What did Imam Shafi say about the beard?

Answered by Shaykh Hamza Karamali, SunniPath Academy Teacher

I read on a website in answer to a qn that Ash-Shafi^iyy said in his book Al-umm that to shave the beard is haraam. Where does it say that in al-umm? And if this is the case on what basis did An-Nawawiyy and others differ with the Imaam?

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate

The Position of the Shafi`i School

The Shafi`is have differed among themselves about the ruling of shaving the beard. Some scholars such as the Shaykhs Ibn al-Rif`ah, Halimi, and Adhra`i have held shaving the beard to be unlawful,

Others, such as the Imams Ghazali, Nawawi, and Rafi`i have held it to be offensive.

The two foremost figures in the late Shafi`i school, Shaykh Ibn Hajar al-Haytami and Shaykh Muhammad al-Ramli–along with Shaykh al-Islam Zakariyya al-Ansari–have confirmed the latter position (Sayyid al-Bakri, I`anat al-Talibin, 2.340). This latter position is, in fact, the official position of the Shafi`i school.

The School and the Imam

One of the arguments for the unlawfulness of shaving the beard is that Imam Shafi`i himself said in al-Umm that it is unlawful. Shaykh Ibn Hajar explains that this is insufficient proof to establish this position as the official position of the Shafi`i school, saying,

“The scholars of exacting verification have reached consensus that the official position of the Shafi`i school (al-mufta bihi) is what [h: Nawawi and Rafi`i] have mentioned, followed by what Nawawi [h: alone] has mentioned. They have also reached consensus that if someone objects to [h: Nawawi and Rafi`i] by citing an explicit statement from al-Umm, or by claiming that the majority [h: of Shafi`i’s] have held a contrary position, or the like, then this does not change the official position of the Shafi`i school [h: that Nawawi and Rafi`i have agreed on]. This is because [h: Nawawi and Rafi`i] have more knowledge of what Imam Shafi`i has said, and of what the early Shafi`is have said than the one who objects to them. They therefore only went against [h: the text of Imam Shafi`i or the positions of the early Shafi`is] because of a reason that is known by those who know it and not known by those who are ignorant of it.” (Muhammad b. Sulayman al-Kurdi, al-Fawa’id al-Madaniyya, p. 19)

Imam Shafi`i is known to have held multiple positions (at different times) on the same issue, and the early scholars of the Shafi`i school differed greatly among themselves. Determining the official position of the school is not as easy as citing a single reference; rather, one needs to have complete knowledge and mastery of all of the statements and positions of the Imam and the early scholars. Imam Nawawi and Imam Rafi`i both had this knowledge; most of those who objected to them did not.

Scholars who came after Nawawi and Rafi`i held that the only way to understand the works of the Shafi`is who came before these two scholars (including the words of Imam Shafi`i himself) is through the books of these two scholars themselves, who had read and understood what all the Shafi`is before them had said, and then worked with this knowledge to determine the official position of the school. If we find a solitary quote from one of Imam Shafi`i’s books that goes against what Nawawi and Rafi`i said, then, in all likelihood, they were aware of the quote and held a contrary position because of other quotes and other positions that have not reached us.

This is why when Shaykh Ibn Hajar discusses the positions of those who held shaving the beard to be unlawful, he doesn’t even deem it necessary to verify what al-Umm says. Rather, he simply says that the alleged quote from al-Umm should either be interpreted in other than its immediately obvious sense, or, if that’s not possible, then it is simply contrary to the official position of the Shafi`i school (Ibn Hajar al-Haytami, Tuhfat al-Muhtaj, 9.376). The position of the school, in other words, remains what Imam Nawawi and Imam Rafi`i have determined.

Shaykh Nuh Keller has written a short, yet beautiful and inspiring biography of Imam Shafi`i (Allah have mercy on him) at the end of The Reliance of the Traveller. He says of the great Imam,

“The author of some 113 works, it was nonetheless Shafi`i’s hope that “people would learn this knowledge without ascribing a single letter of it to me,” and as Zakariyya Ansari remarked, “Allah granted his wish, for one seldom hears of any position of his, save that it is ascribed to others of his school with the words, ‘Rafi`i, or Nawawi, or Zarkashi says …’ and the like.”” (Reliance of the Traveller, x324)

May Allah be pleased with Imam Shafi`i and benefit us because of him. Ameen.

And Allah knows best.