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Abrogation is a well-known concept in the Islamic jurisprudence and sciences of Quran and Hadith. In summary, it refers to the abrogation of a former existing law (usually called the abrogated) by a later one (usually called the abrogator or abrogating). However, in this piece, we will look only at the categories of such abrogation found in the traditions of the noble prophet (PBUH).

Abrogation (naskh) employs the logic of chronology and progressive revelation for the betterment of mankind. The different situations encountered over the course of Muhammad's more than two decade term as prophet, required new rulings to meet the Muslim community's changing circumstances. The expiration points of those rulings Allah intended as temporary all along were reached through abrogation. The harmonization of apparently incompatible rulings is sometimes resolved through naskh; so that a ruling (considered to have applicability only to the specific situation for which it was revealed), is effective because it is most suited to the situation at hand.

Probably the most immediate concern was explaining the very existence of progressive revelation and abrogation. What could account for Allah's turn to this beneficial law of replacing some ayah with better ayah or similar? The reason for progressive revelation is because of the mercy and Divine wisdom of Allah. He knew that certain laws would be the best regulations for a particular time or circumstances.  And He knew that certain laws would be best for a particular group of people and He knew which commandments were suited for all people for all times.

Nonetheless, the Concept of a prophetic tradition abrogating another is very much agreed upon by all the Prominent Companions & Scholars of Islam as based upon authentic ahadith. Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal is widely known for his statement: "We were not able to comprehend Naasikh and Mansookh Hadith until we sat in the company of Imam Shafa’ee (i.e., he made us understand this)".

Muhammad Al-Shawkani said: “Abrogation in hadith is agreed upon by all the companions of the Prophet (saw) and the classical scholars. It is possible by common sense and has occured in reality with no dispute in this between the Muslims, except what was narrated from Abi Muslim Al-Asfahani.” (Irshad Al-Fuhool p.276)

There are many traditions that indicate the occurrence of abrogation in the sharia and hadith. The Prophet might give an order, and then would say that it has been abrogated, or prohibits from something and then say that it had been abrogated and so on. The most widely discussed and known categories of this type of abrogation are:

1-            Outright Abrogation by the Prophet (PBUH): This is a situation whereby the prophet (PBUH) states explicitly that so and so law which was formally proclaimed by him has been abrogated or is to be replaced by so and so. In this case, both the abrogated and abrogator are mentioned by the prophet (PBUH).

Example of this category is the hadith where the prophet (PBUH) said: “I used to forbid you to visit the graves, but now you may do so, for they remind you of the hereafter.” [Al-Hakim].

In another hadith he (PBUH) said: “I had forbidden you from visiting the graveyards, however, permission has been given to me to visit the grave of my mother. So, visit them, for they do remind you of the next life.” [Muslim, Tirmidhi & Hakim]

In another, Abdullah reported that he was in a gathering where the Messenger of Allah was present and he said: "I used to forbid you to eat the sacrificial meat for more than three days, but now eat it, give it to others and store it for as long as you want. And I forbade you to visit graves, but now whoever want to visit them, let him do so, but do not utter anything which is not suitable." [An-Nasai’]

2-            Abrogation Inferred from the Statement of the Companion: This is the case in a law abrogated from the saying of a companion of the prophet (PBUH). An example is the hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah when he was seen performing ablution in the mosque. He said: I was performing ablution as a result of a piece of cheese I ate, for I heard the messenger of Allah (PBUH) saying: 'Perform ablution from what has been touched by fire." (Muslim). This hadith was abrogated with the statement of another companion, Jabir bin Abdullah, that the last in which the prophet held on to between the duo of performing ablution and not performing ablution after eating what was cooked in fire was that he left performing ablution. (Abu Dawud). This means that the first option that Abu Hurairah held to in his narration was abrogated by the other mentioned by Jabir, but was in the words of the companions.

3-            Abrogation by History: This is known by historical incidents, whereby the earlier one in history is considered abrogated by the later. An example of this is the hadith of Shaddad ibn Aws, who said: The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) came across a man in Al-Baqi` who was being cupped, holding my hand on the 18th day of Ramadan and said: “The cupper and the cupped have broken the fast.” (Abu Dawud, An-Nasai and Ibn Majah). This hadith was abrogated by many other ahadith that came later in history. One of such is the hadith of Ibn `Abbas that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) was cupped while he was in the state of Ihram and while he was fasting. (Bukhari). In this case, neither the companion nor the prophet stated directly that the later was abrogating the former, but the historical occurrence of the events showed that such has happened.

In any case, if both hadiths are found to be authentic and sound, they are to be accepted as such, with the law implied by the former not  acted upon while that implied by the later is acted upon .

 

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