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Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Imam Shafie: An outstanding scholar of fiqh

The Shafie school of thought is the second largest followed by Muslims worldwide. Muhammad Al-Shafie born in Gaza, Palestine is known as the ‘mujaddid’ (Arabic for revivalist) of the second century thanks to his prescription of the fundamentals of jurisprudence.

The Shafie school of thought is adhered to in southeast Egypt, Somalia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Yemen, Kurdistan and in Kerala in south India. His school of thought is also officially espoused by the governments of Malaysia and Brunei.

Shafie is a descendant of the Quraish tribe through the Prophet’s Hashemite family. Shafie was orphaned at an early age and was taken by his mother to Makkah, his ancestral town.

He soon developed a knack for mastering the most organic of Arabic literature and history, so he joined the Bedouin tribe of Huthail, who were renowned for their fine standards of Arabic literature, and wandered with them in the desert.

His memory was very sharp. He had memorized the Qur’an by the age of seven.

He later began studying “fiqh” (Islamic jurisprudence) and had covered the work of scholars at Makkah by the age of 20. Shafie then traveled to Madinah to learn from renowned scholars. He borrowed Imam Malik’s Al-Muwatta to read and memorized the entire work, which made him all the more eager to study under him.

He devoted himself fully to Imam Malik and served him for nine years up until his death in 179H. He was very fortunate to meet and learn from the eminent Iraqi scholar, Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaybani, a disciple of Imam Abu Hanifa, who had joined Imam Malik during the last three years of his life.

As such, Imam Shafie essentially emerged from the conjunction of two great schools of thought from both the Hijaz and Iraq.

The first group insisted on absolute reliance on the literal interpretation of the Hadith and the impermissibility of using reason as a means to derive Islamic law.

The other group, known as the “people of reason,” also believed in using Qur’an and Hadith to derive law, but also accepted reason as a source of law. 

Imam Shafie sought to reconcile the two philosophies and introduce a clear methodology for Islamic jurisprudence, known as usool ul-fiqh (Arabic for the fundamentals of jurisprudence), which was defined in his famous book, Al-Risala. In the book, Shafie outlined four main sources from which Islamic law can be derived.

These are the Qur’an, the prophetic Sunnah, ijmaa (consensus, practiced among early Muslims) and qiyas (analogical deduction).

Shafie’s contributions to the fundamental of Islamic jurisprudence were monumental.

He prevented the fraying of the study of fiqh into hundreds of different, competing schools by providing a general philosophy.

His followers codified his legal opinions, which were laid out in another book called “Kitab Al-Umm” after his death in 204H, culminating into the Shafie school of thought.

Today, this school of thought comes second after the Hanafi line of thought and is very popular in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Yemen, East Africa, and Southeast Asia. In 187H, Shafie visited Syria, and from there, proceeded to Egypt, where he settled. As a student under Imam Malik, he was welcomed with great respect by the people and scholars of Egypt.

In 810 CE, Shafie went to Baghdad, where he would be surrounded by a large number of students who were eager to acquire knowledge of Islamic knowledge and practices from him. One important student there was Ahmad ibn Hanbal.

He would later learn that the new caliph of Baghdad, Al-Ma’mun, held some very unorthodox beliefs about Islam and was known to persecute anyone who disagreed with him.
As a result, in 814 CE., Imam Shafie made his final move, this time to Egypt, where he was able to refine his studies. Baghdad, Cairo and Hijaz were the main centers of Shafie’s activities and it was from these cities that his teachings spread in the ninth century CE.

During the time of Sultan Salahuddin, the Shafie school of thought was the most prominent in Egypt. In fact, the Al-Azhar imams remain Shafie to this day.

His school of thought is thoroughly studied at the Egyptian institution, along with the other three major Sunni schools.

During the course of his life, Shafie also suffered from political intrigues.

He was once sent as the judge of Jazan in Yemen, where he would then be accused of political involvement. In 184H, he was arrested and taken in chains to Baghdad, the seat of the Abbasid Empire.

However, when he met Caliph Harun Al-Rashid, Shafie gave an impassioned and eloquent defense, which had greatly impressed the caliph.

Not only was he released, but Al-Rashid insisted that he stay in Baghdad to help spread Islamic knowledge in the region. Shafie agreed and stayed away from politics. While in Iraq, he was reunited with Shaybani and learned more about the Hanafi school of thought.

He had never met Imam Abu Hanifa, but had great respect for the originator of the study of Islamic jurisprudence and his school of thought. In 199H, Shafie settled in Egypt, where he lived up until his death in 204H.

In Egypt, Shafie was able to edit off his legal opinions and finally organize the study of the fundamentals of Islamic jurisprudence.

Essentially, Shafie had learnt fiqh in Baghdad and memorized Prophetic sayings that were well known in Iraq, but not in Makkah and Madinah.

Shafie authored several books, the most well known of which is “Al-Umm,” which is a collection of his writings and lectures.

Several of his students also collected his writings, lectures and rulings in the form of various books and quoted him in their works.

“I wish people would learn what I have to give without it being attributed to me,” Shafie was quoted as saying.

“It is in this way that I will receive divine reward without praise.”
And it is with this that Imam Shafie became one of the highest-ranking scholars in the Islamic sciences. 
ABU TARIQ HIJAZI:  The writer is the author of several books on Islam.

(Arab News / 03 June 2014)
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