This article reexamines the use of the term naṣs, which since Marshall Hodgson has been used in modern historiography to refer to an indigenous Shīʿī mechanism of succession to the imamate. An alternative thesis is proposed here which situates the origins of the term in Shīʿī usage over the 8th to 11th centuries within the scholarly discourses of kalām and uṣūl al-fiqh. From the perspective of theological hermeneutics, classical Imāmī naṣṣ doctrines valorized revelatory specification (naṣṣ) of authority to the exclusion of opinion and interpretive effort (ijtihād). As is shown here, the elaboration of these doctrines was historically predicated on an attempt to explain the Shīʿī imamate as a solution to the problem of epistemological uncertainty in Islamic scholarship. This is illustrated with reference to Sunnī, Muʿtazilite, Zaydī, Imāmī, and Ismāʿīlī literature, documenting the earliest usage of the term naṣṣ within a broader intellectual milieu than has hitherto been the case.
See Bayhom-Daou, “Hishām B. Al-Ḥakam,” p. 80. As an anachronism one could certainly point to usage of term “Imāmiyya” which is unattested for the 2nd/8th century; see al-Nawbakhtī, Firaq al-shīʿa, p. 8.
Vishanoff, Formation, p. 560. Cf. another discussion (ibid., p. 460) where al-Shāfiʿī refers to God’s argument being conveyed by “the naṣṣ of a clear [verse of the] book or [naṣṣ] of a sunna which is agreed upon” (naṣṣ kitābin bayyinin aw-sunnatin mujtamaʿ ʿalayhā). Note the importance of the mode of transmission for the latter (cf. ibid., p. 478).
Ibn Bābūya, Kamāl al-dīn, p. 61. The imamate is only valid, Ibn Qiba tells us, for a figure singled out by naṣṣ, who in addition to their knowledge and excellence, rejects ijtihād and qiyās (ibid., 109)—reducing the qualifications to uṣūl terminology which highlights the epistemologically certainty underlying the imamate’s institution and function.
Ibn Bābūya, Kamāl al-dīn, p. 61. Haider does mention this argument without sourcing it; see Shīʿī Islam, p. 42. Sachedina mentioned this argument in citation of al-Murtaḍā and al-Ḥillī; Islamic Messianism, p. 137.
Al-Mufīd, Awāʾil al-maqālāt, p. 68. Such miracles, from a Muʿtazilite perspective, would have been viewed as threatening the integrity of the proof of prophethood, which likely informed the view of the Nawbakhtīs.