Scholars of Islam: Shams al-Din al-Ramli

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Shams al-Din al-Ramli was a prominent Muslim jurist of the Shafi’i madhhab and hadith scholar of the 16th century. His contribution to Islamic science is assessed as very significant, which is why some fuqahas and Islamic scholars regard him as a mujaddid of the 10th century AH (a renovator of faith, who, according to the Prophet, should appear once every hundred years). Shams al-Din al-Ramli did help to reconcile two different schools in the Shafi’i madhhab, the Iraqi and the Khorasan ones, whose confrontation was putting the madhhab in danger of inner strife. Therefore, the contribution of Imam al-Ramli to the strengthening of the Shafi’i madhhab was so highly appreciated.

Shams al-Din al-Ramli was born in 1511. The imam’s father was the famous and most authoritative Egyptian jurist of the Shafi’i madhhab Shihab al-Din al-Ramli. He was nazir al-hasa (custodian of the estate) of the penultimate Mamluk sultan Qanush al-Ghauri (it is practically immediately after his death that Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Empire). His father taught at the Al-Azhar mosque (the leading scientific institution in Egypt) and provided Shams al-Din with an excellent education from the leading teachers and sheikhs of the Shafi’i madhhab. After the death of his father, Shams al-Din inherited his department, in addition, he taught in the main Shafi’i madrasahs of Khashshabiya and Sharifiya. Shams al-Din received ijaz (transmission rights) from the chief Shafi’i faqih Zakariya al-Ansari and from his father. As a result, he actively transmitted and disseminated their rulings, texts and teachings.

The fame and authority of Shams al-Din al-Ramli as a scholar grew fast. He taught the Shafi’i madhhab in Mecca to which he made several pilgrimages. Soon, Shams al-Din al-Ramli was recognized as Egypt’s leading jurist in the Shafi’i madhhab. They began to call him “Al-Shafi’i al-Saghir” (Al-Shafi’i Junior). Shams al-Din al-Ramli had many students who later became outstanding scholars of theology and fiqh. He himself led an ascetic lifestyle and strove not to increase earthly riches, but to increase knowledge.

Shams al-Din al-Ramli, like his father, experienced a spiritual affinity with the teachings of Sufism. He made acquaintance with many famous Sufis, including the most famous Egyptian Sufi, Abdul-Wahhab al-Sharani, and his son-in-law was the son of the Sufi leader, the poet Muhammad al-Bakri. Following Sufi practices, Shams al-Din al-Ramli, being in old age, went to Mecca to spend time there in ascetic contemplation (mujwara) and receive the grace of Allah.

The main contribution of Imam Shams al-Din al-Ramli to the science of the Shafi’i madhhab was the compilation of a commentary on the fundamental book of the madhhab, which belongs to Imam al-Nawawi, entitled “Al-Minhaj” (Program). In total, in the Shafi’i madhhab, two books of interpretation of al-Nawawi are used for issuing decisions; “Tuhwat al-Mukhtaj” (Brother of the Competing) by Imam Ibn Hajar and “Nihayat al-Mukhtaj” (End of the Competing) by Imam Shams al-Din al-Ramli. To issue a fatwa, the opinions of both imams on the issue under consideration must coincide.

In addition to this, Imam Shams al-Din al-Ramli published other works on the Shafi’i madhhab, published a collection of fatwas of his father, prepared a huge number of fuqahas for practical work in Egypt and beyond.