Shafi'i school

The Shafiʽi (Arabic: شَافِعِي, romanized: Shāfiʿī, also spelled Shafei) school, also known as Madhhab al-Shāfiʿī, is one of the four major traditional schools of religious law (madhhab) in the Sunnī branch of Islam.[1][2] It was founded by Arab theologian Muḥammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī, "the father of Muslim jurisprudence",[3] in the early 9th century.[4][5][3]

The other three schools of Sunnī jurisprudence are Ḥanafī, Mālikī and Ḥanbalī.[1][2] Like the other schools of fiqh, Shafiʽi recognize the First Four Caliphs as the Islamic prophet Muhammad's rightful successors and relies on the Qurʾān and the "sound" books of Ḥadīths as primary sources of law.[4][6] The Shafi'i school affirms the authority of both divine law-giving (the Qurʾān and the Sunnah) and human speculation regarding the Law.[7] Where passages of Qurʾān and/or the Ḥadīths are ambiguous, the school seeks guidance of Qiyās (analogical reasoning).[7][8] The Ijmā' (consensus of scholars or of the community) was "accepted but not stressed".[7] The school rejected the dependence on local traditions as the source of legal precedent and rebuffed the Ahl al-Ra'y (personal opinion) and the Istiḥsān (juristic discretion).[7][9]

The Shafiʽi school was widely followed in the Middle East until the rise of the Ottomans and the Safavids.[6][10] Traders and merchants helped to spread Shafiʽi Islam across the Indian Ocean, as far India and the Southeast Asia.[11][12] The Shafiʽi school is now predominantly found in parts of the Hejaz and the Levant, Lower Egypt and Yemen, and among the Kurdish people, in the Caucasus and across the Indian Ocean (Horn of Africa and the Swahili Coast in Africa and coastal South Asia and Southeast Asia).[13][14]


The fundamental principle of the Shafiʽi thought depends on the idea that "to every act performed by a believer who is subject to the Law there corresponds a statute belonging to the Revealed Law or the Shari'a".[9] This statute is either presented as such in the Qurʾān or the Sunnah or it is possible, by means of analogical reasoning (Qiyas), to infer it from the Qurʾān or the Sunnah.[9]

Al-Shafiʽi was the first jurist to insist that Ḥadīth were the decisive source of law (over traditional doctrines of earlier thoughts).[15] In order of priority, the sources of jurisprudence according to the Shafiʽi thought, are:[4][16]

The Foundation (al asl)

The school rejected dependence on local community practice as the source of legal precedent.[7][17][9]

Ma'qul al-asl

  • Qiyas with Legal Proof or Dalil Shari'a — "Analogical reasoning as applied to the deduction of juridical principles from the Qurʾān and the Sunnah."[4][16]
    • Analogy by Cause (Qiyas al-Ma'na/Qiyas al-Illa)[9]
    • Analogy by Resemblance (Qiyas al-Shabah)[9]
  • Ijmā' — consensus of scholars or of the community ("accepted but not stressed").[7]

The concept of Istishab was first introduced by the later Shafiʽi scholars.[10] Al-Shafiʽi also postulated that "penal sanctions lapse in cases where repentance precedes punishment".[15]


The groundwork legal text for the Shafiʽi law is the Risālah ("the Message"), composed by Al-Shafiʽi in Egypt. It outlines the principles of Shafiʽi legal thought as well as the derived jurisprudence.[18] A first version of the Risālah, "al-Risalah al-Qadima", produced by Al-Shafiʽi during his stay in Baghdad, is currently lost.[9]

Differences from Mālikī and Ḥanafī thoughts

Al-Shāfiʿī fundamentally criticised the concept of judicial conformism (the Istiḥsan).[19]

With Mālikī view

  • Shafiʽi school argued that various existing local traditions may not reflect the practice of Prophet Muhammed (a critique to the Mālikī thought).[9] The local traditions, according to the Shāfiʿī understanding, thus cannot be treated as sources of law.[19]

With Ḥanafī view

  • The Shafiʽi school rebuffed the Ahl al-Ra'y (personal opinion) and the Istiḥsān (juristic discretion).[9] It insisted that the rules of the jurists could no longer be invoked in legal issues without additional authentications.[19][20][21] The school refused to admit doctrines that had no textual basis in either the Qurʾān or Ḥadīths, but were based on the opinions of Islamic scholars (the Imams[19]).[22][19]
  • The Shafiʽi thinking believes that the methods may help to "substitute man for God and Prophet Muhammed, the only legitimate legislators"[9] and "true knowledge and correct interpretation of religious obligations would suffer from arbitrary judgments infused with error".[23][24][25][26]


Shafiʽi school is predominantly found across the Indian Ocean littoral.

Al-Shāfiʿī (c. 767–820 AD) visited most of the great centres of Islamic jurisprudence in the Middle East during the course of his travels and amassed a comprehensive knowledge of the different ways of legal theory.[3] He was a student of scholars Mālik ibn Anas, the founder of the Mālikī school of law, and Muḥammad Shaybānī, the great Ḥanafī intellectual in Baghdad.[3][27][28]

  • The Shafiʽi thoughts were initially spread by Al-Shafiʽi students in Cairo and Baghdad. By the 10th century, the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and Syria also became chief centres of Shafiʽi ideas.[10]
  • The school later exclusively held the judgeships in Syria, Kirman, Bukhara and the Khorasan.[10] It also flourished in Northern Mesopotamia and in Daylam.[10] The Ghurids also endorsed the Shafiʽis in the 11th and 12th centuries AD.[10]
  • Under Salah al-Din, the Shafiʽi school again became the paramount thought in Egypt (the region had come under Shi'a influence prior to this period).[10] It was the "official school" of the Ayyubid dynasty and remained prominent during Mamlūk period also.[15] Baybars, the Mamlūk sultan, later appointed judges from all four madhabs in Egypt.[10]
  • Traders and merchants helped to spread Shafiʽi Islam across the Indian Ocean, as far India and the Southeast Asia.[11][12]

Under Ottomans and the Safavids

  • Rise of the Ottomans in the 16th century resulted in the replacement of Shafiʽi judges by Ḥanafī scholars.[26][10]
  • Under the Safavids, Shafiʽi preeminence in Central Asia was replaced by Shi'a Islam.[10]


An approximate map showing the distribution of the Shafiʽi school (azure blue)

The Shafiʽi school is presently predominant in the following parts of the world:[13]

The Shafiʽi school is one of the largest school of Sunni madhhabs by number of adherents.[2][13] The demographic data by each fiqh, for each nation, is unavailable and the relative demographic size are estimates.

Notable Shafiʽis

Contemporary Shafiʽi scholars

From Middle East and North Africa:

From Southeast Asia:

From South Asia:

  • Muhammad Jifri Muthukkoya Thangal
  • Sayyid Abdu Rahman Ullal Thangal
  • K. Ali Kutty Musliyar
  • Kanniyath Ahmed Musliyar
  • E. K. Aboobacker Musliyar
  • Zainuddin Makhdoom II
  • Kanthapuram A.P Aboobacker Musliyar
  • Cherussery Zainuddeen Musliyar

See also



1.^ "The law provides sanctions for any religious practice other than the Sunni Shafiʽi doctrine of Islam and for prosecution of converts from Islam, and bans proselytizing for any religion except Islam."[14]


  1. Hallaq 2009, p. 31.
  2. Saeed 2008, p. 17.
  3. "Abū ʿAbd Allāh ash-Shāfiʿī". Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  4. Ramadan 2006, p. 27–77.
  5. Kamali 2008, p. 77.
  6. Shanay, Bulend. "Shafi'iyyah". University of Cumbria.
  7. "Shāfiʿī". Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  8. Hasyim 2005, p. 75–77.
  9. Chaumont, Éric (1997). "Al-Shafi". The Encyclopedia Of Islam. Vol. IX. Brill. pp. 182–83.
  10. Heffening, W. (1934). "Al-Shafi'i". The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. IV. E. J. Brill. pp. 252–53.
  11. Christelow 2000, p. 377.
  12. Pouwels 2002, p. 139.
  13. "Islamic Jurisprudence & Law". University of North Carolina.
  14. "International Religious Freedom Report: Comoros" (PDF). United States Department of State. 2013.
  15. Esposito, John L., ed. (2003). The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford University Press. pp. 285–86. ISBN 978-0-19-512558-0.
  16. Al-Zarkashi 1393, p. 209.
  17. Brown 2014, p. 39.
  18. Khadduri 1961, p. 14–22.
  19. Chaumont, Éric (1997). "Al-Shafi'iyya". The Encyclopedia Of Islam. Vol. IX. Brill. pp. 185–86.
  20. Istislah The Oxford Dictionary of Islam, Oxford University Press
  21. Istihsan The Oxford Dictionary of Islam, Oxford University Press
  22. Ridgeon 2003, p. 259–262.
  23. "Istiḥsān". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  24. "Istislah". The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford University Press.
  25. "Istihsan". The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford University Press.
  26. Hallaq 2009a, p. 58–71.
  27. Haddad 2007, p. 121.
  28. Dutton, p. 16.


Primary sources

  • Al-Zarkashi, Badr al-Din (1393). Al-Bahr Al-Muhit Vol VI.
  • Khadduri, Majid (1961). 'Islamic Jurisprudence: Shafiʽi's Risala. Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Al-Shafiʽi: The Epistle on Legal Theory - Risalah fi usul al-fiqh. Translated by Lowry, Joseph. New York University Press. 2013. ISBN 978-0814769980.

Scholarly sources

  • Hallaq, Wael B. (2009). An Introduction to Islamic Law. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521678735.
  • Saeed, Abdullah (2008). The Qur'an: An Introduction. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415421256.
  • Ramadan, Hisham M. (2006). Understanding Islamic Law: From Classical to Contemporary. Rowman Altamira. ISBN 978-0-7591-0991-9.
  • Kamali, Mohammad Hashim (2008). Shari'ah Law: An Introduction. Oneworld Publications. ISBN 978-1851685653.
  • Hasyim, Syafiq (2005). Understanding Women in Islam: An Indonesian Perspective. Equinox. ISBN 978-9793780191.
  • Hallaq, Wael B. (2009a). Sharī'a: Theory, Practice, Transformations. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521861472.
  • Brown, Jonathan A. C. (2014). Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet's Legacy. Oneworld Publications. ISBN 978-1780744209.
  • Ridgeon, Lloyd (2003). Major World Religions: From Their Origins to the Present. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415297967.
  • Dutton, Yasin. The Origins of Islamic Law: The Qurʼan, the Muwaṭṭaʼ and Madinan ʻAmal.
  • Haddad, Gibril F. (2007). The Four Imams and Their Schools. Muslim Academic Trust, London.
  • Pouwels, Randall L. (2002). Horn and Crescent: Cultural Change and Traditional Islam. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521523097.
  • Christelow, Allan (2000). Levtzion, Nehemia; Pouwels, Randall (eds.). "Islamic Law in Africa," in The History of Islam in Africa. Ohio University Press. ISBN 978-0821412978.
  • Zayn Kassam; Bridget Blomfield (2015). "Remembering Fatima and Zaynab: Gender in Perspective". In Farhad Daftory (ed.). The Shi'i World. I. B. Tauris Press.

Further reading

  • Al-Shāfiʿī, Muḥammad ibn Idrīs; Lowry, Joseph E. (2013). The Epistle on Legal Theory: A Translation of Al-Shafi'i's Risalah. Translated by Lowry, Joseph E. New York University Press. ISBN 9781479855445. JSTOR j.ctt17mvkhj.
  • Cilardo, Agostino (2014). "Shafiʽi Fiqh". In Fitzpatrick, Coeli; Walker, Adam Hani (eds.). Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God. ABC-CLIO.
  • Yahia, Mohyddin (2009). Shafiʽi et les deux sources de la loi islamique, Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, ISBN 978-2-503-53181-6
  • Rippin, Andrew (2005). Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (3rd ed.). London: Routledge. pp. 90–93. ISBN 0-415-34888-9.
  • Calder, Norman, Jawid Mojaddedi, and Andrew Rippin (2003). Classical Islam: A Sourcebook of Religious Literature. London: Routledge. Section 7.1.
  • Schacht, Joseph (1950). The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence. Oxford: Oxford University. pp. 16.
  • Khadduri, Majid (1987). Islamic Jurisprudence: Shafiʽi's Risala. Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society. pp. 286.
  • Abd Majid, Mahmood (2007). Tajdid Fiqh Al-Imam Al-Syafi'i. Seminar pemikiran Tajdid Imam As Shafie 2007.
  • al-Shafiʽi, Muhammad b. Idris, "The Book of the Amalgamation of Knowledge" translated by A.Y. Musa in Hadith as Scripture: Discussions on The Authority Of Prophetic Traditions in Islam, New York: Palgrave, 2008
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