Islamic Studies Shafi`is
Ahmed el Shamsy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0148


Shafiʿis are adherents of the Sunni school of legal thought based on the legal paradigm of Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafiʿi (d. 204 AH/820 CE). During his lifetime, al-Shafiʿi attracted followers in Mecca, Baghdad, and Egypt by composing and teaching works on law and legal theory; the latter genre can be said to have been inaugurated by him. By the 4th/10th century, the centers of the Shafiʿi school were located in Iraq and Khurasan. The rivalry that emerged between the Shafiʿi and Hanafi schools in the Abbasid realm gave rise to numerous polemics, refutations, and counterrefutations, serving as a powerful engine for the development and increasing sophistication of legal thought. From the 7th/13th century onward, Shafiʿism has been predominant in Egypt and Syria, the Kurdish areas of Anatolia and Iraq, and southern Yemen, from where Shafiʿism was carried to East Africa and across the Indian Ocean, as far as today’s Malaysia and Indonesia. Shafiʿism is characterized by a common discourse on positive law and legal theory, as well as a genealogical tradition expressed in biographical dictionaries of Shafiʿi jurists in particular times and/or places. In addition, Shafiʿi scholars made important contributions in the fields of theology, Sufism, constitutional theory, and Hadith scholarship.

General Overviews

The multidimensional nature of Shafiʿism—incorporating ideas, institutions, and individuals in specific local contexts—has thus far eluded comprehensive and analytically unified treatment. Al-Qawasimi 2003 offers an accessible overview in Arabic, while Chaumont 1997, though an encyclopedia entry and thus limited in scope, provides a useful summary of Western scholarship on the subject. Beyond these two texts, the sections The Shafiʿi School and Biographies contain references to works analyzing the institutional and individual histories of the school, respectively.

  • Chaumont, Éric. “al-Shāfiʿiyya.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2d ed. Vol. 9. Edited by C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W. P. Heinrichs, and G. Lecomte, 185–189. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

    A concise account of the origins and historical development of the school, with some critical analysis and an overview of Western scholarship on the Shafiʿis.

  • al-Qawasimi, Akram Yusuf ʿUmar. Al-Madkhal ilā madhhab al-Imām al-Shāfī. Cairo: Dar al-Nafaʾis, 2003.

    A broad sketch of the Shafiʿi school that includes a biography of the school founder, a history of the development and spread of the school, an overview of Shafiʿi literature, and a dictionary of school terminology.

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