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A madhhab (Arabic: مَذْهَب, romanizedmadhhab, lit.'way to act', IPA: [ˈmaðhab], pl. مَذَاهِب, madhāhib, [ˈmaðaːhib]) refers to any school of thought within Islamic jurisprudence. The major Sunni madhhab are Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali.[1] They emerged in the ninth and tenth centuries CE and by the twelfth century almost all jurists aligned themselves with a particular madhab.[2] These four schools recognize each other's validity and they have interacted in legal debate over the centuries.[2][1] Rulings of these schools are followed across the Muslim world without exclusive regional restrictions, but they each came to dominate in different parts of the world.[2][1] For example, the Maliki school is predominant in North and West Africa; the Hanafi school in South and Central Asia; the Shafi'i school in East Africa and Southeast Asia; and the Hanbali school in North and Central Arabia.[2][1][3] The first centuries of Islam also witnessed a number of short-lived Sunni madhhabs.[4] The Zahiri school, which is considered to be endangered, continues to exert influence over legal thought.[4][1][2] The development of Shia legal schools occurred along the lines of theological differences and resulted in the formation of the Ja'fari madhhab amongst Twelver Shias, as well as the Isma'ili and Zaidi madhhabs amongst Isma'ilis and Zaidis respectively, whose differences from Sunni legal schools are roughly of the same order as the differences among Sunni schools.[4][3] The Ibadi legal school, distinct from Sunni and Shia madhhabs, is predominant in Oman.[1] Unlike Sunnis, Shias, and Ibadis, non-denominational Muslims are not affiliated with any madhhab.[5][6][7]

The transformations of Islamic legal institutions in the modern era have had profound implications for the madhhab system. With the spread of codified state laws in the Muslim world, the influence of the madhhabs beyond personal ritual practice depends on the status accorded to them within the national legal system. State law codification commonly drew on rulings from multiple madhhabs, and legal professionals trained in modern law schools have largely replaced traditional ulama as interpreters of the resulting laws.[2] In the 20th century, some Islamic jurists began to assert their intellectual independence from traditional madhhabs.[8] With the spread of Salafi influence and reformist currents in the 20th century; a handful of Salafi scholars have asserted independence from being strictly bound by the traditional legal mechanisms of the four schools. Nevertheless, the majority of Sunni scholarship continues to uphold post-classical creedal belief in rigorously adhering (Taqlid) to one of the four schools in all legal details.[9]

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.[10] The Muslim schools of jurisprudence are located in Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Egypt, Turkey, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, China, the Philippines, Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia and multiple other countries.

"Ancient" schools[edit]

According to John Burton, "modern research shows" that fiqh was first "regionally organized" with "considerable disagreement and variety of view". In the second century of Islam, schools of fiqh were noted for the loyalty of their jurists to the legal practices of their local communities, whether Mecca, Kufa, Basra, Syria, etc.[11] (Egypt's school in Fustat was a branch of Medina's school of law and followed such practices—up until the end of the 8th century—as basing verdict on one single witness (not two) and the oath of the claimant. Its principal jurist in the second half of the 8th century was al-Layth b. Sa'd.)[Note 1] Al-Shafiʽi wrote that, "every capital of the Muslims is a seat of learning whose people follow the opinion of one of their countrymen in most of his teachings".[15][16] The "real basis" of legal doctrine in these "ancient schools" was not a body of reports of Muhammad's sayings, doings, silent approval (the ahadith) or even those of his Companions, but the "living tradition" of the school as "expressed in the consensus of the scholars", according to Joseph Schacht.[17]

Al-Shafi‘i and after[edit]

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.[18] 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.[19] Later, the Hanbalites and Jarirites developed two more schools; then various dynasties effected the eventual exclusion of the Jarirites;[20] 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.[18] During the era of the Islamic Gunpowders, the Ottoman Empire reaffirmed the official status of these four schools as a reaction to Shi'ite Persia.[21] 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).[22]

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.[20][23] Abu Thawr also had a school named after him. In the 12th century Jariri and Zahiri schools were absorbed by the Shafi'i and Hanbali schools respectively.[24] Ibn Khaldun defined only three Sunni madhahib: Hanafi, Zahiri, and one encompassing the Shafi'i, Maliki and Hanbali schools as existing initially,[25][26] noting that by the 14th-century historian the Zahiri school had become extinct,[27][28] only for it to be revived again in parts of the Muslim world by the mid-20th century.[29][30][31]

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.[21]

Modern era[edit]

The transformations of Islamic legal institutions in the modern era have had profound implications for the madhhab system. Legal practice in most of the Muslim world has come to be controlled by government policy and state law, so that the influence of the madhhabs beyond personal ritual practice depends on the status accorded to them within the national legal system. State law codification commonly utilized the methods of takhayyur (selection of rulings without restriction to a particular madhhab) and talfiq (combining parts of different rulings on the same question). Legal professionals trained in modern law schools have largely replaced traditional ulema as interpreters of the resulting laws. Global Islamic movements have at times drawn on different madhhabs and at other times placed greater focus on the scriptural sources rather than classical jurisprudence. The Hanbali school, with its particularly strict adherence to the Quran and hadith, has inspired conservative currents of direct scriptural interpretation by the Salafi and Wahhabi movements.[2] In the 20th century many Islamic jurists began to assert their intellectual independence from traditional schools of jurisprudence.[8] Examples of the latter approach include networks of Indonesian ulema and Islamic scholars residing in Muslim-minority countries, who have advanced liberal interpretations of Islamic law.[2]


Some regions have a dominant or official madhhab; others recognize a variety.[32]

Generally, Sunnis will follow one particular madhhab which varies 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.[33][34]

Experts and scholars of fiqh follow the usul (principles) of their own madhhab, but they also study the usul, evidences, and opinions of other madhahib.

Sunni Madhabs


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 schools 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.

Orthodox Sunni schools[edit]

The 4 major and 1 minor schools of thought are accepted by most scholars in most parts of the world. The Zahiri is not always accepted.


The Hanafi school was founded by Abu Hanifa an-Nu‘man. It is followed by Muslims in the Levant, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, most of India, Bangladesh, Northern Egypt, Iraq and Turkey and the Balkans and by most of the Muslim communities of Russia and China. There are movements within this school such as Barelvis and Deobandi, which are concentrated in South Asia.


The Maliki school is based on the jurisprudence of Imam Malik ibn Anas. It has also been called "School of Medina" because the school was based in Medina and the Medinian community.

It is followed by Muslims in Nigeria, Algeria, North Africa, West Africa, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Upper Egypt, and in parts of Saudi Arabia.

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 is based upon the jurisprudence of Imam Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi'i. It is followed by Muslims in the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia, Upper Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Swahili coast, Indonesia, Malaysia, Jordan, Palestine, Philippines, Singapore, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Yemen, Kurdistan, and southern India (such as the Mappilas of Kerala and the Konkani Muslims). Most Chechens and Dagestani people also follow the Shafi'i school. It is the official school followed by the governments of Brunei and Malaysia. The Shafi'i school is also large in Iraq and Syria.


The Hanbali school is based on the jurisprudence of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal who had been a student of Imam al-Shafi.

It is followed by Muslims in Qatar, most of Saudi Arabia and minority communities in Syria and Iraq. There are movements that are highly influenced by Hanbali fiqh such as Salafism and Wahhabism concentrated in Saudi Arabia.


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.



Twelver Shia adhere to the Ja'fari theological school associated with Ja'far al-Sadiq. In this school, the time and space bound rulings of early jurists are taken more seriously, and the Ja'fari school uses the intellect instead of analogy when establishing Islamic laws, as opposed to common Sunni practice.[citation needed]



Ismaili Muslims follow their own school in the form of 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.


  • Nizari: the largest branch (95%) of Ismaili, they are the only Shia group to have their absolute temporal leader in the rank of Imamate, which is invested in the Aga Khan. Nizārī Ismailis 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 Ja'fari jurisprudence, they adhere to the supremacy 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.
  • Tāyyebī Mustā'līyyah: the Musta'ali 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 Musta'ali. The Taiyabi, supporting another offshoot of the Musta'ali, the Hafizi branch, split with the Musta'ali 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 Musta'ali and themselves have split into the Dawoodi Bohra, Sulaimani, Alavi Bohra, and other smaller groups.


Zaidi Muslims also follow their own school in the form of the teachings of Zayd ibn Ali and Imam Abu Hanifa. In terms of law, the Zaidi school is quite similar to the Hanafi school from Sunni Islam.[35] 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.[citation needed] Jafar al-Sadiq and Zayd ibn Ali did not themselves write any books.[citation needed] 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.[36][better source needed][37][38][better source needed]


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. Ibadi Islam is mostly practiced in Oman, with Oman being the only country in the world where Ibadis form a sizable minority of the population. Other populations of Ibadis also reside in Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Zanzibar in Tanzania.[39]

Amman Message[edit]

The Amman Message was a statement, signed in 2005 in Jordan by nearly 200 prominent Islamic jurists, which served as a "counter-fatwa" against a widespread use of takfir (excommunication) by jihadist groups to justify jihad against rulers of Muslim-majority countries. The Amman Message recognized eight legitimate schools of Islamic law and prohibited declarations of apostasy against them.[40][41][10]

  1. Hanafi (Sunni)
  2. Maliki (Sunni)
  3. Shafi'i (Sunni)
  4. Hanbali (Sunni)
  5. Ja'fari (Shia)
  6. Zaidiyyah (Shia)
  7. Ibadiyyah
  8. Zahiriyah

The statement also asserted that fatwas can be issued only by properly trained muftis, thereby seeking to delegitimize fatwas issued by militants who lack the requisite qualifications.[41]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ 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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]


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  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Hussin, Iza (2014). "Sunni Schools of Jurisprudence". In Emad El-Din Shahin (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref:oiso/9780199739356.001.0001. ISBN 9780199739356.
  3. ^ a b Vikør, Knut S. (2014). "Sharīʿah". In Emad El-Din Shahin (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 3 September 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Calder, Norman (2009). "Law. Legal Thought and Jurisprudence". In John L. Esposito (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 21 November 2008.
  5. ^ Tan, Charlene (2014). Reforms in Islamic Education: International Perspectives. A&C Black. ISBN 9781441146175. This is due to the historical, sociological, cultural, rational and non-denominational (non-madhhabi) approaches to Islam employed at IAINs, STAINs, and UINs, as opposed to the theological, normative and denominational approaches that were common in Islamic educational institutions in the past
  6. ^ Rane, Halim, Jacqui Ewart, and John Martinkus. "Islam and the Muslim World." Media Framing of the Muslim World. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2014. 15-28
  7. ^ Obydenkova, Anastassia V. "Religious pluralism in Russia." Politics of religion and nationalism: Federalism, consociationalism and secession, Routledge (2014): 36-49
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  9. ^ Auda, Jasser (2007). "5: Contemporary Theories in Islamic Law". Maqasid al-SharÏah as Philosophy of Islamic Law: A Systems Approach. 669, Herndon, VA 20172, USA: The International Institute of Islamic Thought. pp. 143–145. ISBN 978-1-56564-424-3.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
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  11. ^ Burton, Islamic Theories of Abrogation, 1990: p.13
  12. ^ J. Schacht, The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950), p. 9
  13. ^ R.G. Khoury, "Al-Layth Ibn Sa'd (94/713–175/791), grand maître et mécène de l’Egypte, vu à travers quelques documents islamiques anciens", Journal of Near Eastern Studies 40, 1981, p. 189–202
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  18. ^ a b "Law, Islamic". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
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  21. ^ a b Chibli Mallat, Introduction to Middle Eastern Law, pg. 116. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-19-923049-5
  22. ^ Murtada Mutahhari, The Role of Ijtihad in Legislation, Al-Tawhid volume IV, No.2, Publisher: Islamic Thought Foundation Archived 14 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
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  30. ^ M. Mahmood, The Code of Muslim Family Laws, pg. 37. Pakistan Law Times Publications, 2006. 6th ed.
  31. ^ Hassan Ahmed Ibrahim, "An Overview of al-Sadiq al-Madhi's Islamic Discourse." Taken from The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought, pg. 172. Ed. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi'. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008. ISBN 9781405178488
  32. ^ Jurisprudence and Law – Islam Reorienting the Veil, University of North Carolina (2009)
  33. ^ "Salafi Publications | on Ijtihad and Taqlid".
  34. ^ "On Islam, Muslims and the 500 most influential figures" (PDF).
  35. ^ Article by Sayyid 'Ali ibn 'Ali Al-Zaidi, التاريخ الصغير عن الشيعة اليمنيين (A short History of the Yemenite Shi‘ites, 2005)
  36. ^ El-Gamal, Mahmoud A. (3 July 2006). Islamic Finance. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139457163.
  37. ^ Tucker, Spencer C.; Roberts, Priscilla (12 May 2008). The Encyclopedia of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Political, Social, and ... Abc-Clio. ISBN 9781851098422.
  38. ^ [better source needed]Wehrey, Frederic M.; Kaye, Dalia Dassa; Guffrey, Robert A.; Watkins, Jessica; Martini, Jeffrey (2010). The Iraq Effect. Rand Corporation. ISBN 9780833047885.
  39. ^ "UNHCR Web Archive".
  40. ^ Hendrickson, Jocelyn (2013). "Fatwa". In Gerhard Böwering, Patricia Crone (ed.). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought. Princeton University Press.
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Madhhab at Wikimedia Commons