There are five levels of the rank of Mujtahid according to the Shafi’i madhhab.
- Mujtahid mutlaq (absolute), e.g. Imam al-Shafi’i, Imam Malik, Imam Abu Hanifah and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal rahimahumuLlah ta’ala.
- Mujtahid muntasib (affiliated jurist), e.g. Ibn Khuzaimah, Ibn Mundhir, Muhammad Ibn Jarir and Muhammad ibn Nasr, (Tabaqat al-Shafi’iyyah al-Kubra).
- Mujtahid al-madhhab, e.g. al-Buwaiti, al-Rabi’, al-Anmati, al-Istikhri , Ibn Abi Hurairah, and al-Sairafi.
- Mujtahid al-fatwa wa al-tarjih, e.g. al-Mawardi, Abu Tayyib, al-Tabari, Imam al-Haramayn, Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi, al-Ruyani, al-Rafi’i and An-Nawawi.
- Al-Hafiz li l-madhhab and the Mufti.
قلت لا يجوز لمفت على مذهب الشافعي إذا اعتمد النقل أن يكتفى بمصنف ومصنفين ونحوهما من كتب المتقدمين واكثر المتأخرين لكثرة الاختلاف بينهم في الجزم والترجيح لان هذا المفتى المذكور انما ينقل مذهب الشافعي ولا يحصل له وثوق بأن ما في المصنفين المذكورين ونحوهما هو مذهب الشافعي أو الراجح منه لما فيها من الاختلاف وهذا مما لا يتشكك فيه من له أدنى أنس بالمذهب بل قد يجزم نحو عشرة من المصنفين بشئ وهو شاذ بالنسبة إلى الراجح في المذهب ومخالف لما عليه الجمهور وربما خالف نص الشافعي أو نصوصا له وستري في هذا الشرح ان شاء الله تعالى أمثلة ذلك وارجو ان تم هذا الكتاب أنه يستغنى به عن كل مصنف ويعلم به مذهب الشافعي علما قطعيا ان شاء الله تعالى انتهى المجموع شرح المهذب – 1: 47
Imam al-Nawawi stated in the al-Majmu’, “If the one who issuing verdicts in the Shafi’i madhhab intends to give reference, it will not be permissible for him to merely rely on one or two books of the former scholars or even a few books of the latter day scholars because of the excessive differences in their decision and preferences. The responsibility of this mufti is to convey the madhhab of Imam al-Shafi’i radiyaLlahu ‘anhu. He cannot have conviction that what is mentioned in the books mentioned is opinion of Imam al-Shafi’i or his preferred opinion because of the difference of opinions, and this phenomenon is not strange to those who posses even a little recognition with the madhhab. There are cases, when ten authors positively gave a verdict on certain issues, but it is strange in relation to the preferred opinion of the madhhab and against the majority. Sometimes they even go against the clear texts of the imam. You will see some examples of this in this commentary, if Allah ta’ala wishes. I hope if this book is completed, it will be able to dispense a need to other books and will inform the definitive madhhab of Imam al-Shafi’i, Insha Allah ta’ala.”
Imam al-Kurdi stated, “If the shaykhain (al-Nawawi and al-Rafi’i) do not give a preference, then if a mufti is from ahl al-tarjih, he can issue a ruling based on an opinion which the Imams of his madhhab have relied upon. It would not be permissible for him to issue a ruling which is considered weak according to the imams of his madhab, even if it is a preferred opinion according to him. This is because, he is only been asked about the preferred opinion according to the madhhab, not according to himself, unless he notifies the weakness of the opinions. It is permissible to act upon the weak opinion when he clarified that as a weak opinion. If he is not from the people of tarjih, and these are the scholars present in our time, then there are different opinions.”
Among the important figures after Shaykhain are Ibn al-Rif’ah, al-Subki, ’Alam al-khamsah: (1)Shaykh al-Islam Zakariyya al-Ansari, (2) al-Shihab al-Ramli, (3) al-Khatib al-Shirbini, (4) Ibn Hajar, (5) al-Shams al-Ramli.
It is well know among the later Shafi’i ulama that they relied upon two main commentaries of al-Minhaj.
- Tuhfat al-muhtaj bi sharh al-Minhaj by Imam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (974 H)
- Nihayat al-muhtaj ila sharh al-Minhaj by Imam Shams al-din al-Ramli (1004 H)
Preferences are given to these two commentaries because they had been presented to hundreds of ‘Ulama who had scrutinized and authenticated them.
All the Ulama of Egypt, or at least most of them, have relied upon the rulings of Imam al-Ramli which he cited in his books, especially al-Nihayah. This is because al-Nihayah had been read to the Imam by 400 ulama, and they had criticized, scrutinized and authenticated it. Thus, its authentication had reach the level of tawatur.
The ulama of Hadramawt, Sham, Akrad, Daghistan, Yemen and Hijaz preferred the opinion of Imam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami in his books as the mu’tamad (reliable stand), especially al-Tuhfah.
Among the books of al-Imām Ibn Ḥajar, the order of merit is al-Tuḥfah, Fatḥ al-Jawād, al-Imdād, the fatāwā (legal opinions) and sharh al-ʿUbāb have the same merit, however, giving preference to the commentary is better.
Therefore, the mu’tamad is the opinion of Imam Ibn Hajar and Imam Shams al-din al-Ramli rahimahumaLlah ta’ala.
Imam ‘Umar al-Basri, one of the leading students of Imam Ibn Hajar was asked which should be preferred when there are different opinions between Ibn Hajar and al-Ramli. The conclusion of his answer, “If a scholar had a capacity to look into the source of ruling and its evidences, then he should do so and refer to the evidences mentioned by Shaykhain or other scholars. If he doesn’t have a capacity to do so, then he should choose any of the opinion of Ibn Hajar or al-Ramli.
If Imam Ibn Hajar and al-Ramli rahimahumaLlah ta’ala did not pass a verdict upon a masalah, then the fatwa will be given on the opinion of Shaykh al-Islam Zakariyya al-Ansari in Sharh al-ṣaghīr ʿalā al-Bahjah and then, Fath al-Wahhāb bi sharh Manhaj al-ṭullāb. Finally, preference is given to Sharh al-Imām al-Khāṭib al-Shirbīnī.
The order of merit among the ḥawāshī (marginal notes) is as follows: (see al-Fawaid and al-I’ānah).
- Imām ‘Alī ibn Yahya al-Ziyādī (1024 H) hāshiyah on Fath al-Wahhab the commentary of al-Manhaj.
- Imām Ahmad ibn Qasim al-ʿAbbādī (994 H) on Fath al-Wahhab,
- Shihab al-din Ahmad al-Burullusi known as ʿAmirah (957 H) marginal note on al-Maḥallī,
- Shaykh ʿAlī ibn ‘Alī al-Shabramillisī (1087 H) marginal note on al-Nihāyah.
- Shaykh Abu al-Hasan ‘Alī ibn Ibrāhīm ibn Ahmad al-Halabī (1044 H) the author of al-Sīrah al-Halabiyyah.
- Shaykh Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Shaubarī (1069 H), he has the hashiyah on al-Mawahib al-ladunniyyah and hashiyah on Tahrīr al-lubāb.
- Shaykh Muhammad ibn Dawud al-ʿAnānī (1098 H), he has hashiyah on al-Tahrīr and al-Manhaj.
Their opinions are taken if they do not differ with the “al-Tuhfah and al-Nihayah” and the principle of the madhhab.