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Shafi'i, al-

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Shafi'i, al-

    767 – 820 Founder of the Shafi'i school

    Born in Gaza, Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi'i was a distant relative of Muhammad. As a child, al-Shafi'i moved to Mecca with his mother, where he studied the Qur'an and hadith. He lived with desert tribes noted for their eloquent poetry and later traveled to Medina to study fiqh under the noted jurist Malik ibn Anas . After Malik's death, al-Shafi'i continued his studies in Iraq.

    Al-Shafi'i became an expert on the Sunni legal schools. Originally a member of the Maliki school, al-Shafi'i broke away, favoring precedent over independent legal reasoning. Several jurists accepted his theories, and his teachings formed the basis for the Shafi'i school of law. Al-Shafi'i accepted only the Qur'an and sunnah (as described in the hadith) as valid legal sources. He viewed Muhammad's words and actions as the correct interpretations of God's commands. Al-Shafi'i further insisted that each hadith had to be transmitted by a chain of devout Muslims that led directly back to Muhammad. He rejected juristic preference and personal opinion as sources of law but stated that legal scholars could use qiyas (reasoning based on analogy) and ijma (consensus, or agreement) in the absence of guidance from traditional texts. He argued that God would not allow the Muslim community to err and so any law on which everyone agreed had divine sanction.

    Al-Shafi'i defined his teachings in the seven-volume work, Al-umm. The book covers a wide range of legal topics, including personal status, punishment, transactions, and religious customs. It also clarifies many of the differences among the other schools of law. For this reason, many Muslims consider al-Shafi'i the architect of Islamic law. The Shafi'i school gained a large following in Egypt during the Ayyubid dynasty ( 1171 – 1250 ) and the Mamluk dynasty ( 1250 – 1517 ). The school remains popular in Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and other countries. See also Law; Malik ibn Anas ; Mamluk State.

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