Imam Shafi did not change Islam according to changing times and places
Those who wish the Ummah to accept submission before US hegemony have sought to amend Islam so that it does not exceed the boundaries set by Blair and Bush. They carry the old call of “modernism”. They would have us accept the Western way of life because the West is strong. Such a call is in fact just one part of the crusade against Islam that is being waged under the guise of a “war against terrorism”. The modernisers who sit in the courts of Blair and Bush and at the feet of the tyrant rulers in the Muslim countries suggest that Islam can change from time to time, and from place to place.
The consequence of this concept is that certain rules of Islam, would not apply, due to the new environment they live in, and that we live in a new time and age. So rules regarding riba, marriage, social interaction, international law, ruling systems, would need to be updated, according to the said principle. The proponents of this understanding use the example of Imam Shafi to legitimise their viewpoint.
Salam Al-Maryati, a Muslim academic from Iraq, addressing the US State Department on “Moderation in Islam” stated at the end of January 2002, “In fact, Shafi had two schools of thought, one when he resided in Iraq and one when he moved to Egypt, and when asked why there were two, he said because they were for two different peoples. If place is a variable in Islamic thinking, then time can also be a factor. ”
In order to address this point, we need to look to the life of the great Imam, and see what he was exposed to, in terms of ideas, and the different methodologies.
Muhammad ibn Idris ibn al-`Abbas, al-Imam al-Shafi`i, Abu `Abd Allah al-Shafi`i al-Hijazi al-Qurashi al-Hashimi al-Muttalibi (d. 204AH), from the House of the Prophet, the unequalled one of the great mujtahid imams and jurisprudent par excellence, was born in Gaza in 150AH, the year of Imam Abu Hanifa’s death. He moved to Mecca at the age of two, following his father’s death, where he grew up. He took to learning Arabic language and poetry until he gave himself to fiqh, beginning with hadith. He studied under two great scholars, Muslim Bin Khalid al Zingi, the Mufti of Mecca and Sufiyan Bin Uyaynah, may Allah be pleased with them. He memorised the Qur’an at the age of seven, then Imam Malik’s Muwatta’ at the age of ten, at which time his teacher would deputise him to teach in his absence.
At aged thirteen, he moved to Madinah, where he went to see Imam Malik, who was impressed by his memory and intelligence. While there he was exposed to Imam Malik’s (who belonged to the school of hadith) methodology of extraction. Imam Shafi then moved to Baghdad where he met scholars from the Hanafi school of Thought such as the great Imam Mohammad Bin al-Hasan al-Shaybani. Here he was exposed to the Hanafi school of Fiqh, which was known for being part of the Ra’ee tradition.
There he refined his legal thinking in constant debates with the Hanafi jurists where he took Malik’s position in defence of tradition. This experience had a tremendous impact in moulding his own legal thinking since it brought to light the weaknesses in the Maliki school of thought. After moving back to Mecca for a short time he then returned to Baghdad. While in Baghdad, he wrote the old edition the tremendous al-Risala, a book containing the methodology of Usul al fiqh. This old edition is not available to us, but it is quoted by some of the Scholars, like al-Fakhr al-Razi. But he finally decided to leave for Egypt where he could finally settle down to do more work in Fiqh and its methodology.
While there, he was exposed to the methodology of Imam Laith ibn Saad. Imam Laith was an exceptionally knowledgeable Mujtahid. Shafi is quoted as saying “Laith was a greater faqih than Malik but his students wasted him (through not preserving his teachings).” (Siyar i`lam al-nubala’, 8/156)
In Egypt, he wrote his new edition of Risala after this new experience. So, this tells us he became more matured in his understanding, in Usul al Fiqh.
Why did Imam Shafi Change his Methodology?
Imam Shafi’ did not change his methodology because of geographically moving from one place to another. This can be clearly seen. The change in the methodology has nothing to do with the change of environment. Changing the methodology is related to the change in the way of thinking, which characterises Imam Shafi’s change.
Imam Shafi had defined his Usul and wrote it in his old Risala that was written in Iraq before he arrived and settled in Egypt. Shafi began writing his Usul before the end of the second century. Reports tell us also that he started writing his Usul at early age and he kept reviewing his writings, changing some of what he wrote, making some modifications until he was able to re-write the new Risala in Egypt.
As it is clear from his life, prior to Egypt, Imam Shafi’ was exposed to two schools of Fiqh. He wrote his first edition of Al Risalah and later, matured in his thinking and settled on the second edition of Al Risalah.
Dr. Muhammad Baltaaji in his book Manahij ul Tashri al Islaami fil Qarn al Thani al Hijri (The Methodologies of Islamic Legislation During the Second Century Hijri), states ” Shafi was criticised because of this continuous change. But, he responded to that criticism. Ibn Abi Hatim reported that Shafi once asked Amr Bin Sawad al-Serhi: ‘why do you not copy my books?” the man remained quiet. Then a third person said to Shafi: “he claims that you wrote, then, you changed, then you wrote and after that you changed” The man means that this continuous change is the reason why al-Sehri was not copying Shafi’s books. Then Shafi answered: “now, it is matured” (Vol. 1 p.65).
Also, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal was once asked by Mohammad Bin Muslim ar-Razi to tell him which books of Shafi he should choose. Ahmad answered: “Choose books which were written in Egypt. The books he wrote in Iraq were not well done. Then he went to Egypt where he wrote his books in more profound way.” (The Methodologies of Islamic Legislation During the Second Century Hijri Vol.1 p.31)
In Egypt, Imam Shafi’ was exposed to the Fiqh of Imam Laith Bin Sad. Imam Laith died in 175 A.H. He was in Egypt but he travelled to Baghdad in which he met Abu Hanifa himself and had a chance to meet Ibn Shihab al Zuhri, Nafi’ and others. Imam ibn Hajr says that: “The knowledge of the Tabi’een ended with Laith”.
Imam Laith also had the chance to meet Imam Malik. In fact, Laith was the Shaykh of Imam Malik himself. Thus, in Egypt, Imam Shafi had a chance to be exposed to the Fiqh of Laith. Shafi’ came to Egypt fourteen years after the death of Imam Laith. This means that the influence of Imam Laith was still strong in Egypt. Thus, one can say that this exposure matured Imam Shafi’ and thus, his entire method underwent change.
So asserting that the environment changed Imam Shafi’ is very vague and baseless. What is meant be the environment? Is it the soil of Egypt? Is it its Nile? Is it the way of life? The physical environment has nothing to do with all of this. The way of life both in Egypt, Baghdad, Medina, Mecca were the same. All were living the Islamic way of life in the same era. The differences in some customs practiced in one area, do not make the environment different. A new custom in a new area, may oblige a Mujtahid to study and arrive at a new rule for a certain custom, since he never faced that custom before. However, a rule for an issue, which is facing the people in Baghdad and the Hukm applied for the people in Baghdad should be exactly the same for the people in Egypt or the Hijaz, or in the UK, or US. Riba is haram in both Egypt and Baghdad, and the UK, or Lahore. The change in the environment does not make Riba allowed in Egypt while it was prohibited in Baghdad.
In order to create impact in the minds of the people, those who propose that a change of place changes the methodology say that Shafi moved from One State to another. The fact of the matter is that both Baghdad and Egypt, were part of ONE State, they were not two states. There was no visible difference between Baghdad and Egypt at that time. The only difference is the existence of Imam Laith in Egypt who was by himself affected by many schools of Fiqh. Imam Shafi before arriving in Egypt was exposed to the School of Madinah and the School of Kufah (In Iraq). But in Egypt he had a chance to get exposed to another school of Laith. This affected the maturity of Imam Shafi’.
An issue such as a British woman accepting Islam while her husband remains a non-Muslim is not a new issue. This problem occurred at the time of the Prophet (SAW) when his (SAW) daughter Zaynab (RA) accepted Islam while her husband remained a non-Muslim. Therefore, in order to solve this problem today, we need to go back to the legal texts and study them in order to acquire the Islamic ruling. This applies to all other issues as well.
This is a misunderstanding in the nature, of Islam, and the dynamism of the Islamic Jurisprudence. So with regards With regards to issues involving adoption, wills, inheritance, and burial, these have rules that are discussed extensively in Islam and cannot be changed. As for the new problems, this requires a Mujtahid to extract rulings whether the problem happens in the East or the West. So the need to change Islam from place to place and time to time, using Imam Shafi, as an example is mistaken.