A brief introduction to the meaning of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), its principles, and The Leading Fiqh Scholars such as Abu Hanifah, Malik, Al-Shafi'i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal. It includes all the practical rules that every Muslim, man or woman, should know, citing their bases in the Qur’an and the Sunnah in an easy and simple way.
Abu 'Abdullah Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi'i (150–204 AH/768–820 CE) was born in Gaza and was only two years old when his mother took him to Makkah, where his father’s family came from. He was brought up by his mother, who was a very devout woman, and by the age of seven, al-Shafi'i had completed memorizing the Qur’an, and by 10 he had memorized Al-Muwatta’, the Hadith and Fiqh anthology of Imam Malik. At a young age he joined the desert tribe of Hudhayl, one of the most eloquent Arabian tribes, where he learnt much of their poetry and stayed with them for some years. When he returned to Makkah, he had attained a superior standard of eloquence and knowledge of Arabic.
He studied under the scholars of Makkah, learning Fiqh under Muslim ibn Khalid al-Zanji, the top scholar at the Haram in Makkah. Al-Shafi'i excelled in Fiqh, Hadith and Arabic, and was authorized to give rulings when he was only 15, and he became a teacher at the Haram. He then traveled to join Imam Malik in Madinah, where he read Al-Muwatta’ under him. He stayed in Madinah until Malik’s death in 179 AH (794 CE), and at the age of 29 al-Shafi'i traveled to Iraq, where he became familiar with the Fiqh heritage of Abu Hanifah. He studied Abu Hanifah’s books, the main source of Hanafi Fiqh, under Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan, and thus combined his learning of the Hijaz Fiqh with that of Iraq. During his studies, al-Shafi'i had several debates with Muhammad ibn al-Hasan. He returned to Makkah where he wrote his book, Al-Risalah, the first work ever on Fiqh methodology. He then traveled to Baghdad again where he was met by Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal who studied under him. Leading scholars of Baghdad attended al-Shafi'i’s circle and were influenced by his methods.
Ahmad ibn Hanbal said of him: “Al-Shafi'i was like the sun in this world, and like good health for people.” Can there ever be such great scholars?’  His contemporaries called him the Imam of the Sunnah and the champion of Hadith.
Methodology of the al-Shafi'i school
Imam al-Shafi'i arranged the basis for rulings into five classes:
1. The Quran and the Sunnah: Imam al-Shafi'i places the Sunnah at the same level with the Qur’an, as it explains the Quran and provides details of what is mentioned in general terms in the Quran.
2-The unanimity of scholars on matters to which no text in the Quran or the Sunnah applies: He defined unanimity as the agreement on a specific ruling of all Muslim scholars, who are qualified to exercise ijtihad at any particular time after the Prophet (peace be upon him) had passed away.
3. Al-Shafi'i upholds the statement of any Companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him), provided there is no disagreement among the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) Companions on the same matter. He would not take anyone’s view in preference to that of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) Companions.
4. When the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) Companions disagreed on a ruling, he adopted the view that is closest to the Qur’an, the Sunnah and analogy.
5. Analogy with a clear verdict in the Qur’an or the Sunnah: Analogy means applying a stated verdict to a question that carries no verdict, provided that the reasoning for this verdict applies equally to both questions.
- M. Abu Zahrah, Al-Shafi'i, p. 184 ff.
- Ibn al-Jawzi, Sifat al-Safwah, vol. 2, p. 142.