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Nafy al-Sabil Verse

The Nafy al-Sabīl Verse (Arabic: آیة نفی السبیل, literally, negation of any way verse) is the last part of the verse 141 of Qur'an 4. The verse has been deployed to ground the Principle of Nafy al-Sabil which has wide applications in ancillaries of religious rulings, worships, and transactions. The verse negates any dominance or superiority of disbelievers over the believers as a decisive and permanent ruling. Thus, believers cannot acquiesce to the dominance of disbelievers and are obligated to resist it.

The verse and the Principle of Nafy al-Sabil have been cited by Mirza Shirazi in the Tobacco protest and scholars in the period of Fath Ali Shah in the jihad against Russians to, respectively, issue the rulings of forbiddance and jihad. The verse is said to be confirmed by other Qur'anic verses and hadiths, and even rational grounds.

Contents

Text and Translation

Introduction and the Occasion of the Revelation

At the end of the verse 141 of Qur'an 4, the dominance or superiority of disbelievers over the Muslims is rejected. Thus, this part of the verse, "and never will Allah give the disbelievers over the believers a way", has come to be known as the Verse of Nafy al-Sabil (negation of any way, that is, dominance).[1]

Literally, "sabil" means "way".[2] In this verse, it is said to mean victory, proof in this world, proof in the afterlife, conventional dominance, and foreign dominance.[3]

In his exegesis of the Qur'an, Ali b. Ibrahim al-Qummi takes the occasion of the revelation of the verse to be the separation of Abd Allah b. Ubayy and his friends from the Islamic army in the Battle of Uhud. Thus, if the disbelievers won the war over the Muslims, then they could tell them that they were not with the Muslims, and if the Muslims won, they could claim that they were with them. They were reprimanded by this verse.[4]

Interpretation of the Verse

The verse addresses the believers[5] and decisively[6] negates any dominance,[7] superiority, or power[8] of disbelievers over the believers.[9] The verse has been cited to show that disbelievers cannot have legal dominance over Muslims either.[10] It is believed that this ruling can never be altered,[11] and with this ruling, the believers will finally be victorious.[12]

On this interpretation of the verse, believers do not have the right to acquiesce to the dominance of disbelievers. Thus, it is forbidden for them to make any agreements or treaties that open the way for the dominance of disbelievers over Muslims. Moreover, believers are obligated to resist such agreements.[13] Notwithstanding this, it is believed by some that, given certain hadiths, it is permissible for believers to receive educations from non-dominating disbelievers[14] and make cultural and economic exchanges with them in ways that do not lead to the dominance of disbelievers and the humility of believers.[15]

Some people appeal to the verse to suggest that the rejection of the dominance of disbelievers has two positive and negative aspects: the positive aspect is the obligation of the Islamic society and its rulers to protect its independence and sovereignty, and the negative aspect is the rejection of the dominance of disbelievers on the political and social fate of Muslims.[16]

Legislative Command

The command in the verse is not generative (takwini), that is, it is not a matter of creation, since there are in reality cases in which disbelievers have dominance over Muslims. Instead, the verse involves a legislative command, that is, disbelievers do not have any rights for dominance over believers in this world and in the afterlife.[17][18]

The Extent of the Rejection of Dominance

Some people restrict the rejection of the dominance of disbelievers to this world and others take it to be about the day of resurrection,[19] while it is taken to be true in both worlds by some others.[20] Some people take any such restrictions to be pointless and contrary to the apparent meaning of the verse.[21] Thus, the verse includes any kind of the superiority of disbelievers over believers, be it with respect to proofs, or in jurisprudential and legal aspects, be it in this world or the afterlife.[22]

Given the general reading of the verse, the dominance of disbelievers is rejected in all respects, including military, political, cultural, and economic aspects.[23] And there may not be any way for disbelievers to refute the beliefs of the believers.[24] However, some people take "sabil" to mean a proof or reason, thus interpreting the verse as showing that disbelievers do not have any proofs or arguments against believers,[25] and arguments at the disposal of the believers are more cogent than those of disbelievers.[26]

The Principle of Nafy al-Sabil

A well-known jurisprudential principle or rule, which is allegedly a matter of consensus,[27] and has wide applications in ancillaries of rulings, worships, and transactions, is the principle of Nafy al-Sabil,[28] which trumps any ruling that implies any sort of superiority for disbelievers over believers.[29] The rule has been appealed to by jurists in a variety of jurisprudential issues.[30]

The rule has been cited as a support for some rulings in jurisprudence, such as disbelievers not inheriting from believers, forbiddance of selling a Muslim slave to a disbeliever, a disbeliever not having guardianship over their immature Muslim grandchildren, the annulment of marriage between a Muslim woman and a disbelieving man,[31] and the prohibition of Muslims from serving as lawyers for dhimmi disbelievers against other Muslims,[32] and so on and so forth.

Other Supporting Qur'anic Verses and Hadiths

There are other Qur'anic verses that imply the sovereignty of Muslims and the rejection of the dominance of disbelievers over Muslims, such as verses involving the dignity of Muslims[33], rejection of the supervision of disbelievers[34], distrusting disbelievers[35], not following the People of the Book and polytheists[36], being self-standing[37], rejection of intimate friendship with polytheists[38], and verses concerning the enmity of disbelievers and polytheists towards Muslims, asking Muslims to be alarmed to their plots and conspiracies.[39]

There are many hadiths confirming the standard understanding of the Nafy al-Sabil Verse, including a hadith from the Prophet (s) concerning the superiority of Islam and the rejection of the superiority of non-Muslims.[40]

Significance in Political and Governmental Jurisprudence

Throughout the history, the Nafy al-Sabil Verse and its associated ruling contributed significantly in the political and governmental jurisprudence in the Islamic world. For example, the verse was appealed to in the fatwa of jihad against Russians issued by scholars in the period of Muzaffar al-Din Shah after their conquest of some Islamic territories,[41] as well as in Mirza Shirazi's Tobacco protest.[42]

Notes

  1. Dāʾirat al-maʿārif-i Qurʾān, vol. 1, p. 407.
  2. Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī, Mufradāt alfāẓ al-Qurʾān, p. 395.
  3. Bujnūrdī, al-Qawāʿid al-fiqhīyya, vol. 1, p. 187-190.
  4. Qummī, Tafsīr al-Qummī, vol. 1, p. 156-157.
  5. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 5, p. 116.
  6. Dīwbandī, Tafsīr-i kābulī, vol. 1, p. 584.
  7. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 5, p. 116; Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 4, p. 175.
  8. Sabziwārī, Irshād al-adhhān, p. 106.
  9. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 5, p. 116.
  10. Riḍāyī Iṣfahānī, Tafsīr-i Qurʾān-i mihr, vol. 4, p. 342.
  11. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 5, p. 116.
  12. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 5, p. 116.
  13. Qirāʾatī, Tafsīr-i nūr, vol. 2, p. 191.
  14. Riḍāyī Iṣfahānī, Tafsīr-i Qurʾān-i mihr, vol. 4, p. 343.
  15. Qirāʾatī, Tafsīr-i nūr, vol. 2, p. 190.
  16. Dāʾirat al-maʿārif-i Qurʾān, vol. 3, p. 155.
  17. Bujnūrdī, al-Qawāʿid al-fiqhīyya, vol. 1, p. 188; Ṭayyib, Aṭyab al-bayān, vol. 4, p. 246.
  18. That is to say, God has not legislated any rulings that lead to the dominance of disbelievers over believers, and thus, if a ruling generally implies such a dominance, it will be restrained or modified by this verse.
  19. Qarashī, Tafsīr aḥsan al-Ḥadīth, vol. 2, p. 472.
  20. Ṭanṭāwī, al-Tafsīr al-wasīṭ, vol. 3, p. 355.
  21. Jaʿfarī, Tafsīr-i Kawthar, vol. 2, p. 597.
  22. Jaʿfarī, Tafsīr-i Kawthar, vol. 2, p. 597.
  23. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 4, p. 175.
  24. Sabziwārī, al-Jadīd fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān, vol. 2, p. 378.
  25. Ṣādiqī Tihranī, al-Balāgh, p. 101.
  26. Jaʿfarī, Tafsīr-i Kawthar, vol. 2, p. 597.
  27. Jaʿfarī, Tafsīr-i Kawthar, vol. 2, p. 598.
  28. Bujnūrdī, al-Qawāʿid al-fiqhīyya, vol. 2, p. 187.
  29. Jaʿfarī, Tafsīr-i Kawthar, vol. 2, p. 595.
  30. Jaʿfarī, Tafsīr-i Kawthar, vol. 2, p. 597; Qirāʾatī, Tafsīr-i nūr, vol. 2, p. 191.
  31. Jaʿfarī, Tafsīr-i Kawthar, vol. 2, p. 598-599.
  32. Gīlānī, Jāmiʿ al-shatāt, vol. 3, p. 522.
  33. Qur'an 4:139, Qur'an 35:10, Qur'an 63:8
  34. Qur'an 5:51-52
  35. Qur'an 11:113
  36. Qur'an 3:149-150, Qur'an 5:49
  37. Qur'an 48:29
  38. Qur'an 3:118-119, Qur'an 5:57
  39. Dāʾirat al-maʿārif-i Qurʾān, vol. 3, p. 154.
  40. Ṣadūq, Man lā yaḥḍuruh al-faqīh, vol. 4, p. 334.
  41. Zangana Shahrakī, "Qāʿida-yi nafy-i saīl", p. 148-194.
  42. Kirmānī, Tārīkh-i bīdārī-yi musalmānān, p. 11-14.

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