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Islamic scholar
Abū ʿAbdillāh Muhammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfi‘ī
Abu ʿAbdillah Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi‘i with Islamic calligraphy
Title Shaykh al-Islām
Born 767 CE/150 AH
Gaza, Palestine
Died 20 January, 820 CE/30 Rajab, 204 AH (aged 52-53)
al-Fustat, Egypt
Ethnicity Arab
Era Islamic Golden Age
Religion Islam
Jurisprudence Ijtihad
Main interest(s) Fiqh
Notable idea(s) Shafi'i madhhab
Notable work(s) Risalah: Usul al Fiqh, Kitab al-Umm

Abū ʿAbdullāh Muhammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfīʿī (Arabic: ابو عبدالله محمد بن إدريس الشافعيّ‎) A Muslim jurist, who lived from (767 — 820 CE / 150 — 204 AH). Often referred to as 'Shaykh al-Islām', al-Shāfi‘ī was one of the four great Imams, whose legacy on juridical matters and teaching eventually led to the Shafi'i school of fiqh (or Madh'hab). He is often referred to as Imam al-Shafi‘i.[3]


  • Introduction 1
  • Biography 2
    • Ancestry 2.1
    • Early life 2.2
    • Apprenticeship under Imam Mālik 2.3
    • The Yemeni Fitna 2.4
    • Apprenticeship under Al-Shaybānī and The Exposure to Hanafī Jurists 2.5
    • Departure to Baghdad and Egypt 2.6
    • Death 2.7
  • Legacy 3
    • Works 3.1
    • Anecdotal Stories 3.2
    • Quotations 3.3
  • Early Islam scholars 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The biography of al-Shāfi‘i is difficult to trace. Dawud al-Zahiri was said to be the first to write such a biography, but the book has been lost.[4][5][6] 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. A biographical sketch written by Zakarīya b. Yahya al-Sājī was later reproduced, but even then, a great deal of legend had already crept into the story of al-Shāfi‘i's life.[7] The first real biography is by Ahmad Bayhaqi (died 458H/1066) and is filled with what a modernist eye would qualify as pious legends. The following is what seems to be a sensible reading, according to a modern reductionist perspective.



Al-Shāfi‘ī belonged to the Qurayshi clan Banu Muttalib, which was the sister clan of the Banu Hashim to which the Prophet Muhammad and the Abbasid caliphs belonged. This lineage may have given him prestige, arising from his belonging to the tribe of the Prophet and his great-grandfather's kinship to the Prophet.[7] However, al-Shāfi‘ī grew up in poverty in spite of his connections in the highest social circles.

Early life

Al-Shāfi‘ī was born in Gaza by the town of Asqalan on 767 CE.[8] His father died in Syria while he was still a child. Fearing the waste of his sharīf lineage, his mother decided to move to Mecca when he was about two years old. Furthermore, his maternal family roots were from Yemen, and there were more members of his family in Mecca, where his mother believed he would better be taken care of. Little is known about al-Shāfi‘ī's early life in Mecca, except that he was brought up in poor circumstances and that from his youth he was devoted to learning.[7] An account states that his mother could not afford to buy him paper, so he would write his lessons on bones, particularly shoulder-bones.[9] He studied under Muslim Ibn Khalid az-Zanji, the Mufti of Mecca then, who is thus considered to be the first teacher of Imam al-Shāfi‘ī.[10] By the age of seven, al-Shāfi‘ī had memorized the Noble Qur'ān. At ten, he had committed Imam Malik's Muwatta' to heart, at which time his teacher would deputize him to teach in his absence. Al-Shāfi‘ī was authorized to issue fatwas at the age of fifteen.[11]

Apprenticeship under Imam Mālik

Al-Shāfi‘ī moved to Medina in a desire for further legal training,[7] as was the tradition of acquiring knowledge. Accounts differ on the age in which he set out to Medina; an account placed his age at thirteen,[8] while another stated that he was in his twenties.[7] There, he was taught by the famous Imam Malik ibn Anas, who was impressed with his memory, knowledge and intelligence.[8][12] By the time of Imam Mālik's death in 795 CE, al-Shāfi‘ī had already gained a reputation as a brilliant jurist.[7] Even though he would later disagree with the views of Imam Mālik, al-Shāfi‘ī accorded the deepest respect to him by always referring to him as "the Teacher".[8]

The Yemeni Fitna

At the age of thirty, al-Shāfi‘ī was appointed as a judge in Najran.[8] He proved to be a just administrator, but soon became entangled with factional jealousies. In 803 CE, al-Shāfi‘ī was accused of aiding the 'Alawīs in a revolt, and was thus summoned in chains with a number of 'Alawis to the Caliph Harun ar-Rashid at Raqqa.[7] Whilst other conspirators were put to death, al-Shafi'i’s own eloquent defense convinced the Caliph to dismiss the charge. Other accounts state that the famous Hanafi jurist, Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī, was present at the court and defended al-Shāfi‘ī as a well-known student of the sacred law.[7] What was certain was that the incident brought al-Shāfi‘ī in close contact with al-Shaybānī, who would soon become his teacher. It was also postulated that this incident impelled him to devote the rest of his career to legal studies, never again to seek government service.[7]

Apprenticeship under Al-Shaybānī and The Exposure to Hanafī Jurists

Al-Shāfi'ī took the opportunity of being in Baghdad to study under al-Shaybānī. It was here that he developed his first madh'hab, influenced by the teachings of both Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Malik. His work thus became known as “al Madhab al Qadim lil Imam as Shafi’i,” or the Old School of ash-Shafi'i.

It was here that al-Shāfi'ī actively participated in legal arguments with the Hanafī jurists, strenuously defending the Mālikī school of thought.[7] Some authorities stress the difficulties encountered by him in his arguments.[7] Al-Shāfi'ī eventually left Baghdad for Mecca in 804 CE, possibly because of complaints by Hanafī followers to al-Shaybānī that al-Shafi'i had become somewhat critical of al-Shaybānī's position during their disputes. As a result, al-Shāfi'ī reportedly participated in a debate with al-Shaybānī over their differences, though who won the debate is disputed.[7]

In Mecca, al-Shāfi'ī began to lecture at the Sacred Mosque, leaving a deep impression on many students of law, including the famous Hanbali jurist, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal.[7] Al-Shāfi'ī's legal reasoning began to mature, as he started to appreciate the strength in the legal reasoning of the Hanafī jurists, and became aware of the weaknesses inherent in both the Mālikī and Hanafī schools of thought.[7]

Departure to Baghdad and Egypt

Al-Shāfi'ī eventually returned to Baghdad in 810 CE. By this time, his stature as a jurist had grown sufficiently to permit him to establish an independent line of legal speculation.[7] Caliph Al-Ma'mun is said to have offered al-Shāfi'ī a position as a judge, but al-Shāfi'ī declined the offer.[7]

In 814 CE, al-Shāfi'ī decided to leave Baghdad for Egypt, although the precise reasons for this departure are uncertain. It was in Egypt that al-Shāfi'ī dictated his life's works to students. Several of his leading disciples would write down what al-Shāfi'ī said, who would then have them read it back aloud so that corrections could be made.[7] Al-Shāfi'ī biographers all agree that the legacy of works under his name are the result of those sessions with his disciples.[7]


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'ī triumphed in 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.[13] However, al-Shāfi'ī was also known to have suffered from a serious intestinal illness, which kept him frail and ailing during the later years of his life. The precise reason for al-Shāfi'ī death is therefore unknown.[14]

Al-Shāfi'ī died at the age of 54 on the 30th of Rajab in 204 AH (20 January 820 AD) in al-Fustat, Egypt, and was buried in the vault of the Banū ‘Abd al-Hakam, near Mount al-Muqattam.[7] The qubba was built in 1212/608 by the Ayyubid Al-Kamil, and the mausoleum remains an important site today.[15][16]


Al-Shāfi‘ī developed the science of fiqh unifying 'revealed sources' - the Quran and hadith - with human reasoning to provide a basis in law. With this systematization 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.

Al-Shāfi‘ī 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 as well as Sri Lanka and southern parts of India.

Saladin built a madrassa and a shrine on the site of his tomb. 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.[17]

Among the followers of Imam al-Shāfi‘ī’s school were:


He authored more than 100 books.

In addition to this, al-Shafi'i was an eloquent poet, who composed many short poems aimed at addressing morals and behaviour.

Anecdotal Stories

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 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.

He was also an accomplished archer,[8] 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.

Al-Shafi‘i loved the Islamic prophet 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.”

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

Shah Waliullah Dehlawi, an 18th century Sunni Islamic scholar stated:[21]

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.

He claimed that the game of chess was an image of war, and it was possible to play chess as a mental exercise for the solution of military tactics. Chess could not be played for a stake, but if a player was playing for a mental exercise, he was not doing anything illegal. Provided the player took care that his fondness for chess did not cause him to break any other rule of life, he saw no harm in playing chess. He played chess himself, defending his practice by the example of many of his companions.


  • He who seeks pearls immerses himself in the sea.[22]
  • He said to the effect that no knowledge of Islam can be gained from books of Kalam, as kalam "is not from knowledge"[23][24] 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."[9]

Early Islam scholars

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ The Origins of Islamic Law: The Qurʼan, the Muwaṭṭaʼ and Madinan ʻAmal, by Yasin Dutton, pg. 16
  3. ^ Fadel M. (2008). The True, the Good and the Reasonable: The Theological and Ethical Roots of Public Reason in Islamic Law. Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence.
  4. ^ Al-Nawawi, Tahdhib al-Asma wal-Lughat, v.1, pg.82
  5. ^ Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Tawalli al-Ta`sis li-Ma'ali Muhammad bin Idris, pg.26
  6. ^ Ibn 'Asakir, History of Damascus
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s
  8. ^ a b c d e f
  9. ^ a b Ibn Abi Hatim, Manaaqibush-Shaafi'ee, pg. 39
  10. ^ Ibn Kathir, Tabaqat Ash-Shafi'iyyin, Vol 1. Page 27 Dār Al-Wafa’
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Khadduri, pp. 15-16 (Translator's Introduction). Khadduri cites for this story Yaqut's Mu‘jam al-Udabā, vol. VI pp. 394-95 (ed. Margoliouth, London: 1931), and Ibn Hajar's Tawālī al Ta'sīs, p. 86.
  14. ^ Khadduri, p. 16 (Translator's Introduction).
  15. ^ Qubba al-Imam al-Shafi'i
  16. ^ The Mausoleum of Imam al-Shafi'i
  17. ^ Ruthven Malise, Islam in the World. 3rd edition Granta Books London 2006 ch. 4, page 122
  18. ^ The Levels of the Shafiee scholars by Imam As-Subki طبقات الشافعية للسبكي
  19. ^ Nahyan Fancy, Science and Religion in Mamluk Egypt (2013, ISBN 1136703616), page 23: "... highlighted by the latter day Shafi'i authority, Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti."
  20. ^ Scott C. Lucas, Constructive Critics, Ḥadīth Literature, and the Articulation of Sunni Islam (2004, ISBN 9004133194), page 72: "It is somewhat astonishing that al-Dhahabi, a purported adherent to the Shafi'i madhhab, does not honor al-Shafi'i with the sobriquet Shayk al-Islam." (Emphasis added.)
  21. ^ Izalat al-Khafa p. 77 part 7
  22. ^ Diwan al-Imam al-shafi'i, (book of poems - al-shafi'i) p. 100; Dar El-Mrefah Beirut - Lebanon 2005. ISBN 9953-429-33-2
  23. ^ Dhammul-Kalaam (Q/213)
  24. ^ Dhahabi, as-Siyar (10/30)
  25. ^ The Quran
  26. ^ The Great Fiqh
  27. ^ Al-Muwatta'
  28. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari
  29. ^ Sahih Muslim
  30. ^ Jami` at-Tirmidhi
  31. ^ Mishkât Al-Anwar
  32. ^ The Niche for Lights
  33. ^ Women in Islam: An Indonesian Perspective by Syafiq Hasyim. Page 67
  34. ^ ulama,
  35. ^ 1.Proof & Historiography - The Islamic Evidence.
  36. ^ Atlas Al-sīrah Al-Nabawīyah. Darussalam, 2004. Pg 270
  37. ^ Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz by Imam Abu Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Hakam died 829
  • Ruthven Malise, Islam in the World. 3rd edition Granta Books London 2006 ch. 4
  • Majid Khadduri (trans.), "al-Shafi'i's Risala: Treatise on the Foundation of Islamic Jurisprudence". Islamic Texts Society 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

Helal M Abu Taher, Char Imam(Four Imams),Islamic Foundation,Dhaka,1980.

External links

  • The Biography of Imam ash-Shafi'i
  • The Life of Imam al-Shafi'i at Lost Islamic History
  • Short Biography of Imam Shafi'i
  • Concise Summary of Imam Shafi'i
  • Diagram of teachers and students of Imam Shafi'i
  • The Mausoleum of Imam al-Shafi'i
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