IMAM SHAFI’E – HIS LIFE AND DEATH – MINI BIOGRAPHY – SHAFI’E MADHHAB

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

SHORT SUMMARY

ON THE LIFE OF

IMAM MUHAMMAD IBN IDRIS AL-SHAFI’E

أَبُو عَبْدِ ٱللهِ مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ إِدْرِيسَ ٱلشَّافِعِي

Abū ʿAbdillāh Muhammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʿe

Muhammad Ibn Idris, to be known later as Imam Shafi’e, descended from the Hashimi family of the Quaraish tribe.

Often referred to as ‘Shaykh al-Islām’, al-Shāfi‘e was one of the four great Sunni Imams, whose legacy on juridical matters and teaching eventually led to the Shafi’ie Madhhab and school of fiqh.

His name, Al-Shafi’e signals that he was named after someone more famous than him, but we are unable to trace the history of such person.

So in the case of Imam Shafi’e, Shafi’e being the name with which he is most widely known by, even though his kunya is, Ibn Idris. Idris being the name of his father.

What is even more amazing, is that, Imam Shafi’ee has an ancestor more famous and more illustrious which he could have been called after, in Abdul Mutallib, the chieftain of the Quraysh Tribes and of course the Grandfather of rasulAllaah. This then becomes an academic wonder.

Before he was born:

It is reported by some that Imam  Shafi’e’s mother had a dream in which she saw a star emerging from her womb and landing in Egypt and then a further light emitting from this star which illuminated the entire city. She sought an interpretation of her dream from one of the people of knowledge at the time,  who indicated to her that this was a prediction that she was to bear a child whose knowledge, wisdom and intellect will light up the world, like stars light up the sky at night.

Imam Shafi’ee was born in the year 150 A.H. in Palestine in Ghaza, by most accounts it is the same Ghaza town that we now know of today. He died 54 years later in the year 204 A.H.(820 Gregorian) in Egypt. By that time, Imam Shafi’ had become so well known for his Academic Excellence that in acknowledgment of his eminence as a religious scholar, It is reported that the Governor of Egypt attended and lead his funeral prayers.

The Lineage:

As per the Islamic/Arab tradition a person is traced back through his chain of ancestors,  Imam Shafi’e’s ancestoral chain consists of the following links : Imam Abu Abdullah Muhammed Ibn Idris Ibn Abbas Ibn Uthman Ibn Shafi’e Ibn Saa’ib Ibn Ubayd Ibn Abd Yazeed Ibn Hashim Ibn Muttalib Ibn Abd Munaf Qurayshi Muttalibi Hashimi.

Early Life:

Imam Shafi’e is quoted by some as saying that he was taken to Mecca at the age of 2, hence he spent his formative years acquiring religious education in the cities of Mecca and Medina.

He grew up amongst the Banu Huzayl tribe in Mecca who in common with many Arab tribes of that era were very well versed in the art of poetry, a tradition which was passed on to Imam Shafi’e who became very proficient in it.

His early education was marked by poverty because of which his mother could not afford to pay the fees for his education. Consequently, instead of participating in the classes, the young Imam Shafi’e would just sit listening to what his teacher was teaching to other kids in the class. He became so adept at learning and storing knowledge even though just by listening, that on occasions when his teacher was unable to take a class, he would step in and take the class teaching his fellow students. His Teacher was so impressed by his abilities that he took him on as a formal student on a complimentary non fees basis.

Poverty was such that Imam Shafi’e was unable to acquire paper, so he would use bones, stones and Palm Leaves as writing aterial..

However poverty did not stop him from acquiring legendary knowledge. Imam Shafi’e had not only memorized the entire Qur’an,  but also the history and eymology of every verse, all by the age of 10. By the age of 15 he was so complete in all Islamic Knowledge that the Mufti of Mecca, Muslim Ibn Khalid Al-Zinji, had authorized him to issue Fatwas.

It is also worth noting: Imam Shafi’e was born 57 years after the birth of Imam Malik, hence, the Monumental Muwatte of Imam Malik was also memorized and learnt by Imam Shafi’e.

Tradition says that he memorized the Qur’an at the age of seven; by ten, he had memorized the Muwatta of Malik ibn Anas; 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.

Theology wasn’t his only forte, Imam Shafi’e also lectured on Poetry, Linguistics and Genealogy and his students came from a varied array of disciplines.

Some of His Shuyookh:

Imam Shafi’e early Teachers included his Uncle and Sufyan Ibn Uyaynah Al-Makki.

Imam Shafi’e Teachers also include: Muslim Ibn Khalid Zanji, Haatim Ibn Ismail, Ibrahim Ibn Muhammad Ibn Yahya*, Hishaam Ibn Yusuf Sinani, Marwan Ibn Mu’aawiyah, Muhammad Ibn Ismail, Dawood Ibn Abdul Rahman, Ismail Ibn Ja’far, Hisham Ibn Yusuf.

The most renowned of all of Imam Shafi’e Teachers is thought to be Imam Malik.

Thus, Imam Mohammad not only learnt from Imam Malik’s very famous book Mu’atta at an early age, but as reported by some, that he also had the privilege when he was in the city of Madinah, to have studied directly at the hands of the master of that school of thought thereby further deepening and widening his understanding of the matters.

The Madhhab of the Malikis’ was a precurssor to the Shafi’e Madhhab.

Imam Shafi’es ijtihad process differed with Imam Maliks prefered method, Imam Malik had the customs of the people of Madeenah as a source for proof, but Imam Shafi’e had left of the customs of the people of Makkad and his Ijtihad started through: the literal meaning of a verse of the Quran and then Hadiths  and then expanding into a consensus of opinions of all the assembled learned people (Ijma) and then applying reasoning by analogy (Qiyas) – (This is where the ‘Urf-Customes of the People would be in the Maliki School of thought).

He also pioneered and made a distinction between judicial application of discretion in legal matters (Istihsan) and pure juristic reasoning by analogy (Qiyas).

Due to Egypt’s Famous Islamic University of Al-Azhar being deeply enrooted in the Shafi’e Madhhab, the madhhab it self became popular and spread throughout the Muslim world. Though the Hanafi, the Maliki and the Hanbali Madhahib are also very popular schools of thought in their geographical positions. The

Giving Charity:

Imam Shafi’e moved to Mecca as a seasoned scholar in his later years, at the time it is said he had nearly 10,000 dinars with him which was a huge amount of money in those days, however, on the outskirts of the city he came across a group of people who were very poor and destitute which affected the Imam so much that he distributed that entire sum of money amongst them, he gace all of his wealth away to the extent that he had to borrow some money in Mecca for his own expenses.

His Ibadah:

Ramadan, he would excel himself in it. Imam Mohammad Ibn Idris[Imam Shafi’ee] seems to have adopted this from Prophet Mohammad(PBUH) diligently and gave clothes, food and money extensively especially during Ramadan.

We must not forget that ordinary but well off people often donate ‘through’ eminent religious personalities who would then pass on such donations to the poor, the wayfarers and the needy, therefore, we must seek God’s benediction for such unknown and unsung heroes as well.

Imam Shafi’e’s piety is best exemplified by one of his famous statements as quoted by Imam Ghazali in his Ihya-e-Uloom-ul-deen (Revival of Islamic Sciences) that :

“I used not to take food with satisfaction for the last 16 years, as a full stomach makes the body heavy, makes the heart hard, increases sleep and renders a man lazy for Worship”

Imam Shafi’e seems to have inherited this qualification of being eloquent like Ali Ibn Abu Talib, so beautifully that a companion of his, Haroon Ibn Saeed said, that when Imam Shafi’e spoke and wanted to make a point, he was so convincing that if he had told the people that a stone was a stick, they would have accepted it as the truth.

His Fitnah, Persecutions and Death:

Like Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik and Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Imam Shafi’ee also suffered Political persecution and intrigues,  unlike Imam Abu Hanifa, he was not subjected to torture.

Imam Shafi’ee’s confrontation with intrigues took place when, after finishing his  learning of Imam Malik, he was sent to Yemen. There he was arrested and charged with the offense of political interference. The Caliph of that time, Haroon-al-Rasheed examined him and found him to be innocent of all charges and discharged him with honour.

At least one authority states that al-Shāfi’ī died as a result of injuries sustained from an attack by supporters of a Maliki follower named Fityan.

The story goes that al-Shāfi’e triumphed in the argument over Fityan, who, being intemperate, resorted to abuse. The Governor of Egypt, with whom al-Shafi’i had good relations, ordered Fityan punished by having him paraded through the streets of the city carrying a plank and stating the reason for his punishment. Fityan’s supporters were enraged by this treatment and attacked Shafi’i in retaliation after one of his lectures. Al-Shafi’i died a few days later.

However, Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani in his biography of al-Shāfi’e Tawālī al-Ta’sīs, casts doubt on this story saying “I do not consider this from a reliable source”.  However, al-Shāfi’e was also known to have suffered from a serious intestinal illness/hemorrhoids, which kept him frail and ailing during the later years of his life. The precise cause of his death is thus unknown.

What we do know for sure, is that Imam Mohammad Ibn Idris Ash-Shafi’e kept the company of learned people till the very end of his life, and he is reported to have spent his last days in the company of Abdullah Ibnul Hakam a well known scholar of his time. He is thought to have died on a Friday in the month of Rajab aged 54 in the year 204 A.H. (820 Gregorian). The Governor of Egypt of that time acknowledged his academic excellence by not only just attending his funeral but actually leading those prayers.

Imam Ahmad said of al-Shafi’ie, “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.”

His last resting place is thought to be at the foot hills of a mount Mukatram.

Some Famous Sayings:

  • He who seeks pearls immerses himself in the sea.

 

  • He said to the effect that no knowledge of Islam can be gained from books of Kalam, as kalam “is not from knowledge” and that “It is better for a man to spend his whole life doing whatever Allah has prohibited – besides shirk with Allah – rather than spending his whole life involved in kalam.”

 

  • Ahadith have to be accepted without questioning, reasoning, critical thinking. “If a hadith is authenticated as coming from the Prophet, we have to resign ourselves to it, and your talk and the talk of others about why and how, is a mistake …”

We ask Allah for guidance, knowledge and understanding, we ask Him Ta’ala for blessing in the dunya and the akhira.

والله تعالى أعلم

وصلى اللهم وسلم وبارك على نبينا محمد وعلى آله وصحبه والتابعين

أخوك أبو ناصر


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