Imâm Muhammad Bin Idrîs Ash-Shâfi’î [D.204H]: His Gifts

Allâh gave ash-Shâfi’î great natural gifts which put him in the first rank of the leaders of thought and opinion. He had strong mental powers and faculties. He was quick-witted and ideas came to him when he needed them. He was very good at explaining himself and was known for his clear expression, eloquent language and fine exposition, and he had a voice which had a profound effect on his listeners. The first time ash-Shâfi’î met Mâlik, Mâlik asked him to read the Muwatta’ to some of his companions ash-Shâfi’î said: “I will read a page to you.” When he had read the page, Mâlik wanted him to read on and on because of the profound effect of his voice. When he recited the Qur’ân, his listeners used to weep.

Ash-Shâfi’î had penetrating insight into people’s character like his Shaykh Mâlik he had strong firâsah [insight into character] enabling him to recognise the states of the men and what were capable of. That is a necessary quality for a debater who seeks to bring his opponent over to his side; it is also necessary for a teacher, to enable him to instruct his students with as much as are capable of grasping. Ash-Shâfi’î’s insight, together with be clear exposition, was one reason for the great number of companions and students that gathered around him.

It is related that when ash-Shâfi’î arrived in Baghdad he only had six companions but the time came when he had to go to the Great Mosque so that there would be enough room for his teaching when he was there, there was not enough room for anyone else hold a teaching circle in the mosque whereas before that there d been about fifty circles, as is stated in The History of Baghdad.

His insight into people’s states led him only to impart to his listeners knowledge which they were capable of grasping. Yâqût: “He used to recite poetry from memory with some of his contemporaries, but would tell those who recited with him: ‘Do not let any of the people of hadîth know about this. They would not be able to bear it’.”

Ash-Shâfi’î had a heart free of the impurities of this world which meant that he was sincere in his quest for knowledge and his desire for the truth. He sought knowledge for the sake of Allâh alone, directed himself to the Straight Path in his quest, and sincerely directed himself to seeking direct knowledge of inner realities which come into the heart by the light of gnosis and create in the soul a purity which makes the realities clear, the intellect perceptive and thought direct.

Ash-Shâfi’î’s absolute sincerity was necessary for all levels of his quest of knowledge. When his sincerity caused him to go against people’s generally held opinions, he boldly and forcefully publicly announced his own opinion. He saw the high position of ‘Alî both in history and also in the reports of the Companions and he continued to uphold this so that he was accused of being a Rafidite. [1] The more he proclaimed the truth and knowledge the more accusations he received. His judgement was that all those who rebelled against ‘Alî were rebels. He also mentioned the excellence of Abû Bakr and was accused of being a Nashibite. [2] He did not pay any attention to this, just as he had paid no attention the first accusation. He said:

I preferred ‘Alî, so that makes me a Rafidite
according to those who are ignorant.
When I mentioned the excellence of Abû Bakr.
I was accused of being a Nasibite on that account.
So I continue to be both Rafidite and Nasibite,
holding to this until I am buried in the sands.

When ash- Shâfi’î’s loyalty to his Shaykhs conflicted his perception of the truth, he preferred the truth. His loyalty to Mâlik did not prevent him from opposing him; nor did his loyalty to Muhammad bin al-Hasan prevent from debating with him so effectively that he triumphed over his followers, causing them to consider him one the people of the Hijâz and to call him the ‘Helper of Hadîth.’ He was like at every stage of his quest for knowledge, seeking illumination by true sincere devotion to the truth for the sake of the truth. So he came to his debates with absolute sincerity and overcame so long as the truth was his goal.

Ash-Shâfi’î believed that the basis of the Islâmic Sharî’ah was the Book of Allâh and the Sunnah of His Messenger and he never believed that he had encompassed complete knowledge Sunnah of the Messenger of Allâh. He encouraged his companions to seek out hadîth and, if they thought they were sound and contrary to what he stated, to reject his opinion and take the hadîth. Yâqût reports from ar-Rabî’ bin Sulaymân: “When a man asked ash- Shâfi’î about something and said: ‘It is related that the Messenger of Allâh said such-and-such’ he asked ash-Shâfi’î: ‘Abû ‘Abdullâh: ‘Do you also say this?’ Ash-Shâfi’î trembled and his countenance changed. I heard him say: ‘What earth will harbour me and what heaven will shade me if you relate the Messenger of Allâh [sall-Allâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam] and I do not say yes, with all my being?’.”

Ar-Rabî’ also said: “I heard ash-Shâfi’î state: ‘There is no one who does not forget some of the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allâh. Whenever I say a word or establish a principle and what I said differs from the Messenger of Allâh, the proper position is whatever the Messenger of Allâh said [sall-Allâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam] and it is my position.’ He repeated these words.”

There is another type of sincerity by which Allâh singles out the elect of His slaves who are models and paradigms for other people. It is complete devotion to a high ideal. Sincerity of this kind is elevated and hard to attain and is a rare quality. Those who compete in debate, argue using proofs, and try to outdo each other producing evidence, are almost always prone to arrogance and love of prominence. But ash-Shâfi’î was a rare exception to this rule. That is why he did not get angry in an argument or become overbearing with a sharp tongue in an encounter. He desired only the truth when he argued and did not desire elevation. He had no concern for rank in knowledge. He simply wanted people to benefit by his knowledge without his having any concern about whether it was ascribed to him or not.

Ibn Kathîr states that ash-Shâfi’î used to say: “I want people to learn this knowledge and for none of it to be ascribed to me so that they may be rewarded for it and not praise me. Then by my sincerity I will have acquired intelligence, nobility and strength of self and be far from base things and above anything which does not fit a complete man.” Yahyâ bin Ma’în said in his description: “Even if lying were permitted, his manliness would have prevented him from doing it. This is the noblest thing that a truthful sincere person can achieve.”

By Shaykh Muhammad Abu Zahra
The Four Imams: Their Lives, Works and their Schools of thought, Pgs. Pgs. 276-279

Footnotes:

1. A term used for those Shi’ites who reject and display great hostility awards Abû Bakr and ‘Umar and ‘Uthmân.
2. One of a group of people who do not like ‘Alî or his family; counterpart of the Rafidites.

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