The schools of Islamic Law are not seets: they are systems of interpretation. Each school has its own independent set of principles, which cannot be mixed up with the principles of other schools without causing inner contradictions and analytically inconsistency. The set of principles adopted by each school is followed by the jurists within the school. It is obvious that the use of one set of principles my lead to a different legal opinion of the derived law. For example, it is an established principle within the Hanafi school that the legal opinion of a companion of the Prophet, especially a jurist companion, sets a binding precedent for the later jurists, it has to be followed. The Shafi’I school does not follow this principle.
The Hanafi School
Kufah, a city in Iraq, gradually turned into a center of Fiqh and learning. The reason for its being so is traced to the decision of Umar (R), who sent ‘Abd Allab ibn Masud (R) (D, 32 A.H) as a teacher and Qadi for this area. This learned companion trained a large number of jurists, who in turn produced students many of whom attained great fame. Among these jurists were Alqamah al-Nakha’ I,has nephew Ibrahim al-Nakah’I, Qadi Shurayh, and Hammad ibn Abu Suleiman.
The founder of the Hanafi School was Abu Hanifah Na’man ibn Thabit ibn Zutah, possibly of afghan origin, Imam Abou Hanifah was born in Kufah in the year 80 A.H.(699 A.D.) and died in 150 A.H. (767 A.D.). He is also called Iman Azam or the Great Iman. He began his early education in scholastic (Kalam) and later developed an interest for jurisprudence under the tutorship of his Sheikh, Hammad ibn Abu Suleiman (d.120 A.H).
He was textile merchant by profession and its is said that due to this reason his Fiqh reflects his practical approach to legal problems. Abu Hanifah was later given the title of the leader of the school of Ahl al-Ra’y. He is reported to have met some companions as well, foremost among-st them is Anas ibn Malik.
Jurists of the School
Out of the pupils of Abu Hanifah, four are famous; they were: Abu Yusuf ya’qub Ibrahim al-Ansari (133-182 A.H) , Zufar ibn Hudhayl ibn Qaiys (110-158 A.H), and Hasan ibn Ziyad al-Lului. Through these disciples, the fame of the Hanafi School spread far and wide. Abu Yusuf was appoint judge in Bagdad and later became the Chief Qadi with authority to appoint judges all over the kingdom. He thus had the opportunity to propagate the school of the great Imam.
Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani, who must have been 18 years old when Abu Hanifah Died, takes the credit for recording not only the first books of the Hanafi School, but also those of the entire Islamic legal system. The books written by him were of two types: the first were called zahir al-riwayah or books of the primary issues, while the second were called al-nawadir or unusual cases.
In addition to the above, he wrote Kitab al-Hujjah , ala Ahl al-Madinah, a book on the use of traditions, and another book on traditions called al-Athar. His version of Malik’s Muwatta is also considered highly reliable. Abu Yusuf also wrote a book on traditions called al-Athar, and his Kitab al-Kharj is very well known.
The above books form the foundation of Hanafi Fiqh, in fact, most of the books of the other schools are a response to what is recorded in these books. Al-Mudawwanah al-Kubra of the Maliki school complied by al-Sahnun is response to the rulings given in the above books. Much of al-Shafi is work is also in response to these works.
The Hanafi school was predominant in Iraq during the Abbasid Caliphate since it was preferred officially. It was also the official school in the Ottoman State and in the Mughal Kingdom in India. Its adherents constitute more than one-third of the Muslims of the world and its followers are in a majority in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and the newly independent states of Central Asia.
The Hanafi School and legal theory
Hanafi legal theory revolves around the use of general principles. The first task for the Hanafi jurist, when he is faced with a new case, is to see whether this case can be accommodated under a general principle. If the case is covered directly by principle the jurist finds no difficulty in assigning to it directly by a principle, the jurist finds no difficulty in assigning to it the hukm of the governing principle. If the case does not fall under one principle, the jurists would try to accommodate it under another principle. A principle that governs a case may itself be a sub-principle of a wide principle, or even be an exemption form it or a corollary.
Abu Hanifah, however, is reported to have said: “ this knowledge of ours is an opinion; it is the best we have been able to achieve. He who is able to arrive at a different conclusion is entitled to his opinion as we are entitled to our own”. Explaining the modes of Ijtihad adopted by him, he said: “If I do not find my answers in the Book of Allah or in the traditions of the Prophet (P.B.U.H), I seek the views of the Prophet’s companions, from whose opinion I do not deviate. But when it comes to Ibrahim, al-Shabi, Ibn Sirin, al-Iasan, ‘Ata’, and Sa’id ibn Jubayr, well, they were persons who resorted to independent interpretation and I will do likewise.”
The Principles according Abu Hanifah are: proof by the Quran and by the Sunnah, Ijma, and the opinion of a companion. He does not mention qiyas (analogy) and Istihsan (Jurristic preference) as these are principles of interpretation rather than true sources of Islamic Law. Istihsan is the preference of a general principle over analogy. Al-Shaybani, however, uses analogy and Istihsan in his book and at tributes it to his tech er as well.
It has been mentioned by Ibn Khaldun in the Muqaddimah that Abu Hanifah acted upon ra’y and did not accept the majority of the traditions. He accepted only 17 traditions, says Ibn Khaldun, this view is not correct and is based on vicious propaganda against the Hanafi School. Anyone who studies the Fiqh of the Hanafi school will realize that abu Hanafi accords the Sunnah its proper status, like the other fenders of schools, Further, how can a jurist who considers the Sunnah as binding or reject traditions without justification.
Abu Hanifah accpeted Qiyas (analogy) and acted upon it like the principles relating to qiyas used by the Hanafi school, it becomes apparent that its scope is narrower when compared with the methods of the other schools. This strictness is overcome by the principle of Istihsan. Istihsan is nothing more than the preference of a stronger principle over strict analogy. Istihsan is also used by the Maliki School, but it is rejected by the Shafi’is.
The Maliki School
The Maliki school emerged as the school of the people of Medina or the people of Hijas. In this methods it owes its origin to ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Umar ( and to ‘Umar ® himself according to some), Zayd ibn Thabit, Ibn’ Abbas, ‘A’ishah, Sa’id ibn al-Musayyib and other companions (may Allah be pleased them all).
The Imam of this school was Maliki, ibn Anas ibn Malik ibn Abi ‘Amir al-Asbahi. Malik was born in Madinah in the year 93 A.H. (or 95 or 97). He lived all his life in Medina where he died in the year 179 A.H. (795 C.E.). He received his early education form ‘Abd al-Rahman Haraz and became a student of Rabi’ah ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman, known as Rabi’at al-Ra’y, at the age of 17 he started giving lessons in Fiqh and traditions. He him self says, “I began when seventy Shaykhs ahas approved that I was qualified to do so.” He was universally acknowledged as a Jurist. Al-Shafi’I is reported to have said of him: “After the Tabi’un, Maliki is God’s authority among His creatures. If traditions carry the Malik’s authority hold on to them.”
The authority of Malik as traditionalist is undisputed. He studied traditions under Nafi, the client of Ibn’Umar, under al-Zahri, Abu al-Zinad, and Yaha ibn Nafi from ibn’Umar, and then Malik form al-Zuhri form Salim from his father. This is sufficient proof of the authority that Malik enjoyed as a traditionist.
Malik is the author of the well known book al-Muwatta, which is at once a book of traditions and Fiqh. It is said that he wrote this book over a period of 40 years. Al-Shafi’i said of this text: “ No book on earth, after the Book of Allah, is more accurate than the book of Malik.” (It should be noted that the sound (Sahih) compilations were complied much later). Al-Muwatta was transmitted in several versions, two of which have come down to us. The first is the version of Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani (printed in India), while the second was that of Yahya al-Laythi (d.234), which has been published in Egypt and commented upon by al-Zyraqani, al-Suyuti and others.
The pupils of Malik include Muhammad ibn al-Hasan of the Hanafi school and Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi’i the founde of the Shafi’i school. Those belonging to the Maliki school were: Yahya al-Laythi, the narrator of al-Muwatta’, Adad ibn al-Furat al-Tunisi (d. 213 A.H.). Abd al-Alam al-Tanhuki, also known its Adad ibn al-Furat al-Tunisi (d. 213 aA.H.). Abd al-Alam al-Tanhuki, also know as Sahnun from Qayrawan (d.213 A.H.) Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Qasim (d. 191 A.H), Ashhab ibn Abd al-Qasim Qaysi (d.204 A.H.) and Abd Allah ibn Abd al-Hakam (d.214 A.H.).
Among the later jurists of the school, who attained fame were: Abu al-Walid al-Baji, Ibn Rushd (the grandfather), Ibn Rushd (the grandson, author of Bidayat al-Mujtahid), Ibn al-Arabi, Sidi Khalil, and al-Khirashi.
The earliest major work of the school is al-Mudawwanah al-Kubra. Ibn al-Qasim, who was the student of Malik for 20 years, issued rulings on cases already decided by the jurists of Iraq (Primarily the Hanafis) when these were presented to him by Asad ibn al-Furat. The decisions were rendered in the light of Malik’s opinion as well as Ibn al-Qasim’s own. The decisions were recorded by Sahnun. The work is voluminous and makes very interesting reading. As Sahnun died in 240 A.H., the work must have been complied a few years earlier (say around 230 A.H.). Other works are al-Mukhtasar by Sadi Khalil. Many commentaries have been written on this work. Ibn Rushd’s Bidayat al-Mujtahid is well known. It is unique because of its comparative approach, and is used for instructional purposes in many institutions.
Maliki School and Legal Theory
Malik’s name and method are usually associated with the Ahl al-Hadith, because he was the first traditionalist. Malik’s statuses as a traditionalist is acknowledged by all, but he was an equally great jurist. This was acknowledged by Abu Hanifah, who on visiting him said: “He truly is a Faqih.” When Malik’s opinions and those of his school are examined in some detail, it becomes obvious that the preferred method was analytically based on the use of general principles. In fact, the methodology of this school is closer to that of the Hanafi school than to any school of the traditionalists. Both accept Istihsan and the opinion of a companion. The Maliki school accepts the principles of maslahah and sadd al-dhari’ah which are nothing more than the use of general principles.
Malik did not lay down his principles separately in a compiled form. His students and later jurists of the school derived these principle from Malik’s Fiqh and compiled them. These jurists maintain that the sources of Fiqh according to Malik are: the Quran, the Sunnah, Ijam, Qiyas (analogy), practice of people of Madina, opinion of a companion, Istihsan, maslahah mursalah, and sadd al-dhariah (blocking the lawful means to an unlawful end). The modes of Ijtihad adopted by Imam Malik had the following distinctive features.
- Practice of the people of Madinah preferred over Qiyas
- Maslahah Mursalah : Maslahah mursalah is defined by jurists as that interest which has neither been expressly confirmed by the Lawgiver nor has it been rejected. In other words, it is a principle derived by the jurist after seeking support form the purposes of law.
- Opinions of the companions: Malik holds the view that opinions of the companions constitute a valid proof for purposes of the ahkam and should be preferred over Qiyas. This hold true when there is no tradition from the Prophet on the case.
- Sunnah: Malik lays down that individual narrations should not be contrary to the practice of the people of Madinah. If an individual narration is contradicting such practice then it is not a legally valid proof.
- Istihsan: Malik has upheld the principle of Istihsan is some of his decisions. The Maliki jurists have explained the meaning of this principle as practiced by Malik.The Maliki school was quite influential in Muslim Spain. Its followers can be found today in North Africa, Central and West Africa and Eastern Arabia. Modern jurists place a high value on his doctrine of Maslahah.
The Shafi’i School
The founder of this school was Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Idris Ibn al-Abbas ibn Uthman ibn al-Shafi’i al-Hashimi al-Matlabi. He belonged to the Quraysh tribe and was born in Ghaza in the year 150 A.H. (767 A.D.) and died in Egypt in the year 204 A.H. (819 A.H.).
When he was two year old his father died and his mother took him Makkah. He memorized the Quran at the age of 7 years. He went to the desert to live with the tribe of Hudhayl where he learnt of Makkah, Muslim ibn Khalid al-Zanji. It is said that al-Zanji allowed him to give legal opinions when he was only 15 years old. Al-Shafi’s traveled thought out his life from one place to another. At the age of 30 he was offered a post by the Govern of Yemen. As a result of some intrigue and subsequent accusation he was deported form Yemen and was sent to Baghdad in the year 184 A.H. to appear before the Caliph. It is said that Muhammad al-Shaybani played an effective role in his defense and he was released. He stayed with al-Shaybani and acquired knowledge from him. He refers, in the Kitab al-Umm, to the discussions that took place. He has earlier been the student of Malik and studied al-Muwatta under him. Al-Shafi’i left for Makkah in the years and returned to Hijaz. In 198 A.H. he paid his third visit to Iraq and after a few months left for Egypt. It is said that he wrote his books al-Risalah, Kitab alImm, and Ikhtilaf al-Hadith in Egypt. If this is true, then the must have written all this in the last six years of his life, which apperars to be an incredible task.
His book at-Risalah is considered to be the first systematic work on usul. His book al-Umm, however, is considered to be more important. The book falls into seven volumes and has been recorded in scientific and dialectical form by his pupil, al-Rabi, ibn Sulayman. There has been a controversy around the real author of this book in recent times on the basis of what some earlier scholars like al-Ghazali and others have said that the book was actually written by al-Buwayti a student of al-Shafi’i. It is maintained that after al-Buwayti had written it Rabi ibn Sulayman expanded and rearranged it. Dr. Zaki Mubarak endorsed this view in 1934. This, however does not undermine the value of the book which had no parallel in the works of those days as far as its method of exposition is concerned.
The prominent jurists of the Shafi’i school are: Islam’il ibn Yahya al-Muzani, the author of al-Mukhtasar, Yusuf ibn Yaha al-Buwayti, Rabi ibn Sulayman and Ahmad ibn Hanbal. These were his pupils and in larter ttimes the Shafi’i school has produced outstanding personalities like al-Shirazi, al-Juwayni, al-ghazali, al-Razi, al-Nawawi and many others.
There is, however, a big gap between the works of al-Shafi’i and the later well know works of the school. In fact, the gap extends over two or more centuries. The fully developed school upheld certain doctrines that were not upheld by the founder. Perhaps, the doctrines were being refined and tested during this large gap of two and a half centuries. It is possible that there were a large number of works in between, but these are not extant.
Shafi’i School and Legal Theory
The method of interpretation adopted by al-Shafi’i was directed against the use of general principles. The reason appears to the desire to stay as close to revelation as possible, ie, wahi in both its meanings. Thus, a basic rule he made was: “If the chain of a tradition is complete and sound, it must be followed”.This rule, he insisted, should be followed irrespective of general principles. Accordingly, most of his other principles fo interpretation appear to be designed against the strengthening of general principles.
Al-Shafi’i was the first jurist to write about the rules of literal construction and then construct his Fiqh on them. These principles are available in his book al-Risalah and are visible in the Kitab al-Umm. In this book he also discussed Qiyas al-ma’na, Ijma, and Istihsan, the major emphasis, however , was on the Sunnah as a source of law. In a way, he is the leader of the Ahl al-Hadith or those who are inclined towards applying the traditions literally once a sound chain is established. He laid down conditions for the acceptance of the traditions on the basis of which he is sometimes given the title of the helper of the Sunnah. He accepted the four sources of law The Quran, the Sunnah, Ijma and Qiyas. Al-Shafi’i does not consider the opinion of a companion as a valid principle nor does he attach weight to the practice of the people of Madinah.
Al-Shafi’i attacked the principle of Istihsan used by the Hanafis as well as Malikis and condemned it. A closer examination of his arguments, however, reveals that he did not identify the exact nature of this principle as used by both Hanafis and Malikis, which is very much within the ambit of the texts, and this is acknowledged by some Sahfi’i jurists like al-Ghazali.
The principle of Ijma is accepted by al-Shafi’i, but not exactly in a form laid down by the classical definition. Al-Shafi’i does not mention maslahah mursalah in his principles. The jurists of his school reject it outright, however, it is maintained by modern writers that al-Shafi’i uses this principle and calls it Qiyas fial-qawa’id, but this opinion is no t supported by al-Shafiis works, especially when his methodology was directed against general principles.
The Hanbali School
The founder of the school is Abu Abd Allah Ahmad ibn Hanbal ibn Asad Al-Shaybani al-Baghadadi. He was born in the year 164 A.H. (780 A.D.) in Baghdad and died there in 241 A.H. (855 A.D.). He visited Syria, Hijaz, Yemen, Kufah and Basrah for purposes of collecting traditions. He was pupil of al-Shafi’i for some time. He complied a major work on traditions entitled musnad al-Imam Ahmad, which contanis more than 40,000 traditions.
Among thejurists of this school me Muwaffaq ad-Din ibn Quadamah, the author of al-Mughni, Shams al-Din ibn Qudamah al-Maqadisi, the author of al-Sharah al-Kabir, Taqiy al Din ibn Taymiyah, author of the Fatawa and other works and Abu Abd Allah ibn Bakar al Zari’i better known as Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyah.
Hanbli School and Legal Theory
The approach of the Hanbali school is similar to that of the Sahafi’i school. In fact, this school is more literalist than the Shafi’i school while al-Shafi’i was not inclined to accept mursal traditions, the Hanbali school did and preferred them over general principles and on analogy constructed on them.
The Hanbali school derives its literature form the later jurists who have laid down the principles of their imam. Ibn Qayyim al-Jaqziyah stated that these principles are five:
- The texts (Nus-us). The Quran and those traditions whose chains are complete are to be preferred over any other kind of source whether textual or rational.
- Opinion of a companion. These are of two kinds: First, an opinion of a companion in which he has not been opposed by other, this is accepted. Second, when the opinions over an issue are more than one. In such a case that which is closest ot the texts is to be accepted.
- The daif and Mursal Traditions. We have said that al-Shafii does not accept a tradition the chain of which is cut up or there is a dafect in it, Ahmad ibn Hanbal does. These traditions are not to be rejected totally, but are to be used for the establishing of the ahkam in order of strength. These traditions also are preferred by the Imam over Qiyas.
- Qiyas: Qiyas is the source of law as a last resort. When all the above sources fail to reveal a hukm the jurist may then have recourse to Qiyas.
The Hanbali school existed for some time in Iran, before that country became Shah, and also in Baghdad. The school then faced virtual extinction before it was rejuvenated by Ibn Taymiyah and his pupil Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyah in the seventh and eighth centuries. It came to life again in the 18th century in Saudi Arabia at the hands of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. In the time of King Abd al-Aziz al-Sasd it was declared as the official school of the Kingdom. The follower of this school, sometimes called Wahhabis, are found in central Saudi Arabia, and in Pakistan and India as well. It is to be noted that the majority of the people in Saudi Arabia are Shafiis.
There are three other Sunni Schools, besides the for mentioned above, buty they became extinct. These were the school of al-Alwzai the Zahiri school and the school of al-Tabari.
From the above discussion it is truth that the four school of thought plays a fundamental role in contribution of Fiqh and codification and compilation of Islamic law. And all school of thought rising the prestige and authority of the Holy Prophet and also tell the followers of these school of thought that actual Islamic law is Quran, a complete code of life for Muslims.