Question: In what order should one study the Shafii madhab, and which books of fiqh should one study?
Answer: Wa alaykum assalamu wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
Thank you very much for your poignant question.
What is generally observed across the Shafii world is that they study Matn Abi Shuja, Fath al Muin, and then Minhaj al Talibin.
Stages of Learning
The great late Shafii scholar, Imam al Bajuri mentions that there are three levels of learning.
The first is when you do not have an idea about the general discussions of the given science. Such a person is trying to acquire that basic picture.
The second is the student who has an overview of the discussions, but not in much detail or much mastery. Such a student then needs to achieve mastery and detail.
The third is he who has the mastery of the details and is able to decisively prove (or debate) them. This the final stage of learning, and the goal of studying fiqh. (Hashiya Bajuri ala Ibn Qasim, Bajuri)
With this in mind, what is generally observed across the Shafii world is that they study Matn Abi Shuja, Fath al Muin, and then Minhaj al Talibin, with the three books covering the three levels above.
Many will add many other books in the first and second stages, and this generally brings about better results. That said, Ibn Khaldun was critical of students reading lots of primers. (Prolegomena, Ibn Khaldun)
Imam al Nawawi seems to have studied three books in fiqh: the Tanbih of Shirazi, the Wasit of Ghazali, and the Muhadhdhab of Shirazi. With each, he spent a long time with his teachers clarifying the meanings, implications, and details of the rulings within.
That said, he didn’t just read with his teachers, but when he reached a certain level, he read very, very extensively. This is what made Nawawi so significant.
And this is the case with all big ulema. None of them simply sat with their teachers and took down notes. Rather, they sat, took notes, researched, debated, etc, until they reached the level of their own teachers.
One of my own teachers actually forbade me to ask any questions that didn’t stem from my own reading. He told me that for every one hour of class time, I had to do nine hours of reading.
That said, doing the extensive reading before the first stage mentioned above is not a good idea at all, and one should always refer back to one’s teachers and not just go off on one’s own path.
In view of the third-level learning stage, any well-known primers that enable the student to achieve the learning goals are good. Matn Abi Shuja, Fath al Muin, and then Minhaj al Talibin have been a mainstay of many Shafi’is for about four hundred years.
I pray this helps.
[Ustadh] Farid Dingle
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language