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The law of replacement in the Quran

The law of replacement in the Quran

In Surat at-Tawbah, which was the last surah to be revealed and considered by most scholars to have been revealed in one go, Allah mentions the law of replacement, sunnat al-istibdaal (سُنَّةُ الاستبدال).

یَـٰۤأَیُّهَا ٱلَّذِینَ ءَامَنُوا۟ مَا لَكُمۡ إِذَا قِیلَ لَكُمُ ٱنفِرُوا۟ فِی سَبِیلِ ٱللَّهِ ٱثَّاقَلۡتُمۡ إِلَى ٱلۡأَرۡضِۚ أَرَضِیتُم بِٱلۡحَیَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنۡیَا مِنَ ٱلۡـَٔاخِرَةِۚ فَمَا مَتَـٰعُ ٱلۡحَیَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنۡیَا فِی ٱلۡـَٔاخِرَةِ إِلَّا قَلِیلٌ

O you who believe, what is wrong with you that when it is said to you, “Come out in the way of Allah,” you cling to the ground, as if weighed down. Have you become happy with the worldly life instead of the Hereafter? So, (remember that) the enjoyment of the worldly life is but trivial in (comparison with) the Hereafter. [At-Tawbah, Ayah 38]

إِلَّا تَنفِرُوا۟ یُعَذِّبۡكُمۡ عَذَابًا أليماً وَیَسۡتَبۡدِلۡ قَوۡمًا غَیۡرَكُمۡ وَلَا تَضُرُّوهُ شيئاً وَٱللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَیۡءࣲ قَدِیرٌ

If you do not march forth (in the way of Allah), He will chastise you with a painful punishment and will replace you with another nation, and you can do Him no harm at all. Allah is powerful to do anything. [At-Tawbah, Ayah 39]

In the last verse of Surat Muhammad, Allah Almighty says:

هَـٰۤأَنتُمۡ هَـٰۤؤُلَاۤءِ تُدۡعَوۡنَ لِتُنفِقُوا۟ فِی سَبِیلِ ٱللَّهِ فَمِنكُم مَّن یَبۡخَلُۖ وَمَن یَبۡخَلۡ فَإِنَّمَا یَبۡخَلُ عَن نَّفۡسِهِۦۚ وَٱللَّهُ ٱلۡغَنِیُّ وَأَنتُمُ ٱلۡفُقَرَاۤءُۚ وَإِن تَتَوَلَّوۡا۟ یَسۡتَبۡدِلۡ قَوۡمًا غَیۡرَكُمۡ ثُمَّ لَا یَكُونُوۤا۟ أَمۡثَـٰلَكُم

Yes, you are such that you are called upon to spend in Allah’s way, but some of you withhold in miserliness- and he who withholds in miserliness withholds from himself (to his own detriment) – and Allah is the Need-Free, and you are the needy. And if you turn away, He will replace you by some other people, then they will not be like you. [Muḥammad, Ayah 38]

In both surahs, we find that Allah has inserted a conditional sentence, with an if-clause, namely that if you turn away, Allah will replace you. Thus if you disobey Allah and His commands He will send new people in your place. Scholars said the law of replacement is connected closely to the law of change, sunnat al taghyeer. This is what makes and breaks civilisation. It is the movement of thoughts, ideology, practice, and customs. Allah created laws and as long as we follow them, we will achieve success in this life and in the Hereafter. However if we do not follow these laws, we will lag behind and find ourselves where we are now.

In the history of previous nations, we find that Allah wiped out certain people and replaced them, such as the people of Ad and Thamud, who were completely destroyed. However as our Ummah was the final Ummah, Allah promised the Prophet (peace be upon him) that he would not wipe us out. Therefore, the replacement will not be that the whole Ummah will be destroyed and replaced by another Ummah, but the replacement will be in position.  Before this Ummah was leading, now it is behind. Until we get it right, we will not lead again. Allah said in the Quran that the Ummah of Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the best Ummah, as long as it promotes good and deters evil. As Allah stated in Surat Ale Imran:

كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِٱلْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ ٱلْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِٱللَّهِ ۗ وَلَوْ ءَامَنَ أَهْلُ ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ لَكَانَ خَيْرًۭا لَّهُم ۚ مِّنْهُمُ ٱلْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَأَكْثَرُهُمُ ٱلْفَـٰسِقُونَ ١١٠

You are the best community ever raised for humanity—you encourage good, forbid evil, and believe in Allah. Had the People of the Book believed, it would have been better for them. Some of them are faithful, but most are rebellious. [Ale Imran: ayah 110]

The Ummah’s greatness does not stem from ethnicity, race, or color, but from its actions – specifically, commanding what is good and forbidding what is evil. This moral foundation is what distinguishes one nation from another. Fighting corruption requires addressing it on multiple levels – social, political, economic, and more. It fundamentally revolves around morality and character. In the corporate world, this is often referred to as company ethos, best practices, deliverables, and transparency. What truly sets companies apart is not just their products, but their customer service, corporate ethics, and governance.

Our Ummah has been replaced by different nations because we did not follow the conditions. What are the conditions? Allah stated in Surat Tawbah, we are required to come forward and make sacrifices for Allah’s sake – whether it is on the battlefield, in our own community or in the battle against corruption and evil etc. But you have to embody the change you are asking for. Don’t expect change to happen while you are a spectator! It won’t happen. You have to be active, rather than being an armchair critic. You have to be the change you are asking for. Don’t dump your failures on others and on qadar (destiny), and say this is our destiny. No this is not your destiny, it is your laziness and misunderstanding. Don’t blame qadar for your stupidity.

Allah is telling us in these critical verses that the law of replacement is reliant on you. You choose whether you are going forwards or backwards. If you want to be in the forefront, you have to be the change maker and the whistle-blower, or else you can slide backwards by being complicit and turning a blind eye to the evil that is happening.

Surat Tawbah asks for sacrifices. What sacrifices do we have to make? The highest level is making sacrifices to protect your nation, your family, your dignity and so on. It may be fighting corruption.

In Surat Muhammad, Allah says the law of replacement is connected to turning away. Turning away from what? Scholars listed things you can turn away from:

  1. Refraining from adhering to God’s covenant and covenants: [Al-Baqarah: 64].
  2. Turning away from divine values: [Al-Baqarah: 83].
  3. Turning away from faith and guidance: [Al-Baqarah: 177], [Hud: 52].
  4. Turning away from Islam and its teachings: [Al Imran: 20], [Al Imran: 23], [Al Imran: 32], [Al Imran: 64], [Hud: 57], [Hud: 3], [An-Nahl: 82 ], [Yunus: 72], [Al-Ma’arij: 17], [Al-Anbiya’: 109], [Al-Najm: 33], [Al-Taghabun: 12].
  5. Refraining from hearing the word of God: [Al-Anfal: 23], [Al-Anfal: 40].
  6. Refusing to disavow polytheists: [At-Tawbah: 3].
  7. Reluctance to repentant: [Repentance: 74].
  8. Turning away from the remembrance of God: [An-Najm: 29].
  9. Turning away from the afterlife: [At-Tawbah:38, Al-Mumtahina: 6].

If you do not turn away, you will be in the forefront. There are different sacrifices we can make, for instance financially. We are repeatedly ask to give for Allah’s sake, but it is a weakness that we prefer to receive and possess, rather than to give. Allah is the one who gave us what we have in the first place and He will continue to give you more if you give with the right etiquettes and intention, ten fold, hundred fold or more, depending on your sincerity.

The Battle of Tabouk, about which Surat Tawbah was revealed, was the largest military campaign led by the Prophet (peace be upon him), who had to equip and mobilise 30,000 men. It had never been done on this scale in the Arab world before. During this battle, many people turned away, even allies and so called Muslims. This surah exposed the hypocrites who professed faith, but were not prepared to back up their faith with action.

You have to choose which group you belong to – are you on the right side of history or the wrong side? You are with the oppressors or the oppressed. You can’t be in between – that is where hypocrisy resides. Allah said follow My commands or I will replace you, sacrifice for My sake or I will replace you, don’t turn away from Me or I will replace you.

Hypocrites will be gathered with disbelievers in the lowest ranks of Hell, as He said,

إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ جَامِعُ ٱلۡمُنَٰفِقِينَ وَٱلۡكَٰفِرِينَ فِي جَهَنَّمَ جَمِيعًا

Indeed Allah will gather the hypocrites and disbelievers in Hell all together [An Nisa 140]

Allah will not change the condition of people, unless they change themselves first – their systems, habits, customs and practices have to be in line with what pleases Allah.

ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا۟ مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ ۗ وَإِذَآ أَرَادَ ٱللَّهُ بِقَوْمٍۢ سُوٓءًۭا فَلَا مَرَدَّ لَهُۥ ۚ وَمَا لَهُم مِّن دُونِهِۦ مِن وَالٍ ١١

Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. And when Allah intends for a people ill, there is no repelling it. And they have no patron besides Him. [Ar Rad 11]

If we do not want to be dominated by others, we have to be the people of goodness, and the ones who forbid evil. It is our choice to do this. Allah does not interfere and He does not do our job for us. He can give us motivation and show us His forces the way we never expected. Just look at the students protesting in the universities against the vast-scale killing of innocent men, women and children in Gaza. We cannot take credit for that. They are the forces of Allah. Support the oppressed and He will support us.

We ask Allah to make us at His service and not to be replaced and dominated. Ameen

Based on the khutbah of Shaykh Haytham Tamim 17th May 2024

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Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001. His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College). He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.