Dar al-Minhaj’s edition of Kifayat al-Akhyar (2007) includes a very interesting note (p.632) by shaykh Abd al-Rahman Rashid al-Khatib on the composition dates for the major shuruh upon the Minhaj al-Talibin of Imam al-Nawawi.
Ibn Hajar’s (909-974) writing of Tuhfat al-Muhtaj began in Makka 957 and was completed by the end of the same year within eleven months, when he was in his late 40s.
al-Khatib al-Shirbini’s (d.977) writing of Mughni al-Muhtaj began in Cairo in 959 and was completed four years later in 963.
Shams al-Ramli’s (917-1004) writing of Nihayat al-Muhtaj began in Cairo in 963 and was completed ten years later in 973, when he was in his mid-50s.
Ibn Hajar was thus the first of the ‘Ulama al-Khams (Zakariyah al-Ansari [826-926] and his four students Shihab al-Ramli, Ibn Hajar, al-Khatib al-Shirbini, and Shams al-Ramli) to write a direct sharh on the Minhaj. Managing to complete in within a year is quite a staggering achievement. I have yet to find conclusive evidence that Khatib al-Shirbini had access to Ibn Hajar’s sharh, since Ibn Hajar was in Makka. Al-Ramli certainly had access to both when writing his commentary. Shams al-Ramli and al-Khatib concur in the majority of masa’il in the ibadah sections, following the teachings of Shihab al-Ramli. Ibn Hajar tends to follow Shaykh al-Islam.
The reputation and preference that Tuhfat al-Muhtaj has outside of Egypt certainly has much to do with Ibn Hajar’s milieu being Makka. From here it rapidly spread among the visiting Shafi’iyah from Yemen, Syria, and beyond. Nihayat al-Muhtaj, however, is certainly no less a work and indeed many major Shafi’iyah of the last few centuries (particularly in Egypt) deemed it superior. Shams al-Ramli was widely regarded as the leading Shafi’i of Egypt in his day after the death of his father, Shihab, in 957, when Shams was 40 years old. His father had seen to it that Shams had a comprehensive education in all fields of learning so that he would be independent of anyone. Shams attended the classes of Shaykh al-Islam Zakariya al-Ansari as a young boy with his father even before Ibn Hajar joined Shaykh al-Islam’s classes, and became instrumental in transmitting Shaykh al-Islam’s books via ijaza. Ibn Hajar joined Shaykh al-Islam’s classes in 924, when he was 15, and stayed with the Shaykh for two years till 926, when Shaykh al-Islam died. Shihab al-Din inherited Shaykh al-Islam’s position in Egypt and continued to teach Ibn Hajar (until he finally settled in Makka in 940, aged 31), al-Khatib al-Shirbini, and his son Shams until Shihab’s death in 957.
Shams, aged 40, immediately inherited his father’s teaching position at al-Azhar and was also appointed to teach at the Khashabiya and Sharafiya madrasas, posts specifically set aside for the top Shafi’i scholar. All this whilst al-Khatib al-Shirbini, his former teacher, was still alive. His contemporaries called him al-Shafi’i al-Saghir and he was considered by his associates to be the mujaddid of the 10th Hijri century. Whilst writing al-Nihayah, Shams was fully aware of what both Ibn Hajar and al-Khatib had written in their respective commentaries whilst critically engaging with and building upon their works. Upon completion in 973, Nihayah was read to 400 of the top scholars and students of the time who all gave it their critical approval. al-Khatib was still alive and most likely in the sessions, for he was close to Shams and worked with him in compiling his father’s fatawa. For the attendees, Nihayat al-Muhtaj was the definitive commentary on Minhaj al-Talibin. It also has the advantage of being much clearer than Tuhfah due to having 10 years to review and revise the style and content. Tuhfah suffers from some very difficult and opaque language, perhaps as a result of being written in 11 months (almost ten times less the time) with no final revision, proofreading, or editing.
That being said, almost nowhere today today can one find either of these two texts being taught completely. Mughni al-Muhtaj and the earlier Kanz al-Raghibin of al-Mahalli are the only direct commentaries still being taught.
Among the lesser-known printed commentaries of note are:
- Al-Zarkashi – Al-Dibaj fi Tawdih al-Minhaj
- Al-Damiri – Najm al-Wahhaj
- Ibn Qadi Shuhbah – Bidayat al-Muhtaj