Muhammad ibn Idris al Shafi’i

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Muhammad ibn Idris al Shafi’i

 

A master theologian, poet of repute, and erudite scholar. One who managed to combine many sciences mastering them all. Well read and studious together with being eloquent to no end.

He spent many days amongst the Banu Hudhayl tribe which had a deep impact on his development of Arabic in its purest form. His mastery in the tongue led him to be a point of reference for the speakers of the language. His is the Qurashi Imam, Muhammad ibn Idris al Shafi’i rahimahu Llah. Abu ‘Ubaid says, “Al Shafi’i was a hub for seeking language.”

Asma’i says, “The poetry of the Banu Hudhayl was perfected by a youngster of the Quraysh, Muhammad ibn Idris.”

Ahmed ibn Hanbal says, “Al Shafi’i was amongst the most eloquent, Imam Malik would be pleased with his correct recitation of texts.”[1]

The scholar of his era, Muhammad ibn Idris ibn ‘Abbas ibn ‘Uthman ibn Shafi’ ibn Saib ibn ‘Ubaid ibn ‘Abd Yazid ibn Hisham ibn ’Abdul Muttalib ibn ’Abd Manaf.[2] The supporter of prophetic traditions and theologian of an entire school of thought. The descendant of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. He is famous by al Shafi’i attributing himself to his grandfather Shafi’.

He was born in Gaza, Palestine in the year 150 A.H, after his father had met his demise travelling with him and his mother from Makkah. His father passed away not knowing his son and leaving behind a pregnant wife. This scholar began his life as a poor orphan, moving back to Makkah with his mother at the age of two. He says regarding himself, “I was born in Gaza in the year 150 and was taken to Makkah at the age of two.”[3]

He was nurtured in Makkah and gained mastery in archery hitting the target 9 times out of 10. He then turned his attention to the Arabic language which he attained excellence in. Not long after, Fiqh became beloved to him which he excelled his peers in. He memorized the Qur’an aged seven and learnt the Muwatta by heart aged ten.

Dear reader, have a look at our children at the same age, wasting their precious time in games and useless activities. If they do memorize anything, it is the lyrics to music or names of celebrities and sports players who are by no means role models for us!

Al Shafi’i on the other hand embraced life with the Banu Hudhayl whose language remained pure, where he exerted his efforts in language. He then turned his attention to Fiqh and Ahadith, memorizing the Muwatta. Imam Malik on an occasion says to him, “O Muhammad fear Allah, you will have a bright future.”[4]

Much is reported regarding his astounding intelligence and ability to memorize. It is said that when reading texts, he would cover the opposing page with his hand to lay confusion at bay as he would memorize anything he read. These unnatural abilities were put to use by him in the noblest of ways, studying divine knowledge.

He studied under Muslim ibn Khalid, the Mufti, and Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah amongst others in Makkah. Going to Madinah he sought knowledge from Imam Malik after which he travelled to Yemen ascending a position there. In the year 184 he set out to Iraq gathering the knowledge of its scholars.

He studied under Muhammad ibn al Hassan al Shaybani the venerated student of Imam Abu Hanifah. He then went to Egypt learning and teaching the scholars, returning to Baghdad in the year 195. In this time span he became an Imam, formulating his own school of thought and authoring his book al Hujjah. He then returned to Egypt where he reviewed his opinions and retracted much that what was penned down in al Hujjah.[5]

He authored and formulated the principles of fiqh and its branches, attracting many students. What stands out with regards to him is that he formulated and gathered the rulings of his own school of thought as opposed to others doing it after him. He is also thought to be the first to author in the field of ‘principles of fiqh’. This is quite clear in his book Al Risalah which he authored and sent to ‘Abdul Rahman ibn Mahdi.

The life of this leading authority is filled with sacrifice, travelling from one city to the next in search for knowledge.

Al Muzani says, I heard Al Shafi’i saying:

 

من تعلم القرآن عظمت قيمته ومن نظر في الفقه نبل قدره.ومن كتب الحديث قويت حجته ومن نظر في اللغة رق طبعه ومن نظر في الحساب جزل رأيه ومن لم يصن نفسه لم ينفعه علمه

Whoever recites Qur’an, his value is amplified. Whoever records hadith, his proof is strengthened. Whoever learns jurisprudence, his status is ennobled. Whoever learns Arabic, his disposition becomes gentle. Whoever learns mathematics, his opinion will be copious. And whoever fails to defend his chastity will not benefit from his knowledge.[6]

 

Celebrated for his poetry, here are a few glimpses into his creativity weaving words together with ease. He says:

ومالزماننا عيب سوانا

نعيب زماننا والعيب فينا
ولو نطق الزمان لنا لهجانا

ونهجو ذا الزمان بغير ذنب

ويأكل بعضنا بعض عيانا

وليس الذئب يأكل لحم ذئب

 We blame our time though we are to blame; No fault has time but only us.

We scold the time for all the shame; Had it a tongue, it would scold us.

Wolves do not eat wolves; yet here we are preying on each other.

 

Abu Bakr al Siba’i says, “I heard some of our teachers relating that many people criticised Al Shafi’i due to his intense love for the Ahlul Bayt, some going to the extent of linking him to the Rawafid! In reply he conjured the following couplets:[7]

واهتف بقاعد خيفها والناهض

قف بالمحصب من منى فاهتف بها
فليشهد الثقلان أني رافضي

إن كان رفضا حب آل محمد

Pause shortly in the pebbled land toward Mina; like a roaring river, call upon them and say, “If Rafd means to love the Prophet’s family, then let man and Jinn know that I am a Rafidi.

 

A tribute to his sincerity and piety, Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala intended his fiqh to be known and his school of thought to spread. In the Arab lands, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and other cities he stayed issuing verdicts and spreading knowledge till his demise in Egypt in the year 204 A.H.

Al Muzani says, “I came to Al Shafi’i in his final sickness and asked him how he was on that morning.” He said to me, “I wake as a traveller leaving this world, separating from my brothers, drinking from the cup of death, meeting the evil of my actions, and heading to Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala. I do not know if my soul is headed to Jannat that I wish it well or to Jahannam that I seek to solace it.” He then said:[8]

جعلتُ الرجا مني لعفوك سلما

ولما قسا قلبي وضاقت مذاهبي
بعفوك ربي كان عفوك أعظما

تعاظمني ذنبي فلما قرنته

تجود وتعفو منّةً وتكرّما

فما زلت ذا عفو عن الذنب لم تزل
وأعلم أن الله يعفو ترحما

إني لآتي الذنب أعرف قدره

 When my heart hardened, and my ways narrowed; My hope of Your forgiveness towards You was my approach.

My sins seem very great, yet when I compare it with your forgiveness; My Lord Your forgiveness was greater.

Yet, you forgive sins and still; generously and gracefully bestow and forgive.

I come with sins, knowing well how great; Yet I know Allah forgives from his mercy

 

In this manner al Shafi’i closed the chapter to his worldly life, filled with knowledge and nobility. His death marked a date of loss for this ummah. Many scholars, past and present, have authored books on his feats and virtues which this chapter is unable to condense. May Allah be pleased with him and enter him into Jannat.

 

NEXT⇒Epilogue and Lessons from the Lives of August Personalities


[1] Al ‘Ilal wa Ma’rifah al Rijal, vol. 1 pg. 462; Tarikh Dimashq, vol. 51 pg. 296.

[2] Adab al Shafi’i wa Manaqib, pg. 38.

[3] Hilyat al Awliya’, vol. 9 pg. 67; Tarikh Dimashq, vol. 2 pg. 59.

[4] Tarikh Dimashq, vol. 51 pg. 286.

[5] Verdicts are given according to the later view, only about 10 rulings are taken from the old as mentioned by al Suyuti at the end of al Ashbah wa al Naza’ir.

[6] Manaqib al Bayhaqi, vol. 1 pg. 282; Manaqib al Razi, pg. 70; Tabaqat al Shafi’iyah, pg. 32.

[7] Hilyat al Awliya’, vol. 9 pg. 152.

[8] Siyar A’lam al Nubala’, vol. 10 pgs. 75/76.