Islamic Wisdom; Madhhab ( School of Thought) in Islam

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Madhhab ( School of Thought) :

A madhhab is an Arabic wordمذهب maḏhab which means “way to act”, and it is a school of thought within fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). A fiqh school or orientation is characterized by differences in the methods by which certain source texts are understood and therefore differences in the Shari`ah rulings which are deduced from them.

Reasons for the Emergence of Madhabib:

  1. With the expansion of the Muslim lands and the addition of different cultures to the Muslim world, new problems and issues arose. Political issues and scholarly disputes that emerged after the death of the Prophet also triggered the differences of views in scholarly fields.
  2. Differing ways of evaluating the verses and sayings of the Prophet related to the same issue led to the divergence of interpretations.

The Sunni and the Shia:

Sunni and Shia are the two main sects in Islam. The Sunni tradition, which today comprises approximately 85 to 90 percent of all Muslims, differs from Shia tradition, which comprises the remainder of the Muslim world. The distinction between the two traditions essentially derives from different approaches to governance.

Sunni Doctrine:

The word Sunni is derived from the Arabic word “ Sunnah” which means a “ way”, referring to “ one of the path” or “ who follows the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH. The Sunni believe, based on specific provisions of the Qur’an and the Sunna, that the Muslim people are to be governed by consensus (ijma’) through an elected head of state, the khalifa, according to democratic principles.

Shia Doctrine:

The term “Shia” itself is a contraction of the word “Shia-t-i-Ali” which literally means the “faction of Ali”. The Shia, however, believe that the leader of Islam, whom they refer to as the imam rather than the khalifa, must be a descendant of the Prophet. The concept is the basis for a hereditary hierarchy in the Shia tradition.

History :

The Shia movement dates from the period when a group of Muslims wanted Ali ibn abu Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, to become the khalifa instead of Abu Bakr, who had been elected the first khalifa following the death of Muhammad in 632. They advanced his candidacy on the basis of heredity. However, they were out voted. Ali ultimately became the fourth khalifa, succeeding Uthman, who succeeded Umar, who succeeded Abu Bakr. But Ali was overthrown by the rebellion of Muawia, the governor of Syria, whose seat was in Damascus. Muawia rebelled against Ali because he attributed the assassination of his kinsman Uthman to Ali’s followers. Ali was subsequently assassinated after losing the Tahkim (arbitration) to Muawia. His followers then constituted what would today be cal led a political party to reinstate him and to secure succession to the Khalifa.

O ye who believe! Be steadfast witness for Allah in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is informed of what we do.
( Qur’an 5:8 )

And hold fast, All together, by the rope which God (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude God’s favour on you; For ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His grace, Ye became brethren; And ye were on the brink of the pit of fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth God make His signs clear to you: that ye may be guided.
( Qur’an 3:103)

Madhabib in Islam:

The Legal systems in Islam are associated with different schools of thought. There was a sweeping range of opinion in the first three centuries of Islamic history, and at one point, there were over 100 different schools of thought. There are four well-known madhahib among Sunni Muslims whose names are associated with the classical jurists who are said to have founded them (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi`i, and Hanbali).

Sunni Jurisprudence:

The Sunni follow any one of four major schools of jurisprudence founded by imams ibn Hanbal, Abu Hanifa, Malek, and el-Shafei, scholars of the ninth to eleventh centuries. These schools referred to respectively as the Hanbali, Hanafi, Maliki, and Shafei, are followed by different Muslim states either entirely or in part.


  • The Hanbali School is named after Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d. 855)
  • The Hanafi School is named after Abu Hanifa (d. 767)
  • The Shafi’i is named after al-Shafi’I (d. 819)
  • The Maliki is named after Anas bin Malik (d. 795)


The Hanafi School is the oldest surviving school of Islamic law, and the one with the largest following.

It originated in Kufa, present day Iraq, but its influence spread to both the Mughal and Ottoman empires and can now be found from Turkey to Central Asia, the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and as far as Western Europe and North America.

The school’s founder, Abu Hanifa, was a trader as a young man. However, it seems he was not well suited to this career — he once demanded to pay five times the asking price from a woman selling silk at the market.

In 763 CE he was imprisoned for refusing to collaborate with a judiciary he considered corrupt. He died in prison four years later.

As well as using the Quran and the Prophet’s (PBUH) life as sources of guidance, this group also relied heavily on using logical arguments to find answers to social problems that also fitted in with their understanding of Islam.


The Shafi’i School also has a wide influence in Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei, Singapore, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

This school of thought is named after Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi’i, a precocious student, who is described by historians as the master architect of Islamic law.

Perhaps his greatest achievement, with the aid of his peers, was to lay down the roots of a common framework for all schools of Islamic thought to follow when producing legal judgements on issues of faith and how it should be practised.


This school is named after Imam Anas bin Malik, 715 CE, who, to support his studies, sold the ceiling beams of his home to buy the necessary books.

He was an unwavering defender of personal freedom, famously issuing a fatwa that stated that no person should be forced to pledge allegiance to the ruling government in Medina, and was heavily flogged for doing so (although the authorities later apologised for their actions).

The Maliki School has its main following in Egypt, as well as having smaller groups of followers in Algeria, Tunis, Morocco, Mauritania, Libya, Kuwait, Bahrain, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, although it originated in Saudi Arabia in the city of Medina. When the Maliki School was formed the word Sunnah did not yet mean the ‘traditions’ or ‘practice’ of the Prophet (pbuh) specifically but also referred to the actions of the people of Medina at the time.


The Hanbali School was developed in Baghdad, although today the followers of the school are concentrated mainly in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The founder of the school, Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, was taught by Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi’i, the founder of the Shafi’i School. There is therefore a direct link between the Shafi’i and the Hanbali school.

The Hanbali school derives its rulings almost solely from the Quran and Sunnah, which proves to be popular with groups of people wishing to return to a ‘purer’ Islam (the Wahabi movement, for instance, emerged out of the Hanbali school). Other influential figures in the school were al-Kiraqi (d. 946), Ibn Qudama (d. 1223).[3], Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328) and al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 1350).

Shia Jurisprudence:

The Shia reject not only the jurists but also all the traditions not handed down by its immediate descendants. The three important schools of law among Shia are Isna Ashari or Jaafari, Ismaili and Zayadi.


  • The Zaydi School is named after Zayd Ibn Ali (d. 740)
  • The Ja’fari School is named after Ja’far al-Sadiq (d. 765)
  • The Ismaili School

The Ja‘fari School:

The Ja‘fari school of thought was headed by Imam Ja‘far ibn Muhammad al-Sadiq who lived from 83H to 148H. He was born in and died in the holy city of Madina, and he is the sixth Imam of the twelve designated imams of the school of Ahlul Bayt. Although the fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) was developed by the Prophet Muhammad and his successors (i.e., the imams), the fiqh, as taught by the Shi‘a, did not have the opportunity to be presented to the masses of people because of the political predicament that the Ahlul Bayt suffered under the rulers for many centuries.

The Ismailis:

In south Asia, They consist of two groups, viz, the Khojas or Eastern Ismailis, representing the followers of the present Aga Khan, who is believed to be 49th Imam in the line of the prophet, and the western Ismailis, who are popularly called Bohoras and may be divided into Daudis and Sulaymanis and various other small groups. The word “Bohra” merely means merchant and does not signify any particular school of Muslim law.

The Sufi Movement:

The Sufi movement is a mystical strain in Islam that reflects the need of individuals to transcend formal religious practices in order to attain higher levels of spiritual fulfillment.

Final Thoughts:

The Qur’an and Sunnah function as sources of law rather than law themselves. Because sources of law require interpretation, All Muslims seek to follow the Qur’an and Sunnah. But the larger question is how does this actually occur? Average Muslims understandably feel overwhelmed by the complexity of Islamic law and prefer an easier and straightforward explanation of Islam.

“Difference of opinion among my community is a sign of the bounty of God.” Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

Verily good deeds do away with evil deeds.

And that is a reminder for those who remember.

Be patient with yourself. And Keep learning!!

I will be calmer, I will spread love as long as I can, I will live a spiritual life, I will do what I please no matter what and I will prove my theories.


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Raja Muhammad Mustansar Javaid


Writer | network engineer | Traveler | Biker | Polyglot. I’m so deep even the ocean gets jealous