The Four Great Imaams - Imaam Shaafi'i

The Imaam of the world, Mujtahid of his time

Imaam Shaafi’i (may Allah have mercy on him) was reportedly born on the same day as Imaam Abu Haneefah’s (may Allah have mercy on him) death. He was born in Gaza, Palestine. His proper name is Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn Idrees ibn ‘Abbaas ibn ‘Uthmaan ibn Shaafi’i ibn Saa’ib ibn ‘Ubayd ibn ‘Abd Yazeed ibn Haashim ibn al-Muttalib ibn ‘Abd Manaf al-Qurayshi al-Makki ash-Shaafi’i- descended from the great-grandfather of the Noble Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).

His father also passed away early and he was taken to Makkah by his mother at the age of 2. He gained his elementary religious knowledge in Makkah along with training of archery and horse riding and a high degree of Arabic poetry. He grew up in circumstances of extreme poverty, but he was brilliant of mind and strong of memory: He told that when the teacher taught the children, he would learn everything by heart instantly and so in the teacher’s absence he would teach, thus the teacher would waive his fees. By the age of seven he had memorized the entire Qur’an and at 10 he knew the Muwatta of Imaam Maalik (may Allah have mercy on him) by heart. After some years in Makkah, he moved to Madinah where he obtained knowledge of hadeeth and fiqh from the scholars of that city.

His teachers included his uncle Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn ‘Shaafi’i, Sufyaan ibn Uyaynah, Imaam Maalik ibn Anas and Imaam Muhammad ibn Hasan ash-Shaybaani (may Allah have mercy on him). The legacy left by the Imaam was monumental: His Risaalah was the first work in the history of mankind formulating the theoretical and practical bases of jurisprudence. The teachings of his school of thought are embodied in the seven-volume al-Umm and in the science of tafseer (commentary of Qur’an) he was the first to establish the principles of abrogation (‘ilm al-naasikh wal-mansookh). Hasan ibn Muhammad Za’frani said: “The scholars of hadeeth were asleep and awoke when Shaafi’i woke them,” and ash-Shaybaani said of him: “If the scholars of hadeeth speak, it is in the language of Shaafi’i.”

He was of a pristine character, independent, generous and broad-minded. Of his generosity, it is reported that once he came back to Makkah from Yemen, bringing 10,000 deenars (gold coins) with him. He camped outside Makkah and by the end of the day he had given away the entire amount to the poor and needy people. He divided his nights into three equal parts: writing, praying and sleeping. Every night he would complete the recitation of the entire Qur’an in prayer and during Ramadaan he would complete it twice a day.

He was a handsome man of fair complexion. (According to some reports he had a darker or tawny complexion.) His beard was never more than a handful and he would dye it with henna. It was said that he liked scent and whichever pillar he leaned against while he was teaching, his fragance would linger upon it. He could truthfully say of himself, “I have never told a lie,” and in the company of such an intense personality, his students could not swallow a drink of water, out of awe, while he was looking on.

He passed away at 53 years of age in Cairo on a Friday during the month of Rajab (204 H.). The governor of Egypt led the Janaazah prayers, which were also attended by his two sons Abul-Hasan Muhammad and ‘Uthmaan. After a lifetime of service to Islam, he left behind over 100 works and many students who upheld his legacy.

[Great scholars of the Shaafi’i madhhab include such masters of hadeeth and fiqh as Imaam Nawawi, Imaam Daaraqutni, Imaam Bayhaqi, Imaam Dhahabi, Haafiz Ibn Atheer Jazri, Haafiz Ibn Hajar and Haafiz ‘Iraaqi (may Allah have mercy on him).]