The Shafi’i Madhab
المذهب الشافعي

Imam: Abu ʿAbdillah Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi‘i
Arabic: ابو عبدالله محمد بن إدريس الشافعيّ

Decorative Lines

The Shafi’i (Arabic: شافعي‎ Šāfiʿī ) madhhab is one of the schools of fiqh, or religious law, within the Sunni branch of Islam. Named after Imām ash-Shafi’i, it is followed by Muslims worldwide in Southeast Asia, Somalia, Yemen, and parts of the Egypt and Indian subcontinent.


The Shafi’i school of thought stipulates authority to four sources of jurisprudence, also known as the Usul al-fiqh. In hierarchical order, the usul al-fiqh consist of: the Quran, the Sunnah of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, ijmā’ (“consensus”), and qiyas (“analogy”).

The Shafi’i school also refers to the opinions of Muhammad’s companions (primarily Al-Khulafa ar-Rashidun). The school, based on Shafi’i’s books ar-Risala fi Usul al-Fiqh and Kitab al-Umm, which emphasizes proper istinbaat (derivation of laws) through the rigorous application of legal principles as opposed to speculation or conjecture.

Shafi’i’s treatise ar-Risala fi Usul al-Fiqh is not to be mistaken or confused with the al-Risala of Imam Malik.

Imam Shafi’i approached the imperatives of the Islamic Shariah (Canon Law) distinctly in his own systematic methodology. Imam Shafi’i, Imam Malik and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal almost entirely exclude the exercise of private judgement in the exposition of legal principles. They are wholly governed by the force of precedents, adhering to the Scripture and Traditions. They also do not admit the validity of a recourse to analogical deduction of such an interpretation of the Law, whereby its spirit is adapted to the circumstances of any special case.

Shafi’i is also known as the “First Among Equals” for his exhaustive knowledge and systematic methodology to religious science.

The Imam
Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi`i

Shafi’i’s [150 – 206 AH] full name is Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muhammad ibn Idrīs ibn al-Abbās ibn ‘Uthmān ibn Shāfi‘ ibn as-Sa’ib ibn ‘Ubayd ibn ‘Abd al-Yazīd ibn al-Muttalib ibn ‘Abd Manaf. ‘Abd Manaf was the great great grandfather of Muhammad. Based on this lineage, he is from the Quraish tribe. He was born in 150 AH (760 CE) in Gaza in the same year Imam Abu Hanifa died. Al-Nawawī, a prominent Shāfiʻī scholar, cited Sufyan ibn `Uyaynah, one of al-Shafi`i’s teachers, as being from “the grandfathers of the Shāfiʻī scholars in their methodology in jurisprudence”.

As a member of the school of Medina, ash-Shafi’i worked to combine the pragmatism of the Medina school with the contemporary pressures of the Traditionalists. The Traditionalists maintained that jurists could not independently adduce a practice as the sunnah of Muhammad based on ijtihad “independent reasoning” but should only produce verdicts substantiated by authentic hadith.

Based on this claim, ash-Shafi’i devised a method for systematic reasoning without relying on personal deduction. He argued that the only authoritative sunnah were those that were both of Muhammad and passed down from Muhammad himself. He also argued that sunnah contradicting the Quran were unacceptable, claiming that sunnah should only be used to explain the Quran. Furthermore, ash-Shafi’i claimed that if a practice is widely accepted throughout the Muslim community, it cannot be in contradiction of sunnah.

Ash-Shafi’i was also a significant poet. His poetry is noted for its beauty, wisdom, despite the fact that during his lifetime he stood off becoming a poet because of his rank as an Islamic scholar. He said once:

 و لولا الشعر بالعلماء يزري لكنت اليوم أشعر من لبيد
For scholars, if poetry did not degrade, I would have been a finer poet than Labīd.
However, the beauty of his poetry made people collect it in one famous book under the name Diwān Imām al-Shafi’i. Many verses are popularly known and repeated in the Arab world as proverbs:
 نعيب زماننا و العيب فينا و ما لزماننا عيب سوانا و نهجو ذا الزمان بغير ذنب و لو نطق الزمان لنا هجانا
We blame our time though we are to blame. No fault has time but only us. We scold the time for all the shame. Had it a tongue, it would scold us.

The Qur’an has brought a transformation to the Arabic language, especially in Arabic poetry and prose. It has thus shaped the form and essence of contemporary Arabic literature.

Importance of the Shafi’i School:

According to this map the Shafi`i madhhab (in dark blue) is predominant in Kurdistan, Somalia, parts of the Arabian Peninsula and Southeast Asia. Though this map is controversial and needs critical analysis.

The Shafi’i school is followed throughout the Ummah and is the official school of thought of many traditional scholars and leading Sunni authorities. It is also recognized as the official school of thought by the governments of Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia. In addition, the government of Indonesia uses this madhab for the Indonesian compilation of sharia law.

It is the dominant school of thought amongst Muslims in Yemen, Lower Egypt, Syria, Jordan, North Caucasus, Southeast Turkey, Northwest Iran, Iraqi Kurdistan, parts of Northern Syria, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Maldives, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia.

It is also practised by large communities in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia (in the Hejaz and Asir, the Swahili Coast, Mauritius, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan (by Chechens) and Indian States of Kerala (most of the Mappilas), Karnataka (Bhatkal, Mangalore and Coorg districts), Maharashtra (by Konkani Muslims) and Tamil Nadu.

In terms of followers, Shafi’i is the second largest school of the Sunni branch of Islam after the Hanafi madhab. It is practiced by approximately a third (32%) of Sunni Muslims, or around 29% of all Muslims worldwide.


The Shafi’i madhab was adopted as the official madhab during periods of the Abbasid Caliphate, in the first century of the Great Seljuq Empire, Zengid dynasty, Ayyubid dynasty and later the Mamluk Sultanate (Cairo), where it saw its greatest development and application. It was also adopted by the Kathiri state in Hadhramawt and most of rule of the Sharif of Mecca and Hijaz.

Early European explorers speculated that T’ung-kan (Hui people, called “Chinese Mohammedan”) in Xinjiang originated from Khorezmians who were transported to China by the Mongols, and that they were descended from a mixture of Chinese, Iranians, and Turkic peoples. They also reported that the T’ung-kan were Shafi’ites, which the Khorezmians were as well.

Famous Shafi’i’s

According to the great Indian Hanafi scholar, Shah Waliullah, The Shafi’i Madhab is distinguished among all the Sunni Schools in having the most illustrious Islamic scholars in history, in all fields, among its followers. As Imam al-Shafi’i emphasized the importance of muttasil hadith (connected) and undermined the relevance of mursal (skipped) hadith, his madhab found particular favour among hadith scholars.


  • Al-Ghazali, Authority in Sufism, Aqidah, Fiqh, Usul al-Fiqh, and Logic.
  • Yahya ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi, Sunni’s second highest authority in Hadith, principal Shafi’i jurist; author of the Sahih Muslim commentary.
  • Suyuti, Sunni authority in Quran, Fiqh, Tafsir, Hadith, Aqidah, Usul al-Fiqh and History
  • Fakhr al-Din al-Razi
  • Ibn al-Nafis

In Hadith:

  • Al-Bayhaqi, Sunni authority in Hadith; Shafiite authority in Fiqh
  • Hakim al-Nishaburi, Sunni authority in Hadith
  • al-Tabarani, Sunni authority in Hadith
  • Ibn Khuzaymah
  • Ibn al-Salah, hadith specialist
  • Yusuf ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Mizzi
  • Dhahabi, Sunni authority in Hadith
  • Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Sunni’s foremost authority in Hadith, author of the authoritative commentary of Sahih Bukhari.
  • Al-Sakhawi
  • Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, A renowned Sunni expert in Hadith methodology and jurisprudence
  • Abd al-Rahim ibn al-Husain al-‘Iraqi
  • Al-Qastallani

In Tafsir:

  • Ibn Kathir, top-notch Sunni expert in Tafsir, Hadith, Biography and Fiqh.
  • Al-Baghawi, Also known as “Reviver of Sunnah”, well known for his Ma’alim Al-Tanzil in Tafsir.
  • Baidawi
  • Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Tha’labi
  • Said Nursî
  • Hamka

In Fiqh:

  • Al-Mawardi, Sunni authority in Legal ordinances, history and Islamic governance.
  • Al-Juwayni
  • Zakariyya al-Ansari
  • Ibn Hajar al-Haytami
  • Sayf al-Din al-Amidi
  • Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri
  • Zainuddin Makhdoom al-Mallibari I and II, The Jurist and Historian (respectively) of Kerala
  • Ibn Nuhaas

In Aqidah:

  • Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari, Leader of Ash’ari Aqidah.

In Sufism:

  • Harith al-Muhasibi
  • Junayd al-Baghdadi
  • Ibn Khafif
  • Abd al-Karīm ibn Hawāzin Qushayri
  • Abu Talib al-Makki
  • Imam al-Haddad
  • Ahmad Ghazali
  • Ayn al-Quzat Hamadani
  • Abu al-Najib Suhrawardi
  • Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi
  • Yusuf Hamdani
  • Ahmed ar-Rifa’i
  • Shams Tabrizi
  • Safi-ad-din Ardabili Is’haq Ardabili
  • Kamal Khujandi
  • Yusuf an-Nabhani
  • Mir Sayyed Ali Hamadani

In History:

  • Ali ibn al-Athir
  • Ibn ‘Asakir
  • Ibn Khallikan

In Arabic Language Studies:

  • Raghib Isfahani
  • Fairuzabadi


  • Saladin
  • Nizam al-Mulk

Contemporary Shafi’i Scholars:

  • Wahba Zuhayli – Professor of Jurisprudence at Damascus University.
  • Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan al-Buti – Head of Theology at Damascus University.
  • Ali Gomaa – Grand Mufti of Egypt.
  • Habib Umar bin Hafiz – Founder of Dar al-Mustafa, a leading Islamic educational institute in Tarim, Yemen.
  • Habib Ali al-Jifri – Popular scholar from Yemen.
  • Abdullah al-Harari (1910 – September 2, 2008) – Started the Ahbash or Habashi movement, also known as the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects at
  • Afifi al-Akiti – University Lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford.
  • Taha Karan- A leading scholar and teacher from South Africa (ash-Shāfi‘ī as-Sagīr (A title given to Ml. Taha by the renowned Shaykh, Khalil Ibrahim Mula Khatir from Madinah al-Munawwarah)).
  • Hasyim Muzadi – Former chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Islamic organisation in Indonesia.
  • Aboobacker Ahmad – A. P. Sunni leader in Kerala and General Secretary of the Sunni Scholars’ Organisation of India.
  • Nuh Ha Mim Keller – Translator of Imam Nawawi’s Al-Maqasid and Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri’s Umdat al-Salik wa Uddat al-Nasik.
  • Mohammad Salim Al-Awa – Leading Islamist thinker from Egypt.
  • Ahmed Kuftaro – Former Grand Mufti of Syria.
  • Ahmad Syafi’i Maarif – Prominent Indonesian intellectual.
  • Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas – Leading Malaysian intellectual.
  • Taha Jabir Alalwani – Leading scholar in the United States.
  • Zaid Shakir – Prominent American scholar.