I compiled the following chart (see attachment) during my stay in Saudia Arabia. It is taken from Dr Abd al-Ilah al-Arfaj’s small booklet on the history of the Shafi school in al-Ahsa, and the diagram portrays the Ahsai chain in Shafi fiqh.
As mentioned elsewhere on the blog, the Shafi’s perhaps constitute the largest number of ‘Sunni’s’ in the al-Ahsa region. This is not to say that members of the traditional Shafi Ahsai families may not have drifted away from the madhab of their family due to various factors such as the Saudi education system, moving away from al-Ahsa, or more simply not being focussed on knowledge.
Sheikh Ahmad al-Dawghan: Mujaddid of the Shafi Madhab in al-Ahsa Alhumdulillah Sh Ahmad al-Dawghan who is now aged close to 100 years of age is credited as being the reviver of the school in the al-Ahsa region. His study circles have proved to be extremely blessed in terms of the number of students who have passed through it studying the books of fiqh of the Shafi school. I had the good fortune to attend his Thursday audience wherein he meets visitors, and was honoured that he allowed me to kiss his hand.
Stay Seated: The Sheikh is short in stature, but with a radiant face adorned with a copious and flowing long white beard. When I attended his gathering we were all seated, the Sheikh suddenly appeared from a door at the back of the room. Naturally I moved to stand up for him, but was tugged back by the brother who had brought me. He leaned over and whispered that Sh Ahmad did not allow anyone to stand up for him, and as I looked around the room I saw his students all seated obeying this injunction of his.
I watched him walk slowly with the aid of his walking stick to the front of the large room and seat himself next to some of his senior students. I sat and tried to absorb the light emanating from his face, a face which I had longed to see for many years ever since I had heard of him as a teenager ten years earlier.
Curriculum: From what I have gathered the circles of Sh Ahmad al-Dawghan are primarily focussed on the studying of Shafi texts on fiqh and works on grammar. They do not study works on aqidah or usul al-fiqh. This is their methodology, and they have adopted it for certain reasons. This does not mean that students are not able to take lessons elsewhere should they wish. The lessons take place on a part time basis in the evenings, and according to one young Ahsai faqih would take approximately 7 years to complete the all of the books in their curriculum. The order of works maybe something along the lines of:
-Matn Abi Shujah (Ghayah Wa Taqrib)
In addition to this a work for beginners by al-Zuabi and another authored by Sh Hasan al-Kaf in Madinah were also being used in some circles. When questioned regaring the absence of Usul al-Fiqh from the curriculum the young Ahsai faqih mentioned that the study of Usul is for the Mujtahid, therefore we have no pressing need for it.
Tasawwuf In The Text Of Al-Zubad: What is clear is that Sh Ahmad al-Dawghan’s approach is non confrontational and steers clear of controversy. Even his Mawlid celebrations differ, in that (as I was told) they recite from the Mawlid al-Barzanji but skip certain chapters such as the qiyam (standing). He does not promote any particular tariqah, and he advises his students to recite the ‘Wird al-Nawawi’ and another small compilation based on hadith called ‘Ishraq al-Diya’. This in no way means he is anti tasawwuf or anti tariqah, his students include Sayyid Ibrahim al-Khalifah and many others who are members of Sufi orders.
This brings me to my final point, those familiar with the text of al-Zubad will know that it contains a chapter on Tasawwuf. I spoke to one of Sh al-Dawghan’s most senior students about this, and how they deal with those who may raise objections to it being studied in their circles, especially in the climate of Saudia Arabia. He mentioned to me that a respected Salafi scholar visited them in al-Ahsa, they recited to him the section on Tasawwuf from the Zubad to which he said that he agreed 100% with it. They then mentioned that it was actually the chapter on Tasawwuf, and this was their understanding of what is termed as ‘Tasawwuf’! I questioned further: But what would you say if asked directly to condemn turuq and bayah, awrad etc? The senior student replied something along the lines of: “Hmm, your going to have to think of a diplomatic answer to get out of that one”.
Note: The pdf has appended at the top the name of Sh Abdullah al-Kadi as a student of Sh Ahmad al-Dawghan, the chain works its way down the page to the source and root of all our knowledge, our Master the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace). Inshallah I hope to fix a few minor typo’s in the spelling at some point soon.