Home / All / Fiqh & Socitey / Shāfi‘īyah: An Introduction to Islamic Jurisprudential Sects

Shāfi‘īyah: An Introduction to Islamic Jurisprudential Sects

1- A glance at the Life of Shāfi‘ī

In terms of antiquity, Shāfi‘īyah is the third Sunni judicial school. Its founder is Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muhammad b. Idrīs, a jurist from the fourth generation of Successor jurists from Mecca. He is attributed to the Quraysh tribe, and was born in 150 A.H. in Gaza, Palestine. He started learning jurisprudence from Muslim b. Khālid al-Zanjī, and when he was only 14, Zanjī gave him permission to issue fatwa. He moved to Mecca at the age of 20, and studied under Mālik b. Anas. He stayed with Mālik for 9 years, until he died. Mālik used to praise him and gave him permission to issue fatwa.

After that, Shāfi‘ī was appointed as a judge in Yemen. He had secret relation with Zaydīyah, which led to his captivity in 187 A.H. and he was taken before the Caliph, Ḥārūn, in Baghdad. However, it was not long before Ḥārūn released him, after knowing his scientific position. Shāfi‘ī was in scientific communication with Muhammad b. Ḥasan Shaybānī (d. 189 A.H.), a famous Ḥanafī jurist, in Baghdad. His acquaintance with Ḥanafīyah, led to develop a new school that was intermediate and combined of both Ḥanīfah, the school of rationalists spread through Iraq, and Mālikīyah, the school of traditionists spread through Hejaz.

Shāfi‘ī proclaimed his new Jurisprudential sect by presenting the rules of deducing religious precepts, which was later entitled Uṣūl al-Fiqh. After that he went to Mecca, but in 195 A.H. returned to Baghdad, meanwhile, he trained many students and authored “al-Risālah”, the first book concerning uṣūl al-fiqh. The book includes subjects as: the Qur’an, Sunnah, abrogating and abrogated, weakness factors of ḥadīths, isolated tradition, ijmā‘ (consensus), qiyās (deductive analogy), ijtihād (interpretive reasoning), istisān (juristic preference), and dissension. Muhammad b. Idrīs left for Egypt in 195 A.H. to disseminate his new sect. in Egypt, Shāfi‘ī renewed his views that he had arranged in Iraq presenting in books of al-Risālah and al-Ḥujjah. He rewrote al-Risālah and his new jurisprudential views, which were more credible and authentic in jurisprudence were compiled in a book called al-Umm.

Shāfi‘ī is the first person who has written about uṣūl al-fiqh and Āyāt al-Aḥkām (verses of the revealed prescripts), and talked about incongruities between ḥadīths. He was also an accomplished archer, poet, astronomer, and Qur’an reciter. He used to show a great love for Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) so that many people caviled him for this love, but he answered them by the poem that: “if loving the progeny of Muhammad is heresy …. Then Thaqalayn (the Qur’an and Sunnah) witness that I am a heretic.”

Shāfi‘ī authored many books, including:

  • Al-Ḥujjah, which was his old jurisprudential book,
  • Al-Umm, regarding fiqh. It is published in 7 volumes,
  • Al-Risālah, regarding uṣūl al-fiqh,
  • Al-Sunan,
  • Ikhtilāf al-Ḥadīth,
  • Fḍā’il Quraysh,
  • Ibṭāl al-Istiḥsān,
  • Kitāb al-Ijmā‘,
  • Kitāb Khilāf Mālik wa al-Shāfi‘ī,

He died in 204 A.H. in Fusṭāṭ, Egypt.

2- History

Egypt was the first place where the school of Shāfi‘īyah appeared, however, before it Ḥanafīyah and Mālikīyah were spread over there. After the dominance of Fāṭimī Caliphs over Egypt, and spread of Ahl al-Bayt’s jurisprudence over there, Shāfi‘īyah became unpopular in Egypt. However, when Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Ayyūbī put an end to Fāṭimīs’ dominance over there, Shāfi‘īyah became popular there again. Ayyūbī government favored Shāfi‘īyah more than other Four Sunni Schools, and earmarked the chair of judgment to Shāfi‘īyah as its official school. This situation continued at the time of Turkish Baḥrī government, but Ẓāhir Bībrus includes other schools in judicial system; however non-Shāfi‘ī jurisdiction could not spread beyond the Cairo and Fusṭāṭ. Shāfi‘īyah was very famous in Egypt, and Sheikh al-Azhar was selected from Shāfi‘ī scholars until 1287 A.H. Shāfi‘īyah, after Egypt, was predominant in Iraq, cities of Khurāsān, Turkestan, Syria[1], and Yemen. It was also followed in Transoxiana, cities of Fars, Hejaz, and some parts of India. From 300 A.H. onwards, it found followers in Andalusia and Africa, too.

Shāfi’īyah is the predominant sect in Egypt plateaus, Palestine, and Kurd-living areas. Most Muslim population of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippine, India, China, Australia, majority of Iranian Sunnis, and half of Yemeni Muslims follow this sect.  It is the second popular Sunni sect in Iraq, and challenges Ḥanbalīyah in Hejaz. A quarter of the Muslims in Syria are Shāfi’ī, but very it is less prevalent in Afghanistan.

3- Sources of Deduction

The Qur’an: Shāfi‘ī, just like other jurists, regarded the Holy Qur’an as the main and the first jurisprudential source. He resorted to its outward meaning, except when there was a reason indicating that another meaning is intended. In his point of view, abrogating the Qur’an by Sunnah is not acceptable, although it was supported by many traditions.

Sunnah: Shāfi‘ī regards Sunnah as an explanatory factor of the Qur’an. He strictly supports practicing the isolated ḥadīth, if the narrator was a reliable person with good memory, and the ḥadīth was connected to the Prophet (S.A.W). He criticizes Ḥanafīyah for preferring qiyās (deductive analogy) to isolated ḥadīth. He also rejects the conditions that Ḥanafīyah and Mālikīyah have imposed for practicing an isolated ḥadīth. He believes that in case of being sound, practicing a tradition and ḥadīth, just like the Qur’an, is necessary.  However, he put some conditions to practice a mursal ḥadīth (a tradition transmitted by someone who has not heard it directly from the Prophet), such as being transmitted by Sa‘īd b. Musayyib.

Ijmā‘ (consensus): ijmā‘ is regarded as a proof in the next rank after the Qur’an and Sunnah. For the impossibility of knowing all opinions, Shāfi‘ī defined ijmā‘ as unawareness of an opposite idea. He rejected his professor, Mālik’s opinion for regarding the consensus of people of Medina as a proof, and said: the first level of ijmā‘ is the consensus of Companions.

Words of Companions: Shāfi‘ī has resorted to the words of Companions in his early fatwas, but, as many of his disciples say, he did not adduce them for issuing his new fatwas. The reason is that he has quoted Companions’ words, and then apposed them, sometimes. Anyhow, his book, al-Umm shows that he regarded Companions’ words as a proof, except when there was an opponent, and always preferred them to qiyās.

Notes: personal opinion based ijtihād (interpretive reasoning) that has not substantiated by a script of the Qur’an and Sunah, is rejected by Shāfi‘īyah. This kind of ijtihād is called as istiḥsān, and is counted a jurisprudential source among Ḥanafīyah.

Maṣāliḥ Mursalah i.e. considering public interests while issuing fatwas, as what Mālikīyah believe in, is not counted as a jurisprudential source in Shāfi‘īyah.

4- Shāfi‘ī’s Features

  • Shāfi‘ī’s jurisprudential attitude is a middle way between Ahl al-Ḥadīth (adherents of ḥadīth) and Ahl al-Ra’y (people of opinion), because he combined Abū Ḥanīfah’s ideas with the Mālik’s one. He agreed with Abū Ḥanīfah’s principles and opinions in some way, but, on the other hand, he adheres to ḥadīth, just like Mālik, so that he became celebrated in Iraq and Khurāsān as an Ahl al-Ḥadīth, and people of Baghdad named him the assistant of Sunnah. Encountering divergence between two schools of thought from Hejaz and Iraq (ḥadīth and personal opinion), Shāfi‘ī attempted to clarify his position and determine his own ideology. Therefore, he presented a clear method for relying on ḥadīths and some other secondary sources. He vindicated his ideology and attacked his opponents whether Iraqi or Hejazi.
  • He resorted to the appearance of text of the Qur’an and Sunnah to discover religious precepts, and did not go beyond it. He believed that relying on anything except the appearance of the texts is like relying on the supposition and imagination that, in turn, is the origin of many errors and a few rights. On the other hand, he believed religious precepts must be based upon a foundation that is originated from a reason, which usually leads to the truth, not an imagination.
  • Deducing principles and sources presented by Shāfi‘ī contain both approaches, practical and theoretical.
  • Shāfi‘ī did not place importance on imaginary issues, and only dealt with the precepts regarding real matters that were related to the actual events of the life. Therefore, his jurisprudence contains few imaginary issues.
  • There is a great difference between Shāfi‘ī’s early opinions and his later ideas so that, sometimes, he propounds three views regarding one matter. This difference caused his jurisprudence to be dynamic and alive, and offered mujtahids (authorized interpreters of religious law) various options, so that they can elect one that is more appropriate according to the circumstances.
  • In the viewpoint of Shāfi‘ī, religious leadership is acceptable by two conditions:
    • Being from Quraysh,
    • People’s acceptance of his opinion,
  • The leadership without having people’s allegiance is regarded as illegal from Shāfi‘ī’s point of view, except in necessity. Therefore, he justifies Imam Ali’s Caliphate and calls the people like Mu‘āwīyah and his followers, that opposed him, rebellious people. He also regards Imam Ali’s battles of Jamal, Ṣiffīn, and Nahrawān as religious wars. However, he rejects cursing them for those revolts.
  • Ḥadīth is applied to only the words of the Prophet (S.A.W) in the viewpoint of Shāfi‘ī.
  • The great affection for Companions and the Prophet’s progeny (Ahl al-Bayt) is the important prominence of Shāfi‘ī’s school.
  • Shāfi‘īyah believe in supplication and benediction of devoted friends of Allah, and do not reject their miraculous power.
  • Shāfi‘īyah abide by doing Friday prayer, congregation prayer, and prayer on the two feast-days. According to Shāfi‘ī jurisprudence, only one Friday prayer should be performed in a city.

5- The Most Important Shāfi‘ī Jurists and Books

  • Muhammad b. Idrīs Shāfi‘ī, the Imam of the school, (d. 204 A.H.): Al-Umm, It is published in 7 volumes containing a short annotation by Ismā‘īl Muznī (d. 264 A.H.); Al-Risālah, regarding uṣūl al-fiqh;
  • Muznī, Abū Ibrāhīm Ismā‘īl b. Yaḥyá (d. 264 A.H.): al-Mukhtaṣar,
  • Muhammad Ḥuseinī Ḥiṣnī Damishqī (d. 4th century A.H.): Kifāyah al-Akhbār,
  • Māwardī (d. 450 A.H.): al-Aḥkām al-Sulṭānīyah, al-Ḥāvī,
  • Shīrāzī, Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm b. Ali b. Yūsuf (d. 476 A.H.), al-Muhadhdhab[2] (in 2 parts), al-Lam‘ and its commentary, regarding uṣūl al-fiqh,
  • Ḍiyā’ al-Dīn Abū al-Ma‘ālī ‘Abd al-Malik Imām al-Ḥaramayn Juwaynī (d. 478 A.H.): Nihāyah al-Maṭlab fī Dirāyah al-Madhhab,
  • Zayn al-Dīn Muhammad Ṭūsī, known as Imām Ghazālī (d. 505 A.H.): al-Wajīz fī fiqh al-Imām al-Shāfi‘ī (in 2 chapters), al-Wasīṭ fī Furū‘ al-Madhhab al-Shāfi‘ī, al-Basīṭ fī Furū‘ al-Fiqh (it has various translations),
  • Shāshī Qaffāl (d. 507 A.H.): Ḥilyah al-‘Ulamā’,
  • Baghwī (d. 516 A.H.): al-Tahdhīb,
  • Abū Shujā‘ (d. 593 A.H.): Matn Abī Shujā‘,
  • Rāfi‘ī, Abū al-Qāsim ‘Abd al-Karīm b. Muhammad (d. 623 A.H.): al-Muḥarrar (adopted from al-Wajīz, Ghazālī), Fatḥ al-‘Azīz fī Sharḥ al-Wajīz,
  • Nawawī, Abū Zakarīyā Muḥī al-Dīn Yaḥyá b. Sharaf Kharāmī (d. 676 A.H.): al-Majmū‘ fī Sharḥ al-Muhadhdhab (it is the most important book of Shāfi‘īyah, which is published in 12 volumes containing a supplement by Taqī al-Dīn Sabkī), Rawḍah al-Ṭālibīn, Minhāj al-Ṭālibīn (an abridged of al-Muḥarrar, Rāfi‘ī), al-Fatāwá al-Ma‘rūfah bi-al-Masā’il al-Manthūrah,
  • Muḥillī, Jalāl al-Dīn Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Muhammad (791-864 A.H.): Kanz al-Rāghibīn (it is one of well-known eight commentaries on Minhāj al-Ṭālibīn, Nawawī; which is very famous and some annotation are written on it),[3]
  • Zakarīyā Anṣārī, Sheikh al-Islām Abū Yaḥyá Zakarīyā b. Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Zakarīyā Anṣārī Sinīkī Miṣrī (d. 926 A.H.): Asná al-Maṭālib, Tuḥfah al-Ṭullāb[4], Minhaj al-Ṭullāb (it is an abridged of Minhāj al-Ṭālibīn, Nawawī),[5]
  • Jalāl al-Dīn al-Siyūṭī (d. 911 A.H.): al-Ashbāh wa al-Naẓā’ir,
  • Ibn Ḥajar Haytamī (d. 974 A.H.): al-Fatāwá al-Kubrá, Tuḥfah al-Muḥtāj ilá Sharḥ al-Minhāj (a commentary on Minhāj al-Ṭālibīn, Nawawī),
  • Khaṭīb Sharbīnī (d. 977 A.H.): Mughnī al-Muḥtāj, al-Iqnā‘ fī Ḥall Alfāẓ Abī Shujā‘,[6]
  • Ramlī (d. 1004 A.H.): al-Fatāwá, Nihāyah al-Muḥtāj fī Sharḥ al-Minhāj (a commentary on Minhāj al-Ṭālibīn, Nawawī),
  • Walī al-Dīn Abū al-Faḍl Muhammad b. Ali (d. after 972 A.H.)[7]: al-Nihāyah ( a commentary on al-Ghāyah wa al-Taqrīb known as Matn Abī Shujā‘, written by Abū Shujā‘ Iṣfahānī),[8]



1- Since fourth century, Syria entered in the realm of Shāfi‘ī school.

2- There are many commentaries on al-Muhadhdhab, from which al-Majmū‘, written by Nawawī is the most famous one.

3- Some of them are as follows:

  • ‘Umayrah, Shahāb al-Dīn Ahmad Rilsī (d. 957 A.H.), Ḥāshīyah al-‘Umayrah ‘alá Kanz al-Rāghibīn (a commentary on Minhāj al-Ṭālibīn, Nawawī),
  • Qalyūbī (d. 1069 A.H.), Ḥāshīyah ‘alá Kanz al-Rāghibīn (a commentary on Minhāj al-Ṭālibīn, Nawawī)

4- Sharqāwī (d. 1227 A.H.), he has written a famous annotation on Tuḥfah al-Ṭullāb known as Ḥāshīyah al-Sharqāwī.

5- It is titled as Nihaj al-Ṭullāb, too. There are many annotations on it, including: Ḥāshīyah al-Jamal=Futūḥāt al-Wahhāb fī Sharḥ Minhāj al-Ṭālibīn written by Sulaymān b. ‘Umar b. Manṣūr al-‘Ajīlī Azharī known as Jamal (d. 1204 A.H.).

6- Bajīrmī (d. 1221 A.H.) has written an annotation on Sharḥ al-Iqnā‘ by title of Ḥāshīyah al-Bajīrmī.

7- Al-Nihāyah fī Sharḥ al-Ghāyah is written by Walī al-Dīn Abū al-Faḍl Muhammad b. Ali b. Sālim al-Shabshīrī (d. after 972 A.H.), who was a follower of Shāfi‘īyah School (regarding jurisprudence) and Ash‘arī belief (regarding theology). His biography is presented in al-Kwākib al-Sā’irah and Shadharāt al-Dhahab. He has indicated to al-Nihāyah in his other books titled as al-Jawāhir al-Bahīyah fī Sharḥ al-Arba‘īn al-Nawawīyah and Mughnī al-Faqīh. He also has mentioned to al-Jawāhir and Mughnī in the book of al-Nihāyah. Therefore, calling him as Walī al-Dīn al-Baṣīr (as it is printed on the cover of an impression of al-Nihāyah) is wrong.

8- Some other important Shāfi‘ī jurists and books are as follows:

  • Bakrī (alive until 1062 A.H.): al-I‘tinā’ fī al-Furūq wa al-Istithnā’,
  • Ṣiddīq Ḥasan Khān (d. 1307 A.H.): al-Rawḍah al-Nadīyah (a commentary on al-Durar al-Bahīyah, Shawkānī),
  • ‘Abd al-Wahhāb Sha‘rānī (d. 973 A.H.): al-Mīzān al-Kubrá (including 2 chapters),
  • Ibn al-Wakīl (d. 716 A.H.): al-Ashbāh wa al-Naẓā’ir,
  • Taqī al-Dīn b. al-Sabkī (d. 756 A.H.): Mukammil al-Majmū‘,
  • Damishqī ‘Uthmānī, Ṣadr al-Dīn Abū ‘Abd Allah Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān (an scholar of eighth century): Raḥmah al-Ummah fī Ikhtilāf al-A’immah,
  • Zarkishī (d. 794 A.H.): al-Manthūr,

Some very famous Shāfi‘ī compilations regarding issuing fatwas, and their writers are as follows:

  • Ibn Ḥajar (d. 852 A.H.): al-Fatāwá al-Ḥadīthah,
  • Muhammad Zahrī ‘Amrāwī: al-Sirāj al-Waḥḥāj,
  • Ibn Ḥajar Haytamī (d. 974 A.H.): al-Fatāwá al-Kubrá,
  • Sheikh Ramlī (d. 1004 A.H.): al-Fatāwá,

The article was written by Hujjat al-Islam Mujtaba Elahi Khorasani (Teacher of Advance Level of Mashhad Seminary) and Translated by Sayyid Dilawar Ali Naqavi  (Seminary Member, Researcher, English Translator and M.A. Student in Quranic Interpretation and Sciences).

About Alireza Mosaddeq

Check Also

Imam Khomeini, An Inspiration for “Anti-Apartheid Movements”

One of the stated goals of the Islamic Revolution of Iran led by Imam Khomeini in 1979 was to fight against racism and to support people of color. What did the Islamic Revolution do to prove this...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Google Analytics Alternative