Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verse 106..........Part 2
Any revelation We cause to be nullified or forgotten, We replace with something better or similar. Do you not know that God has power over everything? (Chapter 2, Verse 106)
In the previous session we learned that heavenly messages came in succession, with each new message nullifying some rulings of the previous one, while building on others. We gave the example of how Jesus (peace be upon him) came with Christianity that abolished some of the rulings of Judaism. Islam, the final heavenly message, came to encompass all the good of the previous messages and rule over them.
Even within the message of Islam, some rulings came to nullify previous ones. We gave the example of how early in Islam, Muslims faced the Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem during prayers. The Qibla was later changed towards the Ka'ba in Mecca. The important point to remember is: Nothing is sacred in of itself. Sacredness only belongs to what God commands us to do.
Let's explain this point further. When God commanded the angels to prostrate before Adam......Did the Angels hold Adam sacred? of course not. The Angels prostrated before Adam because they held God's command sacred. Similarly , Allah selected the holy Ka’ba as His scared house on earth. We hold the Ka'ba sacred, not because it is the portion of land where Abraham, Ismail and other Prophets visited, nor because people performed pilgrimage to it. Rather its sacredness comes from the fact that God appointed it as His house on earth. All mosques are the houses of God, but their locations are selected by people. The holy Ka’ba is the only mosque whose location is appointed directly by God. That is why all other mosques have to face the direction of the holy Ka'ba during prayers. Some may ask: Why do we have to turn to the Ka’ba? Does God only exist in the Ka’ba? We reply that He Almighty is present everywhere, but He has commanded us to turn to the Ka’ba. We turn towards it out of obedience to his command. In fact, the only spiritual reason for adhering to any commandment is that it is from our Lord. We perform our five daily prayers without questioning why five -not three or ten-, because it is the command of our Lord. That is enough reason for the believer, with no need to debate the matter further. This is the case behind every other obligation, such as paying alms -Zakat-, fasting, performing the pilgrimage -hajj-, and facing towards Mecca during prayers.
Perhaps changing the Qiblah gives us insight into the wisdom of nullifying some verses and teachings. Why? Because, in this instance, there was not any apparent reason, nor new circumstances or developments that warranted the change. It was, simply, our Lords command.
In the verse under study, God says: 'Any revelation We cause to be nullified or forgotten, We replace with something better or similar.' Does the phrase ' We replace with something better' mean that there was a better ruling or teaching than the one that was initially revealed, but God did not reveal it? In other words, did Allah start with a substandard teaching, then nullified it to bring on a better one? Of course not! That is not the case. Each teaching was the most appropriate for its time and purpose. The nullified verse was the best and most appropriate for its time, and the commandment that followed is the best one after that specific time had passed.
Let's look at an example of two verses that caused some controversy. God says:
O you who believe! be mindful of God as truly is His due, and see that you do not die except as Muslims (03:102)
Who can truly give God His due in mindfulness and reverence? That is indeed a hard task. The companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him), realized the difficulty of the task as soon as they heard the verse. They said to the prophet: 'none of us can truly fear and be mindful of God as He is supposed to be feared'. Shortly after, God revealed the following verse:
be mindful of God as much as you can; hear and obey; be charitable- it is for your own good. Those who are saved from their own greed will be the prosperous ones: (64:16)
Which is better: to be mindful of God truly to His due, or to try to be mindful the best that you can? Of course, if you are mindful of God as He is truly due is far better. But God Almighty informed us that 'Any revelation We cause to be nullified or forgotten, We replace with something better.' In this case, it seems that the verse that was later revealed -asking us to be mindful of God as much as we can- is the lesser of the two. How can this be? We answer that in order to determine which is better, let's look at which will get us the most rewards in the hereafter. Perhaps, it is best to start with an example. Suppose there is a merchant who sells expensive luxury watches for a profit of $200 per watch. Another merchant sells lesser watches for a profit of $50 per watch. What is going to happen? Which merchant will earn more money? Few people can afford the expensive luxury watch; So while the merchant earns more per watch, he may only sell one watch per day for a total profit of $200. The other merchant will have many more customers; he may sell 10 watches per day for a total profit of $500. At the end of the day, the seller of the lesser watches earned a lot more money because of the large number of customers buying his watches.
Similarly, you can only practice the verse: ‘be mindful of God as truly is His due' and earn tremendous rewards on rare occasions, because this high standard is hard to achieve. Remember that even the prophet's companions found it very hard to do. You can, however, earn rewards far more often if you practice the verse to 'be mindful of God as much as you can' because Allah will reward you every time you try, even if you fall short of perfection. So, at the end of the day, we are all better off because Allah revealed the second verse and gave us the opportunity to earn rewards much more often.