Imām Al-Shāfi’ī

Imām Al-Shāfi’ī is one of the four Imams from the schools of Jurisprudence. He led the Shāfi’ī school of Jurisprudence and is known as the Mujaddid (Reviver) of the century.

His Name, Background and Family

His full name is Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Idris Al-Shāfi’ī and belonged to the Qurayshi clan of Banu Muttalib, which was the sister clan of the Banu Hashim. Imam Shāfi’ī was born in the year 150 AH (767 AC) in Gaza, Palestine. This is the same year the Great Imām Abū Ḥanīfah passed away. He lost his father during infancy and was raised by his mother under very poor circumstances. His mother decided to move to Mecca where their relatives lived. Therefore, he spent his formative years acquiring religious education in the cities of Mecca and Medina. According to some sources, he memorised the Quran by the age of seven.

He was married to ‘Hamidah Bint Nāfi’, granddaughter of ‘Uthman Ibn Afān (R.A). He had three children, two sons Abu Uthman and Abul Hasan and a daughter Fatima.

Imām Al-Shāfi’ī was a keen archer and horse rider, he also had great expertise in the field of medicine as well as literature, poetry and genealogy.

His Journey to Seek Knowledge

The Imam memorised the Quran by the age of 7 and had a desire to study further. As they came from a poor background, they could not afford class fees. Instead the young boy used to sit outside the class or by the window and take in the knowledge. He was so proficient that a few times when the teacher couldn’t make the class, he would step in and start teaching the class. As a result, the teacher, Muslim ibn Khalid az-Zanji, the Mufti of Mecca, took him on as a formal student on a complementary basis.

“After I finished learning the Quran, I would go to the Mosque and sit with the Scholars the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and Islamic matters. I used to live in Makkah among tent dwellers in such a state of poverty that I could not even afford to by paper to write, so I would write on stones and bones instead.”

Imām Al-Shāfi’ī

Imām Al-Shāfi’ī had a tremendous interest in literature and poems. For this reason, he left Makkah to live with a desert tribe named Huzail to learn authentic and pure Arabic language and literature. Imām Al-Shāfi’ī, therefore, became a reference figure when it came to the Arabic language.

At the age of fifteen (some say eighteen), his teacher gave him permission to issue judicial decisions (fatwas). Imām Al-Shāfi’ī had heard of Imām Mālik in Medina and how prestigious he was and a knowledgeable man. Before he went, he felt he needed to be prepared for the Imam so in 9 days he memorised the whole Muwatta of Imām Mālik. Imām Al-Shāfi’ī spoke eloquently and politely to Imām Mālik and told him that he wished to become his student. The Imām looked at the boy for a long time as the boy was telling his story of how he sought knowledge so far. Imām Mālik said “My son! By the Will of Allah, you will have a great future. Tomorrow come to me and bring with you someone who can read the ‘Muwatta’ well as I fear you would not be able to read it by yourself.” At the point Imām Mālik did not know that Imām Al-Shāfi’ī had memorised the Muwatta. When Imām Al-Shāfi’ī makes it known that he has memorised it, Imām Mālik is astonished. Imām Al-Shāfi’ī continued to sit with Imām Mālik till his death in 179AH (790AC). Imām Al-Shāfi’ī accorded the deepest respect to Imām Mālik by always referring to him as “the Teacher”. Then he returned to Makkah.

The governor of Yemen, while paying a visit to Makkah, met Imām Al-Shāfi’ī, discerned his unique abilities, and offered him an administrative post in Yemen but like his predecessor Imām Abū Ḥanīfah, Imām Al-Shāfi’ī also suffered Political persecution and intrigues, but thankfully, unlike Imām Abū Ḥanīfah, he was not subjected to torture.

Imām Al-Shāfi’ī was arrested and charged with the offense of political interference in Yemen. The Caliph of that time, Haroon-al-Rasheed examined him and found him to be innocent of all charges and discharged him with honour.

He then went to study with the prestigious Hanafis, namely Imam Muhammad bin Hasan Al-Shaybani, one of the main pupils of Imām Abū Ḥanīfah. Imam Muhammad was now the senior scholar in Kufa, but at this point he was the Chief Judge of Baghdad.

Once Imām Al-Shāfi’ī visited the grave of Imām Abū Ḥanīfah and prayed at the adjacent Masjid. Imām Al-Shāfi’ī was of the view that one should raise hand every time saying Takbeer during Salah – which was of course not the view of Imām Abū Ḥanīfah. However, while praying at that Masjid. Imām Al-Shāfi’ī did not raise his hands while saying every takbeer. When people asked him why, he replied that he did this out of respect to the owner of that grave.

He had learnt an immense amount from Imām Mālik, but then was amazed by the knowledge and methodologies of the Hanafis. He took away both institutes to devlop his own school. This school was later known as “al Madhhab al Qadim lil Imām Al-Shāfi’ī,” or the Old School of al-Shāfi’ī.

When he returned to Makkah he set up study circles inviting scholars like Abu-Thawr, Ahmed ibnu Hajjaj, Al-Zafarani, AlKarabisi and Imām Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal. Imām Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal once said: “Had it not been for Ash-Shāfi’ī, we would not have known the understanding of Hadith.” Ahmed ibnu Hajjaj, who was one of the main teachers of Imam Bukhari, was also a direct student of Imām Al-Shāfi’ī.

As Al-Shāfi’ī legal reasoning began to mature, 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.


He was invited by the Caliph to become Qadi but he rejected this, but then moved to Egypt after being invited by the people. It was in Egypt that he would meet another tutor, Sayyida Nafisa bint Al-Hasan, who would also financially support his studies, and where he would dictate 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.

It is also at this stage as Imām Al-Shāfi’ī continued teaching, he began distinguishing from his old opinions and new opinions, this was known as the New School. Imām Al-Shāfi’ī said that “I do not permit anyone to narrate my old opinions from me” and “The old opinions of my school are not permitted (to be acted upon).” Nonetheless, the mujtahid scholars of the madhhab determined that in certain cases the Imam’s opinions from the Old School are more in accordance with his usul than the opinions of the New School, and so some fatwa in the Shāfi’ī madhhab rest upon these older opinions.

Imam al-Shafi’i arranged the basis for rulings into five classes:

  1. The Quran and the Sunnah: Imam al-Shafi’i places the Sunnah at the same level with the Qur’an, as it explains the Quran and provides details of what is mentioned in general terms in the Quran.
  2. The unanimity of scholars (Ijma) on matters to which no text in the Quran or the Sunnah applies: He defined unanimity as the agreement on a specific ruling of all Muslim scholars, who are qualified to exercise ijtihad at any particular time after the Prophet ﷺ had passed away.
  3. Al-Shafi’i upholds the statement of any Companion of the Prophet ﷺ, provided there is no disagreement among the Prophet’s ﷺ Companions on the same matter. He would not take anyone’s view in preference to that of the Prophet’s ﷺ Companions.
  4. When the Prophet’s ﷺ Companions disagreed on a ruling, he adopted the view that is closest to the Qur’an, the Sunnah and analogy.
  5. Analogy with a clear verdict in the Qur’an or the Sunnah: Analogy means applying a stated verdict to a question that carries no verdict, provided that the reasoning for this verdict applies equally to both questions.


“I feel that I am traveling away from this world, away from the brothers, drinking from the cup of death, and approaching Allah the Glorious. By Allah I do not know if my soul will go to heaven so that I may congratulate it, or to hell so that I may lament.”

Imām Al-Shāfi’ī

He became very sick at the end of his life. Imām Al-Shāfi’ī 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 Ibn Hakam, a well-known scholar of his time. He is thought to have died on a Friday in Rajab, aged 54 in year 204AH (820 AC). The Governor of Egypt of that time acknowledged his academic excellence by not only just attending his funeral but actually leading those prayers. His two sons Abul-Hasan Muhammad and Uthman were present for the funeral rites.

Imām Al-Shāfi’ī was buried in the vault of the Banu Abd Al-Hakam at the foot of Muqattam Hills in Cairo, Egypt.

His Legacy

1. Abdullah bin Masood (RA) narrates from the Prophet ﷺ as saying, “Do not curse at the Quraish, for verily a scholar from there fills the earth with knowledge. O’Allah, you have made their first taste your punishment, now make the last of them taste your gift and favor.” 1

2. Abu Hurairah (RA) narrates that the Prophet ﷺ said, “O’Allah, Guide the Quraish, for verily a scholar from there fills the earth with knowledge. O’Allah, just you have made them taste your punishment, now let them taste your gift and favor.” He made this supplication three times. 2

3. Imaam Al-Shafi’ee is Quraishi and Muttalibi. One hadith says, “Indeed Banu Haashim and Banu al-Muttalib are the same (ie. of the same family lineage). The Prophet ﷺ then put his fingers of both hands together. 3

In one narration the Prophet ﷺ said, “Indeed, at the beginning of every hundred years Allah SWT sends a reformer of this Ummah who will revive the Ummah in religion.4

Notable Teachers

Imām Al-Shāfi’ī learned from the scholars in various places such as Makkah, Madinah, Kufa, Basrah, Yemen, Syria and Egypt.

  • Muslim bin Khalid Al-Zangi (in Makkah)
  • Sufyaan bin Uyainah Al-Hilaali (in Makkah)
  • Ibrahim bin Yahya (in Madinah)
  • Imam Maalik bin Anas (in Madinah)
  • Wakee bin Al-Jarraah bin Maleeh Al-Kofi (in Kufa)
  • Muhammad bin Hasan Al-Shaibaani (in Basrah, Kufa, Baghdad)
  • Hammaad bin Usama Al-Haashimi Al-Kofi (in Kufa)
  • Abdul-Wahhab bin Abdul-Majeed al-Busri (in Basrah)

Notable Students

  • Imam Abu Yaqub Al-Buwayṭi
  • Abu Ibrahim Isma’il ibn Yahya Al-Muzani
  • Rabi bin Sulayman Al-Muradi
  • Abu Ali Al-Karabisi
  • Ibrahim bin Khalid Abu ThawrH
  • Imām Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal
  • Ahmed ibn Hajjaj

Notable Works

He authored more than 100 books. Some of which are as follows:

  • Kitab al-Umm – Guide on Shāfi’ī Fiqh
  • Al-Risalah – Principles of Fiqh
  • Ikhtilaf Al-Hadith
  • Al-Imla
  • Ikhtilaf Al-Iraqiyani (i.e the Hanafis)
  • Jima Al-Ilm
  • Ikhtilaf Malik wa Al-Shāfi’ī
  • Kitab Al-Hujjah
  • Musnad al-Shāfi’ī
  • Kitāb al-Radd ʿalā Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan (Refutation of Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan [al-Shaybānī])


  1. Musnad of Abu Dawood Al-Tabalusi, p. 39-40
  2. al-Khateeb fee al-tarikh, V.2, P.61
  3. Al-Sunan al-Kubra’, V.6, P.340
  4. Al-Mustadrik, V.4, P.522, Al-Khateeb fee al-tarikh, V.2, P.61

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