Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Al-Shafi'i's Principles


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The Shāfi‘ī madhab (شافعي) is one of the four schools of fiqh, or religious law, within Sunni Islam. The Shāfi‘ī school of fiqh is named after its founder, Imām ash-Shāfi‘ī. The other three schools of thought are Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali.



[edit] Principles

The Shāfi‘ī School of thought stipulates authority to four sources of jurisprudence, also known as the Usul al-fiqh. In hierarchical order the usul al-fiqh consist of: the Quran, the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, ijma' "consensus", and qiyas "analogy". The Shāfi‘ī school also refers to the opinions of Muhammad's companions (primarily Al-Khulafa ar-Rashidun). The school, based on Shāfi‘ī's books ar-Risala fi Usul al-Fiqh and Kitāb al-Umm, which emphasizes proper istinbaat (derivation of laws) through the rigorous application of legal principles as opposed to speculation or conjecture. It is considered one of the more conservative of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence.

Imam Shāfi‘ī approached the imperatives of the Islamic Shariah (Canon Law) distinctly in his own systematic methodology. Imam Shāfi‘ī, Imam Malik and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal almost entirely exclude the exercise of private judgment in the exposition of legal principles. They are wholly governed by the force of precedents, adhering to the Scripture and Traditions; they also do not admit the validity of a recourse to analogical deduction of such an interpretation of the Law whereby its spirit is adopted to the special circumstances of any special case. Their followers are accordingly designated as "Ahlu l-Hadith" or "Traditionalists par excellence", while the followers of Abu Hanifa are called "Ahlu r-Ra'i" - the "People of Private Judgement".

Shāfi‘ī is also known as the "First Among Equals" for his exhaustive knowledge and systematic methodology to religious science. His approach to Islamic jurisprudence has become the standard reference of the scholars not only among his School but among others as well. There is a famous Fiqh maxim, "The Shāfi‘iyy are the Pillars of Knowledge of this Religion".

Among the giants of Islam who adopted this school are:-

Imams of Aqidah:

  • Abu Al-Hasan Ash'ari

Imams of Hadith:

Imams of Fiqh:

  • Sheikh Khatib Shirbini
  • Ibn Hajar Haytami
  • Imam Al-Rafi'ie
  • Imam an-Nawawi
  • Al-Hafiz Izzuddin Abdus-Salam
  • Imam Daqiequl-Eid

Imams of Tafser and Seerah:

  • Imam Mawardi
  • Imam Al-Baghawi
  • Imam Fakhruddin ar-Razi
  • Al-Hafiz Ibn Kathir
  • Shaykh Khatib al-Baghdadi
  • Imam al-Baydhawi

Other Leading Scholars and Religious Experts:

  • Imam Jalaluddin al-Mahally
  • Imam Taqiyuddin as-Subki
  • Imam Tajuddin as-Subki
  • Sheikhu l-Islam Zakariyya al-Ansari
  • Imam Ramli
  • Imam al-Ghazzali

[edit] The Imam

Main article: Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi`i

Shāfi‘ī's [150 – 206 AH] full name is Abū ‘Abdu l-Lāh Muhammad ibn Idrīs ibn al-Abbās ibn ‘Uthmān ibn Shāfi‘ī ibn as-Sa'ib ibn ‘Ubayd ibn ‘Abd al-Yazīd ibn al-Muttalib ibn ‘Abd Manaf. ‘Abd Manaf was the great grandfather of Muhammad. Based on this lineage, he is from the Quraish tribe.[1] He was born in 150 AH (760 CE) in Gaza in the same year Imam Abū Hanifa died.[2].

As a member of the school of Medina, ash-Shāfi‘ī worked to combine the pragmatism of the Medina school with the contemporary pressures of the Traditionalists. The Traditionalists maintained that jurists could not independently adduce a practice as the sunnah of Muhammad based on ijtihad "independent reasoning" but should only produce verdicts substantiated by authentic hadith.

Based on this claim, ash-Shāfi‘ī devised a method for systematic reasoning without relying on personal deduction. He argued that the only authoritative sunnah were those that were both of Muhammad and passed down from Muhammad himself. He also argued that sunnah contradicting the Quran were unacceptable, claiming that sunnah should only be used to explain the Quran. Furthermore, ash-Shāfi‘ī claimed that if a practice is widely accepted throughout the Muslim community, it cannot be in contradiction of sunnah.

Ash-Shāfi‘ī was also a significant poet. His poetry is noted for its beauty, wisdom, despite the fact that during his life time he stood off becoming a poet because of his rank as an Islamic scholar. He said once:

و لولا الشعر بالعلماء يزري
لكنت اليوم أشعر من لبيد
For scholars, if poetry did not degrade,
finer than Labīd's I would have said.

However, the beauty of his poetry made people collect it in one famous book under the name Diwān Imām al-Shāfi‘ī. Many verses are popularly known and repeated in the Arab world as proverbs:

نعيب زماننا و العيب فينا
و ما لزماننا عيب سوانا
و نهجو ذا الزمان بغير ذنب
و لو نطق الزمان لنا هجانا
We blame our time though we are to blame.
No fault has time but only us.
We scold the time for all the shame.
Did it have tongue, it would scold us.[3]
  1. ^ Ibn Hazm, Jamharah Ansab al-'Arab
  2. ^ al-Zubaidi, Taj al-'Urus under the header 'Shafa'a'
  3. ^ Diwān Imām al-Shāfi‘ī, Damascus, Syria: Karam Publishing House Verses are translated by Salma al-Helali.

[edit] Importance of the Shāfi‘ī School

[edit] Demographics

The Shāfi‘ī school is followed throughout the Ummah and is the official Madhab of traditional scholars and leading authorities of Ahlu s-Sunnah, but is most prevalent amongst Kurds in Kurdistan and Kurds in other parts of the world. It is also practiced by other communities in Egypt, Somalia, Yemen, the Hejaz in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, State of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in India, the district of Bhatkal in Karnataka in India, most of Sunni Muslims of Konkan in Maharashtra in India, Mauritania, Ethiopia, among Chechens in Kazakhstan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, most of Lebanon, Syria and is the official madhab followed by the government of Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia. Government of Indonesia also use this madhhab for Indonesian Compilation of Sharia. It is followed by approximately 28% of Muslims world-wide, being the second largest School in terms of followers.

[edit] Famous Shāfi‘ī's

[edit] Contemporary Shafi'i Scholars

[edit] References

  1. ^ Short Biography on Habib 'Ali al-Jifri
  • Rippin, Andrew (2005). Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (3rd ed.). London: Routledge. pp. 90-93. ISBN 0-415-34888-9.
  • Calder, Norman, Jawid Mojaddedi, and Andrew Rippin (2003). Classical Islam: A Sourcebook of Religious Literature. London: Routledge. Section 7.1.
  • Schacht, Joseph (1950). The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence. Oxford: Oxford University. pp. 16.
  • Khadduri, Majid (1987). Islamic Jurisprudence: Shafi'i's Risala. Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society. pp. 286.
  • Abd Majid, Mahmood (2007). Tajdid Fiqh Al-Imam Al-Syafi'i. Seminar pemikiran Tajdid Imam As Shafie 2007.
  • al-Shafi'i,Muhammad b. Idris,"The Book of the Amalgamation of Knowledge" translated by A.Y. Musa in Hadith as Scripture: Discussions on The Authority Of Prophetic Traditions in Islam, New York: Palgrave, 2008

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Tasawwuf of Imam al Shafi'i

The Tasawwuf of al-Shafi`i

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem
was-salaat was-salaam `alaa Rasul-illah
wa 'alaa alihi wa sahbihi wa sallam


Imam al-Shafi`i said:

faqihan wa sufiyyan fa kun laysa wahidan
fa inni wa haqqillahi iyyaka ansahu

(Be both) a faqih and a sufi: do not be only one of them,
Verily, by Allah's truth, I am advising you sincerely.

[al-Shafi`i, Diwan, (Beirut and Damascus: Dar al-fikr) p. 47]

The derogatory remarks about tasawwuf attributed to Imam al- Shafi`i which some are heard quoting today must be understood in the context of the Imam's disavowal of certain people who called themselves Muslims or Sufis, when in reality they were nothing more than hypocrites, free-thinkers, and dissolute people. This should be born in mind by anyone who is approached by "Salafis" with narrations culled from Ibn al-Jawzi's Talbis Iblis and attributing sweeping disapproval of tasawwuf to Imam Shafi`i. How can they believe that Imam Shafi`i disapproves of tasawwuf and at the same time advises the fuqaha' to be sufis, as we quoted above? Have they no better opinion of him than one who gives two mutually exclusive advices?

The muhaddith al-`Ajluni also relates in his book Kashf al-khafa wa muzil al-albas (1:341 #1089) that Imam Shafi`i said:

Three things in this world have been made lovely to me: avoiding affectation, treating people kindly, and following the way of tasawwuf.

Ibn al-Qayyim in his Madarij al-salikin (3:128) and al- Suyuti in his Ta'yid al-haqiqa al-`aliyya (p. 15) also relate that Imam al-Shafi`i said:

I accompanied the Sufis and received from them but three words: their statement that time is a sword: if you do not cut it, it cuts you; their statement that if you do not keep your ego busy with truth it will keep you busy with falsehood; their statement that deprivation is immunity.

The Maliki shaykh Ahmad al-`Alawi said, as cited in the translation from his work entitled Knowledge of God (p. xxi): "Reflect on the sincerity of this great Imam [Shafi`i] and how he became a witness for the Sufis, and confirmed their seriousness and struggle. Shaykh Sha`rani, may Allah be pleased with him, said: Reflect on how Shafi`i has taken this from the Sufis and not from others. It is by this that you know their superiority over others, the men of knowledge of the outward, the ones from whom he once learned."

One of the putative authorities of "Salafis" is Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, yet when Ibn Qayyim states something which contravenes what "Salafis" claim, they are at a loss that their own authority refutes them. Ibn Qayyim said in Madarij al-salikin (2:307):

Religion consists entirely of good character (al-dinu kulluhu khuluq). Whoever surpasses you in good character surpasses you in religion, and the same is true of tasawwuf. al-Kattani said: "Tasawwuf is good character (al-tasawwuf khuluq). Whoever surpasses you in good character surpasses you in tasawwuf."

We should ask also whether the so-called "Salafis" know the position of Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab on tasawwuf. It is evident that their near-totality have not the faintest idea that he accepted the attribution of tasawwuf back to the Prophet himself. Ibn `Abd al- Wahhab said in the third volume of his complete works published by Ibn Sa`ud University, on page 31 of the Fatawa wa rasa'il, Fifth Question:

Know -- may Allah guide you -- that Allah Almighty has sent Muhammad, blessings and peace upon him, with right guidance, consisting in beneficial knowledge, and with true religion consisting in righteous action. The adherents of religion are as follows: among them are those who concern themselves with learning and fiqh, and discourse about it, such as the jurists; and among them are those who concern themselves with worship and the pursuit of the Hereafter, such as the Sufis. Allah has sent His Prophet with this religion which encompasses both kinds, that is: fiqh and tasawwuf.

As for the objections of the slanderers of Sufis invoking Ibn al-Jawzi's exhortative work Talbis iblis in which he attributes to al-Shafi`i sayings detrimental to Sufis, or sayings of Imam Ahmad detrimental to Imam al-Harith al-Muhasibi: as Dhahabi said: "We call Ibn al-Jawzi hafiz (hadith memorizer) in deference to the profusion of his writings, not to his scholarliness." That is: He was not reliable when it came to reporting narrations.

The following remarks are by the late muhaddith of Syria Shaykh `Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda:

Our reliance is on Allah! Ibn al-Jawzi composed a great big book on hadith forgeries so that jurists, preachers, and others may avoid them, then you will see him cite in his exhortative works forged hadiths and rejected stories without head nor tail, without shame or second thought. In the end one feels that "Ibn al-Jawzi" is two people and not one!... For this reason Ibn al-Athir blamed him in his history entitled al-Kamil (10:228), with the words: "Ibn al- Jawzi blamed him [Ghazali] for many things, among them his narration of unsound hadiths in his exhortations. O wonder that Ibn al-Jawzi should criticize him for that! For his own books and exhortative works are crammed full with them (mahshuw bihi wa mamlu' minh)!" And the hadith master al-Sakhawi said in Sharh al-alfiyya (p. 107): "Ibn al-Jawzi cited forgeries and their likes in high abundance in his exhortative works"!

[`Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda, notes to al-Lucknawi's Raf` wa al-takmil p. 420-421.]

Besides the above, we have already quoted Imam Taj al- Din al-Subki's advice for serious students of the Islamic sciences:

Beware of listening to what happened between... Ahmad ibn Hanbal and al-Harith al-Muhasibi. If you become busy with this I fear death for you. These are notable leaders in religion and their utterances have various explanations which some, perhaps, have misunderstood. As for us, we have no other course but to approve of them and keep quiet concerning what took place between them, just as what is done concerning what took place between the Companions, may Allah be well pleased with them... O you who are seeking guidance!... leave aside what took place between them, and busy yourself with what concerns you, and leave what does not concern you!

[Subki, Qa`ida fi al-jarh wa al-ta`dil, p. 53.]

As for Dhahabi's avalanche of insinuations against some of the earlier and later Sufis in his Mizan al-i`tidal (1:430 #1606), where he says after quoting derogatory reports against al-Muhasibi:

Where are the likes of al-Harith al-Muhasibi! How then if Abu Zur`a saw the books of the later [Sufis], such as the Qut al-qulub of Abu Talib [al-Makki], and where are the likes of the Qut? How then if he saw Bahjat al-asrar of Abu Jahdam, and Haqa'iq al-tafsir of al-Sulami, then he

would jump to the ceiling! How then if he saw the books of Abu Hamid al-Tusi [Imam Ghazali]....? the Ghunya of shaykh `Abd al-Qadir [Gilani]... Fusus al-hikam and al- Futuhat al-makiyya [of Ibn `Arabi]?

We treat such assertions according to the instructions of Suyuti who rejected them in his vindication entitled Qam` al- mu`arid bi nusrat Ibn al-Farid (The taming of the naysayer with the vindication of Ibn al-Farid) as quoted by Imam al-Lucknawi in al-Raf` wa al-takmil fi al-jarh wa al-ta`dil (p. 319-320):

Don't let Dhahabi's mumbling deceive you, for he went so far as to mumble against Imam Fakhr al-Din ibn al-Khatib [al-Razi], and against one who is greater than the Imam, namely: Abu Talib al-Makki the author of Qut al-qulub, and against one who is greater than Abu Talib, namely: Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Ash`ari, whose fame has filled the firmaments! And Dhahabi's books are filled with that: al- Mizan, al-Tarikh, and Siyar al-nubala'. Are you going to accept his words against such as these? Never, by Allah! His word is not accepted concerning them; rather, we fulfill their right over us, and we render it to them in full.

Blessings and peace on the Prophet,
his Family, and his Companions

GF Haddad

Al Shafi'i and Tasawwuf

Al-Shâfi`î and Tas.awwuf

by GF Haddad - Shawwâl 1423
[this text is also in pdf ]

Imâm al-Shâfi`î recommended tas.awwuf
on condition that knowledge accompany it.

He declared in his Dîwân:

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?

This is similar to Imâm Sufyân al-Thawrî's statement that

“Among the best of people
is the S.ûfî learned in jurisprudence.”

Among al-Shâfi`î's sayings on Sufism and S.ûfîs:

• “I accompanied the S.ûfîs for ten years and benefited from them but from two words: their statement that
time is as word: if you do not cut it, it cuts you,

and their statement that
deprivation is immunity.”[3]

Some versions have “three words” and add “their statement that
if you do not keep your ego busy with truth
it will keep you busy with falsehood.

• “If a rational man does not become a S.ûfî he does not reach noon except he is a dolt!”[4] 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.

A contrary version of the latter saying reads: “A rational man does not become a S.ûfî except he reaches noon a dolt!”[5] Al-Bayhaqî narrates this from al-H.âkim, from Abû Muh.ammad Ja`far ibn Muh.ammad ibn al-H.ârith,from al-H.asan ibn Muh.ammad ibn al-D.ah.h.âk (IbnBah.r), both of unknown reliability. For obvious reasons, this is the preferred version of the detractors of Sufis.

Imâm al-Nawawî in his Bustân al-`ârifîn fîl-Zuhd wal-Tas.awwuf
(“The Garden of the Knowers in Asceticism and Tas.awwufî”) narrated with his chain fromal-Shâfi`î the saying:

“Only the sincere one (al-mukhlis.)
can recognize self-display (al-riyâ').”

Al-Nawawî comments: “This means that it is impossible to know the reality of self-display and see its hidden shades except for one who resolutely seeks (arâda) sincerity. Such a one strives for a long time, searching, meditating, examining at length within himself until he knows, or knows something of what self-display is. This does not happen for everyone. Indeed, this happens only with special ones (al-khawâs.s.). But for a given individual to claim that he knows what self-diplay is, this is real ignorance on his part.”[6]

In Makka al-Shâfi`î was the student of al-Fud.ayl ibn `Iyâd.. It is said that he also took tas.awwuf from the ascetic shepherd Shaybân al-Râ`î. Little is known of the latter and there is no report of the two having ever met but there is a narration that Shaybân went on pilgrimage on foot with Sufyân al-Thawrî who witnessed him tame a lion and tweak its ear [7]

- Allâh have mercy on them and be well-pleased with them! -


[1] Al-Shâfi`î, Dîwân (p. 177 #45).

[2] Narrated by al-Harawî al-Ans.ârî in his T.abaqât al-S.ûfiyya.

[3] 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 Ta'yîd al-H.aqîqat al-`Aliyya (p. 15).

[4] Narrated from Yûnus ibn `Abd al-A`lâ by Abû Nu`aym, H.ilya (1985 ed. 9:142).

[5] Narrated by al-Bayhaqî, Manâqib (2:207) cf. Ibn al-Jawzî, S.ifat al-S.afwa (1:25) and Talbîs Iblîs (1985 ed. p. 447) and Ibn Taymiyya in his Istiqâma (p. 414).

[6] Al-Nawawî, Bustân al-`ârifîn (p. 53-54).

[7] In Abû Nu`aym, H.ilya (1985 ed. 7:68-69) and al-Dhahabî, Siyar (7:203-203=al-Arna'ût. ed. 7:268). Another rare narration reports other of his miraculous gifts (karâmât) in Abû Nu`aym, H.ilya (1985 ed. 8:317 #434=1997 ed. 8:354 #425).

The Four Imam


The Four Imam

IMAM ABU HANEEFA (80 AH - 150 A.H. 699 AD - 767 AD)
Name : Noaman

Born in 80 AH, in the period of Abdul Malik bin Marwan in Kufa. His father was Thabit. Imam Abu Hanifa's grandfather, Noaman, was the first in the family to accept Islam. His early education was under the guidance of Imam Sha’afi and Imam Ahmed Ibn Hambal. Later, he went to other places for higher education.
Properties of Fiqh-e-Hanafi :

This school is a well-coordinated efforts of around 40 Islamic scholars like. Yahya bin Abu Zaidah, Qadi Abu Yusuf, Daud Tai, etc, under the guidance of Imam Abu Haneefa and thus, it is known as Fiqh-e-Hanafi (the Hanafi school of jurisprudence). The Imam divided the Fiqh into two broad parts.

He included all those rules which were deduced from the Quran and the Hadith and dealt with all those topics, on which the Quran and the Hadith are silent. The Fiqh is logical and comparatively simple in comprehension to others. It is an extensive work that contains around six lakh rules on different subjects.

Achievements : By compiling the Fiqh with emphasis on reform he prevented future distortions. His work was impartial, as he had taken no grant from anyone.

IMAM AHMAD IBN HAMBAL (164 AH - 241/780 AD. 855 AD)
Name : Ahmad

Born in 164 AH in Baghdad, Imam Ahmad Ibn Hambal was initially educated by his mother and various Islamic scholars in Baghdad. Here he studied from 179 AH to 189 AH. He conducted lectures on Islam in his house and also publicly.

Properties of Fiqh-e-Hambali

It sometime deals with a problem on which the Quran and the Hadith are silent.


1. The Imam has provided a complete Islamic law.

2. He always expressed strong reservation on the nature and functioning of Khilafat on account
of it hearing become more a family affair than a public one.

3. He did not mix his personal thinking in the matters of Islam

4. He laid emphasis on the Sunnah in every aspect of life.

IMAM SHAFII (150 AH - 204 A.H/767 - 820 AD)
Name : Muhammad bin Idris

Born in 150 AH in Ghuzzah in Asqulan, he migrated to Mecca with his mother at the age of two. He studied and memorized the Quran in his childhood in the village of Banu Hadal under the guidance of Mufti-e-Hasan and Muslim bin Khalid Zanji. Thence he studied under Imam Malik, Muhaddis-e-Makkah, Hazrat Sufiyan bin Uyuna and Muhammad bin Alhasan.

Properties of Fiqh-e-Shafali

1. It provides a balanced line of action.

2. Though he gave priority to the Quran, he emphasized the role of the Hadith in deciding laws
and rules.

3. This Fiqh provides for more than one solution to a particular problem.


1. It distilled rules from Islamic thought.

2. When he was only 15, he was permitted to give judgments from his teacher Mufti-e-Makkah,
Muslim Ibn Khalid.

3. He was called Nasir-ul-Hadith in Iraq for 'his excellence in the Hadith.

4. He wrote around 113 books, many of which are famous. Among them are Kitabul-Iman in 15 parts. Jame Kabir Mazni, Jame Saghir Mazni, Mukhtasar Rabi, Ar-Resala, Al-Amali, Mashad Shafil and Mukhtasar Buyuti.

IMAM MALIK (93 AH - 179 AH/715 - 795 AD)
Name : Malik and title Imam Darul Hazrat

He was born in 715 AD in Medina in the area of Banu Ummayya. His great grand father, Abu Amir, had accepted Islam in 3 AH. His was a very well educated family and he was taught by more than 50 teachers, including Imam ul Qura Nafe bin Asadur Rahman, who was the greatest Qari of all time. Another of his teachers was Shaikhul Fiqh Imam Abu Uthman Rabiyalur Ray. So great was his respect for knowledge that he rejected Khalifa Haroon Rashid’s request to teach him separately. Knowledge or wisdom, he felt was for everyone. He was very principled man and once the governor of Medina Jafar bin Salaiman, meted out 70 lashes to him for issuing a Fatwa contrary to the wishes of the governor.

Properties of Fiqh-e- Maliki

1. It followed the style in existence at Medina.

2. It concentrates mainly on Hadith and follows the normal interpretation of the Hadith.


1. He laid a solid foundation for the interpretation of the Fiqh and provided clear guideline for the coming generations.

2. He wrote all the rules of Fiqh objectively and impartially.

3. He wrote many books like Mowta, Resala banam Haroon Rashid letter to Haroon Rashid, Ahkamul Quran, Almaddawana, Kitabul Aghdiyya, Kitabul Manasik, Tafsir Ghaibul Quran, Kitabul Majasat and Tafsirul Quran.
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Biography of Our Imam

Imam Shafi`i

by Dr. G.F. Haddad

Muhammad ibn Idris ibn al-`Abbas, al-Imam al-Shafi`i, Abu `Abd Allah al-Shafi`i al-Hijazi al-Qurashi al-Hashimi al-Muttalibi (d. 204), the offspring of the House of the Prophet, the peerless one of the great mujtahid imams and jurisprudent par excellence, the scrupulously pious ascetic and Friend of Allah, he laid down the foundations of fiqh in his Risala, which he said he revised and re-read four hundred times, then said: "Only Allah’s Book is perfect and free from error."

He is the cousin of the Prophet - Allah’s blessings and peace upon him - descending from al-Muttalib who is the brother of Hashim, `Abd al-Muttalib’s father. Someone praised the Banu Hashim in front of the Prophet, whereby he interlaced the fingers of his two hands and said: "We and they are but one and the same thing." Al-Nawawi listed three peculiar merits of al-Shafi`i: his sharing the Prophet’s lineage at the level of their common ancestor `Abd Manaf; his birth in the Holy Land of Palestine and upbringing in Mecca; and his education at the hands of superlative scholars together with his own superlative intelligence and knowledge of the Arabic language. To this Ibn Hajar added two more: the hadith of the Prophet, "O Allah! Guide Quraysh, for the science of the scholar that comes from them will encompass the earth. O Allah! You have let the first of them taste bitterness, so let the latter of them taste reward." Another hadith of the Prophet says: "Truly, Allah shall send forth for this Community, at the onset of every hundred years, someone who will renew their Religion for them." The scholars agreed, among them Abu Qilaba (d. 276) and Imam Ahmad, that the first narration signified al-Shafi`i, and the second signified `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz and then al-Shafi`i.

He was born in Ghazza or `Asqalan in 150, the year of Abu Hanifa’s death, and moved to Mecca at the age of two, following his father’s death, where he grew up. He was early a skillful archer, then he took to learning language and poetry until he gave himself to fiqh, beginning with hadith. He memorized the Qur’an at age seven, then Malik’s Muwatta’ at age ten, at which time his teacher would deputize him to teach in his absence. At age thirteen he went to see Malik, who was impressed by his memory and intelligence.

Malik ibn Anas and Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani were among his most prominent teachers and he took position against both of them in fiqh. Al-Shafi`i said: "From Muhammad ibn al-Hasan I wrote a camel-load." Al-Hakim narrated from `Abd Allah ibn `Abd al-Hakam: "Al-Shafi`i never ceased to speak according to Malik’s position and he would say: ‘We do not differ from him other than in the way of his companions,’ until some young men spoke unbecomingly at length behind his back, whereupon al-Shafi`i resolved to put his differences with Malik in writing. Otherwise, his whole life he would say, whenever asked something: ‘This is what the Teacher said’ - hâdha qawl al-ustadh - meaning Malik."

Like Abu Hanifa and al-Bukhari, he recited the entire Qur’an each day at prayer, and twice a day in the month of Ramadan.

Al-Muzani said: "I never saw one more handsome of face than al-Shafi`i. If he grasped his beard it would not exceed his fist." Ibn Rahuyah described him in Mecca as wearing bright white clothes with an intensely black beard. Al-Za`farani said that when he was in Baghdad in the year 195 he dyed his beard with henna.

Abu `Ubayd al-Qasim ibn Sallam said: "If the intelligence of an entire nation was brought together he would have encompassed it." Similarly, al-Muzani said: "I have been looking into al-Shafi`i’s Risala for fifty years, and I do not recall a single time I looked at it without learning some new benefit."

Al-Sakhawi in the introduction to his al-Jawahir wa al-Durar and others narrate that someone criticized Ahmad ibn Hanbal for attending the fiqh sessions of al-Shafi`i and leaving the hadith sessions of Sufyan ibn `Uyayna. Ahmad replied: "Keep quiet! If you miss a hadith with a shorter chain you can find it elsewhere with a longer chain and it will not harm you. But if you do not have the reasoning of this man [al-Shafi`i], I fear you will never be able to find it elsewhere." Ahmad is also related by his students Abu Talib and Humayd ibn Zanjuyah to say: "I never saw anyone adhere more to hadith than al-Shafi`i. No-one preceded him in writing down the hadith in a book." The meaning of this is that al-Shafi`i possessed the understanding of hadith after which Ahmad sought, as evidenced by the latter’s statement: "How rare is fiqh among the scholars of hadith!" This is a reference to the hadith: "It may be one carries understanding (fiqh) without being a person of understanding (faqîh)." Sufyan himself would defer to al-Shafi`i in matters of tafsîr and fatwa. Yunus ibn Abi Ya`la said: "Whenever al-Shafi`i went into tafsîr, it was as if he had witnessed the revelation." Ahmad ibn Hanbal also said: "Not one of the scholars of hadith touched an inkwell nor a pen except he owed a huge debt to al-Shafi`i."

Al-Shafi`i was known for his peculiar strength in Arabic language, poetry, and philology. Bayhaqi narrated:

[From Ibn Hisham:] I was al-Shafi`i’s sitting-companion for a long time, and I never heard him use except a word which, carefully considered, one would not find (in its context) a better word in the entire Arabic language. . . . Al-Shafi`i’s discourse, in relation to language, is a proof in itself.

[From al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Za`farani:] A group of bedouins used to frequent al-Shafi`i’s gathering with us and sit in a corner. One day I asked their leader: "You are not interested in scholarship; why do you keep coming to sit with us?" They said: "We come to hear al-Shafi`i’s language."

Al-Shafi`i trod the path of the Salaf in avoiding any interpretation of the verses and narrations pertaining to the divine attributes. He practiced "relegation of the meaning" (tafwîd al-mi`na) to a higher source, as established in his saying: "I leave the meaning of the verses of the Attributes to Allah, and I leave the meaning of the hadiths of the attributes to Allah’s Messenger." At the same time, rare instances of interpretation are recorded from him. Thus al-Bayhaqi relates that al-Muzani reported from al-Shafi`i the following commentary on the verse: "To Allah belong the East and the West, and wheresoever you turn, there is Allah’s face (wajh)" (2:115): "It means – and Allah knows best – thither is the bearing (wajh) towards which Allah has directed you." Al-Hakkari (d. 486) related in his book `Aqida al-Shafi`i that the latter said: "We affirm those attributes, and we negate from them likeness between them and creation (al-tashbîh), just as He negated it from Himself when He said: ‘There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him’ (42:11)."

Al-Shafi`i’s hatred of dialectic theology (kalâm) was based on his extreme caution against errors which bear heavy consequences as they induce one into false beliefs. Among his sayings concerning this: "It is better for a scholar of knowledge to give a fatwa after which he is said to be wrong than to theologize and then be said to be a heretic (zindîq). I hate nothing more than theology and theologians." Dhahabi comments: "This indicates that Abu `Abd Allah’s position concerning error in the principles of the Religion (al-usûl) is that it is not the same as error in the course of scholarly exertion in the branches." The reason is that in belief and doctrine neither ijtihâd nor divergences are permitted. In this respect al-Shafi`i said: "It cannot be asked ‘Why?’ concerning the principles, nor ‘How?’" Yet al-Shafi`i did not completely close the door to the use of kalâm in defense of the Sunna, as shown below and in the notice on Ahmad ibn Hanbal.

Yunus ibn Abi Ya`la narrated that al-Shafi`i defined the "principles" as: "The Qur’an, the Sunna, analogy (al-qiyâs), and consensus (al-ijmâ`)"; he defined the latter to mean: "The adherence of the Congregation (jamâ`a) of the Muslims to the conclusions of a given ruling pertaining to what is permitted and what is forbidden after the passing of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him."

Al-Shafi`i did not close the door on the right use of kalâm as is clear from Ibn Abi Hatim’s narration from al-Rabi` of his words: "If I wished, I could produce a book against each one of those who deviated, but dialectic theology is none of my business, and I would not like to be attributed any part in it." Similar to it is his advice to his student al-Muzani: "Take proofs from creation about the Creator, and do not burden yourself with the knowledge of what your mind did not reach." Ibn Abi Hatim himself spoke similarly when he was told of Ibn Khuzayma’s unsuccessful attempt at kalâm: "It is preferable not to meddle with what we did not learn." Note that al-Shafi`i also spoke of his wish not to have a single letter out of all his works attributed to him, regardless of topic.

Al-Shafi`i’s attitude towards tasawwuf was as strict as with kalâm, and he both praised it and denigrated its abuse at the hands of its corrupters. In criticism of the latter he said: "No-one becomes a Sufi in the morning except he ends up a dolt by noon" while on the other hand he declared in his Diwan: "Be at the same time a faqîh and a Sufi." In Mecca al-Shafi`i was the student of Fudayl ibn `Iyad. Imam al-Nawawi in his Bustan al-`Arifin fi al-Zuhd wa al-Tasawwuf ("The Garden of the Gnostics in Asceticism and Tasawwuf") narrated from al-Shafi`i the saying: "Only the sincere one (al-mukhlis) can recognize self-display (al-riyâ’)." Al-Nawawi comments: "This means that it is impossible to know the reality of self-display and see its hidden shades except for one who resolutely seeks (arâda) sincerity. Such a one strives for a long time, searching, meditating, examining at length within himself until he knows, or knows something of what self-display is. This does not happen for everyone. Indeed, this happens only with special ones (al-khawâss). But for a given individual to claim that he knows what self-diplay is, this is real ignorance on his part."

Al-Shafi`i deferred primacy in the foundations of fiqh to Imam Abu Hanifa with his famous statement: "People are all the children of Abu Hanifa in fiqh." Ibn Hajar al-Haytami mentioned in the thirty-fifth chapter of his book on Imam Abu Hanifa entitled al-Khayrat al-Hisan: "When Imam al-Shafi`i was in Baghdad, he would visit the grave of Imam Abu Hanifa, greet him, and then ask Allah for the fulfillment of his need through his means."

Two schools of legal thought or madhahib are actually attributed to al-Shafi`i, englobing his writings and legal opinions (fatâwa). These two schools are known in the terminology of jurists as "The Old" (al-qadîm) and "The New" (al-jadîd), corresponding respectively to his stays in Iraq and Egypt. The most prominent transmitters of the New among al-Shafi`i’s students are al-Buwayti, al-Muzani, al-Rabi` al-Muradi, and al-Bulqini, in Kitab al-Umm ("The Motherbook"). The most prominent transmitters of the Old are Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al-Karabisi, al-Za`farani, and Abu Thawr, in Kitab al-Hujja ("Book of the Proof"). What is presently known as the Shafi`i position refers to the New except in approximately twenty-two questions, in which Shafi`i scholars and muftis have retained the positions of the Old.

Al-Subki related that the Shafi`i scholars considered al-Rabi`s narration from al-Shafi`i sounder from the viewpoint of transmission, while they considered al-Muzani’s sounder from the viewpoint of fiqh, although both were established hadith masters. Al-Shafi`i said to al-Rabi`: "How I love you!" and another time: "O Rabi`! If I could feed you the Science I would feed it to you." Al-Qaffal al-Shashi in his Fatawa relates that al-Rabi` was slow in his understanding, and that al-Shafi`i once repeated an explanation forty times for him in a gathering, yet he did not understand it then got up and left in embarrassment. Later, al-Shafi`i called him in private and resumed explaining it to him until he understood. This shows the accuracy of Ibn Rahuyah’s statement: "I consider the best part of me the time when I fully understand al-Shafi`i’s discourse."

Al-Shafi`i took the verse "Or if you have touched women" (4:43) literally, and considered that contact between the sexes, even accidental, nullified ablution. This is also the position of Ibn Mas`ud, Ibn `Umar, al-Sha`bi, al-Nakha`i, al-Zuhri, and al-Awza`i, which is confirmed by Ibn `Umar’s report: "Whoever kisses or touches his wife with his hand must renew his wudû’." It is authentic and related in numerous places including Malik's Muwatta’. Al-Shafi`i said: "Something similar has reached us from Ibn Mas`ud." They all read the above verse literally, without interpreting "touch" to mean "sexual intercourse" as do the Hanafis, or "touch with pleasure" as do the Malikis.

A major contribution of al-Shafi`i in the foundations of the Law was his division of innovation (al-bid`a) into good and bad on the basis of `Umar’s words about the tarâwih or congregational supererogatory night prayers in the month of Ramadan: "What a fine innovation this is!" Harmala narrated that al-Shafi`i concluded: "Therefore, whatever innovation conforms to the Sunna is approved (mahmûd), and whatever opposes it is abominable (madhmûm)." Agreement formed in the Four Schools around his division, as illustrated by the endorsement of some major later authorities in each school. Among the Hanafis: Ibn `Abidin, al-Turkumani, and al-Tahanawi; among the Malikis: al-Turtushi, Ibn al-Hajj, and al-Shatibi; consensus among the Shafi`is; and reluctant acceptance among later Hanbalis, who altered al-Shafi`i’s terminology to read "lexical innovation" (bid`a lughawiyya) and "legal innovation" (bid`a shar`iyya), respectively û although inaccurately û matching Shafi`i’s "approved" and "abominable".

Among al-Shafi`i’s other notable positions: Al-Muzani said: "I never saw any of the scholars make something obligatory on behalf of the Prophet as much as al-Shafi`i in his books, and this was due to his high remembrance of the Prophet. He said in the Old School: ‘Supplication ends with the invocation of blessings on the Prophet, and its end is but by means of it.’" Al-Karabisi said: "I heard al-Shafi`i say that he disliked for someone to say ‘the Messenger’ (al-Rasûl), but that he should say ‘Allah’s Messenger’ (Rasûl Allah) out of veneration (ta`zîm) for him."

Among al-Shafi`i’s other sayings:

"The study of hadith is better than supererogatory prayer, and the pursuit of knowledge is better than supererogatory prayer." Ibn `Abd al-Barr in Kitab al-`Ilm listed the many hadiths of the Prophet on the superior merit of knowledge. However, al-Shafi`i by this saying meant the essence and purpose of knowledge, not knowledge for its own sake which leads to Satanic pride. The latter is widely available while true knowledge is the knowledge that leads to godwariness (taqwa). This is confirmed by al-Shafi`i’s saying: "Knowledge is what benefits. Knowledge is not what one has memorized." This is a corrective for those content to define knowledge as "the knowledge of the proof" (ma`rifa al-dalîl). "He gives wisdom to whomever He will, and whoever receives wisdom receives immense good." (2:269)

"You [the scholars of hadith] are the pharmacists but we [the jurists] are the physicians." This was explained by `Ali al-Qari in his book Mu`taqad Abi Hanifa al-Imam (p. 42): "The early scholars said: The hadith scholar without knowledge of fiqh is like a seller of drugs who is no physician: he has them but he does not know what to do with them; and the fiqh scholar without knowledge of hadith is like a physician without drugs: he knows what constitutes a remedy, but does not dispose of it."

"Malik was asked about kalâm and [the Science of] Oneness (tawhîd) and he said: ‘It is inconceivable that the Prophet should teach his Community hygiene and not teach them about Oneness! And Oneness is exactly what the Prophet said: ‘I was ordered to fight people until they say ‘There is no God but Allah.’ So, whatever makes blood and property untouchable û that is the reality of Oneness (haqîqa al-tawhîd).’" This is a proof from the Salaf against those who, in later times, innovated sub-divisions for tawhîd or legislated that their own understanding of Allah’s Attributes was a precondition for the declaration of Oneness. Al-Halimi said: "In this hadith there is explicit proof that that declaration (lâ ilâha illallâh) suffices to extirpate oneself from all the different kinds of disbelief in Allah Almighty."

"Satiation weighs down the body, hardens the heart, does away with sagacity, brings on sleep, and weakens one from worship." This is similar to the definition of tasawwuf as "hunger" (al-jû`) given by some of the early masters, who acquired hunger as a permanent attribute and were called "hungerers" (jû`iyyûn). A notable example is al-Qasim ibn `Uthman al-`Abdi al-Dimashqi al-Ju`i (d. 248), whom al-Dhahabi describes as "the Imam, the exemplar, the wali, the muhaddith, the shaykh of the Sufis and the friend of Ahmad ibn al-Hawari."

"I never swore by Allah - neither truthfully nor deceptively." This is similar to the saying of the Sufi master Sahl ibn `Abd Allah al-Tustari narrated by al-Dhahabi: "Among the manners of the truthful saints (al-siddîqîn) is that they never swear by Allah, nor commit backbiting, nor does backbiting take place around them, nor do they eat to satiation, if they promise they are true to their word, and they never speak in jest."

Al-Buwayti asked: "Should I pray behind the Rafidi?" Al-Shafi`i said: "Do not pray behind the Rafidi, nor behind the Qadari, nor behind the Murji’." Al-Buwayti said: "Define them for us." He replied: "Whoever says ‘Belief consists only in speech’ is a Murji’, and whoever says ‘Abu Bakr and `Umar are not Imams’ is a Rafidi, and whoever attributes destiny to himself is a Qadari."

Abu Hatim narrated from Harmala that al-Shafi`i said: "The Caliphs (al-khulafâ’) are five: Abu Bakr, `Umar, `Uthman, `Ali, and `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz." In his Diwan he named them "leaders of their people, by whose guidance one obtains guidance," and declaimed of the Family of the Prophet:

The Family of the Prophet are my intermediary to him! (wasîlatî)

Through them I hope to be given my record with the right hand.


O Family of Allah’s Messenger! To love you is an obligation

Which Allah ordained and revealed in the Qur’an.

It is enough proof of your immense glory that

Whoever invokes not blessings upon you, his prayer is invalid.

Ibn Hajar said that the first to write a biography of al-Shafi`i was Dawud al-Zahiri (d. 275). Al-Nawawi in Tahdhib al-Asma’ wa al-Lughat (1:44) mentioned that the best biography of al-Shafi`i was al-Bayhaqi’s for its sound chains of transmission. Ibn Hajar summarized it and added to it al-Shafi`i’s Musnad in his Tawali al-Ta’sis fi Ma`ali Ibn Idris.

In the introduction of his compendium of Shafi`i fiqh entitled al-Majmu` al-Nawawi mentions that al-Shafi`i used a walking stick for which he was asked: "Why do you carry a stick when you are neither old nor ailing?" He replied: "To remember I am only a traveller in this world."

Main sources: al-Shafi`i, Diwan; Abu Nu`aym, Hilya al-Awliya’ 9:71-172 #442; al-Nawawi, Tahdhib al-Asma’ wa al-Lughat 1:44-67 #2; al-Dhahabi, Siyar A`lam al-Nubala’ 8:377-423 #1539, 10:79, 10:649; al-Subki, Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya al-Kubra 2:133-134; Ibn Hajar, Tawali al-Ta’sis p. 3-157.

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