The Principle of Zahir and Nass and the Mushrikin mentioned in the Quranic verse 9:5
Main points discussed in Part 3
• Zahir has a clear meaning and yet is susceptible and open to the possibility of an alternative interpretation
• Nass denotes a clear text which clarifies the reason why a sentence is expressed
• Verse 9:5 is Nass to mean that fighting is to take place in the state of war, as a result of religious persecution after the peace treaty is dismissed
• The jurisprudential principle of Zahir and Nass implies that it would not be correct for ISIS or any other similar outfits to deduce the ruling of killing the Mushrikin in the context of 21st century
By Ghulam Ghaus, New Age Islam
26 October 2019
This part of the Refutation is based on the jurisprudential principle of Zahir and Nass and that when they conflict with each other the Nass is preferred.
Before delving into the subject, we would like to define Zahir and Nass. Linguistically the term Zahir means ‘apparent’, ‘plain’, manifest and ‘clear’ etc. Technically, Zahir means “whatever becomes apparent to a listener from his hearing only” or in the words of Imam Bazdawi “It (Zahir) is a name for every speech the aim of which became apparent to listener by its wording” whereas Imam Sarakhsi defines “what can be understood by pure hearing without thinking..” Zahir has a clear meaning and yet is susceptible and open to the possibility of an alternative interpretation. The main reason of this is that its apparent meaning is not always in harmony with the context in which it takes place because Zahir is not the principle theme of the text.
Nass denotes a clear text which clarifies the reason why a sentence is expressed. The implication of Nass is that which is aimed by the speaker, while the meaning of Zahir is not meant by the speaker.
An example is thus given that when some disbelievers of Makka claimed that both ‘bay’ (trade) and ‘Riba’ (usury) are the same. The Quran refers to their statement, “That is because they say: “Trading is only like ‘Riba (usury)’”, (2:275).
So in response to these people and to differentiate between trade and usury, Allah Almighty revealed the verse “But Allah has permitted trading (bay’) and has forbidden Riba (usury)” (2:275)
This verse is Nass in its showing differentiation between both of these terms ‘trade’ (bay) and ‘usury’ (Riba) as not being the same. And this verse is Zahir in its meaning that trade is lawful and usury is prohibited.
The ruling of Zahir and Nass is to act upon both of them. However if there is a conflict between the two, a preference is given to the Nass over the Zahir.
Let us ponder over the Zahir and Nass related to the verse 9:5 “kill the Mushrikin wherever you find them”. This verse is Zahir in its commanding the believers to kill the Mushrikin wherever they are found, whereas this verse is Nass in its commanding the believers to fight against the religious persecutors and violators of peace-treaty in the state of war. The purpose of this verse being revealed was to grant permission of killing the religious persecutors and the militants in the state of war; as this was the situation of “kill or be killed”. The very purpose can be understood easily if all the war-related verses are taken into account, such as the verses “And if any one of the Mushrikin seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah. Then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know” (9:6), “And fight in God's cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression; for, verily, God does not love aggressors” (2:190).
Thus we find that the verse 9:5 is Nass to involve several points; 1) fighting should be on the basis of persecution and not account of religious belief, 2) fighting should take place after the peace-treaty is dismissed and the war is declared, 3) fighting should take place in the state of war. These three points were the main purpose of this verse being revealed. On the contrary, the Zahir of this verse demands that since the word mentioned in this verse is Mushrikin and that is in plural form, so all of them should be killed everywhere. However the Nass (the purpose of the revelation of this verse) goes against the Zahir (apparent meaning) of this verse. And this is very popular principle also taught in the textbooks of Madrasas that when the Nass and Zahir conflict with each other, the Nass is always preferred.
In other words, let me repeat that the command of fighting against the Mushrikin of Arab was revealed because they had persecuted the Muslims and violated the peace-treaty, and not because they had committed Shirk or Kufr. And it is in this sense that this verse is Nass. As for the Zahir of this verse, this is not in harmony with the Nass of this verse and there is consensus among the scholars of the past (Salaf) and of the present that when Zahir and Nass oppose each other, a preference is always given to Nass and not to the Zahir, so as to get better understanding of the Quran.
Having understood the verse 9:5 under the principle of Zahir and Nass, it would not be correct for the ISIS or any other similar outfits to deduce the ruling of killing the Mushrikin in the context of 21st century which is dominantly different from the context of the early days of Islam.
A regular Columnist with NewAgeIslam.com, Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi Dehlvi is an Alim and Fazil (Classical Islamic scholar), with a Sufi-Sunni background and English-Arabic-Urdu Translator. He has also done B.A (Hons.) in Arabic, M.A. in Arabic and M.A in English from JMI, New Delhi. He is Interested in Islamic Sciences; Theology, Jurisprudence, Tafsir, Hadith and Islamic mysticism (Tasawwuf).
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