TRADITIONAL ISLAM as understood by the vast majority of ulama' of the Ahli Sunnah wal Jama'ah
To his students, his advice was to concentrate their time and efforts in studying the Hadith. He told them repeated if they found and authentic Hadith in conflict with his views, they should accept the Hadith.
I were to walk from Madinah to Makkah [a distance of 500 kilometres] barefoot,
with no mount to carry me, it would be easier for me than to walk to Malik’s
home here in Madinah. I am never in a humble position until I stand at his
doorstep,’ said the governor of Madinah al-Munnawwarah as he finished reading
a letter from his counterpart in Makkah.
governor of Makkah al-Mukarramah had wanted him to introduce a young man to the
great scholar of Madinah al-Munnawwarah. The young man continues the story;
governor and a number of his men went with me until we reached Malik’s home
and one man knocked on the door. A
maid opened [the door] and he told her that the governor wanted to see the
scholar. She went in and came back after a long while to say: “May master
greets you well and says: ‘If you have a case requiring a ruling, then you may
write it down and he will send you the answer. If you want to learn Hadith, you
know the day when he holds his [study] circle. You may wish to leave now.”
governor said to her: “Tell him that I have a letter addressed to him from the
governor of Makkah in an important matter.”
went in, then she came out again, and brought with her a chair.’
afterwards, Malik came out. He was a tall, old man who inspired much awe and
respect. He sat on the chair and read the letter until he reached the request
made by the governor on my behalf. He threw the letter down and said: “have we
reached so low that the study of the Prophet’s Hadith is sought through
favours and high position!”
governor of Madinah was in awe [of Malik] and could not reply. So I ventured to
speak: “May God grant you His favours. I am a man form the Muttalib branch of
Quraysh, and I have so far done this and that.’
was endowed with penetrative insight. He asked the young man his name and then
said: ‘Muhammad! Be always God-fearing, and avoid sin, for you will acquire
distinction. God has given you light in your heart, so do not let it be put out
by indulging in sin. Come tomorrow to read.’
was the first encounter between Imam Malik ibn Anas, the renowned scholar in his
mid’70s, and Al-Shafi’i, just under 20, who was destined to be among the
greatest scholars in our history.
following day, Al-Shafi’i turned up with Malik’s Al-Muwatta’,
and started to read. Malik was impressed with his diction and delivery.
Concerned that his teacher might be tired Al-Shafi’i hesitated, but Malik
asked him to continue. Thus, Al-Shafi’i managed to complete reading the great
book under the great imam in a very short period.
ibn Idris Al-Shafi’i, born in Gaza in 150 H (767) was of Qurayshi origin, with
an ancestry that met Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu
alayhi wa sallam’s lineage at his grandfather, Abdulmattalib. Al-Shafi’i’s
father died when he was very young, leaving him and his mother – of Yemeni
origin – in utter poverty.
mother’s decision to send the nearly 10-year-old Al-Shafi’i to Makkah al-Mukarramah,
near his tribal ancestry, proved crucial. After entrusting him initially in the
care of a relative, she followed him there to keep an eye on his studies.
he could not afford enough writing material, the keen student used to go to the
governor’s offices in search of paper that had already been used. On the blank
side of the paper, he would do his lessons. He committed to memory the Qur’an
at a very young age.
order to improve his knowledge of Arabic, he went deep into the desert to join
the Bedouin tribe of Huthail, who were renowned for the best standard of
literary Arabic. He memorised poetry and learnt their prose reporting and
stories. He accompanied the tribe on nomadic travels, until he mastered all that
was there to learn. He also learnt archery and became very skilful; he could hit
the target 10 times out of 10.
his return to Makkah al-Mukarramah he carried on studying. By the time he was
nearly 20 he had completed all that its scholars has to teach, but this thirst
for knowledge was not quenched. So, he traveled to Madinah al-Munnawwarah to
learn from Imam Malik.
meticulous student that he was, al-Shafi’i wished to have a foretaste of what
he would be learning. He borrowed Al-Muwatta’
to read which only whetted his appetite and made him more eager to study
stayed very closed to Malik for nine years, during which he only travelled to
visit his mother, or to stay for a short while with some bedouin tribes. The
last three years at Malik’s study circle were doubly fruitful because the
eminent Iraqi scholar. Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaibani (132-189H) who recorded
all the Hanafi scholarship had come to study under Malik.
used to support his students who had no means of living. Al-Shafi’i was one of
them. When Malik died (179H), he returned to Makkah al-Mukarramah hoping to earn
his living. The governor of Yemen was there on a visit when some people spoke to
him about Al-Shafi’i, and he took him to Yemen where he was appointed justice
in the city of Najran. The people there soon realised that they had a judge who
was devoted to justice, unwilling to swerve from it for any favour or pressure.
They loved him and learnt a great deal from him.
who are unwilling to compromise often find themselves in the bad books of
rulers. In his fifth years at Najran, Al-Shafi’i’s mettle was tasted when a
strong-fisted governor took over. Al-Shafi’i did not spare him from criticism
whenever the occasion arose. In the process of curbing the governor’s
injustice, Al-Shafi’i earned his enmity.
governor wrote to Caliph Al-Rasheed in Baghdad, accusing Al-Shafi’i of
supporting a revolt by people loyal to the Alawis, the descendants of Ali ibn
Talib, Radi-Allahuanhu. He said: ‘I have no authority over this man, and
he achieves by his tongue much more than a fighter can achieve with this
this accusation baseless? No doubt, it was, because Al-Shafi’i never supported
or advocated any revolt or rebellion against the Caliph. But he loved the Alawis,
as they were the descendants of Ali, Radi-Allahu
anhu, and Fatimah, Radi-allahu anha,
the daughter of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu
alayhi wa sallam.
his love, however, he never was a Shi’ah; nor did he believe that Ali Radi-Allahu anhu, had the strongest claim to be the Caliph after the
Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam.
the contrary, Al-Shafi’i held he view that the four Caliphs were elected to
the post in the right order of their suitability. He also regarded ‘Umar ibn
Abdulaziz (d.101H), the Umayyad ruler, as the fifth of the rightly guided
Al-Shafi’i, at the age of 34, was hauled in 184H before the Caliph in Baghdad,
in fetters and chains. Among his advisers and top officials, present at the
court, was none other than Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaibani, the Chief Justice.
Two factors influenced the Caliph’s decision: a lucid defence by the accused
himself; and Chief Justice Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaibani’s Testimony. Al-Shafi’i
pointed out that his scholarship was known to the Chief Justice, who described
Al-Shafi’i as a scholar of eminence who would not be involved in such matters.
Al-Rasheed, who was kind and lenient, saw in this testimony his way out to spare
Al-Shafi’i. He told Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaibani to take Al-Shafi’i to
his home while he thought the matter over. There the case ended. The charge was
never revived. The governor who had rid himself of a fearless critic was no
longer interested what happened to him.
episode was a blessing in disguise because it brought Al-Shafi’i back on the
path of acquiring knowledge. Al-Shafi’i stayed with Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaibani
and read under his guidance all the books that he had written, recording the
Fiqh of Abu Haneefah and his disciples. When Al-Shafi’i left Baghdad two years
later, he said: ‘I carried with me a whole camel load of books, all of which I
learnt directly form Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan.’
learnt the Iraqi Fiqh in Baghdad as well as memorised the Ahadith that were
known in Iraq, but not in Madinah or Hijaz. He also entered into debate with
many scholars, speaking as a student of Imam Malik, but he would only debate
with lesser scholars than Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaibani, whom he respected
point to note is that as a student of Imam Malik Al-Shafi’i was not supposed
to take part in debates since Malik did not allow debate in his circle. But Imam
Abe Haneefah imparted studies mainly through debates with his students. Muhammad
ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaibani being a disciple of Abu Haneefah insisted Al-Shafi’i
debate questions with him, to which he reluctantly yielded.
the most important characteristic of Al-Shafi’i was his native intelligence
that gave him an easy and good grasp of even the most difficult of questions. He
always studied matters in depth, so as to arrive at the right verdict regarding
any question put to him. His intelligence was coupled with a superb memory and
ready argument. When he wanted to explain an idea, he would put it with a wealth
of meanings that he always found ready to hand. He is not known to have been
lost for words, yet his explanation was always rich and to the point.
had a fine literary style, lucidity of expression and command over the language.
His very clear delivery of words in a distinctive voice based on clarity of
thought made him a powerful speaker. One of his students says: ‘Every scholar
gives more in his books than when you meet him personally, except for Al-Shafi’i
whose verbal discussion gives you more than his books.’
one remembers that his books are among the finest in style, lucidity and
presentation, one realises precisely what this student is talking about.
knack for imparting knowledge together with his profound insight – a quality
that he had in common with his teacher – made Al-Shafi’i
an excellent teacher who should achieve the best results. Hence, his students
were devoted to him.
quality that raised Al-Shafi’i to the highest rank of Islamic scholars was his
unflagging dedication and sincerity in the pursuit of truth, and declaring it
even if it was unpopular, or at variance with his teacher, to whom he was most
devoted. His indebtedness to Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan, who had saved him from the
Caliph’s wrath, did not prevent him from supporting the Madinan scholars’
views. No one ever accused him of rejecting true evidence.
his students, his advice was to concentrate their time and efforts in studying
the Hadith. He told them repeatedly if they found an authentic Hadith in
conflict with his views, they should accept the Hadith.
never lost his temper in debate because he was not interested in scoring points
or winning, but in reaching the right conclusion. And if his opponent were
right, he would not hesitate to accept his view. He is reported to have said:
‘I wish people would learn what I have to give, without it being attributed to
me. In this way, I will receive the reward for it from my Lord, without having
with such a character, there is no wonder that scholars placed Imam Muhammad ibn
Idris Al-Shafi’i in the highest rank.
(by Adil Salahi, Impact International, UK - May 2001 issue pp 49 & 50)