Gradation: A Divinely-Determined Principle in Islam

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Gradation: A Divinely-Determined Principle in Islam

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Islam provides its followers with several laws and principles that represent a code of conduct for them, for the purpose of their guidance. They guide them as to what they should do, and what they should keep away from.
Talking about the Prophet, God says in the Quran (7:157):
He commands them to do good and forbids them from evil, permits for them what is lawful and forbids to them what is impure, and relieves them from their burdens and the shackles that bound them.
This means that God would never prohibit something except if it is against human beings’ benefit. If something is prohibited in Islam, it would be something that will definitely cause harm to human beings. Likewise, rulings regarding acts that are obligatory reflect the fact that these acts have a positive impact on human beings.
So, the main objective intended by these rules is to either achieve benefit for human beings or to help them avoid being harmed. In the case of the latter, one could say that avoiding harm can be considered a benefit in itself. Understanding things in this perspective, one could say that the main intended objective behind the Islamic rulings (from obligations to prohibitions) is to achieve benefit for human beings in this worldly life, and on the Day of Resurrection and beyond.
One of the means to achieve these intended benefits is what can be called “The Gradation Principle”. This is about the gradation in the revealed legislative rulings sent by the Almighty to the believers. This plays a significant role, for the purpose of human benefit.
“Gradation” here means that God may gradually prohibit something for people until they are able to fully abandon it, collectively. This is reflected in the gradual revelation of verses of the Quran on certain issues, in stages, considering the different situations facing the early Muslims and their state at that particular time regarding these matters.
An example of this would be the prohibition of wine/alcohol in Islam. As is known, in the pre-Islamic era of ignorance in Arabia, the consumption of wine/ alcohol (in Arabic: al-khamr) was common. Many people were addicted to it.
When Islam came with mercy and guidance, it sought to achieve the benefit for all of humankind, including Muslims (understood as those who obey God and obey God’s revealed laws and principles).Obviously, the commandments that were revealed regarding wine/al-khamr were for human benefit. The very word al-khamrl iterally means covering man’s intellect. It reflects the fact that it is difficult for an intoxicated person to differentiate between good and evil.
So, the main intended final ruling that Islam sought for human benefit in this regard was to prohibit all dealing with wine, because it causes harm to people including consuming it, purchasing it, trading in it, facilitating it, etc.
But when we look through the Quran, we will find that the issue of wine has been tackled into four gradual stages/steps, as follows:
a. The first step is to give what could be called a ‘hidden notice’ or ‘hint’ that wine is something that is not good.
And from the fruits of palm trees and grapevines you derive intoxicants as well as wholesome provision. (Quran 16:67)
This indicates that means that intoxicants, implicitly speaking, are the opposite of ‘wholesome provision’. Actually, some of the Companions of the Prophet stopped drinking wine when they heard this verse.
b. The second step is to declare that the sin in wine is dominant over its benefit.
They ask you [Prophet] about intoxicants and gambling. Say, “There is great sin in both, although they have some benefit for people: but their harm is greater than their benefit.” (Quran 2:219)
c. The third step is to mention that one should not approach prayer if one is intoxicated.
Believers! Do not approach prayer while intoxicated until you are aware of what you say […] (Quran 4:43)
d. The fourth step representing the final intended ruling regarding wine is that believers should completely avoid consuming wine and also abstain from certain other evil actions.
Believers, intoxicants, and gambling and [occult dedication of] stones and divining arrows are abominations devised by Satan. Avoid them, so that you may prosper. Satan seeks to sow enmity and hatred among you by means of wine and gambling, and to keep you from the remembrance of God and from your prayers. Will you not then abstain? (Quran 5:90-91)
Consistent with the final prohibition of wine in Quran is the fact that it is also prohibited in the Sunnah:
Narrated by (Abdullah Ibn Umar):“The Prophet (SAW said: Allah has cursed wine, its drinker, its server, its seller, its buyer, its presser, the one for whom it is pressed, the one who conveys it, and the one to whom it is conveyed”.(Grade: Sahih (Al-Albani)/ Reference: Sunan Abi Dawud 3674/ In-Book reference: Book 27, Hadith 6/ English translation: Book 26, Hadith 3666)
There are various issues other than the issue of wine that are also dealt with from the Islamic perspective of gradation and gradualism, such as, for instance, the prohibition of usury and the prohibition of slavery. All of these were prohibited in the form of successive gradual steps until the arrival of the final definite intended stage of prohibition.
Abrogation in the light of “Gradation”
One more important aspect is : The “Abrogation” – in Quran – has actually taken place in the light of the legislative principle of “Gradation”. Abrogation is mainly justified according to that reason; “Gradation”. The previously revealed verse of the prior old ruling of a certain issue – is to be abrogated by the next – or final – verse involving the new final ruling. Hence, abrogation is attached to the purpose of Gradation, which is also devoted for the main purpose of the human benefit overall. Abrogation occurs by the Will and Wisdom of Allah, Who knows what teachings people need in the precise moment that they need it.
Islam is a religion of mercy. One should be aware that Islamic laws, including every prohibition, obligation, or any legislative rulings in between, aim for attaining the benefit and welfare of human beings and universal justice, one way or another. They reflect the merciful relationship between the Lord and His worshipping servants (believers) who steadfastly say: “We have heard, and we obey”.