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The Shafi‘i (Arabic: شافعي Shāfiʿī, alternative spelling Shafei) madhhab is one of the four schools of Islamic law in Sunni Islam. It was founded by the Arab scholar Al-Shafi‘i, a pupil of Malik, in the early 9th century. The other three schools of Sunni jurisprudence are Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali.
The Shafi school predominantly relies on the Quran and the Hadiths for Sharia. Where passages of Quran and Hadiths are ambiguous, the school first seeks religious law guidance from Ijma – the consensus of Sahabah (Muhammad's companions). If there was no consensus, the Shafi‘i school relies on individual opinion (Ijtihad) of the companions of Muhammad, followed by analogy.
The Shafi‘i school was, in the early history of Islam, the most followed ideology for Sharia. However, with the Ottoman Empire's expansion and patronage, it was replaced with the Hanafi school in many parts of the Muslim world. One of the many differences between the Shafi‘i and Hanafi schools is that the Shafi‘i school does not consider Istihsan (judicial discretion by suitably qualified legal scholars) as an acceptable source of religious law because it amounts to "human legislation" of Islamic law.
The Shafi‘i school is now predominantly found in Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, eastern Egypt, the Swahili coast, Hijaz, Yemen, Syria, Kurdish regions of the Middle East, Dagestan, Chechen and Ingush regions of the Caucasus, Palestine, Lebanon, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Kerala and some coastal parts of India, Singapore, Myanmar, Thailand, Brunei, and the Philippines.
The Shafi‘i school of thought regards five sources of jurisprudence as having binding authority. In hierarchical order, these are: the Quran, the hadiths — that is, sayings, customs and practices of Muhammad, the ijmā' (consensus of Sahabah, the community of Muhammad's companions), the individual opinions of Sahaba with preference to one closest to the issue as ijtihad, and finally qiyas (analogy). Although al-Shafi‘i's legal methodology rejected custom or local practice as a constitutive source of law, this did not mean that he or his followers denied any elasticity in the Shariah. The Shafi‘i school also rejects two sources of Sharia that are accepted in other major schools of Islam—Istihsan (juristic preference, promoting the interest of Islam) and Istislah (public interest). The jurisprudence principle of Istihsan and Istislah admitted religious laws that had no textual basis in either the Quran or Hadiths, but were based on the opinions of Islamic scholars as promoting the interest of Islam and its universalization goals. The Shafi‘i school rejected these two principles, stating that these methods rely on subjective human opinions, and have potential for corruption and adjustment to political context and time.
The foundational text for the Shafi‘i school is Al-Risala ("The Message") by the founder of the school, Al-Shafi‘i. It outlines the principles of Shafi‘i fiqh as well as the derived jurisprudence. Al-Risala became an influential book to other Sunni Islam fiqhs as well, as the oldest surviving Arabic work on Islamic legal theory.
The Shafi‘i madhhab was spread by Al-Shafi‘i students in Cairo, Mecca and Baghdad. It became widely accepted in early history of Islam. The chief representative of the Iraqi school was Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi, whilst in Khorasan, the Shafi‘i school was spread by al-Juwayni and al-Iraqi. These two branches merged around Ibn al-Salah and his father.
The Shafi‘i jurisprudence was adopted as the official law during the Great Seljuq Empire, Zengid dynasty, Ayyubid dynasty and later the Mamluk Sultanate (Cairo), where it saw its widest application. It was also adopted by the Kathiri state in Hadhramawt and most of rule of the Sharif of Mecca.
With the establishment and expansion of Ottoman Empire in West Asia and Turkic Sultanates in Central and South Asia, Shafi‘i school was replaced with Hanafi school, in part because Hanafites allowed Istihsan (juristic preference) that allowed the rulers flexibility in interpreting the religious law to their administrative preferences. The Sultanates along the littoral regions of the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula adhered to the Shafi‘i school and were the primary drivers of its maritime military expansion into many Asian and East African coastal regions of the Indian Ocean, particularly from the 12th through the 18th century.
- Africa: Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, eastern Egypt and the Swahili Coast.
- Middle East: Yemen, Kurdish regions of the Middle East, Caucasus region, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Egypt
- Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Kerala and western coast of Indian peninsula, Singapore, Myanmar, Thailand, Brunei, and the southern Philippines.
Shafi‘i school is the second largest school of Sunni madhhabs by number of adherents, states Saeed in his 2008 book. However, a UNC publication considers the Maliki school as second largest, and the Hanafi madhhab the largest, with Shafi‘i as third largest. The demographic data by each fiqh, for each nation, is unavailable and the relative demographic size are estimates.
Contemporary Shafi‘i scholars
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