Muhammad Idris Al Shafi
The founder of the Shafi school of jurisprudence who revolutionalised the study of fiqh by laying down the principles (usul) of Islamic law.
Al-Shafi studied Hadis and Fiqa in Makkah, went to Madinah in 787 and studied under Malik bin Anas, till his death in 796, and he also went to Egypt in 804 but came to Baghdad in 810 and started teaching there. He argued, in the background of the perception that present-day Madinah was really a reliable guide to pristine Islam, that it was not safe to rely on any one Islamic city, however, august its pedigree. Al-Shafi urged that all jurisprudence should be based on ahadith about Hazrat Muhammad, peace be upon him, who should be seen as the inspired interpreter and not simply as the transmitter of the Qura'an.
Al-Shafi insisted that each hadith had to be reliably supported by a chain (isnad) of devout Muslims leading directly back to the Prophet, peace be upon him, himself. The isnad must be stringently examined, and if the chain was broken or if any one of its 'links' could be shown to be a bad Muslim, the hadith must be rejected. Al-Shafi tried to mediate between the ah al-hadith and those jurists, such as Abu Hanifa, who had insisted upon the necessity of ijtihad. Al-Shafi agreed that some degree of ijtihad was necessary, but believed that it should be confined to a strict analogy (qiyas) between the Prophet's, peace be upon him, customs and contemporary practice. Al-Shafi provided a blueprint for the creation of a way of life that certainly gave Muslims a profound and satisfying experience.
Al-Shafi was regarded as the founder of Usul al fiqa. Ahmad bin Hanbal and Abu Saur were his pupils. Al-Shafi's collection of writings and lectures is known as Kitab Al Umm. He also authored Masnad, Sunan and Al-Fiqh-Ul-Akbar. His other works that were mentioned by Yaqut and by al-Nadim in Fihrist no longer exist.
There are four recognised law schools, each regarded with Muslim egalitarianism as equally valid - the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi and Hanbali schools, the later preserving the ideals of Ibn Hanbal and the Hadith People. In practice, these four madhhabs did not differ markedly from one another. Each Muslim could choose the one he or she would follow, though most tended towards the one that was prevalent locally.
Al-Shafi school of thoughts were very influential in almost all the Muslim countries till the 10th century. Even now they are predominant in South Arabia, Malaysia, East Africa and Central Asia. From 1724 to 1870 the Imam of the al-Azhar mosque in Egypt was always a Shafi'i. Al-Nasai, al-Ashari, al-Ghazzali, the Imam al- Haramain, al-Nawai among others were some of the notable Shafis. L.W.C. van den Berg expounded Muslim law according to the Shafi's school. French, Italian and English translations are available.
Al Shafi was born Muhammad Idris al-Abu Abdullah, in poverty, in Ghazza and belonged to the tribe of Quraish and was brought up by his mother as he had lost his father early in his life. He died in Fustat (Egypt) where he had returned in 815.
Compiled by:M. Nauman Khan / Ghulam Mohiuddin