3. History of the school

3.      Historical Development of the Shafi’i Fiqh

The school of Imam al-Shafi’i went through five major developmental stages:

1.      The stage of ta’sis: the period in which the foundations of the school were established.  This period represents the earliest stage in the school’s development and it ended with the death of its founder, Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi’i, who left behind works such as al-Umm and others.

2.      The stage of naql: the period in which the school developed during the period of ta’sis was transmitted. The responsibility of transmitting and spreading the Shafi’i school was shouldered by the students of al-Shafi’i. The most famous work written by al-Shafi’i’s students during this period is al-Mukhtasar by Imam al-Muzani.

3.      The stage of tadwin and tawassu: the period in which scholars began formally recording the fiqh of al-Shafi’i on paper as well as expounding on many legal issues. From this period, two schools emerged:

a.      The Iraqi school, which was led by Abu Hamid al-Isfara’ini, al-Mawardi, Abu Tayyib al-Tabari, al-Bandaniji, al-Mahamili, Sulaym al-Razi, and others.

b.      The Khurasani school, which was led by al-Qaffal al-Saghir, Abu Bakr al-Marwazi, Abu Muhammad al-Juwayni, al-Furani, al-Qadi Husayn, Abu ‘Ali al-Sinji, al-Mas’udi, and others.

  1. The stage of tahrir: the period of revision. This phase in the school’s development was led by the two sheikhs of the school, Imam al-Rafi’i, who recorded his findings in al-MuharrarSharh al-Kabir and al-Sharh al-Saghir, two works explaining Ghazzali’s al-Wajiz, and Imam al-Nawawi, whose impact on the school during this critical stage of development is exemplified by works like Minhaj al-Talibinal-Majmu’, a commentary of Shirazi’s al-Muhadhdhab, and Rawdat al-Talibin. These are the most important works of al-Rafi’i and al-Nawawi. In these works, al-Rafi’i and al-Nawawi revise the legal issues of the school as well as the proofs for those legal issues and determine which of the narrations of the school are correct and which statements of the scholars of the school should be given consideration.
  1. The stage of istiqrar: the period of consolidation in which the two great imams, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami, and Shams al-Din al-Ramli, who, in the works Tuhfat al-Muhtaj and Nihayat al-Muhtaj, discuss the views and statements of earlier scholars of the school that neither al-Rafi’ nor al-Nawawi had addressed, in addition to correcting what remained of the school’s legal issues and tracking various issues throughout the chapters of fiqh.

Having undergone verification at the hands of al-Rafi’I and al-Nawawi, with the issues left unaddressed by the two imams now finally taken care of by Ibn Hajar and al-Ramli, the school reached its final stages of development. Because of the rigour these imams had when revising and consolidating the school, scholars of the later-Shafi’I school wholeheartedly approved of their works. For whatever al-Rafi’i and al-Nawawi agreed upon became the reliable position, and if either of the imams were found disagreeing on an issue, later-Shafi’is concluded that the view of al-Nawawi is to be given preference—notwithstanding the fact that formal legal edicts on the view of either imam is permitted. And for any legal issue in the school that has been left unaddressed, the reliable position is what Ibn Hajar and al-Ramli agree upon. If Ibn Hajar and al-Ramli hold divergent views on an issue the people of Hijaz and Hadramawt give preference to Ibn Hajar, while those in Egypt and the Levant tend to support al-Ramli. As a concluding remark, it is permitted to act on and issue formal legal verdicts upon views frequently conveyed by in books by scholars other than al-Rafi’I, al-Nawawi, Ibn Hajar, al-Ramli as long as there is not agreement that the respective viewpoint is an outright mistake, the product of absentmindedness, or weak, and the only way a view can be known as such is by studying under the masters of this field.