Category Archives: Schools of Thought

the four schools of the ahl la sunna

Does Islam regard non-Muslims with mercy and compassion?

What is the Islamic view of humanity? Does it encourage us to love and respect others as human beings, regardless of their religion or race?

Praise be to Allah.

The Islamic view of humanity is filled with mercy and compassion, and it cannot be otherwise, because the Islamic religion is the last of the religions that were prescribed by Allah, may He be exalted, and He commanded all of mankind to enter this religion. He revealed this religion and sent it down to the most compassionate of mankind, Muhammad (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him). This is confirmed in the Book of Allah, where He says (interpretation of the meaning):

“And We have sent you (O Muhammad SAW) not but as a mercy for the ‘Alameen (mankind, jinns and all that exists)”

[al-Anbiya’ 4:107].

With regard to that, there are commands in the Qur’aan and Sunnah to the Muslims, instructing them to call people to affirm the Oneness of Allah (Tawheed), and to offer their wealth, time and selves for that purpose. This is only out of compassion and mercy towards all people, so as to save them from worshipping people and calling them to worship the Lord of all people; to save them from the constraints of this world and bring them to the abundance of this world and the Hereafter, even if they (parents) were to try hard to keep their children away from Islam and tell them to associate others with Allah and to disbelieve. Concerning that Allah, may He be exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning):

“And We have enjoined on man (to be dutiful and good) to his parents. His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and his weaning is in two years give thanks to Me and to your parents, unto Me is the final destination.

But if they (both) strive with you to make you join in worship with Me others that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not, but behave with them in the world kindly, and follow the path of him who turns to Me in repentance and in obedience. Then to Me will be your return, and I shall tell you what you used to do”

[Luqmaan 31:14-15].

Islam advises us to treat neighbours kindly, even if they are not Muslim.

Al-Qurtubi (may Allah have mercy on him) said:

I say: based on that, kind treatment of neighbours is enjoined and is recommended, whether they are Muslim or not. And this is the right thing to do. Kind treatment may be in the sense of helping or it may be in the sense of being kind, refraining from annoyance and standing by them. Al-Bukhaari narrated from ‘Aa’ishah that the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Jibreel kept urging me to treat neighbours kindly until I thought that he would make them heirs.” And it was narrated from Abu Shurayh that the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “By Allah, he does not believe; by Allah, he does not believe; by Allah, he does not believe.” It was said: O Messenger of Allah, who is that? He said: “The one whose neighbour is not safe from his annoyance.” This is general in meaning and applies to all neighbours, and the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) affirmed that the neighbour should not be annoyed by swearing three times and stating that the one who annoys his neighbour is not a believer in the complete sense. So the believer should avoid annoying his neighbour and refrain from doing what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden; he should strive to do that which pleases Him and encourage others to do likewise.

Concerning that Allah, may He be exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning):

“Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you on account of religion and did not drive you out of your homes. Verily, Allah loves those who deal with equity”

[al-Mumtahanah 60:8].

In other words, Allah does not forbid you to be kind, uphold ties, return favours and be fair towards the mushrikeen (polytheists),whether they are relatives and others, so long as they are not fighting you because of your religion or seeking to drive you out of your homes. So there is nothing wrong with you upholding ties with them, because upholding ties with them in this case does not involve anything that may lead to negative consequences. It was narrated from ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Whoever kills a mu‘aahid (a non-Muslim living under Muslim rule) will not smell the fragrance of Paradise, although its fragrance may be detected from a distance of forty years.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 2995

What is meant is one who has a deal with the Muslims, whether that is by paying jizyah or a peace treaty with the Muslim ruler or a guarantee of safety from a Muslim.

There is a hadeeth that speaks of that. The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “If anyone wrongs a mu‘aahid, detracts from his rights, burdens him with more work than he is able to do or takes something from him without his consent, I will plead for him (the mu‘aahid) on the Day of Resurrection.” Narrated by Abu Dawood, 3052; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood.

If any of the non-Muslims comes to our country for work or business, and has permission (from the authorities), he is either a mu‘aahid (one who has a treaty with the Muslims) or a musta’min (one who has been granted security by the Muslims). So it is not permissible to transgress against him. It is proven that the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Whoever kills a mu‘aahid will not smell the fragrance of Paradise.” We are Muslims who submit to the command of Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, and we respect those whom Islam instructs us to respect of those who have treaties and guarantees of security. Whoever transgresses against them has misrepresented Islam and has given Islam an image of terrorism, treachery and betrayal. The one who adheres to the rulings of Islam and respects treaties and covenants is one for whom it is hoped that he will do well and succeed.

Concerning that Allah, may He be exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning):

“and let not the hatred of some people in (once) stopping you from Al-Masjid al-Haram (at Makkah) lead you to transgression (and hostility on your part)”

[al-Maa’idah 5:2]

“and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety”

[al-Maa’idah 5:8].

Look at what these verses contain of noble characteristics and the command to respond to the one who disobeys Allah concerning you by obeying Allah concerning him.

However, in addition to what has been stated above, it is essential to confirm some important points:

There is no comparison whatsoever between what this world has seen the “non-Muslims” do and what the Muslims have done. The two World Wars in which 70 million people were killed were “Christian” wars.

Then there is the occupation of Muslim lands and the exploitation of their resources, which was and still is happening at the hands of “non-Muslims” of all religions. This should be borne in mind when speaking of the Islamic view of humanity and of love and compassion. Fair-minded historians should compare the Islamic conquests of other lands with the Crusades, for example, and what happened in each case. They will see a clear difference between compassion and cruelty, love and hatred, life and death.

What was mentioned above about Islam and how it regards non-Muslims, and what was mentioned about rulings is the highest level of love, compassion and mercy. However, that does not mean that we should neglect some rulings that some ignorant people want us to neglect.

For example:


In Islam it is forbidden to love non-Muslims and take them as close friends. Anyone who has common sense can distinguish between kindness, fairness, compassion and mercy, on the one hand, which we have been enjoined to show towards a non-Muslim who is not in a state of war with us, and love on the other hand, which we are not allowed to feel towards disbelievers because of their disbelief in Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, and because of their not being Muslims.


It is not permissible for us to give our daughters, sisters and other womenfolk in marriage to any non-Muslim, no matter what his religion is, whereas it is permissible for us (Muslim men) to marry only women from the People of the Book, Jews and Christians, who are chaste. Undoubtedly ‘aqeedah (belief) and Tawheed (affirming the Oneness of Allah) play a major role in this ruling, because it is very likely and possible that a kitaabi (Jewish or Christian) woman who is married to a Muslim may become Muslim, whereas it is very possible and likely that a Muslim woman may be tempted away from her religion by marrying a non-Muslim. This ruling is entirely in accordance with the compassion and mercy of the rulings of this great religion: it represents compassion towards the Jewish or Christian woman in the hope that she might become Muslim and towards the Muslim woman lest she leave her religion.


It is not part of Islam to force the non-Muslim to enter this religion, because sincerity is one of the conditions of accepting Islam. And Allah, may He be exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning):

“There is no compulsion in religion”

[al-Baqarah 2:256].


Islam prescribes stoning for the married adulterer, cutting off the hand for the thief, and flogging for the one who slanders the honour of a woman who is chaste. We do not feel ashamed of these laws; rather we firmly believe that the whole world is in need of application of these laws. If they do that, they will live in an atmosphere of safety with regard to their honour, their wealth and their lives, safe from transgressions against them. Any wise person who ponders these rulings will realise that they were prescribed, first of all, so that no one will dare to do these things. Anyone who looks at the state of other nations, and sees how widespread the crimes of rape, theft and murder are, will realise that there is an urgent need to put a stop to that, and that the rulings of Islam are based on wisdom, mercy, justice and care.

And Allah knows best.

Introduction of the Saved Sect and its Faith

After Hamd and Salat, is being announced that this treatise will describe the beliefs of the
genuine followers of the Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah, that is, the saved and the successful sect
(Al-Firqatun-Naajiyah Al-Mansoorah) to the Day of Judgement.
The belief is this: To have faith in Allah, His angels, His Scriptures, His Messengers, and in
being resurrected after death, and in having a good or bad destiny.
The word Amma ba’d is used to indicate the beginning of the main theme. The Prophet (peace be upon
him) would often use this word in the beginning of his Khutbah (sermons) and writings.
The word ‘Aqeedah means accepting anything with the heart and conscience and obeying Allah in
doing it. The word conveys the resoluteness of the intention and maturity of thought.
Firqah is used to denote a group of people. The author has qualified it with salvation and assistance
owing to the fact that one of the Ahadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) says:
“One group from my Ummah will always hold fast to truth and it will always have the assistance of
Allah. No one who dissociated from it will be able to do harm to it up to the Day of Judgement.” (AlBukhari, 13/293)
In another Hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) says:
“This Ummah will get divided into 73 Firqah, and except one Firqah all the others will be destined to
Hell. That one Firqah will be such as will follow my way and the way of my Companions.” (AtTirmidhi, 7/397)
In the phrase of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama ‘ah, Sunnah means the way and practice followed by the
Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Sahaba. The heretical innovation and different creeds had not
come into being till then. The word Jama ‘ah stands for the people who assemble. Here it means those
Sahaba and the Tabi’een (the generation immediately following the Sahaba) who unanimously
accepted the truth proved from the Qur’an and the Hadith and gathered together.
The Six Pillars of Faith
The six things on which, the author says, it is compulsory to have faith are regarded as the pillars of
the Faith. Unless one has faith in these six things in accordance with the Quran and the Sunnah, his
Faith will not acquire perfection. If someone denies even one of these six things or does not believe in
it in accordance with the Qur’an and the Sunnah, he is a Kafir. All these things have been described in
the Hadith known as the Hadith of Jibrael. It is mentioned that Jibrael came to the Prophet (peace be
upon him) in the guise of a Bedouin and put questions to him about Islam, Iman and Ihsan. He said in
reply to that:
“Iman means having faith in Allah, angels, heavenly Scriptures, Messengers of Allah, life after death,
and good and bad destiny.” (Muslim 1/259)
Al-Malaika is plural of Malak. This word is derived from AI-Ulooka, which means Messengership.
By Malaika is meant the creatures of Allah whom He has made to inhabit the heavens and has
assigned them the affairs of His creatures. He has mentioned them in His Book explaining that they do
not disobey Allah and follow whatever they are commanded to do. They continue narrating the glorification of Allah untiringly day and night. It is enjoined upon us to have faith in all the Attributes
and actions of the angels described in the Quran and the Hadith, and keep quiet about such as have not
been mentioned, for these constitute the affairs of the Unseen which are known to us only to the extent
Allah and His Messenger have told us.
Al-Kutub means those Scriptures which Allah has sent down from the heaven upon His Messengers.
From amongst these, we have the knowledge of the Books of Abraham, Torah of Moses, Evangels of
Jesus, Psalms of David and the Quran The Quran descended as the last Scripture and it stands as the
protector and the testifies for all the earlier Scriptures. In addition to these books, it is also necessary
to have a general faith in the Scriptures of the other Messengers of Allah.
The word Ar-Rusul means those people who receive revelations from Allah. These revelations
contain commandments of the Shari’ah and the Messengers are commanded to preach them. It is
necessary for us to have specific faith in the 25 Rasool mentioned by Allah in the Quran. A poet has
collected the names in a verse:
“Eighteen have been mentioned in the Quranic verse of “Tilka Hujjatuna; the remaining seven are
Idris, Hud, Shu’aib, Saleh, Dhul-Kifl, Adam, and Muhammad (peace be upon him)”.
In addition to these Rasool and Nabi, we must have a general faith in other Prophets also, that, we do
not have to wrangle about the faith in their Prophethood and Messengership, their names and their
numbers, for Allah Alone has this knowledge. He has said:
“And Messengers We have mentioned to you before, and Messengers We have not mentioned to
you.” (Surah An-Nisa’, 4: 164)
It is necessary to have this Faith in connection with these Messengers that they did convey the
message to mankind which Allah had commanded them to do, and explained them in a manner that
none remains in any doubt. And that they are free from flaws of character like falsehood, betrayals,
hiding knowledge and ignorance. The most superior among these are: Muhammad, Abraham, Moses,
Jesus, and Noah. They have been mentioned in the following verse:
“And (remember) when We took from the Prophets their covenant, and from you (O Muhammad
(peace be upon him) and from Nuh, Ibrahim, Mosa and ‘Iesa-son of Maryam.”
(Sarah Al-Ahzab, 33:7).
And the second verse is:
“He (Allah) has ordained for you the same religion (Islam) which He ordained for Nuh, and that which
We have inspired in you (O Muhammad (peace be upon him), and that which We ordained for
Ibrahim, Mosa ‘Iesa saying you should establish religion (i.e. to do what it orders you to do
practically), and make no divisions in it (religion) (i.e. various sects in religion).” (Surah Ash-Shura,
The meaning of the word Ba’th is to raise and to give motion. In the terminology of Shari’ah it means
to raise the dead from their graves alive on the Day of Judgement so that they are judged. Allah will
see him who has done an iota of good and him who has done an iota of bad. We must have faith in
Ba’th in the same sense in which Allah has mentioned in the Quran, that is, Allah will collect all the organs that are dissolved and revive them again and bring back life in them. The philosophers and the
Christians who deny the bodily Ba ‘th are Kafir, and those who believe in Ba ‘th but hold that Allah
will inspire soul into a body different from the body of this world are heretical innovators and corrupt.
Al-Qadar means making an appraisal. In the terminology of Shari ‘ah it means that Allah has the
knowledge of the quantity and temporality of everything from the beginning of the creation. He
created them by His Power and Will and according to His Knowledge, and He recorded them in the
Safe Tablet (Al-Lauh Al-Mahfuz – the Book of Decrees) before creating them. A Hadith says:
“He first created the pen and commanded it to write. The pen asked, ‘What should I write?’ Allah said,
‘Write out all that is destined to happen'”
Allah says in the Quran:
“No calamity befalls on the earth or in yourselves but is inscribed in the Book of Decrees –(Al-Lauh
Al-Mahfuz), before We bring it into existence.” (Surah Al-Hadid, 57:22).

The Difference Between Sunnis and Shiites


The majority of the world’s billion-odd Muslims are Sunnis. Approximately 10 to 15 percent of all Muslims follow the Shiite branch (pronounced Shi‘ite, Shi‘a or Shia). Beyond that, it gets slightly complicated: Who lives where, and why the differences and conflicts between them? The answer is less daunting than it seems.

Sunnis form the overwhelming majority in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Shiites form the majority only in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan, but they constitute sizable minorities in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen.

At heart, Sunnis and Shiites are like Catholics and Protestants in the commonality of some fundamental beliefs. But their differences, especially in nations where the Sunni-Shiite split is exacerbated by each other’s proximity (as in Iraq and Lebanon), run so deep that intolerance and violence shadow the two groups, making coexistence difficult.

Islam’s Origins

In 610 A.D., Muhammad ibn Abdallah was a successful 40-year-old Arab businessman and tradesman. Every year he retired to a cave near Mecca, in present-day Saudi Arabia, to pray and fast. Beginning that year on his cave retreats, he had overpowering revelation of the word of God, what would later come to be known as the Quran (which means recitation). By 610, Muhammad was preaching the Quran and directing his earliest followers to build a community, or ummah, where the practical and the compassionate (rather than the theological) was to predominate.

The year 622 marks the founding of Islam as a religion: It was the year of the hijrah, or migration, by Muhammad and his followers. They founded the first truly Islamic ummah inMedina.

By the time of Muhammad’s death in 632, Islam had conquered the Arabian peninsula roughly up to what today would be Saudi Arabia’s borders with Jordan and Iraq. Within a century, Islam would spread to western India, the Caucasus, Turkey, North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. Its furthest advance was to the heart of present-day France, where the armies of Charles Martel stopped the conquerors in 732 in the Battles of Tours and Poitiers.

The Prophet Muhammad’s Succession

At Muhammad’s death in 632, Abu Bakr, a close companion of the Prophet, became his successor, or caliph. Most Muslims agreed that the most able and pious of the Prophet’s followers should be his caliphs. Their followers would come to be known as the orthodox branch of Islam, or Sunnis.

A few Muslims disagreed, arguing for a line of succession based on bloodlines. To those dissenters, the succession should have immediately gone to Ali, the fourth caliph — who took the helm after some of his followers assassinated Caliph Uthman, his predecessor. Followers of Ali would eventually form Shiite Islam.

What Sunnis and Shiites Believe

The Quran, the Prophet’s hadith, or sayings, and the sunna, or customs, are central to the belief system of both Sunnis and Shiites. So are the five pillars of Islam: The recitation of the creed (“There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his Prophet”); the salat, or the recitation of prayers five times a day; zakat, or the obligatory giving of alms to the poor according to one’s means; fasting from sunup to sunset during the month of Ramadan; and the hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca at least once in a Muslim’s lifetime, means permitting.

Sunnis and Shiites also believe in Islamic law. But its application varies.

Where Sunnis and Shiites Differ

Sunnis accept that the first four Caliphs, including Ali, were the rightful followers of Muhammad. However–rather like Protestantism in Christianity–they don’t grant the kind of divinely inspired status to their clerics that Shiites do with their imams. Shiites believe imams are descendants of the Prophet.

Islam has no codified laws per se. It has various schools of law. While Sunni doctrine is more rigidly aligned in accordance with those various schools, its hierarchical structure is looser and often falls under state, rather than clerical, control. The opposite is true in Shiitism: The doctrine is somewhat more open to interpretation but the clerical hierarchy is more defined and, as in Iran, the ultimate authority is the imam, not the state.

Both Sunnis and Shiites break down into various sects that range from puritanical (as with Sunni Wahhabism, prevalent in Saudi Arabia) to somewhat mysterious (as with the Druze of Lebanon, Syria and Israel, who form an offshoot of Shiitism).

Why Can’t They Get Along?

That’s a loaded, condescending question best answered by raising a mirror to the more familiar: Why couldn’t Catholics and Protestants get along for hundreds of years (and in straggling cases still aren’t getting along?). The answer must take account of doctrinal and historical differences, however irrational those differences might seem to the objective, uninvolved eye.

The answer must also take account of the inexplicable: Religious differences are, ultimately, as impossible to settle as metaphysical questions. Peaceful societies depend on what mechanisms or institutions they have developed for channeling those differences into non-violent conflict. The Muslim scholar Reza Aslan, in “No God But God,” argues that those very mechanisms are lacking in some Islamic societies such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Sunni-Shiite divide is pronounced. But the battle going on within Islam today is defined, in part, by the struggle for those institutions.

The Sunni-Shiite Divide

Country Sunnis Shiites & Offshoots
Afghanistan 84% 15%
Bahrain 30% 70%
Egypt 90% 1%
Iran 10% 89%
Iraq 32-37% 60-65%
Kuwait 60% 25%
Lebanon 23% 38%
Pakistan 77% 20%
Saudi Arabia 90% 10%
Syria 74% 16% (Alawites)
Turkey 83-93% 7-17%
United Arab Emirates 81% 15%
Yemen 70% 30%
Source: Congressional Research Service

What’s the Difference Between Shia and Sunni Muslims?

Answer: Both Sunni and Shia Muslims share the most fundamental Islamic beliefs and articles of faith. The differences between these two main sub-groups within Islam initially stemmed not from spiritual differences, but political ones. Over the centuries, however, these political differences have spawned a number of varying practices and positions which have come to carry a spiritual significance.

Origins – A Question of Leadership

The division between Shia and Sunni dates back to the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and the question of who was to take over the leadership of the Muslim nation. Sunni Muslims agree with the position taken by many of the Prophet’s companions, that the new leader should be elected from among those capable of the job. This is what was done, and the Prophet Muhammad’s close friend and advisor, Abu Bakr, became the first Caliph of the Islamic nation. The word “Sunni” in Arabic comes from a word meaning “one who follows the traditions of the Prophet.”

On the other hand, some Muslims share the belief that leadership should have stayed within the Prophet’s own family, among those specifically appointed by him, or among Imams appointed by God Himself.

The Shia Muslims believe that following the Prophet Muhammad’s death, leadership should have passed directly to his cousin/son-in-law, Ali bin Abu Talib. Throughout history, Shia Muslims have not recognized the authority of elected Muslim leaders, choosing instead to follow a line of Imams which they believe have been appointed by the Prophet Muhammad or God Himself. The word “Shia” in Arabic means a group or supportive party of people. The commonly-known term is shortened from the historical “Shia-t-Ali,” or “the Party of Ali.” They are also known as followers of “Ahl-al-Bayt” or “People of the Household” (of the Prophet).


Sunni Muslims make up the majority (85%) of Muslims all over the world. Significant populations of Shia Muslims can be found in Iran and Iraq, and large minority communities in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and Lebanon.

Differences in Religious Practice

From this initial question of political leadership, some aspects of spiritual life have been affected and now differ between the two groups of Muslims.

It is important to remember that despite these differences in opinion and practice, Shia and Sunni Muslims share the main articles of Islamic belief and are considered by most to be brethren in faith. In fact, most Muslims do not distinguish themselves by claiming membership in any particular group, but prefer to call themselves simply, “Muslims.”

Religious Leadership

Shia Muslims believe that the Imam is sinless by nature, and that his authority is infallible as it comes directly from God. Therefore, Shia Muslims often venerate the Imams as saints and perform pilgrimages to their tombs and shrines in the hopes of divine intercession.

Sunni Muslims counter that there is no basis in Islam for a hereditary privileged class of spiritual leaders, and certainly no basis for the veneration or intercession of saints. Sunni Muslims contend that leadership of the community is not a birthright, but a trust that is earned and which may be given or taken away by the people themselves.

Religious Texts and Practices

Shia Muslims also feel animosity towards some of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, based on their positions and actions during the early years of discord about leadership in the community. Many of these companions (Abu BakrUmar ibn Al Khattab, Aisha, etc.) have narrated traditions about the Prophet’s life and spiritual practice. Shia Muslims reject these traditions (hadith) and do not base any of their religious practices on the testimony of these individuals. This naturally gives rise to some differences in religious practice between the two groups. These differences touch all detailed aspects of religious life: prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, etc.

Interrupting the prayer to join a group prayer

  • If someone completed his obligatory prayer alone, then he may join the group prayer afterwards as an optional prayer, but not after Fajr, Asr or Maghrib.
  • If he has not made the first prostration of the second subset of Fajr; he interrupts Fajr and joins the group.
  • If he had prostrated once in the 3rd subset of Thuhr, 2nd subset of Maghrib or Fajr then he completes the prayer.
  • If he was praying the sunnah mu’akkadah (ascertained merit) before Thuhr or the Friday Group Prayer, and then the group prayer or the speech started, then he interrupts after competing the first pair of subsets.

Schools of thought.

What is a madhab?

The Encyclopaedia of Islam translates it as a “way of thinking, persuasion”.

I would say it is “a method”, a method of interpretation of religious material in the three major areas: belief, religious practice and law.

Most Muslims would know about the four sunni madhabs:

Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali.


Their geographical distribution is as follows:

Hanafi Both Moghul and Ottoman empires were Hanafi, that means their former subjects would normally be Hanafi: Turkey, Central Asia, the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh.

Maliki school is followed in Algeria, Tunis, Morocco, Mauritania, Libya, Kuwait, Bahrain, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

There are Shafi’is in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somali and North Yemen, but the main concentration of the Shafi madhab is in South East Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Muslim minorities of mainland SEA and the Philippines are exclusively Shafi. (Comment by Ibrahim J.D. Underwood,

Hanbalis are concentrated in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, North East of Oman and the rest of the Arab Emirates.

Syria, Jordan, and Palestine have Hanafi laws since the Ottoman sultan Selin the Grim (1512-1520) imposed Hanafi judicial system on all its subjects, but because he did not insist on any changes in the matters of worship, they mostly retain Shafi’i rites.

Egypt is unique in traditionally representing, maintaining and accomodating all the four schools. Each Mamluk Madrassa in Egypt has four sections to accomodate students of each school. Until Muhammad Ali, there were four courts as well, but he had limited it to Hanafi legislation.

The schools originated in different places and it had some impact on their decisions and methods.

In the early Islamic times the governors would appoint qadis to judge the subjects of their newly acquired territories. They tried to base their decisions on the Qur’an and act according to what they knew to be the Muslim practice (sunna), but when none of these sources were available, they had to judge themselves, whatever seemed right to them personally. This usually included considerations of what was customary in the area. Judgement based on own opinion (ra’y) became common practice of the early jurists, and a system of logic to support the decisions was being formed.

The Hanafi school was formed in Kufa, and it preserves many of the older Mesopotamian traditions. It based its rulings largely on ra’y – results of logic deduction of its scholars.

The Maliki school comes from Medina, and it reflects its origin in its decisions too. This school ruled heavily in favour of the practice (sunna) of the local community of Medina, because at the time it was formed, the word sunna did not yet mean “practice of the Prophet”.

These two schools, especially the Hanafi, were countered by the movement of the Traditionists (ahl al-hadith), who opposed themselves to the exponents of ra’y (ahl/ashab al-ra’y). The traditionists relied only on the Hadith they were collecting at that time.

The most extreme exponent of that movement became Dawud b.Khalaf az-Zahiri (d.270/884), who founded a school which believed in following only the literal meanings (zahir) of the Quran and Hadith. This school, also called Dawudi in Iraq, has even became a state school of the Almohads for some time in 580/1184, and the famous Ibn al-Arabi and Ibn Hazm belonged to it. Elements of Zahiri legislation remain in Moroccan laws.

Imam Ash-Shafi’i (d. 204/820 in Egypt) was the first one to systematise Islamic Law. Originally, he studied both in Iraq and in Medina, but disagreed with the methodology of those older schools, in favour of the Traditionists, but did not fully accept their ideas either.

In his tractate, the “Risala”, balancing the two trends, he laid down the sources of Law, Usul al-Fikh,.

He fixed them (in order of priority) to be:


Sunna of the Prophet, based on: Hadith from the Prophet Hadith from the Companions of the Prophet

Ijma (consensus of the Umma – Muslim community)

Ra’y – reasoning. Primarily kiyas (resoning by analogy), but also istihsan.

His system had become the basis of Islamic jurisprudence, and it was subsequently used by all the schools.

Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d. 241/855), founder of the latest of the four madhabs had followed Shafi’i method with ever greater emphasis on the ahadith, avoiding reasoning as far as possible, but not completely denying it. The infamous Wahhabis too belong to the Hanbali madhab.

Thus, the difference between the schools is primarily in the various weight given to those four components, and in some original decisions remaining from the very beginnings of these schools, and belonging to its first masters.

Only four of them have survived after 700/1300.

“Notwithstanding their divergent doctrinal roots, the orthodox schools of law share a common legal theory which asserted itself in the 3d/9th century, and which accepted Shafi’is (and the Traidtionists’) principle of the overriding authority of the traditions from the Prophet as the only evidence of sunna but subordinated its practical application to the consensus of the scholars.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, article “Fikh”

Since the 4th/10th century the main law-making activity have ceased, and activity of the jurists remained limited to interpretation and explanation of the existing doctrines, brining it up to date with life as the conditions changed. The method of analogy (taqlid) with existing decisions was normally used. An example of analogy: To fix the minim amount of mahr (dower) Hanafi and Maliki schools used the minimum amount necessary for the amputation in the respective schools, because of the analogy between a woman loosing her virginity and loss of a limb.

Because the legal framework was limited to existing systems, it became obligatory to join one of the schools.

At present, there has grown a strong movement (which has, probably, affected many of us) against following the schools. The anti-madhabists’ agenda is return to following of the sahaba, relying mainly of the evidence of the ahadith, which every individual can read for himself. It appears to resemble another outbreak of the Traditionists, even if merely in some features.

One of the anti-Madhabists’ arguments against the madhabs is that they were formed before the most authentic hadith collections, like Bukhari and Muslim were gathered, and that the traditions used by Abu Hanifa and Malik as a basis are not always satisfactorily authentic. However, a madhab is essentially about a method. The scholars of the madhabs living after its founder sometimes significantly altered his rulings. They have adjusted its rulings as new information became available. One example of change from the founder’s opinion that I know of is the age of puberty in the Hanafi madhab. In all madhabs adulthood is attained between the ages of 9 and 15 for girls, and 12 to 15 for boys. Abu Hanifa’s personal opinion that the upper limit is 17 for girls and 18 for boys is not taken into account.