Imam Sha’fi’i

Imam Sha’fi’i

Imam Shafi'i (Big)

Al-Imam Ash- Sha’fi’i
الإمام الشافعي

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

Decorative Lines

Islamic scholar

Abu ʿAbdullah Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi‘i (Arabic: ابو عبدالله محمد بن إدريس الشافعيّ‎) was a Muslim jurist, who lived from (767 — 820 CE / 150 — 204 AH). He was active in juridical matters and his teaching eventually led to the Shafi’i school of fiqh (or Madh’hab) named after him. Hence he is often called Imam al-Shafi’i. He is considered the founder of Islamic jurisprudence.

Abū ʿAbdillāh Muhammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfi‘ī

  • Title: Shaykh al-Islām
  • Born: 767 CE/150 AH Gaza, Palestine
  • Died: 20 January, 820 CE/30 Rajab, 204 AH (aged 52-53) al-Fustat, Egypt
  • Ethnicity: Arab
  • Era: Islamic Golden Age
  • Jurisprudence: Ijtihad
  • Creed: Athari
  • Main interest(s): Fiqh
  • Notable idea(s): Shafi’i madhhab
  • Notable work(s): Risalah: Usul al Fiqh, Kitab al-Umm


The biography of al-Shāfi‘i is difficult to trace. The oldest surviving biography goes back to Ibn Abi Hatim al-Razi (died 327H/939) and is no more than a collection of anecdotes, some of them fantastic. The first real biography is by Ahmad Bayhaqi (died 458H/1066) and is filled with what a modernist eye would qualify as pious legends. The following is what seems to be a sensible reading, according to a modern reductionist point of view.


al-Shāfi‘ī belonged to the Qurayshi clan Banu Muttalib which was the sister clan of the Banu Hashim to which Muhammad and the Abbasid caliphs belonged. Hence he had connections in the highest social circles, but he grew up in poverty.

767 – 786: Al-Mansur to Al-Hadi’s era

Early life, studies with az-Zanji in Mecca:
He was born in Gaza in the town of Asqalan and moved to Mecca when he was about two years old. He is reported to have studied under Muslim Ibn Khalid az-Zanji, the Mufti of Mecca at his time and is considered the first teacher of Imam ash-Shafi’i.

Studies with Imam Malik in Medina

He moved to Medina to teach others of the message of Islam and be taught by Malik ibn Anas. He memorized Muwatta Imam Malik at a very early age whereby Imam Malik was very impressed with his memory and knowledge.

786 – 809: Harun al-Rashid’s era

After that he lived in Mecca, Baghdad and finally Egypt. Among his teachers were Malik ibn Anas and Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī, whom he studied under in Madinah and Baghdad.

He was appointed as a judge in Najran in the time of Harun ar-Rashid. Sunnis portray that his devotion to justice, even when it meant criticizing the governor, caused him some problems, and he was taken before the Caliph, falsely accused of aiding the Alawis in a revolt. al-Shaybānī was the chief justice at the time, and his defense of ash-Shafi’i, coupled with ash-Shafi’i’s own eloquent defense, convinced Harun ar-Rashid to dismiss the charge, and he directed al-Shaybānī to take ash-Shafi’i to Baghdad. He was also a staunch critic of Al-Waqidi’s writings on Sirah.

In Baghdad, he developed his first madh’hab, influenced by the teachings of both Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Malik. Thus, his work there is known as “al Madhab al Qadim lil Imam as Shafi’i,” or the Old School of ash-Shafi’i.

809 – 813: Al-Amin’s era

Muhammad ibn Harun al-Amin (787–813) (Arabic: محمد الأمين بن هارون الرشيد‎), Abbasid Caliph. He succeeded his father, Harun al-Rashid in 809 and ruled until he was killed in 813.

813 – 820: Al-Ma’mun’s era


He died at the age of 54 on the 30th of Rajab in 204 AH (820 AD). He was buried in al-Fustat, Egypt.


Imam al-Shāfi‘ī developed the science of fiqh unifying ‘revealed sources’ – the Quran and hadith – with human reasoning to provide a basis in law. With this systematization of shari’a he provided a legacy of unity for all Muslims and forestalled the development of independent, regionally based legal systems. The four Sunni legals schools or madhhabs- keep their traditions within the framework that Shafi’i established.

Imam al-Shāfi‘ī gives his name to one of these legal schools Shafi’i fiqh – the Shafi’i school – which is followed in many different places in the Islamic world: Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt, Somalia, Yemen as well as Sri Lanka and southern parts of India.

Saladin built a madrassa and a shrine on the site of his tomb. Saladin’s brother Afdal built a mausoleum for him in 1211 after the defeat of the Fatamids. It remains a site where people petition for justice.

Among the followers of Imam Al-Shāfi‘ī’sschool were:

  • Bayhaqi
  • Hakim al-Nishaburi
  • Jalaluddin Suyuti
  • Al-Dhahabi
  • Al Ghazali
  • Al-Nawawi
  • Ibn Hajar Asqalani
  • Hafidh ibn Kathir
  • Imām an-Nawawi
  • Imam Al-Mawardi


He authored more than 100 books.

Al-Risala — The best known book by al-Shafi’i in which he examined usul al-fiqh (sources of jurisprudence): the Qur’an, the Sunnah, qiyas (analogy), and ijma’ (scholarly consensus). There is a good modern translation.

Kitab al-Umm – his main surviving text on Shafi’i fiqh Musnad ash-Shafi’i (on hadith) – it is available with arrangement, Arabic ‘Tartib’, by Ahmad ibn Abd ar-Rahman al-Banna

Personal Life

Many stories are told about the childhood and life of ash-Shafi’i, and it is difficult to separate truth from myth: Tradition says that he memorized the Qur’an at the age of seven; by ten, he had memorized the Muwatta of Imam Malik; he was a mufti (given authorization to issue fatwa) at the age of fifteen. He recited the Qur’an every day in prayer, and twice a day in Ramadan. Some apocryphal accounts claim he was very handsome, that his beard did not exceed the length of his fist, and that it was very black. He wore a ring that was inscribed with the words, “Allah suffices Muhammad ibn Idris as a reliance.” He was also known to be very generous.

He was also an accomplished archer, a poet, and some accounts call him the most eloquent of his time. Some accounts claim that there were a group of Bedouin who would come and sit to listen to him, not for the sake of learning, but just to listen to his eloquent use of the language. Even in latter eras, his speeches and works were used by Arabic grammarians. He was given the title of Nasir al Sunnah, the Defender of the Sunnah.

He loved Muhammad very deeply. Al Muzani said of him, “He said in the Old School: ‘Supplication ends with the invocation of blessings on the Prophet, and its end is but by means of it.’” Al-Karabisi said: “I heard al-Shafi’i say that he disliked for someone to say ‘the Messenger’ (al-Rasul), but that he should say ‘Allah’s Messenger’ (Rasul Allah) out of veneration for him.” He divided his night into three parts: one for writing, one for praying, and one for sleeping.

Apocryphal accounts claim that Imam Ahmad said of ash-Shafi’i, “I never saw anyone adhere more to hadith than al-Shafi’i. No one preceded him in writing down the hadith in a book.” Imam Ahmad is also claimed to have said, “Not one of the scholars of hadith touched an inkwell nor a pen except he owed a huge debt to al-Shafi’i.”

Imam Muhammad al-Shaybani said, “If the scholars of hadith speak, it is in the language of al Shafi’i.”

Shah Waliullah, a 18th century Sunni Islamic scholar stated

A Mujadid appears at the end of every century: The Mujtahid of the 1st century was Imam of Ahlul Sunnah, Umar bin Abdul Aziz. The Mujadid of the 2nd century was Imam of Ahlul Sunnah Muhammad Idrees as-Shafi’i the Mujadid of the 3rd century was Imam of Ahlul Sunnah Abu Hasan Ashari the Mujadid of the 4th century was Abu Abdullah Hakim Nishapuri.

According to many accounts he was said to have a photographic memory. One anecdote states that he would always cover one side of a book while reading because a casual glance at the other page would commit it to memory.

He claimed that the game of chess was an image of war, and it was possible to play chess as a mental exercise for the solution of military tactics. Chess could not be played for a stake, but if a player was playing for a mental exercise, he was not doing anything illegal. Provided the player took care that his fondness for chess did not cause him to break any other rule of life, he saw no harm in playing chess. He played chess himself, defending his practice by the example of many of his companions.


He who seeks pearls immerses himself in the sea.

He said to the effect that no knowledge of Islam can be gained from books of Kalam, as kalam “is not from knowledge” and that “It is better for a man to spend his whole life doing whatever Allah has prohibited – besides shirk with Allah – rather than spending his whole life involved in kalam.”

The Biography of
Imam al-Shafi’i
الإمام الشافعي

Muhammad ibn Idrīs Al-‘Abbās ibn ‘Uthmān ibn Shāfi’ ibn Al-Sā’ib ibn ‘Ubayd ibn ‘Abd Yazād ibn Hāshim ibn Al-Muṭṭalib ibn ‘Abd Manāf ibn Qusay, known as Imam Al-Shāfi’ī, Abū Abdullah Al-Shāfi’ī Al-Hijāzī Al-Makkī Al-Azdī Al-Qurashī Al Hāshimī Al-Muṭṭalibī may Allah be well pleased with him.

Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal said of him, “He was like the sun over the world and good health for people – do these two have replacements or successors?”1

He was a Relative of
the Prophet Muhammad

He is the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad (‘alayhis salat wa salam) descending from Al-Muṭṭalib who is the brother of Hāshim, ‘Abdul-Muttalib’s father.

Both his great-great-grandfather, Shāfi’, and the latter’s father, Al-Ṣā’ib, were companions of the Prophet (sa), as were al-Ṣā’ib ibn ‘Ubayd’s uncles – ‘Ubayd ibn ‘Abd Yazīd’s brothers – ‘Ujayr and Rukāna, the man who wrestled with the Prophet.2 Al-Ṣā’ib’s mother, Al-Shifā’ bint Al-Arqam ibn Hāshim, sister of Fātima bint Asad, the mother of ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib (radiya Allahu ‘anhu), who the Prophet called his second mother.3

Someone praised Banū Hāshim in front of the Prophet (salla allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), whereupon the latter interlaced the fingers of his two hands and said: ‘We and they are but one and the same’ and “The Banū Hāshim and the Banu Abdul-Muṭṭalib are not but one and the same”.4

Imam An-Nawawī listed three peculiar merits of al-Shafi’ī: his sharing the Prophet’s lineage at the level of their common ancestor ‘Abd Manāf; his birth in the Holy land of Palestine and upbringing in Makka; and his education at the hands of superlative scholars together with his own superlative intelligence and knowledge of the Arabic language.

Hafith Ibn Hajr Al-‘Asqalani quotes from the Manaqib of Imam Al-Hakim that it was narrated to him by Abi Nasr ibn Ahmad Al-Hussayn that heard from Abi Is-haq ibn Khuzaymah that saying that he Yunus ibn Abdul-‘Ala [a student and companion of Imam Ash-Shafi’i] say,

“The mother of Ash-Shafi’i [was] Fatimah bint Abdullah bin Al-Hasan ibn Al-Hasan ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib” [Tahdhib At-Tahdhib Vol. 5 page 22 Dar Al-Ihya Turath]

Therefore Imam Ash-Shafi’i was both related to the Prophet Muhammad through his father and through his mother by way of Imam ‘Ali (radiya Allahu Anhu).

Prophetic Hadīths Predicting Al-Shāfi’ī

Ibn Ḥajar added two more merits to An-Nawawī’s list: the ḥadīth of the Prophet (sa),

اللهم اهد قريشا ، فإن علم العالم منهم يسع طباق الأرض
اللهم أذقت أولها نكالا فأذق آخرها نوالا

Oh Allah! Guide Quraysh, for the science of the scholar that comes from them will encompass the earth. Oh Allah! You have let the first of them taste bitterness, so let the latter of them taste reward!”5

Imām Aḥmad also narrates with two chains the prohibition of cursing the Quraysh and the Prophet’s (sa) statement to Qatāda ibn An-Nu’mān Al-Ẓafarī: “You might see among them men with deeds next to which you will despair your own deeds and envy them whenever you see them. If I did not fear Quraysh’s tyranny I would disclose to them all the good Allāh has in store for them.”

Another hadīth of the Prophet (sa) says,

‏ ‏إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَبْعَثُ لِهَذِهِ الْأُمَّةِ عَلَى رَأْسِ كُلِّ مِائَةِ سَنَةٍ مَنْ يُجَدِّدُ لَهَا دِينَهَا

“Truly Allāh shall send forth for this community, at the onset of every hundred years, someone/those who will renew for it <the status of> its Religion.”6

The scholars agreed, among them Abū Qilāba (d. 276) and Imām Ahmad, that the “Quraysh” narration signified Al-Shāfi’ī.7 Imam Ahmad is also authentically recorded to have said about the hadīth of the renewer being sent every 100 years,

قَالَ أَحْمَد : فَكَانَ فِي الْمِائَة الْأُولَى عُمَر بْن عَبْد الْعَزِيز ,
وَفِي الْمِائَة الثَّانِيَة الشَّافِعِيّ . ‏

“It was ‘Umar ibn Abdul-‘Azīz in the first hundred and in the second hundred it was Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī!”8

Al-Bayhaqī also mentioned another great merit, the superlative praise of Yemen and the Yemenis by the Prophet (sa) in the numerous sayings of his, as Al-Shāfi’ī is from Yemen on his mother’s side.9 Moreover, Al-Bayhaqī said, most of Al-Shāfi’īs knowledge is taken from the people of Makka and Madīna – and Makka and Madīna are Yemeni.

Al-Shāfi’ī’s Early Years

He was born in a village in Ghazza by the town of ‘Asqalān in 150 A.H. the same year Abū Hanīfah died – shortly after his father’s death in Shām. His mother took him at the age of two to the Ḥijāz, where he grew up among her Azdī Yemenī relatives. Later, fearinig the waste of his sharīf lineage, she moved him to Makka.

Al-Shāfi’ī was early a skillfull archer, then he took to learning language and poetry until he devoted himself to fiqh, beginning with hadīth. His mother coul not afford to buy him paper and he would write his lessons on bones, particularly shoulder-bones. He memorized the Qur’ān at age seven, then Mālik’s Muwaṭṭa’ at age ten, at which time his teacher would deputise him to teach in his absence. He receive permission to give fatwa at age fifteen.10

His Early Legal Prowess

Abū Mansūr Al-Baghdādī in Manāqib Ash-Shāfi’ī and Naqd Abī Abdullāh Al-Jurjānī fi Tarjīḥ Madhhab Abī Hanīfah related the following example of the Imām’s perspicuity at an early age:

“Al-Shāfi’ī was sitting at Mālik’s feet one day when a man came in and said: “I sell turtle-doves, and one of my customers returned one of them to me today saying that it does not coo, so I swore to him on pain of divorce that my turtle-dove coos all the time!” Mālik said:

“You have divorced your wife and are not to approach her.”

Al-Shāfi’ī was fourteen at the time. He said to the man: “Which happens more, your turtle-dove’s cooing or its silence?” The said: “Its cooing”. Al-Shāfi’ī said: “Your marriage is valid and there is no penalty for you [due to your oath].” Whereupon Mālik frowned at him saying: “Boy, how do you know this?” Al-Shāfi’ī replied:

“Because you narrated to me from al-Zuhrī, from Abu Salama ibn ‘Abdur-Rahmān from Umm Salama that Fātima bint Qays said:

‘Rasūlullah! Abu Jahm and Mu’āwiya have both proposed to me.’

The Prophet (sa) replied: ‘Mu’awiya is penniless and as for Abū Jahm he does not put down his staff from his shoulder.’11 That is, most of the time ‘Arabs assert the more frequent of two actions [exclusively of the other] because of its constancy. Since this man’s turtledove coos more than it is silent, I can declare it constant in its cooing. Mālik was pleased at his reasoning.”12

The scholars said that Allāh accelerated the intelligence of al-Shāfi’ī and al-Nawawī because he gave them a short lifespan. Al-Ḥumaydī narrated that the faqīh of Makka, Imām Muslim ibn Khālid Al-Zanjī (100-180), said to al-Shāfi’ī: “Give fatwā, Abū ‘Abdullāh! It is time you gave fatwā,” at which time al-Shāfi’ī was fifteen years old. Abū ‘Ubayd al-Qāsim ibn Sallām said: “If the intelligence of an entire nation was brought together he would have encompassed it!”

Studies With Imām Mālik ibn Anas
and Muḥammad Ash-Shaybānī
as Well As Others

His mother put him beneath the scholars as a boy in Makkah. He studied there with:

Imām Muslim ibn Khālid Az-Zanjī the Muftī of Makkah, Dāwūd ibn Abdur-Rahmān Al-Aṭṭār, and his uncle Muhammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Shāfi’, and he was the nephew of Al-‘Abbās the grandfather of Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī, Sufyān ibn ‘Uyaynah, Abdur-Rahmān ibn Abī Bakr Al-Malīkī, Sa’īd ibn Sālim, Fudayl ibn ‘Iyāḍ and others. Adh-Dhahabī said, “I have not seen that he took anything from Nāfi’ ibn ‘Umar even though he was with him in Makkah!”

In 163 A.H., at age thirteen though some say he was older, Al-Shāfi’ī went to see Mālik in Madīna, who was impressed by his memory and intelligence. He took the Muwaṭṭa’ from Imām Mālik and also took knowledge, particularly hadīth, from Ibrāhīm ibn Abī Yahyā, Abdul-‘Azīz Ad-Darurdī, ‘Aṭāf ibn Khālid, Ismā’īl ibn Ja’far, Ibrāhīm ibn Sa’d and a group from their generation.

Some of the Qurashīs recommended Al-Shāfi’ī to the new governor of Yemen, Al-Muṭṭalibī, and he went back to Yemen as his aide. He took knowledge in Yemen from Muṭarrif ibn Māzin, Hishām ibn Yūsuf Al-Qāḍī and an entire group of scholars of the time and era.13 He held a judgeship in Najrān during which his fame reached the stars for his sense of fairness and his acceptance on the part of the people. This did not last.

The governor, Al-Shāfī’ī, and a number of ‘Alawīs were summoned to Baghdād in chains, all of them accused of being ‘Alawī agitators by the agent of the Caliph Hārūn Al-Rashīd in Yemen. They were executed one after another. When al-Shāfi’ī was introduced before the Caliph, he said:

“Oh Amīr Al-Mu’minīn (Commander of the Believers)! What do you say about a man [i.e. a ‘Abbasī] who has two paternal cousins [i.e. Muṭṭalibī and a ‘Alawī], one of whom [the Muṭṭalibī] deems him his intimate family, places him in his own lineage, affirms that his property is taboo to him except by his permission, that his daughter is unmarriageable to him except by his betrothal, and that he considers him to own the same rights over him as he would over himself.

The other [The ‘Alawī], however, claims that the man is beneath him, that he is higher than him in lineage, that he is his slave, his daughter his bondswoman, that she belongs to him without his permission, and that his property is his booty. Which of them should you rightly patronize, Commander of the Believers? You are that man and here are your two paternal cousins!”

Hārūn asked al-Shāfi’ī to repeat to him his parable three times until he understood what he meant. Then he spared his life but ordered him detained. Certain chroniclers mention a report that begins with the words of the Caliph al-Ma’mūn, “I tested Al-Shāfi’ī in everything, and I found him accomplished in all of it […]” but Al-Sakhāwī showed that the two never met.14

Imām Al-Shāfi’ī formed the project of asking Imām Muhammad Ash-Shaybānī to intercede for him at the time he was being detained in Baghdād. However, when he witnessed him disparaging al-Madīna and its scholars one day, he rose and said, “Madīna is the sacred precinct of the Prophet (sa), its people his Companions and relatives-in-law, those that came after them the Successors and elite of this Umma.

And if, by ‘the people of Madīna,’ you meant one man, Mālik ibn Anas, then say his name and leave the rest alone!” Al-Shaybānī replied, ‘I meant Mālik ibn Anas.’ Mālik is one man, and there were in Madina jurists other than him,” then he preceded to refute Al-Shaybānī’s published critique of the Madīnans point by point.

When the Caliph heard of the incident, he said, “And why should Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan be irked that a man from Banū Abd Manāf silence him?” Then he had five thousand dinars dispatched to al-Shāfi’ī and released him. Al-Shāfi’ī used a full fifty dinars to pay the barber for a cupping and gave the rest to those Meccans and Qurashīs that were present, retaining only one hundred dinars for himself.15

While in Baghdād he studied Hanafī fiqh at the hands of Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan Ash-Shaybānī. The Chroniclers of Ash-Shāfi’ī mention that Imām Muhammad Shaybānī changed his view on an issue of ghaṣb (robbery) due to debate with Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī. Al-Shāfi’ī said, “From Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan I wrote one [a variant says ‘two’] camel-loads” and “I never saw anyone whose face did not show distaste when asked a difficult question except Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan.”16 He also said,

“I always held Muḥammad ibn Al-Ḥasan Al-Shaybānī in the highest esteem and spent sixty dinars buying all his books.” He never met Abū Yūsuf, the disciple of Imām Abū Hanīfah, but does report from him through Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan in his Al-Umm and the Musnad. Note here then that the debate quoted by some that is reported to have existed between Abū Yūsuf and Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī is a forgery, see The Four Imāms comment number 455 by G.f. Haddad.

It is related that Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī prayed one time after shaving, with hair all over his clothes, at a time when he considered hair impure. Asked about it he replied: “When we cannot avoid something (ḥaythu ubtulīna), we follow the ruling of the ‘Iraqis [i.e. the schools of Abū Hanīfa and Sufyān] in the matter.17 Imām Al-Bayhaqī in the Manāqib related that Al-Shāfi’ī’s final position is that hair is pure.

His Move Away from Imām Mālik’s Madhhab

Al-Hākim narrated from Abdullah ibn Abdul-Hakam: “Al-Shāfi’ī never ceased to speak according to Mālik’s position and he would say: ‘We do not differ from him other than the way colleagues would,’ until some young men spoke unbecomingly at length behind his back, whereupon al-Shāfi’ī resolved to put his differences with Mālik in writing. Otherwise, his whole life he would say, whenever asked something: ‘This is what the Teacher said’ – hādhā qawl al-ustādh – meaning Mālik.18

Al-Shafi’ī said: “Al-Layth ibn Sa’d is stronger in fiqh (afqah) than Mālik but his school perished for lack of students.”19 This was also the view of Ibn Al-Mubārak, Sa’īd ibn Abī Ayyūb and Yahyā ibn Bukayr while al-Darawardī put Al-Layth even above Rabī’at Al-Ra’ī. Al-Layth recited the Basmala out loud and gave salām to the front in Salāh.

His Trips to Baghdād and His Move to Egypt

Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī traveled to Baghdād three times:

  1. As a student in 184 with the group of Yemenī descendants of ‘Alī (radiya Allahu ‘anhu)
  2. As a recognized Imām in fiqh in 195 returning to Makkah two years later, then
  3. In 198 for a few months, after which he went to Egypt where he remained until his death20

When he entered Egypt he was patronized by the ascetic friend of the poor and descendant of the Prophet (sa), Al-Sayyida Nafīsa , who ordered his bier brought into her house when he died so that she could recite the funeral prayer over him, and carried the bier. Sayyidah Nafīsah is the daughter of Al-Hasan the son of Zayd the son of Al-Hasan the son of Imām ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib (raḍiya Allāhu ‘Anhum).

In other words, she is the great great granddaughter of Al-Hasan the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) of whom was said to be from the children of Janna!21

Imām Al-Shāfi’ī Reconciled
The Schools of Hadīth and Fiqh

Al-Shāfī’ī is the paradigm of hadīth-informed jurisprudence among the Salaf, gathering under one roof the superlative insight of Abū Hanīfa and Mālik’s legal opinion (ra’ī) on the one hand, on the other, the extensive knowledge of narrators and the evidence they transmitted which characterized al-Bukhārī and Ahmad.

The latter said: “We did not cease to curse the people of legal opinion and they would curse us, until al-Shāfī’ī came and reconciled our differences.”22 Ibn ‘Abd al-Salām said that there is not a single hadīth that did not reach al-Shāfī’ī in one form or another, whether musnad, mursal, or munqati’.23

The Old (Qadīm) and the New (Jadīd)
Schools of Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī

Two schools of fiqh or madhāhib are actually attributed to Al-Shāfi’ī, embracing all his positions and legal opinions (fatāwa). These two schools are known in the terminology of the jurists as “The Old” and the “The New”, corresponding respectively to his stays in ‘Irāq and Egypt. The most prominent transmitters of the New among al-Shāfi’ī’s students are:

Al-Buwaiṭī, Al-Muzanī, and Al-Rabī’ in Al-Umm. The most prominent transmitters of the Old school are Al-Za’farānī, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Karābisī, and Abu Thawr in Kitāb Al-Hujja. What is presently known as the Shāfi’ī position refers to the New school except in approximately twenty two questions, in which Shāfi’ī scholars and muftis have retained the positions of the Old.

Al-Shāfi’ī’s Mastery of the Arabic Language

Al-Shāfi’ī was known for his peculiar strength in the Arabic language, poetry, and philology. He is the only Qurayshī of the four Imams and the only one of the Four to be raised in Makka, the cradle of the chief Qur’anic dialect. His Dīwān of poetry is among the masterpieces of Arabic literature.

Imām Al-Bayhaqī narrated:

“[From Al-Rabī’]: Al-Shāfi’ī was an ‘arab in his soul and an arab in his speech. If you had seen him and seen the beauty of his expression and eloquence you would have been awestruck. If he had authored his books in the way that he used to speak, no one would have been able to read them.”24

“[From Ibn Hishām]: I was Al-Shāfi’ī’s close companion for a long time and I never heard him us anything other than a word which, carefully considered, one would not find (in its context) a better word in the entire Arabic language. […] Al-Shāfi’ī’s discourse, in relation to language is a proof in itself.”

[From Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Za’faranī]: A group of Bedouins used to frequent al-Shāfi’īs gathering with us and sit in a corner. One day I asked their leader: ‘You are not interested in scholarship; why do you sit with us?’ They said: “We come to hear al-Shāfi’ī’s language.”

[From Al-Muzani]: Al-Shāfi’ī asked Ibrāhīm ibn ‘Ulayya after they finished listening to a girl singing Arabic poetry: “Does this bring joy to your soul?” He said no. Al-Shāfi’ī said, “You have no feelings! (mā laka ḥiss)”

Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal said, “Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī is a Hujjah (proof) in the language of Arabic!”25

Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī and Tasawwuf (Sufism)

.حدثنا محمد بن عبد الرحمن حدثني أبو الحسن بن القتات
:حدثنا محمد بن أبي يحيى، حدثنا يونس بن عبد الأعلى، قال
.سمعت الشافعي يقول: لولا أن رجلا عاقلا تصوف لم يأت الظهر حتى يصير أحمق

Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī said: “If a rational man does not become a Sufi he does not reach noon except he is a dolt!”

Commenting Shaykh Gibril states, “Abû Nu`aym narrates this from Muh.ammad ibn `Abd al-Rah.mân ibn al-Fad.l, from Abû al-H.asan [Ah.mad ibn Muh.ammad ibn al-H.ârith] ibn al-Qattât [al-Mis.rî], from the thiqa Muh.ammad ibn Abî Yah.yâ, from the thiqa Imâm Yûnus ibn `Abdal-A`lâ, from the Imâm.”

There is another weak narrative used by the detractors of the Sufis that states, “A rational man does not become a Sufi except he reaches noon a dolt.”

In the chain of this narration is Abu Muhammad Ja’far ibn Muhammad ibn Al-Harith from Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn Al-Dahhak, both of unknown reliability!

Adding to the list of positive statements of Imam Ash-Shafi’i regarding Tasawwuf is the following:

صحبت الصوفية فلم استفد منهم سوى حرفين،
وفي رواية سوى ثلاث كلمات: قولهم: الوقت سيف إن لم تقطعه قطعك.
وقولهم: نفسك إن لم تشغلها بالحق شغلتك بالباطل. وقولهم: العدم عصمة

“I accompanied the Sufis for ten years and benefited from them but from two sayings [and in another report three sayings]: their statement that time is as a sword: if you do not cut it, it cuts you, and their statement that deprivation is immunity.”

[The reported third states: “their statement: if your soul does not keep busy with truth it will keep you busy with bātil (falsehood).”]

Shaykh Gibril states commenting on this athar:

“Narrated from Muh.ammad ibn Muh.ammad ibn Idrîs al-Shâfi`î by al-Bayhaqî in Manâqib al-Shâfi`î (2:208) cf. Ibn al-Qayyim in Madârij al-Sâlikîn (3:128) and al-Jawâb al-Kâfî (p. 208-209) and al-Suyût.î in تأييد الحقيقة العلية Ta’yîd al-H.aqîqat al-`Aliyya (p. 15)”

Adding again to his statements Imam ‘Ajluni reports that Imam Ash-Shafi’i said,

حبب إلي من دنياكم ثلاث: ترك التكلف، وعشرة الخلق بالتلطف،
والاقتداء بطريق أهل التصوف

“Three things in this world have been made lovely to me: avoiding affectation, treating people kindly, and abiding by the way of the people of tasawwuf!”

In the Diwan of Imam Ash-Shafi’i we find:

فقيها وصوفيا فكن ليس واحدا        فإني   وحق   الله   إياك     أنصح

فذلك قاس  لم يذق قلبه  تقى         وهذا جهول كيف ذو الجهل يصلح

  • Faqîhan wa-s.ufiyyan fakun laysa wâhidan
  • fa’innî wa-haqqillâhi iyyâka ansahu
  • Fadhâlika qâsin lam yadhuq qalbuhu tuqan
  • wahâdhâ jahûlun kayfa dhûl-jahli yasluhu

“Be both a jurisprudent and a s.ûfî – never just one of the two.

Truly, by the Divine Right, I am advising you sincerely!

For the former is hardened, his heart tastes no Godwariness,

While the latter is ignorant – of what use is the ignorant?”

Many of the great Shafi’is followed the true way of tasawwuf including one of the greatest of them Imam An-Nawawi (rahmatullah ‘alayh).

Praise of Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī

Imām Ahmad ibn Hanbal (rahmatullah ‘alayh) said, “Not one of the scholars of ḥadīth touches an inkwell or a pen without owing a huge debt to Al-Shāfi’ī.” Ahmad’s shaykh, Yahyā ibn Sa’īd Al-Qattān said: “I supplicate Allah for al-Shāfi’ī even inside my prayer, while Imām Ahmad himself said he made du’ā’ for Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī for forty years.26

When Ahmad first asked Isḥāq ibn Rāhūyah to “come and see a man the like of whom your eyes have not yet seen” – meaning al-Shāfi’ī – Ishāq failted Ahmad for attending the fiqh sessions of their peer in age and leaving the hadīth sessions of the older Sufyān ibn ‘Uyayna. Ahmad replied: “Woe to you! If you miss a hadīth with a shorter chain it will not arm you to find it elsewhere with a longer chain.

But if you do not have the reasoning of this man [Ash-Shāfi’ī], I fear you will never be able to find it elsewhere!” Ishāq asked al-Shāfi’ī a few questions, after which he turned to a friend from Merv and said to him in Persian: “Mardak rā kamālī nīst” – the manling lacks finish.” Al-Shāfi’ī perceiving the slight, turned to Isḥāq and, in a rapid-fire succession of proofs, defeated him. After this incident Isḥāq would say: “I consider it my greatest blessing when I fully understand al-Shāfi’ī’s discourse” while the latter expressed disapproval of Iṣhāq’s title as the jurisprudent of Khurāsān.27

When Yahyā ibn Ma’īn expressed shock at the fact that Ahmad ibn Hanbal was seen standing at the foot of Ash-Shāfi’ī, holding his stirrup as the latter sat mounted, Ahmad retorted: “If you want to learn fiqh, come and hold his other stirrup.”28 Imām Ahmad forbade Yahyā ibn Ma’īn from criticizing Al-Shāfi’ī saying: “Your eyes have never seen the like of Al-Shāfi’ī!” and “You understand nothing, Abu Zakariyyā, of the meanings of Al-Shāfi’ī’s words! And whoever fails to understand something, opposes it.”29

His Legacy

The majority of the scholars of hadith were either Shafi’i in fiqh, or Shafi’i inclined: Imam An-Nasa’i, [some say] Imam Al-Bukhari, Imam Ibn Khuzaymah, Imam Al-Hakim, Imam Ad-Daraqutni, Imam Al-Bayhaqi, and many more. Many great scholars of creed, including the leader of the Asha’ri school Abul Hasan Al-Asha’ri, and Islamic Mysticism (Tasawwuf/Sufism) including Imam Al-Junayd and Imam Al-Muhasibi30, had a large group of followers of Imam Ash-Shafi’is legal school.

Followers of his school have remained diligent in preserving his school. Thousands memorize the works of his school, translate treatises, and publish new-found manuscripts every year.

Imam Ash-Shafi’is legacy can be seen throughout the Muslim world. The most populated Muslim country in the world, Indonesia, has a majority population that prays according to Imam Ash-Shafi’i’s legal school (madhhab).

The following countries have a majority Shafi’i following:

  • Syria,
  • The Occupied Country of Palestine (where Imam Ash-Shafi’i was born),
  • Jordan [this area is known as Shaam/ the Levant],
  • Kurd dominated ‘Iraq (also known as Kurdistan) – also Kurd dominated
  • Turkey,
  • Yemen,
  • Lower Egypt,
  • Malaysia,
  • Singapore,
  • Maldives,
  • Philippines,
  • Brunei,
  • Somalia,
  • Djibouti,
  • Ethiopia,
  • Eritrea,
  • Kenya,
  • Tanzania, and elsewhere.

Imam Ash-Shafi’i’s legacy continues to spread as Muslims solidify their communities further west and develop learning institutions in the U.K., USA, Canada and elsewhere.

His school’s vibrancy and fluidity continues to be seen in the post-modern era with Muslim jurists still using Imam Ash-Shafi’is legal formulations in solving modern concerns. May Allah bless Imam Ash-Shafi’i and allow his legacy to continue to benefit the Muslim Ummah! Amin!

We would like to thank Sidi Dr. Gibril Haddad for allowing us to use quotes and references from His fantastic work “The Four Imams and Their Schools”, the most scholarly and well-researched work in English on the subject. We used his work extensively, though we added other quotes and reorganized the work, as well as left out much of his material.

Ibn ‘Abdul Barr in his Al-Intiqā’ 125 [↩]

Narrated by Abū Dāwūd and At-Tirmidhī with a very weak chain [↩]

C.f. Ibn Hajr, Tawālī At-Ta’nīs (p 34-39), al-Iṣaba 3:23, 3:310, 4:104. [↩]

Sahīh Al-Bukhārī [↩]

Hafith Ibn Ḥajr and Al-Bayhaqi said that the chains are strong with all corroborating narrations together and Ibn Hazm declared it Sahīh in his Al-Iḥkām 6:286.   [↩]

A sound hadīth by agreement of the masters of hadīth see footnote 445 of The Four Imams by G.f. Haddad, this is the wording of Abu Dawud in his Sunan from his chapter on Malāhim number 3740, Al-Hafith Zayn ud dīn al-‘Irāqī stated, ‘Its chain is Sahīh’ [↩]

Al-Bayhaqī in Ma’rifat As-Sunan 1:207 and many others. See footnote 446 of the Four Imāms [↩]

See the work ‘Awn Al-Ma’būd Sharh Sunan Abī Dāwūd’s commentary upon the above hadīth to see the many chains leading up to Imām Ahmad ibn Hanbal regarding this issue [↩]

Such as the statement “Faith is Yemeni!” as reported in Sahīh Muslim and elsewhere [↩]

Narrated by Ibn Abī Hātim, Manāqib Ash-Shāfi’ī wa-Ādābuh [↩]

possibly two meanings: he is a wife-beater, or he travels a lot for further clarification see footnote 449 of The Four Imams by G.f. Haddad [↩]

See Ibn Al-Subkī, Tabaqāt Al-Shāfiyya Al-Kubrā (5:147-148) [↩]

See Siyar Al-‘Alam An-Nubalā’ under the entry of Al-Shāfi’ī [↩]

Al-Sakhāwī, Al-I’lān wal-Tawbīkh p. 11 [↩]

Al-Bayhaqī in his Manāqib 1:106-116 [↩]

Ibn Abdul-Barr in his Al-Intiqā’ 119 and others [↩]

Cited by Al-Bānī in ‘Umdat At-Taḥqīq fil-Taqlīd wal-Talfīq p. 93 ‘Awwāma Adab al-Ikhtilāf p. 77 [↩]

Ibn Hajr, Tawālī At-Ta’nīs 153-154 [↩]

Narrated by Al-Mizzī in Tahdhīb Al-Kamāl and many others, see footnote 458 in The Four Imams [↩]

Ibn Abdul Barr Al-Intiqā’ 117 [↩]

Ibn Kathīr in his Bidāya and Ibn ‘Imād. For more references see page 195-196 of The Four Imams [↩]

Qāḍī ‘Iyāḍ in Tartīb Al-Madārik 1:91, to read his comments upon this quote see page 196 of The Four Madhhabs [↩]

Ibn Kathīr in his Bidāyah 10:276 [↩]

Manāqib 1:19 [↩]

see Ibn Kathīr’s Tabaqāt Ash-Shāfi’yyīn [↩]

Ibn Kathīr in his Bidayah as well as his Tabaqāt Ash-Shāfi’īyīn [↩]

Al-Bayhaqī, Manāqib Ash-Shāfi’ī 1:213, Al-Sakhāwī in the introduction to his Al-Jawāhir wal-Durar, Ibn Abdul Barr in his Intiqā’ 124 as well as others [↩]

Ibn Abdul Barr Al-Intiqā’ [↩]

Ibn Abdul Barr Al Intiqā’ 178 [↩]

see Tabaqat Ash-Shafi’iyyin by Ibn Kathir [↩]

Biography of  Imam Shafi (ra)

Imaam’s Family Lineage (Father’s Side): Muhammad bin Idriss bin al-Abbas bin Usman bin Shafi’ ibn al-Sa’ib bin Ubaid bin ‘Abd Yazid bin Haashim bin al-Muttalib bin ‘Abd Manaaf bin Qusayy bin Kilaab bin Murrah. The Imaam’s Lineage connects with the Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam)’s Lineage from ‘Abd Manaaf bin Qusayy.

Imaam’s Family Lineage (Mother’s Side): Fatimah bint ‘Abdullah bin al-Hasan bin al-Hussain ibn Ali bin Abi Talib. The relations of the mother say that the only two to be born Haashimi in the family lineage were Hadhrat Ali bin Abi Talib and al-Imaam Al-Shafi’ee.

Place of Birth: Imaam Shafi’ (RA) was born in the year 150 A.H. the year the Great Imaam Abu Hanifah had passed away in. He was born in Ghizza (Asqalaan) in Palestine. When he was two year old his mother took him to a tribe in al-Hijaz who were dwellers of the country of Yemen. His mother kept him there until he reached the age of ten years. A time came when she felt that the family was in jeopardy of being forgotten and wasted so she took her son (Imaam Shafi’ee) to Makkah.

His Education: The Imaam was from a very poor family in his youth and when he was sent to school his family could not afford to pay the teacher for his teachings. The teacher used to inadequately teach the children and anytime he taught something inadequately and then left the children, the Imaam would seize the opportunity and teach them the teacher’s lesson and suffice the children.

When the teacher would see this and he understood that the Imaam was doing it he let him continue to do so. This way the Imaam would suffice his tuition through satisfying the teacher by teaching the children his lesson. This continued and the Imaam learned the whole Qur’an by the time he reached seven years.

The Imaam himself used to say: “After I finished learning the Qur’an I would go to the Masjid and sit with the Scholars the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam) and Islamic matters. I used to live in Makkah among tent dwellers in such a state of poverty that I could not even afford to by paper to write, so I would write on bones instead.”

It is also reported that the Imaam used to recite Hadith in the Masjid of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam) at the age of thirteen years old. It is also reported that the Imaam’s voice was very melodious and sweet. Al-Haakim reports by the authority of Bahr bin Nasr saying: “When we wanted to cry we would say come let us go to this young Muttalibee man to hear him recite the Qur’an. We would reach him and he would initiate his recitation until when the people would start falling down in front of him and the sounds of everyone weeping and yelling could be heard by him he would stop.”

His Teachers: Among his eminent teachers were:

  1. Muslim bin Khalid al-Zangi (a Mufti of Makkah during the year 180 A.H. (796 A.D.)
  2. Sufyaan bin Uyainah al-Hilaali (one of the three distinguished scholars of that time in Makkah)
  3. Ibrahim bin Yahya (a scholar of Madinah)
  4. Malik bin Anas (Imaam Shafi’ee used to recite Hadith to Imaam Malik after the memorizing of his book, Muwatta Imaam Malik). The Imaam stayed in Madinah until Imaam Malik passed away in the year 179 A.H. (790 A.D.)
  5. Wakee’ bin al-Jarraah bin Maleeh al-Kofi
  6. Muhammad bin Hasan al-Shaibaani (a scholar of Busrah, and distinguished student of the Great Imaam Abu Hanifah (RA)
  7. Hammaad bin Usama al-Haashimi al-Kofi
  8. Abdul-Wahhab bin Abdul-Majeed al-Busri

His Marriage: He married Hameedah bint Nafi’ bin Unaisah bin ‘Amr ibn Usman bin Affan.

Some Distinctive Characteristics:

  1. His eloquent style of speech and abundant knowledge of the Arabic language
  2. His Family Lineage-as a set standard reported by al-Hakam bin ‘Abdil-Muttalib that the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam) said, “Indeed Banu Haashim and Banu al-Muttalib are the same (ie. of the same family lineage). (Ibn Majah, 22, Kitaabul-Wasaaya/46 Chapter Division of Khumus/ Hadith No. 2329
  3. Complete memorization of the Qur’an with recognition of its rules and its implications in all aspects of Islamic Knowledge of which others during his time did not yet reach to
  4. His deep foresight in Hadith and comprehension of authentic and defective narrations
  5. His understanding in the principles of Hadith and Fiqh
  6. His rulings in Hadith Mursal (incompletely transmitted narrations) and completely transmitted narrations.
  7. Imaam Ahmed bin Hanbal used to say about Imaam Shafi’ee, “Our napes were in the hands of the Companions of Abu Hanifah (RA) when it came to hadith (ie. we were inclined to them more) until we saw Imaam Shafi’ee, he was the most knowledgeable in the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam) that he would even suffice one who was not well informed in Hadith.
  8. Al-Karaabeesi says about the Imaam, “Al-Shafi’ee was a mercy from Allah upon the followers of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam).
  9. Al-Humaidee says, “We used to want to refute the arguments of the Ashab-ul-Ra’iy, but we were not well informed to do so until Imaam Shafi’ee came along and opened up the way for us.
  10. Ibn Raahway was asked, “How did Imaam Shafi’ee compose all these books at such a young age?” He replied, “Allah SWT made him intelligent and mature minded in just his youth.”
  11. Rabi’ says, “We were just sitting awhile in the Knowledge Circle of Imaam Shafi’ee after the Great Imaam’s demise when a Bedouin Arab came along and said asked about where is the sun and moon of this circle. When we told him that he had passed away he started weeping heavily, and then said may Allah have mercy upon him and forgive him for verily he was one who opened up the veils of proofs through his explanations and closed the mouths of his disputer and opponent. He used to wash the blackened faces of their shame and disgrace and opened the closed doors with intellect and understanding. Then he turned away and left.”

His Humbleness:

Al-Hasan bin Abdul-Aziz al-Jarwi al-Misri reported form Imaam Shafi’ee used to say, “I have never debated with someone who I want to make a mistake, nor do I possess any knowledge that I want to keep to myself, rather that it should be with all and not just related to me.”

He also said, “I have never debated with someone who I want to make a mistake. And I have never debated someone except I say to them, O’ Allah, put the truth in his heart and on his tongue. If I am on the truth he will follow me, and if he is on the truth then I will follow him.”

A Scholar of Quraish:

Imaam Ahmed bin Hanbal is reported to have said, “When I am questioned about some matter that I do not know of I say to myself Imaam Shafi’ee knows about this and he will have some say in it, because he is an ‘Alim (Scholar) of Quraish. And the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam) said, An Alim of Quraish fills the earth with knowledge.” (al-Manaaqib, Lil-Baihaqi, Vol. 1, Page 54)

Al-Raazi says, “This Hadith is attainable by a man who possesses three characteristics: 1. that he is from Quraish 2. that he has abundant knowledge among religious scholars 3. that his abundant knowledge will indeed reach from east to west of the world

After saying this Al-Raazi says, “The man described above is no other than Al-Shafi’ee.” (Musnad of Abu Dawood Al-Tabalusi, p. 39-40)

The Imaam is from Quraish and the following other Ahadith (narrations) are indications towards him:

  1. Abdullah bin Masood (RA) narrates from the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam) as saying, “Do not curse at the Quraish, for verily a scholar from there fills the earth with knowledge. O’Allah, you have made their first taste your punishment, now make the last of them taste your gift and favor.” (Musnad of Abu Dawood Al-Tabalusi, p. 39-40)
  2. Abu Hurairah (RA) narrates that the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam) said, “O’Allah, Guide the Quraish, for verily a scholar from there fills the earth with knowledge. O’Allah, just you have made them taste your punishment, now let them taste your gift and favor.” He made this supplication three times. (al-Khateeb fee al-tarikh, V.2, P.61)
  3. Imaam Al-Shafi’ee is Quraishi and Muttalibi. One hadith says, “Indeed Banu Haashim and Banu al-Muttalib are the same (ie. of the same family lineage). The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam) then put his fingers of both hands together. (Al-Sunan al-Kubra’, V.6, P.340)
  4. In one narration the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam) said, “Indeed, at the beginning of every hundred years Allah SWT sends a reformer of this Ummah who will revive the Ummah in religion. (Al-Mustadrik, V.4, P.522, Al-Khateeb fee al-tarikh, V.2, P.61)

His Children:

First Child’s Name: Abu Usman, Muhammad (was a judge in Madinah, grew up in Syria) Second Child’s Name: Fatimah Third Child’s Name: Zainab His Going to Egypt: The Imaam went to Egypt in the year 199 A.H. (814/815 A.D.) during the beginning of the Mamun Khilafah. He went back to Baghdad for a month then again returned to Egypt and stayed until his demise in the year 204 A.H. (819/820 A.D.)

His Writings and Books:

  1. Al-Risalah al-Qadeemah (Kitaabul-Hujjah)
  2. Al-Risalah al-Jadeedah
  3. Ikhtilaaful-Hadith
  4. Ibtaal-al-Istihsaan
  5. Ahkaam-ul-Qur’an
  6. Biyaadhul-Fardh
  7. Sifatul-al-Amr wal-Nahiy
  8. Ikhtilaaf Malik wal-Shafi’ee
  9. Ikhtilaaf-al-Iraqiyeen
  10. Ikhtilaaf Muhammad bin Hasan
  11. Fadha’il Quraish
  12. Kitaabul-Umm 13. Kitaabul-Sunan

His Demise:

The Imaam became very sick at the end of his life with hemmariodal pain and passed away in Egypt on Thursday night after Isha’ Prayer after performing Maghrib Prayer on the last day of Rajab. We was buried in Cairo, Egypt on Friday in the year 204 A.H. (819/820 A.D.) His Masjid in Cairo can be visited in the Imaam Al-Shafi’ee Neighborhood. May Allah be pleased with him. Ameen. Translated by Adil Khan on 11th of Shabaan, 1422 A.H. from Kitaabul-Umm, Printed in Beirut, Lebanon.


Imam Shafi’i tomb in Cairo


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