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Was al-Shafiʻi the Master Architect of Islamic Jurisprudence?

During the last three or four decades, modern scholarship has increasingly come to recognize Muhammad Ibn Idris al-Shafiʻi (d. 820) as having played a most central role in the early development of Islamic jurisprudence.

It was Joseph Schacht who, more than anyone else, demonstrated Shafici’s remarkable success in anchoring the entire edifice of the law not only in the Qur’an, which by his time was taken for granted, but mainly, and more importantly, in the traditions of the Prophet. Shafiʻi’s prominent status has been further bolstered by the fact that he was the first Muslim jurist ever to articulate his legal theory in writing, in what has commonly become known as al-Risala.

Schacht’s portentous findings, coupled with the high esteem in which Shafiʻi is held in medieval and modern Islam, have led Islamicists to believe that Shafiʻi was the “father of Muslim jurisprudence” and the founder of the science of legal theory, properly called usul al-fiqh. His Risala is thought to have become “a model for both jurists and theologians who wrote on the subject.” And although it is acknowledged that later theory further elaborated the themes of Shafi’s treatise and sometimes even modified them, the origination of legal theory nonetheless remains his achievement. The medieval dictum that “Shafiʻi is to usul al-fiqh what Aristotle was to logic” is still as valid as when it first appeared.

Bibliographic Information

Title: Was al-Shafii the Master Architect of Islamic Jurisprudence?

Author: Wael B. Hallaq

Published in: International Journal of Middle East StudiesVol. 25, No. 4 (Nov., 1993(

 Language: English

Length: 18 pages

Was al-Shafii the Master Architect of Islamic Jurisprudence

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