Cii Radio | 08 Dhul Qa’dah 1436/24 August 2015
Imam al-shafi’i was the father of usul al-fiqh – the principles behind the study of fiqh. Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi’i was born in 767 (the year of Imam Abu Hanifa’s demise) in Gaza, Palestine. His father left this world when he was very young, and his mother thus decided to move to Makkah, where many members of her family (who were originally from Yemen) were settled. Their economic situation was very bad but his mother encouraged him to embark on a path towards Islamic scholarship, especially considering the fact that he was from the family of the Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam).
Imam Shafi’i is regarded by some scholars as the “encyclopaedist”. In an encyclopaedia you will find information about almost anything. His knowledge, different to the other Imams, was almost in every area and every subject. Imam Shafi’i had a gift for memory. All the ulama had this gift, but Imam Shafi’i was the pinnacle of this. As a young man, he was trained in Arabic grammar, literature, and history. He was a poet, a reference poet, at 10 years old. He memorised the Muwatta at 10 or 13 years of age, with all the chain of narrations and the sayings of the companions, word for word, letter by letter.
Imam Shafi’i read the Quraan every single day of his life. It is said that he read the whole Quraan every day. This is not an exaggeration. In the first 300 years after Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) there was baraqah in time. He had an uncle who was a scholar. In those days they all learned Firasa, Ilm al firasa. It’s a science of looking at a person and from their features being able to see signs of particular qualities in them. At the age of about 10 or 11, he said to Imam Shafi’i, “Son, I see brilliance and intelligence in you.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal considered Imam Shafi’i as what we call mujaddid. He said, “Imam Shafi’i is the reformer of the second 100 years. There is a sahih hadith of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), he said, “Every 100 years, every century Allah Subhanahu wa ta ‘ala brings about someone to reform this Deen.” To take the people back to the original teachings of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). People go lost and Allah sends an aalim to bring the people back. The scholars agree that the first mujaddid after Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), in the first century was, none other than the Khalifa Umar ibn Abdul Azeez. The secondmujaddid in the view of many scholars, including Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, was Imam Shafi’i.
Imam Shafi’i travelled from Makkah to Madinah to study under Imam Malik. He traIn also studied under Imam Muhammad al-Shaybani, one of Imam Abu Hanifa’s foremost students. This familiarized al-Shafi’i with differing viewpoints on the study of fiqh, and he greatly benefited from the exposure to various approaches to fiqh. When Imam Malik died in 795, Imam Shafi’i was known to be one of the world’s most knowledgeable scholars, even though he was in his 20s.
After Imam Malik’s demise, Imam Shafi’i travelled to Yemen to work as a judge. A short time was spent there. Because of the politically charged situation there and Imam Shafi’s uncompromisingly fair and honest nature, several government factions aimed to remove him from his post. He was arrested and carried in chains to Baghdad on made- up charges of supporting Shia rebels. His eloquent defence impressed the caliph of the time and he was released and asked to stay and help spread Islamic knowledge.
While in Iraq, he took the opportunity to learn more about the Hanafi madhab. He was reunited with his old teacher, Muhammad al-Shaybani, under whom he mastered the intricate details of the madhab. Although he never met Imam Abu Hanifa, he had great respect for the originator of the study of fiqh, and his school of thought.
Throughout his 30s and 40s, Imam al-Shafi’i traveled throughout Syria and the Arabian Peninsula, Alarge group of students studied under him. Among them was Imam Ahmad, the originator of the fourth school of fiqh, the Hanbali madhab. Eventually, he finally went back to Baghdad and then Egypt, where he was able to polish off his legal opinions and finally organize the study of usul al-fiqh.
Having studied both schools of fiqh, as well as having a vast knowledge of authentic hadith, Imam al-Shafi’i sought to reconcile the two philosophies on how Islamic law should be derived and introduce a clear methodology for fiqh – known as usul al-fiqh. His efforts towards this end resulted in his seminal work, Al-Risala.
Al-Risala was not meant to be a book that discussed particular legal issues and al-Shafi’i’s opinion on them. Nor was it meant to be a book of rules and Islamic law. Instead, it was meant to provide a reasonable and rational way to derive Islamic law. The framework he provides for Islamic law became the main philosophy of fiqh that was accepted by all subsequent scholars of Islamic law. Even the Hanafi and Maliki schools were adapted to work within the framework that al-Shafi’i provided.