Imam Nawawi’s Role in the Shafi`i School
Answered by Shaykh Amjad Rasheed
How did Imam Nawawi become the primary reference for legal verdicts in the Shafi’i school given that he is not a mujtahid? Why aren’t mujtahids like Al-Suyuti and Al-Subki relied upon instead? How can a muqallid (i.e. one who follows the ijtihad of a qualified imam) follow another muqallid?
It is obvious to anyone who has been exposed to various fields of study that every field expands with each era, its maxims become more established, its issues become further codified, and, because of what Allah bequeathed each person with in terms of idiosyncratic strengths and weaknesses in insight and reflection, the differences of opinion among the subject’s researchers increase. This is the case with fiqh, our school, and the fiqh of our imams (i.e. the Shafi’is). Imam Shafi’i (Allah Most High be pleased with him and have mercy on him) established the principles of his school and published its issues in large books like Al-Hujja, Al-Umm, Al-Imla’, Mukhtasar Al-Muzani, Mukhtasar Al-Buwayti, and others. Our imam (Allah be pleased with him) was like other mujtahids, being that his analysis of a single issue would change, so he would declare something, then his legal reasoning (Ar. ijtihad) would change regarding it, so he would contradict what he had established earlier. He became known for what is referred to as his old opinion (that being what he ruled in Iraq) and his new opinion (that being what he ruled in Egypt). His opinion would also change within the new school, so he would have two opinions there as well