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Hadrat Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him is among the four Imams of the Ahle Sunnah wa Jamaah whose immense knowledge, Ijtihad, greatness, eminence, piety and nobleness is unanimously accepted by this ummah. There is a large segment of the Ahle Sunnah wa Jamaah who consider him as their leader in matters of Fiqh and therefore consider themselves as Muqallids of the great Imam. His full name is Abu Abdullah Mohammed bin Idris bin Abul Abbas bin Uthman bin Shaafi Al Hashemi Al Qarashi Al Mutallabi. One of his ancestors is Hadrat Shafi May Allah have mercy on him who is also considered as being among the Ashaab. The father of this person was Hadrat Saa’ib May Allah have mercy on him who was also captured in the battle of Badr. He also paid a ransom and was released. However, he later accepted Islam. The blessed family lineage of Hadrat Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him meets at Abde Munaf with that of the Holy Prophet peace be upon him and therefore, he is a considered a Hashimi and a Quraishi. This is that blessed quality of his which is not found in the other three Imams.
His father also migrated from Mecca shareef and settled in Ghaza in Palestine. The purpose was to continue his business in this part of the world. And in this city, the great Imam was born in 150 ah. His mother is also Hadrat Sayyidah Fatimah binte Abdullah Mahaz who is the granddaughter of Hadrat Hasan Muthannah May Allah have mercy on him and the great granddaughter of Imam Hasan May Allah have mercy on him. When he was only two years old, his father passed away and his family experienced immense difficulty and hardship. His mother then returned with him to Mecca shareef and therefore his early learning and training took place in Mecca shareef. From a very early age, he had immense thirst for knowledge. However, at this early stage, he showed great interest in poetry, Arabic grammar and the history of the Arabs and later on, began to acquire knowledge in Tajweed, Qirah, Hadith and Fiqh. In fact, he attained such proficiency in grammar and poetry that he began to be included among the authorities in Arabic grammar. Imam Asma’i May Allah have mercy on him explains, “I learnt of the correctness of many of the poetry by Hazeel through a Hashimi young man. The name of this young man was Mohammed bin Idris).”
Imam Ahmed bin Hambal May Allah have mercy on him has stated that, “Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him was considered as one of the most eloquent of speakers.” His Qirah was also much appreciated by Imam Malik May Allah have mercy on him. One of the reasons is that there was an immense spiritual effect in his voice. When the great Imam turned to acquiring the knowledge of hadith, at the early age of only thirteen, he had memorized the Mu’atta of Imam Malik May Allah have mercy on him. After this, his mother took him to Madina shareef and placed him in the blessed company of Imam Malik May Allah have mercy on him so that he could further his studies.
In fact, the great Imam explains his interest in acquiring religious knowledge in these words, “One day, I was busy reciting the poetry of Labeed with great enthusiasm and joy when I heard a voice say to me, ‘why are you wasting your time in this type of poetry, go and acquire the knowledge of fiqh’. When I heard this, I was greatly affected. I then attended the classes of Sufyan bin Ainiyah May Allah have mercy on him in Mecca shareef and also the classes of Muslim bin Khalid Zanghi and then went to Madina shareef to attend the classes of Imam Malik May Allah have mercy on him.’”
The great Imam attained immense knowledge of Islamic fiqh and hadith at the hands of Hadrat Muslim bin Khalid May Allah have mercy on him. Such was his impression of his young student, that Hadrat Muslim bin Khalid May Allah have mercy on him gave the great Imam permission at a very young age to issue Fataawah. Obviously being given such an immense responsibility at such an early age clearly proves the immense intelligence and brilliance of Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him. Abu Ubaid states that, “I have never met anyone as intelligent as Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him”. In fact, Yunus bin Abdul ‘Ala states, “If the knowledge of the entire ummah was measured, still too, the knowledge of Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him would encompass all of this.” The great Imam spent sixteen years in the blessed company of Imam Malik May Allah have mercy on him until his passing.
One of the greatest accolade of Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him was what the Holy Prophet peace be upon him foretold about him. Once the Holy Prophet peace be upon him mentioned, “There will be an Alim from the Quraish who will fill the world with knowledge”. This has also been mentioned by eminent leaders of the other three mazhabs.
Hadrat Imam Ahmed bin Hambal May Allah have mercy on him beautifully summarises the greatness of Hadrat Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him in the following words, “Whosoever has used a pen and ink, around his neck is the favour of Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him”.
He further clarifies, “No doubt, Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him is considered as the Mujaddid of the second century as Hadrat Umar bin Abdul Aziz May Allah have mercy on him is the Mujaddid of the first century.” He further states, “in thirty years, there has never been a night in which I did not make dua for Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him.” Besides having immense knowledge and stature, Hadrat Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him was also noted for his Zuhd, piety and was unmatched in this regard. He was also a great zaahid, aabid and extremely pious. Explaining the manner of the great Imam, Rabee bin Sulayman explained, “The great Imam divided his night into three sections. The first was spent in writing. The second part was spent in ibaadah and during the third part, he had a little rest.” Ebrahim bin Mohammed explains that, “I have never seen someone read salah in such a beautiful manner as Hadrat Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him. His salah was similar to the salah of Muslim bin Khalid and his salah was similar to Musim Juraih and his salah was similar to Ataa bin Abi Rabah and his salah was similar to Abdullah bin Zubair and his salah was similar to Hadrat Sayyiduna Abu Bakr and what can we say about the salah of Hadrat Sayyiduna Abu Bakr, his salah was very similar to the salah of the Holy Prophet peace be upon him (May Allah have mercy on them).”
The scale of his Ijtihad.
Hadrat Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him as per the rules and regulations set out by him, he used to extract various issues from the Quran and Sunnah and answers to many questions. His principles of Ijtihad can be seen from his masterpiece the “Ar Risaalah”. It was through these principles that he formulated and assimilated his laws of fiqh. This was not only recorded but was physically seen in him. This can also be seen from another of his masterpiece the “Kitaabul Umm”. Besides presenting all the various issues in his mazhab, he also presented concrete evidence and testimony.
He also presented his laws of Usul and how he had derived this answer. In his extraction of any law, based on his principles of Ijtihad, he first looked at the Quran and never tried to present any further explanation on any Nass if it was clear and apparent. After this, he looked at the hadith shareef. He even accepted that hadith shareef which had a single narrator as long as the narrator’s credentials were proven. Looking at the laws derived by him, one can see that he relied heavily on the sunnah and there is no doubt that if one ignores the sunnah, it is impossible to acquire a clear picture of the Quran. It is the sunnah of the Holy Prophet peace be upon him which is an explanation of the Quran. The Quran contains general laws and rules and it is the hadith which explains these laws and rules. It is the hadith shareef which explains that which is common from that which is specific. That which is definite from that which is absolute etc.
This is the reason that the great Imam spent many years safeguarding the hadith and also protecting it against those who were enemies of the hadith. He was also one of those eminent scholars in Islam who gave a definite status to Khabar-e-Waahid or a hadith which had one single narrator and he was able to substantiate the evidence for it as being a source of testimony.
In fact, such was his immense contribution to hadith and the science of hadith that the Ulama gave him the title of “Naasirus Sunnah”. He was not only an eminent Haafizul Hadith, but also understood the various intricacies of various hadith. Hasan bin Mohammed Zafrani explains his speciality in this manner, “The scholars of ahadith were asleep, however, Hadrat Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him awakened them and they became awake.”
Imam Nawawi May Allah have mercy on him in the Majmu’ah 1/10, explains, “One of the great attributes of Hadrat Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him was his immense assistance to the science of hadith. His strict obedience to sunnah and his compilation of the laws which govern his mazhab. These were also based on evidence which was soild, authentic and fully established. In fact, when he arrived in Iraq, the title given to him was Naasirul Hadith. As far as the latter day Ulama were concerned and the Ulama of Khuraasan, according to the jurists, the person who follows his mazhab are also referred to as the Ashaab-e-Hadith.”
There is no doubt that among the Ahle Lughaat (language), the Ahle Usul, the scholars of Hadith and the Ahle Fiqh, everyone of them are unanimous in the honesty, the integrity and the piety of Hadrat Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him. However, one of the amazing qualities of the great Imam which is overlooked by most people is that he was one of the greatest debaters of his era. However, such was his greatness that he never debated with the intention of humiliating anyone but with the intention of making sure that, that person was brought back on the road of truth. (He himself had stated that whenever I debated with anyone, it did not interest me whether truth was revealed through me or through my opponent by the Almighty.)”.
Once, the son of Hadrat Imam Ahmed bin Hambal May Allah have mercy on him asked his father, “Who is this Shafi you always speak about and for whom you seem to make much dua for?” The great Imam replied, “Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him is such a person like how the sun is necessary for the day and health is essential for a human. Tell me, is there any substitute for these things?”
The great Imam spent most of his time teaching, in religious debates and discussion, extracting various laws and rules and serving the office of Darul Iftah. He had also written many masterpieces which were going to help the ummah in the future.
Once, Abdur Rahman bin Mehdi May Allah have mercy on him asked the great Imam to write a manuscript in which he could find the immense meaning of the Quran, the various ahadith, the Ijmah and various laws which were still applicable and those which have been abrogated”. The miracle of the great Imam is that in his young age, at the request of this person, he wrote the masterpiece which later became known as the “Ar Risaalah”. This contains all the information which had been requested.
There is also no doubt that the Musnad of the great Imam also holds a lofty status. These include those ahadith which the great Imam had personally taught his students. Some of this has also been narrated by Rabee bin Sulayman to Abul Abbas Mohammed bin Yaqub Asam and later included in the “Kitaabul Umm” and the “Mabsut”. In fact, this was later extracted by Abul Abbas and complied as the Musnad of Hadrat Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him.
Imam Mazani May Allah have mercy on him narrates that he was present when the great Imam was about to leave this world. He then asked the great Imam about his condition and he replied, “This is the moment when the world is bidding farewell, the moment when one is separated from his family, the cup of death will be presented and the results of ones deeds will be revealed and very soon, one will be presented in the Divine Court of the Almighty, Who is aware of where the souls will be taken.”
The great Imam May Allah have mercy on him passed away on the 30th of Rajab 204 ah. on the day of Juma. His mazaar shareef is in Egypt and thousands of people visit the great Imam everyday. His spiritual grace and benediction continues to descend on those who visit his blessed qabr shareef. We make dua that his spiritual grace also falls upon us. Ameen.