Madhhab (Arabic: مذهب maḏhab, IPA: [ˈmæðhæb], "doctrine"; pl. مذاهب maḏāhib, [mæˈðæːhɪb]; Turkish: mezhep; Urdu: مذہب mezheb) is the generic term for a school of thought within fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). In the first 150 years of Islam, there were numerous madhhahib; several of the Sahābah ("companions" of Muhammad) are credited with founding their own. Over centuries they have variously grown, spread, split, and been absorbed; some have become obsolete. As of the Amman message, eight are officially acknowledged by the leaders of the international Muslim community.
It has been asserted that madhhab 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[when?] 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).
Ibn Khaldun defined only three Sunni madhhahib: Hanafi, Zahiri, and one encompassing the Shafi'i, Maliki and Hanbali schools. Shi'ite historian Ibn al-Nadim named eight groups: Maliki, Hanafi, Shafi'i, Zahiri, Imami Shi'ite, Ahl al-Hadith, Jariri and Kharijite.
Historically, the fiqh schools were often in violent 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 madhhahib 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.
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 madhhahib.
In the modern era, former Prime Minister of Sudan Sadiq al-Mahdi 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 (Shia) (including Ismaili)
- Zaidi (Shia)
- Ibadi (Khawarij)
- Zahiri (Sunni)
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