The famous and widely followed Sunni Shafi΄i school of thought was founded by Imam Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi΄I, here is a glance at his blessed life.
Imam’s Family Lineage (Father’s Side): Muhammad bin Idriss bin al-Abbas bin Usman bin Shafi’ ibn al-Sa’ib bin Ubaid bin ‘Abd Yazid bin Haashim bin al-Muttalib bin ‘Abd Manaaf bin Qusayy bin Kilaab bin Murrah. The Imam’s Lineage connects with the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s Lineage from ‘Abd Manaaf bin Qusayy.
Imam’s Family Lineage (Mother’s Side): Fatimah bint ‘Abdullah bin al-Hasan bin al-Hussain ibn Ali bin Abi Talib. The relations of the mother say that the only two to be born Haashimi in the family lineage were Hadhrat Ali bin Abi Talib and al-Imam Al-Shafi’i.
Place of Birth: Imam Shafi’i (RA) was born in the year 150 A.H. the year the Great Imam Abu Hanifah had passed away in. He was born in Asqalan region of Ghaza in Palestine. When he was two year old his mother took him to a tribe in al-Hijaz who were dwellers of the country of Yemen. His mother kept him there until he reached the age of ten years. A time came when she felt that the family was in jeopardy of being forgotten and wasted so she took her son (Imam Shafi’i) to Makkah.
His Education: The Imam was from a very poor family in his youth and when he was sent to school his family could not afford to pay the teacher for his teachings. The teacher used to inadequately teach the children and anytime he taught something inadequately and then left the children, the Imam would seize the opportunity and teach them the teacher’s lesson and suffice the children. When the teacher would see this and he understood that the Imam was doing it he let him continue to do so. This way the Imam would suffice his tuition through satisfying the teacher by teaching the children his lesson. This continued and the Imam learned the whole Qur’an by the time he reached seven years.
The Imam himself used to say: “After I finished learning the Qur’an I would go to the Masjid and sit with the Scholars the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad SAW) and Islamic matters. I used to live in Makkah among tent dwellers in such a state of poverty that I could not even afford to by paper to write, so I would write on bones instead.”
It is also reported that the Imam used to recite Hadith in the Masjid of the Prophet (SAW) at the age of thirteen years old. It is also reported that the Imam’s voice was very melodious and sweet. Al-Haakim reports by the authority of Bahr bin Nasr saying: “When we wanted to cry we would say come let us go to this young Muttalibee man to hear him recite the Qur’an. We would reach him and he would initiate his recitation until when the people would start falling down in front of him and the sounds of everyone weeping and yelling could be heard by him he would stop.”
His Teachers: Among his eminent teachers were:
1. Muslim bin Khalid al-Zangi (a Mufti of Makkah during the year 180 A.H. (796 A.D.)
2. Sufyaan bin Uyainah al-Hilaali (one of the three distinguished scholars of that time in Makkah)
3. Ibrahim bin Yahya (a scholar of Madinah)
4. Malik bin Anas (Imam Shafi’i used to recite Hadith to Imam Malik after the memorizing of his book, Muwatta Imam Malik). The Imam stayed in Madinah until Imam Malik passed away in the year 179 A.H. (790 A.D.)
5. Wakee’ bin al-Jarraah bin Maleeh al-Kofi
6. Muhammad bin Hasan al-Shaibaani (a scholar of Busrah, and distinguished student of the Great Imam Abu Hanifah (RA)
7. Hammaad bin Usama al-Haashimi al-Kofi
8. Abdul-Wahhab bin Abdul-Majeed al-Busri
His Marriage: He married Hameedah bint Nafi’ bin Unaisah bin ‘Amr ibn Usman bin Affan.
Some Distinctive Characteristics:
1. His eloquent style of speech and abundant knowledge of the Arabic language
2. His Family Lineage-as a set standard reported by al-Hakam bin ‘Abdil-Muttalib that the Prophet (SAW) said, “Indeed Banu Haashim and Banu al-Muttalib are the same (ie. of the same family lineage). (Ibn Majah, 22, Kitaabul-Wasaaya/46 Chapter Division of Khumus/ Hadith No. 2329
3. Complete memorization of the Qur’an with recognition of its rules and its implications in all aspects of Islamic Knowledge of which others during his time did not yet reach to
4. His deep foresight in Hadith and comprehension of authentic and defective narrations
5. His understanding in the principles of Hadith and Fiqh
6. His rulings in Hadith Mursal (incompletely transmitted narrations) and completely transmitted narrations.
7. Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal used to say about Imam Shafi’i, “Our napes were in the hands of the Companions of Abu Hanifah (RA) when it came to hadith (ie. we were inclined to them more) until we saw Imam Shafi’i, he was the most knowledgeable in the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of Rasulullah (SAW) that he would even suffice one who was not well informed in Hadith.
8. Al-Karaabeesi says about the Imam, “Al-Shafi’i was a mercy from Allah upon the followers of the Prophet (SAW).
9. Al-Humaidee says, “We used to want to refute the arguments of the Ashab-ul-Ra’iy, but we were not well informed to do so until Imam Shafi’i came along and opened up the way for us.
10. Ibn Raahway was asked, “How did Imam Shafi’i compose all these books at such a young age?” He replied, “Allah SWT made him intelligent and mature minded in just his youth.”
11. Rabi’ says, “We were just sitting awhile in the Knowledge Circle of Imam Shafi’i after the Great Imam’s demise when a Bedouin Arab came along and said asked about where is the sun and moon of this circle. When we told him that he had passed away he started weeping heavily, and then said may Allah have mercy upon him and forgive him for verily he was one who opened up the veils of proofs through his explanations and closed the mouths of his disputer and opponent. He used to wash the blackened faces of their shame and disgrace and opened the closed doors with intellect and understanding. Then he turned away and left.”
Al-Hasan bin Abdul-Aziz al-Jarwi al-Misri reported form Imam Shafi’i used to say, “I have never debated with someone who I want to make a mistake, nor do I possess any knowledge that I want to keep to myself, rather that it should be with all and not just related to me.”
He also said, “I have never debated with someone who I want to make a mistake. And I have never debated someone except I say to them, O’ Allah, put the truth in his heart and on his tongue. If I am on the truth he will follow me, and if he is on the truth then I will follow him.”
A Scholar of Quraish:
Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal is reported to have said, “When I am questioned about some matter that I do not know of I say to myself Imam Shafi’i knows about this and he will have some say in it, because he is an ‘Alim (Scholar) of Quraish. And the Prophet (SAW) said, An Alim of Quraish fills the earth with knowledge.” (al-Manaaqib, Lil-Baihaqi, Vol. 1, Page 54)
Al-Raazi says, “This Hadith is attainable by a man who possesses three characteristics: 1. that he is from Quraish 2. that he has abundant knowledge among religious scholars 3. that his abundant knowledge will indeed reach from east to west of the world
After saying this Al-Raazi says, “The man described above is no other than Al-Shafi’i.” (Musnad of Abu Dawood Al-Tabalusi, p. 39-40)
The Imam is from Quraish and the following other Ahadith (narrations) are indications towards him:
1. Abdullah bin Masood (RA) narrates from the Prophet (SAW) as saying, “Do not curse at the Quraish, for verily a scholar from there fills the earth with knowledge. O’Allah, you have made their first taste your punishment, now make the last of them taste your gift and favor.” (Musnad of Abu Dawood Al-Tabalusi, p. 39-40)
2. Abu Hurairah (RA) narrates that the Prophet (SAW) said, “O’Allah, Guide the Quraish, for verily a scholar from there fills the earth with knowledge. O’Allah, just you have made them taste your punishment, now let them taste your gift and favor.” He made this supplication three times. (al-Khateeb fee al-tarikh, V.2, P.61)
3. Imam Al-Shafi’i is Quraishi and Muttalibi. One hadith says, “Indeed Banu Haashim and Banu al-Muttalib are the same (ie. of the same family lineage). The Prophet (SAW) then put his fingers of both hands together. (Al-Sunan al-Kubra’, V.6, P.340)
4. In one narration the Prophet (SAW) said, “Indeed, at the beginning of every hundred years Allah SWT sends a reformer of this Ummah who will revive the Ummah in religion. (Al-Mustadrik, V.4, P.522, Al-Khateeb fee al-tarikh, V.2, P.61)
His Love for Ahlul Bayt
Imam al-Shafi'i , in his famous verses says, "Let everybody know that if the love of Prophet Muhammad's descendants means to be a Rafizi, I am a Rafizi."
Imam al-Shafi'i also says, "O Ahlul Bayt (Ahl al-Bayt)! Allah (SWT) has made it obligatory in the Noble Qur'an to love you. It is a matter of pride for you that without invoking blessing on you, prayer is not valid." Again he says in his verses, "After having seen that the people have chosen different ways which have led them to the Ocean of deviation and ignorance. I have, in the name of Allah (SWT), embarked the ship which may lead me to safety. The Ahlul Bayt of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) are that very ship, we have been ordered to hold fast the rope of Allah (SWT), and that rope is their love."
First Child’s Name: Abu Usman, Muhammad (was a judge in Madinah, grew up in Syria) Second Child’s Name: Fatimah Third Child’s Name: Zainab His Going to Egypt: The Imam went to Egypt in the year 199 A.H. (814/815 A.D.) during the beginning of the Mamun Khilafah. He went back to Baghdad for a month then again returned to Egypt and stayed until his demise in the year 204 A.H. (819/820 A.D.)
His Writings and Books:
1. Al-Risalah al-Qadeemah (Kitaabul-Hujjah)
2. Al-Risalah al-Jadeedah
7. Sifatul-al-Amr wal-Nahiy
8. Ikhtilaaf Malik wal-Shafi’i
10. Ikhtilaaf Muhammad bin Hasan
11. Fadha’il Quraish
12. Kitaabul-Umm 13. Kitaabul-Sunan
The Imam became very sick at the end of his life with hemmariodal pain and passed away in Egypt on Thursday night after Isha’ Prayer after performing Maghrib Prayer on the last day of Rajab. He was buried in Cairo, Egypt on Friday in the year 204 A.H. (819/820 A.D.) His Masjid in Cairo can be visited in the Imam Al-Shafi’i Neighborhood. May Allah be pleased with him. Ameen.
Main Source: Kitaabul-Umm