He is Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Idris Al Shafi’i, a prominent Imam who was a descendant from the Hashimi family of Quraysh tribe, which Prophet Muhammad came from.
He is known as the revivalist of the second century, for he was the one who put the fundamental of jurisprudence; science of (usul al Fiqh).
At the age of 10, Al Shafi’i mother sent him to Makkah, near his tribal ancestry. After entrusting him initially in the care of a relative, she followed him there to keep an eye on his studies.
As he could not afford enough writing material, Al Shaafi’i used to go to the governor’s offices in search of paper that had already been used. On the blank side of the paper, he would do his lessons. He memorized the Quran at a very young age.
In order to improve his knowledge of Arabic, he went deep into the desert to join the Bedouin tribe of Huthail, who were renowned for the best standard of literary Arabic. He studied poetry and learnt their prose reporting and stories. He accompanied the tribe on nomadic travels, until he mastered all that was there to learn. He also learnt archery and became very skilful; he could hit the target 10 times out of 10.
On his return to Makkah Al Shafi’i continued studying. At the age of 20 he had completed all that its scholars had to teach, but this thirst for knowledge was not quenched. So, he traveled to Madinah to learn from Imam Malik.
Al Shafi’i wished to have a foretaste of what he would be learning. He borrowed Al-Muwatta’ to read which even fueled him more made him more eager to study under Imam Malik.
Al-Shafi’i stayed very closed to Malik for nine years, he never left him during those nine years except to visit his mother, or to stay for a short while with some bedouin tribes. The last three years at Malik’s study circle were doubly fruitful because the eminent Iraqi scholar. Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaibani (132-189H) who recorded all the Hanafi scholarship had come to study under Malik.
Imam Malik used to care more and give more attention to poor and needy students. Al-Shafi’i was one of them. When Malik died (179H), Al-Shafi’i returned to Makkah hoping to earn his living, Some people asked the governor of Yemen to help Al-Shafi’i, and so he took him to Yemen where he was appointed justice in the city of Najran. The people there soon realised that they had a judge who was devoted to justice, unwilling to swerve from it for any favor or pressure. They respected him so much and learnt a great deal from him.
In his fifth years at Najran, Al-Shafi’i’s mettle was tasted when a strong-fisted governor took over. Al-Shafi’i did not spare him from criticism whenever the occasion arose. In the process of curbing the governor’s injustice, Al-Shafi’i earned his enmity.
The governor wrote to Caliph Al-Rasheed in Baghdad, accusing Al-Shafi’i of backing a revolt by people loyal to the Alawis, the descendants of Ali ibn Talib (may Allah be pleased with him). He said:
‘I have no authority over this man, and he achieves by his tongue much more than a fighter can achieve with this sword.’
Was this accusation false? Indeed it was, for Al-Shafi’i never supported or advocated any revolt or rebellion against the Caliph. On the contrary he used to love the Alawis, as they were the descendants of Ali, (may Allah be pleased with him), and Fatimah, (may Allah be pleased with her), the daughter of Prophet Muhammad.
At the age of 34, Imam Al-Shafi’i was brought in 184H before the Caliph in Baghdad, in fetters and chains. Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaibani, the Chief Justice was the only of his advisers and top officials present at the court. Two factors affected the Caliph’s Judgement: a lucid defence by the accused himself; and Chief Justice Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaibani’s Testimony. Al-Shafi’i pointed out that his scholarship was known to the Chief Justice, who described Al-Shafi’i as a scholar of eminence who would not be involved in such matters.
Caliph Al-Rasheed, known to be kind and merciful, saw in this testimony his way out to spare Al-Shafi’i. He told Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaibani to take Al-Shafi’i to his home while he thought the matter over. There the case ended. The charge was never revived. The governor who had rid himself of a fearless critic was no longer interested what happened to him.
This episode was a blessing in disguise because it brought Al-Shafi’i back on track in his quest for knowledge. Al-Shafi’i stayed with Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaibani and read under his guidance all the books that he had written, recording the Fiqh of Imam Abu Haneefah (one of the four grand Imams) and his disciples. After two years, Al Shaafi’i left Baghdad, he said:
‘I carried with me a whole camel load of books, all of which I learnt directly from Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan.’ Al-Shafi’i learnt the Fiqh in Baghdad as well as memorized the Ahadith that were known in Iraq, but not in Madinah or Makkah. He also entered into debate with many scholars, speaking as a student of Imam Malik, but he would only debate with lesser scholars than Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaibani, whom he gave great respect.
Among the most important characteristic of Al-Shafi’i was his native intelligence that gave him an easy and good grasp of even the most difficult of questions. He always studied matters in depth, so as to reach the right solution and give the right answer regarding any question put to him. His cleverness was coupled with a superb memory and ready argument.
When discussing any matter, Imam Al-Shafi’i would put it with a wealth of meanings that he always found ready to hand, his explanation was always rich and to the point.
Al-Shafi’i had a unique exquisite literary style, lucidity of expression and command over the language. His very clear use of words made him an influential speaker. One of his students said:
‘Every scholar gives more in his books than when you meet him personally, except for Al-Shafi’i whose verbal discussion gives you more than his books.’
With such noble qualities and wealth or knowledge, no wonder that scholars placed Imam Muhammad ibn Idris Al-Shafi’i in the highest rank.