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Dalālah

By:
Šukrija Ramić
Source:
The [Oxford] Encyclopedia of Islam and Law What is This? An English-language legal reference for scholars of Islamic studies and Western engaged readers presenting the history and development of Islamic Law.

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Dalālah

In its logical definition in various Islamic sciences, the verbal noun dalālah means the indication, signalling, or denotation of speech (dalīl being a specific sign or indicant). A word's signification can be of three kinds: (1) complete correspondence (muṭābaqah), thus human being” indicates an animal endowed with reason; (2) partial inclusion (taḍammun), thus “human being” indicates a being endowed with reason; (3) a necessary idea attached to the meaning in the mind (iltizām), thus “human being” indicates a being capable of knowledge.

In the Islamic legal discourse, dalālah denotes the legal meaning of a piece of evidence used in the derivation of law. The term dalīl is thus often used simply to mean a piece of evidence.

Dalālah/dalīl is also often used in construction with the word naṣṣ, which in the technical vocabulary of uṣūl al-fiqh refers to a text in either the Qurʾān or ḥadīth (but is often used to mean a proof text that is unambiguous in its interpretation). Dalālat al-naṣṣ can mean a signification understood from a proof text that is not the literal meaning (referred to as ʿibārat al-naṣṣ) but it nonetheless evident enough that it can be understood without significant reasoning. The Ḥanafī scholar al-Bazdawī defined dalālat al-naṣṣ as: “the inferred meaning is that is obtained by the linguistic meaning of the text, and not by legal reasoning or deduction” (Bukhārī, I:73). More specifically, dalālat al-naṣṣ can imply the intended meaning behind the text and its suitability for extension to analogous cases. The Ḥanafī scholar ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Bukhārī notes, “Dalālat al-naṣṣ is the understanding of the unpronounced from the pronounced by the speech's context and its purpose” (I:73). Therefore, dalālat al-naṣṣ is the indication of the text that the indicated ruling is valid for another incident, because both of these incidents share an effective cause (ʿillah) that is common between them. The understanding of that effective cause, in that incident, is so simple and the ruling is so obvious, that its comprehension does not depend on study and legal reasoning (ijtihād).

In the case of the Qurʾānic verse that instructs Muslims not to speak disrespectfully to their parents (Al-Isrāʾ:23–24.), the explicit meaning (ʿibārat al-naṣṣ) forbids disrespectful speech. From the perspective of the Arabic language, however, it would be known that, if such a slight offence as a word of disrespect is forbidden, then the inferred meaning (dalālat al-naṣṣ) suggests that other forms of offensive behaviour, such as beating or cursing, are, through inferred meaning, included in the text and are therefore forbidden. This is because the inferred meaning (dalālat al-naṣṣ) is so obvious that it is understood without a need for legal reasoning and further thoughts.

In terms of its certainty, dalālah/dalīl can either be definite (qaṭʿī) or speculative (ẓannī). A definite (qaṭʿī) indication would be when the intended meaning is certainly known, such as the above-mentioned Qurʾānic verse. A speculative indication (ẓannī al-dalālah) occurs in cases in which the implied meaning of a text is ambiguous, such as the dalālah of the ḥadīth “If the two circumcised areas meet (i.e., in intercourse), then ablution is required.” Does this ḥadīth only contain a command for Muslims to perform ablutions after intercourse, or is there also a dalālat al-naṣṣ that some circumcision is required for women as well as men?

In the Jumhūr/Majority school of Sunni legal theory, dalīl/dalālah is often understood as meaning an indication that is certain enough to yield firm knowledge (ʿilm) about the meaning of a proof text, while amārah (sign) is used to refer to an indication that only produces probable, speculative knowledge (zọann).

[See also PROOF, STANDARDS OF.]

Bibliography

  • Buḵẖārī, Kas̱ẖf al-Asrār, I:73
  • Nasafī, Kas̱ẖf al-Asrār, I:385.
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