Muhammad ibn Idrīs Al-‘Abbās ibn ‘Uthmān ibn Shāfi’ ibn Al-Sā’ib ibn ‘Ubayd ibn ‘Abd Yazād ibn Hāshim ibn Al-Muṭṭalib ibn ‘Abd Manāf ibn Qusay, known as Imam Al-Shāfi’ī, Abū Abdullah Al-Shāfi’ī Al-Hijāzī Al-Makkī Al-Azdī Al-Qurashī Al Hāshimī Al-Muṭṭalibī may Allah be well pleased with him.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal said of him, “He was like the sun over the world and good health for people – do these two have replacements or successors?”1
He was a Relative of the Prophet Muhammad
He is the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad (‘alayhis salat wa salam) descending from Al-Muṭṭalib who is the brother of Hāshim, ‘Abdul-Muttalib’s father. Both his great-great-grandfather, Shāfi’, and the latter’s father, Al-Ṣā’ib, were companions of the Prophet (sa), as were al-Ṣā’ib ibn ‘Ubayd’s uncles – ‘Ubayd ibn ‘Abd Yazīd’s brothers – ‘Ujayr and Rukāna, the man who wrestled with the Prophet.2 Al-Ṣā’ib’s mother, Al-Shifā’ bint Al-Arqam ibn Hāshim, sister of Fātima bint Asad, the mother of ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib (radiya Allahu ‘anhu), who the Prophet called his second mother.3
Someone praised Banū Hāshim in front of the Prophet (salla allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), whereupon the latter interlaced the fingers of his two hands and said: ‘We and they are but one and the same’ and “The Banū Hāshim and the Banu Abdul-Muṭṭalib are not but one and the same”.4
Imam An-Nawawī listed three peculiar merits of al-Shafi’ī: his sharing the Prophet’s lineage at the level of their common ancestor ‘Abd Manāf; his birth in the Holy land of Palestine and upbringing in Makka; and his education at the hands of superlative scholars together with his own superlative intelligence and knowledge of the Arabic language.
Hafith Ibn Hajr Al-’Asqalani quotes from the Manaqib of Imam Al-Hakim that it was narrated to him by Abi Nasr ibn Ahmad Al-Hussayn that heard from Abi Is-haq ibn Khuzaymah that saying that he Yunus ibn Abdul-’Ala [a student and companion of Imam Ash-Shafi'i] say,
“The mother of Ash-Shafi’i [was] Fatimah bint Abdullah bin Al-Hasan ibn Al-Hasan ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib” [Tahdhib At-Tahdhib Vol. 5 page 22 Dar Al-Ihya Turath]
Therefore Imam Ash-Shafi’i was both related to the Prophet Muhammad through his father and through his mother by way of Imam ‘Ali (radiya Allahu Anhu).
Prophetic Hadīths Predicting Al-Shāfi’ī
Ibn Ḥajar added two more merits to An-Nawawī’s list: the ḥadīth of the Prophet (sa),
“Oh Allah! Guide Quraysh, for the science of the scholar that comes from them will encompass the earth. Oh Allah! You have let the first of them taste bitterness, so let the latter of them taste reward!”5
Imām Aḥmad also narrates with two chains the prohibition of cursing the Quraysh and the Prophet’s (sa) statement to Qatāda ibn An-Nu’mān Al-Ẓafarī: “You might see among them men with deeds next to which you will despair your own deeds and envy them whenever you see them. If I did not fear Quraysh’s tyranny I would disclose to them all the good Allāh has in store for them.”
Another hadīth of the Prophet (sa) says,
“Truly Allāh shall send forth for this community, at the onset of every hundred years, someone/those who will renew for it <the status of> its Religion.”6
The scholars agreed, among them Abū Qilāba (d. 276) and Imām Ahmad, that the “Quraysh” narration signified Al-Shāfi’ī.7 Imam Ahmad is also authentically recorded to have said about the hadīth of the renewer being sent every 100 years,
“It was ‘Umar ibn Abdul-‘Azīz in the first hundred and in the second hundred it was Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī!”8
Al-Bayhaqī also mentioned another great merit, the superlative praise of Yemen and the Yemenis by the Prophet (sa) in the numerous sayings of his, as Al-Shāfi’ī is from Yemen on his mother’s side.9 Moreover, Al-Bayhaqī said, most of Al-Shāfi’īs knowledge is taken from the people of Makka and Madīna – and Makka and Madīna are Yemeni.
Al-Shāfi’ī’s Early Years
He was born in a village in Ghazza by the town of ‘Asqalān in 150 A.H. the same year Abū Hanīfah died – shortly after his father’s death in Shām. His mother took him at the age of two to the Ḥijāz, where he grew up among her Azdī Yemenī relatives. Later, fearinig the waste of his sharīf lineage, she moved him to Makka. Al-Shāfi’ī was early a skillfull archer, then he took to learning language and poetry until he devoted himself to fiqh, beginning with hadīth. His mother coul not afford to buy him paper and he would write his lessons on bones, particularly shoulder-bones. He memorized the Qur’ān at age seven, then Mālik’s Muwaṭṭa’ at age ten, at which time his teacher would deputise him to teach in his absence. He receive permission to give fatwa at age fifteen.10
His Early Legal Prowess
Abū Mansūr Al-Baghdādī in Manāqib Ash-Shāfi’ī and Naqd Abī Abdullāh Al-Jurjānī fi Tarjīḥ Madhhab Abī Hanīfah related the following example of the Imām’s perspicuity at an early age:
“Al-Shāfi’ī was sitting at Mālik’s feet one day when a man came in and said: “I sell turtle-doves, and one of my customers returned one of them to me today saying that it does not coo, so I swore to him on pain of divorce that my turtle-dove coos all the time!” Mālik said: “You have divorced your wife and are not to approach her.” Al-Shāfi’ī was fourteen at the time. He said to the man: “Which happens more, your turtle-dove’s cooing or its silence?” The said: “Its cooing”. Al-Shāfi’ī said: “Your marriage is valid and there is no penalty for you [due to your oath].” Whereupon Mālik frowned at him saying: “Boy, how do you know this?” Al-Shāfi’ī replied: “Because you narrated to me from al-Zuhrī, from Abu Salama ibn ‘Abdur-Rahmān from Umm Salama that Fātima bint Qays said: ‘Rasūlullah! Abu Jahm and Mu’āwiya have both proposed to me.’ The Prophet (sa) replied: ‘Mu’awiya is penniless and as for Abū Jahm he does not put down his staff from his shoulder.’11 That is, most of the time ‘Arabs assert the more frequent of two actions [exclusively of the other] because of its constancy. Since this man’s turtledove coos more than it is silent, I can declare it constant in its cooing. Mālik was pleased at his reasoning.”12
The scholars said that Allāh accelerated the intelligence of al-Shāfi’ī and al-Nawawī because he gave them a short lifespan. Al-Ḥumaydī narrated that the faqīh of Makka, Imām Muslim ibn Khālid Al-Zanjī (100-180), said to al-Shāfi’ī: “Give fatwā, Abū ‘Abdullāh! It is time you gave fatwā,” at which time al-Shāfi’ī was fifteen years old. Abū ‘Ubayd al-Qāsim ibn Sallām said: “If the intelligence of an entire nation was brought together he would have encompassed it!”
Studies With Imām Mālik ibn Anas and Muḥammad Ash-Shaybānī as Well As Others
His mother put him beneath the scholars as a boy in Makkah. He studied there with:
Imām Muslim ibn Khālid Az-Zanjī the Muftī of Makkah, Dāwūd ibn Abdur-Rahmān Al-Aṭṭār, and his uncle Muhammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Shāfi’, and he was the nephew of Al-‘Abbās the grandfather of Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī, Sufyān ibn ‘Uyaynah, Abdur-Rahmān ibn Abī Bakr Al-Malīkī, Sa’īd ibn Sālim, Fudayl ibn ‘Iyāḍ and others. Adh-Dhahabī said, “I have not seen that he took anything from Nāfi’ ibn ‘Umar even though he was with him in Makkah!”
In 163 A.H., at age thirteen though some say he was older, Al-Shāfi’ī went to see Mālik in Madīna, who was impressed by his memory and intelligence. He took the Muwaṭṭa’ from Imām Mālik and also took knowledge, particularly hadīth, from Ibrāhīm ibn Abī Yahyā, Abdul-‘Azīz Ad-Darurdī, ‘Aṭāf ibn Khālid, Ismā’īl ibn Ja’far, Ibrāhīm ibn Sa’d and a group from their generation.
Some of the Qurashīs recommended Al-Shāfi’ī to the new governor of Yemen, Al-Muṭṭalibī, and he went back to Yemen as his aide. He took knowledge in Yemen from Muṭarrif ibn Māzin, Hishām ibn Yūsuf Al-Qāḍī and an entire group of scholars of the time and era.13 He held a judgeship in Najrān during which his fame reached the stars for his sense of fairness and his acceptance on the part of the people. This did not last. The governor, Al-Shāfī’ī, and a number of ‘Alawīs were summoned to Baghdād in chains, all of them accused of being ‘Alawī agitators by the agent of the Caliph Hārūn Al-Rashīd in Yemen. They were executed one after another. When al-Shāfi’ī was introduced before the Caliph, he said:
“Oh Amīr Al-Mu’minīn (Commander of the Believers)! What do you say about a man [i.e. a ‘Abbasī] who has two paternal cousins [i.e. Muṭṭalibī and a ‘Alawī], one of whom [the Muṭṭalibī] deems him his intimate family, places him in his own lineage, affirms that his property is taboo to him except by his permission, that his daughter is unmarriageable to him except by his betrothal, and that he considers him to own the same rights over him as he would over himself. The other [The ‘Alawī], however, claims that the man is beneath him, that he is higher than him in lineage, that he is his slave, his daughter his bondswoman, that she belongs to him without his permission, and that his property is his booty. Which of them should you rightly patronize, Commander of the Believers? You are that man and here are your two paternal cousins!”
Hārūn asked al-Shāfi’ī to repeat to him his parable three times until he understood what he meant. Then he spared his life but ordered him detained. Certain chroniclers mention a report that begins with the words of the Caliph al-Ma’mūn, “I tested Al-Shāfi’ī in everything, and I found him accomplished in all of it […]” but Al-Sakhāwī showed that the two never met.14
Imām Al-Shāfi’ī formed the project of asking Imām Muhammad Ash-Shaybānī to intercede for him at the time he was being detained in Baghdād. However, when he witnessed him disparaging al-Madīna and its scholars one day, he rose and said, “Madīna is the sacred precinct of the Prophet (sa), its people his Companions and relatives-in-law, those that came after them the Successors and elite of this Umma. And if, by ‘the people of Madīna,’ you meant one man, Mālik ibn Anas, then say his name and leave the rest alone!” Al-Shaybānī replied, ‘I meant Mālik ibn Anas.’ Mālik is one man, and there were in Madina jurists other than him,” then he preceded to refute Al-Shaybānī’s published critique of the Madīnans point by point. When the Caliph heard of the incident, he said, “And why should Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan be irked that a man from Banū Abd Manāf silence him?” Then he had five thousand dinars dispatched to al-Shāfi’ī and released him. Al-Shāfi’ī used a full fifty dinars to pay the barber for a cupping and gave the rest to those Meccans and Qurashīs that were present, retaining only one hundred dinars for himself.15
While in Baghdād he studied Hanafī fiqh at the hands of Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan Ash-Shaybānī. The Chroniclers of Ash-Shāfi’ī mention that Imām Muhammad Shaybānī changed his view on an issue of ghaṣb (robbery) due to debate with Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī. Al-Shāfi’ī said, “From Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan I wrote one [a variant says ‘two’] camel-loads” and “I never saw anyone whose face did not show distaste when asked a difficult question except Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan.”16 He also said, “I always held Muḥammad ibn Al-Ḥasan Al-Shaybānī in the highest esteem and spent sixty dinars buying all his books.” He never met Abū Yūsuf, the disciple of Imām Abū Hanīfah, but does report from him through Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan in his Al-Umm and the Musnad. Note here then that the debate quoted by some that is reported to have existed between Abū Yūsuf and Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī is a forgery, see The Four Imāms comment number 455 by G.f. Haddad.
It is related that Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī prayed one time after shaving, with hair all over his clothes, at a time when he considered hair impure. Asked about it he replied: “When we cannot avoid something (ḥaythu ubtulīna), we follow the ruling of the ‘Iraqis [i.e. the schools of Abū Hanīfa and Sufyān] in the matter.17 Imām Al-Bayhaqī in the Manāqib related that Al-Shāfi’ī’s final position is that hair is pure.
His Move Away from Imām Mālik’s Madhhab
Al-Hākim narrated from Abdullah ibn Abdul-Hakam: “Al-Shāfi’ī never ceased to speak according to Mālik’s position and he would say: ‘We do not differ from him other than the way colleagues would,’ until some young men spoke unbecomingly at length behind his back, whereupon al-Shāfi’ī resolved to put his differences with Mālik in writing. Otherwise, his whole life he would say, whenever asked something: ‘This is what the Teacher said’ – hādhā qawl al-ustādh – meaning Mālik.18
Al-Shafi’ī said: “Al-Layth ibn Sa’d is stronger in fiqh (afqah) than Mālik but his school perished for lack of students.”19 This was also the view of Ibn Al-Mubārak, Sa’īd ibn Abī Ayyūb and Yahyā ibn Bukayr while al-Darawardī put Al-Layth even above Rabī’at Al-Ra’ī. Al-Layth recited the Basmala out loud and gave salām to the front in Salāh.
His Trips to Baghdād and His Move to Egypt
Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī traveled to Baghdād three times:
1) As a student in 184 with the group of Yemenī descendants of ‘Alī (radiya Allahu ‘anhu)
2) As a recognized Imām in fiqh in 195 returning to Makkah two years later, then
3) In 198 for a few months, after which he went to Egypt where he remained until his death20
When he entered Egypt he was patronized by the ascetic friend of the poor and descendant of the Prophet (sa), Al-Sayyida Nafīsa , who ordered his bier brought into her house when he died so that she could recite the funeral prayer over him, and carried the bier. Sayyidah Nafīsah is the daughter of Al-Hasan the son of Zayd the son of Al-Hasan the son of Imām ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib (raḍiya Allāhu ‘Anhum). In other words, she is the great great granddaughter of Al-Hasan the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) of whom was said to be from the children of Janna!21
Imām Al-Shāfi’ī Reconciled the Schools of Hadīth and Fiqh
Al-Shāfī’ī is the paradigm of hadīth-informed jurisprudence among the Salaf, gathering under one roof the superlative insight of Abū Hanīfa and Mālik’s legal opinion (ra’ī) on the one hand, on the other, the extensive knowledge of narrators and the evidence they transmitted which characterized al-Bukhārī and Ahmad. The latter said: “We did not cease to curse the people of legal opinion and they would curse us, until al-Shāfī’ī came and reconciled our differences.”22 Ibn ‘Abd al-Salām said that there is not a single hadīth that did not reach al-Shāfī’ī in one form or another, whether musnad, mursal, or munqati’.23
The Old (Qadīm) and the New (Jadīd) Schools of Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī
Two schools of fiqh or madhāhib are actually attributed to Al-Shāfi’ī, embracing all his positions and legal opinions (fatāwa). These two schools are known in the terminology of the jurists as “The Old” and the “The New”, corresponding respectively to his stays in ‘Irāq and Egypt. The most prominent transmitters of the New among al-Shāfi’ī’s students are:
Al-Buwaiṭī, Al-Muzanī, and Al-Rabī’ in Al-Umm. The most prominent transmitters of the Old school are Al-Za’farānī, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Karābisī, and Abu Thawr in Kitāb Al-Hujja. What is presently known as the Shāfi’ī position refers to the New school except in approximately twenty two questions, in which Shāfi’ī scholars and muftis have retained the positions of the Old.
Al-Shāfi’ī’s Mastery of the Arabic Language
Al-Shāfi’ī was known for his peculiar strength in the Arabic language, poetry, and philology. He is the only Qurayshī of the four Imams and the only one of the Four to be raised in Makka, the cradle of the chief Qur’anic dialect. His Dīwān of poetry is among the masterpieces of Arabic literature.
Imām Al-Bayhaqī narrated:
“[From Al-Rabī’]: Al-Shāfi’ī was an ‘arab in his soul and an arab in his speech. If you had seen him and seen the beauty of his expression and eloquence you would have been awestruck. If he had authored his books in the way that he used to speak, no one would have been able to read them.”24
“[From Ibn Hishām]: I was Al-Shāfi’ī’s close companion for a long time and I never heard him us anything other than a word which, carefully considered, one would not find (in its context) a better word in the entire Arabic language. […] Al-Shāfi’ī’s discourse, in relation to language is a proof in itself.”
[From Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Za’faranī]: A group of Bedouins used to frequent al-Shāfi’īs gathering with us and sit in a corner. One day I asked their leader: ‘You are not interested in scholarship; why do you sit with us?’ They said: “We come to hear al-Shāfi’ī’s language.”
[From Al-Muzani]: Al-Shāfi’ī asked Ibrāhīm ibn ‘Ulayya after they finished listening to a girl singing Arabic poetry: “Does this bring joy to your soul?” He said no. Al-Shāfi’ī said, “You have no feelings! (mā laka ḥiss)”
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal said, “Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī is a Hujjah (proof) in the language of Arabic!”25
Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī and Tasawwuf (Sufism)
Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī said: “If a rational man does not become a Sufi he does not reach noon except he is a dolt!”
Commenting Shaykh Gibril states, “Abû Nu`aym narrates this from Muh.ammad ibn `Abd al-Rah.mân ibn al-Fad.l, from Abû al-H.asan [Ah.mad ibn Muh.ammad ibn al-H.ârith] ibn al-Qattât [al-Mis.rî], from the thiqa Muh.ammad ibn Abî Yah.yâ, from the thiqa Imâm Yûnus ibn `Abdal-A`lâ, from the Imâm.”
There is another weak narrative used by the detractors of the Sufis that states, “A rational man does not become a Sufi except he reaches noon a dolt.”
In the chain of this narration is Abu Muhammad Ja’far ibn Muhammad ibn Al-Harith from Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn Al-Dahhak, both of unknown reliability!
Adding to the list of positive statements of Imam Ash-Shafi’i regarding Tasawwuf is the following:
“I accompanied the Sufis for ten years and benefited from them but from two sayings [and in another report three sayings]: their statement that time is as a sword: if you do not cut it, it cuts you, and their statement that deprivation is immunity.”
[The reported third states: “their statement: if your soul does not keep busy with truth it will keep you busy with bātil (falsehood).”]
Shaykh Gibril states commenting on this athar:
“Narrated from Muh.ammad ibn Muh.ammad ibn Idrîs al-Shâfi`î by al-Bayhaqî in Manâqib al-Shâfi`î (2:208) cf. Ibn al-Qayyim in Madârij al-Sâlikîn (3:128) and al-Jawâb al-Kâfî (p. 208-209) and al-Suyût.î in تأييد الحقيقة العلية Ta’yîd al-H.aqîqat al-`Aliyya (p. 15)”
Adding again to his statements Imam ‘Ajluni reports that Imam Ash-Shafi’i said,
“Three things in this world have been made lovely to me: avoiding affectation, treating people kindly, and abiding by the way of the people of tasawwuf!”
[source:1089 كشف الخفاء ومزيل الالباس عما اشتهر من الأحاديث عل ألسنة الناس]
In the Diwan of Imam Ash-Shafi’i we find:
Faqîhan wa-s.ufiyyan fakun laysa wâh.idan
fa’innî wa-h.aqqillâhi iyyâka ans.ah.u
Fadhâlika qâsin lam yadhuq qalbuhu tuqan
wahâdhâ jahûlun kayfa dhûl-jahli yas.luh.u
“Be both a jurisprudent and a s.ûfî – never just one of the two.
Truly, by the Divine Right, I am advising you sincerely!
For the former is hardened, his heart tastes no Godwariness,
While the latter is ignorant – of what use is the ignorant?”
Many of the great Shafi’is followed the true way of tasawwuf including one of the greatest of them Imam An-Nawawi (rahmatullah ‘alayh).
Praise of Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī
Imām Ahmad ibn Hanbal (rahmatullah ‘alayh) said, “Not one of the scholars of ḥadīth touches an inkwell or a pen without owing a huge debt to Al-Shāfi’ī.” Ahmad’s shaykh, Yahyā ibn Sa’īd Al-Qattān said: “I supplicate Allah for al-Shāfi’ī even inside my prayer, while Imām Ahmad himself said he made du’ā’ for Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī for forty years.26
When Ahmad first asked Isḥāq ibn Rāhūyah to “come and see a man the like of whom your eyes have not yet seen” – meaning al-Shāfi’ī – Ishāq failted Ahmad for attending the fiqh sessions of their peer in age and leaving the hadīth sessions of the older Sufyān ibn ‘Uyayna. Ahmad replied: “Woe to you! If you miss a hadīth with a shorter chain it will not arm you to find it elsewhere with a longer chain. But if you do not have the reasoning of this man [Ash-Shāfi’ī], I fear you will never be able to find it elsewhere!” Ishāq asked al-Shāfi’ī a few questions, after which he turned to a friend from Merv and said to him in Persian: “Mardak rā kamālī nīst” – the manling lacks finish.” Al-Shāfi’ī perceiving the slight, turned to Isḥāq and, in a rapid-fire succession of proofs, defeated him. After this incident Isḥāq would say: “I consider it my greatest blessing when I fully understand al-Shāfi’ī’s discourse” while the latter expressed disapproval of Iṣhāq’s title as the jurisprudent of Khurāsān.27
When Yahyā ibn Ma’īn expressed shock at the fact that Ahmad ibn Hanbal was seen standing at the foot of Ash-Shāfi’ī, holding his stirrup as the latter sat mounted, Ahmad retorted: “If you want to learn fiqh, come and hold his other stirrup.”28 Imām Ahmad forbade Yahyā ibn Ma’īn from criticizing Al-Shāfi’ī saying: “Your eyes have never seen the like of Al-Shāfi’ī!” and “You understand nothing, Abu Zakariyyā, of the meanings of Al-Shāfi’ī’s words! And whoever fails to understand something, opposes it.”29
The majority of the scholars of hadith were either Shafi’i in fiqh, or Shafi’i inclined: Imam An-Nasa’i, [some say] Imam Al-Bukhari, Imam Ibn Khuzaymah, Imam Al-Hakim, Imam Ad-Daraqutni, Imam Al-Bayhaqi, and many more. Many great scholars of creed, including the leader of the Asha’ri school Abul Hasan Al-Asha’ri, and Islamic Mysticism (Tasawwuf/Sufism) including Imam Al-Junayd and Imam Al-Muhasibi30, had a large group of followers of Imam Ash-Shafi’is legal school. Followers of his school have remained diligent in preserving his school. Thousands memorize the works of his school, translate treatises, and publish new-found manuscripts every year.
Imam Ash-Shafi’is legacy can be seen throughout the Muslim world. The most populated Muslim country in the world, Indonesia, has a majority population that prays according to Imam Ash-Shafi’i's legal school (madhhab). The following countries have a majority Shafi’i following: Syria, The Occupied Country of Palestine (where Imam Ash-Shafi’i was born), Jordan [this area is known as Shaam/ the Levant], Kurd dominated ‘Iraq (also known as Kurdistan) – also Kurd dominated Turkey, Yemen, Lower Egypt, Malaysia, Singapore, Maldives, the Philippines, Brunei, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Tanzania, and elsewhere. Imam Ash-Shafi’i's legacy continues to spread as Muslims solidify their communities further west and develop learning institutions in the U.K., USA, Canada and elsewhere. His school’s vibrancy and fluidity continues to be seen in the post-modern era with Muslim jurists still using Imam Ash-Shafi’is legal formulations in solving modern concerns. May Allah bless Imam Ash-Shafi’i and allow his legacy to continue to benefit the Muslim Ummah! Amin!