The Madzhab of Imam ash-Shafi'i (r.a.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

When we look at the manaqib, biography, of Imam Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi’i (r.a.), much of what we have is pious legend.  The earliest extent biography was by Imam Dawud ibn ‘Ali azh-Zhahiri (r.a.), the imam of the almost extinct Zhahiri madzhab.  That biography is lost.  The best surviving manaqib is by the Shafi’i jurist and muhaddits, Imam Ahmad ibn Husayn al-Bayhaqi (r.a.), and even then, it is more legend than fact.

What we do know is that Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) was a student of Imam Malik ibn Anas (r.a.) and initially followed his madzhab.  His greatest influence, however, came via the student of Imam Abu Hanifah Nu’man ibn Tsabit (r.a.), Imam Muhammad ibn Hasan ash-Shaybani (r.a.).  For the most part, Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) adhered to the Hanafi madzhab although he differed on them in issues of speculative fiqh, just as he differed with the Maliki madzhab on their emphasis of the ‘urf of Madina over ahadits.

The Shafi’i madzhab, as we know it, coalesced after his passing, based on his works, Kitab ar-Risalah fi Uswul al-Fiqh and Kitab al-Umm.  Perhaps the one person who truly shaped the Shafi’i madzhab was the mujaddid of his time, Imam Muhyi ad-Din Yahya ibn Sharaf an-Nawawi (r.a.).

In summary, while a mujtahid in his own right, Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) was most likely a Hanafi.   In his diwan and his manaqib, he spoke of his great love for Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) who he never met, and how he used to go to the maqam of al-Imam al-A’azham, the Greatest Imam himself, at Baghdad, and make tawaswswul upon him.  It was his efforts to reconcile the Ahl ar-Ra’yy and the Ahl al-Ahadits that lead to the formation of a new madzhab after his passing, that was named after him.


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