Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verse 106..........Part 3
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 when God nullifies a ruling, He replaces it with something better. The verse also mentions that it could be replaced with something similar. This deserves a pause. Replacing one thing with something better is understood. What is the wisdom behind nullifying something, just to replace it with a similar one? What's the benefit? To answer this let's look at the example of changing the direction of prayer -Qibla- from the Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem in the early days of Islam, to the Ka'ba in Mecca. When God commanded the believers to turn towards the Ka’ba instead of Jerusalem, He nullified a ruling and replaced it with something very similar. Turning yourself towards the Ka’ba does not require any extra effort or faith. In fact, you could easily face any direction with minimal effort. As we mentioned earlier, Allah presented the change of Qibla as a spiritual test for the believers. Allah wants you to acknowledge that He alone deserves to be worshipped out of love and devotion. So if He says do, then you would do, and if He commands not to do, then you would avoid that action. We trust our affairs to God and follow His teaching, even if, on some occasions, the wisdom behind His commands and prohibitions are not entirely clear.
Perhaps, one of the reasons behind the Qibla initially being towards Jerusalem was to cement the fact that Islam is a religion which encompasses all previous heavenly religions, and holds Jerusalem as one of its holiest places. Recall that the Prophet peace be upon him was taken to Jerusalem first during his night journey before ascending to the heavens.
Here is another point to keep in mind: There are two types of teachings or verses that are never nullified.
First: matters of creed. Verses related the Islamic doctrine and creed are constant. They have been reaffirmed since the time of Adam, and will remain until the day of resurrection. God Almighty is one without any change or amendment. The hereafter is an absolute reality yet to come, the angels are performing their tasks throughout the universe and so on. God says in chapter 42:
In matters of faith, He has laid down for you the same commandment that He gave Noah, which We have revealed to you and which We enjoined on Abraham and Moses and Jesus
Second: narrations and news from God are never nullified. When God reveals a verse informing us of past events, and past stories of prophets, then His narration is the absolute truth that cannot be changed. Allah narrates the reality of what took place, and that is never altered.
Let's look at a few examples of nullifying a ruling and replacing it from the Nobel Quran. God says:
Prophet, urge the believers to fight: if there are twenty of you who are steadfast, they will overcome two hundred, and a hundred of you, if steadfast, will overcome a thousand of the disbelievers, for they are people who do not understand. (08:65)
Early on in Mecca and Medina, Muslims were under constant threat and attack. Islam came to address the severe social injustices and wide spread discrimination prevalent at the time. This change upset the elite classes, who were well financed and had access to men and weapons. They used all means available to harass and attack the believers. So when the verse was revealed, urging Muslim to fight back, the ratio was one Muslim man to ten disbelievers. God guaranteed victory, even with these long odds, given that the Muslims were steadfast. This, however, was a very difficult task and required pure faith. Therefore, as time passed, and the Muslims grew stronger in numbers, God nullified the verse and replaced it with a different ruling more appropriate to our abilities. He says:
But God has lightened your burden for now, knowing that there is weakness in you––a steadfast hundred of you will defeat two hundred and a steadfast thousand of you will defeat two thousand, by God’s permission: God is with the steadfast. (08:66)
God knew that the believers had weakness among them, so He reduced the ratio in line with their ability. One believing steadfast man will fight two disbelievers and defeat them. Note that this ruling does not come under the category of creed, or narration of history.
In another example from the early days of Islam, if a woman committed adultery, and there were four eye witnesses of the act, then her punishment was confinement in her home until death overcomes her. God says:
If any of your women commit fornication, four of you must be witnesses against them. If they bear witness, detain them in their homes until death releases them or Allah ordains another procedure for their case. (04:15)
After Islam spread, the society became more righteous making it far easier for individuals to act morally. A new legislation was revealed highlighting stoning and lashing as punishments for adultery. Note that it was within God's knowledge from the beginning that a new ruling will replace the original. This is clearly understood from the later part of the verse as God says: 'or Allah ordains another procedure for their case.’ hinting that there is a ruling in God’s knowledge yet to come which will change the existing law.
The verse ends with the phrase: ‘Do you not know that God has power over everything?’ meaning that His teachings are the perfect fit for their time and place. If a rule or a teaching is then changed, it means that the original ruling had completed its task and what replaced it is the perfect fit for the new time and place.
Allah is best aware of His creation and their needs; He is indeed the all knowledgeable, the all wise. This statement did not come from God directly, rather He posed it as a question to the listener. Whoever listens to God's verses and contemplates their meaning will find that the only logical and natural answer to the question: ‘Do you not know that God has power over everything?’ is to reply with a 'Yes', 'we bear witness that there is no Deity worthy of worship except Allah’.