Muhammad ibn Idris ibn al-‘Abbas, al-Imam al-Shafi’i, Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Shafi’i al-Hijazi al-Qurashi al-Hashimi al-Muttalibi (d. 204), the offspring of the House of the Prophet (PBUH- peace be upon him), the peerless one of the great mujtahid imams and jurisprudent, the scrupulously pious ascetic and Friend of Allah, he laid down the foundations of fiqh (Islamic Law) in his Risala, which he said he revised and re-read four hundred times, then said: “Only Allah’s Book is perfect and free from error.”

He is the cousin of the Prophet (PBUH) descending from al-Muttalib who is the brother of Hashim, ‘Abd al-Muttalib’s father. Someone praised the Banu Hashim in front of the Prophet (PBUH), whereby he interlaced the fingers of his two hands and said: “We and they are but one and the same thing.”

Al-Nawawi (may Allah be pleased with him) listed some special merits of al-Shafi’i:

1, his sharing the Prophet’s (PBUH) lineage at the level of their common ancestor ‘Abd Manaf;

2, his birth in the Holy Land of Palestine and

3, upbringing in Mecca;

5, and his education at the hands of superlative scholars together with his own intelligence and knowledge of the Arabic language. To this Ibn Hajar (may Allah be pleased with him) added: the hadith (the sayings/doings) of the Prophet (scholars ), “O Allah! Guide Quraysh, for the science of the scholar that comes from them, will encompass the earth. O Allah! You have let the first of them taste bitterness, so let the latter of them taste reward.” Another hadith of the Prophet (scholars ) says: “Truly, Allah shall send forth for this Community, at the onset of every hundred years, someone who will renew their Religion for them.” The scholars agreed, among them Abu Qilaba (d. 276) and Imam Ahmad, that the first narration signified al-Shafi’i, and the second signified ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz and then al-Shafi’i.

Imam Shafi’i was born in Ghazza or ‘Asqalan in 150, the year of Abu Hanifa’s (may Allah be pleased with him) death, and moved to Mecca at the age of two, following his father’s death, where he grew up. He was early a skillful archer, then he took to learning language and poetry until he gave himself to fiqh, beginning with hadith. He memorized the Quran at age seven, then Imam Malik’s Muwatta at age ten, at which time his teacher would deputize him to teach in his absence. At age thirteen he went to see Malik, who was impressed by his memory and intelligence.

Malik ibn Anas and Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani were among his most prominent teachers and he took position against both of them in fiqh. Al-Shafi’i said: “From Muhammad ibn al-Hasan I wrote a camel-load.” Al-Hakim narrated from ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam: “Al-Shafi’i never ceased to speak according to Malik’s position and he would say: ‘We do not differ from him other than in the way of his companions,’ until some young men spoke unbecomingly at length behind his back, whereupon al-Shafi’i resolved to put his differences with Malik in writing. Otherwise, his whole life he would say, whenever asked something: ‘This is what the Teacher said’ – h’dha qawl al-ustadh – meaning Malik.”

Al-Muzani said: “I never saw one more handsome of face than al-Shafi’i. If he grasped his beard it would not exceed his fist.” Ibn Rahuyah described him in Mecca as wearing bright white clothes with an intensely black beard. Al-Za’farani said that when he was in Baghdad in the year 195 he dyed his beard with henna.

Abu ‘Ubayd al-Qasim ibn Sallam said: “If the intelligence of an entire nation was brought together he would have encompassed it.” Similarly, al-Muzani said: “I have been looking into al-Shafi’i’s Risala for fifty years, and I do not recall a single time I looked at it without learning some new benefit.”

Al-Sakhawi in the introduction to his al-Jawahir wa al-Durar and others narrates that someone criticized Ahmad ibn Hanbal (may Allah be pleased with him) for attending the fiqh sessions of al-Shafi’i and leaving the hadith sessions of Sufyan ibn ‘Uyayna. Ahmad replied: “Keep quiet! If you miss a hadith with a shorter chain you can find it elsewhere with a longer chain and it will not harm you. But if you do not have the reasoning of this man [al-Shafi’i], I fear you will never be able to find it elsewhere.” Ahmad is also related by his students Abu Talib and Humayd ibn Zanjuyah to say: “I never saw anyone adhere more to hadith than al-Shafi’i. No one preceded him in writing down the hadith in a book.” The meaning of this is that al-Shafi’i possessed the understanding of hadith after which Ahmad sought, as evidenced by the latter’s statement: “How rare is fiqh among the scholars of hadith!” This is a reference to the hadith: “It may be one carries understanding (fiqh) without being a person of understanding (faq’h).” Sufyan himself would defer to al-Shafi’i in matters of tafsir (commentary of the Quran) and fatwa (Islamic verdicts). Yunus ibn Abi Ya’la said: “Whenever al-Shafi’i went into tafsir, it was as if he had witnessed the revelation.” Ahmad ibn Hanbal also said: “Not one of the scholars of hadith touched an inkwell nor a pen except he owed a huge debt to al-Shafi’i.”

Al-Shafi’i was known for his peculiar strength in Arabic language, poetry, and philology. Bayhaqi narrated:

[From Ibn Hisham:] I was al-Shafi’i’s sitting companion for a long time, and I never heard him use except a word which, carefully considered, one would not find (in its context) a better word in the entire Arabic language. . . . Al-Shafi’i’s discourse, in relation to language, is a proof in itself.

[From al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Za’farani:] A group of bedouins used to frequent al-Shafi’i’s gathering with us and sit in a corner. One day I asked their leader: “You are not interested in scholarship; why do you keep coming to sit with us?” They said: “We come to hear al-Shafi’i’s language.”

In the introduction of his compendium of Shafi’i fiqh entitled al-Majmu’ al-Nawawi mentions that al-Shafi’i used a walking stick for which he was asked: “Why do you carry a stick when you are neither old nor ailing?” He replied: “To remember I am only a traveler in this world.”