A madhhab (Arabic: مذهب maḏhab, [ˈmæðhæb], "way to act"; pl. مذاهب maḏāhib, [mæˈðaːhɪb]) is a school of thought within fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). In the first 150 years of Islam, there were numerous madhahib, most of which have become extinct or merged with other schools. The Amman Message, which was endorsed in 2005 by prominent Islamic scholars around the world, recognized four Sunni schools (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanbali), two Shia schools (Ja'fari, Zaidi), the Ibadi school and the Zahiri school.
It has been asserted that madhahib were consolidated in the 9th and 10th centuries as a means of excluding dogmatic theologians, government officials and non-Sunni sects from religious discourse. Historians have differed regarding the times at which the various schools emerged. One interpretation is that Sunni Islam was initially split into four groups: the Hanafites, Malikites, Shafi'ites and Zahirites. Later, the Hanbalites and Jarirites developed two more schools; then various dynasties effected the eventual exclusion of the Jarirites; eventually, the Zahirites were also excluded when the Mamluk Sultanate established a total of four independent judicial positions, thus solidifying the Maliki, Hanafi, Shafi'i and Hanbali schools. The Ottoman Empire later reaffirmed the official status of these four schools as a reaction to Shi'ite Persia. Some are of the view that Sunni jurisprudence falls into two groups: Ahl al-Ra'i ("people of opinions", emphasizing scholarly judgment and reason) and Ahl al-Hadith ("people of traditions", emphasizing strict interpretation of scripture).
10th century Shi'ite scholar Ibn al-Nadim named eight groups: Maliki, Hanafi, Shafi'i, Zahiri, Imami Shi'ite, Ahl al-Hadith, Jariri and Kharijite. In the 12th century Jariri and Zahiri schools were absorbed by the Shafi'i school. Ibn Khaldun defined only three Sunni madhahib: Hanafi, Zahiri, and one encompassing the Shafi'i, Maliki and Hanbali schools as existing initially, noting that by the 14th century historian the Zahiri school had become extinct, only for it to be revived again in parts of the Muslim world by the mid-20th century.
Historically, the fiqh schools were often in political and academic conflict with one another, vying for favor with the ruling government in order to have their representatives appointed to legislative and especially judiciary positions. Geographer and historian Al-Muqaddasi once satirically categorized competing madhahib with contrasting personal qualities: Hanafites, highly conscious of being hired for official positions, appeared deft, well-informed, devout and prudent; Malikites, dull and obtuse, confined themselves to observance of prophetic tradition; Shafi'ites were shrewd, impatient, understanding and quick-tempered; Zahirites haughty, irritable, loquacious and well-to-do; Shi'ites, entrenched and intractable in old rancor, enjoyed riches and fame; and Hanbalites, anxious to practice what they preached, were charitable and inspiring. While such descriptions were almost assuredly humorous in nature, ancient differences were less to do with actual doctrinal opinions than with maneuvering for adherents and influence.
It is usually assumed that no regional school developed in Egypt (unlike in Syria, Iraq and the Hijaz). Joseph Schacht states that the legal milieu of Fustat (ancient Cairo) was a branch of the Medinan school of law. Regarding judicial practices, the qadis (judges) of Fustat resorted to the procedure called "al-yamin ma'a l-shahid", that is, the ability of the judge to base his verdict on one single witness and the oath of the claimant, instead of two witnesses as was usually required. Such a procedure was quite common under the early Umayyads, but by the early Abbasid period it had disappeared in Iraq and it was now regarded as the 'amal ("good practice") of Medina. Up until the end of the 8th century, the qadis of Fustat were still using this "Medinan" procedure and differentiated themselves from Iraqi practices. From a doctrinal point of view, however, the legal affiliation of Egypt could be more complex. The principal Egyptian jurist in the second half of the 8th century is al-Layth b. Sa'd. The only writing of his that has survived is a letter he wrote to Malik b. Anas, which has been preserved by Yahya b. Ma'in and al-Fasawi. In this letter, he proclaims his theoretical affiliation to the Medinan methodology and recognizes the value of the 'amal. Nevertheless, he distances himself from the Medinan School by opposing a series of Medinan legal views. He maintains that the common practice in other cities is also valuable, and thus implicitly defends the Egyptians’ adherence to their own local tradition. Thus it is possible that, even though it did not develop into a formal school of law, a specific Egyptian legal milieu was distinct of the Medinan School in the 8th century.
Generally, Sunnis have a single preferred madhhab from region to region, but also believe that ijtihad must be exercised by the contemporary scholars capable of doing so. Most rely on taqlid, or acceptance of religious rulings and epistemology from a higher religious authority in deferring meanings of analysis and derivation of legal practices instead of relying on subjective readings.
Experts and scholars of fiqh follow the usul (principles) of their own native madhhab, but they also study the usul, evidences, and opinions of other madhahib.
Sunni schools of jurisprudence are each named after the classical jurist who taught them. The four primary Sunni schools are the Hanafi, Shafi'i, Maliki and Hanbali rites. The Zahiri school remains in existence but outside of the mainstream, while the Jariri, Laythi, Awza'i and Thawri have become extinct.
The extant schools share most of their rulings, but differ on the particular practices which they may accept as authentic and the varying weights they give to analogical reason and pure reason.The Hanafi school was founded by Abu Hanifa an-Nu‘man. It is followed by Muslims in the Levant, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Western Lower Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, the Balkans and by most of Russia's Muslim community. There are movements within this school such as Barelvis and Deobandi, which are concentrated in South Asia.
The Maliki school was founded by Malik ibn Anas. It is followed by Muslims in North Africa, West Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, in parts of Saudi Arabia and in Upper Egypt. The Murabitun World Movement follows this school as well. In the past, it was also followed in parts of Europe under Islamic rule, particularly Islamic Spain and the Emirate of Sicily.
The Shafi'i school was founded by Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi'i. It is followed by Muslims in Saudi Arabia, Eastern Lower Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Jordan, Palestine, the Philippines, Singapore, Somalia, Thailand, Yemen, Kurdistan, and the Mappilas of Kerala and Konkani Muslims of India. It is the official school followed by the governments of Brunei and Malaysia.
The Hanbali school was founded by Ahmad ibn Hanbal. It is followed by Muslims in Qatar, most of Saudi Arabia and minority communities in Syria and Iraq. The majority of the Salafist movement claims to follow this school.
The Zahiri school was founded by Dawud al-Zahiri. It is followed by minority communities in Morocco and Pakistan. In the past, it was also followed by the majority of Muslims in Mesopotamia, Portugal, the Balearic Islands, North Africa and parts of Spain.
Twelvers (see also Imami)
Ja'fari: associated with Ja'far al-Sadiq. The time and space bound rulings of early jurists are taken more seriously in this school, likely due to the more hierarchical structure of Shia Islam which is ruled by the Shi'ite Imams. The Ja'fari school is also more flexible in that every jurist has considerable power to alter a decision according to his reasoning. The Jafari school uses the intellect instead of analogy when establishing Islamic laws, as opposed to common Sunni practice.
Usulism: forms the overwhelming majority within the Twelver Shia denomination. They follow a Marja-i Taqlid on the subject of taqlid and fiqh. They are concentrated in Iran, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, India, Iraq, and Lebanon.
Akhbarism: similar to Usulis, however reject ijtihad in favor of hadith. Concentrated in Bahrain.
Shaykhism: an Islamic religious movement founded by Shaykh Ahmad in the early 19th century Qajar dynasty, Iran, now retaining a minority following in Iran and Iraq. It began from a combination of Sufi and Shia and Akhbari doctrines. In the mid 19th-century many Shaykhis converted to the Bábí and Bahá'í religions, which regard Shaykh Ahmad highly.
The Batiniyyah school consists of Alevis and Nusayris, who developed their own fiqh system and do not pursue the Ja'fari jurisprudence.
Anatolian Qizilbashism and Alevism: in Turkey, Shia Muslim people belong to the Ja'fari jurisprudence Madhhab, which tracks back to the sixth Shia Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (also known as Imam Jafar-i Sadiq), are called as the Ja'faris, who belong to Twelver Shia. Although the Alevi Turks are considered a part of Twelver Shia Islam, their belief is different from the Ja'fari jurisprudence in conviction.
Alawism is followed by Alawites, who are also called Nusayris, Nusairis, Namiriya or Ansariyya. Their madh'hab was established by Ibn Nusayr, and their aqidah is developed by Al-Khaṣībī. They follow Cillī aqidah of "Maymūn ibn Abu’l-Qāsim Sulaiman ibn Ahmad ibn at-Tabarānī fiqh" of the ‘Alawis. Slightly over one million of them live in Syria and Lebanon.
Alevism, sometimes categorized as part of Twelver Shia Islam and sometimes as its own religious tradition, as it has markedly different philosophy, customs, and rituals. They have many Tasawwufī characteristics and express belief in the Qur'an and The Twelve Imams, but reject polygamy and accept religious traditions predating Islam, like Turkish shamanism. They are significant in East-Central Turkey. They are sometimes considered a Sufi sect, and have an untraditional form of religious leadership that is not scholarship oriented like other Sunni and Shia groups. They number around 24 million worldwide, of which 17 million are in Turkey, with the rest in the Balkans, Albania, Azerbaijan, Iran and Syria.
Ismaili Muslims who adhere to the Shi'a Ismaili Fatimid fiqh, follow the Daim al-Islam, a book on the rulings of Islam. It describes manners and etiquette, including Ibadat in the light of guidance provided by the Ismaili Imams. The book emphasizes what importance Islam has given to manners and etiquette along with the worship of God, citing the traditions of the first four Imams of the Shi'a Ismaili Fatimid school of thought.
Tāyyebī Mustā'līyyah: the Mustaali group of Ismaili Muslims differ from the Nizāriyya in that they believe that the successor-Imām to the Fatimid caliph, al-Mustansir, was his younger son al-Mustaʻlī, who was made Caliph by the Fatimad Regent Al-Afdal Shahanshah. In contrast to the Nizaris, they accept the younger brother al-Mustaʻlī over Nizār as their Imam. The Bohras are an offshoot of the Taiyabi, which itself was an offshoot of the Mustaali. The Taiyabi, supporting another offshoot of the Mustaali, the Hafizi branch, split with the Mustaali Fatimid, who recognized Al-Amir as their last Imam. The split was due to the Taiyabi believing that At-Tayyib Abi l-Qasim was the next rightful Imam after Al-Amir. The Hafizi themselves however considered Al-Hafiz as the next rightful Imam after Al-Amir. The Bohras believe that their 21st Imam, Taiyab abi al-Qasim, went into seclusion and established the offices of the Da'i al-Mutlaq (الداعي المطلق), Ma'zoon (مأذون) and Mukasir (مكاسر). The Bohras are the only surviving branch of the Mustaali and themselves have split into the Dawoodi Bohra, Sulaimani Bohra, and Alavi Bohra.
Nizari: the largest branch (95%) of Ismā'īlī, they are the only Shia group to have their absolute temporal leader in the rank of Imamate, which is currently invested in Aga Khan IV. Their present living Imam is Mawlānā Shah Karim Al-Husayni who is the 49th Imam. Nizārī Ismā'īlīs believe that the successor-Imām to the Fatimid caliph Ma'ad al-Mustansir Billah was his elder son al-Nizār. While Nizārī belong to the "Imami jurisprudence" or Ja'fāriyya Madhab (school of Jurisprudence), believed by Shias to be founded by Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq they adhere to sumpremacy of "Kalam", in the interpretation of scripture, and believe in the temporal relativism of understanding, as opposed to fiqh (traditional legalism), which adheres to an absolutism approach to revelation.
Zaidi jurisprudence follows the teachings of Zayd ibn Ali. In terms of law, the Zaidi school is quite similar to the Hanafi school from Sunni Islam. This is likely due to the general trend of Sunni resemblance within Zaidi beliefs. After the passing of Muhammad, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq, Imam Zayd ibn Ali, Imams Abu Hanifa and Imam Malik ibn Anas worked together in Al-Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina along with over 70 other leading jurists and scholars. Jafar al-Sadiq and Zayd ibn Ali did not themselves write any books. But their views are Hadiths in the books written by Imams Abu Hanifa and Imam Malik ibn Anas. Therefore, the Zaydis to this day and originally the Fatimids, used the Hanafi jurisprudence, as do most Sunnis.
The Ibadi school of Islam is named after Abd-Allah ibn Ibadh, though he is not necessarily the main figure of the school in the eyes of its adherents. Ibadism is distinct from both Sunni and Shi'ite Islam not only in terms of its jurisprudence, but also its core beliefs.
The Ahmadi school of Islam is named after Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.
In the modern era, Sadiq al-Mahdi, the former Prime Minister of Sudan, defined the recognized schools of Muslim jurisprudence as eight specific schools. The Amman Message, a three-point ruling issued by 200 Islamic scholars from over 50 countries, officially recognizes those eight legal schools of thought.
- Hanafi (Sunni)
- Maliki (Sunni)
- Shafi'i (Sunni)
- Hanbali (Sunni)
- Ja`fari (inc. Mustaali-Taiyabi Ismaili) (Shia)
- Zaidiyyah (Shia)
The Amman Message has been criticized by Sunni Barelvi groups. CIFIA, a Sunni Barelvi group based in Hyderabad regards the message as contrary to the teachings of Islam.
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