The Era of Commentaries in Shafi'i Jurisprudence (676-926): An Overview
ʿAṣr al-Shurūḥ (the era of explanations or the age of commentaries) within the Shafi'i school indicates a significant phase that spans from the time following Imam al-Nawawi's passing until the era of Zakariyya al-Ansari. This period was characterised by a focused effort among scholars to elaborate and expound upon the teachings, methodologies, and texts left behind by important figures like Imam al-Nawawi and Imam al-Rafi'i. Imam al-Nawawi and Imam al-Rafi'i were important figures in shaping the Shafi'i jurisprudence, and their works, particularly 'Al-Rawdah' by al-Nawawi and 'Sharḥ al-Kabīr' and 'Al-Muḥarrar' by al-Rafi'i, served as foundational basic texts.
Scholars started to dedicate themselves to studying, interpreting, and providing detailed explanations of these texts. The zeal to understand and spread the teachings of these scholars led to the widespread influence of the Shafi'i school across various regions worldwide. Scholars' efforts in grasping and distributing the insights from Imam al-Nawawi and Imam al-Rafi'i's works contributed significantly to the expansion and solidification of the Shafi'i jurisprudence, making it widely available and influential in diverse communities and regions.
Scholars During ʿAṣr al-Shurūḥ
During the Aṣr al-Shurūḥ era, distinguished scholars made enduring impacts on Islamic jurisprudence. Among these luminaries, Ahmed ibn Muhammad ibn Ali ibn al-Rifa’a stands out for his significant contributions. Furthermore, the Al-Subki family played an undeniable role, with eminent scholars such as Taqi al-Din al-Subki, Taj al-Din al-Subki, Abu Hamid al-Subki, and Abu al-Baqaa al-Subki greatly influencing this period with their scholarly works.
Furthermore, the era witnessed the scholarly ability and capability of individuals like Jamal al-Din al-Asnawi, Shihab al-Din al-Azra'i, and Imam Badr al-Din al-Zarkashi, each contributing unique perspectives and expanding the horizons of Islamic jurisprudence. Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli, known for his contributions to Qur'anic exegesis, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, a polymath revered for his extensive works in Hadith studies, and Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, a prominent scholar with vast knowledge across various disciplines, also left enduring legacies during this era.
Scholarly Movement of Shafi'i School
There is a great deal of commitment in serving the religious school and promoting the works of scholars such as Imam al-Nawawi and Imam al-Rafi'i. There's a convergence of their opinions, especially in 'al-Rawdah' by al-Nawawi, and the commentary provided by al-Rafi'i in 'Al-Kabir' and 'al-Muharrar'.
The works of jurisprudence branched out from three books"
- Al-Rawdah' by Imam al-Nawawi'
- Sharḥ al-Kabīr' and 'al-Muḥarrar' by Imam al-Rafi'i'
Legacy of Imam Al-Nawawi
Imam al-Nawawi's stature and influence within the school of thought were unmistakable, and their deep admiration for him was perceivable. He held a revered position among the jurists of the school. As for Imam As-Suyuti, his standing is reflected in a statement about his stages: Those who followed his methods went to such lengths that they would remark, 'If I heard someone suggesting, 'Al-Nawawi made an error,' I would question their faith.' This phase was named for being the predominant characteristic in the authorship among jurists, emphasizing concise text explanations. It's fascinating how certain scholars become touchstones, almost beyond critique, within their respective circles due to their immense contributions and reverence among their followers.
He dedicated a considerable part of his scholarly endeavors to elucidate 'Al-Minhāj' by al-Nawawi, becoming deeply involved with the text. 'Al-Minhaj' garnered widespread attention, spawning multiple interpretations such as 'Al-Ibtihaj,' 'Kafi al-Muhtaj,' 'Qut al-Muhtaj,' 'Ad-Dibaj,' and 'Kanz ar-Raghibin.' There's a well-known account by Al-Sahawi regarding Imam Al-Nawawi: he recounted a profound dream where he stood on the coast of Mawza and saw the Prophet ﷺ. In this dream, the Prophet ﷺ referred to Al-Nawawi as the 'Saḥib al-Maḍhab.' Al-Sahawi also noted differences between the words of Al-Ghazali and Al-Nawawi, with the Prophet ﷺ stating, "He knows my Sunnah." Later, encountering the Prophet ﷺ in another dream, Al-Sahawi sought clarification specifically about Imam Al-Nawawi, and the Prophet ﷺ "He is the reviver of my religion." It's fascinating how such narratives echo the reverence and profound impact scholars like Imam Al-Nawawi had within the Islamic tradition seemingly affirmed even through dream encounters.
Expansion of the Shafi'i School
During this phase of the school of thought, the scholarly movement thrived in Egypt and the Levant due to the migration of scholars from Persia, following the Mongol invasion, and from Andalusia due to the Crusades. The Shafi'i school extended its influence to most regions, to the extent that the Imams of the Two Holy Mosques led prayers according to the Shafi'i school. The position of Qadi (judge) became prominent for Shafi'is, who were consulted during the time of translating scholarly works. The Shafi'i school established more than sixty three schools in the Levant alone.
This period flourished due to the efforts of these scholars, such as Ibn al-Rifa'a , who hailed from Egypt and was one of the most prominent figures after Imam al-Rafi'i and Imam al-Nawawi in terms of reliance and preference, as stated by Imam As-Suyuti. The Al-Subki family, comprised of figures like Imam Taqi al-Din al-Subki, Taj al-Din al-Subki, and Abu al-Baqa' al-Subki, alongside the scholar Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli, remained unswayed by criticism in their quest for divine truth. They excelled not only in their fearless pursuit but also mastered the art of commentary. Another luminary, Imam Jalal al-Din As-Suyuti, similarly embodied this unwavering dedication to truth, contributing significantly to the scholarly landscape of his time.
Legacy of Zakariya al-Ansari
Zakariya al-Ansari, titled as "Shaikh al-Islam," was born in 823 and passed away in 926 in Cairo. Known for his comprehensive knowledge and commitment to scholarship, he earned the title after mastering the Holy Quran and pursuing studies at Jamia al-Azhar. Under the guidance of eminent scholars like Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani and Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli, al-Ansari honed his expertise in various sciences and jurisprudence. His remarkable dedication to scholarship spanned a century, predominantly devoted to scholarly classification.
Notably engaged in political and societal affairs, al-Ansari's significant contribution resides in his renowned work, "Sharḥ Mukhtasar al-Muzni." This masterpiece stands as a comprehensive and detailed commentary on the Mukhtasar al-Muzni, elucidating intricate legal principles and providing profound insights into Islamic jurisprudence. Al-Ansari's legacy persists through his scholarly pursuits, impactful writings, and dedication to both Islamic knowledge and societal welfare, earning him enduring recognition as a luminary in Islamic jurisprudence and scholarly circles.
To encapsulate, the Aṣr al-Shurūḥ in Shafi'i Jurisprudence stands as a testament to an era characterized by scholarly commitment and remarkable intellectual advancement. During this epoch, scholars fervently delved into the foundational texts laid by eminent figures like Imam al-Nawawi and Imam al-Rafi'i, resulting in the expansive influence of the Shafi'i school on a global scale. Visionary individuals such as Ibn al-Rifaa, the illustrious members of the Al-Subki family, and erudite scholars like al-Suyuti and al-Ansari profoundly shaped this period through their invaluable contributions. Their collective efforts solidified Shafi'i jurisprudence's enduring impact across diverse regions, firmly establishing it as not just a prominent but a revered scholarly tradition, echoing its significance across generations to come.
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About the author
Muhammed Sinan K is a research scholar pursuing a degree in Arabic Language and Literature at Darul Huda Islamic University.
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