would thus arguably be very similar to Sheikh Tūsi’s own opinion of the matter – that نسخ in the strictest sense has not occurred. This latter possibility is, defended by the usage of تخفیفا عنهم by exegetes such as Hasan. In this case, Sheikh Tūsi’s rejection of the earlier opinions would appear out of place. This analysis shows how it is possible that a changing conception of the term نسخ can have an effect on the way that opinions are held, such that it is possible that two individuals hold the same opinion and intend the same meaning, but use two seemingly contradictory turns of phrase to recount their respective opinions.

Allāmah Tabattabāī

Allāmah Tabattabāī is the author of Tafsīr al-Mizān, arguable one of the most canonical and influential works of exegesis in the Shi’i world to date. It is a work of exegesis also based on a rigorous level of critical analysis, taking from other verses of the Qur’ān as well as rational argumentation to arrive at the most probable interpretation for a particular verse. With respect to the matter of Salātul Layl in Surah Muzammil, Allāmah enters into a long discussion29 in which he concludes that verse 2 declares the command of Salātul Layl to be obligatory on the Prophet but recommended for the companions. Further, he concludes that verse 20 does not abrogate this command, but lightens the length of time required by the individual to complete that act of worship. However, he states, this does not mean that the original command to stand up for half of the night or more has been lightened in its entirety – i.e. for all people at all times. Rather, the lightened ruling applies to those who lack the ability – the strength or energy to do so, as is seen from narrations about the occasion of revelation of these verses,30 in which some of the companions found it very difficult, to the point of painful – to adhere to the original ruling and stand for that length of time, and rather, these individuals should just do what is possible for them. Allāmah clearly states that the original ruling still stands for those who are able to do so, and thus that ruling has not been abrogated, and thus rejects the narrations – by the 5th Imam, as well as those narrated through Sunni transmissions from Ibn Abbās and others – that clearly state that نسخ occurred.31

Here, it can be seen that Allāmah – although he doesn’t employ the technical term in his explanation – takes a view that the number of individuals for whom the original ruling applies to has been narrowed (to those who are able to stand for that long): this is an instance of تخصیص, in which a ruling is narrowed with respect to the number of individuals for whom it applies to, and thus the modern sense of نسخ does not apply to this, and again this is in line with his rejection of نسخ (i.e. abrogation) occuring. Tawus Raja, the translator of Tafsir al-Mizan into English, comments on the stance that Allāmah takes and notes that Allāmah – while reluctant to say that نسخ has occurred here – has actually described an instance of نسخ, albeit in the “Qur’ānic” understanding of the term and not the “jurisprudential” understanding of it.32 What can be taken from this comment is that the phenomenon that has occurred in Allāmah’s opinion – which is an instance of تخصیص and narrowing with respect to number of individuals – is seen in Tawus Raja’s eyes as being an instance of نسخ. While it is not explicitly mentioned, it is likely that in the understanding of نسخ (the “Qur’ānic” understanding) mentioned in this comment correlates with the older meaning of the term نسخ, in which instances of تخصیص are also intended, and the “jurisprudential” understanding of the term may likely correlate with the modern meaning of نسخ i.e. abrogation in its stricter sense. Thus, Tawus Raja may be trying to allude to the fact that this تخصیص would qualify as نسخ in the older sense, but since its meaning has narrowed – particularly due to jurisprudential discussions – to the modern sense, this would explain Allāmah’s position. Thus, as in the analysis of Sheikh Tūsi’s works, the effect of the changing meaning of the term نسخ can also be seen in this instance, where individuals may use نسخ in different ways and to describe different literary phenomenons.

Another analysis of Allāmah’s opinion that can be made is when looking at the types of abrogation mentioned by Ayatullah Hādi Ma’rifat, a leading Twelver scholar in Qur’ānic sciences. While Ayatullah Ma’rifat’s teacher, Syed Khūi, mentions 3 types of abrogation – only one of which is accepted by Shi’i majority scholars – Ayatullah Ma’rifat himself adds on a fourth type of abrogation, one that also can be accepted theologically. He terms this type of abrogation as “conditional abrogation”, in which one ruling is abrogated by another ruling such that the first remains, and the second applies only with certain circumstances, in the absence of which the original ruling remains binding.33 This appears to match Allāmah’s opinion: the first ruling to stand up for half of the night is ‘abrogated’ by the second, which applies in the event that it is too difficult for the individual to stand up for that long. However, if that condition is absent (and it is not too difficult), the original ruling remains binding; this is an apparent application of the type of abrogation mentioned by Ayatullah Ma’rifat. Thus, it is possible that in the eyes of Ayatullah Hādi Ma’rifat, the verses in Surah Muzammil indicate on an instance of abrogation, albeit a specific type known as conditional abrogation. It should be mentioned that ‘conditional abrogation’ is outside the scope of the strict sense of نسخ, in which the second ruling indicates the end of the period of time for the original ruling, which then no longer applies after that period of time; in conditional abrogation, the original ruling can still apply in various cases. Thus, this understanding of Ayatullah Hādi Ma’rifat may also fall into a wider understanding of نسخ, and not in its strictest sense.

Makārim Shirāzi

Ayatullah Makārim Shirāzi is a Shi’i Twelver scholar who has been extremely influential in shaping contemporary Shi’i Twelver thought. In his Tafsir al-Nemūneh, he takes the view – and he is the only scholar analysed in this piece to do so – that abrogation of the 2nd verse of Surah Muzammil did in fact take place through verse 20 of the same Surah,34 and we can be fairly sure that he intended the stricter meaning of the term نسخ when looking at his explanation for why this phenomenon occurred. He recounts that it was necessary that the original ruling (to pray for half the night) be carried out for a particular length of time, and that time was limited, and subsequently the second ruling (to pray only for the length of time that is possible) was revealed; this necessity stemmed from the companions requiring spiritual strength to defend themselves and Islam in the early years.35 His discussion of time-limited rulings makes it clear that he intended the stricter (and more modern) sense of the term نسخ. It is interesting that he even entertains the possibility that the ruling for Salātul Layl was obligatory on the companions for that limited period of time, since, as mentioned, night worship was essential at the time such that the companions could strengthen their selves in order to defend Islam in the early years (which was not necessary later on and thus the obligation was abrogated to a recommended act by verse 20).

Concluding remarks

The phenomenon of homonyms has been discussed in the books of Islamic logic (mantiq) as well as in contemporary discussions of the philosophy of language in Western thought, and this piece has aimed to show the importance of understanding the particular significance and remit of a term, before analysing and/or critiquing the opinions of who have come before, or employing the said term in one’s own work. It is vital to appreciate that the understanding or significance of a term may have changed over time, and if this is not realized by the individual, it leaves room for misunderstanding and even fallacy in reasoning, where the individual may critique the usage of a technical term that has not been used in the same way as he has imagined.

Through tracing the changing understanding of the term نسخ in Islamic literature, this phenomenon has been exemplified, as well as applying the conclusions of this to a particular example in the Qur’ān. There is more scope for this phenomenon to be discussed, and it is hoped that this work can be a stepping stone for further analysis and discussion.



  1. Akhundi, A. Naskh az dīdgāh-e Shaykh Tūsi. Pejūhish-hāye Qur’āni, 1386, 49-50.
  2. Mu’jam-e maqāyīs al-lugha, vol 5, p. 424.
  3. Tūsi. Al-‘udda fī usūl al-fiqh,  vol 2, p. 486.
  4. The division of rulings into hukm-e taklīfi and hukm-e wadh’ī comes from jurisprudential works. The former refers to rulings that directly relate to man’s actions (e.g. prayer is obligatory, lying is prohibited), and the latter refers to rulings that indirectly relate to man’s actions (e.g. rulings related to marriage in Islam) and often become the subject matter of rulings in the first category. This division is exhaustive and refers to all rulings in Islamic law.
  5. Khūi. Al-bayān fī tafsīr al-Qur’ān, p. 276
  6. Khūi. Al-bayān fī tafsīr al-Qur’ān, p. 283; Ma’refat, Hādi. Talkhīs al-tamhīd, vol 1, p. 386.
  7. Translation: Ali Quli Qara’i
  8. Askari, M. Al-Qur’ān al-karīm wa riwāyāt al-madrasatayn, vol 1, p. 299 onwards.
  9. Ibid, p. 312.
  10. Khūi. Al-bayān fī tafsīr al-Qur’ān, p. 276
  11. Ibid, p. 276; Ma’refat, Hādi. Talkhīs al-tamhīd, vol 1, p. 390; al-Sadr, Mohammed Bāqir, Durūs fī ‘ilm al-usūl: Halaqa ath-thāniya, p. 356.
  12. Closest translation to the term maslihat مصلحت in Arabic and Farsi
  13. Bahrami, H.A. Tahlīlī bar māhiyat-e naskh dar dīdgāh-e salafiyān bā tamarkuz bar andīshe-ye ibn Taymīyya. Pejūhishnāme-ye ma’ārif-e Qur’āni, 1399, p. 93.
  14. Ibn Arabī, Akhām al-Qur’ān.
  15. Zarqāni, Manāhil al-irfān fī ulūm al-Qur’ān.
  16. Khūi. Al-bayān fī tafsīr al-Qur’ān, p. 286.
  17. Bahrami, H.A. Tahlīlī bar māhiyat-e naskh dar dīdgāh-e salafiyān bā tamarkuz bar andīshe-ye ibn Taymīyya. Pejūhishnāme-ye ma’ārif-e Qur’āni, 1399, p. 94.
  18. Tabarī, Jami’ al-bayān fī ta’wīl al-Qur’ān, vol 19, p. 418.
  19. Ma’rifat, H. Talkhīs al-tamhīd, vol 1, p. 375.
  20. Ibid, vol 1, p. 378.
  21. Khūi. Al-bayān fī tafsīr al-Qur’ān, p. 286.
  22. Surah Muzammil, verses 2-4.
  23. Tūsi, al-Tibyān fi tafsīr al-Qur’ān, vol 10, p. 162; Tabattabāī, Tafsīr al-Mizān, vol. 20, p. 74.
  24. Tūsi, al-Tibyān fi tafsīr al-Qur’ān, vol 10, p. 162.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid, vol 6, p. 511
  27. Tabarī, Majmaul bayān, vol. 10, p. 569.
  28. Tūsi, al-Tibyān fi tafsīr al-Qur’ān, vol 10, p. 162.
  29. Tabattabāī, Tafsīr al-Mizān, vol. 20, p. 75.
  30. Shirāzi, M. Tafsīr Nemūneh, vol. 25, p. 198.
  31. Tabattabāī, Tafsīr al-Mizān, vol. 20, p. 75.
  32. Tabattabai, Al Mizan. Trans: Tawus Raja, Tawheed Institute Australia Ltd, vol. 39, p.  113.
  33. Ma’rifat, H. Talkhīs al-tamhīd, vol 1, p. 392.
  34. Shirāzi, M. Tafsīr Nemūneh, vol. 25, p. 200.
  35. Ibid.