Going through Islamic history, I find it highly mysterious the often-tragic end of so many scholars, starting from the very beginning of Islam in the shape of As-Hab Al Suffa who were taken by the people pretending to be new Muslims to the two faraway places outside Medina with the permission of Prophet Muhammad on the pretext of learning Quran and Islamic teachings from them but were brutally killed as it turned out to be a trap.
Such a massive loss of so many lives from As-Hab Al Suffa exposed the new Islamic society to a potential knowledge vacuum as some of them were considered trailblazers in learning the ropes of the new religion. However, the greatest teacher was still available in the shape of Prophet Muhammad; the threat did not exacerbate and gradually vanished with the inclusion of many others in the knowledge brigade.
I also explained the painful death of Imam Abu Hanifa at the hands of none other than the Islamic ruler in Kufa, besides the severe torture suffered by Imam Malik on the instructions of the governor of Medina, albeit he survived it and the governor was punished by the then-Islamic ruler who also apologized to the Imam. The phenomenon is not restricted to these people and the only thing I could comprehend is the high level of knowledge they had gathered which gave them the courage to differentiate between true and false, which made the people in authority uncomfortable. This seems to be true to date since one reason for the low education level in the majority of Islamic countries is that the elite and ruling class would like to keep it that way to avoid from being challenged.
I am privy to such a situation in my home country Pakistan where the feudal lords do not let the government and private sectors establish good-quality schools since they want to continue to ‘rule’ the people generation after generation. A friend of mine who holds vast tracts of agricultural land in the Sindh province of the country once spilled the beans by saying that if we allow them to get education, who will work in our farms? He frowned at my suggestion to replace humans with modern machines and let them improve their lives through good-quality education. Anyway, this is not the subject of our discussion so let us move on.
The third Imam in sequence of appearance was Imam Shafai. He was bestowed by the Creator with a photographic memory which enabled him to memorize the whole Quran (about 600-plus pages from the current publication standard) at the young age of only seven.
Remember, I had explained earlier that there is no change in the Quran which was revealed by Allah the Most Exalted to Prophet Muhammad in 7 AD. Not a single letter (let alone word) was changed or replaced. This in itself is a miracle where the Quran is the only book in the entire phase of humanity that has remained constant. Moreover, the Quran has been responsible in holding the Arabic language from changing in the last 15 centuries whereas no language has been able to maintain the status quo.
Imam Shafai was born in Ghazza, Palestine in 150 Hijri or 765 AD, ie in the same year Imam Abu Hanifa gave his life while being tortured in jail. Imam Shafai’s father had passed away when he was a baby and his mother raised him in great poverty as the father was himself poor and did not leave anything behind. Imam Shafai loved seeking knowledge and resided among the Bedouins of Mecca for some time to polish his Arabic language. Much to the delight of Imam Malik, Imam Shafai also was able to swiftly memorize Kitab Al Muwatta as his student at the age of 20.
Following the tradition of his predecessor Imams, in his mid-thirties, Imam Shafai was also arrested on treachery charges and taken to the famous Islamic ruler Harun Rashid in Baghdad. At this juncture, Imam Mohammed, the great student of Imam Abu Hanifa who was the chief judge, intervened and got Imam Shafai exonerated from false charges. Imam Shafai then spent some time with Imam Mohammed as his student.
Imam Shafai wrote over 100 books, the most famous of which is ‘Kitab-ul-Umm’ bearing his rulings and interpretations on all aspects of Islamic jurisprudence. Imam Shafai traveled far and wide in search of and parting with knowledge. When he was close to his death, he went to Egypt and remained there until his death. The scholars and people of Egypt loved him and showered him with extreme love and respect being the student of Imam Malik and since he was the most knowledgeable in the subject of Islamic jurisprudence. His last words famously quoted were: “I feel that I am traveling away from this world, away from the brothers, drinking from the cup of death, and approaching Allah the Glorious. By Allah I do not know if my soul will go to heaven so that I may congratulate it, or to hell so that I may lament it.”
Imam Shafai remained in pursuit of knowledge from when he was a small boy until he passed away at the age of 54. In his relatively short life, he always kept the company of scholars, doing research, writing books, giving lectures, educating masses and anything related to academia. The governor of Egypt acknowledged his brilliant life spent in academic excellence by leading his funeral prayers as an honor.
The purpose of this educative series and the article is not to hurt any religious or commercial sentiments either consciously or even unwittingly.
Next week: Concluding thoughts and some solutions on SDG 4.