Wednesday, 21 February 2007

The Four Madhabs - The Shafi'i School of Jurisprudence


The Founder: Imam Ash-Shafi'i RA (769-820 CE)

The full name of the great scholar after whom this school of legal thought has been named is Muhammad ibn Idris Ash-Shafi'i RA. He was born in the town of Ghazzah on the Mediterranean coast of what was then known as Shaam in the year 769 CE. Later in his youth, he travelled to Madinah to study Fiqh and Hadith under Imam Maalik RA. He succeeded in memorising the whole of Imam Maalik RA's book - 'Al-Muwatta' and recited it to Imam Maalik RA from memory, word perfect. Imam Shafi'i RA remained under the guidance of Imam Maalik RA until the latter passed away in 801 CE. He then departed to Yemen where he took a position of teaching. He remained in Yemen until he was accused of Shi'ite leanings in the year 805 CE and was later brought as a prisoner before the Abbasid Caliph Harun Ar-Rashid RA who was the ruler of Iraq from 786-809 CE. By the Grace of Allah, he was able to prove the correctness of his beliefs and was subsequently released. Later, Imam Shafi'i RA remained in Iraq and studied for a while under Imam Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan RA, the famous student of Imam Abu Hanifah RA. He then travelled to Egypt in order to study under Imam Al-Layth RA, but by the time he reached Egypt the Imam had passed away. However, he was able to study the madhab of Al-Layth RA from Al-Layth's students. Ash-Shafi'i RA remained in Egypt until his death in the year 820 CE during the rule of Caliph Al-Mamun (813-832 CE).


Imam Ash-Shafi'i RA integrated the systems established in the Fiqh of Hijaaz (Maaliki Madhab) with that of the Fiqh of Iraq (Hanafi Madhab). With this, the outcome he dictated to his students in the form of a book called 'Al-Hujjah' (The Evidence). This dictation took place in Iraq in the year 810 CE and a number of his students memorised his book and narrated it to others. Among these students were Ahmad ibn Hanbal RA and Abu Thawr RA. This book and its period of his scholarship are usually referred to as Al-Madhab Al-Qadeem (the old school of thought); and this differentiates it from the second period of his scholarship which occurred after he reached Egypt. In Egypt, Imam Ash-Shafi'i RA absorbed the Fiqh of Imam Al-Layth RA, Ibn Sa'd RA and the combined revised code of jurisprudence of Islamic Sacred Law was later dictated as Al-Madhab Al-Jadeed to his students in the form of another book which Imam Ash-Shafi'i RA named - Al-Umm (The Mother). Because of his exposure to a completely new set of Ahadith and legal reasoning - in Al-Madhab Al-Jadeed, Imam Ash-Shafi'i RA reversed many of the legal positions which he had held while in Iraq.

Imam Ash-Shafi'i RA holds the distinction of being the first Imaam to systematise the fundamental principles of Fiqh, and this is recorded in his book entitled 'Ar-Risalah'.


1. The Noble Qur'an: Imam Ash-Shafi'i RA did not differ from the previously mentioned Imams, in their uncompromising stand in relation to the primacy of the Holy Qur'an among the sources of Islamic Law. He relied on it as heavily as those before him, adding only the new insights which he gained from a deep study of its meanings.

2. The Sunnah: Imam Ash-Shafi'i RA laid down only one condition for the acceptance of Hadith, namely that they be Sahih (authentic). He did not use all other conditions used by Imam Abu Hanifah RA and Imam Malik RA. He was also noted for his great contributions to the science of Hadith criticism.

3. Ijmaa of the Sahabah RA: Although Imam Ash-Shafi'i RA had serious doubts about the possibility of the Ijmaa in a number cases, he conceded that in the few cases where it was known to have occurred, it should be regarded as the third most important source of Islamic Law.

4. Individual Opinions of the Sahabah RA: Credence was given by Imam Shafi'i RA to the individual opinions of the Sahabah RA on condition that they were not at variance with each other. If there were conflicting opinions among the Sahabah RA on a legal point, he, like Imam Abu Hanifah RA would choose whichever opinion was the closest to the source and leave the rest.

5. Qiyas: Qiyas was, in the Imam's opinion, a valid method for deducing further laws from previous sources. However, he placed it last in order of importance, considering his personal opinions inferior to proofs based on the opinions of the Sahabah RA.

6. Istishaab (Linking): Both the principles of Istihsan used by Imam Abu Hanifah RA and Istislah used by Imam Malik RA were not used by Imam Ash-Shafi'i RA, since, in his opinion, they were based mostly on human reasoning in areas where revealed laws already existed. However, in dealing with similar issues, Imam Ash-Shafi'i RA used a principle similar to Istihsan and Istislah i.e. Istishaab. Istishaab literally means 'seeking a link', but legally it refers to the process of deducing the Laws of Fiqh by linking a later set of circumstances with an earlier set. It is based on the condition that the Laws of Fiqh applicable to certain conditions remain valid so long as it is not certain that these conditions have altered. If, for example, on account of the long absence of someone, it is doubtful whether he is alive or dead, then by Istishaab, all rules must remain in force which would hold if one knew for certain that he was still alive.


The most important of Imam Ash-Shafi'i's students who continued to follow his school of thought were:

(a) Al-Muzanee RA (791-876 CE) - Al-Muzanee's full name was Isma'il ibn Yahya Al-Muzanee. He was the constant companion of Imam Ash-Shafi'i RA throughout his stay in Egypt. Al-Muzanee RA was noted for writing a book which comprehensively gathered the Fiqh of Imam Ash-Shafi'i RA. Later condensed under the title Mukhtasar al-Muzanee, it became the most widely read Fiqh book of the Shafi'i Madhab.

(b) Ar-Rabee' Al-Maraadee RA (790-873 CE) - Ar-Rabee RA was noted as the main narrator of Ash-Shafi'i's book - 'Al-Umm'. He wrote it down during Imam Ash Shafi'i's lifetime along with Ar-Risalah and other books.

(c) Yusuf ibn Yahyaa Al-Buwaytee RA (d.231 AH) - succeeded Imam Ash-Shafi'i RA as the main teacher of the Shafi'i Madhab. He was imprisoned and tortured to death in Baghdad because he rejected the officially sanctioned Mu'tazilite philosophy on the creation of the Holy Qur'an.


The majority of the followers of the Shafi'i Madhab are now to be found in Egypt, Southern Arabia, (e.g. Yemen, Hadramaut), Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, East and South Africa and Surinam in South America.

No comments: