Schools of Muslim Law

Author: Deepanshi Kalra

Schools of Muslim Law

Schools of Islamic Legal Thought also Known as Madhahib in Arabic, emerged due to the independent interpretation of the general principles of the Quran and sunnah by various prominent scholars over the centuries. Each school was designated under the name of its founding scholar. All these schools were established very early in Islamic history. The purpose of each school was basically to interpret the general principles of the Quran and sunnah concerning specific cases and this was done by the eminent scholars. Many of them were under each school of Islamic thought and contributed largely in forms of writings and books in which they in a different way interpreted the Quran and sunnah and attributed their writings to sharia.

The purpose of introducing Madhahib is because even today Muslims around the world follow different traditions as per their understanding and learning of various schools. Distinct variations in forms of practices within Islam exist in which each school of thought is associated in its way.

There are three main schools of thought under which various new schools developed over centuries:

  1. Sunni
  2. Shia
  3. Motazila 

These main schools of Muslim law developed after the death of the prophet when the question of carrying on his saying and traditions came. Each of these schools had a different understanding of how to spread the prophet’s words. The Sunni advocated Imamat to be based upon election. On the other hand, the Shia advocates believed for Imamat to be based upon the prophet’s family. Whereas the motazila school soon became non-existent and only its historical perspective remained.

Also Read, Guardianship under Muslim Law

Schools developed under Sunni were-

  1. Hanafi School ( 699 AD – 767 AD)

The founder of this school was Imam Abu Hanifa. He had two most important disciples – Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad. In India, mostly Muslims follow Hanafi school. This school was followed in China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey as well. Among the entire Muslim population around the world, the followers of this school are one third. They followed a simple methodology and were amongst the most popular and prevalent schools. They did not rely much on the prophet’s hadiths until they were proved to be true beyond a reasonable doubt. They relied very much on Qiyas. They even extended Ijma and gave preference to Isthiasan. This school was believed to be stricter than other schools in lifting traditions. Also, in the application of the law, Abu Hanifa believed that it is important to rely on usages and local authorities.

  • Maliki School (711 AD – 795 AD)

The founder of this school was Imam Malik. They were followers of the hadiths however only the ones that were authentic or adequate even if they were not correct as per the parameters laid down. People of Madina also followed a certain way of Islam, this way was also followed by the Maliki School. They accepted the practices of the people of Madina and the sayings of the companions of the prophet.

They followed Qiyas only when the Quran or Sunnat were silent on that particular matter. Also followed as per the “ Public Interest” –Al-masalih, al- mursalah. Pupils of Iman Malik were Imam Muhan and Imam Shafi. This school was popularly followed in North Africa, Morocco, Spain, Algeria, Tanzania, etc.

  • Shafi School ( 767 AD – 820 AD)

The founder was Imam Muhammad ibn Idris Ash-Shafi who was also a disciple of the Maliki School. They followed all four sources. They rejected public interest methodology followed by the Maliki school and were also not in favor of Isthiasan. Shafi was the first person to collect “ Sources of Law”. Their teachings were popular in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and some parts of Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Yaman, and India as well.

  • Hanbali School (780 AD – 855 AD)

 Ibn Hanbali was the founder of the Hanbali School of Islamic Jurisprudence. They were strict regarding the traditions of the Prophet and strictly confirmed to the Principle of Hadiths. Their methodology depended on Quran, Ijma, and Sunnat. They followed Qiyas only when they believed it to be necessary. They were dominant in Saudi Arabia mostly.

Also Read, Maintenance under Muslim Law

Schools developed under Shia were-

  1. Ashriya School

The founders of this school are twelve Imams, thus the Arabic Term Itna Ashris means Twelvers. They are followed in Syria, Lebanon, and Pakistan.  The majority of the Shias follow this school. In India also this school is followed by Muslims residing in Lucknow, Murshidabad, and Deccan, Kashmir.

  1. Ismailiyah School

The school of Ismailis accepted only seven Imams and were hence known as the  ‘Seveners’. Their origin could be traced to Egypt. There consist two groups of them viz, (1) the Kohojas or Eastern Isamilis who were believed to be followers of Aga Khan who was the 49th Imam in the line of the prophet, and (2) Western Ismailis popularly called as Bohoras who were divided among the Sulaymanis and Daudis. They prevailed in Central Asia, East Africa, Arabia, Pakistan, Syria, and Iran.

  1. Zaidiyah School

Imam Zaidi founded this school.  They believed that Imam should be based on election, so the succession in this school is through the election. They believe Imam to be above and considered as a ‘right guide’.  The Zaidis were followed in the South of Arabia, mostly in Yemen.

Other Schools of Muslim Law

  • Tabri School
  • Ibadi School
  • Ahmadiya School
  • Zahiri School
  • Auzayi School
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