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NASKH WA MANSUKH

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

The word naskh means changing or removing as it is said in Arabic naskhatish shams-azzil meaning the sun removed the shade or nasakhat al-ruhu athar al-qawmi idha adamat meaning the mind obliterated traces of the nation. The word naskh is also used in the law to denote "an order canceling the other order." It appears that once the law given for a people for a particular time must change with the passage and need of time or be improved to pave a way for further progress. In Koranic term, the word naskh means the substitution of a law by another one, so as to bring a matter to its possible maximum level. Naskh refers to the fresh injunction to replace the old one, and the old or former injunction that had been changed or removed is called mansukh or the rejected law. There are many Koranic verses which had been changed for better understanding, known as mansukh, and the new verses taking its place, are known as naskh or tejweel (transfer). Both words nash and mansukh are derived from the same root, which means according to Mu'jam al-Lughah (Beirut, 1960, 5:446-7), "abrogating any written material with another piece" (nasakha al-shay bi al-shay)

In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the root ns kh is found four times (vide Deut. 28:63, Ps. 52:5, Prov. 2:22 and 15:25. In each time, it carries the meaning : removal or eradicate. In Akkadian Hebrew, old Aramaic and Targumic, the meaning of nasahu also is given to remove or tear away. It has been suggested that the naskh echoes the New Testament idea of the abrogation of the Old Testament Law (vide Eph. 2:15, Col. 2:14), but the Koranic conception seems somewhat more mechanical. The Muslim scholars have given a great deal of attention to the subject, but have never put the problem on the proper metaphysical level.

The Koran continued to be revealed in Mecca and Medina for 23 yeas to guide the Muslims in temporal and spiritual matters. The fundamental beliefs of Islam however remained unchanged and unaltered, while the temporal matters had been changed on certain occasions. The Koran says: "Whatever verses We abrogate (naskh) or cause thee to forget (aw nunsiha), We will bring a better one than it, or one like it" (2:106). Mustansir Mir writes in Dictionary of Quranic Terms and Concepts (London, 1987) that, "The abrogation pertains to legal and practical matter only, and not to matters of doctrine and belief."

In short, naskh means abrogating and mansukh means abrogated. It indicates that once the Muslims are imparted through the Koran on certain matters, they require some explicit guidance on the same matter after some time, so that the guidance must be fresh according to the time.

The sources indicate that there had been about 500 naskh Koranic verses. Later, Jalaluddin Suyuti in his al-Itqan (1:23) confirms only 21 naskh verses. Shah Waliullah Mohadees Delhvi gives its figure five only in Fauz al-Kabir. Dr. Saleh Subhi recently claimed that there are not more than ten abrogated verses in the Koran.

The historians and theologians also discussed the theory of naskh and mansukh. The first among them were Abul Kassim Hibatullah bin Salma (d. 410/1019) and Abul Kahir bin Tahir (d. 429/1038). According to Tafsir–i Azizi and Dhur-e-Manthur, there are three kinds of abrogated (naskh) verse in the Koran, i.e., 1) Naskh al-hukm wa al-tilawa (the removal of verses and the introduction of new verses), 2) Naskh al-tilawa duna al-tilawa (the cancellation of law, but its verses existing) and 3) Naskh al-tilawa duna al-hukm (both the verses and laws removed).

It must be borne in mind that one who study the Koran, he must have knowledge of abrogated verses. Suyuti writes in al-Itqan that a person once claimed before Ali bin Abu Talib that he had acquired good command on the knowledge of the Koran. Ali asked him, “Can you distinguish naskh from mansukh?” The man replying that he did not know the difference, Ali advised the man that he had endangered not only his own soul, but the souls of his listeners.

When the Islam spread beyond the bounds of Arabian lands, the new converted Muslims professed different culture, traditions and languages; and they felt certain modifications in laws, and ultimately it gave rise of different interpretations of the Koranic verses. If the spiritual authority of the Imam had been recognized, the Muslims had received the Koranic guidance in same vein with the change of time. Prof. Taha Hussain of Al-Azhar University writes in Glory of the Quran (p. 236) that, “As the time passes, the more need in the Islamic laws are felt to be changed, and it also means that the concept of naskh (alteration) still exists in Islam.”


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