Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi`i

Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi`i

Infobox_Muslim scholars | notability = Muslim jurist| era = Islamic golden age| color = #cef2e0 |

| image_caption = |
| name = Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi`i| title=Imam al-Shafi'i| birth = 767| death = 820 [Ira Lapidus, "A History of Islamic Societies." pg. 86. Cambridge University Press 2002.] | Maddhab = Sunni Shafi'i| school tradition= | Ethnicity =
Region = | notable idea=
main_interests = Fiqh | influences = Imam Malik [The Origins of Islamic Law: The Qurʼan, the Muwaṭṭaʼ and Madinan ʻAmal, by Yasin Dutton, pg. 16] | influenced = | works = |

Al-Shafi'i, Arabic jurist (150 AH/767 AD - 204 AH/820 AD). He was active in juridical matters and his teaching eventually led to the Shafi'i school of "fiqh" (or Madh'hab) named after him. Hence he is often called Imam al-Shafi'i.

His full name was Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Idrīs al-Shafi'i ( _ar. ابو عبد الله محمد بن إدريس الشافعي).


The biography of al-Shafi'i is difficult to trace. The oldest surviving biography goes back to Ibn Abi Hatim al-Razi (died 327H/939) and is no more than a collection of anecdotes, some of them fantastic. The first real biography is by Ahmad Bayhaqi (died 458H/1066) and is filled with pious legends. The following is what seems to be a sensible reading.


Al-Shafi'i belonged to the Qurayshi clan Banu Muttalib which was the sister clan of the Banu Hashim to which Muhammad and the Abbasid caliphs belonged. Hence he had connections in the highest social circles, but he grew up in poverty.

767 – 786: Al-Mansur to Al-Hadi's era

Early life, Imam Malik

He was born in Gaza and moved to Mecca when he was about ten. He is reported to have studied with the "School of Mecca" (which might not even have existed, although some scholars are reported to have been active there). Then he moved to Madinah and became a disciple of Malik ibn Anas.

786 – 809: Harun al-Rashid's era

After Malik's death in 796 he went into government service. This attempt at a career ended badly in 803 CE (187 Ah).

After that he lived in Mecca, Baghdad and finally Egypt.

Among his teachers were Malik ibn Anas and Muhammad ibn al Hasan al Shaybani, whom he studied under in Madinah and Baghdad.

At the time of Harun ar-Rashid, he had an appointment in Yemen, as a judge in Najran. Sunnis portray that his devotion to justice, even when it meant criticizing the governor, caused him some problems, and he was taken before the Caliph, falsely accused of aiding the Alawis in a revolt. At this time, al Shaybani was the chief justice, and his defense of ash-Shafi'i, coupled with ash-Shafi'i’s own eloquent defense, convinced Harun ar-Rashid to dismiss the charge, and to direct al Shaybani to take ash-Shafi'i to Baghdad.He was also a staunch critic of Al-Waqidi's writings on Sirah.

In Baghdad, he developed his first madhab, influenced by the teachings of both Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Malik. Thus, his work there is known as “al Madhab al Qadim lil Imam as Shafi’i,” or the Old School of ash-Shafi'i.

809 – 813: Al-Amin's era

813 – 820: Al-Ma'mun's era

Fiqh research

It appears that all of his surviving writings were done in retirement in Egypt during the last five years of his life.

Al-Shafi'i was controversial in his own time but, as history has shown, he won his point. Starting from the Maliki position of reliance (largely) upon tradition in legal matters he came into contact with and opposed the Hanafi position of reliance (largely) upon common sense. He reached the conclusion that tradition was indeed the proper basis for legal decisions, but only if that tradition was based upon the prophet and no one else.

The Hanafis, of course, were not willing to exchange all their common sense for hadiths and the Maliki's were not willing to give up traditions just because they had no prophetic hadiths supporting them. As time went by, however, both the Hanafis and Malikis have grown to conform to Shafi'i's idea that only prophetic hadiths matter. The fourth school of fiqh came later.

Shafi'i probably did not expect what happened next. There was an explosion of prophetic hadiths and an entire science had to be invented to handle them.


He died at the age of 54 on the 30th of Rajab in the Hijri year 204 (or, 820 AD). He was buried in al-Fustat, Egypt.


It is stated in "Rawdah al-Manazir fi al-Awai'l wa al-'Awakhir" that [Rawdah-al-Manazir fi al-Awai'l wa al 'Awakhir Volume 11 page 133] :

This view of Imam Shafi'i has also been attributed to him by his student Abu al-Fida [Tarikh Abul Fida Volume 1 under the chapter addressing the events of 45 Hijri [] ]


Saladin built a madrassa on the site of his death. Saladin's brother Afdal built a mausoleum for him in 1211 after the defeat of the Fatamids. It remains a site where people petition for justice.Fact|date=August 2008

Shafi'i developed the science of fiqh unifying 'revealed sources' - the Koran and hadith - with human reasoning to provide a basis in law. With this systemization 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 legals schools or madhhabs- keep their traditions within the framework that Shafi'i established.

Shafi'i gives his name to one of these legal schools Shafi'i fiqh - the Shafi'i school - which is followed in many different places in the Islamic world: Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt, Somalia, Yemen and southern parts of India.

Today, many English speaking Muslims are introduced to the madhab of Imam Shafi’i through the translated works "Umdat as Salik" ("Reliance of the Traveller") and "al Maqasid", both done by Sheikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller.

Among the followers of Imam Shafi’i’s school were:
*Muhammad al-Bukhari
*Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj Fact|date=January 2007
*Abu Da'ud Fact|date=January 2007
*Al-Tirmidhi Fact|date=January 2007
*Izz bin Abdul Salaam
*Al-Nasa'i Fact|date=January 2007
*Ibn Majah Fact|date=January 2007
*Imam Bayhaqi Fact|date=January 2007
*Imam al Hakim Fact|date=January 2007
*ibn Hibban Fact|date=January 2007
*Suyuti Fact|date=January 2007
*Al-Dhahabi Fact|date=January 2007
*al Ghazali
*Anwar Ibrahim


He authored more than 100 books.

*Al-Risala — The best known book by al-Shafi'i in which he examined usul al-fiqh (sources of jurisprudence): the Qur'an, the Sunnah, qiyas (analogy), and ijma' (scholarly consensus). There is a good modern translation.
*Kitab al-Umm - his main surviving text on Shafi'i fiqh
*Musnad Ash-Shafi'i (on hadith) - it is available with arrangement, Arabic 'Tartib', by Ahmad ibn Abd-Ar-Rahman al-Banna

unni view

Many stories are told about the childhood and life of ash-Shafi'i, and it is difficult to separate truth from myth:

Tradition says that he memorized the Qur’an at the age of seven; by ten, he had memorized the Muwatta of Imam Malik; he was a mufti (given authorization to issue fatwa) at the age of fifteen. He recited the Qur’an every day in prayer, and twice a day in Ramadan. Some apocryphal accounts claim he was very handsome, that his beard did not exceed the length of his fist, and that it was very black. He wore a ring that was inscribed with the words, “Allah suffices Muhammad ibn Idris as a reliance.” He was also known to be very generous.

He was also an accomplished archer, a poet, and some accounts call him the most eloquent of his time. Some accounts claim that there were a group of Bedouin who would come and sit to listen to him, not for the sake of learning, but just to listen to his eloquent use of the language. Even in latter eras, his speeches and works were used by Arabic grammarians. He was given the title of Nasir al Sunnah, the Defender of the Sunnah.

He loved Muhammad very deeply. Al Muzani said of him, “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-Rasul), but that he should say ‘Allah’s Messenger’ (Rasul Allah) out of veneration for him.” He divided his night into three parts: one for writing, one for praying, and one for sleeping.

Apocryphal accounts claim that Imam Ahmad said of ash-Shafi'i, “I never saw anyone adhere more to hadith than al-Shafi’i. No one preceded him in writing down the hadith in a book.” Imam Ahmad is also claimed to have said, “Not one of the scholars of hadith touched an inkwell nor a pen except he owed a huge debt to al-Shafi’i.”

Imam al Shaybani said, “If the scholars of hadith speak, it is in the language of al Shafi’i.”

PresentScholar|Shah Waliullah|18th|Sunni stated [Izalat al-Khafa p. 77 part 7] :

According to many accounts he was said to have a photographic memory. One anecdote states that he would always cover one side of a book while reading because a casual glance at the other page would commit it to memory.

ee also



Ruthven Malise, "Islam in the World". 3rd edition Granta Books London 2006 ch. 4

Also:"al-Shafi'i's Risala: Treatise on the Foundation of Islamic Jurisprudence" Majid Khadduri. Original 1961, reprinted 1997. ISBN 0-946621-15-2.

al-Shafi'i,Muhammad b. Idris,"The Book of the Amalgamation of Knowledge" translated by Aisha Y. Musa in Hadith as Scripture: Discussions on The Authority Of Prophetic Traditions in Islam, New York: Palgrave, 2008

External links

* [ Detailed Biography of Imam Shafi'i]
* [ Short Biography of Imam Shafi'i]
* [ Concise Summary of Imam Shafi'i]

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