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Shafiʿi School of Law


One of the four systems, or schools, of thought in Sunni Muslim law.

The Shafiʿi school of law was founded by Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafiʿi (died 820), a disciple of Malik ibn Anas (died 795) and Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Shaybani (died 805). Bringing about a synthesis between the rationalists and the tradition-alists, Shafiʿi elaborated a system of positive law and a rudimentary legal theory that attracted a number of scholars who propagated his teachings, thus creating the first personal school of law (madhhab) in Islam. His two chief treatises that survived are al-Umm, a collection of treatises mainly concerned with positive law and disagreements among the early jurists, and al-Risala (also known as al-Kitab, ) a work on legal theory with particular emphasis on Prophetic hadith (traditions) as a binding source of law.

The immediate students of Shafiʿi who were responsible for propagating his teachings, and thus for laying the first roots of the school, were al-Buwayti (died 846), Harmala (died 857), Muzani (died 878), al-Zaʿfarani (died 874), al-Karabisi (died c. 859), and al-Rabi ibn Sulayman al-Jizi (died 870). Al-Rabi ibn Sulayman al-Muradi (died c. 884) is known as the transmitter of most of Shafiʿi's extant works. Other scholars, such as Ibn Hanbal (died 854) and Abu Thawr (died 855), initially the disciples of Shafiʿi, became themselves the founders of independent law schools.

The widespread influence of the Shafiʿi school must be credited to the work of Ibn Surayj (died 918), significantly nicknamed the "Little Shafiʿi." He was responsible for harmonizing the teachings of the school and for training a generation of influential Shafiʿi scholars who guaranteed not only the survival of the school but indeed its success. Among the most important of these scholars are Abu Bakr al-Sayrafi (died 942) and al-Qaffal al-Shashi (died 948), who are considered two of the first major authors of complete works on Shafiʿite legal theory (usul al-fiqh).

Among the many names that dominated the later history of Shafiʿism are: Abu Bakr al-Baqillani (died 1013), Abu Ishaq al-Isfara'ini (died 1015), Abu Muhammad al-Juwayni (died 1046) and his son Imam al-Haramayn (died 1085), Bayhaqi (died 1066), al-Mawardi (died 1058), Abu Ishaq alShirazi (died 1083), Ghazali (died 1111), Abu Bakr al-Shashi (died 1113), Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (died 1209), Rafiʿi (died 1226), Izz al-Din (b. Abd alSalam; died 1262), Muhyi al-Din al-Nawawi (died 1277), and Suyuti (died 1505). The positive law (furu) treatises of Juwayni, Shirazi, Ghazali, Rafiʿi, and Nawawi became standard for the later period, whereas in legal theory, the works of Juwayni, Ghazali, and Razi gained popularity.

Today the Shafiʿi school has followers in Egyptmainly in rural areasas well as in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Hijaz, Bahrain, Yemen, Pakistan, Iran, India, and Indonesia.

see also hadith; hanafi school of law; hanbali school of law; maliki school of law.


Hallaq, Wael B. "Was al-Shafiʿi the Master Architect of Islamic Jurisprudence?" International Journal of Middle East Studies 4 (1993): 587605.

Mahmassani, Subhi. The Philosophy of Jurisprudence in Islam, translated by Farhat J. Ziadeh. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1961.

Schacht, Joseph. The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1953.

wael b. hallaq

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