For other people named Al-Shafiʽi, see Al-Shafiʽi (disambiguation).
"Imam Shafi" redirects here.
For the village in Iran, see Imam Shafi, Iran.
|Died||19 January 820 CE (aged 54)
al-Fustat, Abbasid Caliphate
|Era||Islamic Golden Age|
|Main interest(s)||Fiqh, Hadith|
|Notable idea(s)||Shafi'i madhhab|
|Notable work(s)||Al-Risala, Kitab al-Umm, Musnad al-Shafi'i|
Abū ʿAbdillāh Muhammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī (Arabic: أَبُو عَبْدِ ٱللهِ مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ إِدْرِيسَ ٱلشَّافِعِيُّ, 767–820 CE) was an Arab Muslim theologian, writer, and scholar, who was the first contributor of the principles of Islamic jurisprudence (Uṣūl al-fiqh).
He was the most prominent student of Imam Malik ibn Anas, and he also served as the Governor of Najar.
The biography of al-Shāfi‘i is difficult to trace.
Dawud al-Zahiri was said to be the first to write such a biography, but the book has been lost.
The oldest surviving biography goes back to Ibn Abi Hatim al-Razi (died 327 AH/939 CE) and is no more than a collection of anecdotes, some of them fantastical.
A biographical sketch was written by Zakarīya b. Yahya al-Sājī was later reproduced, but even then, a great deal of legend had already crept into the story of al-Shāfi‘i's life.
The first real biography is by Ahmad Bayhaqi (died 458 AH/1066 CE) and is filled with what a modernist eye would qualify as pious legends.
The following is what seems to be a sensible reading, according to a modern reductionist perspective.
This lineage may have given him prestige, arising from his belonging to the tribe of Muhammad, and his great-grandfather's kinship to him.
However, al-Shāfi‘ī grew up in poverty, in spite of his connections in the highest social circles.
His father died in Ash-Sham while he was still a child.
Furthermore, his maternal family roots were from Al-Yemen, and there were more members of his family in Mecca, where his mother believed he would better be taken care of.
Little is known about al-Shāfi‘ī's early life in Mecca, except that he was brought up in poor circumstances and that from his youth he was devoted to learning.
An account states that his mother could not afford to buy his paper, so he would write his lessons on bones, particularly shoulder-bones.
By the age of seven, al-Shāfi‘ī had memorized the Qur’an.
At ten, he had committed Imam Malik's Muwatta' to heart, at which time his teacher would deputize him to teach in his absence.
Al-Shāfi‘ī was authorized to issue fatwas at the age of fifteen ..
Apprenticeship under Imam Mālik
Al-Shāfi‘ī moved to Al-Medinah in a desire for further legal training, as was the tradition of acquiring knowledge.
Accounts differ on the age in which he set out to Medina; an account placed his age at thirteen, while another stated that he was in his twenties.
There, he was taught for many years by the famous Imam Malik ibn Anas, who was impressed with his memory, knowledge and intelligence.
By the time of Imam Mālik's death in 179 AH (795 CE), al-Shāfi‘ī had already gained a reputation as a brilliant jurist.
Even though he would later disagree with some of the views of Imam Mālik, al-Shāfi‘ī accorded the deepest respect to him by always referring to him as "the Teacher".
At the age of thirty, al-Shāfi‘ī was appointed as the ‘Abbasid governor in the Yemeni city of Najran.
He proved to be a just administrator but soon became entangled with factional jealousies.
Whilst other conspirators were put to death, al-Shafi'i's own eloquent defense convinced the Caliph to dismiss the charge.
What was certain was that the incident brought al-Shāfi‘ī in close contact with al-Shaybānī, who would soon become his teacher.
It was also postulated that this unfortunate incident impelled him to devote the rest of his career to legal studies, never again to seek government service.
Apprenticeship under Al-Shaybānī, and exposure to Hanafī Jurists
Al-Shāfi'ī traveled to Baghdad to study with Abu Hanifah's acolyte al-Shaybānī and others.
His work thus became known as "al Madhhab al Qadim lil Imam as Shafi’i," or the Old School of al-Shafi'i.
It was here that al-Shāfi'ī actively participated in legal arguments with the Hanafī jurists, strenuously defending the Mālikī school of thought.
Some authorities stress the difficulties encountered by him in his arguments.
Al-Shāfi'ī eventually left Baghdad for Mecca in 804 CE, possibly because of complaints by Hanafī followers to al-Shaybānī that al-Shafi'i had become somewhat critical of al-Shaybānī's position during their disputes.
As a result, al-Shāfi'ī reportedly participated in a debate with al-Shaybānī over their differences, though who won the debate is disputed.
Al-Shāfi'ī's legal reasoning began to mature, as he started to appreciate the strength in the legal reasoning of the Hanafī jurists, and became aware of the weaknesses inherent in both the Mālikī and Hanafī schools of thought.
Departure to Baghdad and Egypt
Al-Shāfi'ī eventually returned to Baghdad in 810 CE.
By this time, his stature as a jurist had grown sufficiently to permit him to establish an independent line of legal speculation.
Caliph Al-Ma'mun is said to have offered al-Shāfi'ī a position as a judge, but he declined the offer.
Connection with the family of Muhammad
In 814 CE, al-Shāfi'ī decided to leave Baghdad for Egypt.
The precise reasons for his departure from Iraq are uncertain, but it was in Egypt that he would meet another tutor, Sayyida Nafisa bint Al-Hasan, who would also financially support his studies, and where he would dictate his life's works to students.
Several of his leading disciples would write down what al-Shāfi'ī said, who would then have them read it back aloud so that corrections could be made.
Al-Shāfi'ī biographers all agree that the legacy of works under his name are the result of those sessions with his disciples.
Nafisah was a descendant of the Islamic Nabi (Prophet) Muhammad, through his grandson Hasan ibn Ali, who married another descendant of Muhammad, that is Is-haq al-Mu'tamin the son of the Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, who was reportedly a teacher of ash-Shafi'i's teacher Malik ibn Anas and Abu Hanifah.
Thus all of the four great Imams of Sunni Fiqh (Abu Hanifah, Malik, his student Ash-Shafi'i, and his student Ibn Hanbal) are connected to Imam Ja'far from the Bayt (Household) of Muhammad, whether directly or indirectly.
At least one authority states that al-Shāfi'ī died as a result of injuries sustained from an attack by supporters of a Maliki follower named Fityan.
The story goes that al-Shāfi'ī triumphed in the argument over Fityan, who, being intemperate, resorted to abuse.
The Governor of Egypt, with whom al-Shafi'i had good relations, ordered Fityan punished by having him paraded through the streets of the city carrying a plank and stating the reason for his punishment.
Fityan's supporters were enraged by this treatment and attacked Shafi'i in retaliation after one of his lectures.
Al-Shafi'i died a few days later.
However, Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani in his biography of al-Shāfi'ī Tawālī al-Ta'sīs, casts doubt on this story saying "I do not consider this from a reliable source".
However, al-Shāfi'ī was also known to have suffered from a serious intestinal illness/hemorrhoids, which kept him frail and ailing during the later years of his life.
The precise cause of his death is thus unknown.
Main article: Shafi'i
Al-Shāfi'ī is credited with creating the essentials of the science of fiqh (the system of Islamic jurisprudence).
He designated the four principles/sources/components of fiqh, which in order of importance are:
- The Qur’an;
- Hadith. i.e collections of the words, actions, and silent approval of Muhammad. (Together with the Qur'an these make up "revealed sources".);
- Ijma. i.e. the consensus of the (orthodox) Muslim community;
- Qiyas. i.e. the method of analogy.
Scholar John Burton goes farther, crediting Al-Shafi'i not just with establishing the science of fiqh in Islam, but its importance to the religion.
"Where his contemporaries and their predecessors had engaged in defining Islam as a social and historical phenomenon, Shafi'i sought to define a revealed Law."
With this systematization of shari'a, he provided a legacy of unity for all Muslims and forestalled the development of independent, regionally based legal systems.
The four Sunni legal schools or madhhabs keep their traditions within the framework that Shafi'i established.
One of the schools – Shafi'i fiqh – is named for Al-Shāfi‘ī.
It is followed in many different places in the Islamic world: Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen as well as Sri Lanka and southern parts of India, especially in the Malabar coast of North Kerala and Canara region of Karnataka.
While traditionally the Quran is considered above the Sunna in authority, Al-Shafi'i "forcefully argued" that the sunna stands "on equal footing with the Quran", (according to scholar Daniel Brown) for – as Al-Shafi'i put it – "the command of the Prophet is the command of Almighty Allah ."
The focus by the Muslim community on ahadith of Muhammad and disinterest in ahadith of Muhammad's companions (whose ahadith were commonly used before Al-Shāfi‘ī since most of whom survived him and spread his teachings after his death) is thought (by scholar Joseph Schacht) to reflect the success of Al-Shāfi‘ī's doctrine.
Al-Shāfi‘ī influence was such that he changed the use of the term Sunnah, "until it invariably meant only the Sunnah of the Prophet" (according to John Burton this was his "principle achievement").
While earlier, sunnah had been used to refer to tribal manners and customs, (and while Al-Shāfi‘ī distinguished between the non-authoritative "sunnah of the Muslims" that was followed in practice, and the "sunnah of the Prophet" that Muslims should follow), sunnah came to mean the Sunnah of Muhammad.
In the Islamic sciences, Burton credits him with "the imposition of a formal theoretical distinction" between `the Sunnah of the Prophet` and the Quran, "especially where the two fundamental sources appeared to clash".
It remains a site where people petition for justice.
Among the followers of Imam al-Shāfi‘ī’s school were:
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Shafiʽi.