Hazrat Imam Shafi‘i – Part II

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Malik Saif-ur-Rahman (1914-1989)

Imam Shafi‘i’srh journey to Egypt

Hazrat Imam Shafi‘irh lived in Baghdad for around three years, though he never really considered it home. The Mu‘tazillites were gaining influence in the area and had submitted to Mamun al-Rashid. Aside from this, after the defeat of Al-Amin [son of Harun al-Rashid], the Arabic influence over the area began to diminish and Mamun al-Rashid gained the support of the people of Khorasan and Persia, who had great influence over him.

The people of the Quran and Sunnah, therefore, began to face difficulties. In such circumstances, Imam Shafi‘irh did not deem it suitable to continue living in Baghdad and after consulting some of his peers, he decided to shift to Egypt as it was far away from Baghdad, the Markaz, and also because the students of his contemporary, Hazrat Imam Malikrh resided there, who he hoped to live peacefully with.

Egypt at the time still had an Arabic foothold. Another reason for his decision to move was that the Governor of Egypt, Abbas bin Abdullah Abbasi held him in high regard. Thus, bearing this in mind, he migrated from Baghdad to Egypt in 199 AH. The journey was extremely long and arduous. The situation he faced in Egypt was no less difficult as he faced many challenges.

During his journey to Egypt, in fact, he expressed his thoughts in a qaseeda, of which two couplets are:

لَقَدْ اَصْبَحَتْ نَفْسِیْ تَتُوْقُ اِلیٰ مِصْرِ

وَمِنْ دُوْنِھَا قَطْعُ الْمَھَامِہِ وَالْقَفْرِ

فَوَاللہِ مَا اَدْرِیْ اَلِلْفَوْزِ وَالْغِنیٰ

اُسَاقُ اِلَیْھَا اَمْ اُسَاقُ اِلیَ الْقَبْرِ

“I wish to journey to Egypt, yet the path between is dangerous and full of desert. By God, I do not know whether peace and tranquillity awaits me or if fate has something else in store; I am oblivious to this.”

When Imam Shafi‘irh arrived in Egypt, he experienced immense success. The governor of Egypt approved a set allowance for him from the “Sahm-e-Zawil-Qurba” part of the treasury. A student of Imam Malikrh, Abdullah bin Abdul Hakam, who was affluent and an influential figure in the government, helped him a great deal and extended all sorts of comforts for him. Here, he got the chance to proofread his books and start a school, however divine decree did not allow much time for this as his time quickly approached.

Due to a severe bowel illness, he became extremely weak. There began rebellions in Egypt and he faced severe opposition on behalf of Malikis. As he faced these challenges, this star of knowledge left this world for the Hereafter in 204 AH at the relatively young age of 54.

فَاِنَّا لِلہِ وَاِنَّا اِلَیْہِ رَاجِعُوْنَ

[Surely to Allah we belong and to Him shall we return.]

Allah had blessed him with talented students and sincere friends, both in Baghdad and Egypt. His students at Baghdad spread his school of thought to the regions of Persia, Khorasan and Ma Wara al-Nahr [Transoxiana]. Here, they faced the Hanafi school of thought, which gave them a tough time. Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni followed his fiqh order. The Sunni Kurds of Iran today are mostly followers of his fiqh school of thought.

Students and followers of Imam Shafi‘irh His students gained much acclaim in the East and had the chance to serve their nations on intellectual levels. Imam Ahmadrh bin Hanbal especially had this honour, who was a permanent imam of this order. Al-Za‘farani had the opportunity to spread his Kutub al-Baghdadiyya in these areas. Apart from these, hundreds of world-renowned scholars associated themselves with his fiqh school of thought, for example, Imam-ul-Haramain Abdul Malik bin Abdullah al-Juwayni, HujjatulIslam Imam Muhammad al-Ghazali, Allama Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Abu Hamid al-Asfara‘ini, Taqi al-Din al-Subki, Allama al-Mawardi Sahib-ul-Ahkam al-Sultaniyya, Sultan al-Ulema Allama, Izz al-Din ibn Abd al-Salam, Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id, Nizam al-Mulk Tusi and commentator of Sahih Muslim Allama Nawawi.

All these scholars were affiliated with the Shafi‘i order and through their efforts, his school of thought spread far and wide.

A debate with Imam Shafi‘irh

Imam Shafi‘irh had no comparison when it came to argumentation and debates. Once, Imam Muhammad bin Hasan al-Shaybani somewhat teasingly said to him, “I have heard that you consider my view of ghasab [seizing] to be incorrect.”

At first, Imam Shafi‘irh apologised and decided to avoid directly answering the question as he had immense respect for Imam Muhammad and also because he wanted to avoid any argument. However, Hanafis are of the view that debates should be pursued as they open up new avenues of knowledge and matters become clearer. When Imam Muhammad pressed a little harder, Imam Shafi‘irh became ready to debate on the topic. With regard to ghasab, Hanafis are of the view that:

1. If the item that has been seized is still intact, then it should be returned to the person from whom it had been seized

2. If the seized item has been rendered useless, then it should be paid for

3. If the seized item has been transformed into something else (for example, a building is erected on a plot of land, paper was seized on which a book has been written, gold was stolen and moulded into jewellery, cloth was seized and sewn into a shirt or trousers), then the owner will still be paid the full worth of the original item. However, if the originally seized item has something else now attached to it (for example, a cow was stolen which gave birth to a calf) then the originally seized item will be returned along with its by-product

Shafi‘i’s are against the third point. They say that in such a scenario, the rightful owner has the right to take back what belongs to them, however if the one who seized the item desires, they may destroy the erected house and take the debris.

Nonetheless, the debate ensued in the following manner:

Imam Muhammad: If a person seizes another person’s plot of land and builds a beautiful building, worth hundreds of thousands of rupees, but the plot of land is worth a lot less, then what is your view?

Imam Shafi‘irh: The land should be returned to the rightful owner, however if the one who seized the land wishes, they may take the debris with them. In any case, the owner cannot be forced to purchase the house or sell off the land.

Imam Muhammad: Let’s say a person seized some planks of wood and fixed one of his boats with them and the boat has now set sail with passengers on board. If the person who owned the planks of wood demands for them to be returned in the middle of their journey, what is your verdict in such a case?

Imam Shafi‘irh: The owner’s demand to return the wood immediately would be inappropriate in such a case. When the boat reaches the shore, however, then it will be the owner’s right to have the planks returned, even if taking them apart from the boat causes harm to the structure of the boat. Similar questions were posed to Hazrat Imam Shafi‘irh, the contents of which is extremely detailed.

The final argument posed by Imam Muhammad was, “If the owner demands for the property [built on their land] to be destroyed and its debris to be removed, then it goes against the principle of … ‘La dharara wa la dhirara [One must not harm themselves, nor harm others]’. To destroy such an expensive house is a waste of resources and the punishment for this outweighs the crime, especially when the person is prepared to pay for the original cost of the land and the owner apparently has no loss to face.”

Imam Shafi‘irh: Alright, then let us consider that a wealthy man belonging to an affluent and respectable family entices a slave-girl belonging to a poor family and marries her whilst the owner of the slave-girl does not give his consent. The slave-girl eventually gives birth to ten boys who go on to become successful and educated employees of the government. Tell me, if the slave-girl’s owner demands that as the girl belonged to him, the girl should be returned to him, what would be your decree?

Imam Muhammad: The slave-girl and all the boys she gave birth to would be returned to the owner, who would become the property of the owner … The entirety of the slave-girl’s wealth is the property of the owner.

Imam Shafi‘irh: Where has your “La dharara wa la dhirara” principle gone? Is the demolition of the property more harmful or is it more harmful to bring ten intellectual and well-educated young men into slavery and subject them to such degradation?

Imam Muhammad was unable to answer this and fell silent.

Imam Shafi‘irh and physiognomy

Imam Shafi‘irh was an expert in physiognomy and had studied it. Once, he had the chance to put this knowledge to the test. He visited Yemen to run some personal errands and arrived there in the evening. He was passing by the bazaar, when he noticed a person with blue eyes and a peculiar look standing outside his house. Imam Shafi‘irh thought that person to be of an evil and impure disposition and nature. As dawn was approaching and he had to reside somewhere, he asked that man whether there was any place for him to stay. The person replied, “Why of course! I shall offer my house to you.”

That person showed great hospitality and offered a nice, clean bed, appetising meals and fodder for the animals that brought him to Yemen. In this manner, he spent the night in immense comfort. His heart felt great remorse over his earlier thoughts in that he had suspicions of a pious and sincere gentleman. Thus, he thought of the science of physiognomy as useless.

As he got ready to leave after breakfast, he thanked the gentleman for he had brought him great comfort. He prayed that God may bless him in return for his pious deeds. The owner of the house replied, “Don’t thank me. The hospitality I extended to you cost me this much. My wife and I spent last night in great discomfort and sacrificed our comfortable room for your sake, for which the rent is this much, the food was this much and the fodder cost this much.”

In this manner, he demanded a much higher price than what was reasonable. Imam Shafi‘irh later said that his physiognomic analysis was in fact correct and told his servant at the time to give whatever the man demanded and leave the place immediately.

Accusations against Imam Shafi‘irh

Some accusations that have been raised against Imam Shafi‘irh have been cited above. One accusation against him was that he was a Shiite as he would often express his love for Hazrat Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, and his offspring. However, history testifies against him ever being a Shiite. Imam Shafi‘irh revered the Khulafa-e-Rashidin [four rightly guided Khulafa – Hazrat Abu Bakr, Hazrat Umar, Hazrat Usman and Hazrat Ali, may Allah be pleased with them all] and believed in their high spiritual ranks and supremacy.

In contrast to other Sunni Muslims of the time, however, he would condemn Amir Muawiyyah’sra rivalry with Hazrat Alira and considered his actions as disobedience.

Aside from this, whilst commentating on Islam’s teachings for dealing with rebels, he referred to Hazrat Ali’sra response as an example in his book Al-Siyar because it was Hazrat Alira who had to deal with Muslim rebels for the first time. Some people have considered this interpretation to be inaccurate and have accused Imam Shafi‘irh of being influenced by Shia Islam.

In answer to similar accusations, he once cited the couplet:

اِنْ کَانَ رَفْضًا حُبُّ آلِ مُحَمَّدٍ

فَلْیَشْھَدِ الثَّقَلَانِ اَنِّیْ رَافِضِیْ

[If love for the people of Muhammadsa is to be considered heresy, then I swear by the two things held sacred (in Islam; i.e. the Quran and the Ahl-e-Bait) that I am a heretic.]

After returning from Medina, Hazrat Imam Shafi‘irh married a paternal granddaughter of Hazrat Usmanra named Hameeda, from whom he was given a son. He called him Muhammad and he gave him the appellation of Abu Usman, which proved that he had immense love for Hazrat Usmanra. Imam Shafi‘irh was of average height, yet he had a towering figure and personality. He was extremely generous and loved giving to others. Whenever he received any monetary gift from a friend or the rulers of the time, he would distribute the amount among his students and those that deserved it or he would purchase books from it. The details of his school of fiqh have been mentioned earlier.

Imam Shafi‘i’srh achievements

Imam Shafi‘i’srh views were based on the principle that the foundations of the Shariah were built on either nass [injunction] or qiyas [deductive analogy]; all matters should effectively be based on evidence found in the nass and access to it should not be difficult for a mujtahid [a person who does ijtihad (exerting one’s mental faculty to find an answer)].

One of his most remarkable achievements was the compilation of principles of fiqh and the determination of such regulations that form the commandments of the Shariah. Scholars have written that Hazrat Imam Shafi‘irh was the founder of the science of fiqh principles. Other schools of thought focused their attention on his school of fiqh after he had passed away. This honour was given to him as he was the first to do it.

Regarding governance, his view was the same as other imams of fiqh, the details of which have been presented earlier.

(Translated by Al Hakam from the original Urdu in Tarikh Afkar-e-Islami, authored by Malik Saif-ur-Rahman Sahib)

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