The Personal Relationship between a Scholar & His Student

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.) used to mention the virtues of his shaykh, Imam Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) to his wife.  He would mention to her the extensive and superb knowledge of Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) as well as his taqwa.  Imam Ahmad (r.a.) invited Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) to come visit him at his home.  When the time for dinner arrived, Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) ate until he was full and went to the guest room for some sleep.

The wife of Imam Ahmad (r.a.) said to him, “O Ahmad!  Is this the same ash-Shafi’i that you used to tell me so much about?“

Imam Ahmad (r.a.) replied, “Indeed he is.“

So she said, “I noticed three things about him worthy of criticism.  Firstly, when we served him the food, he ate plenty of it.  Secondly, when he went into the guest room, he went to sleep without standing up to perform tahajjud.  Lastly, when he prayed swalah fajr with us, he did not perform wudhu.”

So Imam Ahmad (r.a.) went to Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) to ask him about these three matters.  Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) said to him in the manner a father would explain to his son, “O Ahmad!  I ate plenty because I know for certain that your food is halal and you are a generous man.  And the food that comes from a generous man is a cure, while the food that comes from a stingy man is a disease.

However, I did not eat plenty of food in order to achieve my fill; rather I ate plenty of your food in order to derive the cure from it.  As for the reason I did not stand up at night to perform the night prayer, when I laid my head down to get some sleep, I looked and all I could see was the Book of Allah and the sunnah of His Prophet (s.a.w.) before my face.  So I deducted seventy-two fiqh related benefits from them for the Muslims to benefit from.  Thus, there was no opportunity for me to stand and perform the night prayer!

As for the reason why I prayed swalah fajr without performing ablution, by Allah, my eyes never tasted the sweetness of sleep in order for me to renew my wudhu.  I was awake the whole night, so I prayed swalah fajr with the same wudhu I had for swalah ‘isha.“

Once, Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) was challenged to a debate by a Christian ruler and he accepted it.  The debate was to take place by a river.  Imam ash-Shafi’i’s (r.a.) students accompanied him, whilst the Christians were represented by three hundred of the king's scholars.  Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) arrived on one side of the river and the Christians arrived on the other.

The Christians then said Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) should come to their side of the river to debate and the students of Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) argued that the Christians should come to the Muslims side.  Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) resolved this by walking atop of the river, laid his sajadah down and said, “Let us meet here, in the middle, and deliberate.”  At this, the Christians were amazed and said the shahadah.

When the news reached the Christian king, he remarked “It is fortunate that we had sent our priests out rather than inviting ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) to our kingdom.”  He was expressing his concern that had Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) come to them, the entire kingdom would have embraced Islam.


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