Though not Muslim, John Burton, professor of Islamic and Arabic studies at the University of St. Andrews, got what abrogation is all about in a few succinct words he writes in his book "The sources of Islamic law - Islamic theories of abrogation", published by the Edinburgh University Press in 2003.
He writes, on page 28, that the talk about alleged contradictions in the Quran, making it necessary to investigate the possibility of abrogation, are actually contradictions of exegetic views on a given verse. He cited an example of how Ibn Hazm managed to reconcile two verses (8:66/8:65
) that other scholars thought were contradictory. Burton agrees with Ibn Hazm and so do I.
Burton then continues to argue that same misconstruing of meaning extends to the Sunna too! The example he cites is particularly interesting. When the Prophet (PBUH) was deathly ill, he asked Abu-Bakr to lead the prayer, standing, while he had to sit down. The Prophet (PBUH) told the praying folk to also stand.
To many scholars, chiefly Ash-Shaafi`i, that constituted an abrogation of the Prophet's prior Sunna of following the leader exactly. This Sunna was established when the Prophet (PBUH) once fell off his horse and injured himself. He prayed sitting down. People did likewise. After the prayer, the Prophet's words suggest that he approved what they did.
As I read this, I immediately wondered why those scholars did not notice that the prayer lead in the first event was Abu-Bakr (RA), not the Prophet (PBUH), something which Maalik suggested. That explanation alone is reason enough to reject the notion of abrogation, but apparently Ash-Shaafi`i was not satisfied and considered the narration open-ended (Mursal).