Literary CornerThe nine Imams of jurisprudence 4/4 [Archives:2005/840/Culture]

May 9 2005

By: Abu Alkalmah Al-Tayyibah
The discussion of the leading Imams of Islamic jurisprudence gets more interesting as one proceeds, especially with the objective analysis of Abdurrahman Al-Shirqawi, who does not regard some of the differences in the teachings they propagated as sources of conflict, but fruitful judgments on matters where textual stipulation was absent.

Most of these issues were on social issues and other matters that did not have relevance at the time of the Prophet Mohammed (PBAUH). On the core of issues in Islam, one truly finds little difference Now we come to the 2 of the leading Imams. I will concentrate on Imam Al-Shafe'i and Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal, as the two are credited with major sects of prominence in Islam.

Maybe during the fasting month of Ramadan, we will take a closer look at the last two Imams and each of these 9 Imams and get an idea of the rich moral and legal heritage that Moslem scholars left over the centuries, much of which has regrettably been misinterpreted rather than understood, even by the staunchest followers.

Imam Al-Shafe'i:

Although never a magistrate himself, he was labeled by the Egyptians as the “Judge of Shari'ah”. He was Mohammed Idriss Al-Shafe'i, a descendant of the leading house of the Quriesh Tribe. He was born in Gaza, Palestine.

An orphan at the age of two, his mother took him to Mecca, where they might live off some of the subsidies given to the Qureishis. He was attracted to learning at an early age. Because of his poverty he was unable to buy paper, so he forced himself to memorize all he learned. He learned the Holy Quran by heart by the age of seven.

A perfectionist in speech, he was not pleased with the many corruptions that the Arabic language had begun to show. He then went to live with the tribe of Hutheil, which resided near Mecca. Hutheil was considered the standard in Arabic speech and Bedouin chivalry. He also learned the art of “knighthood” (i.e., horseback riding, fighting with the weapons of the day, etc. there. He then went to learn from Imam Malik, then the teachings of the other Imams (Abu Haneifah, Ja'afar Al-Sadiq, Alleith Ibn Sa'ad) either from them or their students if they have passed away.

He was trying to discern who had the right course for jurisprudence, those who believed in opinions that were logically and rationally deduced, or those that stuck to textual renditions (Quran and traditions of the Prophet). He found that neither should be the only course by itself.

He was attracted to the opinions of many of the “opinion deducers”, while he saw the need also to stick to as much textual interpretation as reasonably can be followed. He also went to Yemen, Iraq and Syria before settling in Egypt in the last five years of his life. At that time scholasticism was being viewed as learning the Quran, the traditions, the jurisprudence of the leading Imams and the Arabic language. Al-Shafe'i, however insisted that scholasticism should also entail knowing the theoretical and practical sciences (medicine, arithmetic, philosophy, physics, etc.). As much as Al-Shafe'i respected the views of others, he was twice the victim of those who did not respect his views.

While in Najran, he noticed the Governor of the Abbasid Caliph Haroun Al-Rashid was oppressive. He spoke against him in public and told the citizens to resist the Governor. The Governor reported him to Haroun Al-Rashid as leading a rebellion with some others against the Abbasids. When they were taken to the Caliph, of the lot, only Al-Shafe'i escaped with the wisdom of his tongue and the Jurist/Advisor of Haroun Al-Rashid. Then, in Egypt he was attacked by extremist followers of the Imam Malik for differing with their teacher on some matters.

When the Governor of Egypt punished this extremist, the latter's friends attacked al-Shafe'i when he was all alone and beat him to death. He died young at the age of 54 (204 AH).

Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal: One of the most controversial of all the Imams, for his rigid interpretations of text, yet without undermining the viewpoints of other jurists who disagreed with him.

He was also misunderstood by those who claim to follow his rigid stands on some issues of dogma. He was a student and admirer of Imam Al-Shafe'i. He was born into the life of a poor orphan in Baghdad, Baghdad the capital of the splendor of the Abbasids. Ahmed Ibn Hanbal could not remain quiet and aloof, when he is seeing the Caliphate sanction all that Islam forbids and using public funds to take care of all the loyalists to the Caliph and forget the rest of the society. He was appalled by the extravagance of it all and spoke of the infractions as unacceptable in Islam.

Al-Shirqawi says that Ahmed was transgressed when he was alive and after his death. He was accused of being an extremist for speaking out against the excesses of government and the large gap between the wealthy and the poor. The majority of the poor are in poverty because of the irresponsible and corrupt officials of the state. To Ahmed, this was anathema to Islam.

He was a devoted follower of the traditions of the Prophet Mohammed (PBAUH). He went throughout the Islamic World seeking the sources of any of the traditions he learned were being related there. He deplored affluence and felt that any Moslem should live the simple life of the Prophet and his early followers.

He first taught that obedience to the state is mandatory, even if it violates the rights of the citizens. He however said that officials need to be reminded of their responsibilities. But later he changed that view to state that rebellion is warranted if the state has reneged on the social contract. Contrary to the attitude of many of the fundamentalist followers of Imam Ahmed today teach, Imam Ahmed believed that Ali, the Fourth Caliph was the right side in the battle with the Umayyads.

He also admired the wisdom of Ali and referred to him as a precedent in many of his rulings. The age of Imam Ahmed was a disturbing age. Many ideas and philosophies had been adopted here and there. Some dogma acquired political strength. When these politicians tried to impose their beliefs by force, even on the Islamic jurists and scholars, Ahmed refused to condescend. He was imprisoned for 2 _ years and tortured for refusing to believe in what some of the politicians were imposing on all the other scholars to believe. Ahmed refused.

With the masses behind him and in an uproar because of the tortures he was subjected to, he was finally released. He kept teaching until the age of 77 when he died an advocate of standing up to what you believe, even if it means death!